Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

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?

Friday, November 16, 2018

Happy transparent bullshit day

The Brits are in the midst of the most epic self-immolation in modern history. David Cameron only held the Brexit referendum because he assumed it would lose. Almost no-one who campaigned for it did so in good faith. As soon as it passed everybody knew it would be impossible and disastrous, but Theresa May and her cabinet kept pretending there was a solution and kicking the can down the road.

For those of you who either haven't been paying attention or never really grocked it, Brexit was a bad idea in any event because the British economy is completely inter-dependent with Europe. In due course trade arrangements could probably have been worked out, although at a substantial long-term cost to the British economy. However, there is an intractable problem. The Republic of Ireland is part of the EU and fully intends to remain so, thank you very much. Northern Ireland is part of the UK and ditto. There is a land border between them which is now an open border, as required by the Good Friday agreement that ended the Troubles and as required by what is now a fully integrated economy and society. But if that border remains open, there is no border between the EU and Britain.

So Theresa May negotiated a Brexit deal which consists of Britain remaining within the European customs union, and obeying its regulations, but not having a vote. Instead of gaining sovereignty, as Brexiteers insisted they were doing, their losing it. So it will never pass Parliament. So there won't be a deal. Which means that in March, the border between Britain and the EU will slam shut. Britain imports half of its food and most of its medicine, its factories depend on supply chains on the continent -- you get the idea. So does Charlie Stross:

I expect the government will collapse within 1-4 weeks. There will be a state of emergency, managed under the Civil Contingencies Act (2004) (which replaced earlier civil defense emergency legislation). Emergency airlifts of medicines, food, and fuel may take place—but it's hard to see the current US administration lending a hand.
Most likely the crisis will end with the UK crashing back into the EU, or at least into Customs Union and statutory convergence—but on EU maximalist terms with none of the opt-outs negotiated by previous British governments from Thatcher onwards. The negotiating position will most likely resemble that of Greece in 2011-2015, i.e. a vastly weaker supplicant in a state of crisis and near-collapse, and the British economy will take a generation to recover—if it ever manages to.
(This is, by the way, not the worst scenario I can envisage. The worst case is that the catastrophic collapse of the world's sixth largest trading economy, combined with a POTUS whose understanding of economics is approximately as deep as that of Louis XVI, will lead to a global financial crisis on the scale of 2007-08—but without leadership as credible as, say, George W. Bush and/or Gordon Brown to pull our collective nuts out of the fire. In which case we're looking at a global banking collapse, widespread famine due to those crop shortages, and a wave of revolutions the like of which the planet hasn't seen since 1917-18. But hopefully that won't happen, right? Because only a maniac would want to burn everything down in order to provide elbow room for a new white supremacist ethnostate world order. Oops, that would be Steve Bannon.)

Meanwhile, having ordered his boys to wack Jamal Khashoggi, Jared Kushner's BFF Mohammed bin-Salman is now proposing to execute them for following his orders. Evidently his tyranny is sufficiently entrenched that he can actually do that.

Of course there's no need to point out the 17 lies told by the president of the United States today because that's just background noise.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Post Enlightenment Age

Krugthulu has a new musing on Republican epistemology. Essentially, the evaluation of the truth or falsehood of a proposition does not consist of the usual tests of objective reality. Facts in evidence, logic, probability theory -- none of that has to do with truth. What is true is that which benefits the Leader. That which does not is false.

Fake News means news the Leader does not want to hear. Truth is whatever is convenient for the Leader. For example, the Leader and Rick Scott claim there is massive voter fraud in Florida because Scott's lead has declined as more votes are counted. There is no evidence for this claim of the sort that sane people usually depend on. The evidence for the claim is that the Leader and Rick Scott want it to be true.

As Krugman points out, however, this is not actually anything brand new. The Republican party for two decades has been insisting that global climate change is a hoax perpetrated by a grand conspiracy of tens of thousands of scientists. Their evidence for that is that climate change were real, it would require actions by government that they do not want to take.

This means that trying to reason with them is impossible, because they are not using reason at all. As Amanda Marcotte says:

The first thing liberals and journalists should do is find ways to speak the truth without inviting conservatives to troll them with "debate" about it — debate that will inevitably just be the pitting of lies against truths, leaving those who still believe in reason frustrated and giving conservatives endless opportunities to gloat about their triggering talents.
There are a variety of tools that accomplish this, but the primary one is to avoid speaking to liars and instead speak about them. For instance, cable news would do well to stop inviting Kellyanne Conway or other administration liars to appear on camera and tell more lies. That time would be better used straightforwardly debunking their numerous falsehoods and deliberate misstatements.
Brevity is key here. Whenever you're explaining, you're losing. For instance, it was a waste of time going frame by frame through that Jim Acosta video to prove he did nothing wrong, since everyone who claimed to believe he had done something terrible was lying in order to troll the left. Journalists would have done better to  present the fact that Acosta did nothing wrong as self-evident truth, which it was, and move on to addressing the real story, which is how Trump uses lies to advance his agenda.
She has some other good advice. But the problem is that journalists are still stuck with conventions and assumptions that don't work any more. Their commitment to "balance" betrays them when there are not in fact two sides to the argument. One party is lying. They just can't say that.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sunday Sermonette: And you thought Fox News was fake

There is plenty of absurdity in the Bible but the end of Genesis 32 has got to be a contender for the Wacko Award.

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 
 His two female servants more specifically means his sex slaves.
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,[f] because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
Uhm, okay. So the idea is that Jacob wrestled all night with God, and won. And it wasn't because God was letting him win either -- "When the man saw that he could not overpower him," he cheated somehow. Ordinarily touching a person's hip doesn't cause injury so this was some sort of magic. Despite his injury, Jacob still has control over God, who begs to be released. Apparently God didn't know Jacob's name. So God renames him Israel but in fact he continues to be called Jacob, even by God, for the rest of his life, as we shall see.

So, to sum up, God starts a wrestling match with what is apparently a random guy whose name he doesn't know. A fairly old man, by the way. This is pretty odd to say the least since God has had several encounters with Jacob in the past and bestowed various prophecies and blessings on him. Then God discovers that he can't beat Jacob, a mere mortal, so he permanently injures him through some sort of trickery. Then God changes Jacob's name but it doesn't stick. This altogether so stupid it has to have been planted just to see if we're paying attention.
29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.
30 So Jacob called the place Peniel,[g] saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel,[h] and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.
Two more things. One, this is a ridiculous reason not to eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, although I would imagine that like most tendons it isn't a pleasant thing to eat. As for seeing God face to face, many people do at various points in the Bible and yet:

There shall no man see me, and live. Exodus 33:20 No man hath seen God at any time. John 1:18, 1 John 4:12
And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. John 5:37
Not that any man hath seen the Father. John 6:46
...the invisible God ... Colossians 1:15
Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. 1 Timothy 1:17
Whom no man hath seen nor can see. 1 Timothy 6:16

Update: I've done a little research and apparently the Talmudic rabbis have decided that the tendon is actually the sciatic nerve, called the gid ha-nasheh. Since the idea of wrestling with God, and winning, obviously makes no sense, the Zohar also tells us that this was not God but rather Esau's guardian angel. The sciatic nerve is said to represent sexual desire. (Of course in reality it has nothing to do with sex, it carries nerve impulses from the spinal chord to the legs and feet.) You can read Rabbi Menachem Posner's explanation here. Of course this is just made up by a bunch of guys in eastern Europe a couple of thousand years after this was originally written, and there is no basis for it other than imagination.

  1. Genesis 32:28 Israel probably means he struggles with God.
  2. Genesis 32:30 Peniel means face of God.
  3. Genesis 32:31 Hebrew Penuel, a variant of Peniel

Friday, November 09, 2018

Descent into the maelstrom

The detachment between reality and the Resident and his administration has been gobsmacking from the very first. Remember the size of the inaugural crowd? WaPo has identified 6,420 Residential falsehoods in 649 days. Of course there is a constitutional prohibition against them using the word "lies." But there's something different about the last few days, a feeling that this is no longer a show of cynicism, bluster and impunity.

Obviously he appointed Matt Whitaker Attorney General with the explicit purpose of shutting down the Mueller investigation. So he took questions from reporters this morning and claimed he does not know Whitaker, which is obviously nonsensical since Whitaker has been in the oval office more than a dozen times and there are numerous reports that the two are close. But you don't have to take my word for it, you can take Donald J. Trump's word for it if you like because he told Steve Doocy on October 10 that he does know Whitaker and that Whitaker is a "great guy."

While this is going on, the Resident and Rick Scott are claiming that Democrats are trying to steal the Florida Senate election by the nefarious, dastardly scheme of counting all the votes. The Resident banned a reporter from the White House for asking questions, and then his spokesperson tried to justify by tweeting a fake video created by the lunatic Infowars to falsely accuse Acosta of assaulting an intern. Infowars! It's hard to believe his skin could get any thinner or his racism more transparent, but both are happening.

So I think he is actually losing his marbles. The question is whether any Republican senators will start to question whether this lunatic narcissist is really the hill they want to die on. We'll see.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018


Are you disappointed and disturbed that a campaign of bigotry, paranoia and lies succeeded in increasing the Republican Senate majority? Well keep this in mind, folks, from 538:

56.7 percent

Voters cast 44.7 million votes for Democratic Senate candidates and 32.9 million votes for Republican Senate candidates — in other words 57 percent of Senate votes went for Democrats. But given how states and cities and stuff work, and which of the former happened to be up for election this year, this gap translated into at least a two-seat gain for Republicans. Republicans will have a majority in the upper chamber, and are currently sitting on 51 senators with several races yet to be called.
The Senate, and the electoral college, are anachronisms that resulted from compromise with the slave states. We need a new constitution.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

A warning from the past

From BoingBoing (and tip o' the hat to Brad DeLong), words from Lyndon Johnson prior to the 1966 mid-terms. Johnson did a lot of good, but sadly Viet Nam ruined his legacy.

I can think of nothing more dangerous, more divisive, or more self-destructive than the effort to prey on what is called 'white backlash.' I thought it was a mistake to pump this issue up in the 1964 campaign, and I do not think it served the purpose of those who did. I think it is dangerous because it threatens to vest power in the hands of second-rate men whose only qualification is their ability to pander to other men's fears. I think it divides this nation at a very critical time -- and therefore it weakens us as a united country.
"I think that the so-called 'white backlash' is destructive, not only of the interests of Negro Americans, but of all those who stand to gain from humane and farsighted government. And those that stand to gain from humane and farsighted government is everybody. Nevertheless, there are those who try to stimulate suspicion into hatred, and to make fear and frustration their springboard into public office. Many of them do it openly. Some let their henchmen do it for them. Their responsibility is the same.
As disturbing as the behavior of the malignant narcissist who was installed in office by a foreign adversary is the rank cowardice and moral depravity of the entire Republican leadership.  May they drown in disgrace and shame.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Sunday Sermonette: brotherly love

Genesis 32, like many of the chapters, is divided oddly. In fact the Masoretic text puts the first verse with chapter 31; while there are clearly two stories in the rest of it. The first one, turgidly written and repetitive, is also illogical. But we'll do it now and get it over with.

Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim.[b]
KJV has "this is God's host." Not sure why the discrepancy.

Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He instructed them: “This is what you are to say to my lord Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, male and female servants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.’”
When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”
In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups,[c] and the flocks and herds and camels as well. He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group,[d] the group[e] that is left may escape.”
Okaaay. I can certainly understand why Jacob thinks Esau is likely to be hostile. However, if Jacob is desperately afraid of him, why did he send messengers to tip him off that Jacob was in the neighborhood?
Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. 11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. 12 But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”
13 He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.”
Again, camels had not been domesticated at the time this supposedly took place.
17 He instructed the one in the lead: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘Who do you belong to, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ 18 then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’”
19 He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: “You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. 20 And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.’” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.” 21 So Jacob’s gifts went on ahead of him, but he himself spent the night in the camp.
Also unclear is why Jacob assumes that Esau is much more militarily powerful.  In any event, he hopes to buy Esau off by giving up half of his animals, but if Esau is really all that horrific he can just take the rest, no?

Again, Jacob could have spared himself all of this pain by just sneaking on by. Very odd.
  1. Genesis 32:2 Mahanaim means two camps.
  2. Genesis 32:7 Or camps
  3. Genesis 32:8 Or camp
  4. Genesis 32:8 Or camp