Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, April 12, 2024

We Da Peeps

In the previous post I listed some structural and contingent reasons why the relationship between voting and any idea of popular sovereignty is problematic. I didn't even mention some of the specific kludgy features of the U.S. system, such as the overrepresentation of small states in both the Senate and the Electoral College, which is itself an unwieldy and dangerous anachronism; gerrymandering; and obstacles to voting.

However, let's assume we had none of those problems. In fact, propose a fantasy world in which we either had direct democracy -- all legislation by referendum -- or that representatives had to take a high quality poll of their constituencies and vote the way the majority wanted on every issue. I realize it's a practical impossibility -- it's a thought experiment. What would be the consequences?


In the first place, as we've already noted, most people have very limited understanding of public policy, whether its the underlying problems to which policy responds, the mechanisms of policy response, and the consequences of policies. These are mostly very complicated issues, and even policies crafted by experts in response to high levels of public consensus often have unintended consequences and need to be fixed, but there is still value in expertise. Ever since Plato some political philosophers have doubted the capacity of the people to rule themselves, and proposed rule by specially qualified people -- philosopher kings, in his words.*


I certainly don't go that far. For one thing, the philosopher king's conception of what's good for the people would very likely differ from their own, and I have no idea how this person is to be identified and elevated to power.  Hitler, Stalin and Mao no doubt thought they knew what was best and were the smartest about how to achieve it. In fact, that pretension was essential to Mao's cult of personality. However, we do need mechanisms for injecting expertise into the policy making process, if rule by the people is to have any chance to result in their getting what they actually want.

Which brings us to the next essential point, which is that what "the people" want is not definable, even in principle. You could try putting a binary proposition before the electorate and decree that whatever got more than 50.0001% would become law, but in most cases many people wouldn't want either one, or if they did at least have a preference they would demand a different choice. And believe me, as any survey researcher well knows, the answers you get depend on how you ask the questions, and in what order, and in what notable events might have happened yesterday. And some questions are contingent. I want A only if B, but if C I want D, whereas other people have a different preference structure and they can't be reconciled.

Perhaps the biggest problem, however, is that it's a very dubious proposition that minorities have no rights. If a majority can rule without restriction, then the Bill of Rights goes away. That's what it's there for. Congress shall make no law . . .  even if 90% of the people want it to. Democracies can vote themselves out of existence, in fact, and have done so. A related problem is that protecting liberty for one person often requires constraining liberty for another. Democracy and freedom obviously don't mean that you can do whatever you want to, they mean you have to be bound by rules and laws.

Glib answers don't work. The process of governing in a Republic means constant tradeoffs, and it means that some people will be dissatisfied, and that it will often be the majority. And there certainly isn't any reason why a person can't express that dissatisfaction, and disapprove of the wishes of the majority or the outcomes of the political process, regardless of whether the majority approves. On the other hand you do have to obey the law, but on the third hand sometimes people have made very compelling arguments for exceptions and they are honored for having done so. (Viz. Rosa Parks, to take a relatively non-controversial example.)

What I am saying is that it's complicated, and in fact it's a good deal more complicated than I have made it so far.

*"Unless, said I, either philosophers become kings in our states or those whom we now call our kings and rulers take to the pursuit of philosophy seriously and adequately, and there is a conjunction of these two things, political power and philosophic intellgence, while the motley horde of the natures who at present pursue either apart from the other are compulsory excluded, there can be no cessation of troubles, dear Glaucon, for our states, nor, I fancy, for the human race either." The Republic,


Thursday, April 11, 2024

More Poli-sci

This post will be in two parts -- or maybe I'll just get to one part now and do the second part separately, we'll see how it goes. The first part is some empirical true facts about elections and electoral democracies, or republics if you prefer to use that term for representative systems such as ours. I don't want to get hung up on vocabulary. The second is philosophical -- how should we understand democracy, popular rule, We The People? How does that work and how can it work and how should it work?

So, Part One. Many people assume that elections and the resulting legislative and executive (and in some states, judicial) representation are essentially machines for turning popular preferences into public policy. Alas, this is not so. Actually, it doesn't really make any sense. First of all, fundamentally, most people know and understand very little about public policy. Either they just don't invest much time and effort in learning about it, or they get information from unreliable sources, or they have strong preconceptions and confirmation bias such that they don't accurately process the information to which they are exposed, or likely all of the above. 


For example, according to polls many people blamed Joe Biden for the repeal of Roe v. Wade and the restrictive abortion laws that ensued in many states because he was president when it happened. Many people believe that a) the people flooding border towns and being bussed to northern cities are illegal immigrants, and b) illegal immigrants receive government benefits, and even that they vote. Neither is true. The people who are allowed to remain in the U.S. who cross the border without visas are applicants for political asylum. Because of current U.S. law (unchanged under the previous administration, note well) and international treaties, we have to give them a hearing on their claim. Because the immigration courts are backed up -- the administration has asked for more money from congress to operate the system, but the Republicans in congress have refused to provide it -- they must wait a long time for their hearings. Most are ultimately deported. Meanwhile, they are entirely ineligible for any government benefits and obviously, cannot vote. But they are not here illegally. People who are here illegally provide much of the workforce for agriculture and construction, and we'd be in trouble without them, BTW. They also cannot receive any government benefits and cannot vote.

I could go on -- many people believe that the share of the federal government that goes to foreign aid is 25% or more. It's actually about 1%. Most people seem to believe that crime rates are increasing, actually they've been falling steadily for 20 years. And crime is higher in Republican led states than in Democratic states, BTW -- Manhattan is one of the safest urban areas in the country! You could look it up. Many people believed that Obama had raised their taxes when he in fact lowered them. But you get the idea.

But even if we had a well-informed electorate, there are structural difficulties with the democratic ideal. For one thing, in the U.S. (it's more complicated in parliamentary systems), the winner-take-all presidency means that there will never be more than two important political parties. I shouldn't have to take up a lot of space explaining why this is, but all you have to do is look at U.S. history and you will see that it is true. Third parties are short-lived, have little impact, and are quickly either absorbed by one of the two major parties or disappear, with the exception of occasionally replacing one of the parties, which amounts to the same thing. Either way, a third party has to disappear.

Ergo, the parties have to create broad coalitions, ergo it is very likely that you'll end up having to support one that agrees with most of what you believe, or what you care about most strongly, but not with everything you would wish for. Furthermore, on many issues the majority, even the very large majority, has a policy preference that they care about a little, but a minority has a different preference that they care about a lot. This is called diffuse versus concentrated interest. This means that the minority has a disproportionate impact because they vote on that single issue, and they are very likely to turn out. 

Another problem is that in our age, it costs a lot of money to successfully run for office. Therefore people who have a lot of money to donate to campaigns have a highly disproportionate impact, and not only that, they have a very concentrated interest, to whit, rich people don't want to pay taxes, and they don't want regulation of their businesses. For many of them, that seems to be all they care about. Because the impact of money -- via political advertising, and voter turnout operations -- highest on low information voters, many people do not realize that they are voting for candidates whose real agenda is to cut taxes on the wealthy and eliminate worker and consumer protections. So we get a lot of policies that are in fact unpopular.

It turns out part two will have to wait for the next post.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Political Science

I always do my best to write clearly and precisely, but it seems I don't always manage to get my meaning across. So let's try a couple of ideas again. Please read carefully, and think about what I actually write, not what you think I might think or what other people think.


The First Amendment applies only to government. It constrains what government can do, it does not place any constraint of any kind on any other entity. The courts have interpreted it a bit more broadly than its literal language. If "congress shall make no law . . . " then the executive cannot have any legal authority to do what no law permits. The 14th Amendment extended the protections of the Bill of Rights to the states, so they are now also bound by the First Amendment.

So, as a matter of fact -- and I don't think this is complicated -- it is true that the government cannot ban what some people would define as hate speech. However, it can indeed ban speech that is an element of some other prohibited activity, such as fraud, extortion, incitement to violence, terroristic threats, or criminal conspiracy. Much hate speech, as commonly defined, does fall into one of those categories.  Furthermore the courts have also held, at least so far, that the motivation for a crime can be taken into account in sentencing, which is where the idea of a hate crime comes in -- but it has to already be a crime.

So, did some of the founders -- i.e. signers of the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution, and early holders of congressional office -- engage in what we would today call hate speech? For sure! A lot of them were racists, loud and proud. Politicians are still allowed to do that today, but perhaps less likely to be elected in most of the country. Nobody's stopping Ronald T. Dump from saying publicly that immigrants are poisoning the blood of the country and aren't even human. Maybe that will work for him. Racism worked just fine for Strom Thurmond and George Wallace. It's perfectly legal, but I can still say I don't like it, because I also have freedom of speech. Get it? Also, the New York Times doesn't have to publish it and CBS doesn't have to put it on TV, although Fox News may choose to do so.

Private employers, including universities, are not constrained in any way by the First Amendment. Even a soulless corporation like WalMart has an incentive to maintain a work environment that feels safe and welcoming, because they want to hold on to their employees even though they're paying them crap wages. And in fact, legally, if they don't enact policies to maintain a safe work environment, including being free from hate speech, they can be sued, and the courts have held that is perfectly legal. (They aren't responsible if people violate the policies, as long as they're in place and some reasonable effort is made to enforce them.)

The university is a whole different, well, universe. It has a mission other than just making profit for its investors. That mostly includes some concept of academic freedom, but that is not the same as free speech. Even so, it's entirely voluntary. They don't actually have to create a policy of academic freedom it or even pay lip service, although they generally do. And again, if you don't like the actual policies a university enforces, you have a First Amendment right to say so, but they have no obligation whatsoever to give you a platform or to pay any attention to you. 

One important way that academic freedom is no the same as free speech is that academic disciplines have standards of evidence and of discourse. A biology professor can't stand up in class and say that God created all species in their current form 10,000 years ago, because that's not biology. Furthermore, faculty are bound by standards of mutual respect and respect for students, as are students. The university can, and in my opinion should, proscribe hate speech both because it generally is contrary to empirical reality, and it is destructive of the university environment and yes, of academic freedom. 

The university would be well advised to carefully define what kinds of speech are proscribed, and the process for adjudicating complaints, lest it lose in litigation. That is all. Next, I'll discuss the concepts of the will of the people and democratic decision making, particularly with respect to divisive issues.




Wednesday Bible Study: Ye Gods!

Now we get some (mercifully short) songs of praise. The fun thing about these is that they cast Yahweh as the greatest among a pantheon of gods. That's how people thought about gods in the time most of the Tanakh was written. You've got your god, we've got ours, but ours is the baddest baddass of all the gods. This is somewhat different from polytheistic religions. All the Roman or Norse gods were gods of the Romans or Norsemen, although Jupiter and Odin were the head honchos. 

So the basic structure of the Deuteronomistic history is that when the Israelites please God, he gives them victory over their neighbors, whose gods can't stand up to him; but when they displease him, he lets them down. So the fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity aren't any reflection on Yahweh's powers, it's just that the Judeans somehow pissed him off. These songs were undoubtedly written before then, however. Psalm 95 refers to the (fictional) exile in the wilderness. Note verse 3. In Psalm 96, note verses 4 and 5. In Psalm 97, note verses 7 through 9.

95 O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
    let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
    and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
    the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it;
    for his hands formed the dry land.

O come, let us worship and bow down,
    let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    and the sheep of his hand.

O that today you would hearken to his voice!
    Harden not your hearts, as at Mer′ibah,
    as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers tested me,
    and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10 For forty years I loathed that generation
    and said, “They are a people who err in heart,
    and they do not regard my ways.”
11 Therefore I swore in my anger
    that they should not enter my rest.


96 O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
    tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
    he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols;
    but the Lord made the heavens.
Honor and majesty are before him;
    strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    bring an offering, and come into his courts!
Worship the Lord in holy array;
    tremble before him, all the earth!

10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!
    Yea, the world is established, it shall never be moved;
    he will judge the peoples with equity.”
11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
    let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12     let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy
13     before the Lord, for he comes,
    for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
    and the peoples with his truth.


97 The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice;
    let the many coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are round about him;
    righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him,
    and burns up his adversaries round about.
His lightnings lighten the world;
    the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
    before the Lord of all the earth.

The heavens proclaim his righteousness;
    and all the peoples behold his glory.
All worshipers of images are put to shame,
    who make their boast in worthless idols;
    all gods bow down before him.
Zion hears and is glad,
    and the daughters of Judah rejoice,
    because of thy judgments, O God.
For thou, O Lord, art most high over all the earth;
    thou art exalted far above all gods.

10 The Lord loves those who hate evil;[a]
    he preserves the lives of his saints;
    he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
11 Light dawns[b] for the righteous,
    and joy for the upright in heart.
12 Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
    and give thanks to his holy name!


  1. Psalm 97:10 Cn: Heb You who love the Lord hate evil
  2. Psalm 97:11 Gk Syr Jerome: Heb is sown



Monday, April 08, 2024

Dump Punts

Apparently realizing that they were caught on the horns, as it were, the dumpsters handlers wrote a statement for him in which he tried to split the baby by saying that abortion policy should be left entirely up to the states. Presumably he agreed to this although his dementia is too far advanced for him to have written the statement.

The whole issue has never been anything but opportunism for him. He proclaimed himself to be a strong supporter of abortion rights until he decided to run for president as a Republican, and then he had a very difficult time articulating exactly what he thought about the entire question until the religious fanatics in his campaign trained him on what to say. He continued to go with the fetal personhood line until the handlers figured out that it was unpopular with the voters, but obviously he can't repudiate the zealots who think he is the Messiah so the brain trust, if it deserves that label, came up with this attempt to escape out the back door.

I doubt that it will work as a campaign strategy, and I expect we'll see it amended pretty soon. But I'm not about the horse race. What I will say is that this makes absolutely no sense from any moral position. If you believe that a blastocyst has the same moral status as a baby, as most of the cult does, then you're just saying that if people in California and New York want to legalize murder it ain't nobody's business but their own. And obviously the reverse, if you think banning abortion violates a fundamental human right then you're just fine with Mississippi legalizing slavery if that's what they want to do. The position that it should be up to the states is the position that it isn't really morally important either way. Good luck with that.

And a quick note about the Christian health ministry scam. As part of the sausage making process that produced the Affordable Care Act, a carve out from the individual mandate was inserted that allowed groups of people with a vaguely defined affiliation, but really meaning a shared religion, to opt out and form what are essentially health care buyers' cooperatives. These are exempt from insurance regulations, and yeah, they're usually cheap compared to real insurance. But that isn't particularly because they don't cover abortion or contraception or whatever satanic medical procedures they don't like, it's because they aren't actually insurance. If something really expensive happens to you, like cancer or an autoimmune disease, that their cheap buy-in doesn't produce enough money to cover, you're shit out of luck and you're infinitely precious human life will be over. So good luck.

Sunday, April 07, 2024

Sunday Sermonette: The usual BS

We now have three fairly short pieces, all of which are in the same vein. The righteous will prosper, the wicked will have their downfall. Sad to say, it just ain't so, and repeating it every Saturday won't make it true. If we want the righteous to flourish, and the wicked to have their downfall, we need to make it happen ourselves. God is of no help.

A Psalm. A Song for the Sabbath.

92 It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
    to sing praises to thy name, O Most High;
to declare thy steadfast love in the morning,
    and thy faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
    to the melody of the lyre.
For thou, O Lord, hast made me glad by thy work;
    at the works of thy hands I sing for joy.

How great are thy works, O Lord!
    Thy thoughts are very deep!
The dull man cannot know,
    the stupid cannot understand this:
that, though the wicked sprout like grass
    and all evildoers flourish,
they are doomed to destruction for ever,
    but thou, O Lord, art on high for ever.
For lo, thy enemies, O Lord,
    for lo, thy enemies shall perish;
    all evildoers shall be scattered.

10 But thou hast exalted my horn like that of the wild ox;
    thou hast poured over me[a] fresh oil.
11 My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies,
    my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants.

12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
    and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 They are planted in the house of the Lord,
    they flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They still bring forth fruit in old age,
    they are ever full of sap and green,
15 to show that the Lord is upright;
    he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.


  1. Psalm 92:10 Syr: Heb uncertain

93 The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty;
    the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength.
Yea, the world is established; it shall never be moved;
    thy throne is established from of old;
    thou art from everlasting.

The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
    the floods have lifted up their voice,
    the floods lift up their roaring.
Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
    mightier than the waves[a] of the sea,
    the Lord on high is mighty!

Thy decrees are very sure;
    holiness befits thy house,
    O Lord, for evermore.


  1. Psalm 93:4 Cn: Heb mighty the waves

94 O Lord, thou God of vengeance,
    thou God of vengeance, shine forth!
Rise up, O judge of the earth;
    render to the proud their deserts!
O Lord, how long shall the wicked,
    how long shall the wicked exult?

They pour out their arrogant words,
    they boast, all the evildoers.
They crush thy people, O Lord,
    and afflict thy heritage.
They slay the widow and the sojourner,
    and murder the fatherless;
and they say, “The Lord does not see;
    the God of Jacob does not perceive.”

Understand, O dullest of the people!
    Fools, when will you be wise?
He who planted the ear, does he not hear?
He who formed the eye, does he not see?
10 He who chastens the nations, does he not chastise?
He who teaches men knowledge,
11     the Lord, knows the thoughts of man,
    that they are but a breath.

12 Blessed is the man whom thou dost chasten, O Lord,
    and whom thou dost teach out of thy law
13 to give him respite from days of trouble,
    until a pit is dug for the wicked.
14 For the Lord will not forsake his people;
    he will not abandon his heritage;
15 for justice will return to the righteous,
    and all the upright in heart will follow it.

16 Who rises up for me against the wicked?
    Who stands up for me against evildoers?
17 If the Lord had not been my help,
    my soul would soon have dwelt in the land of silence.
18 When I thought, “My foot slips,”
    thy steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.
19 When the cares of my heart are many,
    thy consolations cheer my soul.
20 Can wicked rulers be allied with thee,
    who frame mischief by statute?
21 They band together against the life of the righteous,
    and condemn the innocent to death.
22 But the Lord has become my stronghold,
    and my God the rock of my refuge.
23 He will bring back on them their iniquity
    and wipe them out for their wickedness;
    the Lord our God will wipe them out.


Thursday, April 04, 2024

More on Freeze Peach

This is a topic I address from time to time, but it seems a new post is needed now because of various nonsense that's going on. First, let me make one thing perfectly clear, as a man we would all like to forget used to say: free speech and academic freedom are not the same. Legally, the only meaning of Free Speech™ is the First Amendment, as interpreted by the courts. Originally it applied only to the federal government, but the 14th Amendment extended the protections of the Bill of Rights to the States, so it now applies to all government entities within the United States, and that includes your small town Board of Selectmen and yes, public colleges and universities. (However, the courts have ruled that the free speech rights of public elementary and high school students are restricted.)

The First Amendment does not apply to any non-governmental entity, including private employers, newspaper publishers and broadcast news producers, or private universities.  There may be specific laws limiting how employers can restrict speech in the workplace -- for example, you can complain about sexual or racial harassment and it's illegal for the employer to retaliate, not that they don't do it anyway. But if you call your boss a poopyhead, he can prove you right by firing you. 

However, the government can indeed make laws restricting freedom of speech, and there are a lot of them, because there are a whole lot of crimes which are implemented by means of talking and writing. Even though your just talking, you can be convicted of fraud, terroristic threats, blackmail, extortion, conspiracy and harassment, among other crimes. That would include trying to bully an election official into rigging an election for you. 

Now, we come to academic freedom. That is not a legal requirement anywhere, although state legislators and boards of regents may try to promulgate policies for their public universities. But, The university’s mission to discover truth requires it, for example, reject the claim that the earth is 6,000 years old or that hydroxychloroquine cures Covid-19, because these claims are unequivocally inconsistent with the scientific inquiry the university exists to foster. Maybe it gets a bit more fraught with the claim that the 2020 presidential election was rigged and that Donald Trump was the legitimate winner, but the Political Science department cannot countenance this and students who write that on their poli sci exam should get an F. Similarly with anthropogenic climate change, the historical facts about racism in America, and a whole lot more. Reality has a well-known liberal bias, and the university is constrained by it. That means that professors do not have academic freedom to teach, or require their students to write on exams, that which is objectively false. 

There are generally accepted methods for testing assertions against observable reality. That’s called science. We have ways of deciding what is true, what might be true but may be assignable some degree of high or low likelihood, and what is almost certainly false. There are also categories of assertions — moral values and personal preferences — that aren’t really subject to such tests, although we can require that people make them explicit when they construct an argument. These are by the way the “Three Worlds” as defined by Jurgen Habermas and other philosophers. I think that it is fair to consider living within these parameters to constitute academic freedom. A problem that ought to be acknowledged, however, is that religious beliefs that fall within the First World are for the most part almost certainly false. People can assert them in private, but not in the classroom, where they can be subjects of sociological observation but not claimed to be truths.

Liberty University, for example, requires faculty and students to adhere to false beliefs in the first category, and to specified beliefs in the second and perhaps the third. That is obviously not what would be considered academic freedom at most universities. Conservatives who claim to support academic freedom, however, would assert that it requires accepting the legitimacy of Liberty University. That’s not my definition, and I don’t accept it.

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Wednesday Bible Study: A public health lesson

Psalm 90 is attributed to Moses. At least David might have existed, although he certainly did not write the psalms attributed to him. Moses is an entirely fictitious character. We know for a fact that the Egyptian captivity and the exodus never happened. But I'll give the writer this much credit -- the human lifespan of 70 years was probably pretty accurate at the time, in the sense that it was about the longest people could hope to live. You may recall that in Genesis 6:3 God says the human lifespan will be 120 years, and that many of the characters in Genesis lived for hundreds of years. 

However, life expectancy -- i.e., the average age at which people died -- throughout all of history right up to the end of the 19th Century was never more than 35 or 40 years. That's because lots of babies and children died, but also because the death rate at all ages was higher than it is now. If you got through childhood you had an outside chance of making it to 70, and the psalm even says that a few people made it to 80, but that was about the limit, and it was very rare. Nowadays we take it for granted, and someone who only lives to 70 is actually regarded as unlucky. Just keep in mind that this has never been the human condition until this very brief moment. We'll have to see if it lasts.

Psalm 91 is just ridiculous. It claims that if you trust in God, you will be invulnerable. Look at verses 5 through 7 -- it will be impossible for you to die of pestilence, or be killed in battle. Err, no.

A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.

90 Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place[a]
    in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
    or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world,
    from everlasting to everlasting thou art God.

Thou turnest man back to the dust,
    and sayest, “Turn back, O children of men!”
For a thousand years in thy sight
    are but as yesterday when it is past,
    or as a watch in the night.

Thou dost sweep men away; they are like a dream,
    like grass which is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
    in the evening it fades and withers.

For we are consumed by thy anger;
    by thy wrath we are overwhelmed.
Thou hast set our iniquities before thee,
    our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.

For all our days pass away under thy wrath,
    our years come to an end[b] like a sigh.
10 The years of our life are threescore and ten,
    or even by reason of strength fourscore;
yet their span[c] is but toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away.

11 Who considers the power of thy anger,
    and thy wrath according to the fear of thee?
12 So teach us to number our days
    that we may get a heart of wisdom.

13 Return, O Lord! How long?
    Have pity on thy servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with thy steadfast love,
    that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad as many days as thou hast afflicted us,
    and as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let thy work be manifest to thy servants,
    and thy glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
    and establish thou the work of our hands upon us,
    yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.


  1. Psalm 90:1 Another reading is refuge
  2. Psalm 90:9 Syr: Heb we bring our years to an end
  3. Psalm 90:10 Cn Compare Gk Syr Jerome Tg: Heb pride


91 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High,
    who abides in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
    my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
    nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand;
    but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
    and see the recompense of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord your refuge,[a]
    the Most High your habitation,
10 no evil shall befall you,
    no scourge come near your tent.

11 For he will give his angels charge of you
    to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you dash your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder,
    the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

14 Because he cleaves to me in love, I will deliver him;
    I will protect him, because he knows my name.
15 When he calls to me, I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble,
    I will rescue him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him,
    and show him my salvation.


  1. Psalm 91:9 Cn: Heb Because thou, Lord, art my refuge; you have made

Monday, April 01, 2024


I have a popular security product on my 'puter -- well okay, it's Norton utilities -- and it seems to do the job. However, they are constantly trying to upsell me, to the point where it's seriously annoying. Their latest ploy is to repeatedly show me pop-ups telling me that they've found data brokers selling my information on the (doom chords on the organ) Dark Web. They are kind enough to reveal for me what the information actually is. My name, email address, employer, address, and phone number. Also who my relatives are. Oh no, I'm dooooooooomed.


It turns out that the phone numbers are landlines I had when I lived in Boston more than 15 years ago; and my childhood home where I haven't lived for 50 years, which my mother sold ten years ago. The relatives are my dead parents, a guy who lives across the street to whom I am unrelated, and three people I never heard of. However . . . 


My email address and work phone number are posted for all to see on my faculty page, and our departmental web page. The email is listed on some 20 or 30 papers for which I am corresponding author, most of which are now in the public domain. (NIH funded research gets out from behind the paywall within two years.) Regardless, I'm old enough to remember when the phone company (there was only one) delivered a book to every household in the United States, every year, containing the name, address and phone number of every household and business in town that didn't proactively choose to be omitted, which almost no-one did. You could also call 411 and ask for that information for anybody whose name and municipality you happened to know, anywhere in the United States and its territories.


This was a good thing! It meant that you could communicate with people in your community, contact old friends whose phone number or address you had lost, or who you learned one way or another had moved to Kalamazoo and wanted to get in touch. Now apparently you need to get this information from Data Brokers, and it's apparently a bad thing that you can do it. I got a frantic email from our IT department telling all the faculty that there had been a data breach and somebody had harvested all of our physical addresses, email addresses and phone numbers. Horrors! Now people won't have to look it up on the public web pages that we actively promote. 

I don't know what the heck is going on here, but if you want to communicate with me the link to my faculty page is in the side bar. You can skip the Data Brokers.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Sunday Sermonette: Sadly, no

Psalm 89 is quite lengthy so it will be our only text for the day. I'm afraid I can't do anything special for Easter because we haven't gotten to the messianic prophecies yet. It isn't clear when Psalm 89 was written, but Ethan the Ezrahite was an associate of King Solomon, mentioned in Kings 4:31. One problem is that the (probably fictional) reign of Solomon as described in Kings does not include any of the hard times evoked here. It was a time of prosperity, military strength, and conquest. It could refer to the invasion by Pharaoh Shisak during the reign of Rehoboam, after the civil war that saw the northern kingdom secede, but it is implausible that Ethan could have still been alive at that time. 

A bigger problem is that the psalm repeatedly invokes God's promise to David 2 Samuel 7 that his line would endure forever:

12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. 14 I will be his father, and he shall be my son. When he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men; 15 but I will not take[b] my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.’” 17 In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.


In fact, when the Book of Psalms was compiled during the Babylonian captivity, the line of David had ended. The last king of Judah was Zedekiah, who Nebuchadnezzar installed as a puppet monarch in 597 BC. When Zedekiah attempted a revolt in alliance with Pharaoh Hophra, Neb responded by besieging Jerusalem, which he finally captured in 586 BC. He captured Zedekiah, blinded him, and took him to Babylon where he died, ending the line of David and the Judean monarchy.  So God lied to David. Of course the editors of the Book of Psalms knew this, but evidently it didn't bother them enough to leave this out.

A Maskil of Ethan the Ezrahite.

89 I will sing of thy steadfast love, O Lord,[a] for ever;
    with my mouth I will proclaim thy faithfulness to all generations.
For thy steadfast love was established for ever,
    thy faithfulness is firm as the heavens.
Thou hast said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
    I have sworn to David my servant:
‘I will establish your descendants for ever,
    and build your throne for all generations.’”Selah

Let the heavens praise thy wonders, O Lord,
    thy faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones!
For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord?
    Who among the heavenly beings[b] is like the Lord,
a God feared in the council of the holy ones,
    great and terrible[c] above all that are round about him?
O Lord God of hosts,
    who is mighty as thou art, O Lord,
    with thy faithfulness round about thee?
Thou dost rule the raging of the sea;
    when its waves rise, thou stillest them.
10 Thou didst crush Rahab like a carcass,
    thou didst scatter thy enemies with thy mighty arm.
11 The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine;
    the world and all that is in it, thou hast founded them.
12 The north and the south, thou hast created them;
    Tabor and Hermon joyously praise thy name.
13 Thou hast a mighty arm;
    strong is thy hand, high thy right hand.
14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of thy throne;
    steadfast love and faithfulness go before thee.
15 Blessed are the people who know the festal shout,
    who walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance,
16 who exult in thy name all the day,
    and extol[d] thy righteousness.
17 For thou art the glory of their strength;
    by thy favor our horn is exalted.
18 For our shield belongs to the Lord,
    our king to the Holy One of Israel.

19 Of old thou didst speak in a vision
    to thy faithful one, and say:
“I have set the crown[e] upon one who is mighty,
    I have exalted one chosen from the people.
20 I have found David, my servant;
    with my holy oil I have anointed him;
21 so that my hand shall ever abide with him,
    my arm also shall strengthen him.
22 The enemy shall not outwit him,
    the wicked shall not humble him.
23 I will crush his foes before him
    and strike down those who hate him.
24 My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him,
    and in my name shall his horn be exalted.
25 I will set his hand on the sea
    and his right hand on the rivers.
26 He shall cry to me, ‘Thou art my Father,
    my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’
27 And I will make him the first-born,
    the highest of the kings of the earth.
28 My steadfast love I will keep for him for ever,
    and my covenant will stand firm for him.
29 I will establish his line for ever
    and his throne as the days of the heavens.
30 If his children forsake my law
    and do not walk according to my ordinances,
31 if they violate my statutes
    and do not keep my commandments,
32 then I will punish their transgression with the rod
    and their iniquity with scourges;
33 but I will not remove from him my steadfast love,
    or be false to my faithfulness.
34 I will not violate my covenant,
    or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
35 Once for all I have sworn by my holiness;
    I will not lie to David.
36 His line shall endure for ever,
    his throne as long as the sun before me.
37 Like the moon it shall be established for ever;
    it shall stand firm while the skies endure.”[f]Selah

38 But now thou hast cast off and rejected,
    thou art full of wrath against thy anointed.
39 Thou hast renounced the covenant with thy servant;
    thou hast defiled his crown in the dust.
40 Thou hast breached all his walls;
    thou hast laid his strongholds in ruins.
41 All that pass by despoil him;
    he has become the scorn of his neighbors.
42 Thou hast exalted the right hand of his foes;
    thou hast made all his enemies rejoice.
43 Yea, thou hast turned back the edge of his sword,
    and thou hast not made him stand in battle.
44 Thou hast removed the scepter from his hand,[g]
    and cast his throne to the ground.
45 Thou hast cut short the days of his youth;
    thou hast covered him with shame.Selah

46 How long, O Lord? Wilt thou hide thyself for ever?
    How long will thy wrath burn like fire?
47 Remember, O Lord,[h] what the measure of life is,
    for what vanity thou hast created all the sons of men!
48 What man can live and never see death?
    Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?Selah

49 Lord, where is thy steadfast love of old,
    which by thy faithfulness thou didst swear to David?
50 Remember, O Lord, how thy servant is scorned;
    how I bear in my bosom the insults[i] of the peoples,
51 with which thy enemies taunt, O Lord,
    with which they mock the footsteps of thy anointed.

52 Blessed be the Lord for ever!
Amen and Amen.


  1. Psalm 89:1 Gk: Heb the steadfast love of the Lord
  2. Psalm 89:6 Or sons of gods
  3. Psalm 89:7 Gk Syr: Heb greatly terrible
  4. Psalm 89:16 Cn: Heb are exalted in
  5. Psalm 89:19 Cn: Heb help
  6. Psalm 89:37 Cn: Heb the witness in the skies is sure
  7. Psalm 89:44 Cn: Heb removed his cleanness
  8. Psalm 89:47 Cn: Heb I
  9. Psalm 89:50 Cn: Heb all of many