Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Long Emergency: George Monbiot on Civil Disobedience

Guardian columnist on why massive civil disobedience is an urgent necessity. He isn't new to the case -- he' been crying the alarm for decades. But now he realizes that writing, and agitating, and voting aren't working. People are taking to the streets, and in Britain they're trying to pack the jail cells.

Nowhere on Earth does government action match the scale of the catastrophes we face. Part of the reason is the remarkably low level of public discussion and information on this crisis. Another is that the political risks of action are higher than the perceived rewards – a balance the protesters want to redress. But perhaps the most important factor is the brute power of the pollutocrats driving this disaster. As the Guardian’s The polluters series shows, the big fossil fuel companies have used political funding, intense lobbying and gross deceptions of the public to overwhelm environmental protections and keep harvesting their massive profits.
Those who confront them have no such power. We cannot buy television channels and newspapers, pour billions into political lobbying or seed dark ads on social media. We have only one strength: our vulnerability. By putting our bodies on the line and risking our liberty, we make this great neglected issue impossible to ignore.
The Guardian has been running a lengthy series on the climate emergency, and you can sample their recent stories here.  The obvious question is why corporate media in the U.S. aren't doing the same. Of course there isn't room in the New York Times, their space is all taken up interviewing unrepentant Trump voters in Midwestern diners.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Columbus Schmumbus

If there is one holiday that definitely needs to be repurposed, it's today's annual celebration of a murderous idiot. (Visit link for a five minute Adam Ruins Everything.)

The idea of the celebration was initially promoted by Italian Americans who craved recognition in a country that had been dominated by people from northwest Europe. Italians didn't originally have full "white" status. The idea seems to have been that drawing attention to the idea that an Italian had opened the way for European settlement of the Americas would validate their presence here, or something like that.

Of course this required that he be glamorized. Children were told the tale that he alone had the profound insight that the earth is spherical and that it would be possible to sale west from Europe to Asia and bring back highly desirable trade goods, mostly spices. How this idea is consistent with his heroic "discovery" of America is unclear but then again, if you've been reading the Bible with me that shouldn't bother you.

Of course everybody already knew that the earth is spherical. The ancient Greeks knew that and even made a very accurate calculation of its circumference. And based on that knowledge, navigators in the 1400s knew that if they tried to sale west to Asia, it would be something like 12,000 miles away and they would starve to death before they got there. However, Columbus misread a text and he thought the earth was only 2/3 its actual size.

So, when he got to the Caribbean islands he thought he was in India (his geography was bad as well, since obviously he would have been in Japan or China), and the first thing he did was come back with an army and start slaughtering and enslaving the people he called Indians. He never found any gold or spices and he never set foot in North America. He did, however, establish the template for how European invaders would treat the native people and lands.

Also, he wasn't Italian. Italy did not exist at the time, and he did not speak Italian, he spoke Ligurian.

So let's stop honoring one of histories greatest villains. If you want an Italian heritage day, this ain't it.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: The Mind Doth Boggle

As I warned y'all last week, we are now in the most boring part of the Bible. We've seen God do all kinds of weird and psychopathic shit up till now -- making false promises, arbitrarily picking favorites, committing mass murder, that sort of thing -- but now he's become an obsessive architect and interior designer. It's one thing I suppose for the faithful to decide to erect an expensive, super-luxe monument to the being they worship, but for said being to drag a guy up to a mountaintop and make him write down these meticulous instructions just so he can be properly worshipped seems pretty wack. Anyway, there really isn't much more I can say about it. Obviously this is a one-off. As far as I know this is a one-off. Nobody has made an attempt to follow these instructions in known history.

26 “Make the tabernacle with ten curtains of finely twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, with cherubim woven into them by a skilled worker. All the curtains are to be the same size—twenty-eight cubits long and four cubits wide.[a] Join five of the curtains together, and do the same with the other five. Make loops of blue material along the edge of the end curtain in one set, and do the same with the end curtain in the other set. Make fifty loops on one curtain and fifty loops on the end curtain of the other set, with the loops opposite each other. Then make fifty gold clasps and use them to fasten the curtains together so that the tabernacle is a unit.
“Make curtains of goat hair for the tent over the tabernacle—eleven altogether. All eleven curtains are to be the same size—thirty cubits long and four cubits wide.[b] Join five of the curtains together into one set and the other six into another set. Fold the sixth curtain double at the front of the tent. 10 Make fifty loops along the edge of the end curtain in one set and also along the edge of the end curtain in the other set. 11 Then make fifty bronze clasps and put them in the loops to fasten the tent together as a unit. 12 As for the additional length of the tent curtains, the half curtain that is left over is to hang down at the rear of the tabernacle. 13 The tent curtains will be a cubit[c] longer on both sides; what is left will hang over the sides of the tabernacle so as to cover it. 14 Make for the tent a covering of ram skins dyed red, and over that a covering of the other durable leather.[d]
15 “Make upright frames of acacia wood for the tabernacle. 16 
KJV calls this "shittim" woods. I did a little research and it turns out acacia is a guess as to what shittim wood means. I kind of like shittim wood.
Each frame is to be ten cubits long and a cubit and a half wide,[e] 17 with two projections set parallel to each other. Make all the frames of the tabernacle in this way. 18 Make twenty frames for the south side of the tabernacle 19 and make forty silver bases to go under them—two bases for each frame, one under each projection. 20 For the other side, the north side of the tabernacle, make twenty frames 21 and forty silver bases—two under each frame. 22 Make six frames for the far end, that is, the west end of the tabernacle, 23 and make two frames for the corners at the far end. 24 At these two corners they must be double from the bottom all the way to the top and fitted into a single ring; both shall be like that. 25 So there will be eight frames and sixteen silver bases—two under each frame.
26 “Also make crossbars of acacia wood: five for the frames on one side of the tabernacle, 27 five for those on the other side, and five for the frames on the west, at the far end of the tabernacle. 28 The center crossbar is to extend from end to end at the middle of the frames. 29 Overlay the frames with gold and make gold rings to hold the crossbars. Also overlay the crossbars with gold.
30 “Set up the tabernacle according to the plan shown you on the mountain.
31 “Make a curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim woven into it by a skilled worker. 32 Hang it with gold hooks on four posts of acacia wood overlaid with gold and standing on four silver bases. 33 Hang the curtain from the clasps and place the ark of the covenant law behind the curtain. The curtain will separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. 34 Put the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law in the Most Holy Place. 35 Place the table outside the curtain on the north side of the tabernacle and put the lampstand opposite it on the south side.
36 “For the entrance to the tent make a curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen—the work of an embroiderer. 37 Make gold hooks for this curtain and five posts of acacia wood overlaid with gold. And cast five bronze bases for them.

Footnotes:

  1. Exodus 26:2 That is, about 42 feet long and 6 feet wide or about 13 meters long and 1.8 meters wide
  2. Exodus 26:8 That is, about 45 feet long and 6 feet wide or about 13.5 meters long and 1.8 meters wide
  3. Exodus 26:13 That is, about 18 inches or about 45 centimeters
  4. Exodus 26:14 Possibly the hides of large aquatic mammals (see 25:5)
  5. Exodus 26:16 That is, about 15 feet long and 2 1/4 feet wide or about 4.5 meters long and 68 centimeters wide

Friday, October 11, 2019

History Lesson

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been closely following events in Iraq since shortly after the U.S. invasion, as I first contributed to, then took ownership of the blog Today in Iraq. We have a reader who thought that changing the subject from the Residents recent abandonment of the Syrian Kurds to the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq at the end of 2011 would place the blame for the rise of Islamic State on Barack Obama.

In fact the so-called Status of Force Agreement that required U.S. forces to leave Iraq by the end of 2011 was signed by President George W. Bush in 2008. The Obama administration attempted to negotiate a new agreement that would allow a small contingent of military advisers to remain, but the Iraqi parliament would not agree to it. U.S. forces therefore departed Iraq before the end of December 2011, although a contingent of some 5,000 U.S. mercenaries remained, along with marines guarding the U.S. embassy and consulates.

The absence of U.S. forces in Iraq, however, had nothing to do with the formation and rise of the Islamic State. That occurred in Syria, where individuals radicalized by the U.S. invasion of Iraq took advantage of the power vacuum caused by the Syrian civil war to seize territory. When IS forces subsequently crossed the border and attacked Iraqi territory in Anbar and Salah U'din provinces, the corrupt and inept Iraqi army fled. Iraq thereupon invited limited U.S. forces in to assist in the campaign to recover the lost territory.

The Obama administration recognized that the Iraqi people did not want U.S. forces engaging in large scale fighting or seizing territory in their country. Therefore the U.S. provided weapons and other assistance to the Peshmerga -- the army of Iraqi Kurdistan -- and assisted the new, professional leadership of the Iraqi military in rebuilding an effective army. They also tacitly coordinated with Shiite militias supported by Iraq. The U.S. provided aerial surveillance and artillery support to the various local forces in the campaigns to retake Fallujah, Ramadi, Mosul and the Yezidi lands. The campaign against IS in Iraq essentially concluded in July 2017 with the recapture of Mosul, shortly after the end of the Obama presidency. Fallujah and Ramadi had been recaptured while he was in office.

The campaign against IS in Syria, which was also conducted by indigenous forces with U.S. assistance, began at about the same time but did not become effective until U.S. commanders came to understand that they could not depend on Arab militias and that the YPG -- the Kurdish militia in Rojava -- was their only reliable partner. The joint U.S.-Kurdish campaign against IS was well underway before Obama left office. Indeed, Raqqa, the capital of the self-declared Caliphate, also fell in 2017. However, smaller IS enclaves were not eliminated until later. Just so we are clear.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Kurds Away

As my 2 1/2 long time readers know, for many years I maintained a blog called Today in Iraq and Afghanistan (originally Today in Iraq). During the height of U.S. involvement in Iraq we had thousands of visitors every day, and we were listed in the blogroll at Eschaton and other prominent sites. But Americans lost interest in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and even the fight against the Islamic State didn't garner much attention. I finally stopped blogging there a few months ago when the situation in both countries had turned into stagnation and the daily routine of generally low-level violence just didn't seem worth documenting.

Anyway, the result is that I know quite a lot about the situation that, rather astonishingly, has finally gotten some congressional Republicans to speak against their Dear Leader. It's more complicated than I can fully explain in this space, but I'll give the basics. The Kurds are an ethnic group that got largely screwed when the European powers carved up the Ottoman Empire after World War I. They wound up divided among Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey. The history of the Kurds in Iraq is very complicated but the upshot is that over the years they achieved a degree of self-rule but during the Iran-Iraq war Saddam Hussein adopted highly repressive policies toward Iraqi Kurdistan and perpetrated the notorious Anfal genocide. Following the fall of Saddam, the Kurds gained an autonomous regional government (the KRG) in federation with Iraq.

An militant faction called the PKK (which stands for Kurdistan workers party but that's irrelevant) seeking secession of Kurdish lands in Turkey took refuge in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. Eventually, the KRG came to a tacit agreement with Turkey that it would not protect the PKK in exchange for Turkish acceptance of the KRG and trade relations. Meanwhile, in Syria, the Kurds call their territory Rojava, and they were able to attain effective autonomy in the Syrian civil war. Turkish leader Erdogan sees the Rojavan party, called the YPG or people's protection forces, as allied with the PKK and calls them terrorists. I don't know that there is any truth to this, they seem mostly interested in autonomy within Syria, but in any case Erdogan doesn't like the idea of a continuous strip of Kurdish self-rule along his southern border. (I know this is getting tiresome.)

Anyway, the Islamic state arose, first in the context of the Iraqi civil war. This was a disaster for which the U.S. is largely culpable, but  that's for another day. As Baghdad regained control of the lands to its north and west, the IS metastasized to Syria where it gained substantial territory, and then invaded the Mosul region of northwest Iraq, on the border of Iraqi Kurdistan. Rather than repeating the mistake of trying to seize territory in the region with its own forces, the U.S. chose to combat IS by providing support to Kurdish fighters, and tacitly cooperating with Iranian-backed militias in both Iraq and Syria. The YPG is the main component of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which defeated IS in Syria with the help of U.S. arms and air support. They are also responsible for prison camps where thousands of captured IS fighters and family members are now held.

Okay then. Erdogan has been threatening for a while to invade northern Syria, on the pretext that he wants to create a "safe zone" into which he can repatriate Syrian refugees who are currently in Turkey. He probably does want to do that, although there is no infrastructure there to receive them and he'd just be dumping them into the desert. But his more important motive is to push the YPG away from the Turkish border. There are a thousand or so U.S. troops there essentially as a tripwire, to discourage Erdogan from invading. In a phone call two days ago, the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW agreed to remove those troops and allow Erdogan to invade. Here is an explanation of the situation from a Kurdish channel which also discusses the reaction of the leader of the KRG. The bottom line is that this will push the YPG into the arms of Bashar al-Assad and Russia, since they will have no other protector.

The Resident has since claimed that he won't tolerate a Turkish invasion after all, after getting an earful from Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham -- apparently that took him by surprise. But with the U.S. troops gone, there won't be much he can do about it. Meanwhile, of course, the YPG will have to abandon the IS prison camps and who knows what will happen then.

As you know I am generally highly resistant to U.S. military involvement abroad, but I fully recognized the necessity of destroying IS and I also fully appreciate the debt we owe to the Kurds of Rojava. Not saying I want U.S. troops there forever but we are obliged to work out a deal. Just turning tail and leaving is a bad look from all perspectives.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: Not so tasteful design

In Exodus 25, God starts to get, well, extremely anal. He lays out precise instructions for building himself a home in extremely garish taste -- kind of Trumpian, actually. I must warn you that this goes on for a long time -- several more chapters. It's unbelievably tedious and there isn't really much to say about it except that this guy is a self-indulgent megalomaniac. As the Skeptic's Annotated Bible puts it, "God wastes most of the last 16 chapters of Exodus on instructions for making tables, curtains, candlesticks, snuffers, girdles, bonnets, perfumes, etc. This stuff is so important that it much of it is repeated. As a result, the last 40% of Exodus is one of the most boring sections in the Bible." True. But we are committed to reading the whole damn thing so off we go.

25 The Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give. These are the offerings you are to receive from them: gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; ram skins dyed red and another type of durable leather[a]; acacia wood; olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.
“Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.

10 “Have them make an ark[b] of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.[c] 11 Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it. 12 Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. 13 Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 14 Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry it. 15 The poles are to remain in the rings of this ark; they are not to be removed. 16 Then put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law, which I will give you.
17 “Make an atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. 18 And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. 19 Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends. 20 The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover. 21 
Uhm, wasn't there something about not making graven images? Just sayin' . . .
Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you. 22 There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.

23 “Make a table of acacia wood—two cubits long, a cubit wide and a cubit and a half high.[d] 24 Overlay it with pure gold and make a gold molding around it. 25 Also make around it a rim a handbreadth[e] wide and put a gold molding on the rim. 26 Make four gold rings for the table and fasten them to the four corners, where the four legs are. 27 The rings are to be close to the rim to hold the poles used in carrying the table. 28 Make the poles of acacia wood, overlay them with gold and carry the table with them. 29 And make its plates and dishes of pure gold, as well as its pitchers and bowls for the pouring out of offerings. 30 Put the bread of the Presence on this table to be before me at all times.

31 “Make a lampstand of pure gold. Hammer out its base and shaft, and make its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms of one piece with them. 32 Six branches are to extend from the sides of the lampstand—three on one side and three on the other. 33 Three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms are to be on one branch, three on the next branch, and the same for all six branches extending from the lampstand. 34 And on the lampstand there are to be four cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms. 35 One bud shall be under the first pair of branches extending from the lampstand, a second bud under the second pair, and a third bud under the third pair—six branches in all. 36 The buds and branches shall all be of one piece with the lampstand, hammered out of pure gold.
37 “Then make its seven lamps and set them up on it so that they light the space in front of it. 38 Its wick trimmers and trays are to be of pure gold. 39 A talent[f] of pure gold is to be used for the lampstand and all these accessories. 40 See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.

Footnotes:

  1. Exodus 25:5 Possibly the hides of large aquatic mammals
  2. Exodus 25:10 That is, a chest
  3. Exodus 25:10 That is, about 3 3/4 feet long and 2 1/4 feet wide and high or about 1.1 meters long and 68 centimeters wide and high; similarly in verse 17
  4. Exodus 25:23 That is, about 3 feet long, 1 1/2 feet wide and 2 1/4 feet high or about 90 centimeters long, 45 centimeters wide and 68 centimeters high
  5. Exodus 25:25 That is, about 3 inches or about 7.5 centimeters
  6. Exodus 25:39 That is, about 75 pounds or about 34 kilograms

Friday, October 04, 2019

Post Truth

There have always been widespread beliefs that do not accord with reality. As readers know I put all of religion in that category. But post-Enlightenment we've generally adopted a compromise that places religion in a separate epistemological category. Hence for example, the Catholic Church can accept the truth of the claims of physicists and biologists about the antiquity of the earth and origin of species while simultaneously embracing mystical doctrines such as Original Sin which are inconsistent with science.

In the realm of non-mystical, non-religious reality, the mainstream view is, or at least has been, that can be definitively distinguished by evidence, according to agreed-upon evaluative rules. It is purportedly the job of journalists to apply these rules, and damaging to politicians to be caught in lies.

That is not to say there have not been numerous hoaxes perpetrated on the public post-Descartes, from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to Joseph McCarthy, through the Tonkin Gulf Incident and the Weapons of Mass Destruction. But most people accept the truth about these matters once evidence comes to light. Of course politicians of all stripes sometimes overreach and exaggerate, shade or spin the truth, or hold on to convenient beliefs that aren't really correct. But we've been in new territory ever since George Bush II, as famously encapsulated by Paul Krugman's satirical headline: Shape of the Earth, Views Differ.

Still, we eventually found that no, Saddam did not have Weapon of Mass Destruction ™ and that he was not the mastermind behind 9/11, and even Republicans generally agree with this. But now we're in a new era which is definitely qualitatively different, in which one of the major political parties lives in an alternate universe, and the corporate media's addiction to Bothersiderism prevents them from coming down clearly on the side of reality.

Digby discusses the wacko hoaxes that sent America's Clown Mayor and the Secretary of Sycophancy State gallivanting about the planet at taxpayer expense to try to cajole foreign governments into fabricating evidence. She might also have mentioned John Solomon's fantasy writing for The Hill, which may be Rudy's most important source of inspiration.

But of course it is not just on matters of historical fact that the Republican party has abandoned objective reality. The party also rejects science as a whole. As a group for the Brennan Center reports (one that includes old fashioned Reality Based Republicans such as Christine Todd Whitman and Chuck Hagel):

Objective data and research are essential to effective governance and democratic oversight. But over the last few decades, the safeguards meant to keep government research objective and publicly accessible have been steadily weakening. Recent administrations have manipulated the findings of government scientists and researchers, retaliated against career researchers for political reasons, invited outside special interests to shape research priorities, undermined and sidelined advisory committees staffed by scientists, and suppressed research and analysis from public view — often material that had previously been made available. In many cases, they have appeared to pay little political price for these missteps. This trend has culminated in the efforts of the current administration not only to politicize scientific and technical research on a range of topics, but also, at times, to undermine the value of objective facts themselves.
Now, we are at a crisis point, with almost weekly violations of previously respected safeguards.
  • The acting White House chief of staff reportedly instructed the secretary of commerce to have the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) — a part of the Department of Commerce — issue a misleading statement in support of the president’s false assertion about the trajectory of a hurricane, contradicting an earlier statement released by the National Weather Service. The secretary of commerce reportedly threatened to fire top NOAA officials in pressuring them to act.
  • The Department of Agriculture relocated economists across the country after they published findings showing the financial harms to farmers of the administration’s trade policies.
  • The Interior Department reassigned its top climate scientist to an accounting role after he highlighted dangers posed by climate change.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted rules that prevent leading experts from serving on science advisory boards and encourage participation by industry-affiliated researchers.
  • The White House suppressed a report showing a toxic substance that is present in several states’ water supplies endangers human health at levels far lower than previously reported by the EPA.
 Do read the whole thing.

Anyway John Quiggin sums up our plight:

Apparently, one side, based on eyeballing, thinks the earth is flat, while the other, relying on the views of so-called scientists, or the experience of international air travel, regards it as spherical, or nearly so.
In the past, before the rise of partisanship, we would have agreed on a sensible compromise, such as flat on Sundays, spherical on weekdays, and undetermined on Saturdays. Moreover, there was a mix of views, with plenty of Democratic flat-earthers, and Republican sphericalists. .  .

Thursday, October 03, 2019

The Long Emergency: It's here, it's now

Needless to say, the Fourth Estate has faced some distractions of late, but there's no excuse for missing what may be the most important news of the week, the record smashing heat wave across much of the United States. Schools were forced to close in Ohio, Maryland and elsewhere.

We actually had a heat wave eve later in October in 2017, where temperatures were well over 100 degrees in much of Southern California. Temperatures in Los Angeles had never topped 100 after October 17 in records going back to 1877, but hit 103 that year on October 24.

These October heat waves are less dangerous to life than events that happen in the summer, because the nights are longer and night-time temperatures do not stay as high. When the body doesn't get relief overnight, the stress can be deadly. Heat waves in fact cause more deaths than any other category of natural disaster.

June of this year was the hottest month on record worldwide, ever. Paris hit 110 degrees. In the U.S., affluent people in hot climates have air conditioning and it is generally made available to others in emergencies, but a lot of Americans die from excessive heat anyway. No such luck in much of the world where air conditioning is rare - including some of the hottest places where most people just can't afford it. Which is probably just as well since air conditioning obviously uses energy, which is most produced by fossil fuel, and will just make our long-term problem worse. That also means that crops are failing, and many places are becoming uninhabitable. In fact an important cause of the Syrian civil war was desertification of croplands and the migration of desperate people to the cities, where they faced unemployment and destitution. Many people from places devastated by heat and drought are fleeing north to more affluent countries, and we see the social disasters that are ensuing.

That the occupant of the office of president is a traitor is bad, sure. But that's not the worst thing about him.




Monday, September 30, 2019

It's about Russia, not Ukraine

I'm not entirely sure why, but the corporate media has focused almost exclusively on the attempt to extort a smear of Joe and Hunter Biden and has entirely ignored an even more bizarre part of the phone conversation between the Resident and Volodymyr Zelensky. David Atkins gives a good rundown.

Early in the call, the Resident asked Zelensky for information about the Internet security firm Crowdstrike and a DNC server that was purportedly hidden in Ukraine. In case you didn't know, this about  a nutjob conspiracy theory in the same class as Q Anon and Pizzagate. It's so out there it hasn't even made it onto Hannity. The actual fact is that the DNC hired Crowdstrike to figure out who hacked their computer network and Crowdstrike concluded, along with the FBI, CIA, NSA, and of course Robert Mueller, that it was people in the employ of the Russian state. The conspiracy is that Crowdstrike manufactured this accusation in order to discredit the 2016 election and that a DNC "server," which should have been handed over to the FBI, had been hidden in Ukraine. The Ukraine connection is that Crowdstrike co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch is supposedly Ukrainian. He's actually a Russian-born U.S. citizen. Also, too, there is no such server. The DNC network consisted of many servers and other nodes that had to be rebuilt because of the hacking.

As Atkins concludes, "One might think that Trump got the information from random corners of the internet. But the problem there is that the president barely knows how to use a computer, and has to have articles printed out for him and put on his desk. So who was feeding him these conspiracies? Why did he continue to believe them even as his own intelligence services and White House staff were attempting to disabuse him of them?" Which they were. As Laura Clawson recounts, presidential advisers repeatedly told him that the claims were nonsensical, but he refuses to believe them.


Anyhoo . . .

As Lucian Truscott makes clear, it has been obvious that Trump is Vladimir Putin's stooge from before he ever took office. And by the way, amid all the craziness and chaos does anybody even remember Helsinki any more? Feeding the orange bozo this particular mishegoss makes a lot of sense for Vlad. Remember that Vlad is waging a low-grade war against Ukraine because it turned away from Russia and toward the European union. Vlad has enlisted Trump to undermine the European alliance and is also using him to undermine U.S. support for Ukraine. Oh yeah, what else have we forgotten? The Trump campaign sent an emissary to the platform committee during the Republican National Convention with one and only one demand: remove the platform plank calling for military aid to Ukraine.

The reason Orange Julius is losing what was left of his mind is because he knows he a traitor, and he knows he's about to be caught. Actually he has been, it just hasn't been made official yet.

Update: Here's Digby, but I got there first. (Her time stamp is west coast.)

All that said, Dr. Black is correct. We have to expose everything this schtickdreck has done (BTW shana tovah) and bring all of his co-conspirators to account. If this is what it takes to pry the box open, fine, but it can't stop here.

Update: John Solomon's "reporting" in The Hill has long since been shown to be a hoax, but it is indeed the origin of much of the current hoohah. I'll have more to say about that, but meanwhile you can read more about it here,and here.






Sunday, September 29, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: Deja vu all over again

The events of Exodus 24 et seq clearly seem to be an alternate story, or alternate version of the story we have read so far. Moses has already been up to the mountain and been given the law, but now he has to go again and get a different set of instructions. It all seems inefficient, but as we have seen this is quite typical of the Torah -- it's a mashup of sources that frequently fail to cohere. Anyway, here goes. (This is the NIV.)

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. You are to worship at a distance, but Moses alone is to approach the Lord; the others must not come near. And the people may not come up with him.”
When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said.
I hope he had at least been taking notes.
He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord.
Again, God has this weird fetish of enjoying having animals killed for him.
Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he splashed against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.”
Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
I have no idea what the point of this was, but yuck.
Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up 10 and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. 11 But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.
Many people in the Bible see God -- Abraham saw him a few times, Isaac and Jacob saw him, Moses has seen him before. But remind me when we come to Exodus 33: "19 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”" In the New Testament, it is asserted many times that God cannot be seen.
 
12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.”
13 Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. 14 He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.”
15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
The forty days and forty nights of course is echoed in the NT. That was also one version of the length of the flood, although as you may recall there were various versions; and there are several other forty day events. I can't think of any particular significance for that number.


Saturday, September 28, 2019

As you will recall . . .

the single most important issue in the 2016 election was proper e-mail management practices.

There's more to come, I'm just a bit overwhelmed right now.

BTW, if you think that you should care more about the rights and dignity of Christians than about non-Christians because you are a Christian, then you are obviously not a Christian and you haven't read the Gospels.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Distinctions and differences

Here's a question that seems to stump some people. Why is the idea of a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People different from the idea of a National Association for the Advancement of White People?

Give up?

The NAACP was founded in 1909 by a group of people that was actually majority white, and its officers were mostly white, although the founders did include some of the most prominent African American leaders, including W.E.B. DuBois and Ida Wells. ("Colored people" was a polite term at the time for people of African descent, although of course it's quaint today.) What many people apparently don't know was that following emancipation, a reign of terror arose in the former slave states in which thousands of black people were murdered, the freed slaves were deprived of the vote and returned to a state of subjugation including re-enslavement by means of a the prison system and a modified form of plantation slavery called sharecropping.Even in the north, African Americans were deprived of educational opportunity, economic opportunity, and political representation.

Therefore, many people of diverse backgrounds saw the need for an organizational that would advocate for civil rights and equality.

There was actually an organization called the National Association for the Advancement of White People. It was founded by former Ku Klux Klan member David Duke in 1979. It lasted for at least 20 years but seems to be defunct now. The obvious distinction would seem to be that, relative to other groups in the U.S., white people didn't need "advancement." They were, and still are, the dominant group in society with, on average, the highest educational and economic attainment, and political representation.

Ergo and ipso facto, the NAACP worked for and still works for justice and equality. The NAAWP and like organizations work to preserve injustice and inequality. The NAACP opposes discrimination, the NAAWP promotes discrimination.

Now, there are Americans of European descent (who by shorthand we call "white" although of course we are actually more beige) who are poor and oppressed. But they are oppressed by class, not race. Politicians such as one who is not beige, but orange, often deceive them by convincing them that there circumstances are somehow the result of "others," such as people of African descent or immigrants from Latin America, taking what is rightfully there's. But this is false. Their circumstances are created by rapacious capitalists and an economic system that produces losers of all ethnicities and leaves people mired in intergenerational poverty. The wealthy and powerful use race as a wedge to divide the working class and prevent people from uniting effectively to bring about a more just society.

This distinction also seems to elude people with respect to other movements, such as Black Lives Matter. Bernie Sanders famously responded to a change of Black Lives Matter with the comment that "all lives matter." Bernie, alas, was missing the point, which is precisely that all lives matter. That's what BLM activists also believe. The problem they are confronting is that too often, Black lives specifically don't seem to matter. They are demanding justice.

Now, what about the idea of "identity politics"? Well, it is only natural for oppressed groups to demand an end to their oppression through the political process, and politicians might try to appeal to such a group by promising to work for justice. You can call that "identity politics" if you like, but I don't see anything wrong with it. On the other hand it seems like a dumb idea to vote for somebody just because they happen to belong to the same ethnic group as you do, even if they are otherwise a worse choice. (I would say however that when your people have had little or no access to political office, just breaking the barrier would seem to have some value in its own right.)

What I do see something wrong with is voting for a politician because she or more likely he promises to preserve your privilege, in other words to fight for injustice. I also think it would be wrong to care more about the fate of people who happen to share your religion or ethnic background than you do about other people, here or abroad. As I say, the real point of Black Lives Matter is that All Lives Matter. If you can't understand that, it isn't worth my time or energy trying to engage with you.

Update: The mission of this blog is to have intelligent conversations with people who share humanistic values and respect the truth. People who do not wish to engage in that project will not participate.



Sunday, September 22, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: Us and Them

As I have said many times, the chapter divisions were added by medieval scribes and often don't seem to make a lot of sense. Exodus 23 is obviously three different segments which may well come from entirely different original sources. It starts out ascribing moral principles which, in contrast to much of what we have seen so far, are largely consistent with what we think of as virtuous today. Then it prescribes some religious practices which include some of God's odd obsessions but whatever. Then it turns really, really ugly. (I've gone back to the New International Version for this one, it seems clearer in some places.) Here goes.

“Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness.
“Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit.
“If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.
“Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.
“Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent.
“Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.
Tell it to Donald J. Trump.


10 “For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, 11 but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.
12 “Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed.
This is a very different justification for the sabbath than we have seen heretofore. Now we have a two day weekend, even better!
13 “Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.
14 “Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me.
15 “Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread; for seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt.
“No one is to appear before me empty-handed.
16 “Celebrate the Festival of Harvest with the first fruits of the crops you sow in your field.
“Celebrate the Festival of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field.
17 “Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord.
18 “Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast.
“The fat of my festival offerings must not be kept until morning.
19 “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.
“Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.
It is because of this one line (KJV "Do not sizzle a kid in its mother's milk") that the Talmudic rabbis decided that  meat and dairy products can't be consumed in the same meal, and that in fact separate kitchens, cooking equipment, and tableware are required. No, that doesn't seem to make any sense. The reason for this admonition (which is repeated by the way) is not entirely clear. It suggests not wanting to be cruel to the mother, but she wouldn't know that this cooking method was being used.

Now it turns ugly.

20 “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. 21 Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. 22 If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. 23 My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out. 24 Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces. 25 Worship the Lord your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, 26 and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span.
Well no actually, sickness and miscarriage were not abolished in Palestine. Barrenness is specifically referenced in Psalm 113, Isaiah 54, and Proverbs 30.  God makes a lot of promises he doesn't keep.
27 “I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run. 28 I will send the hornet ahead of you to drive the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way. 29 But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.
31 “I will establish your borders from the Red Sea[a] to the Mediterranean Sea,[b] and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you. 32
This is a much larger territory than the Hebrews ever actually occupied.  The description here is a little vague but it would include all of the Sinai, what is today Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, half of Iraq, and the northern part of Saudi Arabia. A later promise in Numbers is even more extensive.
 Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. 33 Do not let them live in your land or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.”

Footnotes:

  1. Exodus 23:31 Or the Sea of Reeds
  2. Exodus 23:31 Hebrew to the Sea of the Philistines

Friday, September 20, 2019

Deep Thought

If you've got nothing to hide, why are you hiding it?

The Long Emergency: Going to wash us away . . .

So for the second time in two years the Houston area is drowning in rain measured in feet, not inches. This particular event barely made it to tropical storm status but it dumped enough water to set records. The perpetrators of this Chinese-inspired hoax predicted exactly this -- wetter storms and bigger and better floods -- along with everything else that's been happening: more and more intense heat waves; droughts; melting permafrost; disappearance of the arctic sea ice; wildfires; rising sea levels; mass extinction. Funny thing about that. Even though it's a hoax, everything the hoaxers predicted has come true and keeps getting worse.

Fortunately, enough people believe the hoax that millions of people are taking to the streets today to demand action. Even capitalists have been taken in by the Chinese hoax, including, believe it or not, some oil companies. I'm not sure why it took a 16 year old girl to finally get some serious attention from the corporate media, but that happened.

I'm starting to think that it's gotten to the point where reality is kicking humanity in the nads, and it's impossible not to notice. What has to happen next is massive, global mobilization, which will include getting people to make some sacrifices but will also include plenty of benefits and plenty of winners.

The first thing Americans must do is vow never to vote for any Republican, for any office, ever.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Saudi Schmaudi

It seems to me that the politicians, pundits and people in general are largely overlooking the most important implications of the recent attack on Saudi oil processing facilities. I can't judge the credibility of recent U.S. and Saudi claims that the attack was launched from Iranian territory, but I will accept that Occam's razor supports the conclusion that the perpetrator was some faction allied with Iran, with or without the endorsement of Ayatollah Kahmenei. Let's leave that aside for the moment.

Here's the geography:









A map showing Saudi oil strikes

Notice that if the attack was launched from Iranian territory, the devices flew over the Gulf (called the Arabian or Persian Gulf depending on which side of it you are on) over U.S. naval vessels equipped with the Aegis combat system, which is designed to detect and neutralize airborne threats. Saudi Arabia, for its part, has spent untold tens of billions of dollars on high-technology air defense systems from the United States, including radar systems, Patriot missiles, and more stuff some of which is probably classified and not even known to the public. In fact on paper the Saudi military is the most powerful in the region. Presumably Saudi air defenses are configured primarily to defend against an attack coming from Iran. 

The claim is specifically that it was possible to knock out more than half of Saudi oil production capacity using cheap gadgets that the Iranians made themselves; and that it took more than four days for the Saudis and Americans to figure out where they came from. (The U.S. uses Tomahawk missiles that cost more than $1 million apiece for this sort of attack, and they can be shot down by the kind of systems possessed by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.) Presumably Iran has plenty more of these drones or cruise missiles (I'm not actually sure what the distinction is supposed to be), and note that it's only another 50 miles from Khurais to Riyadh.

If the Aegis Combat System and Saudi air defenses are really that worthless, it's going to give other people ideas, and maybe give the people who did this additional ideas of their own. It also represents an extraordinary admission on the part of the U.S., which sells these systems to nations all over the world. I'm not going to dwell on the implications of all this, you can figure it out for yourselves.