Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

College Admission Fraud: Weirdness Department

The recent flapdoodle has reminded me of a very strange incident my freshman year. That was a while ago, okay? They had us show up a few days before the start of classes for orientation -- you know, which way is south, don't climb the water tower (which we wouldn't have thought of doing if they hadn't told us not to), meet with your advisor, have the athletic department determine if you were worthy of their interest, all that sort of thing.

They also tried to engineer ways of getting acquainted with your fellow students. One of these was folk dancing, which definitely did not interest me but for lack of anything better to do I stopped by to watch. It was in the field house, so I was leaning against the rail gawking at the bizarre spectacle of preppies from New Jersey learning how to do-si-do. The guy standing next to me was wearing sandles, cut off shorts and a tie-died t-shirt but he didn't have the long hair that normally would have gone with it in those days. I tried talking with him. He was quite aloof, didn't seem interested in striking up an acquaintance. He looked a bit older than a freshman so I asked him about that. He said he'd been in the army but he didn't want to talk about it. That was understandable, the Vietnam war was going on.

Anyway our paths didn't really cross after that, but people told me about this guy in their classes who seemed to have taken the course before. He went on about the pre-Raphaelites in the first class of a Victorian literature course, talked about the history of political development in Venezuela in the first week of poli-sci 101. All in all he was exceedingly obnoxious.

Six weeks or so into the semester the grapevine informed me that he had not, in fact, been in the army. He had spent the previous four years in Cambridge, Massachusetts, attending the World's Greatest University, from which he had in fact graduated. He had somehow ginned up a fake application to a small liberal arts college in the Philadelphia suburbs, gotten admitted, and there he was. I don't know how they caught him but I do know that the deans waxed mightily wroth.

As for how he managed to do this, obviously his SAT scores would still be good. However, it would seem difficult for him to get letters of recommendation from high school teachers since presumably they would have known he was admitted to Harvard. Maybe he could get away with telling them he had decided not to attend after all but wanted to go to college now, and they wouldn't have any way of knowing. It seems odd, however, that the admissions office didn't want to see his letter of discharge or get a recommendation from a commanding officer. In any case, this was a very expensive stunt. He must have been a rich kid.

As for why he did it, it seems he told the deans he was planning to write a book. I have a hard time imagining what he had in mind. "I scammed the admissions office and became a college freshman for the second time even though I had already graduated, and I was an obnoxious know-it-all in class. I'm sure you will find this story very fascinating." I don't know if they sued him or tried to have him prosecuted. I think they didn't want to generate any publicity about this, so maybe not. Anyway maybe I'll turn it into a novel some day.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Scamming: A Great American Tradition

I don't actually know if the U.S. is particularly susceptible to con artists but they feature prominently in our high culture, popular culture, and actual history. From Melville's lightning rod salesman to The Music Man to Elmer Gantry they're a familiar literary character. Snake oil salesmen are still alive and well, they're mass marketing their wares through  GNC and CVS. WorldCom, Enron, Bernie Madoff - and of course the current Resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, whose entire life has been a scam.

The new HBO documentary about Elizabeth Holmes has prompted a lot of talk about grand con games. What is perhaps most interesting about her story is that she took in so many people who seemingly should have known better. This includes not only the investors who blew $9 billion (yep, that's right) but physician-scientists and biologists who sat on the board of directors, who presumably are trained to ask for actual evidence of her claims.

The main lesson, as Melanie McFarland sees it in the linked review, is that style triumphed over substance. Holmes had the right look and the right technobabble, and that seduced people who wanted to believe.

Unfortunately it works the same way in politics, to a large extent. As political scientists Richard Reeves says:


"It's a painful truth to recognize that policy is less important than we like to think it is," Reeves said. "We are increasingly seeing that political brands matter more than policy platforms."
Following the 2016 election, Reeves published an essay for Brookings, "The real loser of the 2016 campaign is policy," in which he argued that Trump "offered the most vivid example of the sundering of policy from politics."
"What Donald Trump did during the campaign was to paint in a very broad brush," Reeves said. "Rather than having a debate about immigration policy in the round, [Trump asked], 'Are you for or against the wall? Are you for or against the Muslim ban?'

Reeves gives [Elizabeth] Warren credit for her deep work on policy. But he says there is a lot of evidence that voters often decide first who they like before they consider which policies they support. For Warren, that means a big challenge could come from someone like O'Rourke, the former Texas congressman, whose policy positions remain vague and unformed, but who is able to ride (literally) his brand.
"There's that famous video of him kind of skateboarding onto a stage before speaking," Reeves said. "It's really difficult to imagine Elizabeth Warren doing that, and I'm not recommending that she tries."
Of course, it doesn't help that the corporate media is more interested in style (Oh no, he isn't wearing a flag lapel pin! He put mustard on a hamburger!) and horse race coverage than they are in policy. I don't know what we can do about this. 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: Ripoff of the millennium

I'm guessing you've never heard a real sermon preached about Genesis 47. In fact I suspect that very few people are even aware of it. It gets real ugly. Here goes.

Joseph went and told Pharaoh, “My father and brothers, with their flocks and herds and everything they own, have come from the land of Canaan and are now in Goshen.” He chose five of his brothers and presented them before Pharaoh.
Pharaoh asked the brothers, “What is your occupation?”
“Your servants are shepherds,” they replied to Pharaoh, “just as our fathers were.” They also said to him, “We have come to live here for a while, because the famine is severe in Canaan and your servants’ flocks have no pasture. So now, please let your servants settle in Goshen.”
Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you, and the land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land. Let them live in Goshen. And if you know of any among them with special ability, put them in charge of my own livestock.”
Hmm. Wait a minute. How did the last chapter end? Oh yeah: "‘What is your occupation?’ 34 you should answer, ‘Your servants have tended livestock from our boyhood on, just as our fathers did.’ Then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen, for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians.”  But it turns out that Pharaoh owns livestock himself. Indeed, although as I said last week one study of several mummies found they had a largely plant-based diet, in fact the ancient egyptians did keep cattle and consume meat.
Then Joseph brought his father Jacob in and presented him before Pharaoh. After Jacob blessed[a] Pharaoh, Pharaoh asked him, “How old are you?”
And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.” 10 Then Jacob blessed[b] Pharaoh and went out from his presence.
Not sure why Jacob/Israel refers to his life as "the years of my pilgrimage." Of course 130 years doesn't seem like few. Throughout Genesis lifespans seem generally to decline toward reality. By the time we get to Exodus they become more or less normal.
11 So Joseph settled his father and his brothers in Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land, the district of Rameses, as Pharaoh directed. 12 Joseph also provided his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their children.
Why is it called the district of Rameses? I thought it was Goshen.

13 There was no food, however, in the whole region because the famine was severe; both Egypt and Canaan wasted away because of the famine. 14 Joseph collected all the money that was to be found in Egypt and Canaan in payment for the grain they were buying, and he brought it to Pharaoh’s palace. 15 When the money of the people of Egypt and Canaan was gone, all Egypt came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? Our money is all gone.”
Here is a description of the ancient Egyptian economy. Coined money was not introduced until around 500 BCE, about when this was written but 2,000 years after it purportedly happened. It was largely a barter economy. Here's another source that makes clear this was a barter economy, there was no money
16 “Then bring your livestock,” said Joseph. “I will sell you food in exchange for your livestock, since your money is gone.” 17 So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and he gave them food in exchange for their horses, their sheep and goats, their cattle and donkeys. And he brought them through that year with food in exchange for all their livestock.
18 When that year was over, they came to him the following year and said, “We cannot hide from our lord the fact that since our money is gone and our livestock belongs to you, there is nothing left for our lord except our bodies and our land. 19 Why should we perish before your eyes—we and our land as well? Buy us and our land in exchange for food, and we with our land will be in bondage to Pharaoh. Give us seed so that we may live and not die, and that the land may not become desolate.”
20 So Joseph bought all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh. The Egyptians, one and all, sold their fields, because the famine was too severe for them. The land became Pharaoh’s, 21 and Joseph reduced the people to servitude,[c] from one end of Egypt to the other.
Okay, so remember what happened. Joseph confiscated the grain from the farmers in the first place, then he sold it back to them and turned what had apparently been a society of free farmers into a vast slave plantation. As the footnote indicates "reduced the people to servitude" may actually have read "moved the people into cities," but that doesn't make much sense since they continue to farm. In fact Egypt was largely a land of small peasant villages, with merchants, artisans, and priests in the cities.
22 However, he did not buy the land of the priests, because they received a regular allotment from Pharaoh and had food enough from the allotment Pharaoh gave them. That is why they did not sell their land.
Of course.
23 Joseph said to the people, “Now that I have bought you and your land today for Pharaoh, here is seed for you so you can plant the ground. 24 But when the crop comes in, give a fifth of it to Pharaoh. The other four-fifths you may keep as seed for the fields and as food for yourselves and your households and your children.”
25 “You have saved our lives,” they said. “May we find favor in the eyes of our lord; we will be in bondage to Pharaoh.”
26 So Joseph established it as a law concerning land in Egypt—still in force today—that a fifth of the produce belongs to Pharaoh. It was only the land of the priests that did not become Pharaoh’s.
Apparently taxation in ancient Egypt did amount to approximately 20% of produce. However, it was not only used to support Pharaoh's armies and tomb-building enterprises, some of it was redistributed in hard times.
27 Now the Israelites settled in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number.
28 Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years, and the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven. 29 When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness.
In other words, grab my nuts. Thankfully, this custom seems to have ended at this point.
Do not bury me in Egypt, 30 but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.”
“I will do as you say,” he said.
31 “Swear to me,” he said. Then Joseph swore to him, and Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.[d]

Footnotes:

  1. Genesis 47:7 Or greeted
  2. Genesis 47:10 Or said farewell to
  3. Genesis 47:21 Samaritan Pentateuch and Septuagint (see also Vulgate); Masoretic Text and he moved the people into the cities
  4. Genesis 47:31 Or Israel bowed down at the head of his bed

Friday, March 15, 2019

College Admissions

A commenter on the previous post prompted me to get to this now - I was indeed intending to. Obviously I don't personally have anything to do with admissions here, since I'm just a humble professor, not the synchronized archery coach. I am acutely conscious that a degree from our institution is a golden ticket. Admissions committees at highly selective colleges and universities are sorting people into buckets with radically different life chances.

Selectivity is actually the whole point -- an Ivy League degree wouldn't be worth as much if anybody could get one. The ostensible purpose of the four years undergraduates spend here is the development of broad knowledge and skills that will equip them to contribute to the betterment of humanity. Our institution proclaims its mission for undergraduate education here, although I would say there are a lot of tacit assumptions there. The anonymous voice says:
A Brown education is a catalyst for creativity and entrepreneurship. Students at Brown are free to imagine and create their own course of study, integrating their major areas of interest into a broader program of liberal learning. Working with a network of teachers and advisors, students develop important skills of planning, communication, self-advocacy, and resilience. . . .

The success of Brown’s graduates in a huge range of fields underscores that our unique approach to education works. Brown students are driven, individual, highly inquisitive scholars and energetic leaders.
Okay, this is true. We really do care about this. We work hard to help our students learn and reflect and grow. And I hope that graduates do for the most part go on to contribute to the betterment of humanity, although there seem to be an inordinate number of them who aspire to a career in hedge fund management. But there is also an unspoken outcome of a Brown education: the credential. That will get you onto the first rung of the ladder and continue to guild your resume for the rest of your life. That will likely matter more than whatever you actually learned here.

So people are legitimately outraged by the revelation that some rich people cheated to get their kids into selective universities. So far no claims have emerged that we were among them, but these few cases of fraud are of little consequence compared to the "legitimate" admissions policy. Children from affluent and wealthy families routinely have a tremendous advantage. Part of it is the resources to prep for the SAT, get your essay expertly ghost written, and build up a resume of the sorts of activities that admissions committees value. There are also preferences given to children of alumni, and donors.

Then there are preferences for "athletes." People think of jock universities with a lot of African American basketball and football players, but the vast majority of college athletes, who get preferential admission even here (though we don't have athletic scholarships per se) engage in sports that nobody pays attention to but mostly rich kids get a chance to do: rowing, tennis, water polo, lacrosse, sailing, golf -- that sort of thing. Preferential admission for these sports is an affirmative action program for affluent white kids.

We do nonetheless manage to have a fairly diverse student body, and they do find a way to admit some students who don't come from privilege. But the chances still skew toward the affluent and wealthy. The cheating is really not the issue.


Thursday, March 14, 2019

Public Health 101

I have been employed in the field of public health in one way or another for more than 30 years. So I take the term for granted, along with the concepts it embodies and the nature of the work that is done by public health researchers and practitioners. So I continually have to remind myself that many, if not most people, don't know what "public health" means. Often, people seem to think that it means providing medical services to poor people. Some people think it just means infectious disease control.

I work at a school of public health and I do public health research and I teach public health. So here are three definitions I offer to my students in an introductory lecture to my introductory course in public health. So I really do know what it means.

Definition 1 is from the Institute of Medicine, in 1988:


‘the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting health … through organized community effort’


That's succinct. As you can readily see, it would include such activities as reducing the rate at which people are shot. Why is the Institute of Medicine defining public health? Good question! Medicine does focus on the individual, while public health addresses the population level. But physicians have come to care more about public health than they did in the past because they know that medical intervention accounts for less than half of health and longevity.

Definition 2 is from Harvard professor C.E. Winslow, in 1932. He was a founder of the field.


Public Health is the science and the art of preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting physical health and efficiency through organized community efforts for the sanitation of the environment, the control of community infections, the education of the individual in principles of personal hygiene, the organization of medical and nursing service for the early diagnosis and preventive treatment of disease, and the development of the social machinery which will ensure to every individual in the community a standard of living adequate for the maintenance of health; organizing these benefits in such fashion as to enable every citizen to realize his birthright of health and longevity.”
As you can see he includes medicine, particularly early diagnosis and prevention, as a part of public health, but only a small part.

The third definition is from the textbook I use, by M. Schneider:


At its most idealistic, public health is a broad social movement, a campaign to maximize health for everyone in the population through distributing benefits and responsibilities in an equitable way.  Health is therefore “a political endeavor as much as, or at times even more than, a medical one.”
 Public health is multi-disciplinary. It is defined by its mission, not any specific set of analytical or practical skills. You can get a degree in public health, up to a doctorate, meaning you probably know about a lot of stuff but some of it in less depth than a specialist in public health:

Economics
Law
Human Biology
Ethics
Environmental Toxicology
Nutrition
Medicine
Communication
Psychology
Sociology/Anthropology
Biostatistics
Epidemiology
Political Science
Management
Urban Planning
Civil Engineering . . .

And a whole lot more. We do research that informs every government agency from the Environmental Protection Agency to the National Transportation Safety Board to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense.

Just so we're clear.



Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Red flag laws

Zeoli and Webster, in the new JAMA, discuss "red flag" laws. These are laws that prohibit gun ownership by people with histories of violent felonies and/or people who have domestic violence restraining orders; or allow concerned family members or others to ask a court to prohibit someone who is at high risk of suicide or violence from possessing a firearm. These mean that yes, the people are required to surrender weapons they own and the police can confiscate them.

They have not so far resulted in the shootouts Mojrim fears, and they are associated with modest reductions in homicides and suicides. Not huge, but they do save lives. The courts have consistently upheld such laws and they have popular support. I would also favor requiring that guns be stored in safes. They are only enforceable post hoc, but they do provide recourse when people are negligent and others might get the message.

Also, we might consider taking guns away from complete doofuses.

Update: To claim that firearm injuries are not a public health issue is to prove that you need a proctoscope  to find your head. Injury prevention is one of the core functions of public health, obviously. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: Useless factoids


Genesis 46 is kind of a strange object. Why do we need this enumeration of male descendants, most of whose names we will never see again and who have no individually identifiable role in the plot? Remember that this entire story is fiction, made up nearly 2,000 years after it supposedly happened. I'll get to that.

 So Israel set out with all that was his, and when he reached Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.
And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, “Jacob! Jacob!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
Sometimes the man is named Israel and sometimes he's named Jacob, seemingly at random.
“I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.”
As we know, God is lying. He will not make Israel a great nation in Egypt, they will be enslaved there. Hmm.
Then Jacob left Beersheba, and Israel’s sons took their father Jacob and their children and their wives in the carts that Pharaoh had sent to transport him. So Jacob and all his offspring went to Egypt, taking with them their livestock and the possessions they had acquired in Canaan. Jacob brought with him to Egypt his sons and grandsons and his daughters and granddaughters—all his offspring.
These are the names of the sons of Israel (Jacob and his descendants) who went to Egypt:
Reuben the firstborn of Jacob.
The sons of Reuben:
Hanok, Pallu, Hezron and Karmi.
10 The sons of Simeon:
Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jakin, Zohar and Shaul the son of a Canaanite woman.
11 The sons of Levi:
Gershon, Kohath and Merari.
12 The sons of Judah:
Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez and Zerah (but Er and Onan had died in the land of Canaan).
The sons of Perez:
Hezron and Hamul.
13 The sons of Issachar:
Tola, Puah,[a] Jashub[b] and Shimron.
14 The sons of Zebulun:
Sered, Elon and Jahleel.
15 These were the sons Leah bore to Jacob in Paddan Aram,[c] besides his daughter Dinah. These sons and daughters of his were thirty-three in all.
Actually, if you count them, there are 32. Just sayin'.
16 The sons of Gad:
Zephon,[d] Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi and Areli.
17 The sons of Asher:
Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi and Beriah.
Their sister was Serah.
The sons of Beriah:
Heber and Malkiel.
18 These were the children born to Jacob by Zilpah, whom Laban had given to his daughter Leah—sixteen in all.
19 The sons of Jacob’s wife Rachel:
Joseph and Benjamin. 20 In Egypt, Manasseh and Ephraim were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On.[e]
21 The sons of Benjamin:
Bela, Beker, Ashbel, Gera, Naaman, Ehi, Rosh, Muppim, Huppim and Ard.
Wow that's weird! Two weeks ago Benjamin was a little boy. Now he has ten sons.
22 These were the sons of Rachel who were born to Jacob—fourteen in all.
23 The son of Dan:
Hushim.
24 The sons of Naphtali:
Jahziel, Guni, Jezer and Shillem.
25 These were the sons born to Jacob by Bilhah, whom Laban had given to his daughter Rachel—seven in all.
26 All those who went to Egypt with Jacob—those who were his direct descendants, not counting his sons’ wives—numbered sixty-six persons. 27 With the two sons[f] who had been born to Joseph in Egypt, the members of Jacob’s family, which went to Egypt, were seventy[g] in all.
28 Now Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to get directions to Goshen. When they arrived in the region of Goshen, 29 Joseph had his chariot made ready and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel. As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father[h] and wept for a long time.
The name Goshen does not occur anywhere but here. It does not correspond to any known place name in any language. It is odd that Pharaoh would give some of his best land to these strangers, but we don't know where it was.
30 Israel said to Joseph, “Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive.”
31 Then Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and speak to Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were living in the land of Canaan, have come to me. 32 The men are shepherds; they tend livestock, and they have brought along their flocks and herds and everything they own.’ 33 When Pharaoh calls you in and asks, ‘What is your occupation?’ 34 you should answer, ‘Your servants have tended livestock from our boyhood on, just as our fathers did.’ Then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen, for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians.”
This is evidently supposed to be the explanation. Goshen must be a fairly remote part of Pharaoh's domain, where he can offload the detestable shepherds. It is true that the ancient Egyptians were largely vegetarian, although it is not as far as I know established that they had any taboo about herding or meat eating. Most early agriculturists ate a plant-based diet simply because it's more efficient to consume grain directly than to feed it to animals. So this makes some sense: if Pharaoh had land suitable for grazing he might have wanted to establish some shepherds there. However,  there is no evidence of Hebrew presence in Egypt, and indeed the archaeological evidence is clear that they inhabited Canaan continuously.

Footnotes:

  1. Genesis 46:13 Samaritan Pentateuch and Syriac (see also 1 Chron. 7:1); Masoretic Text Puvah
  2. Genesis 46:13 Samaritan Pentateuch and some Septuagint manuscripts (see also Num. 26:24 and 1 Chron. 7:1); Masoretic Text Iob
  3. Genesis 46:15 That is, Northwest Mesopotamia
  4. Genesis 46:16 Samaritan Pentateuch and Septuagint (see also Num. 26:15); Masoretic Text Ziphion
  5. Genesis 46:20 That is, Heliopolis
  6. Genesis 46:27 Hebrew; Septuagint the nine children

Friday, March 08, 2019

Facts are stupid things: gun violence edition

We often hear claims that firearm regulation just doesn't work. People who want to get guns and shoot people are going to do it anyway. Conversely, making it easy for peaceful citizens to obtain and carry guns means that people can protect themselves and make us all safer. This is just BS the NRA pulls out of an orifice -- there is plenty of evidence that it's the opposite of the truth.

These investigators ran a regression over 17 years of the rate of mass shootings in states on the permissiveness of their firearm laws. There are various definitions of mass shootings, but they use a relatively non-restrictive one: four or more people killed in a single incident. Most firearm deaths are actually suicides and most homicides do not result from mass shootings, but these events get a lot of attention. The findings are stark and quite compelling:

Table 1 shows that in fully adjusted models, a 10 unit increase in state gun law permissiveness was associated with a significant 11.5% (95% confidence interval 4.2% to 19.3%, P=0.002) higher rate of mass shootings. A 10% increase in state gun ownership was associated with a significant 35.1% (12.7% to 62.7%, P=0.001) higher rate of mass shootings.
The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is not letting have a gun in the first place.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

The Definition of Science

It's astonishing the rhetorical and cognitive contortions climate change deniers and flat earthers will go through to keep living in their fantasy worlds. Climate science is incontrovertibly real science, which by rigorous and multiple lines of inquiry has reached conclusions as certain as any can be that humans, by spewing carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, are causing overall warming of the troposphere and oceans. This in turn causes multiple changes in weather patterns including wetter and more powerful storms, more heat waves, droughts and associated wildfires, and severe ecological disruption, among other consequences.

It is true that climate science is at the highest, most integrative level, not experimental. There isn't a second earth where we aren't spewing greenhouse gases to which we can compare this one. But astronomy, cosmology, paleontology, and many other perfectly respectable sciences do not have much room for grand experiment either. However, experiments do provide much of the underlying scaffolding of knowledge for these observational sciences. For example, astronomy and cosmology depend on physics which is experimentally testable here on earth, and paleontologists also use physics and chemistry to test their observational and deductive methods.

There is a sort of junior high school mantra that people often chant to the effect that correlation can't prove causation, and a naive concept that only randomized controlled trials constitute "science." This is not true. Causation can be established by deduction from multiple facts and known relationships. In the case of climate science it's not even complicated, arcane or difficult. Svante Arrhenius in 1896 deduced the relationship between the CO2 content of the atmosphere and surface temperature. The mechanism is well understood and has indeed been confirmed my innumerable experiments. The atmosphere is largely transparent to visible light (which is why it's visible -- we evolved to be able to see wavelengths that penetrate the atmosphere). The ground and ocean are warmed by sunlight, and re-emit the energy in the infrared range, to which CO2 and methane are largely opaque. That's why an infrared photograph looks like it's taken in fog, and the range of visibility is low. The CO2 is in turn warmed by absorbing these photons and transfers its energy to the atmosphere and oceans with which it interacts. We know that this is why the earth is at a habitable temperature. We also know that as the CO2 (and methane) concentration in the atmosphere increases, so will the temperature.

This is not hypothesis, it is a fact as well known as any there is. We know that the seasons are caused by the inclination of the earth's axis of rotation to the plane of its orbit around the sun. We know that more CO2 in the atmosphere makes it warmer. Both of these facts are of equal stature. It is possible by various means to deduce the climate and CO2 concentration of the atmosphere in epochs both recent and long past. Global climate correlates with CO2 concentration in accordance with prediction. This is also true for the recent past for which we have direct, detailed records.

Scientists' observations of the atmosphere, with the benefit of satellites and global networks of sensors, have become more and more detailed. Combined with known physics and chemistry and yes, experiment, this enables them to relate atmospheric behavior with temperature, and to develop predictive models -- models which are then confirmed by events. There are obviously uncertainties in some predictions, but these are reduced as more observations and more detailed  models come into play.

I am very puzzled why people who have no training in a scientific subject think they know more than people who have devoted their lives to learning and research in the field. In any event, I hereby remind all readers of a policy which I announced some time ago and hereby reiterate:

Climate change denial is not permitted in comments here. We will not have a debate about it. There is no debate, there is no controversy, and I will not dignify willful ignorance with any further response.

Update: This post is about climate science, not the morality of abortion. I am generally disposed against comments that are radically off-topic or make category errors.


the labors of Sisyphus

Okay, so some funder spent big bucks for a nationwide cohort study in Denmark that proves, for the nineteen billionth time, that the MMR vaccine does not cause autism. The researchers followed 657,461 from birth through four years, and they actually found that the autism risk for vaccinated children was lower than for unvaccinated children. However, because the 95% confidence interval crossed zero, they more conservatively reported that "that MMR vaccination does not increase the risk for autism, does not trigger autism in susceptible children, and is not associated with clustering of autism cases after vaccination."

Now that's all very fine and we're glad to hear it. The problem is that we already knew this and there was never the slightest reason to suspect otherwise but --

It will make absolutely no difference to the true believers. Facts, evidence, logic, science, are all irrelevant to this fake controversy. There are people who have staked their careers, their fame and fortune, their reputations and/or their tribal identity on the utterly false claim that there is an association between vaccination and autism and nothing, nothing, nothing will ever persuade them otherwise.

Now, I suspect that many if not most flat-earthers are just goofing, but PZ Myers has found the ultimate in motivated reasoning. These clowns spent $20,000 on a laser gyroscope to prove that the earth does not rotate. Not surprisingly, they discovered a 15 degree per hour drift.  (That would be 360/24, to be precise.) So what do they have to say? "We obviously were not willing to accept that, and so we started looking for easy to disprove it was actually registering the motion of the Earth."

This makes me very sad because we face a dire planetary emergency and the people running the country are in the same category as anti-vaxers and flat-earthers. They are in an alternate reality.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: The big reveal!


Genesis 45 is the big reveal in more ways than one. It's where we finally get around to what this is really all about.
 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.
Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
 Well okay then but why did he wait until now? Again, Joseph's motivations really don't make any sense, except as a contrivance to draw out the story. Also, Judah told him just a few verses ago that Jacob is alive. Joseph evidently has a short memory.
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.[a]
So don't worry about selling me into slavery, it was God's idea in the first place. That being so, why the elaborate torture? 
“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’
So we now see the real purpose of all this rigamarole: it's to get the Hebrews into Egypt. Scholars now agree that this is entirely fiction. The Jews emerged in Canaan and lived there continuously. There is no historical or archaeological record of any Jewish presence in Egypt until around 650 BCE when the Pharaoh employed a garrison of Jewish soldiers. The events described here and in the remainder of Genesis serve to set up the situation in Exodus, which also began to take form around 650 BCE (purely by coincidence) probably based on some slightly older stories. There are various theories about why people invented the story of Exodus, which we'll get to.
12 “You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”
14 Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.
16 When the news reached Pharaoh’s palace that Joseph’s brothers had come, Pharaoh and all his officials were pleased. 17 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Tell your brothers, ‘Do this: Load your animals and return to the land of Canaan, 18 and bring your father and your families back to me. I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you can enjoy the fat of the land.’
Why is Pharaoh pleased by this? Why does he want to give his best land to a bunch of foreigners? Beats me.
19 “You are also directed to tell them, ‘Do this: Take some carts from Egypt for your children and your wives, and get your father and come. 20 Never mind about your belongings, because the best of all Egypt will be yours.’”
21 So the sons of Israel did this. Joseph gave them carts, as Pharaoh had commanded, and he also gave them provisions for their journey. 22 To each of them he gave new clothing, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels[b] of silver and five sets of clothes. 23 And this is what he sent to his father: ten donkeys loaded with the best things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain and bread and other provisions for his journey. 24 Then he sent his brothers away, and as they were leaving he said to them, “Don’t quarrel on the way!”
25 So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. 26 They told him, “Joseph is still alive! In fact, he is ruler of all Egypt.” Jacob was stunned; he did not believe them. 27 But when they told him everything Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. 28 And Israel said, “I’m convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”
Not clear why Joseph favors Benjamin. Yeah, Benjamin wasn't involved in selling him into slavery but he's already established that there's no harm, no foul there. Also not clear why he's sending all this good stuff to Canaan just to have it immediately schlepped back to Egypt. But none of this is really supposed to make any sense.

Footnotes:

  1. Genesis 45:7 Or save you as a great band of survivors
  2. Genesis 45:22 That is, about 7 1/2 pounds or about 3.5 kilograms

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Art of the Schlemiel

Simon Tisdale in The Guardian runs down the Hanoi summit in which the U.S. president slobbered all over the most ruthless mass murdering dictator currently on the planet and shat his pants in the process. That he is an incompetent fool is not news, but we did get confirmation that he has surrounded himself with sycophants and dilettantes and there is no longer anyone to rescue him from his idiocy.

Kim Jong Un stood to benefit from a summit with no tangible outcome by getting propaganda photos of himself hobnobbing with the U.S. president and footage of said president praising his leadership and character. Yep, the same guy who holds something like 100,000 political prisoners for crimes such as watching a South Korean movie, who murdered his own uncle with an anti-aircraft gun and who tortured an American student to death for (allegedly) stealing a poster -- oh wait, the U.S. president says that didn't actually happen, and he knows because Kim denies it.

But a competent State Department staff would have had a substantive agreement in place, ready to sign, before ever setting up a summit. That's how it's done. Apparently John Bolton had the wit to prevent his addled boss from giving away more than he did -- and he did apparently drop the long-standing demand for a full accounting of the North Korean nuclear weapons program -- but the U.S. standing in the world just took another tumble. I don't suppose the president's cultists care that the rest of the world is contemptuous of the guy they worship, but no, America isn't Great Again, it's a laughingstock. We have got to get rid of this malignant clown.  

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

We take requests

For some reason I don't really understand, a commenter think I should discuss plea bargaining. I'm not a lawyer nor an expert on the legal system, so I'll outsource this to Dylan Walsh.

In a pistachio shell, the criminal justice system is totally dependent on plea bargaining, it would collapse under the weight of trials. Plea bargaining aids investigations by allowing prosecutors to squeeze lower-level offenders to provide information about bigger fish, which is okay so long as the information they give is honest. We would hope that prosecutors will take pains to get corroboration but they probably encourage dubious testimony sometimes.

Probably the worst downside is that the legal representation provided to indigent defendants is totally inadequate. Even if they're innocent, they often feel they can't afford the risk of going to trial and may plead guilty to avoid the danger of a heavy sentence. Walsh discusses some efforts to ameliorate this problem, such as allowing bench trials (judge no jury) which allows for a larger volume of trials. I'm not so crazy about this however because judges pay a lot of deference to police and prosecutors. Personally, I'd rather have a jury. Walsh doesn't mention it, but eliminating most pre-trial detention would also help. He starts off with a story of a guy who pled out just so he wouldn't have to spend six months in jail awaiting trial.

However, for defendants with the resources to hire good lawyers, I'm not so worried. If the prosecutor doesn't have a solid case, they can afford to go to trial. The problem with plea bargaining is the fundamental problem that crops up everywhere: justice, in the U.S., is for the rich.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: Going round and round in circles

As I have said a few times during this long and tedious story, Joseph's motives for manipulating his brothers as he does are really mysterious. Yeah, okay, he wants to torture them for revenge, but of course Benjamin is innocent of the crime, as is Jacob, and they seem to be getting the worst of it. Furthermore, as we will discover in the next chapter, he isn't actually mad at them at all. So the point of all this eludes me. Anyway, here's chapter 44.

 Now Joseph gave these instructions to the steward of his house: “Fill the men’s sacks with as much food as they can carry, and put each man’s silver in the mouth of his sack. Then put my cup, the silver one, in the mouth of the youngest one’s sack, along with the silver for his grain.” And he did as Joseph said.
As morning dawned, the men were sent on their way with their donkeys. They had not gone far from the city when Joseph said to his steward, “Go after those men at once, and when you catch up with them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid good with evil? Isn’t this the cup my master drinks from and also uses for divination? This is a wicked thing you have done.’”
When he caught up with them, he repeated these words to them. But they said to him, “Why does my lord say such things? Far be it from your servants to do anything like that! We even brought back to you from the land of Canaan the silver we found inside the mouths of our sacks. So why would we steal silver or gold from your master’s house? If any of your servants is found to have it, he will die; and the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.”
10 “Very well, then,” he said, “let it be as you say. Whoever is found to have it will become my slave; the rest of you will be free from blame.”
Very odd here, that the steward says "my slave," when evidently the thief will become Joseph's slave. Anyway, these guys are total idiots. They have now fallen for the same trick twice. You might have though they would have checked to see if anything had been planted on them, since Joseph has already done this to them once. And when the cup is discovered, it doesn't occur to them that this is the same scam?
11 Each of them quickly lowered his sack to the ground and opened it. 12 Then the steward proceeded to search, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. 13 At this, they tore their clothes. Then they all loaded their donkeys and returned to the city.
14 Joseph was still in the house when Judah and his brothers came in, and they threw themselves to the ground before him. 15 Joseph said to them, “What is this you have done? Don’t you know that a man like me can find things out by divination?”
Again, Joseph is a con artist. 
16 “What can we say to my lord?” Judah replied. “What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants’ guilt. We are now my lord’s slaves—we ourselves and the one who was found to have the cup.”
17 But Joseph said, “Far be it from me to do such a thing! Only the man who was found to have the cup will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace.”
Right, Joseph's slave, not the steward's as implied in verse 10. Now Judah proceeds to re-tell the same story that has been told before, followed by a tedious story that has been told twice before -- all of which Joseph already knows. All of this telling and retelling and retelling again is particularly characteristic of the story of Joseph, but it's been seen before and will be seen again. And the retellings often have conflicting details.
18 Then Judah went up to him and said: “Pardon your servant, my lord, let me speak a word to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself. 19 My lord asked his servants, ‘Do you have a father or a brother?’ 20 And we answered, ‘We have an aged father, and there is a young son born to him in his old age. His brother is dead, and he is the only one of his mother’s sons left, and his father loves him.’
21 “Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me so I can see him for myself.’ 22 And we said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father; if he leaves him, his father will die.’ 23 But you told your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you will not see my face again.’ 24 When we went back to your servant my father, we told him what my lord had said.
25 “Then our father said, ‘Go back and buy a little more food.’ 26 But we said, ‘We cannot go down. Only if our youngest brother is with us will we go. We cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’
27 “Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One of them went away from me, and I said, “He has surely been torn to pieces.” And I have not seen him since. 29 If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in misery.’
30 “So now, if the boy is not with us when I go back to your servant my father, and if my father, whose life is closely bound up with the boy’s life, 31 sees that the boy isn’t there, he will die. Your servants will bring the gray head of our father down to the grave in sorrow. 32 Your servant guaranteed the boy’s safety to my father. I said, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, I will bear the blame before you, my father, all my life!’
33 “Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. 34 How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.”

So this is a long, complicated, repetitious story. Whatever moral or theological meaning it may have is not at all evident, though I'm sure people have read into it whatever suited their fancy. One can certainly see that Judah is a moral exemplar, offering to sacrifice himself for Benjamin.  Joseph's motive may be to test his brothers, though as we will see in the next chapter the test doesn't really matter. The reason this story exists is as a plot contrivance to get the Hebrews into Egypt. We'll have a good deal more to say about that.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Inflategate?

Robert Kraft is said to be worth $6.6 billion. So why, you may well ask, does he have his chauffeur drive him to a  massage parlor for a $49 blowjob?  Many a commenter around and about the blogosphere has wondered why he doesn't shell out a larger sum for the company of a higher class of companion. Perhaps there is a clue in the TCPalm story:

The Vero Beach spa is owned by Orlando resident Yongzhang Yan. He also owns AA Massage in Sebastian and the Winter Park and Orlando spas. Yan is married to Lanyun Ma, who was in charge of the day-to-day operations at the Vero Beach location, police said.

Detectives watched the Orlando couple transport multiple women with suitcases to and from the spa, "for the purpose of sexual servitude," according to her arrest warrant. Police said victims, identified in court records as Jane Does, lived inside the spas and worked as prostitutes. Some stayed for days, others for months. None were allowed to leave on their own. They did not have their own vehicles and generally spoke Mandarin or Cantonese, not English. Currey said many came from China on temporary work visas, indebted to the the brokers who helped them reach America, but believing legitimate jobs awaited them. "Some of them are trying to make a better life for themselves," he said. "These people truly are stuck." They were shamed, intimidated and taught not to speak to law enforcement or immigration officials.
So you know, he could have hired someone to let him play out a rape fantasy. But that wouldn't have been the real thing.




Thursday, February 21, 2019

Jussie Smollett

If I do say so myself (and long term readers if there are any will remember that this is true) I steered clear of the Duke lacrosse team and A Rape on Campus because my very sensitive nose detected malodours. While the motives of the perpetrators in the cases were somewhat different, it was possible to have some sympathy for them. The Duke accuser was not assaulted as she claimed, but she was disrespected and she was also in financial difficulty. She probably felt humiliated by having to work as a stripper in the first place and putting on a show for a bunch of white preppies had to hurt. As for "Jackie," we don't know why she made up her story, but evidently she had been severely traumatized by some event and it got transmogrified into the tale that appeared in Rolling Stone.

In these cases, the blame for the harm they caused is largely with the credulous reporters and in the Duke case, an overzealous prosecutor. I am happy to say that contrary to claims that are rocketing around the right wing nutosphere, I'm not the only liberal blogger who steered clear of Jussie Smollett, in fact very few people jumped on the case. As Paul Campos makes clear, people are pretending that he became a cause celebre on the left because that makes it seem more embarrassing, but that just isn't true. Smollett's story was just too pat to believe.

Disclaimer -- no verdict yet, maybe there's more to it than we know.

That said, what an incredibly fucked up thing to do. This guy is already rich and famous, his career was assured, what on earth was going on in his head? According to the police, he thought he was underpaid and he somehow had the idea that this would make him more famous and he'd get a raise? WTF? The fact is that gay bashing really does happen -- in fact it happened to a friend of mine. So do racially motivated hate crimes. They happen every day, and more so since November 2016, as we all know. Now people have an excuse to dismiss it.

What really frosts my pumpkin is that the producers of Empire are saying they're going to keep him on the show. That probably won't work out if he's in jail, but come on.

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.