Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

On Religion

I thought I would elevate the discussion in the comments on the previous post to the front page. Approaching religion from the standpoint of science, we find that the origins and possible functionality of religion are still controversial. This overview is 10 years old but I don't think the state of the art has changed very much.

Obviously neolithic, and indeed paleolithic people had morality. They had to live together cooperatively after all. We are a social species and sociality requires rules. This is true as well of bonobos and wolves, although we usually apply the word morality only to human patterns of social behavior. Archaeological evidence suggests that these early societies also had some form of religion, although as the linked article by Elizabeth Culotta discusses, this is in some dispute. In any event hunter-gatherer bands known to modern anthropologists have beliefs we would call religious, although they are quite different from the religions of complex societies. Rather than an all powerful deity, who prescribes rules and rituals, they perceive sentience and agency in natural phenomena, and may include belief in unseen beings of various kinds that can influence events. They don't have priests.  Some have shamans who have the power to communicate with supernatural beings or manipulate supernatural forces, but they don't dictate rules for behavior, or condemn or absolve sins.

Psychologists have found various human tendencies that may help account for the origins of religion. Specifically, we do have what seems an innate tendency to attribute phenomena to agentic causes. However, this does not get us from the animism or pantheism of simpler societies to the elaborate theologies, priestly hierarchies, rules and rituals of the religions of large-scale civilizations.

Some do see a functional imperative in this development of religion. Religious doctrine and priestly authority reinforces the secular authority of rulers, and enforces conformity to people's assigned social roles. (Sometimes the priests and the rulers are the same people, sometimes they are allies.) This is seen as necessary to get people to surrender their freedom to the requirements of complex society. In other words the basic morality of people in a small-scale society is insufficient to make Ur and Babylon and Rome work.

However, it does not necessarily follow that this means religion is actually good, or even necessary. Nowadays we have successful secular republics in which shared values and expectations are sufficiently functional without recourse to religious authority. Perhaps we had to go through a period of religio-political authoritarianism to get there. Certainly that's what happened historically. But we don't need it any more.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Men of the cloth

No, this is not The Onion. A charitable organization exists to provide help to priests who abused children, and it has the backing of prominent clergy.

For nearly two decades, a small nonprofit group called Opus Bono Sacerdotii has operated out of unmarked buildings in rural Michigan, providing money, shelter, transport, legal help and other support to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse.
And while powerful clerics have publicly pledged to hold the church accountable for the crimes of its clergy and help survivors heal, some of them arranged meetings, offered blessings or quietly sent checks to this organization that backed the abusers, The Associated Press has found.
Over the years, Opus Bono brought on as employees or advisers at least three clergymen accused of sexual abuse, and offered sympathizers a tax-deductible, anonymous method of sending money to specific accused priests.
When serial pedophile Jason Sigler, a former priest, was sent to jail for abusing dozens of minors, Opus Bono was there for him, with regular visits and commissary cash, said a former employee. When another priest, Gregory Ingels, was criminally charged with abusing a teen, Opus Bono made him a legal adviser.
Well, it makes sense. These holy men don't deserve the ill treatment they have received. Just ask Judge Steven Sword, who gave a light sentence to a Church of God pastor who repeatedly raped his own daughter, because the perpetrator "is a good Christian man."

Jesus wants you to rape children.


Monday, July 29, 2019

The Long Emergency: Arctic on Fire

While we indeed ought to pay attention to Twittler's racism initiative and other really important stuff like Lori Laughlin's birthday, you (and the CNN editors) might look up from your devices long enough to notice that the arctic is on fire, with more than 100 intense fires burning and pumping as much CO2 into the atmosphere as the nation of Belgium.

An even more intense heatwave is coming to the arctic which is expected to accelerate the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and the arctic sea ice, which is already at a record low for the date. The earth has just experienced the hottest June since record keeping began and is about to finish the hottest July.

The emergency is now.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: Where TF are we?

The first part of  Exodus 15 is a psalm, and then the action resumes. Here is the song:

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:
“I will sing to the Lord,
    for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
    he has hurled into the sea.
“The Lord is my strength and my defense[a];
    he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
    my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a warrior;
    the Lord is his name.
Note that this is not this concept of God as savior is not about redemption of sin or eternal life: it's about physical violence in defense of the chosen people. His attributes are strength and defense. He is a warrior.

Pharaoh’s chariots and his army
    he has hurled into the sea.
The best of Pharaoh’s officers
    are drowned in the Red Sea.[b]
The deep waters have covered them;
    they sank to the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, Lord,
    was majestic in power.
Your right hand, Lord,
    shattered the enemy.
“In the greatness of your majesty
    you threw down those who opposed you.
You unleashed your burning anger;
    it consumed them like stubble.
God is exalted for his power of mass murder.

By the blast of your nostrils
    the waters piled up.
The surging waters stood up like a wall;
    the deep waters congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy boasted,
    ‘I will pursue, I will overtake them.
I will divide the spoils;
    I will gorge myself on them.
I will draw my sword
    and my hand will destroy them.’
10 But you blew with your breath,
    and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead
    in the mighty waters.
11 Who among the gods
    is like you, Lord?
Who is like you—
    majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
    working wonders?
Again, this religion is not monotheistic. "Who among the gods is like you, YHWH?" this passage asks. His distinction is that among all of the Gods, he is the most murderous. SAB offers a catalog of God's  murderous acts.
12 “You stretch out your right hand,
    and the earth swallows your enemies.
13 In your unfailing love you will lead
    the people you have redeemed.
In your strength you will guide them
    to your holy dwelling.
14 The nations will hear and tremble;
    anguish will grip the people of Philistia.
15 The chiefs of Edom will be terrified,
    the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling,
the people[c] of Canaan will melt away;
16     terror and dread will fall on them.
This is not a benevolent God, except toward the Israelites. He intends to continue his campaign of mass murder, this times against all the peoples of Canaan, in order to give their land and possessions (not to mention their young women) to the Israelites. 

By the power of your arm
    they will be as still as a stone—
until your people pass by, Lord,
    until the people you bought[d] pass by.
17 You will bring them in and plant them
    on the mountain of your inheritance—
the place, Lord, you made for your dwelling,
    the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established.
18 “The Lord reigns
    for ever and ever.”

19 When Pharaoh’s horses, chariots and horsemen[e] went into the sea, the Lord brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground. 20 Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. 21 Miriam sang to them:
“Sing to the Lord,
    for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
    he has hurled into the sea.”
This is the first time we have heard of a woman being called a prophet, and in fact Miriam one of the relatively few women who has been given a name at all so far. It is of some interest that in Orthodox Judaism, until recently, men and women dancing together was generally frowned upon. Here the women dance separately, for what it is worth, but apparently it's fine that the men are watching them. (A timbrel is a tambourine, same thing.) 

22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.[f]) 24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”
Again, Shur and Marah are not the names of any known real places. The writers obviously have a vague idea of geography at best, but since the people wind up at a place called Mount Sinai* in fairly short order, it must be that they did not cross the Red Sea per se but rather the Gulf of Suez. Otherwise they would now be in what is today Saudi Arabia and they would have had to travel all the way up the east coast of the Gulf of Aqaba (very nearly setting foot in Canaan) and back down the west side. Possibly the writers simply consider the Gulf of Suez part of the Red Sea and don't make a distinction. However, an alternative theory is that they were indeed in what is today Saudi Arabia and "Mount Sinai" does not refer to a place in the modern Sinai peninsula at all but rather to some place east of the Gulf of Aqaba. (Scroll down to the section headed Edom/Nabatea for this explanation.) In any case, it really doesn't matter since the entire story is fictional anyway.
25 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.
Another one of those cases where God can't just do the miracle, he needs to have Moses use a prop. No, I don't know why.
There the Lord issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. 26 He said, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”
27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.
Again, there is no such place as Elim, as far as we know.

* There is a range of hills or small mountains in southern Sinai. The feature called Mount Sinai today actually consists of three peaks, of which the tallest is called Saint Catherine. 


  1. Exodus 15:2 Or song
  2. Exodus 15:4 Or the Sea of Reeds; also in verse 22
  3. Exodus 15:15 Or rulers
  4. Exodus 15:16 Or created
  5. Exodus 15:19 Or charioteers
  6. Exodus 15:23 Marah means bitter.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Too much happening at once

There's this, the hottest day ever in Paris and all-time national temperature highs in Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium. Likely in London as well. Rail service in Britain is disrupted as tracks buckle in the heat, and people throughout the affected areas of Europe are advised not to travel.

The Brits have made a buffoon their Prime Minister and he's going to leave the European Union on October 31 with no agreement. I won't go into the consequences but you can read all about it here.

Kimg Jong Un is feeling neglected by his pal Donald so he's shooting off some missiles, while Iran has seized a British-flagged tanker and British warships are escorting merchant vessels through the Strait of Hormuz.

I could go on -- the world is beset by appalling crises on every side, but we have a maniacal idiot in charge and the corporate media can only pay attention to meaningless distractions. Apparently the Mueller testimony wasn't sufficiently exciting television so the actual content doesn't matter. I despair.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Long Emergency: The petty and the existential

While it is true that fossil fuel interests have been the most important force behind climate change denial and effective policy responses, they aren't the only one. The meat industry, as far as I know, hasn't invested a lot in denialism but they are scared that people will stop eating their product. Obviously plant based foods are also produced by farmers but the overall demand for agricultural products is several times as high in a carnivorous dietary regime than it would be if people mostly ate a plant based diet.

The result is some really ridiculous state laws. Yes, state legislatures are trying to ban labeling vegetarian foods with labels historically associated with meat and dairy. Arkansas wants to ban labels such as "veggie burger" and "soy milk." This is downright silly because, obviously, nobody is going to actually buy veggie burgers thinking they are hamburgers, and if people want to eat veggie burgers they'll probably do so no matter what you call them. But I imagine it could slow down marketing of these items if it's harder for the manufacturers to explain what they are to consumers. At least that's what the meat purveyors must be thinking. Anyway, as the Vox article explains, these laws probably won't pass constitutional muster.

As lapsed economist Duncan Black explains, there is also just the foible of human nature that people don't like their habits disrupted. It's actually not a problem to take reusable shopping bags to the supermarket -- in fact it makes your life easier.  And the vast majority of us don't need to drink through a straw. Giving up single use plastic items is actually a matter of extreme urgency. Not that they're a major contributor to the climate crisis (although there is fossil fuel used for energy in their manufacture as well as feedstock) but they are creating a terrifying environmental crisis. Plastic litter is devastating marine life around the world. Is it really so important to you to suck your sugar water through a plastic straw that it's worth exterminating whales and turtles?

There are many other vested interests that resist needed change, from automobiles to construction to beverages (Can we please put an end to bottled water?) to yes, the lawn care industry. No, you don't need a perfect carpet of emerald green rye grass surrounding your house in Phoenix, or anywhere else for that matter, which means you don't need to irrigate your lawn or soak it with pesticides and fertilizer. The whole lawn thing is nothing but an inane cultural fetish, but in some towns it's required by law.

Now, changing your individual habits is not going to solve the problem. We need massive changes in public policy. But it won't hurt to give up stupid stuff that you'd probably be better off without anyway.

Update: This Kos diarist points out that plastic recycling is mostly a scam. The recycling bin makes you feel okay about single use plastic but in fact the vast majority of what you toss in is not recycled. It's landfilled, burned, or winds up in the ocean.

Also: When you're banned, you're banned. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: Get me rewrite!

This is one of the more famous events in the Bible, but it's also like one of those "Can you spot the errors?" cartoons.

 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon.
We still don't know in what physical manner God is speaking to Moses, but in any case, God seems to be mighty confused. These are not the actual names of any places in Egypt. Migdol means a tower in Hebrew, so conceivably it's a reference to some tower or other. Pi Hahiroth is not the name of a place either. Some people have speculated about how it might refer to some geographic feature based on it similarity to Egyptian or Hebrew words. We do know where Baal Zephon, is however. It's a mountain associated with the Canaanite storm God Baal, and it is located on what is today the border between Syria and Turkey near the Mediterranean. It's maybe 700 miles away from the nearest point on the west bank of the Red Sea and, of course, on the opposite side. It's also 300 miles or so north of Canaan. WTF?
Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” So the Israelites did this.
Again, God makes Pharaoh pursue the Israelites in order to give himself an opportunity to demonstrate his power. 

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!” So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen[a] and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon.
No. ALL THE HORSES IN EGYPT ARE DEAD. They were all killed in the sixth plague, then they were killed again in the hailstorm, then their first born were killed, then there first born were killed again. All of them are dead at least twice, and some of them are dead four times. Also, too, the specified location is on the coast of the Mediterranean sea 700 miles from where this is purportedly happening.
10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
13 Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”
Again, sometimes God just does the miracle himself, sometimes he needs Moses and/or Aaron to use a staff or wave their hands or whatever. This seems to be the latter case.
19 Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.
23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. 25 
 Note that God has a physical location. He needs a vantage point from which to watch all this. The abstract, non-corporeal and ubiquitous entity that is our modern picture of God has yet to emerge. This really is an old guy in the sky.
He jammed[b] the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”
Not clear why the NIV uses "jammed" instead of removed. They give us a footnote saying that this is not the correct translation but they don't explain themselves. 
26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” 27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward[c] it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. 28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.
Note that these guys are soldiers who were ordered to pursue the Israelites. They didn't have a choice. God murdered them all in order to prove his power. None of this was necessary at all. They could have gone to Canaan by crossing the Sinai and never gone near the Red Sea or needed to ford even a creek. 
29 But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. 30 That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.


  1. Exodus 14:9 Or charioteers; also in verses 17, 18, 23, 26 and 28
  2. Exodus 14:25 See Samaritan Pentateuch, Septuagint and Syriac; Masoretic Text removed
  3. Exodus 14:27 Or from

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Basically outsourcing . . .

. . . to Adam Serwer. This is a lengthy essay and I don't think a couple of pull quotes will do it justice. I urge you to read it.

Speaking for myself, I find the accusation that progressives practice a divisive form of  "identity politics" excruciatingly obtuse. Conservatism in the United States has become nothing else. It is white Christian nationalism, and attaches to no other consistent ideology.

It has long been the project of the progressives and liberals to build an inclusive national identity, based on shared aspirations for democratic politics and the common welfare. This requires seeing and naming racism, acknowledging privilege, and advocating for equality. We are accused of "playing the race card" and trying to privilege some groups over others. Of course we play the race card because racial inequality is real. But the problem of privilege is that white men don't want to surrender it, and right now a substantial proportion of them don't seem to care about, or even understand, anything else about politics or public policy.

Sadly, and maddeningly, the Democrats in Congress are responding tepidly and fecklessly. Serwer discusses this abdication at length. I'll pull one quote from Serwer -- his conclusion -- to get you interested in reading him. Also, I would not ordinarily mention this but in this case it will probably seem relevant to some potential critics. His father is Jewish and his mother is African-American. (She is actually the curator of the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History.) He practices Judaism.

Omar must be defended, but not because of her views on Israel, gay rights, or progressive taxation. You needn’t agree with her on any of those things; in fact, you needn’t like her at all. But she must be defended, because the nature of the president’s attack on her is a threat to all Americans—black or white, Jew or Gentile—whose citizenship, whose belonging, might similarly be questioned. This is not about Omar anymore, or the other women of color who have been told by this president to “go back” to their supposed countries of origin. It is about defending the idea that America should be a country for all its people. If multiracial democracy cannot be defended in America, it will not be defended elsewhere. What Americans do now, in the face of this, will define us forever.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Would it be irresponsible to speculate?

The Jeffrey Epstein matter could end up being a wet firecracker, but Gabriel Sherman seems to think it's likely to blow up like a Saturn 5.

For those of you who have been avoiding the gossip columns, let's begin with the known True Facts.

1. A boatload of prominent men spent time at his various houses, including the Manhattan and Florida Mansions, and are otherwise known to have associated with him including taking free private jet rides. These include financiers, business executives, politicians, academics. This happened both before and after his conviction and wrist slap sentence for soliciting prostitution in Florida.

2. Dozens of women claim he sexually abused them when they were anywhere from 13 to 16 years old. Some of these claims are the basis for the previous conviction, others for the new indictment, and apparently numerous additional women have come forward to investigators since the new indictment was announced. (At least one has publicly claimed that a certain famous person abused her as a gift from Epstein, but I'll say no more as the claim is of questionable credibility.)

3. Epstein may not be as wealthy as he claims to be but he is unquestionably pretty damn wealthy. The mansions and the private jet and private island are real.

4. Nobody seems to know where his money comes from. His claim to run a "billionaires only" hedge fund is generally regarded as non-credible by people in the financial industry.

5. Former Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, who as U.S. Attorney gave Epstein the sweetheart deal which also, inexplicably, immunized any and all co-conspirators, told officials who were vetting him for the cabinet job that he cut the deal because “I was told Epstein ‘belonged to intelligence’ and to leave it alone.” That was apparently good enough for the Trump White House but WTF? Who told him that?

So you can probably come up with your own fantastical scenario which is the same one a lot of people have already come up with: that Epstein's real business is blackmail. The questions remain however, if this is true, whether:

1. Investigators from the Southern District of New York have evidence for this including the identities of the individuals he has blackmailed, and

2. If they do, will the evidence ever become public? Somebody or somebodies had enough clout to prevent it from happening in 2008, and I don't know what has changed since then to make justice blind.

According to the Sherman article linked at the top, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has a huge trove of documents resulting from discovery in a civil suit by one of Epstein's accusers, which he implies will blow the lid off. I am a bit skeptical. If these exist, the SDNY also has them but they have not, as far as we know, indicted anybody but Epstein. Perhaps they are preparing their case and giving people a chance to talk with them. On the other hand they work for William Barr.

So if the rocket never goes off, lots of people are still going to believe that there's a continuing cover up and public cynicism will just get deeper. If it does, however, this could be a transformative moment in the culture, perhaps salutary, perhaps very dangerous.

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Immediate Emergency

I can't say it any better than Tom Sullivan, but I will say it more succinctly.

It should not be news to anyone that the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW is a vulgar racist, and that his essential appeal to his cult following is that he channels their bigotry. That he became the Republican nominee is the consequence of decades of Republicans playing to racists more subtly, beginning with Richard Nixon's so-called Southern Strategy. The current party standard bearer has been saying the quiet parts out loud since he announced his candidacy, so what is new now?

Well, the blatant crudity of "Go back where you came from" is a real step further. Not that it matters a whole lot, but four of the five women who were the subjects of that moronic taunt were born in the United States. One of them is in fact Native American, so presumably she wouldn't have far to go in any case. Another is African American, and doesn't even know what country her ancestors come from because her heritage was erased by enslavement. The only one who was not born in the U.S. came here as a refugee, was given asylum, and naturalized as a citizen.

What this says to the cultists is that people who are not of European ancestry are not "real Americans." The plan is, obviously, to run the 2020 campaign on this premise, that the Republican party represents those "real Americans," white people, while the Democrats consist of non-Americans and race traitors. We know this because Republican politicians, without as far as I can tell a single exception, have remained silent.

We know where this leads, because we saw what happened in the country of Donald J. Trump's ancestors beginning in 1933. This is real, folks.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Sunday Sermonette: Take the long way home

Exodus 13 is short enough to handle in one dose. We have seen before how awkwardly contrived this whole plot is, but this is probably the crudest example. In case you don't have a clear picture of the geography of the region, keep in mind that modern day Israel and Egypt share a border. The straight shot from Cairo to Beer Sheba is overland, through the Sinai desert. Joseph was first brought to Egypt along this trade route. You can also follow the Mediterranean coast if you like. Goshen was apparently in the northeast of Egypt so it's even closer.

Political Map of the Sinai Peninsula

The Lord said to Moses, “Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether human or animal.”
Then Moses said to the people, “Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast. Today, in the month of Aviv, you are leaving. When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites and Jebusites—the land he swore to your ancestors to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey—you are to observe this ceremony in this month: For seven days eat bread made without yeast and on the seventh day hold a festival to the Lord. Eat unleavened bread during those seven days; nothing with yeast in it is to be seen among you, nor shall any yeast be seen anywhere within your borders.
Note that the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorite, Hivites and Jebusites already live in that land. Too bad for them, huh? Again, this incessant, eternal harping on not leavening the bread seems bizarre.
On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that this law of the Lord is to be on your lips. For the Lord brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand. 10 You must keep this ordinance at the appointed time year after year.
The rabbis later interpreted this passage, in conjunction with some later ones, to produce the tefillin, little boxes containing Torah verses that orthodox Jewish men strap to their hands and foreheads for morning prayer, even though this passage refers to only an annual, not daily observance and is stated metaphorically, not literally..   Oddly,  the word tefillin is  nowhere in the Torah. The origin of the word is obscure. (The English word phylacteries that you may have encountered is derived from Greek for amulet.)
11 “After the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites and gives it to you, as he promised on oath to you and your ancestors, 12 you are to give over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb. All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to the Lord. 13 Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem every firstborn among your sons.
14 “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’ 16 And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”
So when your children ask you why you are killing the lamb or breaking the donkey's neck, tell them it is because God murdered hundreds of thousands of Egyptians. Pharaoh's stubbornness, as we have been told many times, was contrived by God so that he would have an excuse to do this.
17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea.[a]
 The Philistines were a seafaring people who did not arrive in the Levant until at least 1,500 years after these events purportedly took place. In any case check the map. In order to get to the shores of the red sea, the people had to go a good 150 miles out of their way, which in those days was considerable. I see that the pillar of fire enabled them to travel by night but didn't they need to sleep? As I noted previously, Sukkoth and Etham are not the names of real places in Egypt. God actually thinks that if the Israelites face war they're going to chicken out and return to Egypt, but what does he expect to happen when they confront the Canaanites, the Hittites, Amorite, Hivites and Jebusites? In case you are wondering, we will find out soon enough.
The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle.
19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.”[b]
20 After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. 21 By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.


  1. Exodus 13:18 Or the Sea of Reeds
  2. Exodus 13:19 See Gen. 50:25.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The last refuge of a scoundrel . . .

Samuel Johnson famously said that of patriotism, as reported by his biographer Boswell. We don't know for sure who Johnson was thinking about but the quotation applies to uncountable people since Johnson said it in 1775. I believe it was Ambrose Bierce who objected that in fact, patriotism is the first refuge of a scoundrel. Please note that the logic of the statement does not condemn patriotism in general. Scoundrels might take refuge in many perfectly fine places.

Nation states are essentially imaginary communities. For them to function properly their inhabitants must have some form of shared identity and loyalty to the concept of the state. This is most urgently true of representative republics, which depend on public engagement and legitimacy. But many people make damaging errors in their understanding of patriotism.

The most egregious is in conflating loyalty to the nation with loyalty or obeisance to its current leaders. The latter is the definition of patriotism in North Korea. It also seems to be the definition adopted by the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, who has repeatedly labeled disrespect for his own person as treason. And that seems to be the definition adopted by many of his cultists, the so-called "base" which now constitutes the self-identified Republicans among the electorate.

A similarly egregious error is to think that patriotism means approving of whatever actions the national leadership takes in the international sphere, particularly military action. Dissenting from warmaking seems to many the most egregious violation of patriotism. Mark Twain has something to say about this.  Do read The War Prayer if you haven't already, but the idea is that his protagonist translates prayers for victory into this:

Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth into battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended in the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames in summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it —

For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimmage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

Another error, which can be nearly as egregious in its application, is conflating patriotism with symbolic enactments. This includes treating the nation's flag and other symbolic paraphernalia as sacred objects, and enacting rituals such as reciting a pledge, or adopting a particular pose and singing as the national anthem is played. Adherents of this vacuous ideology may even invent new symbols, such as requiring politicians to wear a flag lapel pin.

People may intend all sorts of messages by violating these ritual norms. For example, Colin Kapernick, who knelt rather than stand during the playing of the national anthem to draw attention to police violence. His point was that the nation's ideals were being violated. By kneeling, he was praying that they be upheld. That is true patriotism. But the NFL owners are so scared that NFL fans are shallow-minded idiots that he he's been unemployed ever since. (They're probably right.)

Here's a Faux News moron talking about the captain of the U.S. team that just won the World Cup:

I did notice during the, I guess, anthem, she didn't have her hand here, and we know that she kneels sometimes during the anthem. She said she's not going to go to the f-ing White House, which to me, was like, "Wow." And that's her prerogative, but I do think it's damaging U.S. Women's Soccer. . . . I think people won't watch if they see the team that's representing our country be unpatriotic, and I've spoken to people who over the weekend weren't watching, refused to watch, and I think that's going to have an impact on ratings.
She is in fact a much greater patriot than you, sir. There cannot be any more urgent duty of a patriot than to resist the current regime and bring it to an end.

UPDATE: And this just in . . .

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Long Emergency: Baked Alaska

As has been widely reported, Anchorage had the hottest temperature ever recorded on July 4, 90 degrees Fahrenheit. It's not quite as warm now but they have another problem, wild fires. The long-range forecast is nothing but smoke.

The consequences of cliimate change for Alaska are catastrophic. Many indigenous villages have already had to be abandoned as the sea ice disappears and the land erodes away.

“Especially in western Alaska, we’re going to see ground thawed that has not been thawed since before the last ice age,” [climate specialist Rich Thoman] explained.
The thawing of frozen earth will challenge human infrastructure and communities, for sure, but it will also unfreeze ancient germs and release huge amounts of greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide and methane–that have been held in frozen soil for all of human existence. These greenhouse gases will, in turn, drive further warming.
What this thawing illustrates most, said Thoman, “at the most visceral level, is the magnitude of what’s happened in the last 150 years.”
So what is the Alaskan government doing about it? Well, it turns out the recent gubernatorial election was all about whether Alaskans will each get $1,600 a year in free money from oil and gas royalties, as they have been lately, or whether they would get $3,000. The Republican candidate, natch, ran on the $3,000 promise and he won. Unfortunately, that meant he had to eliminate 40% of the state allocation to the University of Alaska, " make a $50 million cut to state Medicaid spending and tens of millions more in reductions for senior benefits and public assistance to the blind and disabled. Dunleavy even cut $3.4 million for inspectors who monitor cruise ship pollution — money that was funded through fees from passengers and the cruise lines, not state tax dollars."

Since the most important thing to the people of Alaska is to get that free $3,000 every year, the last thing on earth they would ever want is to stop burning fossil fuel. The $3,000 is more important to them than educating their children, taking care of their sick and old people, or stopping cruise ships from polluting their harbors, so obviously it's more important to them than stopping their state from burning up and blowing away.

There is no limit to the depth of human folly.