Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, July 31, 2020

What we don't know is hurting us

Back when CDC had a real director, his name was Tom Frieden. He now heads an organization called Resolve to Save Lives, which has come out with a report on the woeful state of reporting by the states on important data about the Covid-19 pandemic.

Indicators critical to understanding the pandemic’s course were often missing, it found. Not a single state currently reports the average turnaround time of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, as press reports abound of tests in many regions taking a week or more to come back, a delay that renders testing nearly useless in controlling the disease’s spread. The test positivity rate goes unreported by 25% of states.
The test positivity rate is probably the single most important parameter -- it tells us if the state is doing enough testing, and gives an indication of the prevalence in the population. Also broadly lacking is data on contact tracing, and data that is reported is often unclear because of a lack of standard definitions. Of course we know why this is:

Despite good work by many states and a “tsunami of data points,” he said, “because of the lack of national leadership, we don’t have common standards, definitions, targets, or accountability.”

The US is “flying blind,” he said, questioning the current “obsession” with higher test numbers. If results are taking several days, if positive cases are rarely isolated, and if contacts are almost never warned, he said, then “we really have done very little good.”

The current number of cases in the United States exceeds the combined total in all of Europe, Africa, and Asia, said Frieden. He explained, “With 4% of the world’s population, we have one quarter of covid reported deaths. And during the 45 minutes of this briefing, more than 20 people will die from covid in the US and thousands more will become infected.”

And we know who is responsible -- where the buck stops.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Darn that reality

Herman Cain dying of Covid-19 has gotten a lot of attention. He was famously photographed at the Tulsa campaign rally fizzle unmasked and undistanced, and had campaigned against face masking continually as part of the required fealty ritual to Dear Leader. (Congratulations on your Darwin award.) Much less attention has been paid to the death of Bill Montgomery, co-founder of the wingnut youth organization Turning Point USA, which is now busily deleting all of its anti-mask Facebook posts. Louis Gohmert, the stupidest person in congress -- and that's saying something -- has actually blamed his infection on wearing a mask, even though he hardly ever did it. Then there is the sad case of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who who spent much of May and June demanding an apology from people who said he had lifted restrictions too soon. Well now there's this:

There are plenty of other examples but you get the idea. Just saying it doesn't make it so. These people have to live in the same reality we all do, regardless of their ideology. Faux News and Breitbart can create an alternative reality for a little while, but eventually it catches up with them. So that's what I don't understand about these people. Don't they know that tomorrow will happen?

Dear Dipshit: It is completely irrelevant and beside the point whether Cain became at the Dump rally. I did not say that he did. Learn to read and to think before commenting here.

More true facts! Herman Cain was the CEO of a chain of pizzerias, not a representative. And the Tulsa rally sparked an outbreak. "President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa in late June that drew thousands of participants and large protests “likely contributed” to a dramatic surge in new coronavirus cases, Tulsa City-County Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart said Wednesday. . . .

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Wednesday Bible Study: I demand that Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., and Robert Jeffers read this

This being Numbers 5. I don't really know about Judaism in this regard, but the Catholic church didn't prohibit abortion until the late 19th Century, in reaction to the feminist movement of the time; and it did not become a cause celebre for Christian evangelicals until the mid-20th Century. In case you haven't noticed, anti-abortion crusaders never actually quote the Bible, and that's because they can't. There is no condemnation of abortion anywhere in the Bible, Old Testament or New, and in fact it is condoned and even, in Numbers 5, affirmatively promoted under the specific circumstance that a woman has become pregnant by adultery. Uh-oh! Remember this is the literal and inerrant word of God! There are a few more things about this chapter that are, uh, interesting. Let's dive in.

The Lord said to Moses, “Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has a defiling skin disease[a] or a discharge of any kind, or who is ceremonially unclean because of a dead body. Send away male and female alike; send them outside the camp so they will not defile their camp, where I dwell among them.” The Israelites did so; they sent them outside the camp. They did just as the Lord had instructed Moses.
Okay, so drive sick people out into the desert to suffer and die alone. God seems nice.

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way[b] and so is unfaithful to the Lord is guilty and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the person they have wronged. But if that person has no close relative to whom restitution can be made for the wrong, the restitution belongs to the Lord and must be given to the priest, along with the ram with which atonement is made for the wrongdoer. All the sacred contributions the Israelites bring to a priest will belong to him. 10 Sacred things belong to their owners, but what they give to the priest will belong to the priest.’”
This isn't entirely clear but it seems as though if the person needs a relative to receive the restitution, the person must be dead, so that's a pretty serious wrong. In any case, the priests get even more swag out of the deal. I kill you, I have to pay a fine to the priest along with a ram. Seems just!

11 Then the Lord said to Moses, 12 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him 13 so that another man has sexual relations with her, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), 14 and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure—or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure— 15 then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah[c] of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour olive oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder-offering to draw attention to wrongdoing.
16 “‘The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the Lord. 17 Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. 18 After the priest has had the woman stand before the Lord, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. 19 Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. 20 But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— 21 here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse[d] among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. 22 May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.”
“‘Then the woman is to say, “Amen. So be it.”
23 “‘The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. 24 He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her. 25 The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the Lord and bring it to the altar. 26 The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial[e] offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. 27 If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse. 28 If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children.
There you go. This is an example of what is called trial by ordeal. We don't know exactly what's in the water but evidently it is an abortifacent. If it works, the woman must have been unfaithful. Note the repetition and the slightly different ceremonies -- this appears to be a conflation of two source documents. Nevertheless the basic idea is the same -- God wants unfaithful wives to abort their fetuses. Absolutely the literally true and inerrant word of God.
29 “‘This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and makes herself impure while married to her husband, 30 or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife. The priest is to have her stand before the Lord and is to apply this entire law to her. 31 The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin.’”


  1. Numbers 5:2 The Hebrew word for defiling skin disease, traditionally translated “leprosy,” was used for various diseases affecting the skin.
  2. Numbers 5:6 Or woman who commits any wrong common to mankind
  3. Numbers 5:15 That is, probably about 3 1/2 pounds or about 1.6 kilograms
  4. Numbers 5:21 That is, may he cause your name to be used in cursing (see Jer. 29:22); or, may others see that you are cursed; similarly in verse 27.
  5. Numbers 5:26 Or representative

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

A bizarre right wing obsession

As we know,  Resident Dump is prone to magical thinking -- whatever pops into his head, that he says aloud, becomes true by the God-like power of his words. Three million illegal aliens voted for Hillary Clinton. His inaugural crowd was the biggest ever. The coronavirus is just going to disappear, you'll see, it will be like magic . . .

I could go on endlessly but you already know that he's insane. So one of the nonsensical ideas that popped into his head was that an anti-malarial drug, hydroxychloroquine, is actually a miracle cure for Covid-19. That is biologically completely implausible -- it is toxic to the metazoan malaria parasite, there is no reason it should have antiviral activity. And it doesn't. Millions of dollars in clinical research funding were diverted to this wild goose chase and the result is clear: it doesn't work, and accordingly the FDA has revoked its emergency use authorization.

But somehow this hoax has become a far right cause celebre, presumably because their God Emperor cannot be wrong. So now guess who they are trotting out as a champion of this ridiculous and dangerous fraud? Pediatrician Stella Immanuel:

Immanuel, a pediatrician and a religious minister, has a history of making bizarre claims about medical topics and other issues. She has often claimed that gynecological problems like cysts and endometriosis are in fact caused by people having sex in their dreams with demons and witches. She alleges alien DNA is currently used in medical treatments, and that scientists are cooking up a vaccine to prevent people from being religious. And, despite appearing in Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress on Monday, she has said that the government is run in part not by humans but by “reptilians” and other aliens.
That about says it all.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Zombie lies eat my brain

Hydroxychloroquine flunks Phase III trial in mild-to-moderate Covid-19

The study adds to the growing body of evidence that the drug, promoted early in the pandemic by President Trump, is ineffective, despite its getting a briefly renewed lease on life earlier this month thanks to a retrospective analysis. 


Results of new clinical trial published late last week have found that hydroxychloroquine – the malaria and autoimmune disease drug that President Donald Trump promoted as a potential “game changer” early in the Covid-19 pandemic – not only failed to improve outcomes in those with mild-to-moderate disease, but also produced a higher rate of cardiac and liver side effects. . . .

The results add to the growing body of evidence not supporting treatment of Covid-19 with hydroxychloroquine, an analogue of chloroquine, which has also been explored without success in Covid-19. Last month, the Food and Drug Administration revoked an emergency use authorization that it had granted to the drug in late March, a move that had been criticized as motivated more by politics than by science.
The drug nevertheless saw a briefly renewed lease on life earlier this month when researchers at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit published a retrospective analysis of 2,541 hospitalized Covid-19 patients in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases showing that 13% of those treated with the drug died, compared with 26.4% of those who did not receive it. However, while several right-wing media figures celebrated the data, a review in the same journal pointed to numerous confounding factors that called the purported benefit into question. . . .

And two weeks ago, a post-publication peer review in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents strongly criticized the original paper that spurred interest in the drug, published earlier this year, pointing to numerous methodological flaws rendering it “nearly if not completely uninformative” and denouncing it as “fully irresponsible.”

Case closed.
 Update: Apparently some people are functionally illiterate. Please read the last paragraph above and follow the link.


The Times they Have A-changed

Andrew Gelman is a quantitative social scientist whose blog I recommend if and only if you are a wonk. Anyway his latest post is really enlightening. This was an actual question in a 1969 Harris survey

Now let me ask you which, in your opinion, is worse, if you could only choose one: a) A homosexual or b) A doctor who refuses to make a house call to someone seriously ill?

I suppose the good news is that the doctor won (was worse) hands down, but about 20% chose the homosexual, and 10% or so weren't sure. I do remember a pediatrician coming  to our house once when my brother had a bad strep infection to give him a shot of penicillin, and that probably was around 1969. That was probably the second to last house call in recorded history. (Actually there have been some recent experiences in physician house calls to elderly people at risk for institutionalization but normally the only home care you're gonna get is from a nurse, and that's only for elderly people recently discharged from a nursing home or hospital.)

The American Psychiatric Association actually thought they were progressive by classifying homosexuality as a disease rather than a moral failing, but of course that meant they tried to cure it. They voted to stop classifying homosexuality as a disease in 1973. At least they never made house calls to try to cure it.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Sunday Sermonette: The most pointless chapter in the Bible?

Numbers 4 stipulates exactly which Levite clans are responsible for carrying what portions of the tabernacle when the camp moves, and how the sons of Aaron are required to pack everything up. That's it. It's obsessive-compulsive in its level of detail, and seems to be essentially pointless beyond the general idea that these various inanimate objects must be treated with veneration.

Why this was deemed important enough to include in the Torah in the 7th Century BC I cannot say exactly, since of course the Temple at that time was an immobile edifice. I suppose it does lend verisimilitude to the story of wandering in the desert and then entering Canaan. Nobody knows the origin of this material but it does seem likely that at one time, at least a subset of the Hebrews were pastoral nomads and indeed had a transportable shrine or more likely groups of them each had their own shrines. This emphasis on a single mass encampment around a single tabernacle is then intended to enshrine a unified concept of the Hebrew people, which as we have already discussed was not the case prior to the Deuteronomic reforms under King Josiah. In other words this functions as a founding mythology, like Romulus and Remus. Other than that there isn't much to say about it, except that again, apparently it takes tens of thousands of men to carry these objects; and there is no way that a bunch of runaway slaves in the middle of the desert could have possessed them, including, as the footnote says, "the hides of large aquatic mammals." KJV renders this as badger skins, however, so who know?

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “Take a census of the Kohathite branch of the Levites by their clans and families. Count all the men from thirty to fifty years of age who come to serve in the work at the tent of meeting.
“This is the work of the Kohathites at the tent of meeting: the care of the most holy things. When the camp is to move, Aaron and his sons are to go in and take down the shielding curtain and put it over the ark of the covenant law. Then they are to cover the curtain with a durable leather,[a] spread a cloth of solid blue over that and put the poles in place.
“Over the table of the Presence they are to spread a blue cloth and put on it the plates, dishes and bowls, and the jars for drink offerings; the bread that is continually there is to remain on it. They are to spread a scarlet cloth over them, cover that with the durable leather and put the poles in place.
“They are to take a blue cloth and cover the lampstand that is for light, together with its lamps, its wick trimmers and trays, and all its jars for the olive oil used to supply it. 10 Then they are to wrap it and all its accessories in a covering of the durable leather and put it on a carrying frame.
11 “Over the gold altar they are to spread a blue cloth and cover that with the durable leather and put the poles in place.
12 “They are to take all the articles used for ministering in the sanctuary, wrap them in a blue cloth, cover that with the durable leather and put them on a carrying frame.
13 “They are to remove the ashes from the bronze altar and spread a purple cloth over it. 14 Then they are to place on it all the utensils used for ministering at the altar, including the firepans, meat forks, shovels and sprinkling bowls. Over it they are to spread a covering of the durable leather and put the poles in place.
15 “After Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy articles, and when the camp is ready to move, only then are the Kohathites to come and do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die. The Kohathites are to carry those things that are in the tent of meeting.
16 “Eleazar son of Aaron, the priest, is to have charge of the oil for the light, the fragrant incense, the regular grain offering and the anointing oil. He is to be in charge of the entire tabernacle and everything in it, including its holy furnishings and articles.”
17 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 18 “See that the Kohathite tribal clans are not destroyed from among the Levites. 19 So that they may live and not die when they come near the most holy things, do this for them: Aaron and his sons are to go into the sanctuary and assign to each man his work and what he is to carry. 20 But the Kohathites must not go in to look at the holy things, even for a moment, or they will die.”

21 The Lord said to Moses, 22 “Take a census also of the Gershonites by their families and clans. 23 Count all the men from thirty to fifty years of age who come to serve in the work at the tent of meeting.
24 “This is the service of the Gershonite clans in their carrying and their other work: 25 They are to carry the curtains of the tabernacle, that is, the tent of meeting, its covering and its outer covering of durable leather, the curtains for the entrance to the tent of meeting, 26 the curtains of the courtyard surrounding the tabernacle and altar, the curtain for the entrance to the courtyard, the ropes and all the equipment used in the service of the tent. The Gershonites are to do all that needs to be done with these things. 27 All their service, whether carrying or doing other work, is to be done under the direction of Aaron and his sons. You shall assign to them as their responsibility all they are to carry. 28 This is the service of the Gershonite clans at the tent of meeting. Their duties are to be under the direction of Ithamar son of Aaron, the priest.

29 “Count the Merarites by their clans and families. 30 Count all the men from thirty to fifty years of age who come to serve in the work at the tent of meeting. 31 As part of all their service at the tent, they are to carry the frames of the tabernacle, its crossbars, posts and bases, 32 as well as the posts of the surrounding courtyard with their bases, tent pegs, ropes, all their equipment and everything related to their use. Assign to each man the specific things he is to carry. 33 This is the service of the Merarite clans as they work at the tent of meeting under the direction of Ithamar son of Aaron, the priest.”

34 Moses, Aaron and the leaders of the community counted the Kohathites by their clans and families. 35 All the men from thirty to fifty years of age who came to serve in the work at the tent of meeting, 36 counted by clans, were 2,750. 37 This was the total of all those in the Kohathite clans who served at the tent of meeting. Moses and Aaron counted them according to the Lord’s command through Moses.
38 The Gershonites were counted by their clans and families. 39 All the men from thirty to fifty years of age who came to serve in the work at the tent of meeting, 40 counted by their clans and families, were 2,630. 41 This was the total of those in the Gershonite clans who served at the tent of meeting. Moses and Aaron counted them according to the Lord’s command.
42 The Merarites were counted by their clans and families. 43 All the men from thirty to fifty years of age who came to serve in the work at the tent of meeting, 44 counted by their clans, were 3,200. 45 This was the total of those in the Merarite clans. Moses and Aaron counted them according to the Lord’s command through Moses.
46 So Moses, Aaron and the leaders of Israel counted all the Levites by their clans and families. 47 All the men from thirty to fifty years of age who came to do the work of serving and carrying the tent of meeting 48 numbered 8,580. 49 At the Lord’s command through Moses, each was assigned his work and told what to carry.
Thus they were counted, as the Lord commanded Moses.


  1. Numbers 4:6 Possibly the hides of large aquatic mammals; also in verses 8, 10, 11, 12, 14 and 25

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Are rentiers rally this foolish?

A moratorium on evictions from federally assisted housing expires today. In the first place, that's ridiculous, it should not expire. Millions of newly homeless people are not going to be at all helpful in trying to contain the pandemic and get the economy growing. But I also want to draw attention to the absurdity of landlords actually evicting people from low-income housing who are behind on their rent.

It's not as though they have more solvent families lined up to move into the apartments and start paying rent. They'd be much better off keeping their units occupied and collecting whatever rent the tenants can afford. The same goes for commercial landlords. Not to mention banks with mortgages. In the 2018 crisis, banks foreclosed on innumerable properties that they couldn't sell, that sat abandoned, got stripped of wiring and plumbing and eventually had to be razed.

If we're going to rebound at all quickly from this disaster once we have a vaccine, we need to freeze all of this evicting and foreclosing so that the tenants and homeowners and businesses are still there and ready to get going again. The banks and landlords will be much better off if they understand that and forebear, because tossing out the tenants and mortgagors is not going to suddenly cause money to start coming in from somewhere else. But they seem to view it as some sort of moral imperative. I'm not getting this.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The marbles are trickling out of the bag

Mark Sumner correctly explains the purpose of the Montreal Cognitive Assessment and why it is bizarre to brag about "passing" it. It's not an intelligence test, it's a screening tool for dementia. If it doesn't signal dementia, doctors call that a "negative result," not "passing." There aren't any difficult questions -- the whole point of it is that anybody who is not suffering from incipient dementia can deal with all of the tasks. (Not all of them are questions, per se.)

It is not very sensitive, as we  call it. That means that many people with cognitive impairment or relatively moderate dementia will test negative. What is concerning is that doctors have evidently seen fit to administer this to the Resident more than once. What is even more concerning is that he does not understand what it is or what the negative result means. That is all the evidence we need of something gone haywire in the cerebral cortex. Since he has always lived in an alternate reality, does not take in new information, and his personality disorder has always included self aggrandizement, it's hard to say if this is really a sign of further cognitive decline. But to me it seems sufficiently ridiculous that I don't think he would have been quite that gonzo a couple of years ago.

In fact, I suspect that on some level he knows he's losing it and this is a denial strategy intended more for self-reassurance than public consumption. Unfortunately I wouldn't put much hope in his increasing incapacity since Stephen Miller, Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity are running the government. If anything it makes him an easier tool to use. He is becoming steadily less presentable in public and that might have an effect on some voters. Until January 21, however, it just makes the situation more dangerous.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

"I wish her well."

Translation: If she keeps her mouth shut I'll pardon her.

Wednesday Bible Study: Nice work if you can get it

In Numbers 3 we finally get around to counting the Levites. It's tedious and seems largely pointless, but serves to reaffirm the status of the Levites in society. What is most noteworthy about this is that they have a very cushy gig. I interpolate a few comments.

This is the account of the family of Aaron and Moses at the time the Lord spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai.
The names of the sons of Aaron were Nadab the firstborn and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. Those were the names of Aaron’s sons, the anointed priests, who were ordained to serve as priests. Nadab and Abihu, however, died before the Lord when they made an offering with unauthorized fire before him in the Desert of Sinai. They had no sons, so Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests during the lifetime of their father Aaron.
You may remember this incident from Leviticus 10. Exactly what they did wrong is never explained, but it was so offensive to God that he not only killed the guys but forbade Aaron from mourning them. Apparently they burned the wrong kind of incense of something like that. God is particularly sensitive to smells.
The Lord said to Moses, “Bring the tribe of Levi and present them to Aaron the priest to assist him. They are to perform duties for him and for the whole community at the tent of meeting by doing the work of the tabernacle. They are to take care of all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, fulfilling the obligations of the Israelites by doing the work of the tabernacle. Give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to him.[a] 10 Appoint Aaron and his sons to serve as priests; anyone else who approaches the sanctuary is to be put to death.”
11 The Lord also said to Moses, 12 “I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman. The Levites are mine, 13 for all the firstborn are mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether human or animal. They are to be mine. I am the Lord.”
This seems to imply a historic development that is not recorded previously, i.e. that originally the firstborn were to assume priestly duties but now that status has been transferred to the Levite tribe. What actually happened previously is that the parents had to make an offering of an animal to "redeem" their firstborn male child. Does this relieve that obligation?
14 The Lord said to Moses in the Desert of Sinai, 15 “Count the Levites by their families and clans. Count every male a month old or more.” 16 So Moses counted them, as he was commanded by the word of the Lord.
17 These were the names of the sons of Levi:
Gershon, Kohath and Merari.
18 These were the names of the Gershonite clans:
Libni and Shimei.
19 The Kohathite clans:
Amram, Izhar, Hebron and Uzziel.
20 The Merarite clans:
Mahli and Mushi.
These were the Levite clans, according to their families.
21 To Gershon belonged the clans of the Libnites and Shimeites; these were the Gershonite clans. 22 The number of all the males a month old or more who were counted was 7,500. 23 The Gershonite clans were to camp on the west, behind the tabernacle. 24 The leader of the families of the Gershonites was Eliasaph son of Lael. 25 At the tent of meeting the Gershonites were responsible for the care of the tabernacle and tent, its coverings, the curtain at the entrance to the tent of meeting, 26 the curtains of the courtyard, the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard surrounding the tabernacle and altar, and the ropes—and everything related to their use.
 Okay, so it takes 7,500 guys to take care of the tent, the curtain and the ropes. They can probably figure on working one day in every ten years or so.
27 To Kohath belonged the clans of the Amramites, Izharites, Hebronites and Uzzielites; these were the Kohathite clans. 28 The number of all the males a month old or more was 8,600.[b] The Kohathites were responsible for the care of the sanctuary. 29 The Kohathite clans were to camp on the south side of the tabernacle. 30 The leader of the families of the Kohathite clans was Elizaphan son of Uzziel. 31 They were responsible for the care of the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the articles of the sanctuary used in ministering, the curtain, and everything related to their use. 32 The chief leader of the Levites was Eleazar son of Aaron, the priest. He was appointed over those who were responsible for the care of the sanctuary.
Similarly cushy job -- 8,600 guys to take care of the sanctuary.
33 To Merari belonged the clans of the Mahlites and the Mushites; these were the Merarite clans. 34 The number of all the males a month old or more who were counted was 6,200. 35 The leader of the families of the Merarite clans was Zuriel son of Abihail; they were to camp on the north side of the tabernacle. 36 The Merarites were appointed to take care of the frames of the tabernacle, its crossbars, posts, bases, all its equipment, and everything related to their use, 37 as well as the posts of the surrounding courtyard with their bases, tent pegs and ropes.
38 Moses and Aaron and his sons were to camp to the east of the tabernacle, toward the sunrise, in front of the tent of meeting. They were responsible for the care of the sanctuary on behalf of the Israelites. Anyone else who approached the sanctuary was to be put to death.
39 The total number of Levites counted at the Lord’s command by Moses and Aaron according to their clans, including every male a month old or more, was 22,000.
40 The Lord said to Moses, “Count all the firstborn Israelite males who are a month old or more and make a list of their names. 41 Take the Levites for me in place of all the firstborn of the Israelites, and the livestock of the Levites in place of all the firstborn of the livestock of the Israelites. I am the Lord.”
42 So Moses counted all the firstborn of the Israelites, as the Lord commanded him. 43 The total number of firstborn males a month old or more, listed by name, was 22,273.
You may recall from the previous chapter that there were 603,550 males more than 20 years old, which means there must have been around a million or so more than a month old, but only 22,273 are firstborn. That means the average family must have had about 50 sons. 
44 The Lord also said to Moses, 45 “Take the Levites in place of all the firstborn of Israel, and the livestock of the Levites in place of their livestock. The Levites are to be mine. I am the Lord. 46 To redeem the 273 firstborn Israelites who exceed the number of the Levites, 47 collect five shekels[c] for each one, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. 48 Give the money for the redemption of the additional Israelites to Aaron and his sons.”
49 So Moses collected the redemption money from those who exceeded the number redeemed by the Levites. 50 From the firstborn of the Israelites he collected silver weighing 1,365 shekels,[d] according to the sanctuary shekel. 51 Moses gave the redemption money to Aaron and his sons, as he was commanded by the word of the Lord.
How did they decide which 273 of the 22,273 represented the surplus? Anyway, Aaron rakes in a pretty good haul here.


  1. Numbers 3:9 Most manuscripts of the Masoretic Text; some manuscripts of the Masoretic Text, Samaritan Pentateuch and Septuagint (see also 8:16) to me
  2. Numbers 3:28 Hebrew; some Septuagint manuscripts 8,300
  3. Numbers 3:47 That is, about 2 ounces or about 58 grams
  4. Numbers 3:50 That is, about 35 pounds or about 16 kilograms

Tuesday, July 21, 2020


Every white person who has ancestors who were in the U.S. prior to the Civil War likely numbers slaveholders among them. In fact the only people I have met who share my last name and are not members of my own family are Black. The name is also shared by two famous brothers who are musicians. Their ancestors' names have been lost forever, and they now bear the name of the man who owned those ancestors.

We actually found the deed to some slaves in an old desk in my grandparents' house, which we donated to the University of Maryland. The plantation was in Somerset County, in the far south of the state. Maryland did not join the Confederacy -- the northern part, including Baltimore and surrounding areas, had a less harsh slaveholding culture and included enough people who were not committed to slavery to keep the state in the union. In fact, about ten times as many Maryland residents fought for the union as for the Confederacy. But Somerset County was a different matter, it was very much a part of the southern slaveholding culture.

My great grandfather and his children, including my grandfather's brothers, and also his cousins, lived in the Philadelphia area, however, so I don't have any personal connection to the original family seat. I suppose the people moved after the war in search of opportunity, since the old way of life was no more.

If people do know this about their ancestors, or discover it, I hope it will lead to some reflection. We have discussed a bit here about institutions studying, and owning, their history. It matters for individuals as well.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

This is funny . . .

It won't last long, but as of 4:38 pm Eastern Time the Wikipedia article on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment includes this information.

MoCA scores range between 0 and 30.[11] A score of 26 or over is considered to be normal. In a study, people without cognitive impairment scored an average of 27.4; people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) scored an average of 22.1; people with Alzheimer's disease scored an average of 16.2.[11] My president and still your president, Mr Donald J Trump scored a perfect 150 out of 30 possible points. Doctors were astonished and began to cry. No one had ever scored so bigly.

The Sacred Constitution

Americans have a strange tendency to view the Constitution of the United States as a kind of holy writ. We have a whole separate and co-equal branch of government largely devoted to interpreting it's "true" meaning, analogous to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Of course it was the result of negotiation and compromise, including with slaveholders, and it originally reflected a monopoly of power by land owning white men. It's undergone a few repairs over time, most notably the 13th, 14th, 17th and 19th Amendments. Nevertheless it still has some basic structural flaws, which are now driving us to our doom. Angus Deaton explains:

A malevolent, incompetent Trump administration bears much of the blame for America’s failure to control COVID-19. But there is an additional, less noticed cause: the Connecticut Compromise of 1787, which handicapped American democracy at its inception, and has since undercut Congress’s response to the pandemic.
This was the compromise between the small and large states that created the Senate, the most powerful legislative body in which every state, regardless of population, gets two votes. The four largest states, with 1/3 of the U.S. population, get 8 votes out of 100. It so happens that right now, the Senators from these states are evenly divided between the parties. However, the voters of small, rural and conservative states such as Wyoming, North Dakota and Montana have grossly disproportionate representation. As Deaton explains, the disproportionate power of these states -- which so far have had low prevalence of Covid-19 infection -- has prevented any effective national response to the pandemic. The same problem distorts the electoral college, of course. In the present U.S. government, a minority of voters have a hammerlock on power.

And the rules for amending the constitution pretty much mean we are stuck with this, since those small states that benefit can block any change. I don't have a prescription for fixing this, except to change the hearts and minds of North Dakotans. Maybe we can do it.

Sunday Sermonette: Zzzzzzzzz

It is not at all apparent why the compilers of the Torah thought the arrangement of the tribes in the desert encampment was of interest to posterity. The information in Numbers 2 seems essentially pointless. It has no theological significance and it wouldn't even have any particular historical significance even if it were true. It's also completely ridiculous. Remember that the reported census consists only of military age men. We are talking here about a metropolis of more than 2 million people, plus their livestock. That is 3 1/2 times the present day population of Boston. If the people were donating the required sacrifices, the priests would be sacrificing tens of thousands of animals every day. The altar would be sitting in the middle of a lake of blood, and several industrial crematoria would be required to burn the fat and offal.

The Christian fundamentalist movement, that claims that every word in the Bible is literally true and is the inerrant word of God, is largely a fairly recent phenomenon arising in the late 19th Century. It was a reaction to modern scientific discoveries including the theory of evolution, but as the Encyclopedia Britannica also notes:

A more direct challenge to traditional Christianity came from scholars who adopted a critical and historical approach to studying and interpreting the Bible. This perspective, known as modernism, treated the books of the Bible—especially the first five (the Pentateuch)—not as simple documents written by a single author but as complex texts constructed by multiple authors from several older sources. Although modernism offered a solution to many problems posed by seemingly contradictory biblical passages, it also raised severe doubts about the historical accuracy of the biblical text, leading scholars to revise the traditional history of the biblical era and to reconsider the nature of biblical authority.
Although Martin Luther and other protestant reformers had insisted on the authority of scripture, they did not necessarily claim that every word was true. That is impossible to maintain if one actually reads the text. Even the Haredi, the most Orthodox branch of Judaism that maintains strict adherence to tradition, does not as far as I can tell view the Bible as literally historically true in every respect. That is not how scripture is generally understood in Judaism. Rather it is a record of folklore mingled with history, with much symbolic and metaphoric significance which is vigorously debated. (To clarify, the Torah consists largely of folklore and myth, mixed with priestly prescriptions of ritual practice and secular law. The Nevi'im, the prophets, consists of more contemporaneous material and probably reflects actual history, though not entirely accurate. The Ketuvim, "writings," are more overtly philosophical tracts, or creatively written parables with a distinct ethical or theological purpose.) Anyway for what it's worth here's Numbers 2, without further comment.

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “The Israelites are to camp around the tent of meeting some distance from it, each of them under their standard and holding the banners of their family.”
On the east, toward the sunrise, the divisions of the camp of Judah are to encamp under their standard. The leader of the people of Judah is Nahshon son of Amminadab. His division numbers 74,600.
The tribe of Issachar will camp next to them. The leader of the people of Issachar is Nethanel son of Zuar. His division numbers 54,400.
The tribe of Zebulun will be next. The leader of the people of Zebulun is Eliab son of Helon. His division numbers 57,400.
All the men assigned to the camp of Judah, according to their divisions, number 186,400. They will set out first.
10 On the south will be the divisions of the camp of Reuben under their standard. The leader of the people of Reuben is Elizur son of Shedeur. 11 His division numbers 46,500.
12 The tribe of Simeon will camp next to them. The leader of the people of Simeon is Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai. 13 His division numbers 59,300.
14 The tribe of Gad will be next. The leader of the people of Gad is Eliasaph son of Deuel.[a] 15 His division numbers 45,650.
16 All the men assigned to the camp of Reuben, according to their divisions, number 151,450. They will set out second.
17 Then the tent of meeting and the camp of the Levites will set out in the middle of the camps. They will set out in the same order as they encamp, each in their own place under their standard.
18 On the west will be the divisions of the camp of Ephraim under their standard. The leader of the people of Ephraim is Elishama son of Ammihud. 19 His division numbers 40,500.
20 The tribe of Manasseh will be next to them. The leader of the people of Manasseh is Gamaliel son of Pedahzur. 21 His division numbers 32,200.
22 The tribe of Benjamin will be next. The leader of the people of Benjamin is Abidan son of Gideoni. 23 His division numbers 35,400.
24 All the men assigned to the camp of Ephraim, according to their divisions, number 108,100. They will set out third.
25 On the north will be the divisions of the camp of Dan under their standard. The leader of the people of Dan is Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai. 26 His division numbers 62,700.
27 The tribe of Asher will camp next to them. The leader of the people of Asher is Pagiel son of Okran. 28 His division numbers 41,500.
29 The tribe of Naphtali will be next. The leader of the people of Naphtali is Ahira son of Enan. 30 His division numbers 53,400.
31 All the men assigned to the camp of Dan number 157,600. They will set out last, under their standards.
32 These are the Israelites, counted according to their families. All the men in the camps, by their divisions, number 603,550. 33 The Levites, however, were not counted along with the other Israelites, as the Lord commanded Moses.
34 So the Israelites did everything the Lord commanded Moses; that is the way they encamped under their standards, and that is the way they set out, each of them with their clan and family.


  1. Numbers 2:14 Many manuscripts of the Masoretic Text, Samaritan Pentateuch and Vulgate (see also 1:14); most manuscripts of the Masoretic Text Reuel

Friday, July 17, 2020

Compare and Contrast

I have, in actual true fact, discussed the belated response of Bill DeBlasio and Andrew Cuomo to the coronavirus epidemic several times here. The difference between them and the psychopathic Brian Kemp is that they learned the lesson. Here's a good discussion from ABC News about the New York experience and why they have been able to get the virus under control while it is out of control in much of the sunbelt. It also discusses the premature re-opening in California, which has been walked back, although I would say that part of the problem in California is the cavalier attitude of much of the public rather than policy decisions as such.

As the United States continues to see increases in coronavirus cases, even in locations with stricter health policies like California, New York, the one-time epicenter of the pandemic, appears to have battled back the virus and kept it at bay since the spring.
New York City, where the vast majority of the state's cases and deaths have taken place, saw its seven-day average of new daily cases hit its peak with April 15 with an average of 5,426, while the state's average was around 9,000, according to data from the state's health department. On July 15, that seven-day average was down to 317 in the city and 725 statewide, according to the state's health department.
By comparison, Florida's seven-day average for newly recorded cases went from 1,008 on April 15 to 11,147 over the same three-month period, according to Florida's Health Department.
Follow the rules. Wear a mask, keep your distance, wash your hands after you have been in public places. Outdoors is safer. These things we know.

Update: This says it all