Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Post Enlightenment Age

Krugthulu has a new musing on Republican epistemology. Essentially, the evaluation of the truth or falsehood of a proposition does not consist of the usual tests of objective reality. Facts in evidence, logic, probability theory -- none of that has to do with truth. What is true is that which benefits the Leader. That which does not is false.

Fake News means news the Leader does not want to hear. Truth is whatever is convenient for the Leader. For example, the Leader and Rick Scott claim there is massive voter fraud in Florida because Scott's lead has declined as more votes are counted. There is no evidence for this claim of the sort that sane people usually depend on. The evidence for the claim is that the Leader and Rick Scott want it to be true.

As Krugman points out, however, this is not actually anything brand new. The Republican party for two decades has been insisting that global climate change is a hoax perpetrated by a grand conspiracy of tens of thousands of scientists. Their evidence for that is that climate change were real, it would require actions by government that they do not want to take.

This means that trying to reason with them is impossible, because they are not using reason at all. As Amanda Marcotte says:

The first thing liberals and journalists should do is find ways to speak the truth without inviting conservatives to troll them with "debate" about it — debate that will inevitably just be the pitting of lies against truths, leaving those who still believe in reason frustrated and giving conservatives endless opportunities to gloat about their triggering talents.
There are a variety of tools that accomplish this, but the primary one is to avoid speaking to liars and instead speak about them. For instance, cable news would do well to stop inviting Kellyanne Conway or other administration liars to appear on camera and tell more lies. That time would be better used straightforwardly debunking their numerous falsehoods and deliberate misstatements.
Brevity is key here. Whenever you're explaining, you're losing. For instance, it was a waste of time going frame by frame through that Jim Acosta video to prove he did nothing wrong, since everyone who claimed to believe he had done something terrible was lying in order to troll the left. Journalists would have done better to  present the fact that Acosta did nothing wrong as self-evident truth, which it was, and move on to addressing the real story, which is how Trump uses lies to advance his agenda.
She has some other good advice. But the problem is that journalists are still stuck with conventions and assumptions that don't work any more. Their commitment to "balance" betrays them when there are not in fact two sides to the argument. One party is lying. They just can't say that.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sunday Sermonette: And you thought Fox News was fake

There is plenty of absurdity in the Bible but the end of Genesis 32 has got to be a contender for the Wacko Award.

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 
 His two female servants more specifically means his sex slaves.
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,[f] because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
Uhm, okay. So the idea is that Jacob wrestled all night with God, and won. And it wasn't because God was letting him win either -- "When the man saw that he could not overpower him," he cheated somehow. Ordinarily touching a person's hip doesn't cause injury so this was some sort of magic. Despite his injury, Jacob still has control over God, who begs to be released. Apparently God didn't know Jacob's name. So God renames him Israel but in fact he continues to be called Jacob, even by God, for the rest of his life, as we shall see.

So, to sum up, God starts a wrestling match with what is apparently a random guy whose name he doesn't know. A fairly old man, by the way. This is pretty odd to say the least since God has had several encounters with Jacob in the past and bestowed various prophecies and blessings on him. Then God discovers that he can't beat Jacob, a mere mortal, so he permanently injures him through some sort of trickery. Then God changes Jacob's name but it doesn't stick. This altogether so stupid it has to have been planted just to see if we're paying attention.
29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the place Peniel,[g] saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel,[h] and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.
Two more things. One, this is a ridiculous reason not to eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, although I would imagine that like most tendons it isn't a pleasant thing to eat. As for seeing God face to face, many people do at various points in the Bible and yet:

There shall no man see me, and live. Exodus 33:20 No man hath seen God at any time. John 1:18, 1 John 4:12
And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. John 5:37
Not that any man hath seen the Father. John 6:46
...the invisible God ... Colossians 1:15
Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. 1 Timothy 1:17
Whom no man hath seen nor can see. 1 Timothy 6:16

Update: I've done a little research and apparently the Talmudic rabbis have decided that the tendon is actually the sciatic nerve, called the gid ha-nasheh. Since the idea of wrestling with God, and winning, obviously makes no sense, the Zohar also tells us that this was not God but rather Esau's guardian angel. The sciatic nerve is said to represent sexual desire. (Of course in reality it has nothing to do with sex, it carries nerve impulses from the spinal chord to the legs and feet.) You can read Rabbi Menachem Posner's explanation here. Of course this is just made up by a bunch of guys in eastern Europe a couple of thousand years after this was originally written, and there is no basis for it other than imagination.

  1. Genesis 32:28 Israel probably means he struggles with God.
  2. Genesis 32:30 Peniel means face of God.
  3. Genesis 32:31 Hebrew Penuel, a variant of Peniel

Friday, November 09, 2018

Descent into the maelstrom

The detachment between reality and the Resident and his administration has been gobsmacking from the very first. Remember the size of the inaugural crowd? WaPo has identified 6,420 Residential falsehoods in 649 days. Of course there is a constitutional prohibition against them using the word "lies." But there's something different about the last few days, a feeling that this is no longer a show of cynicism, bluster and impunity.

Obviously he appointed Matt Whitaker Attorney General with the explicit purpose of shutting down the Mueller investigation. So he took questions from reporters this morning and claimed he does not know Whitaker, which is obviously nonsensical since Whitaker has been in the oval office more than a dozen times and there are numerous reports that the two are close. But you don't have to take my word for it, you can take Donald J. Trump's word for it if you like because he told Steve Doocy on October 10 that he does know Whitaker and that Whitaker is a "great guy."

While this is going on, the Resident and Rick Scott are claiming that Democrats are trying to steal the Florida Senate election by the nefarious, dastardly scheme of counting all the votes. The Resident banned a reporter from the White House for asking questions, and then his spokesperson tried to justify by tweeting a fake video created by the lunatic Infowars to falsely accuse Acosta of assaulting an intern. Infowars! It's hard to believe his skin could get any thinner or his racism more transparent, but both are happening.

So I think he is actually losing his marbles. The question is whether any Republican senators will start to question whether this lunatic narcissist is really the hill they want to die on. We'll see.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018


Are you disappointed and disturbed that a campaign of bigotry, paranoia and lies succeeded in increasing the Republican Senate majority? Well keep this in mind, folks, from 538:

56.7 percent

Voters cast 44.7 million votes for Democratic Senate candidates and 32.9 million votes for Republican Senate candidates — in other words 57 percent of Senate votes went for Democrats. But given how states and cities and stuff work, and which of the former happened to be up for election this year, this gap translated into at least a two-seat gain for Republicans. Republicans will have a majority in the upper chamber, and are currently sitting on 51 senators with several races yet to be called.
The Senate, and the electoral college, are anachronisms that resulted from compromise with the slave states. We need a new constitution.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

A warning from the past

From BoingBoing (and tip o' the hat to Brad DeLong), words from Lyndon Johnson prior to the 1966 mid-terms. Johnson did a lot of good, but sadly Viet Nam ruined his legacy.

I can think of nothing more dangerous, more divisive, or more self-destructive than the effort to prey on what is called 'white backlash.' I thought it was a mistake to pump this issue up in the 1964 campaign, and I do not think it served the purpose of those who did. I think it is dangerous because it threatens to vest power in the hands of second-rate men whose only qualification is their ability to pander to other men's fears. I think it divides this nation at a very critical time -- and therefore it weakens us as a united country.
"I think that the so-called 'white backlash' is destructive, not only of the interests of Negro Americans, but of all those who stand to gain from humane and farsighted government. And those that stand to gain from humane and farsighted government is everybody. Nevertheless, there are those who try to stimulate suspicion into hatred, and to make fear and frustration their springboard into public office. Many of them do it openly. Some let their henchmen do it for them. Their responsibility is the same.
As disturbing as the behavior of the malignant narcissist who was installed in office by a foreign adversary is the rank cowardice and moral depravity of the entire Republican leadership.  May they drown in disgrace and shame.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Sunday Sermonette: brotherly love

Genesis 32, like many of the chapters, is divided oddly. In fact the Masoretic text puts the first verse with chapter 31; while there are clearly two stories in the rest of it. The first one, turgidly written and repetitive, is also illogical. But we'll do it now and get it over with.

Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim.[b]
KJV has "this is God's host." Not sure why the discrepancy.

Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He instructed them: “This is what you are to say to my lord Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, male and female servants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.’”
When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”
In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups,[c] and the flocks and herds and camels as well. He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group,[d] the group[e] that is left may escape.”
Okaaay. I can certainly understand why Jacob thinks Esau is likely to be hostile. However, if Jacob is desperately afraid of him, why did he send messengers to tip him off that Jacob was in the neighborhood?
Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. 11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. 12 But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”
13 He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.”
Again, camels had not been domesticated at the time this supposedly took place.
17 He instructed the one in the lead: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘Who do you belong to, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ 18 then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’”
19 He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: “You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. 20 And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.’” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.” 21 So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp.
Also unclear is why Jacob assumes that Esau is much more militarily powerful.  In any event, he hopes to buy Esau off by giving up half of his animals, but if Esau is really all that horrific he can just take the rest, no?

Again, Jacob could have spared himself all of this pain by just sneaking on by. Very odd.
  1. Genesis 32:2 Mahanaim means two camps.
  2. Genesis 32:7 Or camps
  3. Genesis 32:8 Or camp
  4. Genesis 32:8 Or camp