Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sunday Sermonette: More family values

With Genesis 37 and the story of Joseph we enter new literary territory. Scholars now generally agree -- and it makes sense to me -- that this is essentially the artful creation of a single author. In other words, unlike what we have seen so far, generally crudely rendered transcriptions of what was originally oral tradition and vital records, pieced together from various sources by scribes, this is a novella. It has vivid characters whose emotional lives are visible to us; strong plot elements including suspense, reversals of fortune, foreshadowing, theme and variation, changing affections and character development.

However, it also has a political agenda, or agendas. This is about the origin of the 12 tribes and an argument for their relative standing. So think of it like Shakespeare's histories, which reflect his loyalty to the Tudor monarchs. Also, perhaps because of sloppy editing, it does have a couple of continuity errors and ambiguities. There is no evidence that any of this is based on historical fact. Its rather a founding myth of the Israeli nation. It will take a while to get through it. Here goes.

Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.
This is the account of Jacob’s family line.
Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.
Here's a continuity error, not internally but with other material. Bilhah and Zilpah were concubines -- handmaids to Rachel and Leah, given to Jacob as sex slaves, not wives. Also, we still have Jacob rather than Israel.

Joseph is obnoxious the first time we see him, tattling on his half brothers about some unspecified misbehavior.
Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate[a] robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
The footnote says that the meaning of the Hebrew word translated as ornate is uncertain. KJV has "a coat of many colours" which is the familiar phrase. 
Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”
His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.
Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”
10 When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
KJV has "his father observed the saying." I'm not sure what it means either way.  I'm also not clear about the "eleven stars."  Joseph is certainly obnoxious and I can't blame his brothers for disliking him, but they do seem to take things a bit far . . .

12 Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, 13 and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.”
“Very well,” he replied.
14 So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.
When Joseph arrived at Shechem, 15 a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”
16 He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”
17 “They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’”
You should know that these are long journeys. It's about 50 miles from Hebron to Shechem, and another 13 to Dothan. So this must have taken him a week or more.
So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. 18 But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.
19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”
21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.
23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing— 24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.
We'll pause here till next week. You know, cliffhanger. As I say, Joseph is obnoxious but killing him is probably taking things too far. But as you probably know, they end up with a plan B.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Ad Hominem

There are many logical fallacies that have been formally identified and you may profit from following the link and seeing a big long list.

A particularly common fallacy is called ad hominem. The linked Wikipedia article defines it as "attacking the arguer instead of the argument." There are sub-types, for example "Circumstantial ad hominem - stating that the arguers personal situation or perceived benefit from advancing a conclusion means that their conclusion is wrong," and "Traitorous critic fallacy (ergo decedo, 'thus leave') – a critic's perceived affiliation is portrayed as the underlying reason for the criticism and the critic is asked to stay away from the issue altogether."

We have a commenter who thinks it's clever to claim that we should ignore the information I linked to yesterday because the writer is often critical of Individual 1. That is an inane form of argument. You must assess the evidence the writer provides. Attacking the writer -- in this case because he has a consistent opinion, no less -- is not refutation. But suppose you want additional analyses to support the claim that Individual 1 has been laundering money for Russian mobsters for many years.

You might check out David Leonhardt in the New York Times. Or Sean Illing in Vox. Or maybe you'll be interested in what Craig Unger had to say in The New Republic. Or Adam Davidson in the New Yorker. Or Garrett M. Graff in Wired. Or even Michael Gerson, who is officially a conservative columnist, although as I say, that doesn't matter. And I could continue. Many people have looked at this and it's just completely obvious. Michael Cohen was totally mobbed up with the Russians and he was responsible for a lot of these deals. Which the Justice Department now knows all about.

Now it is true that all of these people are consistently critical of Individual 1. Why is that? It's because they know he is a criminal.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Individual 1 and cash washing

A commenter (unpublished, because I'm responding to it here) asks why I'm so confident that individual 1's business consists of laundering money for Russian mobsters. The case is made here, by John Feffer, and it's pretty compelling. Too long, do read, but a couple of money shots:

Before he became president, Donald Trump was basically an unsuccessful businessman who managed, time and again, to fail upward. He filed for bankruptcy six times — five times for his casinos and once for the Plaza Hotel.. . . An astounding number of his other business ventures have gone belly up too, including Trump Airlines, Trump University, and Trump Magazine.

Trump’s business failures over the years and his unorthodox financial behavior pushed him to the margins of the financial world. . . . Trump began to rely on some questionable characters and networks. He created baroque financial arrangements involving shell companies. He used pseudonyms on contracts. He became squirrely about his tax returns. And he started to use large amounts of cash. For instance, he purchased huge properties — golf courses in the UK ($79 million), a Scottish estate ($12 million), a Virginia winery ($16 million) — in cash. In all, since 2006, he paid for properties in cash to the tune of $400 million. It just so happens that these are all telltale signs of money laundering: the cash, the shell companies, the pseudonyms, the lack of transparency and due diligence.. . .

Many of the purchasers of Trump properties are Russian. A Reuters investigation last year discovered that Russian buyers purchased nearly $100 million in condos in Florida from Trump. A Russian-Canadian billionaire poured millions into a Trump property in Toronto, including a $100 million “commission” to a Moscow fixer to attract other Russian investors. In 2008, a Russian oligarch paid $95 million to Trump for a Palm Beach mansion that the Russian never subsequently occupied. It was an extraordinary mark-up for a property Trump had bought four years before for $41 million. . . .
Yes, it's unfortunate that the practitioners of journamalism weren't interested in all of this before Individual 1 became president -- Hillary Clinton's e-mail management practices were obviously far more important. But some people have finally noticed.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Party of Law and Order

In addition to being the Party of Fiscal Responsibility™, the Republicans are the Party of Law and Order™. That was of course a favorite slogan of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George Bush the First, who gave us the Willie Horton ad among other cultural gifts. Campaigning against Democrats as Soft on Crime™ is routine.

Funny thing. Now Republican senators are saying stuff like this:

You know, you can make anything a crime under the current laws if you want to, you can blow it way out of proportion, you can do a lot of things.
 "The Democrats will do anything to hurt this President." Informed it was alleged by federal prosecutors in New York, Hatch said: "OK, but I don't care, all I can say is he's doing a good job as President."
Look I'm not minimizing it, this campaign finance act is important. But No. 1, it's a long way from collusion with a foreign agent to influence the election in 2016, which is what I thought this was about. No. 2, Campaign Finance Act violations are, generally, civil matters.
And this:

It's just like a lot of other things that we've done in Washington. We've over criminalized campaign finance. . . . 

Next up: The Party of Free Trade™.

Their problem, as I have said before, is that they are proactively working to own the consequences of their folly. True, we don't know everything that's going to come out of the special counsel investigation and the SDNY, but we know enough already to be pretty sure it's not going to be flattering to the patriotism, honesty or legitimacy of the delusional idiot they have chosen to be their hill to die on. This does not seem smart to me. Am I missing something.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Sunday Sermonette: Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies . . .

 which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.

1 Timothy 1

So why does the Torah spend so much papyrus on what will soon follow on this page? First, let me give you the historical facts. The Edomites and their kingdom were real. They existed at about the time where all of this is supposedly happening and they continued to exist until the first century BC, at which time they were conquered by the Hasmonean dynasty of Israel and converted to Judaism. The purported common ancestry between the Hebrews and the Edomites of which so much is made here is certainly fictitious. In fact, as we will see, the Hebrews and the Edomites will frequently come into conflict, and at other times will avoid each other. At one point the purported common ancestry will be invoked by the Hebrews seeking safe passage in Exodus, but they will be refused.

So why all of this interest in the supposed descent of the Edomites from Esau, and the names of their kings and chieftans ("dukes" in the KJV)? My guess is that this is material the scribe just happened to have available, so he stuck it in. There isn't much to say about it but there are a few continuity errors, which I'll note just because I like to be annoying. You may choose not to bother to read it.

This is the account of the family line of Esau (that is, Edom).
Esau took his wives from the women of Canaan: Adah daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Oholibamah daughter of Anah and granddaughter of Zibeon the Hivite— also Basemath daughter of Ishmael and sister of Nebaioth.
Apparently there is a great deal of confusion about who Anah is and how she is related to whom. I won't bore you with it here but follow the link if you are interested. Note that polygamy is the norm and remains so. If you believe that marriage is between one man and one woman because that's biblical -- not.
Adah bore Eliphaz to Esau, Basemath bore Reuel, and Oholibamah bore Jeush, Jalam and Korah. These were the sons of Esau, who were born to him in Canaan.
Esau took his wives and sons and daughters and all the members of his household, as well as his livestock and all his other animals and all the goods he had acquired in Canaan, and moved to a land some distance from his brother Jacob. Their possessions were too great for them to remain together; the land where they were staying could not support them both because of their livestock. So Esau (that is, Edom) settled in the hill country of Seir.
This is the account of the family line of Esau the father of the Edomites in the hill country of Seir.
10 These are the names of Esau’s sons:
Eliphaz, the son of Esau’s wife Adah, and Reuel, the son of Esau’s wife Basemath.
11 The sons of Eliphaz:
Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam and Kenaz.
12 Esau’s son Eliphaz also had a concubine named Timna, who bore him Amalek. These were grandsons of Esau’s wife Adah.
Amalek is born many generations after his descendants are "smitten." (Genesis  14)
13 The sons of Reuel:
Nahath, Zerah, Shammah and Mizzah. These were grandsons of Esau’s wife Basemath.
14 The sons of Esau’s wife Oholibamah daughter of Anah and granddaughter of Zibeon, whom she bore to Esau:
Jeush, Jalam and Korah.
15 These were the chiefs among Esau’s descendants:
The sons of Eliphaz the firstborn of Esau:
Chiefs Teman, Omar, Zepho, Kenaz, 16 Korah,[a] Gatam and Amalek. These were the chiefs descended from Eliphaz in Edom; they were grandsons of Adah.
17 The sons of Esau’s son Reuel:
Chiefs Nahath, Zerah, Shammah and Mizzah. These were the chiefs descended from Reuel in Edom; they were grandsons of Esau’s wife Basemath.
18 The sons of Esau’s wife Oholibamah:
Chiefs Jeush, Jalam and Korah. These were the chiefs descended from Esau’s wife Oholibamah daughter of Anah.
19 These were the sons of Esau (that is, Edom), and these were their chiefs.
20 These were the sons of Seir the Horite, who were living in the region:
Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, 21 Dishon, Ezer and Dishan. These sons of Seir in Edom were Horite chiefs.
22 The sons of Lotan:
Hori and Homam.[b] Timna was Lotan’s sister.
23 The sons of Shobal:
Alvan, Manahath, Ebal, Shepho and Onam.
24 The sons of Zibeon:
Aiah and Anah. This is the Anah who discovered the hot springs[c] in the desert while he was grazing the donkeys of his father Zibeon.
25 The children of Anah:
Dishon and Oholibamah daughter of Anah.
26 The sons of Dishon[d]:
Hemdan, Eshban, Ithran and Keran.
27 The sons of Ezer:
Bilhan, Zaavan and Akan.
28 The sons of Dishan:
Uz and Aran.
29 These were the Horite chiefs:
Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, 30 Dishon, Ezer and Dishan. These were the Horite chiefs, according to their divisions, in the land of Seir.

The Rulers of Edom

31 These were the kings who reigned in Edom before any Israelite king reigned:
32 Bela son of Beor became king of Edom. His city was named Dinhabah.
33 When Bela died, Jobab son of Zerah from Bozrah succeeded him as king.
34 When Jobab died, Husham from the land of the Temanites succeeded him as king.
35 When Husham died, Hadad son of Bedad, who defeated Midian in the country of Moab, succeeded him as king. His city was named Avith.
36 When Hadad died, Samlah from Masrekah succeeded him as king.
37 When Samlah died, Shaul from Rehoboth on the river succeeded him as king.
38 When Shaul died, Baal-Hanan son of Akbor succeeded him as king.
39 When Baal-Hanan son of Akbor died, Hadad[e] succeeded him as king. His city was named Pau, and his wife’s name was Mehetabel daughter of Matred, the daughter of Me-Zahab.
40 These were the chiefs descended from Esau, by name, according to their clans and regions:
Timna, Alvah, Jetheth, 41 Oholibamah, Elah, Pinon, 42 Kenaz, Teman, Mibzar, 43 Magdiel and Iram. These were the chiefs of Edom, according to their settlements in the land they occupied.
This is the family line of Esau, the father of the Edomites.


  1. Genesis 36:16 Masoretic Text; Samaritan Pentateuch (also verse 11 and 1 Chron. 1:36) does not have Korah.
  2. Genesis 36:22 Hebrew Hemam, a variant of Homam (see 1 Chron. 1:39)
  3. Genesis 36:24 Vulgate; Syriac discovered water; the meaning of the Hebrew for this word is uncertain.
  4. Genesis 36:26 Hebrew Dishan, a variant of Dishon
  5. Genesis 36:39 Many manuscripts of the Masoretic Text, Samaritan Pentateuch and Syriac (see also 1 Chron. 1:50); most manuscripts of the Masoretic Text Hadar

Thursday, December 06, 2018

The Party of Fiscal Responsibility

Unless you need a proctoscope to find your head, you know that for the past many decades -- in fact my entire life -- the Republican brand has been all about balanced budgets and "fiscal conservatism."

They have in fact campaigned on a platform including a constitutional amendment to require a balanced federal budget. Never mind that this is insane, as any economist will tell you. Paul Ryan built a reputation among the journalistic classes as a serious policy wonk by claiming he had a plan to eliminate the federal deficit, which if you actually read it was nothing of the sort. But still.

The reporters continued to regurgitate this fiction as conventional wisdom and uncontested fact -- the Republicans were fiscally responsible, the Democrats were profligate -- without noticing the True Fact that the federal deficit ballooned under Reagan and Bush the First, and then declined to zero under Clinton. That's right folks, the last time we had a balanced federal budget, William Jefferson Clinton was president of the United States. Then, under George Bush the Second, the deficit ballooned again. Then, under Barack Hussein Obama, the Kenyan usurper, it ultimately declined, despite the entirely necessary and appropriate, though inadequate, fiscal stimulus at the beginning of the Obama administration. (The debt increased under Obama, as it always will if the deficit is more than zero. People often confuse these.) Well, you know what's happened now. The Party of Fiscal Responsibility has complete control of every branch of the federal government. And the deficit has exploded with no end in sight. Specifically:

The U.S. federal budget deficit rose in fiscal 2018 to the highest level in six years as spending climbed . . . . The deficit jumped to $779 billion, $113 billion or 17 percent higher than the previous fiscal period, according to a statement from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. It was larger than any year since 2012, when it topped $1 trillion.
Not to worry! We have a strong leader in charge who always wins! He will fix this problem, because he loves us so much.

Since the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump’s aides and advisers have tried to convince him of the importance of tackling the national debt.
Sources close to the president say he has repeatedly shrugged it off, implying that he doesn’t have to worry about the money owed to America’s creditors—currently about $21 trillion—because he won’t be around to shoulder the blame when it becomes even more untenable.
The friction came to a head in early 2017 when senior officials offered Trump charts and graphics laying out the numbers and showing a “hockey stick” spike in the national debt in the not-too-distant future. In response, Trump noted that the data suggested the debt would reach a critical mass only after his possible second term in office.
“Yeah, but I won’t be here,” the president bluntly said, according to a source who was in the room when Trump made this comment during discussions on the debt.

But to Cokie and the gang, the Republican party is the Party of Fiscal Responsibility, eternally and ineluctably, now and always.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Speaking ill of the dead

The TV news, web sites and papers have been all about nothing else other than the fact that George Bush the First is still dead for the past several days. Also, his greatness and his awesomeness.

He was not great. For one thing, in spite of lip service, he continued his predecessor's policy of largely ignoring the HIV/AIDS crisis. From the ACT-UP web site we have this, for example:

September 1, 1991: 2500 AIDS activists marched on President Bush's vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine to demand leadership and to declare that THE AIDS CRISIS CAN END. After a die-in on the road to the Bushs' house, activists unrolled a fifty foot long banner which outlined a 32-point plan to end the AIDS Crisis. The next day the President said that he was more moved by the demonstration of the unemployed the week before. "That one hit home" he said, "because when a family is out of work, that's one that I care very much about.“
September 30, 1991: ACT UP targets President Bush at the White House, declaring that, with over 120,000 Americans dead from AIDS, the President is getting away with murder. In a loud and angry march to the White House, activists demanded that the President stop his deliberate policy of neglect. Eighty-four people were arrested in acts of civil disobedience that included chaining themselves to the gates of the White House and to each other. Bush spent the day in Disney World.
Bush, in the end, bowed to the same extremists Reagan did when it came to AIDS and LGBTQ rights. As The Washington Post noted, Bush allowed evangelicals to mature as a movement within the GOP after Reagan brought them in, rather than pushing back. . . .
And after Buchanan, who Bush offered a prime slot at the Republican National Convention in Houston, gave his infamous “culture war” speech, declaring there is a “religious war” in this country, and attacking, among others, the “militant homosexual rights movement,” Bush refused to denounce the speech and instead publicly denounced same-sex marriage, which was nowhere near a reality at the time. This prompted even the Log Cabin Republicans, the largest gay GOP group, to refuse to endorse him.
Meanwhile, the GOP platform that year condemned anti-discrimination statutes protecting gays and lesbians, and, responding to Democratic nominee Bill Clinton’s campaign promise to end the ban on gays serving in the military, adopted a plank banning gay service.
He also practiced and furthered the racist campaign tactics that have defined the Republican party since Richard Nixon, for example the famous Willie Horton ad, and filled his administration with religious extremists.  

The result is apparent for all to see.


Sunday, December 02, 2018

Sunday Sermonette: What's this really all about?

As I've noted before, Genesis is full of continuity errors, and seems to dwell tediously on trivia at times and to underdevelop or fail to explain a good deal that seems important. We have to remember that it is a compilation of old stories that originally came down through oral tradition. We don't know if there were earlier written versions of some of this. There probably were. We have more than once seen the same basic story happening repeatedly to different characters, or to the same characters in different times and places. These may have come from separate written sources that were then pasted into a rough chronology. It's also possible that some of this is the first written version of oral tradition. We do know that there were different original scribes and writers.

Scholars identify four principle sources or scribes whose work somehow got compiled into the Torah. They call these the Jahwist (or Yahwist) who calls God Jahweh, designated J; the Eloist, who calls God Eloim, designated E; the Deuteronomist (D); and the Priestly Sources (P). There is debate about the process by which these sources got compiled into the Torah, and when. J is thought to be the oldest, and a D writer is thought to have first compiled J,E and E. P then did a new compilation and added additional material. At least that's the most popular version. As I said early on, I'm not going to worry about when we're reading J and when we're reading E. Apparently Genesis 34, the previous chapter, was by J and there is a suggestion that the allegation that Shechem was captured by a massacre of its original inhabitants is a dis of the Northern Kingdom, as J is partial to Judah. (That's all future history we'll get to eventually.)

Anyhow, it's important to keep all this in mind as we grapple with the somewhat confused story. Here's Genesis 35.

Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”
So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem.
I have to say the writer is awfully reticent about this. There's no commentary about why Jacob told the people to get rid of the "foreign Gods." We heard before about Laban's "household Gods," which Rachel stole, so obviously she thought they were valuable. Are these the same entities? If so that's the only previous mention of them, if not they have never merited previous mention. Presumably they are statuettes of some kind. Was there any objection to this order?  There's no indication that God was behind it, it seems to have been Jacob's idea. And what's with burying the earrings?

Then they set out, and the terror of God fell on the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.
Remember that Jacob was afraid the locals would take revenge for the Shechem massacre, so evidently God protects the tribe. I guess it was okay with him.
Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel,[a] because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother.
Jacob had already named the place Bethel in Genesis 28, before he even met Rachel. So now he names it Bethel again. (
Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried under the oak outside Bethel. So it was named Allon Bakuth.[b]
After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram,[c] God appeared to him again and blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob,[d] but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.[e]” So he named him Israel.
God is getting to be something of a pest. He has already renamed Jacob Israel, but it didn't stick. This time, Jacob is called Israel again in this chapter, but then he goes back to being Jacob. 
11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty[f]; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” 13 Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him.
14 Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. 15 Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel.[g]

 For the third time.
16 Then they moved on from Bethel.
Uhm, God just commanded them to settle there. . . . Guess he didn't really mean it.
While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. 17 And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” 18 As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni.[h] But his father named him Benjamin.[i]
19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20 Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb.
The pillar may have existed when this was written, who knows? But the true location is not known today. There is a monument in Bethlehem which is said to mark Rachel's tomb, but it is very unlikely that is true.
21 Israel moved on again and pitched his tent beyond Migdal Eder. 22 While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it.
Did he mind? Does this matter for some reason? Why is this little factoid here?
Jacob had twelve sons:
And now he's Jacob again.
23 The sons of Leah:
Reuben the firstborn of Jacob,
Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun.
24 The sons of Rachel:
Joseph and Benjamin.
25 The sons of Rachel’s servant Bilhah:
Dan and Naphtali.
26 The sons of Leah’s servant Zilpah:
Gad and Asher.
These were the sons of Jacob, who were born to him in Paddan Aram.
27 Jacob came home to his father Isaac in Mamre, near Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had stayed. 28 Isaac lived a hundred and eighty years. 29 Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.
Right. He was 180 years old.


  1. Genesis 35:7 El Bethel means God of Bethel.
  2. Genesis 35:8 Allon Bakuth means oak of weeping.
  3. Genesis 35:9 That is, Northwest Mesopotamia; also in verse 26
  4. Genesis 35:10 Jacob means he grasps the heel, a Hebrew idiom for he deceives.
  5. Genesis 35:10 Israel probably means he struggles with God.
  6. Genesis 35:11 Hebrew El-Shaddai
  7. Genesis 35:15 Bethel means house of God.
  8. Genesis 35:18 Ben-Oni means son of my trouble.
  9. Genesis 35:18 Benjamin means son of my right hand.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Why is this not surprising?

New research finds that supporters of the Resident tend to be insecure about their masculinity.

From boasting about the size of his penis on national television to releasing records of his high testosterone levels, President Trump’s rhetoric and behavior exude machismo. His behavior also seems to have struck a chord with some male voters. See, for example, the “Donald Trump: Finally Someone With Balls” T-shirts common at Trump rallies.
But our research suggests that Trump is not necessarily attracting male supporters who are as confidently masculine as the president presents himself to be. Instead, Trump appears to appeal more to men who are secretly insecure about their manhood. We call this the “fragile masculinity hypothesis.”

Basically this means that guys who are afraid they aren't manly men are attracted to phony tough politicians  and aggressive rhetoric. Support for Ronald T. Dump is strongest in regions of the country where there are more Google searches for terms like "erectile dysfunction" and "penis enlargement." I could have predicted that.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Bizarro World

I've not had much to say about the Mueller investigation because I figure, we'll know what we know when we know it. But it's gotten to the point now that I am utterly baffled by the actions of the Republicans in Congress to protect the Resident and run away from the truth.

Look folks, we know that it's going to be very, very bad. The occupant is a career criminal and we know that Putin and his cronies bailed him out of bankruptcy by laundering money through his enterprise. We know that Putin put him in office and we know that his campaign chair, other campaign aides, and various of his flunkies not only knew about it, but participated. A three year old could connect those dots from publicly available information. This will be known, probably pretty soon, in a manner such that the New York Times will be forced to report it, even though it isn't nearly as bad as donors to the Clinton Foundation asking for meetings with State Department officials and not getting them.

And then the Republican party will own it. That has been their choice. I do not understand that.

Also too: Jeff Flake, for whom I otherwise have no affection, at least gets this. But what are the rest of them thinking? 

Monday, November 26, 2018

This guy is probably a bullshit artist . . .

. . . but it doesn't much matter because this will happen soon anyway. Chinese researcher He Jiankui claims he used the CRISPR method to edit the DNA of seven human embryos, two of which have no been brought to term. I have discussed this method before. It uses a mechanism derived from prokayrotic cells to make precision changes to a genome. This makes genetic engineering far more feasible.

He says the parents refuse to be interviewed and he won't say where this was done.  What he claims to have done specifically is to introduce an edit to the gene that codes for CCR5, a receptor that is essential to the means by which HIV gets into T cells. This would make the children resistant to HIV infection.

The specific action seems unjustifiable in itself. We know how to protect children and adults against HIV, and this mutation (which is rare but does exist in nature) doesn't just protect against HIV, it makes the immune system less competent against some other viruses. The receptor exists for a reason. (Of course HIV has not existed previously in our evolution.)

That aside, this method doesn't just change some cells in the resulting organism. It changes every cell in the body including germ line cells, which means that the change will be passed on to future generations. In this instance the children's children will have it, and so will their children and grandchildren, at least heterozygously. By that time HIV may have been eradicated for all we know, or there may be an effective vaccine, making the change wholly detrimental.

Furthermore, CRISPR isn't perfect. Sometimes it hits nucleotides other than the target. That's why the consensus among researchers in this area is that it is unethical to use it at this time even to correct genetic diseases -- there could be unanticipated consequences. But let's project ourselves into the future, when presumably it will be possible to use the technique with high assurance of accuracy. That would enable people with homozygous genetic defects to have healthy children. Few people will object to this, although of course it does involve in vitro fertilization and discarding of some embryos, probably many.

The big problem is that it will most certainly not stop there. Some rich person will hire He or one of his colleagues to create a designer baby, maybe with a genetic predisposition to height, high IQ, you name it. We don't yet have a good idea how to create such predispositions -- they are the result of interactions among innumerable genes, usually not a single one; and the phenotype -- the developed organism -- will depend on the interaction of genes with environment. Nevertheless, we presumably will learn more about this and it will be possible to create the right environment for the desired phenotype to emerge.

This genie is not going back into the bottle. Genetically enhanced humans have long been a subject of science fiction. The usual scenario is that they are illegal, but I suspect some people think this is  good idea. This is a discussion we need to be having.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sunday Sermonette: For some reason, this is never the lesson of the day . . .

There is one voice notably missing from Genesis 34. No doubt you will notice that yourself . . .

Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land. When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and raped her. His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her. And Shechem said to his father Hamor, “Get me this girl as my wife.”
The morality in this story is obviously bizarre from our standpoint. Sechem supposedly loves Dinah and wants to marry her, therefore he rapes her. He presumes thereafter that he will be able to marry her, but she has nothing to say about it, it's up to her father. It could be worse, however. In some cultures, even today, a rapist is required to marry his victim. 

When Jacob heard that his daughter Dinah had been defiled, his sons were in the fields with his livestock; so he did nothing about it until they came home.
Then Shechem’s father Hamor went out to talk with Jacob. Meanwhile, Jacob’s sons had come in from the fields as soon as they heard what had happened. They were shocked and furious, because Shechem had done an outrageous thing in[a] Israel by sleeping with Jacob’s daughter—a thing that should not be done.
But Hamor said to them, “My son Shechem has his heart set on your daughter. Please give her to him as his wife. Intermarry with us; give us your daughters and take our daughters for yourselves. 10 You can settle among us; the land is open to you. Live in it, trade[b] in it, and acquire property in it.”
11 Then Shechem said to Dinah’s father and brothers, “Let me find favor in your eyes, and I will give you whatever you ask. 12 Make the price for the bride and the gift I am to bring as great as you like, and I’ll pay whatever you ask me. Only give me the young woman as my wife.”
13 Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob’s sons replied deceitfully as they spoke to Shechem and his father Hamor. 14 They said to them, “We can’t do such a thing; we can’t give our sister to a man who is not circumcised. That would be a disgrace to us. 15 We will enter into an agreement with you on one condition only: that you become like us by circumcising all your males. 16 Then we will give you our daughters and take your daughters for ourselves. We’ll settle among you and become one people with you. 17 But if you will not agree to be circumcised, we’ll take our sister and go.”
Notice, again, that the women have nothing to say about all this. Everyone presumes that the deal will go through and the daughters will be given to Hamor and his tribe.
18 Their proposal seemed good to Hamor and his son Shechem. 19 The young man, who was the most honored of all his father’s family, lost no time in doing what they said, because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter. 20 So Hamor and his son Shechem went to the gate of their city to speak to the men of their city. 21 “These men are friendly toward us,” they said. “Let them live in our land and trade in it; the land has plenty of room for them. We can marry their daughters and they can marry ours. 22 But the men will agree to live with us as one people only on the condition that our males be circumcised, as they themselves are. 23 Won’t their livestock, their property and all their other animals become ours? So let us agree to their terms, and they will settle among us.”
24 All the men who went out of the city gate agreed with Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male in the city was circumcised.
25 Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male. 26 They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left. 27 The sons of Jacob came upon the dead bodies and looted the city where[c] their sister had been defiled. 28 They seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city and out in the fields. 29 They carried off all their wealth and all their women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses.
Okay, so Shechem raped Dinah and maybe he gets the death penalty. But every man in the city gets massacred and every woman gets raped by the Hebrews, evidently. That's justice!
30 Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me obnoxious to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.”
31 But they replied, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?”
The rape was a crime against the men in the household, not Dinah. Nobody ever asks Dinah if she wants to marry Schechem or if she thinks that every man in Hamor's city should be murdered, every child kidnapped and every woman raped. (Okay, the women were "carried off," but for what purpose?) By the way, Dinah is now condemned to a life of celibacy because she is no longer a virgin, and cannot marry. Just sayin'. That's why rapists are in some societies required to marry their victims.

  1. Genesis 34:7 Or against
  2. Genesis 34:10 Or move about freely; also in verse 21
  3. Genesis 34:27 Or because

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Distracted by Repulsive Objects

I highly recommend Fintan O'Toole's new piece in NYRB, which they have kindly made available to non-subscribers. Do read the whole thing, depressing as it is, because it may knock some scales from your eyes. Here's a key paragraph:

There is, surely, a reason why books that give us Trump in all his outlandish tawdriness—like Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury and Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House—cannot, however appalling their accounts may be, do him any harm. They are exercises in “looking straight at him to learn the truth about him,” an act that seems entirely right by any traditional political and journalistic standard but that misses the specificity of Trump’s performance. If you look straight at such a glaring object, you are blinded.
While the media fill their pages with his grotesque antics, vile slanders, bigotry, ignorance, schoolyard insults, the relentless torrent of lies, narcissism and psychopathy, something substantive is going on that the world is ignoring. The administration is destroying the federal government -- the infrastructure of social welfare, environmental protection, financial regulation, community investment, science and technology that has been steadily built since World War II. In this endeavor, the Resident's ignorance, incompetence and laziness are assets, not liabilities.

In reviewing Michael Lewis's The Fifth Risk, O'Toole notes that the federal government seems extraordinarily incompetent at letting the public know about all the good things it does for them. And this is why Ronald Reagan was able to joke that “You know, it’s said that the ten most frightening words in the English language are: ‘Hello, I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’”

In claiming that government was not the solution, but the problem, Reagan captured the loyalty of people who in fact depend on government but don't seem to know it. Remember "Keep your government hands off my Medicare?" Small business owners  tend to be conservative and libertarian even as they depend on federal loan subsidies, the basic transportation infrastructure that delivers customers to their doors and enables them to ship their products, the federal investment in technology, data they depend on for market research and long term planning, the weather forecasts that let them plan their staffing levels, and a whole lot more.

The destruction of the federal government is massive, is already causing enormous damage, and will take a decade or more to reverse. And it's happening unnoticed. Do read.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018


If you happen to follow the Lawyers, Guns and Money blog (which I recommend) you know that Scott Lemieux has displayed the graphic at the top of this post about a gazillion times. Now it turns out that Ivanka Trump was using a private e-mail account to conduct government business -- after we already learned that her father uses an unsecured, private cell phone.

It has tended to fade into the dark backward and abysm of time, but as Matthew Yglesias makes incandescently clear here, a dispositive reason why Ivanka's father occupies the office of president is because of the obsession of the corporate media -- driven notably by the New York Times -- with Hillary Clinton's e-mail management practices. Yeah, you can argue all kinds of ways the Clinton campaign could have done better or somebody else would have been a better candidate, but the bottom line is that a few tens of thousands of votes in a few states made the difference, and the effect of the e-mail pseudo-scandal was more than enough to swing them.

As Media Matters confirms, the major news network nearly ignored public policy issues in their coverage of the election. They gave three times as much coverage to Clinton's e-mails as they did to all policy issues combined. It was the e-mails that were the actual ostensible occasion for the Lock Her Up chants. The New York Times had three stories covering the entire front page above the fold about Clinton's e-mails on the day James Comey sent a letter to the House, that he knew would be leaked, saying he had re-opened the investigation on a flimsy pretext -- which of course came to nothing.

The NYT editors, however, think that Ivanka's use of a private e-mail account is inconsequential -- they have a brief story buried deep in the paper, and you can't even find it on the web site. I'm deeply puzzled why they do what they do.

UPDATE: Impersonating other commenters is absolutely not permitted and results in immediate, permanent banning. 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sunday Sermonette: Serious continuity error

Remember that Jacob stole Esau's birthright and his blessing, and has become very wealthy. He's a con artist and a pathological liar, who also screwed over his father-in-law. For some reason God loves him and doesn't like Esau. Viz Malachi 1. (Yeah, we're nowhere near there yet but it's relevant.)

A prophecy: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.[a]
“I have loved you,” says the Lord.
“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’
“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”
Anyway, I suppose it isn't surprising that Jacob expects Esau to be hostile.  What is not clear, under the circumstances, is why Jacob let Esau know that he was coming. Anyway, here is the rather surprising denoument.

Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two female servants. [i.e. sex slaves2 ]He put the female servants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.
But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. “Who are these with you?” he asked.
Jacob answered, “They are the children God has graciously given your servant.”
Then the female servants and their children approached and bowed down. Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down. Last of all came Joseph and Rachel, and they too bowed down.
Esau asked, “What’s the meaning of all these flocks and herds I met?”
“To find favor in your eyes, my lord,” he said.
But Esau said, “I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.”
10 “No, please!” said Jacob. “If I have found favor in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably. 11 Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.” And because Jacob insisted, Esau accepted it.
12 Then Esau said, “Let us be on our way; I’ll accompany you.”
Now, this is completely contrary to everything we know about the relationship between these two characters.  Note that Jacob has in fact seen the face of God, so the meaning of "to see your face is like seeing the face of God" is unclear. Is God a hirsute redhead? Anyway, why does Jacob call Esau his lord, and himself Esau's servant? This is even more odd given that Jacob is the patriarch of the Jews, this is the Jewish Bible, and here he is making them subservient to a guy who God hates.
13 But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are tender and that I must care for the ewes and cows that are nursing their young. If they are driven hard just one day, all the animals will die. 14 So let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I move along slowly at the pace of the flocks and herds before me and the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.”
15 Esau said, “Then let me leave some of my men with you.”
“But why do that?” Jacob asked. “Just let me find favor in the eyes of my lord.”
16 So that day Esau started on his way back to Seir. 17 Jacob, however, went to Sukkoth, where he built a place for himself and made shelters for his livestock. That is why the place is called Sukkoth.[a]
18 After Jacob came from Paddan Aram,[b] he arrived safely at the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city. 19 For a hundred pieces of silver,[c] he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent. 20 There he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel.[d]

Okay, so after all this Jacob promises to follow Esau to Seir, but he doesn't do it after all, and apparently never gives Esau the livestock he promised. So what is the point of this story?