Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, June 29, 2020

The Decline of the West

There are probably as many explanations for our multiplying and synergistic crises as you have the neural connections to process, but what holds the whole sociological monstrosity together is antirationalism and pseudoscience. Today, Anthony Fauci took note of polling that says 27% of Americans would likely refuse to get a Covid-19 vaccine were it to become available. Natch, they're mostly Republicans, conservatives, and evangelical Christians. And these are the same people who didn't believe the epidemiologists who said this was going to be a big problem in the first place, and in many cases still don't, which is why Texas, Florida, Arizona, South Carolina and several other states are in big trouble. And there's climate change, air pollution -- racism is in fact a pseudo-scientifc belief.

Which brings us to this interesting piece in Nature (hat tip to PZ Meyers) about widespread belief in archaeological pseudo-science. The main nonsense they focus on is the supposed lost civilization of Atlantis, and visits to earth in ancient times by extraterrestrials.

For those of you who don't know, Atlantis was a fictional invention by Plato, mentioned in two of his dialogs as part of an allegory about the hubris of nations. Historians, philosophers and literary scholars understood that the story was imaginary until the 1900s, when various dilettantes and cranks started treating it as real. The idea that earth was visited in ancient times by ETs seems to be a staple of certain cable TV channels that purport to be about real history or science.

What these frankly bizarre beliefs have in common is that they are fueled by the assumption that the architectural and other technological achievements of non-European civilizations could not have been possible without assistance from either Atlanteans or little green men. Archaeologists who have sought to publicly debunked these claims have faced harassment and threats. And this is a subset of a broader problem: people who simply do not have critical thinking skills and respond to assertions that challenge their preconceptions with every sort of logical fallacy and personal vitriol, rather than trying to marshall facts and logic.

Let's be clear. The Mayans developed their civilization on their own.

It's completely off topic and in fact I have never said anything specifically about the Black Lives Matter organization (which includes as members only a small proportion of people who use the slogan). But here is their actual platform. If you want to avoid brain damage, do not read the New York Post.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

This . . .

is completely fucking insane. You might think these people deserve what they get but their friends and family don't. As for what happens to Pence, don't ask me to comment.

What Nouriel Roubini says

Atrios saved himself a lot of neural wear and tear for a while by putting up What Digby Sez posts. I'm going to be a little more effortful here, but Roubini lays out the cold truth very clearly. Since we've been talking about Karl Marx lately, this is particularly apropos because he thinks about the applicability of Marx's critique of capitalism to the present situation. (And no, he isn't any kind of an "ist." Neither am I. I read people who provide good information or have interesting thoughts about it, and I make up my own mind.)

Here's how he starts:

The mass protests following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer are about systemic racism and police brutality in the United States, but also so much more. Those who have taken to the streets in more than 100 American cities are channeling a broader critique of President Donald Trump and what he represents. A vast underclass of increasingly indebted, socially immobile Americans – African-Americans, Latinos, and, increasingly, whites – is revolting against a system that has failed it.
 Yes indeed. I asked "why now" with regard to this uprising and I think Rubini has the answer. Even as the plutocracy has gotten ever more obscenely wealthy and powerful, people have found their own lives stagnating and even deteriorating. More and more don't even have secure jobs with basic benefits. They are contingent workers -- the "precariat" -- which Roubini slots into Marx's proletariat. After World War II, powerful labor unions, the GI bill, the New Deal programs and the destruction of great fortunes in the war meant that working class people had increasingly secure lives, saw their children doing better than they did, and looked forward to an acceptably comfortable retirement. That started to change in the 1960s and it's just been getting worse.

The 2016 election represented a successful ploy by the plutocracy to divide the working class along racial and ethnic lines, scapegoating immigrants and people of disadvantaged ethnic castes for the troubles of struggling white workers. Do read the whole thing, but I'll leave you with his conclusion.

To be sure, the American Dream was always more aspiration than reality. Economic, social, and intergenerational mobility have always fallen short of what the myth of the self-made man or woman would lead one to expect. But with social mobility now declining as inequality rises, today’s young people are right to be angry.The new proletariat – the precariat – is now revolting. To paraphrase Marx and Friedrich Engels in The Communist Manifesto: “Let the Plutocrat classes tremble at a Precariat revolution. The Precarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Precarious workers of all countries, unite!”

And in case you still don't get it, President Trump kicked off Sunday morning by going on a Twitter spree that included retweeting a video of a supporter in Florida agreeing that he’s a racist and chanting “white power.”

Sunday Sermonette: Turning of the months

Leviticus 23 remains essential to Jewish life and religious practice, though in ways that have changed considerably over the centuries. It outlines the important points in the liturgical calendar. Some new ones have been added since, and the nature of observance has changed with the abandonment of ritual sacrifice, but these major observances are still honored. A confusing point is that the liturgical and civil calendars have different starting points. The Festival of Trumpets is placed here at the beginning of the seventh month. It is now called Rosh hashana, marking the new year. So the liturgical year begins with Passover, but the civil year begins 7 months later with the blowing of the ram's horn. As far as I can tell the "offering of first fruits" does not correspond to an existing scheduled event -- it seems to have been absorbed into the Festival of Weeks -- today called Shavuot. Please correct me if I'm missing something. The Festival of Booths is now called Sukkot.

23 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: These are the appointed festivals of the Lord that you shall proclaim as holy convocations, my appointed festivals.
Six days shall work be done; but the seventh day is a sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation; you shall do no work: it is a sabbath to the Lord throughout your settlements.
Of course we have heard this many times already.
These are the appointed festivals of the Lord, the holy convocations, which you shall celebrate at the time appointed for them. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight,[a] there shall be a passover offering to the Lord, and on the fifteenth day of the same month is the festival of unleavened bread to the Lord; seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. For seven days you shall present the Lord’s offerings by fire; on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation: you shall not work at your occupations.
The tradition of the Seder -- a ceremonial meal eaten at home -- obviously arose later. However, the requirement of eating unleavened bread for seven days remains.

The Lord spoke to Moses: 10 Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest. 11 He shall raise the sheaf before the Lord, that you may find acceptance; on the day after the sabbath the priest shall raise it. 12 On the day when you raise the sheaf, you shall offer a lamb a year old, without blemish, as a burnt offering to the Lord. 13 And the grain offering with it shall be two-tenths of an ephah of choice flour mixed with oil, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord; and the drink offering with it shall be of wine, one-fourth of a hin. 14 You shall eat no bread or parched grain or fresh ears until that very day, until you have brought the offering of your God: it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your settlements.
Again, since the only content of this command is sacrifice, and sacrifice is no longer performed, the First Fruits seems to have disappeared from the calendar. It has no specified date anyway.

15 And from the day after the sabbath, from the day on which you bring the sheaf of the elevation offering, you shall count off seven weeks; they shall be complete. 16 You shall count until the day after the seventh sabbath, fifty days; then you shall present an offering of new grain to the Lord. 17 You shall bring from your settlements two loaves of bread as an elevation offering, each made of two-tenths of an ephah; they shall be of choice flour, baked with leaven, as first fruits to the Lord. 18 You shall present with the bread seven lambs a year old without blemish, one young bull, and two rams; they shall be a burnt offering to the Lord, along with their grain offering and their drink offerings, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord. 19 You shall also offer one male goat for a sin offering, and two male lambs a year old as a sacrifice of well-being. 20 The priest shall raise them with the bread of the first fruits as an elevation offering before the Lord, together with the two lambs; they shall be holy to the Lord for the priest. 21 On that same day you shall make proclamation; you shall hold a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. This is a statute forever in all your settlements throughout your generations.
Although the sacrifice is no longer a part of Shavuot, the proclamation, convocation and day of rest are observed although there are no specific laws concerning the nature of the observance and customs vary. 
22 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God.
This is an interesting passage. It is not applicable to modern life, and I'm not sure how religious farmers interpret this today. I would imagine that rather than leaving the edges of the field unharvested, they make a charitable donation of some sort. Maybe someone can tell us.

23 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 24 Speak to the people of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of complete rest, a holy convocation commemorated with trumpet blasts. 25 You shall not work at your occupations; and you shall present the Lord’s offering by fire.
Again, today this is Rosh Hashana, the first day of the civil year.

26 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 27 Now, the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you: you shall deny yourselves[b] and present the Lord’s offering by fire; 28 and you shall do no work during that entire day; for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the Lord your God. 29 For anyone who does not practice self-denial[c] during that entire day shall be cut off from the people. 30 And anyone who does any work during that entire day, such a one I will destroy from the midst of the people. 31 You shall do no work: it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your settlements. 32 It shall be to you a sabbath of complete rest, and you shall deny yourselves;[d] on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening you shall keep your sabbath.
This observance - Yom Kippur -- is the most important in the Jewish religion, probably more solemn than Passover. Many additional traditions have grown up around Yom Kippur, as you can see the only specification here is refraining from work and dedication to prayer. Earlier, we were given an elaborate schedule of sacrifices on that day including the scapegoat, but all of that has been abandoned.

Some people still practice Kapporat on the eve of Yom Kippur, which involves the killing of a chicken which is then donated to charity. The practice was controversial from the beginning and remains highly controversial today. It is not evidently based on or derived from the sacrificial rituals of Leviticus since it is not performed by a priest. Nevertheless it seems to me reminiscent of the scapegoat since the idea is that the chicken symbolically absorbs the penitent's since.

33 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 34 Speak to the people of Israel, saying: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month, and lasting seven days, there shall be the festival of booths[e] to the Lord. 35 The first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall not work at your occupations. 36 Seven days you shall present the Lord’s offerings by fire; on the eighth day you shall observe a holy convocation and present the Lord’s offerings by fire; it is a solemn assembly; you shall not work at your occupations.

37 These are the appointed festivals of the Lord, which you shall celebrate as times of holy convocation, for presenting to the Lord offerings by fire—burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings, each on its proper day— 38 apart from the sabbaths of the Lord, and apart from your gifts, and apart from all your votive offerings, and apart from all your freewill offerings, which you give to the Lord.
39 Now, the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall keep the festival of the Lord, lasting seven days; a complete rest on the first day, and a complete rest on the eighth day. 40 On the first day you shall take the fruit of majestic[f] trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. 41 You shall keep it as a festival to the Lord seven days in the year; you shall keep it in the seventh month as a statute forever throughout your generations. 42 You shall live in booths for seven days; all that are citizens in Israel shall live in booths, 43 so that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
This is called Sukkot. Observant Jews still make actual booths and eat in them during the festival.  The plant materials used today to represent the ones specified in verse 40 are the Etrog (citron fruit), Lulav (frond of date palm) Hadass (myrtle bough) and Aravah (willow branch).
44 Thus Moses declared to the people of Israel the appointed festivals of the Lord.


  1. Leviticus 23:5 Heb between the two evenings
  2. Leviticus 23:27 Or shall fast
  3. Leviticus 23:29 Or does not fast
  4. Leviticus 23:32 Or shall fast
  5. Leviticus 23:34 Or tabernacles: Heb succoth
  6. Leviticus 23:40 Meaning of Heb uncertain

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Real Treason

Anybody who has accused Resident Dump of treason has been beset by indignant commenters saying that the definition of treason is giving aid and comfort to the enemy in time of war. Well, the U.S. is at war in Afghanistan (undeclared of course, that part of the Constitution has become quaint) and now the NYT reports that Russia has put a bounty on the heads of U.S. troops in that unfortunate country. (I'm not linking to the Times story directly because of the paywall.) The report also claims that Resident Dump was briefed on this at least as early as March, and did nothing about it. In fact he invited Russia to join the G7.

Maybe congress will hold 1/20th of the hearings on this as they did on Benghazi. There is so far nothing about it at CNN, CBS or ABC, but perhaps they are trying to get some independent corroboration. I presume whoever was willing to talk to the Times will talk to them. Maybe they'll even come forward publicly. That would be the patriotic thing to do, no? I'm not holding my breath.

And another thing: You know what? There has been a lot of violence associated with the Black Lives Matter protests. You know who perpetrated it? The police:

Police forces across the United States have committed widespread and egregious human rights violations in response to largely peaceful assemblies protesting systemic racism and police violence, including the killing of Black people.

Amnesty International has documented 125 separate incidents of police violence against protesters in 40 states and the District of Columbia between 26 May and 5 June 2020. These acts of excessive force were committed by members of state and local police departments, as well as by National Guard troops and security force personnel from several federal agencies. Among the abuses documented are beatings, the misuse of tear gas and pepper spray, and the inappropriate and, at times, indiscriminate firing of less-lethal projectiles, such as sponge rounds and rubber bullets.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Open invitation to all commenters

Define Marxism. State what you believe to be the meaning of the term. Extra bonus points for any actual relevance to the writings of Karl Marx, and super duper bonus points if you provide any evidence of actually having read ten or more words he ever wrote. If you want to define Marxism in terms of Groucho Marx, that's okay too.

The challenge is straightforward. You must provide a definition of Marxism. Don't just tell me that so-and-so claims to be a Marxist and expect me to think that's a problem or understand why you think it is. I might just be thinking so what? Who gives a shit? As a matter of fact I am thinking that.

Okay, since nobody has stepped up to the challenge, I will say a bit about this. Karl Marx wrote several books which would serve very well as doorstops and an avalanche of shorter publications. Given the immensity and complexity of his oeuvre, and its immense influence over later sociological and political thought, there are many competing interpretations and later adaptations of his thinking. It so happens that some oppressive, tyrannical regimes that arose long after his death in 1883 claimed to be based on Marxist ideas, but he would have been appalled by that because he was a radical egalitarian. He did not believe that some people should have power over others and indeed it was his life's obsession to combat oppression and raise the living standards, political and social power, and lifeworld of poor and working people.

Given his vast output, that his ideas evolved somewhat over time, and that people disagree about what is most essential in Marx's thought, there can't be any one succinct definition. It is also the case that he was much more specific, detailed and testable in his critique of 19th Century capitalism than he was in imagining what should follow -- really what would follow because he saw certain historical developments as inevitable, and he was certainly wrong about that. But I would say that a few key ideas are most important.

First, he was what social scientists call a conflict theorist. Social science theories can very broadly speaking be placed in two categories, the other being functionalist theories. Functionalists try to explain social systems by referring to their supposed functions, i.e. their outputs are purported to meet certain needs. Put crudely, capitalism exists because it is an effective way of generating needed and wanted goods and services.

Conflict theorists perceive that there are groups in society that have competing interests and differential power. Feudal lords and kings exercised control over the peasantry by a monopoly of force -- well trained men with deadly weapons that peasants didn't have, who could force the serfs to live in misery and give much of their pittance to their overlords. Capitalists are for the most part not farmers (though a few still are) but similarly, they own the "means of production" and their ownership rights are enforced by the armed power of the state, over which they have disproportionate control. That's what Marx thought. He saw history as conflict among social classes, which in his day mostly meant workers and owners, although since his time a large professional and managerial class has emerged which somewhat complicates the picture.

Marx also argued that when workers have to survive by trading their labor for money, their bodies and souls become commodified, and their lives are unrewarding. (He called this the alienation of labor.) This is certainly true for many industrial workers, who spend their days doing mind-numbing repetitive tasks and are often treated disrespectfully. Again, the situation has become more complicated since his day but in fact recently the trend has been for people who had been independent artisans and small scale entrepreneurs to increasingly be "proletarianized," that is to become employees of large corporations. This is  even true of physicians.

He also argued for something called the labor theory of value, which most people nowadays think was a flawed idea. Prices depend on the relationship between how many people want something and how much they want it, and its scarcity. Labor is only one factor that goes into scarcity, although it certainly matters, and you can legitimately argue that capitalists are expropriating a part of workers' output to which they are legitimately entitled. But this still allows for immense differences in compensation among people who have skills in differential supply. (Note that the opportunity to acquire those skills is in large part inherited.) Whether you think this is just is not a factual question.

So, he argued that workers should be freed from their oppression by gaining ownership of the means of production. He wasn't very specific about how this would work, alas. The Bolsheviks and Mao Tse Tung claimed to seize the means of production on behalf of the proletariat, but it was all a fraud.

Most egalitarian thinkers nowadays thinks that while public ownership of some kinds of enterprises, such as utilities, would be workable an desirable, markets and some form of private ownership are the best way to achieve economic output that meets people's needs. However, markets and enterprise need to be regulated in the general interest, and wealth must be continually redistributed because it is an essential feature of unrestrained capitalism that it concentrates wealth increasingly in fewer hands. This is indeed happening over recent decades, as environmental degradation has created an existential crisis for humanity.

I personally feel that it is pointless to label oneself as a "Marxist," which can have a range of meanings, and completely ridiculous to engage in theological arguments about the true doctrine of Marxism, which unfortunately some people will do. However, if people want to call themselves Marxists I don't really care, I look at whatever it is they actually believe and the kinds of change they work to bring about. If they want to call themselves Btfsplk it's all the same to me.

PS: The Black Lives Matter protests are peaceful, inclusive, and committed to democratic process. But I certainly see that they feel threatening to people who want to cling to their white privilege.

News Flash: Protests against police brutality are not associated with Covid outbreaks

That's right. No, zero, zip, zilch, nada coronavirus outbreaks have been linked to protests. The reason is that people mostly wore masks, kept their distance, and it all happened outside. (I might add that the protests were overwhelmingly peaceful. The rioters were police. But that's for another day.)

The skyrocketing epidemic in many states is, however, strongly associated with listening to Sean Hannity. That is a scientific fact. The reason this is happening is because people who listen to Faux News and the Vulgar Pigboy don't believe it's real, don't wear masks, and go to bars and other indoor gatherings such as Resident Dump rallies. Don't go making wild claims that you would want to be true without first determining whether they are in fact true.

Also, to be specific, the reason for the outbreak in some California counties appears to be people having house parties. That is what we call here in the Reality Based Community a True Fact.

War is Peace

Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength. And Death is Prosperity. The rush to ease or eliminate public health measures to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic, on the part of the federal administration and republican governors, was portrayed as necessary to "reopen the economy" and get people back to work. I'm going to link to Amanda Marcotte on this, knowing full well that I will get comments from our resident wingnuts about how nobody should ever place any credibility in anything she writes because in 2007 she presumed the guilt of the Duke lacrosse team. (She also made some famously vulgar comments about the Catholic church at around the same time but I don't have a problem with that myself.)

Yeah, that was a mistake. I'm happy to say I steered clear of that particular flapdoodle because I always had my doubts, but a lot of people made that mistake. I've made some myself, just not that one. But the typical right wing tactic of distraction, diversion and non sequitur is not working any more. You can judge the argument on its merits without bringing up the Duke lacrosse team.

And the argument is proving true. Restaurants and bars and movie theaters and other venues aren't going to make money and stay open if they don't have customers. And with the epidemic now exploding out of control in Texas, Arizona, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama and other states people aren't going to go to those sorts of businesses in large numbers. However, what will happen is that their employees will no longer be able to collect unemployment. Also, government won't be under any pressure to help the businesses survive until the epidemic is under control. This means they won't have to tax rich people, which is the only actual objective of the Republican party.

But this obviously isn't working and won't work. Once the ICUs fill up, as they are starting to do, and the health care system is overwhelmed, the Republican governors will have no choice but to reimpose restrictions, and they will just look like miserable failures. Which they are. Here in Connecticut, where the governor resisted pressure to reduce restrictions prematurely, businesses have reopened, people are going (dining outdoors, keeping distance, wearing masks) and we have not seen a resurgence. If there is an outbreak, we will have the resources to trace and test and shut it down. Texas and Arizona don't and won't.

Also, too, that not wearing a mask has become a symbol of loyalty to the Resident is beyond obscene. That is the single most important thing you can do to make a close to normal life possible. It costs almost nothing, and it is a civic duty. Do it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Wednesday Bible Study: The holy swag

I said at the beginning that nobody reads Leviticus. It's mostly boring and extremely weird, offering little that is meaningful to modern sensibilities. Some fragments of ritual or practice survive in orthodox Judaism, but they are largely removed from their original context. The most important survival is probably the liturgical calendar, which we will get to shortly. In Leviticus 22, however, we return to rules of the sacrifice, which have no moral resonance and theologically make God seem like an anal compulsive nut. (That's the least of his psychological disorders. Just  wait till we get to the book of Numbers.) The one element of this chapter we can make sense of is that the priests are protecting their income.

22 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Direct Aaron and his sons to deal carefully with the sacred donations of the people of Israel, which they dedicate to me, so that they may not profane my holy name; I am the Lord.
Yeah okay, they dedicate the offerings to Yahweh but the priests actually get to keep them. Just sayin'.
Say to them: If anyone among all your offspring throughout your generations comes near the sacred donations, which the people of Israel dedicate to the Lord, while he is in a state of uncleanness, that person shall be cut off from my presence: I am the Lord. No one of Aaron’s offspring who has a leprous[a] disease or suffers a discharge may eat of the sacred donations until he is clean. Whoever touches anything made unclean by a corpse or a man who has had an emission of semen, and whoever touches any swarming thing by which he may be made unclean or any human being by whom he may be made unclean—whatever his uncleanness may be— the person who touches any such shall be unclean until evening and shall not eat of the sacred donations unless he has washed his body in water. When the sun sets he shall be clean; and afterward he may eat of the sacred donations, for they are his food.
This again makes the Levite priesthood seem super-duper holy, but they still get to eat the swag after sundown, so it's not much of a concession.
That which died or was torn by wild animals he shall not eat, becoming unclean by it: I am the Lord. They shall keep my charge, so that they may not incur guilt and die in the sanctuary[b] for having profaned it: I am the Lord; I sanctify them.
10 No lay person shall eat of the sacred donations. No bound or hired servant of the priest shall eat of the sacred donations; 11 but if a priest acquires anyone by purchase, the person may eat of them; and those that are born in his house may eat of his food. 12 
In other words, if you hire help don't feed them, but you do have to feed your slaves -- since you aren't paying them  they can't go out and buy a meal. 
If a priest’s daughter marries a layman, she shall not eat of the offering of the sacred donations; 13 but if a priest’s daughter is widowed or divorced, without offspring, and returns to her father’s house, as in her youth, she may eat of her father’s food.
Similar idea. If you marry off your daughter she's no longer your responsibility, but if the marriage doesn't work out you can take her in again. 
No lay person shall eat of it. 14 If a man eats of the sacred donation unintentionally, he shall add one-fifth of its value to it, and give the sacred donation to the priest. 15 No one shall profane the sacred donations of the people of Israel, which they offer to the Lord, 16 causing them to bear guilt requiring a guilt offering, by eating their sacred donations: for I am the Lord; I sanctify them.
In other words, the swag is yours and nobody can get away with stealing any of it.

17 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 18 Speak to Aaron and his sons and all the people of Israel and say to them: When anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens residing in Israel presents an offering, whether in payment of a vow or as a freewill offering that is offered to the Lord as a burnt offering, 19 to be acceptable in your behalf it shall be a male without blemish, of the cattle or the sheep or the goats. 20 You shall not offer anything that has a blemish, for it will not be acceptable in your behalf.
21 When anyone offers a sacrifice of well-being to the Lord, in fulfillment of a vow or as a freewill offering, from the herd or from the flock, to be acceptable it must be perfect; there shall be no blemish in it. 22 Anything blind, or injured, or maimed, or having a discharge or an itch or scabs—these you shall not offer to the Lord or put any of them on the altar as offerings by fire to the Lord. 23 An ox or a lamb that has a limb too long or too short you may present for a freewill offering; but it will not be accepted for a vow. 24 Any animal that has its testicles bruised or crushed or torn or cut, you shall not offer to the Lord; such you shall not do within your land, 25 nor shall you accept any such animals from a foreigner to offer as food to your God; since they are mutilated, with a blemish in them, they shall not be accepted in your behalf.
Only the best for Yahweh, yeah, but actually for the priests.
26 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 27 When an ox or a sheep or a goat is born, it shall remain seven days with its mother, and from the eighth day on it shall be acceptable as the Lord’s offering by fire. 28 But you shall not slaughter, from the herd or the flock, an animal with its young on the same day. 29 When you sacrifice a thanksgiving offering to the Lord, you shall sacrifice it so that it may be acceptable in your behalf. 30 It shall be eaten on the same day; you shall not leave any of it until morning: I am the Lord.
31 Thus you shall keep my commandments and observe them: I am the Lord. 32 You shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel: I am the Lord; I sanctify you, 33 I who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord.


  1. Leviticus 22:4 A term for several skin diseases; precise meaning uncertain
  2. Leviticus 22:9 Vg: Heb incur guilt for it and die in it

Tuesday, June 23, 2020


I had to get some files from my office so I drove to Providence today for the first time in a couple of months. The deal is you need permission to go in, you have to wear a mask in the building, one person at a time on the elevator, yadda yadda. It didn't really matter, looking the sign-in sheet there were two other people in the building. Looking through the glass into other offices, I see dead plants and of course the floor was dark and generally depressing.

But, Rhode Island is in phase 2 which means barber shops are open so I went and got my first haircut in I dunno, three months. A sign on the door said you need an appointment but there weren't any other customers so they let me in. Bob had to cut my hair while I wore a mask but he worked around it. I tipped him five bucks figuring he needed it. I told him I wasn't sure he was still in business. He's pretty old so this could have been the signal to retire.

Anyway the reason I tell you all this is because here in southern New England we've pretty much wrestled the pandemic to the ground. Even as testing increases, daily incidence keeps falling, the hospitals are emptying out, and deaths are falling accordingly. Our states are easing restrictions gradually, and thoughtfully, and people are getting with the program. Everybody wears masks in indoor public spaces and keeps their distance. The stores enforce capacity limits. Bars are still closed but beaches never closed. Our political leadership took decisive if originally unpopular action, and we are now in a much better place.

You need to understand one of the basic ideas of epidemiology, which is nothing more complicated than multiplication, really. If you can get to a low prevalence, you can keep it that way. The chance that any person I encounter if infectious is very low. If I do get infected, they can trace the people I hsd contact with (I had to sign in and leave my phone number in the barber shop, and sign in to the office) and test them and isolate them if necessary. If I'm very unlikely to be infected, I'm unlikely to infect others, but I still wear the mask. We all do, because we want to keep it that way.

Now consider Florida, Arizona, South Carolina, Texas, Alabama. Also California although it's kind of a special case because it isn't one place, transmission is up in some places and down in others so I'll steer away from those complexities for now. They decided they didn't have anything to worry about, since their Dear Leader told them it was all going to magically go away. Now they have exploding prevalence, and that is just going to multiply. 1 + 1 is only two, but 2 X 1,000 is 2,000. And now you have far too many cases to possibly do contact tracing and isolation, and the people you encounter are much more likely to be infectious, and you're more likely to be infectious, and that just keeps growing until you take drastic action to squash it. Which wouldn't have been necessary if you hadn't been a stupid fuck up in the first place.

Like I say, reality bites.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Sunday Sermonette: Priestly Purity

Because of the fictional device of placing all of this action in the desert 2,000 years before the this was written, the plot can be hard to follow. The hereditary role of the priesthood won't be fully explained until a bit later, in the book of numbers. Aaron is of the Levite tribe. As it will turn out, all Levites have priestly duties and privileges, but only the direct descendants of Aaron, a subset of Levites called the Kohanim, can be high priest or enter the holy of holies. In modern Judaism, the main duties of prayer leadership, the rabbinical role, is open to any Jew. However, orthodox and conservative Judaism reserve certain ceremonial roles for people who claim Kohanic and Levite descent. Genetic studies cast some doubt on these family traditions. In fact, given the vagaries of intermarriage, conversion, and the disruptions of exile and migration, likely most Jews have some Levite ancestors, while it is also possible that some have little or no ancestral connection to the Israelite people of 700 BC to whom this actually refers. In any case, again, the main purpose of the text of Leviticus 21 is to continue reinforcing the monopoly of the Levite priesthood over Israelite religious practice.

21 The Lord said to Moses: Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them:
No one shall defile himself for a dead person among his relatives, except for his nearest kin: his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, his brother; likewise, for a virgin sister, close to him because she has had no husband, he may defile himself for her. But he shall not defile himself as a husband among his people and so profane himself.
This is perhaps a bit hard to understand. What it means is that the Kohanim cannot attend funerals or otherwise minister to the dead with the exceptions noted here.
They shall not make bald spots upon their heads, or shave off the edges of their beards, or make any gashes in their flesh. They shall be holy to their God, and not profane the name of their God; for they offer the Lord’s offerings by fire, the food of their God; therefore they shall be holy.
 This refers to common mourning practices, which are also forbidden to the Kohanim.
They shall not marry a prostitute or a woman who has been defiled; neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband. For they are holy to their God, and you shall treat them as holy, since they offer the food of your God; they shall be holy to you, for I the Lord, I who sanctify you, am holy. When the daughter of a priest profanes herself through prostitution, she profanes her father; she shall be burned to death.
It is possible that this refers to temple prostitution, that is religious rites involving sex with consecrated women, which apparently existed in Canaan. So again, this is claiming a Levite monopoly over religious practice, which did not previously exist among the Israelites.
10 The priest who is exalted above his fellows, on whose head the anointing oil has been poured and who has been consecrated to wear the vestments, shall not dishevel his hair, nor tear his vestments. 11 He shall not go where there is a dead body; he shall not defile himself even for his father or mother. 12 
So again, these are funerary and mourning practices.
He shall not go outside the sanctuary and thus profane the sanctuary of his God; for the consecration of the anointing oil of his God is upon him: I am the Lord. 13 He shall marry only a woman who is a virgin. 14 A widow, or a divorced woman, or a woman who has been defiled, a prostitute, these he shall not marry. He shall marry a virgin of his own kin, 15 that he may not profane his offspring among his kin; for I am the Lord; I sanctify him.
In other words, the Kohanim have to practice what is called marital endogamy, marrying only within their own tribe, to preserve their distinctiveness.  As I say, if they could marry outside of the tribe, eventually pretty much everybody would have priestly descent.
16 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 17 Speak to Aaron and say: No one of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God. 18 For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, 19 or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand, 20 or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles. 21 No descendant of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the Lord’s offerings by fire; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the food of his God. 22 He may eat the food of his God, of the most holy as well as of the holy. 23 But he shall not come near the curtain or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries; for I am the Lord; I sanctify them. 24 Thus Moses spoke to Aaron and to his sons and to all the people of Israel.
So Kohanim who are in any way disfigured cannot perform priestly rites. However, they do get to be supported from the priestly share of sacrifices and tithes. 

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Antifa is coming to steal your potatoes!

I live in the small town of Scotland, CT. The neighboring town to the west is Windham, which like Scotland is mostly rural and nearly 100% white but incorporates the borough of Willimantic, an urbanized area with an ethnically diverse population. The Willimantic NAACP decided to hold its Juneteenth observance on the Scotland town green, I presume in part for the symbolic reason that Scotland was the site of a notorious Ku Klux Klan rally in 1980. But in fact they've been holding rallies in various small towns in the area, trying to reach out beyond the urban base of the current movement and speak to, and recruit, a broader constituency.

My next door neighbor Gary is the First Selectman (that's basically like the mayor) and he started getting messages from people who either wanted protection from the rampaging hordes who were going to burn their houses down, or were threatening to show up carrying semi-automatic rifles. I got a ride from another neighbor and went to offer ourselves up as human shields.

As it happened, a good many of our townspeople turned out to join the substantial contingent from Willimantic, sunburned white folks carrying Black Lives Matter signs. I had a friendly discussion with some folks about Scotland. We have a post office and basically four businesses, an auto repair shop, a seamstress, a liquor store, and a chain saw shop. They were surprised to hear that a small town needed a chain saw shop so I explained that there are a lot of trees out here and sometimes they die. Also a lot of us heat with wood.

Anyway there were maybe 200 of us altogether and we did some chanting and sign waving along the state roads (the green is at the corner of Rte. 14 and 97), and got some honks of support. Then we went over to the gazebo and listened to some speeches. It was a beautiful summery evening and it all had a warm, communal feeling. Oh yeah, everybody wore masks and kept a distance. A few clowns rode by on their Harleys, apparently on a much needed trip to the muffler shop, but the Proud Boys with their body armor and AR-15s failed to show. As my friend and I were leaving, a 17 year old kid with no shirt on yelled at us "This is America, if you don't like it you can leave." I probably would have stopped and talked with him but my friend just drove off.

So the good news is that there haven't been any evident outbreaks of Covid-19 related to the recent protests. People have generally worn masks and kept a distance, and we now understand that outdoor activities are much less risky than indoor gatherings. The virus is transmitted in places like nursing homes, prisons and meatpacking plants. The experience in Seoul shows how dangerous crowded bars and restaurants can be. Churches have also been sources of outbreaks, including choir practice. Singing, shouting, even just talking loud indoors is really dangerous. So what's the single most insane thing you could do? How about packing 19,000 people into an arena at capacity, who are not wearing masks, and who are chanting and yelling at a campaign rally? That's about the worst thing I can think of.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Moustache of Mordor

John Bolton is an extremist nut-job whose principal foreign policy goal has always been to start World War III. He was the National Security Advisor from from April 2018 to September 2019, including the time during which Resident Dump threatened to withhold military aid from Ukraine unless they announced a fake investigation of Joe Biden. The House Intelligence Committee wanted him to testify in the impeachment inquiry but he refused, while teasing that he had damning evidence to give. This was all part of a marketing campaign for his book.

Now some reporters have gotten ahold of the book. If you want to know some of the more interesting claims he makes, you can read about it here. He says the House impeachment inquiry was too narrow because the Resident committed other impeachable offenses that they didn't investigate. Well, they might have investigated if he had told them about it. He also claims to be a direct witness to the Resident committing the impeachable act regarding Ukraine. He also says that the Resident is an ignorant idiot who, for example, did not know that Britain possesses nuclear weapons and asked whether Finland is part of Russia, among other mind boggling stupidities. He is depicted as lazy, completely uninterested in the welfare of any person or entity other than himself, and in general completely unfit for his office.

None of this comes as a revelation. We already know it. It might be some small help that it is coming from a person who is a member of the conservative establishment, but really, I don't think the Republican senators would care if Bolton claimed he saw the Resident rape and eat babies. It also might have helped if he had told us all this six months ago, but the $2 million book advance was worth more to him than the fate of humanity. I suppose getting some of these specifics on the record is a marginal benefit to the public discourse, but it isn't really going to change much of anything. Also, whatever you do, don't buy the book.

Read the Mueller Report

Then we can talk about it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Wednesday Bible Study: Redundant and Repetitive

The basic content of Leviticus 20 largely repeats Leviticus 18. There were evidently two versions of this tract floating around so the scribes just stuck them both in, sandwiching the very different content of 19. This is a basic structural feature of Leviticus -- multiple versions of similar instructions, but in seemingly random order. The scroll seems to have been created as a sort of file folder, without regard to overall coherence.

The main difference between 18 and 20 is that 20 specifies penalties, including death, for individuals who commit incest offenses. Eighteen just says that the people will be expelled from the land if they do not follow the rules. Twenty also goes on a bit longer about Molech. Just a reminder that the conventional transcription of MLK as Molech is disputed. There is no evidence other than the Hebrew Bible for a Canaanite God of that name. The intended word could be King, and it might even be an alternative appellation of Yahweh. And the notion that giving your child to Molech means human sacrifice is almost certainly false. This likely refers to some sort of consecration ritual. Basically, the Kohanim and Levite priests didn't want any competition.

20 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Say further to the people of Israel:
Any of the people of Israel, or of the aliens who reside in Israel, who give any of their offspring to Molech shall be put to death; the people of the land shall stone them to death. I myself will set my face against them, and will cut them off from the people, because they have given of their offspring to Molech, defiling my sanctuary and profaning my holy name. And if the people of the land should ever close their eyes to them, when they give of their offspring to Molech, and do not put them to death, I myself will set my face against them and against their family, and will cut them off from among their people, them and all who follow them in prostituting themselves to Molech.
If any turn to mediums and wizards, prostituting themselves to them, I will set my face against them, and will cut them off from the people. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am the Lord your God. Keep my statutes, and observe them; I am the Lord; I sanctify you. All who curse father or mother shall be put to death; having cursed father or mother, their blood is upon them.
10 If a man commits adultery with the wife of[a] his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death. 11 The man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall be put to death; their blood is upon them. 12 If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall be put to death; they have committed perversion, their blood is upon them. 13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them. 14 If a man takes a wife and her mother also, it is depravity; they shall be burned to death, both he and they, that there may be no depravity among you. 15 If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he shall be put to death; and you shall kill the animal. 16 If a woman approaches any animal and has sexual relations with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them.
17 If a man takes his sister, a daughter of his father or a daughter of his mother, and sees her nakedness, and she sees his nakedness, it is a disgrace, and they shall be cut off in the sight of their people; he has uncovered his sister’s nakedness, he shall be subject to punishment. 18 
Note again that this would have applied to Abraham. The society was polygamous, so this probably intends to refer to half sisters.
If a man lies with a woman having her sickness and uncovers her nakedness, he has laid bare her flow and she has laid bare her flow of blood; both of them shall be cut off from their people. 19 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister or of your father’s sister, for that is to lay bare one’s own flesh; they shall be subject to punishment. 20 If a man lies with his uncle’s wife, he has uncovered his uncle’s nakedness; they shall be subject to punishment; they shall die childless. 21 If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is impurity; he has uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.
22 You shall keep all my statutes and all my ordinances, and observe them, so that the land to which I bring you to settle in may not vomit you out. 23 You shall not follow the practices of the nation that I am driving out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them. 24 
Again, this is almost certainly a slander, intended to legitimize Israelite conquests.
But I have said to you: You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey. I am the Lord your God; I have separated you from the peoples. 25 You shall therefore make a distinction between the clean animal and the unclean, and between the unclean bird and the clean; you shall not bring abomination on yourselves by animal or by bird or by anything with which the ground teems, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. 26 You shall be holy to me; for I the Lord am holy, and I have separated you from the other peoples to be mine.
27 A man or a woman who is a medium or a wizard shall be put to death; they shall be stoned to death, their blood is upon them.
A non-sequitur, repetitive afterthought. Again, not clear how this material was compiled, but they needed an editor.


  1. Leviticus 20:10 Heb repeats if a man commits adultery with the wife of

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Reality Bites

Matt Shuham for TPM reviews the tragi-comic story of hydroxychloroquine. If you have been paying attention you already know that the FDA has withdrawn its emergency authorization for use of the drug to treat or prevent Covid-19, because the better the evidence gets, the more clearly it shows that the drug is useless. The only reason the agency gave the emergency authorization in the first place, and the only reason such extensive resources were invested in clinical trials for the drug, is because Resident Dump claimed to have magically gained the knowledge that it is effective. What was essentially a hoax resulted in the federal government spending millions of dollars to purchase the compound, administration of a useless and actively harmful nostrum to veterans around the country and to other patients, particularly in states led by Republican governors, a massive waste of critically needed resources for clinical trials, shortages of the drug for people who actually did need it, many people heedlessly risking exposure to the virus because they thought they were protected by Dump's magic potion, and undoubtedly some number of avoidable deaths and cardiac injuries.

One sad part of this story is that the hoax was relentlessly promoted on Fox News and other right wing media. It is a requirement that cultists sheepishly follow the Holy Word of their leader, and that's what they did. But this is now completely typical of Resident Dump and his death cult. He repeatedly said early in the course of the pandemic that it would miraculously disappear, so his followers believed it was all a big hoax. He claimed that Kim Jong Un would give up his nuclear weapons, just because they had a cordial meeting. We know about the biggest inauguration crowd in history, the massive tax cut for the wealthy that would magically pay for itself, that tariffs on imports are paid by China. Now there is no systemic racism among police in the U.S. and he has done more for black people than any president since Lincoln and maybe including Lincoln.

It's impossible to catalog the tens of thousands of delusional statements from the Resident but by now you get the point. Magical thinking is a characteristic of early childhood, and immature adults. But saying something, even if you really believe it, doesn't make it true. If you live in a fantasy world reality will eventually bite you in the ass because that is the nature of reality. It's real.

A guy once tried to start a Church of Reality. ("If it's real, we believe in it.") That was not actually a terrible idea, unfortunately he turned out to be something of a megalomaniac so it didn't work out. (Trying to become the leader of a personality cult based on reality is a weird move.) But now there's anthropogenic climate change to deal with, resource depletion, mass extinction, deeply embedded racism, rising and unsustainable economic inequality, and growing threats of civil and international conflict. These are real. Denial will not make them go away. We all need to get real, and that means the Republican Party must come to an end.

Update, Dear Fucking Moron: I report on event that happened on June 16, and you send me a link to an event that happened on June 3 thinking it refutes me. You are a total dipshit.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Sunday Sermonette: Some good stuff!

And some weirdness. BTW I'm going to start doing Wednesday Bible study as well or we'll never get through this. Anyway Leviticus 19, as I foretold, contains some rules for daily life which for the most part conform with our present ethical culture. There are however a few that seem arbitrary or weird, and at least one that is definitely not good. This is the New Revised Standard Version.

19 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my sabbaths: I am the Lord your God. Do not turn to idols or make cast images for yourselves: I am the Lord your God.
When you offer a sacrifice of well-being to the Lord, offer it in such a way that it is acceptable in your behalf. It shall be eaten on the same day you offer it, or on the next day; and anything left over until the third day shall be consumed in fire. If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is an abomination; it will not be acceptable. All who eat it shall be subject to punishment, because they have profaned what is holy to the Lord; and any such person shall be cut off from the people.
This is repetitive from the law of the sacrifice given much earlier in the book. Re-emphasizing it here seems out of context. 
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.
11 You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. 12 And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.
13 You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. 14 You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer[a] among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood[b] of your neighbor: I am the Lord.
The last bit about profiting from the blood of your neighbor seems to confuse many translators. KJV has "thou shalt not stand against the blood of your neighbor." Some versions translate the word as life rather than blood. The obvious interpretation seems to me that you shouldn't try to benefit from a situation which is dangerous or perhaps deadly to someone else.
17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 
In other words don't go around nursing a secret grudge. Have it out with the person and get it over with. That's probably good advice most of the time.
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
19 You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your animals breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials.
Now this is weird. It is forbidding farmers from creating hybrids. I am hard pressed to believe they actually obeyed this, which would be highly disadvantageous. As for not wearing clothes containing two different fibers (most translations actually specific wool and linen, not sure why this one doesn't) that's just bizarre. 
20 If a man has sexual relations with a woman who is a slave, designated for another man but not ransomed or given her freedom, an inquiry shall be held. They shall not be put to death, since she has not been freed; 21 but he shall bring a guilt offering for himself to the Lord, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, a ram as guilt offering. 22 And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of guilt offering before the Lord for his sin that he committed; and the sin he committed shall be forgiven him.
KJV, instead of "an inquiry shall be held," has "she shall be scourged." Most modern translations have this inquiry instead, but I wonder if they aren't trying to clean it up? In any case, the whole point of this is that the woman is a sex slave promised to another man. That is the definition of concubinage and it is commonplace among the Israelites. Doesn't seem very holy to me.
23 When you come into the land and plant all kinds of trees for food, then you shall regard their fruit as forbidden;[c] three years it shall be forbidden[d] to you, it must not be eaten. 24 In the fourth year all their fruit shall be set apart for rejoicing in the Lord. 25 But in the fifth year you may eat of their fruit, that their yield may be increased for you: I am the Lord your God.
Rather than "forbidden," as the footnote says, the Hebrew has "uncircumcised," which is a  pretty weird way to describe a fruit tree. Since fruit trees generally don't bear for at least three or four years this seems largely pointless. And harvesting the first yield doesn't actually harm yield in later years. 
26 You shall not eat anything with its blood. You shall not practice augury or witchcraft. 27 You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.
Orthodox Jewish men still follow the latter precepts. Presumably the rationale for this is as a marker of identity.
28 You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord.
29 Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, that the land not become prostituted and full of depravity. 30 You shall keep my sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord.
Well that's good, but remember it is legal to sell your daughter.
31 Do not turn to mediums or wizards; do not seek them out, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God.
32 You shall rise before the aged, and defer to the old; and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
33 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
35 You shall not cheat in measuring length, weight, or quantity. 36 You shall have honest balances, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. 37 You shall keep all my statutes and all my ordinances, and observe them: I am the Lord.


  1. Leviticus 19:16 Meaning of Heb uncertain
  2. Leviticus 19:16 Heb stand against the blood
  3. Leviticus 19:23 Heb as their uncircumcision
  4. Leviticus 19:23 Heb uncircumcision

Friday, June 12, 2020

The Authoritarians

No, not The Aristocrats. (I first heard that joke when I worked in theater more than 40 years ago, but the punchline was The Debonairs, which I actually like better.)

Psychologist Bob Altemeyer wrote The Authoritarians in 2006, but it is more relevant than ever today. On the website promoting the book he has provided a summary of its relevance to the present situation in the form of what amounts to a blog post, written in August of last year. Do read the whole thing. After noting that yes, he has appointed right wing extremist judges and eliminated environmental regulations and that sort of thing, which some people apparently like, he asks the obvious question:

[T]he fidelity of Trump’s base remains astounding. He has made so many unforced errors because of his lack of understanding and low problem-solving intelligence, his vast ignorance, his enormous, never-ending dishonesty which seems as reflexive as his breathing, his explosive hostility, his uncontrollable vanity, his despicable demeaning of women, his squalid vulgarity, the stupidity of his stereotypes, the shabbiness of his thinking, the buffoonery of his parading, his attacks on the institutions he needs most to safeguard the country, his incredibly poor judgment about the character of those whom he has brought into his administration, his equally mind-numbing lack of judgment about foreign leaders, friend and foe, and  his willingness to inflame Americans’ disagreements and turn them into conflagrations which make us that deeply divided house which the Gospels and Abraham Lincoln warned against—how can his supporters have stood so solidly behind him? You’d think they’d be having some second thoughts at least.

The answer is that people with authoritarian personalities don't actually think. They just want to be told what to think. They don't know why they believe what they believe, other than that somebody told them to think it. That's what they want. They are impervious to facts and logic because they never used them in the first place. He has a lot of interesting specifics to say about this but I'll pull a summary .

Compared to most people, studies have shown that authoritarian followers get their beliefs and opinions from the authorities in their lives, and hardly at all by making up their own minds. They memorize rather than reason. Religion provides a good example of this: authoritarians tend to believe strongly in whatever religion they were raised, the result of having had their religion strongly emphasized to them while they were growing up. . . .

Researchers discovered decades ago that people validate their social opinions socially to a certain extent by selecting news outlets, friends, and so on that will tell them they are right. This produces an illusion of consensus, at least among all the “right” people like themselves. Almost everybody does this, but authoritarian followers do it much more because they don’t have many ideas of their own, beliefs they have worked out for themselves and can defend. And they are much more likely to expose themselves only to sources of information that tell them what they want to believe. Getting only one side of a story raises the chances you will get it wrong, but as Ralph Peters, formerly the military analyst at Fox News, said recently, “People that only listen to Fox have an utterly skewed view of reality.”

So read it all, but you won't recognize yourself there if you should. Because you don't think.


Just so you know, Epoch Times and One America News Network are both right wing extremists propaganda organs, and they are filled with fabricated stories. Specifically, Epoch Times is published by Falun Gong, the Chinese spiritual movement which was banned by the Chinese government and is now busily trying to ingratiate itself with Orange Julius by supplying him with tasty fake news. ONAN (oh, did I make a typo) is a Russian disinformation project, also filled with made up shit.

Please don't send me links to either of these, all you are doing is proving that you are a deluded fuckwit.