Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Immediate Emergency

I can't say it any better than Tom Sullivan, but I will say it more succinctly.

It should not be news to anyone that the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW is a vulgar racist, and that his essential appeal to his cult following is that he channels their bigotry. That he became the Republican nominee is the consequence of decades of Republicans playing to racists more subtly, beginning with Richard Nixon's so-called Southern Strategy. The current party standard bearer has been saying the quiet parts out loud since he announced his candidacy, so what is new now?

Well, the blatant crudity of "Go back where you came from" is a real step further. Not that it matters a whole lot, but four of the five women who were the subjects of that moronic taunt were born in the United States. One of them is in fact Native American, so presumably she wouldn't have far to go in any case. Another is African American, and doesn't even know what country her ancestors come from because her heritage was erased by enslavement. The only one who was not born in the U.S. came here as a refugee, was given asylum, and naturalized as a citizen.

What this says to the cultists is that people who are not of European ancestry are not "real Americans." The plan is, obviously, to run the 2020 campaign on this premise, that the Republican party represents those "real Americans," white people, while the Democrats consist of non-Americans and race traitors. We know this because Republican politicians, without as far as I can tell a single exception, have remained silent.

We know where this leads, because we saw what happened in the country of Donald J. Trump's ancestors beginning in 1933. This is real, folks.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: Take the long way home

Exodus 13 is short enough to handle in one dose. We have seen before how awkwardly contrived this whole plot is, but this is probably the crudest example. In case you don't have a clear picture of the geography of the region, keep in mind that modern day Israel and Egypt share a border. The straight shot from Cairo to Beer Sheba is overland, through the Sinai desert. Joseph was first brought to Egypt along this trade route. You can also follow the Mediterranean coast if you like. Goshen was apparently in the northeast of Egypt so it's even closer.

Political Map of the Sinai Peninsula

The Lord said to Moses, “Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether human or animal.”
Then Moses said to the people, “Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast. Today, in the month of Aviv, you are leaving. When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites and Jebusites—the land he swore to your ancestors to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey—you are to observe this ceremony in this month: For seven days eat bread made without yeast and on the seventh day hold a festival to the Lord. Eat unleavened bread during those seven days; nothing with yeast in it is to be seen among you, nor shall any yeast be seen anywhere within your borders.
Note that the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorite, Hivites and Jebusites already live in that land. Too bad for them, huh? Again, this incessant, eternal harping on not leavening the bread seems bizarre.
On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that this law of the Lord is to be on your lips. For the Lord brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand. 10 You must keep this ordinance at the appointed time year after year.
The rabbis later interpreted this passage, in conjunction with some later ones, to produce the tefillin, little boxes containing Torah verses that orthodox Jewish men strap to their hands and foreheads for morning prayer, even though this passage refers to only an annual, not daily observance and is stated metaphorically, not literally..   Oddly,  the word tefillin is  nowhere in the Torah. The origin of the word is obscure. (The English word phylacteries that you may have encountered is derived from Greek for amulet.)
11 “After the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites and gives it to you, as he promised on oath to you and your ancestors, 12 you are to give over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to the Lord. 13 Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem every firstborn among your sons.
14 “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’ 16 And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”
So when your children ask you why you are killing the lamb or breaking the donkey's neck, tell them it is because God murdered hundreds of thousands of Egyptians. Pharaoh's stubbornness, as we have been told many times, was contrived by God so that he would have an excuse to do this.
17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea.[a]
 The Philistines were a seafaring people who did not arrive in the Levant until at least 1,500 years after these events took place. In any case check the map. In order to get to the shores of the red sea, the people had to go a good 150 miles out of their way, which in those days was considerable. I see that the pillar of fire enabled them to travel by night but didn't they need to sleep? As I noted previously, Sukkoth and Etham are not the names of real places in Egypt. God actually thinks that if the Israelites face war they're going to chicken out and return to Egypt, but what does he expect to happen when they confront the Canaanites, the Hittites, Amorite, Hivites and Jebusites? In case you are wondering, we will find out soon enough.
The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle.
19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.”[b]
20 After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. 21 By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.


  1. Exodus 13:18 Or the Sea of Reeds
  2. Exodus 13:19 See Gen. 50:25.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The last refuge of a scoundrel . . .

Samuel Johnson famously said that of patriotism, as reported by his biographer Boswell. We don't know for sure who Johnson was thinking about but the quotation applies to uncountable people since Johnson said it in 1775. I believe it was Ambrose Bierce who objected that in fact, patriotism is the first refuge of a scoundrel. Please note that the logic of the statement does not condemn patriotism in general. Scoundrels might take refuge in many perfectly fine places.

Nation states are essentially imaginary communities. For them to function properly their inhabitants must have some form of shared identity and loyalty to the concept of the state. This is most urgently true of representative republics, which depend on public engagement and legitimacy. But many people make damaging errors in their understanding of patriotism.

The most egregious is in conflating loyalty to the nation with loyalty or obeisance to its current leaders. The latter is the definition of patriotism in North Korea. It also seems to be the definition adopted by the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, who has repeatedly labeled disrespect for his own person as treason. And that seems to be the definition adopted by many of his cultists, the so-called "base" which now constitutes the self-identified Republicans among the electorate.

A similarly egregious error is to think that patriotism means approving of whatever actions the national leadership takes in the international sphere, particularly military action. Dissenting from warmaking seems to many the most egregious violation of patriotism. Mark Twain has something to say about this.  Do read The War Prayer if you haven't already, but the idea is that his protagonist translates prayers for victory into this:

Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth into battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended in the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames in summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it —

For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimmage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

Another error, which can be nearly as egregious in its application, is conflating patriotism with symbolic enactments. This includes treating the nation's flag and other symbolic paraphernalia as sacred objects, and enacting rituals such as reciting a pledge, or adopting a particular pose and singing as the national anthem is played. Adherents of this vacuous ideology may even invent new symbols, such as requiring politicians to wear a flag lapel pin.

People may intend all sorts of messages by violating these ritual norms. For example, Colin Kapernick, who knelt rather than stand during the playing of the national anthem to draw attention to police violence. His point was that the nation's ideals were being violated. By kneeling, he was praying that they be upheld. That is true patriotism. But the NFL owners are so scared that NFL fans are shallow-minded idiots that he he's been unemployed ever since. (They're probably right.)

Here's a Faux News moron talking about the captain of the U.S. team that just won the World Cup:

I did notice during the, I guess, anthem, she didn't have her hand here, and we know that she kneels sometimes during the anthem. She said she's not going to go to the f-ing White House, which to me, was like, "Wow." And that's her prerogative, but I do think it's damaging U.S. Women's Soccer. . . . I think people won't watch if they see the team that's representing our country be unpatriotic, and I've spoken to people who over the weekend weren't watching, refused to watch, and I think that's going to have an impact on ratings.
She is in fact a much greater patriot than you, sir. There cannot be any more urgent duty of a patriot than to resist the current regime and bring it to an end.

UPDATE: And this just in . . .

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Long Emergency: Baked Alaska

As has been widely reported, Anchorage had the hottest temperature ever recorded on July 4, 90 degrees Fahrenheit. It's not quite as warm now but they have another problem, wild fires. The long-range forecast is nothing but smoke.

The consequences of cliimate change for Alaska are catastrophic. Many indigenous villages have already had to be abandoned as the sea ice disappears and the land erodes away.

“Especially in western Alaska, we’re going to see ground thawed that has not been thawed since before the last ice age,” [climate specialist Rich Thoman] explained.
The thawing of frozen earth will challenge human infrastructure and communities, for sure, but it will also unfreeze ancient germs and release huge amounts of greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide and methane–that have been held in frozen soil for all of human existence. These greenhouse gases will, in turn, drive further warming.
What this thawing illustrates most, said Thoman, “at the most visceral level, is the magnitude of what’s happened in the last 150 years.”
So what is the Alaskan government doing about it? Well, it turns out the recent gubernatorial election was all about whether Alaskans will each get $1,600 a year in free money from oil and gas royalties, as they have been lately, or whether they would get $3,000. The Republican candidate, natch, ran on the $3,000 promise and he won. Unfortunately, that meant he had to eliminate 40% of the state allocation to the University of Alaska, " make a $50 million cut to state Medicaid spending and tens of millions more in reductions for senior benefits and public assistance to the blind and disabled. Dunleavy even cut $3.4 million for inspectors who monitor cruise ship pollution — money that was funded through fees from passengers and the cruise lines, not state tax dollars."

Since the most important thing to the people of Alaska is to get that free $3,000 every year, the last thing on earth they would ever want is to stop burning fossil fuel. The $3,000 is more important to them than educating their children, taking care of their sick and old people, or stopping cruise ships from polluting their harbors, so obviously it's more important to them than stopping their state from burning up and blowing away.

There is no limit to the depth of human folly.