Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Sunday Sermonette: No Canaanites need apply

Genesis 28 is really 3 stories, so I'll take them one at at time.

So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him. Then he commanded him: “Do not marry a Canaanite woman. Go at once to Paddan Aram, to the house of your mother’s father Bethuel. Take a wife for yourself there, from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.” Then Isaac sent Jacob on his way, and he went to Paddan Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, who was the mother of Jacob and Esau.
Now Esau learned that Isaac had blessed Jacob and had sent him to Paddan Aram to take a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he commanded him, “Do not marry a Canaanite woman,” and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and had gone to Paddan Aram. Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had.
Abraham and Isaac had one concern for their sons: Whatever you do, don't marry a Canaanite. At this point I don't know why Esau gives a FFOARD what Isaac wants, and anyway, he already has two wives, but now he decides to emulate Jacob and marry a cousin. Even though he already has two wives. Whatev. BTW Laban the son of Bethuel turns out to be the son of Nahor in the next chapter. Again, whatev.
10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
God repeatedly made the same promise to Abraham, as you may recall. But the promise is never kept. The Jews never became particularly numerous, and never controlled more than a small part of the land in question, tenuously and intermittently at that. I'm not sure what "All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring" is supposed to mean exactly, but I do acknowledge the tremendous contributions of many Jewish philosophers, writers, artists, scientists and statespersons. I think it's fair to say that in the diaspora, the Jews have been creative and productive beyond their numbers. Oppression and marginalization can actually promote resourcefulness. Education is something you can always take with you, and nobody can take it away from you. But I don't think that's the promise God is making here. In fact the opposite: the diaspora is precisely the failure of this promise.

16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.
20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”

That's pretty funny. Jacob names the place Bethel again in chapter 35. But it was already Bethel in chapters 12 and 13. At least Beersheba only got named twice.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Locker Room Talk

Maybe I'm naive, maybe nobody tells me anything, I dunno. But let me tell you about the world I live in, at least as far as I know.

I went to boarding school, so maybe my experience isn't typical. I don't know about Georgetown Prep, but in my high school experience -- which was in the late 1960s and early 1970s -- I never heard of anybody attacking a girl, trying to rip her clothes off, holding his hand over her mouth. I never heard of anybody doing anything like that in college either, and believe me, nobody among my friends would have been capable of any such thing and we would have been outraged if we heard of it happening. Admittedly, there were a couple of guys of my acquaintance who if you pressed me I would have to say I wouldn't put it past them, but that's what happens when a college tries to rebuild its football program.

Let me also stipulate that I have been in countless locker rooms. Throughout my high school and college career I played soccer, baseball, lacrosse, ice hockey, and I wrestled. I never heard anybody in a locker room brag about assaulting women. That is not what men do, in my experience.

It turns out that there are powerful men who are also psychos and they do disgusting things to women and they have been getting away with it. But no, it is not normal and it is not condoned by the vast majority of men. Unless, it appears, they happen to be socially conservative Republican voters. You know, family values.

Administrative note: Something has happened such that only the most recent post appears by default when you visit this site. I didn't do it and I can't find any way to change it. This seems to be a change made by Blogger, without explanation or warning. If anybody knows how to fix it, let me know, it is not my preference.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

100 years ago . . .

Although there have been some public reflections on WWI in corporate media, I've come across very little about the 1918 influenza pandemic. Check this out:


The blue line is the age-adjusted death rate in the United States, and the orange line is life expectancy at birth. They've both been going in the right direction throughout the 20th Century, and most of the 21st until the past few years (more on that later), but as you can see in 1918 we spiked right back into the 19th. Our best estimates are that 50 million people died in the epidemic worldwide, and 675,000 in the U.S. The spike in deaths wasn't caused by the war, per se. The U.S. lost 53,402 personnel in combat, and more than 60,000 to disease, mostly flu. 

The pandemic was particularly cruel because unlike in normal flu seasons, young people were disproportionately subject to severe complications and death. It is thought that this was because this strain of flu provoked a particularly extreme immune reaction which the lungs to fill with fluid and drown the victim. Yikes.

Back then viruses had not been discovered, and there were no effective treatments. Today we know what causes influenza, we have partially effective vaccine, and we can keep people with severe complications alive with ventilators until their bodies manage to fight off the disease. But the price of not repeating 1918 is eternal vigilance. The World Health Organization member countries all participate in a global influenza surveillance program and cooperate to fight influenza when it emerges. If a particularly virulent strain does emerge, we may not have ample warning -- getting vaccines for new strains to market takes many months -- but we'll have some time to prepare and we'll know what to do.

But a new, as yet unknown virus may leave us not so lucky. And no, the Free Market™ will not protect us. Only organized action by governments can do that.