Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength

The estimable Ezra Klein clearly explains what is actually very simple to begin with. The Republicans, led by the Resident, are running on a pure, unadulterated lie about health care.

The protection for people with pre-existing conditions in the Affordable Care Act is very popular, for obvious reasons. People who have substantial health care needs really need health insurance, and before the ACA came along, a lot of them couldn't get it. But the Republicans have spent the past decade screaming and yelling that they need to repeal the ACA, and some of them are even suing to have the protections in the ACA ruled unconstitutional. Now, they are running ads claiming that they are committed to maintaining these protections -- even the very people who are suing to end them are making that claim. And the Resident tweets "Republicans will totally protect people with Pre-Existing Conditions, Democrats will not! Vote Republican."

Klein asks why they are lying like this instead of just adopting a policy of maintaining protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Well, before Obama was elected and proposed the ACA, they were actually for something very much like it, and it appeared that a bi-partisan compromise was possible. But when Mitch McConnell decided on the strategy of scorched earth opposition to everything Obama wanted to do, they had to abandon their previous proposals. The problem was that they didn't have anything else -- in order to provide insurance to people who have greater than average health care needs, you need an individual mandate. You have to get everybody into the pool.

So they were left with nothing, and all they can do is lie. Well, that's all they do anyway so it isn't actually news.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Disgrace and shame

So the Chief Emetic of the United States reacts to the massacre of worshipers in a synagogue by saying, first, that if they'd had an armed guard it might not have been so bad. This is the future the Republican party and the NRA want for us: armed guards in every place of worship, every school, every government office, every business. At least that would be a full employment policy. In fact we'd have to import Mexicans to fill all those jobs.

His second reaction was that we need to bring back the death penalty. Funny thing about that. Ha ha. We already have it. The perpetrator has been charged with several capital offenses. He doesn't seem to have been very concerned about that.

Everybody is linking to Adam Serwer so I might as well do it too. For the past few weeks Orange Julius has been ranting about a "caravan" of Central American migrants, which he claims in tones increasingly redolent of the Revelation of John are a horde of criminals and terrorists bent on invading the country and destroying our way of life. The racist ecosystem at Faux News and associated radio and Internet ranters has gone on to claim that George Soros is paying for the whole thing, which is code for the International Jewish Conspiracy. This is all complete nonsense intended to sow fear, but Robert Bowers believed it, and said quite explicitly that was why he wanted to murder Jews. Serwer:
The apparent spark for the worst anti-Semitic massacre in American history was a racist hoax inflamed by a U.S. president seeking to help his party win a midterm election. There is no political gesture, no public statement, and no alteration in rhetoric or behavior that will change this fact. The shooter might have found a different reason to act on a different day. But he chose to act on Saturday, and he apparently chose to act in response to a political fiction that the president himself chose to spread and that his followers chose to amplify.
As for those who aided the president in his propaganda campaign, who enabled him to prey on racist fears to fabricate a national emergency, who said to themselves, “This is the play”? Every single one of them bears some responsibility for what followed. Their condemnations of anti-Semitism are meaningless. Their thoughts and prayers are worthless. Their condolences are irrelevant. They can never undo what they have done, and what they have done will never be forgotten.
But Trump and the Republicans have been doing this since before the election. As Josh Marshall reminds us. The revolting psychopath does this without regard for his own Jewish grandchildren. From Josh:

Trump has electrified anti-Semites and racist groups across the country. His own campaign has repeatedly found itself speaking to anti-Semites, tweeting their anti-Semitic memes, retweeting anti-Semites. His campaign manager, Steven Bannon, is an anti-Semite. The Breitbart News site he ran and will continue running after the campaign has become increasingly open in the last year with anti-Semitic attacks and politics.
Beyond that, this shouldn’t surprise us for a broader reason. Authoritarian, xenophobic political movements, which the Trump campaign unquestionably is, are driven by tribalism and ‘us vs them’ exclusion of outsiders. This may begin with other groups – Mexican immigrants, African-Americans, Muslims. It almost always comes around to Jews.

It’s true there is son-in-law Jared Kushner, a Jew and Ivanka, who converted to Judaism. But this isn’t terribly surprising. Kushner appears to be conscienceless. And as I noted here, there is a storied history of anti-Semites being happy to distinguish between good Jews and bad Jews.
 But the Zionist Organization of America and Bibi Netanyahu love him. There's a reason for that.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Sunday Sermonette: This one would hit the reject pile

I recognize that there are compelling current issues to discuss, and I will do so. But I'm committed to this project, which is not in fact entirely irrelevant. Again, Genesis 31 is very long. Even taking it in two pieces it makes for a long blog post. And it's very boring. The point of it is elusive, it's repetitive, and it's factual basis is murky. But let's get it over with.

22 On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled. 23 Taking his relatives with him, he pursued Jacob for seven days and caught up with him in the hill country of Gilead. 24 Then God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream at night and said to him, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.”
25 Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country of Gilead when Laban overtook him, and Laban and his relatives camped there too. 26 Then Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done? You’ve deceived me, and you’ve carried off my daughters like captives in war. 27 Why did you run off secretly and deceive me? Why didn’t you tell me, so I could send you away with joy and singing to the music of timbrels and harps? 28 You didn’t even let me kiss my grandchildren and my daughters goodbye. You have done a foolish thing. 29 I have the power to harm you; but last night the God of your father said to me, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ 30 Now you have gone off because you longed to return to your father’s household. But why did you steal my gods?”
 This is a Trumpean trick. Laban goes goes on a critical rant against Jacob, then says "But God told me not to say anything bad to you, so I won't" even though he just did. What's the deal with the "household gods?" you may well ask. In many pagan cultures small idols, embodying minor deities or spirits, were kept to protect the household. We aren't sure about the specifics of this practice in Laban's Aramaic culture. The Hebrew word is "teraphim," of uncertain etymology. According to Wikipedia, "According to Genesis 31, Rachel takes the teraphim belonging to her father Laban when her husband Jacob escapes. She hides them in a saddle bag and sits on them when Laban comes looking for them, and claims that she cannot get up because she is menstruating. From this it can be deduced that they were small, perhaps 30–35 cm."

31 Jacob answered Laban, “I was afraid, because I thought you would take your daughters away from me by force. 32 But if you find anyone who has your gods, that person shall not live. In the presence of our relatives, see for yourself whether there is anything of yours here with me; and if so, take it.” Now Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen the gods.
33 So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two female servants, but he found nothing. After he came out of Leah’s tent, he entered Rachel’s tent. 34 Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them inside her camel’s saddle and was sitting on them. Laban searched through everything in the tent but found nothing.
35 Rachel said to her father, “Don’t be angry, my lord, that I cannot stand up in your presence; I’m having my period.” So he searched but could not find the household gods.
36 Jacob was angry and took Laban to task. “What is my crime?” he asked Laban. “How have I wronged you that you hunt me down? 37 Now that you have searched through all my goods, what have you found that belongs to your household? Put it here in front of your relatives and mine, and let them judge between the two of us.
 Okay, Jacob doesn't know that Rachel stole the Gods. But presumably he will find out in due course. Does he ever correct the theft and the lie and try to make amends? Uhh, no.
38 “I have been with you for twenty years now. Your sheep and goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten rams from your flocks. 39 I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself. And you demanded payment from me for whatever was stolen by day or night. 40 This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes. 41 It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times. 42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you.”
This time, Jacob knows he is full of BS. He systematically took the best sheep and goats for himself, and gave Laban the weaklings. Also, this is the first time we've heard him complain about his circumstances. Last we heard, he was fat and happy.
43 Laban answered Jacob, “The women are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flocks are my flocks. All you see is mine. Yet what can I do today about these daughters of mine, or about the children they have borne? 44 Come now, let’s make a covenant, you and I, and let it serve as a witness between us.”
45 So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46 He said to his relatives, “Gather some stones.” So they took stones and piled them in a heap, and they ate there by the heap. 47 Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha, and Jacob called it Galeed.[b]
48 Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” That is why it was called Galeed. 49 It was also called Mizpah,[c] because he said, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other. 50 If you mistreat my daughters or if you take any wives besides my daughters, even though no one is with us, remember that God is a witness between you and me.”
51 Laban also said to Jacob, “Here is this heap, and here is this pillar I have set up between you and me. 52 This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not go past this heap to your side to harm you and that you will not go past this heap and pillar to my side to harm me. 53 May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.”
So Jacob took an oath in the name of the Fear of his father Isaac. 54 He offered a sacrifice there in the hill country and invited his relatives to a meal. After they had eaten, they spent the night there.
55 Early the next morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters and blessed them. Then he left and returned home.[d]

As before, I expect the main point of all this is to establish Jacob's claim to the land and the animals. At least they part amicably.


  1. Genesis 31:18 That is, Northwest Mesopotamia
  2. Genesis 31:47 The Aramaic Jegar Sahadutha and the Hebrew Galeed both mean witness heap.
  3. Genesis 31:49 Mizpah means watchtower.
  4. Genesis 31:55 In Hebrew texts this verse (31:55) is numbered 32:1.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Ship of Tools

I refrained from writing anything about the MAGA bomber until we knew who was doing it and why. Not so Vulgar Pigboy (the guy with a radio show that Dick Cheney used to visit all the time) and the rest of the wingnut swamps, up to and including National Review which tries to pretend it's respectable. They all quite confidently claimed that this was what they like to call a false flag operation, intended to make the Trump cult look bad and probably financed by George Soros. Actually His Organgeness himself made precisely that suggestion.

It seemed to me at the time that the perpetrator obviously had an IQ typical of MAGA hat wearers and would soon be caught. Which would make Vulgar Pigboy and his friends look like idiots. Which they do look like, because they are. So what's the point of engaging in this speculation when you know, or should know perfectly well that in a day or two you'll be eating shit?

The reason is that the cultists exist in an alternate reality. Once you anchor them in an alternative fact set, they'll stay there. So the van with "CNN sucks" and Hillary in crosshairs is just part of the plot. Since that's going a bit far for Faux News their strategy was to hide the perp's political orientation altogether. The reason CNN sucks, of course, is because it reports more or less truthfully, which is incompatible with Republican rule. The policies the Republicans actually support, and are in fact imposing, are deeply unpopular. So they have to keep their supporters in opposite world.

One has to wonder how long the bubble can stay intact. The Third Reich lasted 12 years.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Hypocrisy goes to 11

Since the NYT has a paywall and if you've been clicking on my links you may have hit it, I'll link to Jonathan Chait discussing the latest NYT ephemera. As you may recall, the single most important issue in the 2016 presidential election -- in fact, probably the only issue that mattered -- was Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server when she was Secretary of State. It is not clear that this was even contrary to official policy when she started doing it -- she did at on the advice of Colin Powell, who used a similar setup. And there is absolutely no evidence that her system was ever hacked or that any confidential information was ever compromised.

But this transgression was the basis for the "Lock Her Up!" chants at you-know-who's rallies, and in fact they continue. This was the issue that was the basis for three front page stories in the New York Times on a single day. This was the horrifying scandal that threw the election.

Now it turns out that the current Resident uses an unsecured i-phone to talk with his buddies at Faux News and other pals from Wingnutistan, that U.S. intelligence knows that the Chinese are listening to these conversations, and have told him so, but he refuses to stop doing it. Apparently the White House staff and intelligence community are at least somewhat reassured that "he was not spilling secrets because he rarely digs into the details of the intelligence he is shown and is not well versed in the operational specifics of military or covert activities." In other words he's too ignorant to give away important secrets. As Chait concludes:

There is so much gross misconduct in this administration, it’s not clear Democrats will even bother holding hearings on this issue if they gain control of Congress. That is itself telling: Trump has clearly exceeded his opponent’s culpability on her worst scandal, and it’s probably not even one of the 100 worst things he’s done, so far.
Well yeah, maybe we won't have congressional hearings. But will we ever hear about this again from the New York Times? I vote No.

Administrative note: It turns out that Blogger no longer has a system for commenter registration. What I'm going to try for now is comment moderation. I'll turn on comments but they won't be published unless I approve. If I don't, I'll mark them as spam, and that may train the Blogger spam filter to catch the sewage. We'll see. I hope it works. (I can restrict comments to users with Gmail accounts, which will eliminate anonymity, but I don't want to force people to get one.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Outrage overload

The Orange Shitgibbon has been ramping up his spewing of lies, which I would have thought was impossible but evidently there is no ceiling. It's impossible to keep up with them or to decide which to smack down. But I'll take the science denial turf, and attack this utterly ignorant and vile effort to redefine sex.

As you have likely heard, the bigot in charge of the HHS Office of Civil Rights wants to define “a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” as dictated by genitalia, original birth certificates, and genetic testing. He claims this is "scientific." Right, and the earth is 10,000 years old.

As Alex Barasch explains at the link, many people do not have XX or XY chromosomes corresponding to their apparent physiological sex. Other people are born with ambiguous genitals. So this is impossible. At the same time, some people discover as they are growing up they are psychologically discordant with their apparent physical sex. This is a fact about them, just like their eye color or height. They can't change it, they aren't making a choice. (Even if they were, why the hell would anybody else care?)

Like most Trump administration policies, this is just cruelty, stupidity and lies all rolled up together. We can't be rid of this schtickdreck fast enough.

Administrative note: I am moving to comment registration. The purpose of this site is to encourage intelligent, civil discussion. It appears some people are incapable of that. I'm trying to figure out how to do that technically, meanwhile commenting is temporarily restricted.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018


As you can imagine, a lot of weirdness passes through my in-box. This is a classic.

Dear Researcher,


We trust this mail finds you well.

We would like to appreciate your contribution towards the scientific community by publishing your precious work. We have gone through your article and found it really knowledgeable.

It is our immense pleasure to introduce our new Journal: Journal of Hygiastics and Public HealthWe are the trusted publishing partner of over 50,000 International Scientist and researchers and 100,000 readers. 

If you have any unpublished manuscript kindly forward it to us.

Your contribution can prove great need to our journal to reach greater heights in scientific community.

Your amalgamation with our journal can be attained by sending your CV, Biography (150 words), Research Interests accompanied by a recent passport size photo, and an Editorial (1-2pages) by mailing at

You can take the membership for one year and you will publish your 15 articles for our journal instantly.

Kindly, co-operation is highly appreciated.

Hope for a long lasting scientific relationship.

Journal Coordinator
Emma  Taylor
Journal of Hygiastics and Public Health
You may have heard of spamnals. These are fake academic journals that will publish anything for money, as they plainly offer to do here. The reason somebody might submit work to one is the hope that tenure and promotion committees will assume it's real. I actually thought hygiastics was a made-up word but it seems to be a very obscure synonym for hygiene.  In any case, my amalgamation with their journal will not be attained.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Sunday Sermonette: The Neverending Story

Genesis 31 is another very long chapter, very turgidly written and as far as I can tell pretty much pointless. But we said we were gonna read the whole thing and by gum, that's what we're gonna do. Just the first half today.

Jacob heard that Laban’s sons were saying, “Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.” And Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him was not what it had been.
Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”
So Jacob sent word to Rachel and Leah to come out to the fields where his flocks were. He said to them, “I see that your father’s attitude toward me is not what it was before, but the God of my father has been with me. You know that I’ve worked for your father with all my strength, yet your father has cheated me by changing my wages ten times. However, God has not allowed him to harm me. If he said, ‘The speckled ones will be your wages,’ then all the flocks gave birth to speckled young; and if he said, ‘The streaked ones will be your wages,’ then all the flocks bore streaked young. So God has taken away your father’s livestock and has given them to me.
This is the first I've heard about Laban changing Jacob's wages ten times. Two or three, maybe, but the last time it was Jacob's idea, and Jacob wound up screwing Laban. But he's still wining.
10 “In breeding season I once had a dream in which I looked up and saw that the male goats mating with the flock were streaked, speckled or spotted. 11 The angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob.’ I answered, ‘Here I am.’ 12 And he said, ‘Look up and see that all the male goats mating with the flock are streaked, speckled or spotted, for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land.’”
So it turns out that God inspired Jacob's science experiment. 
14 Then Rachel and Leah replied, “Do we still have any share in the inheritance of our father’s estate? 15 Does he not regard us as foreigners? Not only has he sold us, but he has used up what was paid for us. 16 Surely all the wealth that God took away from our father belongs to us and our children. So do whatever God has told you.”
17 Then Jacob put his children and his wives on camels, 18 and he drove all his livestock ahead of him, along with all the goods he had accumulated in Paddan Aram,[a] to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan.
19 When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father’s household gods. 20 Moreover, Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him he was running away. 21 So he fled with all he had, crossed the Euphrates River, and headed for the hill country of Gilead.

This is very inspirational. God wants you to steal all of your parents' stuff. We'll see where it all leads next week.

Friday, October 19, 2018

The God that Failed

Jonathan Chait inks an admirable review of the new memoir by neo-con defector Max Boot, who found the scales knocked from his eyes by the catastrophe of November 2016.

Boot, like most conservative intellectuals, reacted with incredulous disdain when a demagogic reality-television performer registered at the top of opinion polls in 2015. Most of those conservatives eventually reconciled themselves to Trump, either after Trump had sewn up the nomination, following his election, or after one of his many partisan skirmishes, at which point they could declare that the liberals had “forced” them to Trump’s side by criticizing Trump too harshly, opposing Brett Kavanaugh, or some other offense. Boot did not. Instead, he has written one of the most impressive and unflinching diagnoses of the pathologies in Republican politics that led to Trump’s rise.
What Chait finds noteworthy is that Boot now understands that the modern conservative movement "trafficked all along in anti-intellectualism, bigotry, ideological radicalism, and loopy conspiracy theories." The cherished myth that William F. Buckley kicked out the John Birch society and created a sound intellectual foundation for conservative gets, well, the Boot. Boot is nostalgic for Dwight D. Eisenhower, but the Republican party and the movement it embodies will never go back there. It can only chase its own tail, digging itself deeper and deeper into authoritarianism, white supremacy, patriarchy, insane conspiracy theories, rejection of science and indeed the very existence of empirical reality, all in the service of plutocracy.

The Republican party, in pulling the ground out from under the feet of its more moderate or at least sane factions, is creating space for the Democrats to become more progressive and more inclusive. If there is ever to be a legitimate center right party again in the U.S., it will have to be a new party.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

I can't believe I'm about to do this . . .

That is link to National Review.

Mohammed bin Salman has gone too far, evidently, because he murdered one person. It's perfectly okay, however, that the Saudis have been indiscriminately bombing Yemen, killing children and adult nocombatants by the thousands, since 2015. Oh yeah, using weapons the U.S. sold them. The Saudi naval blockade of the country has left 70% of the population -- 20 million people -- short of food, water and medical care. Lloyd Russell-Moyle has more to say about this in The Guardian.

Now it seems likely that if George W. Bush had ordered the murder of a critic in a U.S. consulate somewhere he'd be in big trouble. As far as I know he didn't do that but he did tell a bunch of lies in order to launch an illegal war of aggression against a country that was not threat to the U.S. which resulted in the deaths of more than 4,000 U.S. troops, maybe around a million Iraqis, and plunged the country into a decade and  half of violence and chaos. But he's perfectly respectable, goes to all the big funerals and gives cough drops to Michele Obama, and spends his time painting cute animals.

Does that seem kind of strange to anybody?

Update: For more on the Yemen war, see Joe Sommerlad in The Independent:

While the Saudi-led coalition began by targeting Houthi military strongholds, its bombing campaign quickly shifted to civilian targets, according to Professor Martha Mundy of the World Peace Foundation (WPF).
These included “water and transport infrastructure, food production and distribution, roads and transport, schools, cultural monuments, clinics and hospitals, and houses, fields and flocks,” the academic states in her recent report on the crisis, The Strategies of the Coalition in the Yemen War: Aerial Bombardment and Food War.
The Houthis have laid a lot of land mines, as has al Qaeda which has taken advantage of the chaos to establish a substantial presence in the east.

Strict Saudi blockades and travel restrictions have prevented food and aid reaching Yemen, causing the price of food within the country to skyrocket and leaving desperate families unable to afford basic supplies from markets.
The WPF report, accusing the Saudi coalition of using starvation as a weapon of war to create untenable conditions for the Houthis, states that no fewer than 220 fishing boats have been destroyed by bombs along the country’s Red Sea coast. This has meant the local fish catch is down by 50 per cent. . . .
Air strikes on the Port of Hodeida in June likewise appear a deliberate attempt to disable a facility from which 70 per cent of imports enter Yemen. Coalition forces cut a crucial supply route between Sanaa and Hodeida in September.
The prevailing hardships as a result of bomb-damage have hit supplies of electricity and fuel, making basic arable farming difficult, while ranchers have been forced to sell their cattle to make ends meet.
As a result of all this, almost three-quarters of Yemen’s 27.58 million population are currently reliant on aid. Of that total of approximately 22.2 million, 8.4 million are starving, 1.8 million of those being children, according to Unicef.
These are war crimes.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sunday Sermonette: Family Values

This story is a weird combination of pre-scientific bullshit and moral depravity. It largely speaks for itself but then of course we have to ask why it is in the Bible.

25 After Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, “Send me on my way so I can go back to my own homeland. 26 Give me my wives and children, for whom I have served you, and I will be on my way. You know how much work I’ve done for you.”
27 But Laban said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, please stay. I have learned by divination that the Lord has blessed me because of you.” 28 He added, “Name your wages, and I will pay them.”
29 Jacob said to him, “You know how I have worked for you and how your livestock has fared under my care. 30 The little you had before I came has increased greatly, and the Lord has blessed you wherever I have been. But now, when may I do something for my own household?”
31 “What shall I give you?” he asked.
“Don’t give me anything,” Jacob replied. “But if you will do this one thing for me, I will go on tending your flocks and watching over them: 32 Let me go through all your flocks today and remove from them every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark-colored lamb and every spotted or speckled goat. They will be my wages. 33 And my honesty will testify for me in the future, whenever you check on the wages you have paid me. Any goat in my possession that is not speckled or spotted, or any lamb that is not dark-colored, will be considered stolen.”
34 “Agreed,” said Laban. “Let it be as you have said.” 35 That same day he removed all the male goats that were streaked or spotted, and all the speckled or spotted female goats (all that had white on them) and all the dark-colored lambs, and he placed them in the care of his sons. 36 Then he put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob continued to tend the rest of Laban’s flocks.
37 Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. 38 Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink. When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, 39 they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. 40 Jacob set apart the young of the flock by themselves, but made the rest face the streaked and dark-colored animals that belonged to Laban. Thus he made separate flocks for himself and did not put them with Laban’s animals. 41 Whenever the stronger females were in heat, Jacob would place the branches in the troughs in front of the animals so they would mate near the branches, 42 but if the animals were weak, he would not place them there. So the weak animals went to Laban and the strong ones to Jacob. 43 In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys.

So according to inerrant word of God, goats that mate in front of speckled branches will be speckled, streaked or spotted. According to biology, of course, and also what should be the simple observation of any goatherd who can find his head without a proctoscope, these characteristics are inherited and are not influenced by the presence of peeled branches. However, if we want to pretend that this would have worked, Jacob is scamming his father-in-law, which would seem to make his honesty testify against him after all. The "servants" he owns are of course slaves. Domesticated camels did not exist at the time and place he supposedly lived. 

One wonders what believers make of all this. Actually no, one doesn't. They are likely completely unaware of it. As I have said many times, the best argument against faith is to tell people to actually read the Bible. Very few believers have done so, they only know a few  selected passages and some stories, most of which they largely get wrong.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Merchants of Death

It occurs to me that a cheap trick to get blog material is to tell you what I lectured about yesterday. Most weeks I lecture Monday Wednesday and Friday, although I have guest lecturers when I can because I'm lazy and the students would get sick of me anyway. But Friday I talked about the tobacco industry.

In 1953, British scientists Doll and Hill published the results of a cohort study that showed that smoking tobacco causes lung cancer. Evidence quickly piled up that it also caused heart disease. Tobacco company scientists got right away that this was all true, and told the executives. (I'll tell you how we know this in a minute.) But the companies denied it, and called it junk science. The first Surgeon General's report on smoking and health came out in 1964, and concluded that tobacco causes cancer and heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but the companies continued to deny it, even as their own scientists were writing internal memos urging them to own up to it and try to make safer cigarettes. (No, they didn't go public and they kept on taking their salaries. Just sayin'.)

The tobacco companies set up a fake research institute, surreptitiously through a law firm, and funded scientists to do research that came to conclusions favorable to the industry. A priority for them at this time was denying that environmental tobacco smoke is dangerous because that created risk of workplace smoking bans and other actions that would de-normalize smoking. (If you're too young to know it, restaurants, bars, airplanes and teachers' lounges and every other public place were full of tobacco smoke back then.) They also set up a fake academic journal with an editorial board dominated by industry consultants to publish "science" favorable to the industry.

As they did this, they knew -- knew full well, and admitted it in internal company documents --  that their product was killing half a million Americans every year, in really horrible ways. They knew it was addictive. They knew they were marketing to children -- they had to, because their business depended on replacing the customers who died. They knew that environmental tobacco smoke also made people sick and killed them. And they continued to publicly deny all this, even under oath, before congress and in civil trials.

Meanwhile, most of the states were suing them to recover Medicaid costs that resulted from their addictive poison. And they started to win. So in 1998, the tobacco companies settled with the states. They had to stop advertising in magazines and billboards. (Congress had already banned TV advertising.) They had to pay millions of dollars every year to the states, forever. And they had to give access to their archives.

That's how we know that they knew, and they were lying and pushing their lies every way they could the whole time. But they kept their wealth and in fact have since added to it immensely by pushing  their poison on the rest of the world, particularly poor countries in Asia. Smoking has declined immensely in the U.S., thanks to counter-advertising, workplace smoking bans, excise taxes, and other tobacco control efforts. Fifteen percent of adults still smoke, and they tend to be people with little education and low incomes. But around the world, there are more smokers than ever and the tobacco executives and shareholders are richer than ever. And they know.

But there are people in jail for selling an ounce of marijuana.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Fiddling while the world burns

The NYT recently published an expose about Orange Julius's finances which was extremely important and extremely ignored, like most important stuff. One reason it was ignored is that it was long and complicated and tedious to read, so Nancy LeTourneau tries to make it accessible for you.

The first thing you need to know is that he has lied about his business acumen his entire life. He did not, as he claims, build a fortune out of what he calls a "small" million dollar loan from his father. In fact, his father started transferring assets to him when he was just learning to walk and eventually gave him a total of $413 million. Which he squandered. In 2004 he was broke.

Then he suddenly mysteriously started spending millions of dollars to buy money-losing golf courses and overpay for other real estate assets with $400 million of mysterious provenance. Well, we actually do have a  guess about where it came from -- laundering money for Vladimir Putin's gangster buddies. Vlad doesn't need to have video of him with prostitutes (though he certainly might) because Vlad owns him. And made him president. As LeTourneau concludes:

Of course, that raises the question of where the $400 million in cash came from. I’m pretty sure Robert Mueller is interested in the answer. You might remember that when James Dodson asked Eric Trump about that, he said, “Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”
This demonstrates that Donald Trump might be the worst businessmen in America. He squandered his father’s entire fortune and might very well have gotten a Russian bailout about a decade before deciding to run for president. Even the most financially-challenged among us should be able to understand that sorry tale.
So this tool holds state power while the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- an apolitical body consisting of the leading scientists who study the earth's climate -- tells us we have 12 years to avert global catastrophe. This while a Category 5 hurricane, the most powerful hurricane ever to make landfall in the Florida panhandle, threatens to kill and render homeless a whole lot of reliably Republican voters. And what does the self-made man have to say about it? Absolutely nothing.

Meanwhile, if the Turkish government is to be believed, Julius's buddy Mohammed Bin Salman murdered a Saudi dissident the Saudi embassy in Turkey, and there are indications U.S. intelligence may have had advance knowledge of the plot and did not warn him. As Josh Marshall concludes:

The final, most important part of the puzzle is the relationship between the head of the current Saudi government and the Trump family. MBS has developed close ties to President Trump, even closer ties to Jared Kushner and financial ties with both. The Saudis even play a significant role in one part of the Russia investigation. They were one of the government’s most thrilled with Trump’s election. The relationship between the Crown Prince and the Trumps is deep and has geopolitical and personal financial dimensions.
These are all extraordinarily corrupt ties. They bring together young and headstrong princelings like MBS and Jared Kushner who are capable of all manner or willful and dangerous actions. Thus far we have only very limited information. But there’s a distinct possibility that Trump administration dirtied its hand in this affair. This bears very close scrutiny.
The point is, while Trump cultists think he's Making America Great Again, he's actually a  tool of foreign powers who most certainly do not share our values or align with our interests. He's been insulting allies, wrecking alliances, and praising and buddying up to the the most loathsome tyrants on earth, while enabling mass destruction. And this is just fine with the Republicans in congress. 

It is terrifying.

Monday, October 08, 2018

El Dia de La Raza

I debunked Columbus last year. (Wow, time sure flies!) But Adam Conover does it with more fun and excitement, brought to you here by Bill in Portland Maine. As you may recall, I suggested that Italian Americans might find a more appropriate hero in Fiorello LaGuardia, although perhaps his not being Catholic is a problem for some. (His mother was from a famous Italian Jewish family although she herself grew up in Trieste, and his father was a lapsed Catholic.)

My employer does make today a holiday (which I sorely needed), but calls it "Indigenous People's Day." Yeah, we're politically correct. When I worked at Latino Health Institute we called it Dia de La Raza, "La Raza" being the people of mixed European, African and American heritage who are now known as Hispanics or Latinos. While raza would literally be translated as "race," it obviously doesn't have the biological implication of the term as used by racists and really means an ethnic group.

Anyway, Columbus is not someone who deserves commemoration, celebration, or to be a focus for anybody's ethnic pride. And by the way he was born in Genoa, which is today part of Italy, but Italy did not exist at the time. He sailed for Spain, and he never set foot in what is today the United States. So the whole thing is ridiculous.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Sunday Sermonette: Actually it gets even weirder

I'll have something to say about current events anon, but first we'll begin our dive into the extreme bizarreness of Genesis 30. We'll just do the first half or so today; like many other chapters, the division is fairly random and this is really two or three separate stories.

 When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!”
Jacob became angry with her and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?”
Then she said, “Here is Bilhah, my servant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and I too can build a family through her.”
So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife. Jacob slept with her, and she became pregnant and bore him a son. Then Rachel said, “God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son.” Because of this she named him Dan.[a]
Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, “I have had a great struggle with my sister, and I have won.” So she named him Naphtali.[b]

This is of course the inspiration for the idea behind The Handmaid's Tale. In the KJV Bilhah is called a "handmaid" rather than a "servant."  Also for some reason the NIV omits a phrase from verse 3:

 30:3 And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her. 

What Margaret Atwood noticed, as apparently most preachers do not, is that Bilhah is not consulted in the matter; nor are her children considered her own, they are Rachel's. Bilhah is used as a reproductive vessel for her owners. She is not a servant, she is a slave.
When Leah saw that she had stopped having children, she took her servant Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. 10 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. 11 Then Leah said, “What good fortune!”[c] So she named him Gad.[d]
12 Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. 13 Then Leah said, “How happy I am! The women will call me happy.” So she named him Asher.[e]
Zilpah is also a slave, who is used in the same way as Bilhah.
14 During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah. Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.”
15 But she said to her, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?”
“Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.”
16 So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,” she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night.
For those who don't know, mandrakes are a plant with hallucinogenic and narcotic properties. They have no other use. They are not food. Rachel wants to get high and Leah evidently wants to get laid. So they make a deal. How this accords with any contemporary standard of morality I leave to you.
17 God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son. 18 Then Leah said, “God has rewarded me for giving my servant to my husband.” So she named him Issachar.[f]
19 Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. 20 Then Leah said, “God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.” So she named him Zebulun.[g]
21 Some time later she gave birth to a daughter and named her Dinah.
22 Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. 23 She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” 24 She named him Joseph,[h] and said, “May the Lord add to me another son.”
 Evidently Jacob decided he liked boinking Leah after all. Leah concludes that this turn of events results from God approving of her making Bilhah bear children for her. I'll leave you to decide what that says about God. No I won't. God is one seriously sick puppy.
  1. Genesis 30:6 Dan here means he has vindicated.
  2. Genesis 30:8 Naphtali means my struggle.
  3. Genesis 30:11 Or “A troop is coming!”
  4. Genesis 30:11 Gad can mean good fortune or a troop.
  5. Genesis 30:13 Asher means happy.
  6. Genesis 30:18 Issachar sounds like the Hebrew for reward.
  7. Genesis 30:20 Zebulun probably means honor.
  8. Genesis 30:24 Joseph means may he add.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

There once were sane Republicans . . .

. . . at least compared to the current species. Christine Todd Whitman was the Republican governor of New Jersey and EPA administrator under George Bush II. She has something to say about the current EPA (in which the "P" now stands for pollution). The EPA wants to roll back motor vehicle emissions and fuel efficiency requirements -- something the automobile companies, by the way, aren't even asking for. Quoth CTW:

Since the election of Donald Trump, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been guided by appointed officials who have fundamentally failed to uphold its mission: to protect public health and the environment. From undermining and ignoring established science, to rolling back lifesaving public health protections, it's become abundantly clear that this administration has no intention of upholding the core mission of the EPA. . .

Trump, [EPA Administrator] Wheeler and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Deputy Administrator Heidi King recently announced their plans to reverse America's clean-car standards.

With the transportation sector, now the country's largest source of carbon pollution, the clean-car standards are the most effective policy we have on the books to fight climate change. Rolling back these standards will mean dirtier cars that pollute the air and jeopardize the health of millions of Americans, especially the over 26 million Americans who suffer from asthma. . . .
This rollback also ignores thousands of pages of research showing that the current standards are achievable, protect public health and reduce air pollution. The EPA should make decisions based on science -- not willfully ignoring the work of scientists.

And it will also cost consumers money. Oh, remember States' Rights™, the Republican Party mantra? Hah! The administration wants to prevent states from imposing stricter standards of their own. This isn't just about people breathing polluted air. It's about the survival of civilization.

The U.S. is the only nation in which a major political party denies the reality of anthropogenic climate change. That is not ignorant, or stupid. It is willfully evil. Republican voters in North Carolina drown just as readily as Democratic voters, and they burn just as readily in California. Republican farmers will be ruined by drought, and the only reason that Republican politicians are doing this to them is because they want the Koch Brothers' money. Yeah, we should be talking about Brett Kavanaugh. But does that really have to be the only thing we're talking about?