Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Art of the Schlemiel

Simon Tisdale in The Guardian runs down the Hanoi summit in which the U.S. president slobbered all over the most ruthless mass murdering dictator currently on the planet and shat his pants in the process. That he is an incompetent fool is not news, but we did get confirmation that he has surrounded himself with sycophants and dilettantes and there is no longer anyone to rescue him from his idiocy.

Kim Jong Un stood to benefit from a summit with no tangible outcome by getting propaganda photos of himself hobnobbing with the U.S. president and footage of said president praising his leadership and character. Yep, the same guy who holds something like 100,000 political prisoners for crimes such as watching a South Korean movie, who murdered his own uncle with an anti-aircraft gun and who tortured an American student to death for (allegedly) stealing a poster -- oh wait, the U.S. president says that didn't actually happen, and he knows because Kim denies it.

But a competent State Department staff would have had a substantive agreement in place, ready to sign, before ever setting up a summit. That's how it's done. Apparently John Bolton had the wit to prevent his addled boss from giving away more than he did -- and he did apparently drop the long-standing demand for a full accounting of the North Korean nuclear weapons program -- but the U.S. standing in the world just took another tumble. I don't suppose the president's cultists care that the rest of the world is contemptuous of the guy they worship, but no, America isn't Great Again, it's a laughingstock. We have got to get rid of this malignant clown.  

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

We take requests

For some reason I don't really understand, a commenter think I should discuss plea bargaining. I'm not a lawyer nor an expert on the legal system, so I'll outsource this to Dylan Walsh.

In a pistachio shell, the criminal justice system is totally dependent on plea bargaining, it would collapse under the weight of trials. Plea bargaining aids investigations by allowing prosecutors to squeeze lower-level offenders to provide information about bigger fish, which is okay so long as the information they give is honest. We would hope that prosecutors will take pains to get corroboration but they probably encourage dubious testimony sometimes.

Probably the worst downside is that the legal representation provided to indigent defendants is totally inadequate. Even if they're innocent, they often feel they can't afford the risk of going to trial and may plead guilty to avoid the danger of a heavy sentence. Walsh discusses some efforts to ameliorate this problem, such as allowing bench trials (judge no jury) which allows for a larger volume of trials. I'm not so crazy about this however because judges pay a lot of deference to police and prosecutors. Personally, I'd rather have a jury. Walsh doesn't mention it, but eliminating most pre-trial detention would also help. He starts off with a story of a guy who pled out just so he wouldn't have to spend six months in jail awaiting trial.

However, for defendants with the resources to hire good lawyers, I'm not so worried. If the prosecutor doesn't have a solid case, they can afford to go to trial. The problem with plea bargaining is the fundamental problem that crops up everywhere: justice, in the U.S., is for the rich.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: Going round and round in circles

As I have said a few times during this long and tedious story, Joseph's motives for manipulating his brothers as he does are really mysterious. Yeah, okay, he wants to torture them for revenge, but of course Benjamin is innocent of the crime, as is Jacob, and they seem to be getting the worst of it. Furthermore, as we will discover in the next chapter, he isn't actually mad at them at all. So the point of all this eludes me. Anyway, here's chapter 44.

 Now Joseph gave these instructions to the steward of his house: “Fill the men’s sacks with as much food as they can carry, and put each man’s silver in the mouth of his sack. Then put my cup, the silver one, in the mouth of the youngest one’s sack, along with the silver for his grain.” And he did as Joseph said.
As morning dawned, the men were sent on their way with their donkeys. They had not gone far from the city when Joseph said to his steward, “Go after those men at once, and when you catch up with them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid good with evil? Isn’t this the cup my master drinks from and also uses for divination? This is a wicked thing you have done.’”
When he caught up with them, he repeated these words to them. But they said to him, “Why does my lord say such things? Far be it from your servants to do anything like that! We even brought back to you from the land of Canaan the silver we found inside the mouths of our sacks. So why would we steal silver or gold from your master’s house? If any of your servants is found to have it, he will die; and the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.”
10 “Very well, then,” he said, “let it be as you say. Whoever is found to have it will become my slave; the rest of you will be free from blame.”
Very odd here, that the steward says "my slave," when evidently the thief will become Joseph's slave. Anyway, these guys are total idiots. They have now fallen for the same trick twice. You might have though they would have checked to see if anything had been planted on them, since Joseph has already done this to them once. And when the cup is discovered, it doesn't occur to them that this is the same scam?
11 Each of them quickly lowered his sack to the ground and opened it. 12 Then the steward proceeded to search, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. 13 At this, they tore their clothes. Then they all loaded their donkeys and returned to the city.
14 Joseph was still in the house when Judah and his brothers came in, and they threw themselves to the ground before him. 15 Joseph said to them, “What is this you have done? Don’t you know that a man like me can find things out by divination?”
Again, Joseph is a con artist. 
16 “What can we say to my lord?” Judah replied. “What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants’ guilt. We are now my lord’s slaves—we ourselves and the one who was found to have the cup.”
17 But Joseph said, “Far be it from me to do such a thing! Only the man who was found to have the cup will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace.”
Right, Joseph's slave, not the steward's as implied in verse 10. Now Judah proceeds to re-tell the same story that has been told before, followed by a tedious story that has been told twice before -- all of which Joseph already knows. All of this telling and retelling and retelling again is particularly characteristic of the story of Joseph, but it's been seen before and will be seen again. And the retellings often have conflicting details.
18 Then Judah went up to him and said: “Pardon your servant, my lord, let me speak a word to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself. 19 My lord asked his servants, ‘Do you have a father or a brother?’ 20 And we answered, ‘We have an aged father, and there is a young son born to him in his old age. His brother is dead, and he is the only one of his mother’s sons left, and his father loves him.’
21 “Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me so I can see him for myself.’ 22 And we said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father; if he leaves him, his father will die.’ 23 But you told your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you will not see my face again.’ 24 When we went back to your servant my father, we told him what my lord had said.
25 “Then our father said, ‘Go back and buy a little more food.’ 26 But we said, ‘We cannot go down. Only if our youngest brother is with us will we go. We cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’
27 “Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One of them went away from me, and I said, “He has surely been torn to pieces.” And I have not seen him since. 29 If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in misery.’
30 “So now, if the boy is not with us when I go back to your servant my father, and if my father, whose life is closely bound up with the boy’s life, 31 sees that the boy isn’t there, he will die. Your servants will bring the gray head of our father down to the grave in sorrow. 32 Your servant guaranteed the boy’s safety to my father. I said, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, I will bear the blame before you, my father, all my life!’
33 “Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. 34 How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.”

So this is a long, complicated, repetitious story. Whatever moral or theological meaning it may have is not at all evident, though I'm sure people have read into it whatever suited their fancy. One can certainly see that Judah is a moral exemplar, offering to sacrifice himself for Benjamin.  Joseph's motive may be to test his brothers, though as we will see in the next chapter the test doesn't really matter. The reason this story exists is as a plot contrivance to get the Hebrews into Egypt. We'll have a good deal more to say about that.

Saturday, February 23, 2019


Robert Kraft is said to be worth $6.6 billion. So why, you may well ask, does he have his chauffeur drive him to a  massage parlor for a $49 blowjob?  Many a commenter around and about the blogosphere has wondered why he doesn't shell out a larger sum for the company of a higher class of companion. Perhaps there is a clue in the TCPalm story:

The Vero Beach spa is owned by Orlando resident Yongzhang Yan. He also owns AA Massage in Sebastian and the Winter Park and Orlando spas. Yan is married to Lanyun Ma, who was in charge of the day-to-day operations at the Vero Beach location, police said.

Detectives watched the Orlando couple transport multiple women with suitcases to and from the spa, "for the purpose of sexual servitude," according to her arrest warrant. Police said victims, identified in court records as Jane Does, lived inside the spas and worked as prostitutes. Some stayed for days, others for months. None were allowed to leave on their own. They did not have their own vehicles and generally spoke Mandarin or Cantonese, not English. Currey said many came from China on temporary work visas, indebted to the the brokers who helped them reach America, but believing legitimate jobs awaited them. "Some of them are trying to make a better life for themselves," he said. "These people truly are stuck." They were shamed, intimidated and taught not to speak to law enforcement or immigration officials.
So you know, he could have hired someone to let him play out a rape fantasy. But that wouldn't have been the real thing.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Jussie Smollett

If I do say so myself (and long term readers if there are any will remember that this is true) I steered clear of the Duke lacrosse team and A Rape on Campus because my very sensitive nose detected malodours. While the motives of the perpetrators in the cases were somewhat different, it was possible to have some sympathy for them. The Duke accuser was not assaulted as she claimed, but she was disrespected and she was also in financial difficulty. She probably felt humiliated by having to work as a stripper in the first place and putting on a show for a bunch of white preppies had to hurt. As for "Jackie," we don't know why she made up her story, but evidently she had been severely traumatized by some event and it got transmogrified into the tale that appeared in Rolling Stone.

In these cases, the blame for the harm they caused is largely with the credulous reporters and in the Duke case, an overzealous prosecutor. I am happy to say that contrary to claims that are rocketing around the right wing nutosphere, I'm not the only liberal blogger who steered clear of Jussie Smollett, in fact very few people jumped on the case. As Paul Campos makes clear, people are pretending that he became a cause celebre on the left because that makes it seem more embarrassing, but that just isn't true. Smollett's story was just too pat to believe.

Disclaimer -- no verdict yet, maybe there's more to it than we know.

That said, what an incredibly fucked up thing to do. This guy is already rich and famous, his career was assured, what on earth was going on in his head? According to the police, he thought he was underpaid and he somehow had the idea that this would make him more famous and he'd get a raise? WTF? The fact is that gay bashing really does happen -- in fact it happened to a friend of mine. So do racially motivated hate crimes. They happen every day, and more so since November 2016, as we all know. Now people have an excuse to dismiss it.

What really frosts my pumpkin is that the producers of Empire are saying they're going to keep him on the show. That probably won't work out if he's in jail, but come on.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Al Franken

The comment thread on my "ethnicity" post digressed to Al Franken. I want to direct your attention to a lengthy discussion of the Franken matter by Laura McGann. She understands why people are so pained by his resignation and many still question it. She covers various points of view and all the arguments, but it ends up being very clear that he habitually engaged in behavior that required him to resign. The alternative would have been great damage to the Democratic party, and to women. I urge you to take the time to read the whole thing but I will give an excerpt that, I hope, makes the point.

Journalists also picked up the description, including Sacramento Bee editorial writer Ginger Rutland, who wrote:
At most Franken, who announced Thursday he is resigning, is guilty of boorish behavior — not assault, not pedophilia, not even sexual harassment. But with today’s fast-changing, contradictory and confusing reversal of sexual norms, he’s being burned at the stake, walked down the plank, buried alive. It’s unfair.
This isn’t behavior we should accept. For example, a former Democratic aide told Politico a story (that she had told others over the years): She met Franken in 2006 when her boss appeared on his Air America radio show. Afterward, he attempted to kiss her. When she rebuffed his advance, she says, he claimed “it’s my right as an entertainer.” She got the message: He was important. She was not.
“He was between me and the door, and he was coming at me to kiss me. It was very quick, and I think my brain had to work really hard to be like ‘Wait, what is happening?’ But I knew whatever was happening was not right, and I ducked,” the former aide said in an interview. “I was really startled by it, and I just sort of booked it towards the door, and he said, ‘It’s my right as an entertainer.’”
An Army veteran serving in the Middle East during the Iraq War recounted her experience to CNN. When she was a 27-year-old military police officer and Franken was on a USO tour, she says that Franken put his arm around her for a photo and then cupped her breast in his hand. She was stunned. He was there to lift her spirits; instead, she describes being pushed down, made to feel helpless.
“I was in a war zone. ... You were on a USO tour — are you trying to boost the morale of the troops or are you trying to boost your own?” she said. “I just feel so sorry for that young girl in that picture.”
[Stephanie] Kemplin said she did not say anything to Franken at the time.
”You’re immediately put on the spot. What are you going to do? What are you going to do? Your mind goes a mile a minute,” she said. “Who was I going to tell?”
Many women have experienced this kind of behavior again and again — the small caresses on the arm or shoulder, a hand that slides a little too low followed by a startling squeeze, the hand in the wrong place during a photo, a lunge for an unwanted kiss. Women pay a tax for participating in public life. Maybe the tax isn’t always crippling, but it is also extreme to say it is meaningless. As one of Franken’s supporters put it after she says he tried to kiss her on a campaign stage, “I was stunned and incredulous. I felt demeaned. I felt put in my place.”
There is a difference between the actions of Harvey Weinstein (accused of rape) and Franken (accused of forced kissing and groping women). But that doesn’t mean women should have to choose between the two. The ideal is none of the above.

Sunday, February 17, 2019


I watched the UCONN women's game against UCF. Yeah, us Connecitucutters don't have a pro team to call our own so the UCONN women get a lot of attention. As they should, they have dominated the game as no team since John Wooden's UCLA men have done.

Anyway, UCF's game plan was to beat the shit out of Katie Lou Samuelson. Forearm to the face, elbow to the ribs, hip check, clothesline, flat out punch in the face. The game was a mismatch so this was probably their best option and for the first half it kind of worked. UCF stayed closer than they should have and Katie Lou, with her ribs hurting and her knee hurting and her face hurting couldn't hit her shots. She looked more like a UFC fighter than a basketball player with her face all beat up. She wasn't seriously injured so she'll be back on Wednesday but you know, she could have been.

For most of the first half the officials either didn't call the fouls at all or they called them as common fouls. UCONN coach Geno Auriemma talked to them as much as he could without getting a technical himself and finally, early in the third quarter, the officials called an unsportsmanlike which largely though not entirely put a stop to it. Katie Lou actually retaliated against her principal assailant Thigpen with a clobbering on a shot attempt, which the officials called as a common foul but KLS did court danger by jawing while pointing to a bruise under her eye.

Anyway, once the mixed martial arts match ended UCONN ran away with the basketball game with a total blowout. However, Katie Lou wound up going 0 for 5 from the field, although she did go 12 for 12 from the line and probably should have had 18 free throws. That ended a streak of more than 100 games with a score from the field, but the free throws allowed her to move into fourth place on the UCONN all time scoring list.

Question. Is this ethical? Presuming the coach told them to do this. Yeah, the object is to win the game and if violating the rules and trying to physically injure your opponent is the only way to make that possible, and you're trying to keep your coaching job, is that the right thing to do? Disclosure, I wrestled in college which is a different game in which yeah, you are hitting the guy in the face as often as possible. But it isn't basketball.

Sunday Sermonette: It's a man's world

As we enjoy this touching drama of family reconciliation, it's time to remind ourselves of something so glaringly obvious that we haven't even noticed it. Presumably the sons of Israel all have wives and daughters, but they might as well not exist. Only men are worth noticing and naming, only men act in this world. It is a patriarchal society.

Keep in mind this is fiction. It was written in the fifth century BC, long after it supposedly happened. It has an essential function in the plot of the Torah, the founding myth of the Jewish people. We'll get to that in due course. The story becomes rather tedious at this point and we aren't getting anywhere fast, so I'm going to present this entire long chapter with only a bit of commentary.

 Now the famine was still severe in the land. So when they had eaten all the grain they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go back and buy us a little more food.”
But Judah said to him, “The man warned us solemnly, ‘You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.’ If you will send our brother along with us, we will go down and buy food for you. But if you will not send him, we will not go down, because the man said to us, ‘You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.’”
Israel asked, “Why did you bring this trouble on me by telling the man you had another brother?”
They replied, “The man questioned us closely about ourselves and our family. ‘Is your father still living?’ he asked us. ‘Do you have another brother?’ We simply answered his questions. How were we to know he would say, ‘Bring your brother down here’?”
Then Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life. 10 As it is, if we had not delayed, we could have gone and returned twice.”
 I'm not sure what the last sentence means, it doesn't seem as though this conversation has been going on all that long. Anyhow .. .
11 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be, then do this: Put some of the best products of the land in your bags and take them down to the man as a gift—a little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds. 12 Take double the amount of silver with you, for you must return the silver that was put back into the mouths of your sacks. Perhaps it was a mistake. 13 Take your brother also and go back to the man at once. 14 And may God Almighty[a] grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.”
So the nut trees are bearing and the bees are finding flowers. Not clear why the grain isn't growing . . .
15 So the men took the gifts and double the amount of silver, and Benjamin also. They hurried down to Egypt and presented themselves to Joseph. 16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Take these men to my house, slaughter an animal and prepare a meal; they are to eat with me at noon.”
17 The man did as Joseph told him and took the men to Joseph’s house. 18 Now the men were frightened when they were taken to his house. They thought, “We were brought here because of the silver that was put back into our sacks the first time. He wants to attack us and overpower us and seize us as slaves and take our donkeys.”
19 So they went up to Joseph’s steward and spoke to him at the entrance to the house. 20 “We beg your pardon, our lord,” they said, “we came down here the first time to buy food. 21 But at the place where we stopped for the night we opened our sacks and each of us found his silver—the exact weight—in the mouth of his sack. So we have brought it back with us. 22 We have also brought additional silver with us to buy food. We don’t know who put our silver in our sacks.”
Actually that's not exactly what happened. One of them found the silver at the inn. The rest of them didn't discover it until they got home. (Genesis 42: 29-35) I'm not sure why there are so many of these continuity errors.
23 “It’s all right,” he said. “Don’t be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks; I received your silver.” Then he brought Simeon out to them.
24 The steward took the men into Joseph’s house, gave them water to wash their feet and provided fodder for their donkeys. 25 They prepared their gifts for Joseph’s arrival at noon, because they had heard that they were to eat there.
26 When Joseph came home, they presented to him the gifts they had brought into the house, and they bowed down before him to the ground. 27 He asked them how they were, and then he said, “How is your aged father you told me about? Is he still living?”
28 They replied, “Your servant our father is still alive and well.” And they bowed down, prostrating themselves before him.
29 As he looked about and saw his brother Benjamin, his own mother’s son, he asked, “Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?” And he said, “God be gracious to you, my son.” 30 Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there.
31 After he had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said, “Serve the food.”
32 They served him by himself, the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to Egyptians. 33 The men had been seated before him in the order of their ages, from the firstborn to the youngest; and they looked at each other in astonishment. 34 When portions were served to them from Joseph’s table, Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as anyone else’s. So they feasted and drank freely with him.
If Benjamin is really capable of eating 5 times as much as everybody else, the rest of them must be getting a pittance. It is also unclear why Joseph still waits to reveal himself. As I said last time, his motives for this elaborate rigamarole are mysterious. It's causing him real pain to keep the secret, but as we shall see nothing in particular happens to finally provoke him to tell the truth and end the charade.


  1. Genesis 43:14 Hebrew El-Shaddai

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Lyndon LaRouche

Okay so he's dead but believe me, none of his obituaries in the corporate media do him justice.
His RationalWiki entry is probably one of the more comprehensive accounts you will find.

I take note of his passing -- not that he was ever altogether with us -- because I have followed his career since I was a youth. My freshman year, believe it or not, two, count 'em two members of the Swarthmore College faculty were his followers, including my Philosophy 101 professor, named Uwe Henke, who is now apparently known as Uwe Henke von Parpart and is some sort of financier. LaRouche at the time called himself Lyn Marcus (get it?) and pretended to be a leftist. He founded an organization called the National Caucus of Labor Committees, which busied itself with beating up Communists and "deprogramming" people. Several of my fellow students joined the cult. In order to get an A in philosophy 101 you had to join the Labor Committee. Otherwise you got a B. Henke smoked stinky cigars during class and ranted about homosexuals and German composers. He accused one of the political science professors of being a CIA agent and of having attached a limpet bomb to a U.S. navy ship as a scuba diver, or something like that.

Anyway just a couple of years later he changed back to his real name and became a far right extremist. He declared himself the World's Greatest Economist, and maintained that he alone could save the world from a looming capital shortage and global economic collapse. He kept running for president, on the platform that Queen Elizabeth controlled the world drug trade and that both the United States and the Soviet Union were secretly under her control. Nelson Rockefeller, Henry Kissinger, and the Trilateral Commission also had something to do with it.

I won't go into the further history, but suffice it to say that he managed to forge a relationship with the Reagan administration; to raise millions of dollars, much of it fraudulently for which he eventually served prison time; and to maintain a substantial corps of followers who you may have seen manning tables at airports and on sidewalks right up to the present. I guess we shouldn't be too surprised since Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh also have followers. Also no surprise, LaRouche was a big fan of the current Resident.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019


Don't get me wrong. I love Elizabeth Warren. She has spent her distinguished academic and political career fighting for justice and equity. She sees right through the BS thrown up in justification for plutocracy and talks to people in plain language with no apologies for her progressive beliefs. I think she'd make a great president.

But . . .

I do think that her repeated claims on various official documents that she has Native American heritage -- and even, on her Texas bar application that she is straight up Native American -- are very strange behavior that she has not sufficiently explored and explained in public. She says that according to family lore she has a Native American ancestor at some number of great great great grandparents, and that's why. She even went so far as to get a DNA test which confirms that it might just be true.

No. Just no. That you believe some distant ancestor who you know nothing about and cannot even name was Albanian does not make you in any sense Albanian. I believe I have said something before about the ads for a commercial DNA testing company. In one of them, roughly (and I may have this backwards, doesn't matter) a guy says "I always thought I was German," and he's in leiderhosen and drinking a Lowenbrau with his schnitzel. "It turns out we're Scottish!" and now he's wearing a kilt and dancing the highland fling and learning to play the bagpipes.

What undoubtedly happened (assuming this is not entirely fictitious) is that at some time prior to your collective family memory, some people moved from Scotland to Germany. They learned to speak German, maybe Germanized their name or maybe a daughter married  a German guy. They may even have lived in a Scottish-German ethnic enclave for a generation or two so they married other people of Scottish extraction and reinforced the DNA signal. Then they forgot all about Scotland and some of them moved to the U.S., speaking German, drinking Lowenbrau, and eating schnitzel. They were German. 

In another ad, a woman says, "I always thought I was Latina, but now I know I'm everything!" and up goes a pie chart showing that she has ancestors who are Native American, African American, and European. Lady, that's what Latina means! It's not a specific DNA profile, it's the culture that emerged when Spanish settlers took over countries where indigenous Americans lived, imported African slaves, and they all mixed together. People also came from elsewhere in Europe and Asia, lived in those countries, started speaking Spanish. The great Chilean liberator was named Bernardo O'Higgins for crying out loud.

Ethnicity means identification with an ancestral culture within which you were socialized. It means you grew up with particular cultural influences and incorporate the ethnicity into your identity, world view and associations. Elizabeth Warren had no contact with Native Americans when she was growing up, knew nothing about Native American history or culture, and her life history was not in any way affected by the invisible and meaningless fact that somewhere in a long-lost trunk of her family tree there might have been a guy who was in fact Native American. I'm not saying this is important enough to compromise her candidacy, but it's still pretty weird.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: Mind games

The conclusion of Genesis 42 is a bit confusing in places. Modern story tellers make their characters more available to us -- we tend to get more information about what's going on in their minds. Genesis is very sparing in this regard -- we are shown the surfaces and maybe an emotion is named, but we don't see people's inner lives.
27 At the place where they stopped for the night one of them opened his sack to get feed for his donkey, and he saw his silver in the mouth of his sack. 28 “My silver has been returned,” he said to his brothers. “Here it is in my sack.”
Their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling and said, “What is this that God has done to us?”
In keeping with the often elliptical story telling, we aren't told which brother found the silver. Presumably we are to deduce that they are afraid of being accused of theft, otherwise presumably they ought to be happy about this development. Also unclear is why the rest of them didn't check their own sacks at this point. 
29 When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them. They said, 30 “The man who is lord over the land spoke harshly to us and treated us as though we were spying on the land. 31 But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we are not spies. 32 We were twelve brothers, sons of one father. One is no more, and the youngest is now with our father in Canaan.’
33 “Then the man who is lord over the land said to us, ‘This is how I will know whether you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers here with me, and take food for your starving households and go. 34 But bring your youngest brother to me so I will know that you are not spies but honest men. Then I will give your brother back to you, and you can trade[a] in the land.’”
Again, we see the habit of repeating information the reader already knows in order to convey it to a character who hasn't learned it already. In modern story telling, the writer would just say, "They told him what had happened in Egypt .. ." Again, I think this may be a marker that this story was originally oral tradition; the repetition would have helped listeners follow it. Few were expected to read it even now that it was written down. Rather, it would still be recited or read aloud.
35 As they were emptying their sacks, there in each man’s sack was his pouch of silver! When they and their father saw the money pouches, they were frightened. 36 
Again, it's very strange that they didn't all look in their sacks back at the Inn. And now that they have all found the silver, they ought to have figured out that either this is some sort of a set up, or else the ruler intended to give them back their silver. But we don't see them discussing this or get any indication of what exactly they are thinking.
Their father Jacob said to them, “You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!”
37 Then Reuben said to his father, “You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him back.”
Wow, Reuben is willing to sacrifice his own sons on a dare? 
38 But Jacob said, “My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow.”


  1. Genesis 42:34 Or move about freely

We will see in the coming chapters that Joseph's motives continue to be often obscure. We are coming to the end of Genesis; we will find the plot thickening indeed.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Free market ideology

Remember the FoxConn plant in Wisconsin, where the Taiwanese company was going to hire a bunch of blue collar Trump voters to build flat-screen TVs? This was supposedly going to happen because Gov. Scott Walker cut a deal with the company to give them $3 billion in tax an other incentives. Barry Ritholz discussed the original deal here. You may have noticed that when Democrats propose incentives for stuff like solar and wind power, Republicans scream and yell that government shouldn't "pick winners and losers" and interfere in the sacred Free Market™. But they are falling over each other to give tax breaks and direct incentives (such as road construction) for billionaire football team owners, and highly profitable corporations. As Ritholz says:

[I]f you were a company looking to build a plant somewhere you’d be a fool not to play governors, mayors and other local elected officials against one another: All you have to do is promise to build a new (fill in the blank) that will generate thousands of jobs. You will be showered with incentives ranging from low-cost loans to tax abatements to regulatory waivers.
It is an unfair fight pitting naive local politicians facing re-election versus the experience of corporate executives, and their teams of lawyers, analysts and accountants. They dangle the very persuasive carrot of new economic development. It is the classic agency problem writ large. Taxpayers never stand a chance.

Well now Ritholz refers us to Business Week  (not exactly the Worker's Daily):

Interviews with 49 people familiar with Foxconn’s Wisconsin project, including more than a dozen current and former employees close to its efforts there, show how hollow the boosters’ assurances have been all along. While Foxconn for months declined requests to interview executives, insiders describe a chaotic environment with ever-changing goals far different from what Trump and others promised. Walker and the White House declined to comment for this story, although a Trump administration official says the White House would be “disappointed” by any reduced investment. The only consistency, many of these people say, lay in how obvious it was that Wisconsin struck a weak deal. Under the terms Walker negotiated, each job at the Mount Pleasant factory is projected to cost the state at least $219,000 in tax breaks and other incentives. The good or extra-bad news, depending on your perspective, is that there probably won’t be 13,000 of them.
Hey, I have an idea! Wisconsin can spend  $3 billion to hire some teachers, social workers, public health workers, road pavers, solar power installers, nurses, librarians . . . . But that would smack of creeping socialism.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Bobby three sticks and a whole mob of lawyers

Martin Longman briefly recites the truly unbelievable reality in which we live, unless this all turns out to be a bad acid trip.

Federal prosecutors in New York City issued expansive subpoenas to President Trump's inaugural committee on Monday and they are reportedly seeking interviews with executives at the Trump Organization.  Trump's campaign chairman will be sentenced on March 13, likely to what will amount to life in prison. His former personal lawyer has been sentenced to three years in prison and will be provided damning testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee before reporting to prison on March 6th. His former deputy campaign chairman is still cooperating with prosecutors and so is his former national security advisor, but both of them will eventually be sentenced and do substantial time behind bars. In December, the Trump Foundation ceased to exist as part of a criminal settlement with the New York state attorney general's office. Meanwhile, the president is facing numerous serious allegations of felonious wrongdoing that include campaign finance violations, bank fraud, wire fraud, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and a potential criminal conspiracy to defraud the American people by colluding with a foreign government to pervert a presidential election.
Uhm, yeah. You would think that a president in that set of situations might be in a little bit of trouble, but instead everybody is worrying how to stop him from being re-elected.

There were rumors floating around CNN the past couple of days that the Mueller investigation is "winding up" and we can expect his report soon, this in the context of the CW that congress can't do anything until they get that report. Which they won't, because the "Attorney General" is going to sink it to the bottom of the Marianis Trench. However, I'm pretty sure it isn't coming any time soon. Mueller just extended his grand jury for 6 months, he has only just started going through Roger Stone's devices, the investigation into the inaugural committee has a whole lot to do with Russians so that's probably within his writ, the Supreme Court has yet to rule on the mysterious foreign-owned corporation that's resisting his subpoena, and he's looking at money laundering and conspiracy going back for at least 15 years. There are something like 18 sealed indictments in the D.C. federal court, many of which are no doubt his.

So the report doesn't matter, but the indictments and the trials will. At some point General Flynn's sentencing memorandum will also be unredacted and I'm pretty sure that's a big deal since the judge, in refusing to accept the ultra-light sentence, called Flynn a traitor. What will happen, even as Mueller's report gets shot into the black hole at the center of the galaxy, is that we'll get the picture in due course. Will that be fast enough to save us from annihilation? We shall see.

Update: I find it quite bizarre that one response we get to all this is that we shouldn't rush to judgment and we need to wait till all the evidence is in. Also, too, that the Mueller investigation has taken longer than some people expected is evidence that he hasn't found any wrongdoing. Please take a look at Booman's summary:

  • Campaign chair found guilty of multiple felonies, will likely spend rest of life in federal prison.
  • National Security Advisor pleads guilty to felonies, has received reduction in recommended sentence for cooperating, but judge doesn't accept the recommendation and accuses him of treason.
  • Lawyer pleads guilty to multiple felonies, directly implicating president in their commission, will go to prison for three years.
  • Trump Foundation ordered closed and characterized by NYAG as a criminal enterprise.
And there's more! Sure, it is likely to get worse, much worse, when we learn all the details. But isn't this enough already? BTW this gang of career criminals is so stupid they apparently didn't realize that Mueller has FISA warrants. He knows everything.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Most Excellent Raptor

For some reason I have something to say about the Superb Owl every year, even though I'm pretty sure my 2 1/2 readers aren't foobaw fans. This year the Patriots are making their third consecutive appearance, which I believe has only a single precedent. They would be going for their third consecutive win if not for Bill Belichick's incomprehensible decision to bench Malcolm Butler last year, which certainly cost them the game. The dour hooded one has never explained it, but at least it proves he must care about something other than winning.

Given the vast attention and resources paid to sportsball, we might as well try to extract something of value from it. The only real value I can see is that it offers examples of how and how not to be successful. That the Patriots have had such success year after year in a league that maintains a strict salary cap has to be instructive. As every Pats fan knows, apart from whatever superior coaching genius may be going into game planning and play calling, the key to their success is getting the most out of players nobody else wanted. Tom Brady was a sixth round draft pick. Throughout his 17 year career the Patriots have made a regular practice out of signing players other teams have dumped, and getting big performances out of them.

Sometimes this has meant taking players with behavioral problems, and that hasn't always worked out for them. Viz. receiver Josh Gordon, who they lost mid-season this year due to an alcoholism relapse. Then there is Aaron Hernandez, of whom we shall not speak. Well okay, we'll speak of him. They drafted him while everybody else was steering clear due to documented behavioral and psychological problems. Then he turned out to be a serial killer. Okay, you win a few, you lose a few. Nevertheless, most of the time they've been able to get the guys to straighten up and accept the extremely rigid discipline required to stay on the field. The coaches are very good at understanding athletes' abilities and limitations, and putting them in the right role to succeed.

So maybe there is a lesson there for the real world. Hiring and personnel management are the key to any successful enterprise. That means understanding your employees, giving them the right job, and giving them what they need to do well. On the other hand the Patriots coaches are ruthless. They are more than willing to dump players who they think are going to decline in the next year. They have very little if any downward loyalty. Enterprises shouldn't only be about winning.

Update: Well, nobody expected that. The Spanish Inquisition might as well have parachuted onto the field. Every NFL pundit's gob is well and truly smacked. Typical predictions for the final score were 34-31. But what people forget is that defense is half of the game. Playing defense counts as playing football. I thought it was fine.

Sunday Sermonette: There must be a lesson in here somewhere

So Joseph's family comes back into the picture in Ch. 42. This is another long one so we'll just do the first half today.

 When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you just keep looking at each other?” He continued, “I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die.”
Then ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with the others, because he was afraid that harm might come to him. So Israel’s sons were among those who went to buy grain, for there was famine in the land of Canaan also.
Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the person who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground.

Note well: Joseph is selling the grain. This was not a humanitarian scheme to save the world from starvation, it was a money-making scheme. Actually it's just outright theft. Joseph never paid the farmers for the grain, he just confiscated it. Now they have to buy it back from him. (As we shall see he does slip the money back to his brothers but everybody else in the world, or what they thought was the world, ends up being dispossessed.)
As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he asked.
“From the land of Canaan,” they replied, “to buy food.”
Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. Then he remembered his dreams about them and said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected.”
I'm not sure what this means. The only dreams we have been told that Joseph had about his brothers have them bowing down to him. But they're already doing that.
10 “No, my lord,” they answered. “Your servants have come to buy food. 11 We are all the sons of one man. Your servants are honest men, not spies.”
12 “No!” he said to them. “You have come to see where our land is unprotected.”
13 But they replied, “Your servants were twelve brothers, the sons of one man, who lives in the land of Canaan. The youngest is now with our father, and one is no more.”
14 Joseph said to them, “It is just as I told you: You are spies! 15 And this is how you will be tested: As surely as Pharaoh lives, you will not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. 16 Send one of your number to get your brother; the rest of you will be kept in prison, so that your words may be tested to see if you are telling the truth. If you are not, then as surely as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!” 17 And he put them all in custody for three days.
I don't get the logic of this, do you? How does bringing the younger brother back prove that they aren't spies? 
18 On the third day, Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: 19 If you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here in prison, while the rest of you go and take grain back for your starving households. 20 But you must bring your youngest brother to me, so that your words may be verified and that you may not die.” This they proceeded to do.
Not clear why Joseph changed his mind. He was going to send one of them after Benjamin, now he decides to keep one and send nine. Whatever.
21 They said to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come on us.”
22 Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.” 23 They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter.
24 He turned away from them and began to weep, but then came back and spoke to them again. He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes.
25 Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, to put each man’s silver back in his sack, and to give them provisions for their journey. After this was done for them, 26 they loaded their grain on their donkeys and left.

Joseph is messing with their minds, evidently. We'll see how it turns out anon. Meanwhile, looking ahead, God is working in mysterious ways. The first consequence of this plot is to put all the money in the world into Joseph's hands. The next consequence will be the Egyptian captivity.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Race, ethnicity and social history

People often talk past each other because they ascribe different meanings to the same word. Sometimes they don't realize they are doing this, sometimes they ought to know better. For example, I knew a guy who insisted that the concept of "organic food" was nonsensical because "organic" means carbon compounds, and all food consists of carbon compounds. He could not be made to see that the word was being used in a different sense. (You could also say that all food is organic because it comes from organisms. Same mistake.)

Here in the U.S. we use "white people" as a shorthand term, but most people, most of the time, are not at all precise about what they mean by it. Most broadly, it refers to descendants of the people who came to occupy most of Europe during the bronze age, and who ultimately came to constitute an identifiable cultural regime under the Catholic church. They of course spoke many different languages and there were cultural differences among the regions of Europe, but they also underwent a common process of politico-cultural evolution, from feudalism to the emergence of the increasingly secular and eventually democratic nation-state.

Europe also developed some technologies, including firearms, pelagic sailing vessels and domesticated horses that enabled Europeans to conquer faraway lands, including the Americas. What is today the United States developed from English settler states. In most of the Americas, substantial numbers of indigenous peoples survived. Some intermarried with European settlers creating the so-called mestizo people of Mexico. But the English settlers largely exterminated the natives. They imported African slaves, who even after the abolition of slavery following a bloody war remained second class citizens. So the country was ruled by people of a particular dominant English settler culture.

As people from other European countries arrived in large numbers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they also for the most part were second class citizens for a generation or two, though not nearly as stigmatized as African Americans. Think of the Irish, Italians, and Poles, among others. However, since they weren't color coded the distinctions among European-Americans eroded. For a long time English Protestantism was a mark of privilege, but eventually Catholicism gained equal status. So we had a dominant culture that was originally a descended from English Protestant culture but absorbed some others.

We use the term "white" to refer to these people but it's a social category, not a racial category. Notice that people who have a strong tribal identification with this category often look down on contemporary Europeans for their collectivism and irreligion, even though those people have fair skins and are in that sense "white." It is perfectly logically possible to present critiques of this heretofore dominant U.S. culture, including its political and social aspects, without being guilty of racism or racialism. For example, one might argue that this dominant culture is characterized by racism; by individualism and materialism; has had a history of unexamined imperialism and conquest;  and so on. Of course not everyone who was born into a white American family has these personal characteristics or approves of this history. These are generalizations.

One can also discuss African-American, Chinese-American and Mexican-American culture, perhaps finding positive and negative elements, though one must do so with a basis in evidence and ought to look for explanations. People who pertain to these categories have an easier time being critical, of course, but it isn't forbidden for others to join the discussion. Apparently it takes a certain capacity for critical and nuanced thinking to understand the difference between cultural anthropology and social history, and racism. But if you don't have the wit to understand this, you don't get to comment on this blog.

Update: Another logical fallacy is called the Argument from Authority, which probably needs no explanation. That the U.S. Census labels "White" as a "race" classification is not evidence that it is real. On the contrary, it is an artifact of the historical construction of race in America. According to the Census Bureau, Semitic Arabs and Jews are "white," as are Pashtuns if they are in Afghanistan. If they step over the border into Pakistan, they become Asian, just like Japanese and Filipinos. Oddly, Filipinos are Asians, not Pacific Islanders, although the Philippines are obviously Islands in the Pacific, and they don't have a whole lot in common with Tamils, as far as I know. Anyway, if you want more of my thinking on this you can read about it here. Don't take it from me just because I'm an authority, but do get that I have probably been thinking about this a lot longer and harder than you have.

Also, too:  It's not exactly a logical fallacy, but another form of inappropriate argument is the total non-sequitur, e.g. "It's wrong for you to condemn X because you aren't simultaneously condemning Y." It is permissible to talk about one subject at a time.