Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Sunday Sermonette: The weirdest story ever told

Genesis 29 is just the setup for Genesis 30, just so you know. If you think this is weird, just wait. I should also say that if you read this in the KJV, it will make even less sense. The NIV cleans it up somewhat. Not being conversant with classical Hebrew, I can't say which is more correct. Anyway, let's get started.

Then Jacob continued on his journey and came to the land of the eastern peoples. There he saw a well in the open country, with three flocks of sheep lying near it because the flocks were watered from that well. The stone over the mouth of the well was large. When all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone away from the well’s mouth and water the sheep. Then they would return the stone to its place over the mouth of the well.
Jacob asked the shepherds, “My brothers, where are you from?”
“We’re from Harran,” they replied.
He said to them, “Do you know Laban, Nahor’s grandson?”
“Yes, we know him,” they answered.
Then Jacob asked them, “Is he well?”
“Yes, he is,” they said, “and here comes his daughter Rachel with the sheep.”
“Look,” he said, “the sun is still high; it is not time for the flocks to be gathered. Water the sheep and take them back to pasture.”
“We can’t,” they replied, “until all the flocks are gathered and the stone has been rolled away from the mouth of the well. Then we will water the sheep.”
While he was still talking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherd. 10 When Jacob saw Rachel daughter of his uncle Laban, and Laban’s sheep, he went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s sheep. 11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud. 12 He had told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and a son of Rebekah. So she ran and told her father.
13 As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he hurried to meet him. He embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his home, and there Jacob told him all these things. 14 Then Laban said to him, “You are my own flesh and blood.”
 This is rather tedious and contains a lot of seemingly extraneous information, including the discussion about when the sheep should be watered. It doesn't seem to make any sense and it's pointless. Why does Jacob weep? Also, you may well ask, why is this family so incestuous?

After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, 15 Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”
16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah had weak [Note: KJV has "tender"] eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. 18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”
19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.
Laban sells his daughter for seven years of free labor. She doesn't have any say in the matter. Meanwhile Jacob evidently spends the seven years working hard and engaging in self-stimulation.
21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.”
22 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. 24 And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant.
25 When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”
26 Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27 Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”
28 And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. 29 Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. 30 Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.
 I don't know where to begin. Jacob spends the night boinking Leah and he doesn't realize who she is until the morning? Okaaaay. But then Jacob just says okay, spends a week screwing Leah, and puts in another seven years of indentured servitude.
31 When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. 32 Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben,[b] for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.”
33 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon.[c]
34 Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” So he was named Levi.[d]
35 She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” So she named him Judah.[e] Then she stopped having children.
How do we know that God decided that Leah should have children but not Rachel? Does he make an announcement? (I note that his personal appearances are growing scarcer.) And I must say, even if he doesn't love Leah Jacob is obviously paying plenty of attention to her, as it were. It's also noteworthy that when God decides to open a womb, it's almost always a boy. Anyway, wait till next week! It gets really, really weird.

  1. Genesis 29:32 Reuben sounds like the Hebrew for he has seen my misery; the name means see, a son.
  2. Genesis 29:33 Simeon probably means one who hears.
  3. Genesis 29:34 Levi sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for attached.
  4. Genesis 29:35 Judah sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for praise.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Inarticulate with anger

That's me right now. Obviously I have believed that Brett Kavanaugh is totally unsuitable to sit on the Supreme Court, or any court at all, since his name first came up as a possible nominee. But the Republican senators conspiring with him to cast the women who have accused him of assaulting them as tools in a plot orchestrated by the Democratic party is so disgusting I can't even respond to it.

I'll just link to someone who knows how the whole scam works:

Only a tiny percentage of lawyers get anywhere near the supreme court in their careers and they are virtually all hand-picked beneficiaries of self-reinforcing, self-appointed set of privileged snobs ensconced in sinecures at a handful of self-designated elite institutions.
Even in the infinitesimally tiny chance that all these women are liars and this is some massive conspiracy i dont give a fuck: this guy getting denied what he believes he is owed is 100% ok by me, you could randomly pick a better judge out of a brooklyn supreme cattle call.

I've known dozens of pricks like this guy through the years, ever failing upwards, insane broken bullies cruising through life through sheer accidents of birth and any time one of them suffers even mild inconvenience for the wreckage they inflict is a small victory.
The purpose for which 51 Republican Senators are going to vote Yes is to overturn Roe v. Wade, and ultimately even strip women of the right to contraception; strip rights from gay people including the right to marry; put a stop to environmental, worker safety, and consumer safety regulations; eliminate voting rights; repeal civil rights; favor the powerful over the weak in every circumstance; and place the president above the law. He is an ideological extremist and career partisan apparatchik. He repeatedly perjured himself before the Judiciary Committee even before anyone had accused him of sexual assault. He had hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt that somehow mysteriously disappeared, and they didn't even ask him to explain it. I could go on but this is plenty. There is no moral justification for the existence of the Republican party. They need to be tossed on the shitpile of history.

Update: David Brock knows exactly who Kavanaugh is. As I say, he's an extremist, partisan Republican operative, who should not be a judge of any kind, let lone sit on the Supreme Court.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Sunday Sermonette: No Canaanites need apply

Genesis 28 is really 3 stories, so I'll take them one at at time.

So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him. Then he commanded him: “Do not marry a Canaanite woman. Go at once to Paddan Aram, to the house of your mother’s father Bethuel. Take a wife for yourself there, from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.” Then Isaac sent Jacob on his way, and he went to Paddan Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, who was the mother of Jacob and Esau.
Now Esau learned that Isaac had blessed Jacob and had sent him to Paddan Aram to take a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he commanded him, “Do not marry a Canaanite woman,” and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and had gone to Paddan Aram. Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had.
Abraham and Isaac had one concern for their sons: Whatever you do, don't marry a Canaanite. At this point I don't know why Esau gives a FFOARD what Isaac wants, and anyway, he already has two wives, but now he decides to emulate Jacob and marry a cousin. Even though he already has two wives. Whatev. BTW Laban the son of Bethuel turns out to be the son of Nahor in the next chapter. Again, whatev.
10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
God repeatedly made the same promise to Abraham, as you may recall. But the promise is never kept. The Jews never became particularly numerous, and never controlled more than a small part of the land in question, tenuously and intermittently at that. I'm not sure what "All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring" is supposed to mean exactly, but I do acknowledge the tremendous contributions of many Jewish philosophers, writers, artists, scientists and statespersons. I think it's fair to say that in the diaspora, the Jews have been creative and productive beyond their numbers. Oppression and marginalization can actually promote resourcefulness. Education is something you can always take with you, and nobody can take it away from you. But I don't think that's the promise God is making here. In fact the opposite: the diaspora is precisely the failure of this promise.

16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.
20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”

That's pretty funny. Jacob names the place Bethel again in chapter 35. But it was already Bethel in chapters 12 and 13. At least Beersheba only got named twice.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Locker Room Talk

Maybe I'm naive, maybe nobody tells me anything, I dunno. But let me tell you about the world I live in, at least as far as I know.

I went to boarding school, so maybe my experience isn't typical. I don't know about Georgetown Prep, but in my high school experience -- which was in the late 1960s and early 1970s -- I never heard of anybody attacking a girl, trying to rip her clothes off, holding his hand over her mouth. I never heard of anybody doing anything like that in college either, and believe me, nobody among my friends would have been capable of any such thing and we would have been outraged if we heard of it happening. Admittedly, there were a couple of guys of my acquaintance who if you pressed me I would have to say I wouldn't put it past them, but that's what happens when a college tries to rebuild its football program.

Let me also stipulate that I have been in countless locker rooms. Throughout my high school and college career I played soccer, baseball, lacrosse, ice hockey, and I wrestled. I never heard anybody in a locker room brag about assaulting women. That is not what men do, in my experience.

It turns out that there are powerful men who are also psychos and they do disgusting things to women and they have been getting away with it. But no, it is not normal and it is not condoned by the vast majority of men. Unless, it appears, they happen to be socially conservative Republican voters. You know, family values.

Administrative note: Something has happened such that only the most recent post appears by default when you visit this site. I didn't do it and I can't find any way to change it. This seems to be a change made by Blogger, without explanation or warning. If anybody knows how to fix it, let me know, it is not my preference.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

100 years ago . . .

Although there have been some public reflections on WWI in corporate media, I've come across very little about the 1918 influenza pandemic. Check this out:

The blue line is the age-adjusted death rate in the United States, and the orange line is life expectancy at birth. They've both been going in the right direction throughout the 20th Century, and most of the 21st until the past few years (more on that later), but as you can see in 1918 we spiked right back into the 19th. Our best estimates are that 50 million people died in the epidemic worldwide, and 675,000 in the U.S. The spike in deaths wasn't caused by the war, per se. The U.S. lost 53,402 personnel in combat, and more than 60,000 to disease, mostly flu. 

The pandemic was particularly cruel because unlike in normal flu seasons, young people were disproportionately subject to severe complications and death. It is thought that this was because this strain of flu provoked a particularly extreme immune reaction which the lungs to fill with fluid and drown the victim. Yikes.

Back then viruses had not been discovered, and there were no effective treatments. Today we know what causes influenza, we have partially effective vaccine, and we can keep people with severe complications alive with ventilators until their bodies manage to fight off the disease. But the price of not repeating 1918 is eternal vigilance. The World Health Organization member countries all participate in a global influenza surveillance program and cooperate to fight influenza when it emerges. If a particularly virulent strain does emerge, we may not have ample warning -- getting vaccines for new strains to market takes many months -- but we'll have some time to prepare and we'll know what to do.

But a new, as yet unknown virus may leave us not so lucky. And no, the Free Market™ will not protect us. Only organized action by governments can do that.