Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

More on universal basic income

 We had a bit of a discussion here a few days ago about this idea, which is the most straightforward form of wealth redistribution. What if the government just gives everybody money every month? There are permutations of this. It could be enough to live on, or just a supplementary amount. It could have some strings attached. For example, in some low income countries it comes with a requirement that children attend school. But let's simplify the discussion and just say everybody gets a check that at least constitutes a poverty level income. 

Sigal Samuel at Vox discusses an experiment that is about to get underway in Germany, in which 120 people will get a check worth $1,430 every month for three years. That's probably not long enough to learn much about the ultimate effects on the life course, unless they are clearly positive, e.g. people get more schooling, actually have more career success, their children do better in school, that sort of thing. But if you're worried that it is a disincentive to work, you might not be convinced because people probably aren't going to quit their jobs knowing that the money will go away in three years. 

Nevertheless this gives Samuel an occasion to talk about other experiments along these lines, including some longer term programs, and generally results seem quite positive. People are happier, they go to school more, they even feel more motivated at work. A major problem with means tested programs is that they do indeed create a disincentive to work. If you're going to lose your benefits when you start to make more money you obviously aren't going to be very motivated to get a job, or a better job. But if the basic income comes with no strings attached then income from work is worth 100% to you. In fact it may be worth more than that because you have the opportunity to do more with it, such as investing in education or transportation that can help you get an even better job; and do more for your children. 

It's certainly affordable. According to an analysis by by Edward N. Wolff, "Net worth is highly concentrated, with the richest 1 percent (as ranked by wealth) owning 39.6 percent of total household wealth in 2016 and the top 20 percent owning 89.9 percent." (This was as of 2016, it's probably more extreme now.) So you wouldn't even have to tax them very heavily to make this happen. It's an idea that is certainly worthy of discussion. 

And please note, I said nothing -- zip, zilch, nada -- about how the tax system should be structured to raise this money. That is a separate question.

Sunday Sermonette: A puzzling tale

Numbers 14 is one of the longer chapters. The basic idea -- that the people are condemned to wander in the wilderness for forty years -- is well known. However, I suspect that few people have actually read it and know all the details. It is a mystery why ten of the scouts would have given the report about the giants and the people in Canaan being formidable if it wasn't true. It must have been their honest opinion but why would God send them to scout out the land if he already knew what the right answer was supposed to be? That's the first puzzle.

14 That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”

10 But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites. 11 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them? 12 I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.”

13 Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them. 14 And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, Lord, are with these people and that you, Lord, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. 15 If you put all these people to death, leaving none alive, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, 16 ‘The Lord was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so he slaughtered them in the wilderness.’

17 “Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: 18 ‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’ 19 In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.”

God is impulsive and doesn't always think things through, it seems. Fortunately, Moses is wiser than God and is able to give God persuasive advice. He uses flattery effectively, even if it isn't really logical. God is abounding in love and forgiving; but he punishes children for the sins of their great-grandparents. Moses is a good psychologist, however. Narcissists can be manipulated by flattery.

20 The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. 21 Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, 22 not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times— 23 not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. 24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it. 25 Since the Amalekites and the Canaanites are living in the valleys, turn back tomorrow and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea.[a]

Just a quick note about the future. Although they are here commanded to move away from the borders of Canaan, within a few chapters we will find they are still there.

26 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: 27 “How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. 28 So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very thing I heard you say: 29 In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. 30 Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. 31 As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. 32 But as for you, your bodies will fall in this wilderness. 33 Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the wilderness. 34 For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.’ 35 I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this wilderness; here they will die.”

36 So the men Moses had sent to explore the land, who returned and made the whole community grumble against him by spreading a bad report about it— 37 these men who were responsible for spreading the bad report about the land were struck down and died of a plague before the Lord. 38 Of the men who went to explore the land, only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh survived.

Again, how were they to have known what the right answer was supposed to be?

39 When Moses reported this to all the Israelites, they mourned bitterly. 40 Early the next morning they set out for the highest point in the hill country, saying, “Now we are ready to go up to the land the Lord promised. Surely we have sinned!”

41 But Moses said, “Why are you disobeying the Lord’s command? This will not succeed! 42 Do not go up, because the Lord is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies, 43 for the Amalekites and the Canaanites will face you there. Because you have turned away from the Lord, he will not be with you and you will fall by the sword.”

44 Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the highest point in the hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the Lord’s covenant moved from the camp. 45 Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah.

How many of them went up into the hills? Verse 39 seems to imply that it was all of them, with the exception of Moses and presumably the priests who were attending the ark. What about the women and children? This strangely vague ending leaves the story feeling unresolved, as in fact it is. As we shall see, they don't really spend the next 40 years wandering in the wilderness as shepherds, at least not exclusively. Generally, it just gets weirder.


  1. Numbers 14:25 Or the Sea of Reeds

Friday, August 28, 2020

Choosing among outrages

 I think a lot of people are feeling a sort of mental and emotional paralysis lately as the Trumparian cult commits one atrocity after another. But I have to pick one so I'm going to the Resident ordering the CDC to change the guidelines on Covid-19 testing, so that testing of people who are known to have been exposed is no longer recommended. This was done of course because the Great Pumpkin has the idea stuck in his pea-sized brain that if fewer people are tested, the number of reported cases will be lower. 

I should not have to explain why this is idiotic. People who do not have symptoms can transmit the virus to others. Oh, by the way, we weren't sure about this before but now it's pretty well accepted that about 60% of infected adults will develop symptoms, just to debunk another stupid lie. Anyway, the point is, obviously, that if people are exposed you want to test them so that they can self-isolate if they are infected. That's the whole idea of containment, that's what the countries have done and are doing that have successfully suppressed the pandemic. If you don't do that, you may miss some asymptomatic cases but as a result there will ultimately be more symptomatic cases and more deaths. 

In the United States, the responsibility for testing and contact tracing belongs to local public health authorities. And they are pissed off. The National Association of County and City Health Officials has sent a letter to Robert Redfield, the butt kissing toady who has destroyed the international reputation of what was one the world's most respected national public health agency, and beclowned himself in the process. Read the whole thing because it is informative as well as emotive, but I'll pull a couple of key paragraphs:

We have seen over the months of the response the politization of public health, with local health officials and staff being blamed for taking the necessary steps to keep the public safe, being physically threatened with violence, and in some cases, fired for standing up for the public’s health. By removing the national recommendation and putting the decision-making squarely on individual leaders, it allows for skeptical elected officials and members of the public to again blame the individual public health leader who is simply trying to protect their health and safety. It may also lead to enhanced clashes with the health care system, as this type of guidance gives providers incredible leeway to make a clinical decision that may be supported by an individual patient’s situation, but not by the needs of the public’s health. We need to be clear and consistent. The new guidance is neither of those things. . . .

Rather than empowering public health professionals and moving our nation forward in a cohesive way to address the pandemic, this abrupt change has caused confusion, consternation and undermined the credibility of the agency with public health professionals and the public alike. This revision and its resulting impact is adding yet another obstacle for public health practitioners to effectively address the pandemic. The lack of data supporting the change and the lack of communication about the change sows seeds of doubt in the public’s eyes and undercuts the dedicated career staff who are working day in and day out to support the response. This haphazard decision-making process is bad policy. It costs lives and livelihoods and impacts the standing of health officials across the country. Therefore, we urge you to pull the revised guidance and revert back to the previous consensus policy where people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 are encouraged to get tested, know their status, and do all they can to physically distance and stop the spread.

They literally don't care if they kill you. And yet 40% of the people say they plan to vote for this murderous insanity to continue. No, I cannot explain it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Wednesday Bible study: What's in a name?

Numbers 13 advances the plot, but in a strange way. I don't know why it was so important to list the names of all the explorers and their fathers. Only two of these characters take on any individual importance. And then there is the report of what they find. I'll discuss that when we get to it.

13 The Lord said to Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.”

So at the Lord’s command Moses sent them out from the Desert of Paran. All of them were leaders of the Israelites. These are their names:

from the tribe of Reuben, Shammua son of Zakkur;

from the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat son of Hori;

from the tribe of Judah, Caleb son of Jephunneh;

from the tribe of Issachar, Igal son of Joseph;

from the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea son of Nun;

from the tribe of Benjamin, Palti son of Raphu;

10 from the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel son of Sodi;

11 from the tribe of Manasseh (a tribe of Joseph), Gaddi son of Susi;

12 from the tribe of Dan, Ammiel son of Gemalli;

13 from the tribe of Asher, Sethur son of Michael;

14 from the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi son of Vophsi;

15 from the tribe of Gad, Geuel son of Maki.

16 These are the names of the men Moses sent to explore the land. (Moses gave Hoshea son of Nun the name Joshua.)

Again, why do I care about all these people's names? And why did Moses change Hoshea's name? Of course Joshua is to become a principal character, but what was wrong with Hoshea?

17 When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, “Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. 18 See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. 19 What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? 20 How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” (It was the season for the first ripe grapes.)

21 So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin as far as Rehob, toward Lebo Hamath. 22 They went up through the Negev and came to Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, lived. (Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) 23 When they reached the Valley of Eshkol,[a] they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. 24 That place was called the Valley of Eshkol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut off there. 25 At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.

That is one mighty big cluster of grapes!

26 They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”

30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

Hmm. The Nephilim were the offspring of the "sons of God and the daughters of men" as recounted in Genesis 6. However, they all perished in the flood, so how are they no in Canaan? If the "grasshoppers" analogy is to be taken literally, they would have been 100 feet tall, but it's probably hyperbole. In any case, when the time comes to conquer Canaan, they turn out not to be there after all. Why would these guys make it up? Caleb doesn't seem to agree with their assessment. All very puzzling.


Numbers 13:23 Eshkol means cluster; also in verse 24

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The ultimate outrage

 Okay, probably not. Nobody knows what the ultimate outrage is, we've fallen into a black hole of outrages and there is no bottom. But for the Commissioner of the FDA to stand up before TV cameras in the White House and tell a blatant lie because his God Emperor ordered him to is such a grotesque perversion of public responsibility, professional ethics and basic morality that I don't see any room underneath him.

Specifically, James Hahn told the world that 35 out of 100 people who would otherwise die from Covid-19 would survive if given convalescent plasma. That was a lie, which Hahn repeated to the world on orders, because Dear Leader wanted to announce a "therapeutic breakthrough" on the eve of the Republican National Convention. Obviously if Hahn had a shred of conscience or cared about his own dignity he would resign. And he should obviously be impeached. But neither will happen.

I found the NYT had the best explanation of this but it's paywalled so I'll give you Vox.

In case you don't know, this form of treatment is used for other viral infections. Blood plasma from people who have been infected contains antibodies, so the idea is it can help fight the infection if infused into actively infected people. There have been a few non-randomized, small studies of convalescent plasma for Covid-19, with mixed results. But the large scale randomized controlled trial needed to establish its safety and effectiveness has not been done. Nevertheless doctors are using it. The Emergency Use Authorization that Dear Leader browbeat Hahn into approving will not increase access to the treatment because the supply is limited and what is available is already being used. What it will do is make it more difficult to conduct the necessary RCTs.

The 35 out of 100 figure  was taken from one cherry picked study that found that people who received a low dose had a seven day mortality rate of 13.7 percent while those that received the high dose had a rate of 8.9 percent. So yeah, that's a 35% difference. The study hasn't been published and I can't find the sample size so I don't know the confidence interval on that or whether it's even considered a statistically significant difference, and I can't say anything about the overall quality of this trial. I also don't know what happened on Day 8. But in any case you don't rely on a single, retrospective study at a single site to make a claim like that. Hahn was overruling his scientific advisors, including Anthony Fauci, as a political favor to a madman. The FDA is required to be guided by science by statute. Hahn is a disgrace.

Monday, August 24, 2020

The real Economics 101

 I commend to your attention this essay by Aaron Benanav, which purports to be about Uber and Lyft but is really making a much broader argument. As I have noted here before, and elsewhere, these companies have no prospect of ever making a profit. Investors have bought billions of dollars worth of their stock, which allowed founders and early investors to walk away with vast fortunes, while the rest of the billions is feeding a continual bonfire of immense losses. They lose money on every transaction, yet they have intentionally fueled ever-growing losses by investing in expansion to new markets. In the process they have bankrupted the traditional taxi industry and impoverished hard working people who spent their lives scraping together enough money to buy a taxi medallion. Meanwhile, they have increasingly squeezed the life out of their own drivers, who have no job security, no benefits, and who are barely making any money at all after depreciation on their vehicles. Uber and Lyft don't actually own anything other than control over their vassals.

While some people presume that the plan is to get a monopoly and then jack up the price, that won't work. If they were to charge enough to be profitable, then others would enter the market -- which would be very easy because the traditional taxi industry still exists and could simply re-expand. The only way they keep their monopoly is to keep losing money. So are the investors crazy?

Probably. I will say that I haven't bought their stock. But as Benanav explains, the investors were hoping that robot cars would come along and the companies could get rid of drivers entirely. That still might not work -- other people could come into their markets with competing self-driving cars -- but right now there are oceans of capital sloshing around the world with no really good investment opportunities. And why aren't there good investment opportunities? Because workers don't have enough disposable income to buy more crap. Investment follows demand. Lowering taxes on business income, eliminating environmental and worker safety regulations, letting the minimum wage slip ever further behind inflation, all of the measures governments are taking to try to attract investment, don't work because they're like pushing on a string. 

Workers aren't losing out because of international trade agreements, or affirmative action, or the special secret welfare that only the Blah people get. They're losing out because of the logic of capitalism. As Benanav puts it:

People need security that is not tied to their job. The pandemic has revealed this imperative more than ever before. In a world that is as wealthy as ours, and given the technologies we have already produced – even without the realisation of the dreams of automation – everyone should have access to food, energy, housing and healthcare. If people had that security, why would they choose to work in terrible jobs where they are paid low wages? The owners of Uber and Lyft know that their business is predicated on a world in which they get to make the key decisions that shape our futures, without our input. The world of work is going to have to be democratised. They are just delaying what should be inevitable.

 I don't think the Democratic party establishment really gets this. But there are a few plutocrats who understand that the future of capitalism depends on massive structural reform that redistributes wealth downward and marshals investment in public goods -- most urgently sustainable energy. Siphoning wealth ever upward is not sustainable, and isn't even good for the plutocrats in the long run. 

And by the way, there have been a few experiments with universal basic income and no, it does not cause people not to work

When asked if UBI would disincentivize people from working, [Karl] Widerquist [of Georgetown] argued that the exact opposite would happen: It would free people up to decide what kind of work is best for them. This distinguishes UBI from other welfare programs: Unemployment insurance requires you to be unemployed. Social Security requires you to be retired. Social Security Disability Insurance requires you to be disabled.

"In all these ways, the existing system disincentivizes work, because you have to stay out of work or keep your income low to get it," Widerquist explained. "Basic income has no work disincentivization because it's a lump sum. You get it, whether you're rich or poor. Now taxes might discourage work. That might more work slightly less attractive, but the basic income itself does not what it does."

Instead, he pointed out that "it gives you the freedom and power to reject work. If working conditions are terrible and wages are really poor, that does disincentivize work. If they give you a good job and a good wage, does basic income discourage you from taking it?"

By his analysis, Widerquist felt that people who argue UBI would disincentivize work really argue that they want people "in the lower and the middle class to have no other choice but to work, and to have to take any wage and to take any job, no matter what the wages and working conditions are. I believe that the labor market should be a free market, where you enter as a free person and you can reject the market if you don't want it."

However, there is a lot you can do other than just handing people money. Public investment can create good jobs. Free higher education, affordable housing, feeding kids -- making sure people have the basics doesn't mean they won't want to work in order to have dignity and disposable income. Good quality public transit employs people, and helps other people get access to jobs. There's a lot more that can be said about this, but letting people have no option but to work in dangerous, unpleasant jobs at below poverty wages does not make the world better.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Sunday Sermonette: Identity crisis

 Numbers 12 is puzzling in several ways, which the Midrash (a rabbinical commentary on the Torah) attempts to explain. The first puzzle is that Miriam and Aaron complain about Moses's "Cushite" wife. KJV has "Ethiopian" which is close enough. Cushite refers to people from the area south of Egypt, including what is today Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia. But when Moses fled after killing the Egyptian he sojourned among the Midianites, which is the identity of his wife Zipporah and her father. We don't know what direction he fled, but we do know that the Midianites are from Palestine. In one version of the abduction of Joseph, he was sold to Midianites who were trading between Palestine/Canaan and Egypt. Now we are about to encounter the Midianites gain, in Canaan. In Exodus, the Midianites worshipped Yaweh, which is no big surprise since they are descendants of Abraham, but evidently he's turned his back on them because he chose the Israelites and the Midianites are going to get screwed big time.

One possible interpretation is that Moses had a second wife, but it's hard to see how he would have met her. According to the Midrash, Cushite is not to be taken literally but is a metaphor for an outstanding person. Racism based on skin color is a modern invention, and "Cushite" is not pejorative but rather merely points to distinction. In this version, Miriam and Aaron are not criticizing Moses for marrying Zipporah, but rather for neglecting her since he's been so preoccupied with leadership. It seems rather strained, but whatev. What I will say is just to repeat what I have said innumerable times. The Torah is a compilation of fragmentary tales from various sources, that have been cobbled together. The many discrepancies and contradictions are there because this isn't trying to be a single, coherent document. It's more like a library. The documents have been placed in what is trying to look like chronological order, but they weren't composed as a single story.  It was left to the Midrashic commentators to try to clean it up. Other commentators have offered other possible explanations which you can read about in the linked Wikipedia article. None seem satisfactory to me.

Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this.

Another reminder that Yahweh is not omniscient. He happens to hear this, but he doesn't hear everything. He has a physical body and he is in specific locations.

(Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)

We have seen Moses characterized similarly before, but this interpolation seems something of a non-sequitur here. Perhaps what's why the translators put it in parentheses. Anyway, since Moses supposedly wrote this himself (not true, but that's what believers believe) this would be a rather insincere statement, no?

At once the Lord said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the tent of meeting, all three of you.” So the three of them went out. Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them stepped forward, he said, “Listen to my words:

“When there is a prophet among you,
    I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions,
    I speak to them in dreams.
But this is not true of my servant Moses;
    he is faithful in all my house.
With him I speak face to face,
    clearly and not in riddles;
    he sees the form of the Lord.
Why then were you not afraid
    to speak against my servant Moses?”

The anger of the Lord burned against them, and he left them.

One interpretation of all this is that this story was from the Elohist, who is concerned to emphasize the status of Moses over that of Aaron. That would explain why this seems inconsistent with most of the story which comes from J and the priestly sources, which emphasize the importance of the priesthood of Aaron and his descendants. It is also more consistent with my understanding of the nature of the Torah.

10 When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam’s skin was leprous[a]—it became as white as snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had a defiling skin disease, 11 and he said to Moses, “Please, my lord, I ask you not to hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. 12 Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb with its flesh half eaten away.”

13 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “Please, God, heal her!”

14 The Lord replied to Moses, “If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back.” 15 So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back.

It is unclear what the analogy means about her father spitting in her face, but evidently it means that Yahweh is angry with her. So she has to endure 7 days of exile.

16 After that, the people left Hazeroth and encamped in the Desert of Paran.


  1. Numbers 12:10 The Hebrew for leprous was used for various diseases affecting the skin.

Saturday, August 22, 2020


 My grandparents gave me a subscription to Scientific American when I was twelve or thirteen, and I've kept it ever since. I save the issues and I have a bookshelf full of them. SA has now come out with its 175th anniversary issue, which reviews the history of the magazine, and of science and technology during the past 175 years. (The title of this post, HiST, is the common name for the Smithsonian museum of the history of science and technology.)

I would break down HiST as four intertwining strands: scientific knowledge, technological capability,  the socio-cultural context, and the economic context. Science, and particularly technology, also drive changes in those contexts, they are mutually determined. I would locate politics at the intersection of the socio-cultural and economic, but you could also conceive of it as a fifth strand. 

Prior to the 20th Century, science and technology were not particularly closely related. Technology was mostly empirical, created by practical people who solved problems by imagination and trial and error. The Wright Brothers built their airplane before there was any scientific theory of aerodynamic lift, and in fact while scientists were saying that flight by heavier-than-air craft was impossible. 

Even though Benjamin Franklin proved that lightning is equivalent to static electricity, the only technology that came out of that was the lightning rod. However, that situation has radically changed. It required the theory of electro-magnetism and electric current for electricity to become technologically important, but then it became the most transformative technology since agriculture. 

Socio-cultural biases have infected science -- SA reviews its own substantial past promotion of pseudo-scientific racism, eugenics and sexism -- but after substantially (though not completely by any means!) purging those biases the scientific enterprise became far more productive. Technophilia, alas, is a bias that persists. The early enthusiasm for nuclear power and space flight is embarrassing. We were going to have electricity that was too cheap to meter, nuclear powered aircraft, trucks and boats. We were going to be taking vacations on the moon. Sadly, no.

On the other hand IBM mogul Thomas Watson famously predicted that the world wide market for computers would never be more than five. The Internet was invented by the Defense Department as a means for secure communication in the event of World War III. The fundamental transformation of society it generated was not foreseen, and as people did start to foresee a transformation they completely misconceived what it would be. Knowledge would be democratized, scientific understanding would become universal, propaganda would be exposed and discredited, social hierarchy would be leveled, and we'd  enter a utopian age of mutual understanding and rationality. Again, sadly, no. 

Then there are the more obvious unanticipated consequences, from particulate pollution to global climate change to the depredations and inequalities that occur when new, expensive and scarce technologies become essential to the way of life. People who lack broadband access, reliable electricity, or access to the demanding and expensive education and training needed to make use of complicated technology and earn a good income are a new global underclass. 

We have a deeply embedded and too seldom examined cultural proclivity to see history, at least in the past 200 years or so, as progressive. The march of science and the ever-growing power of technology are thought obviously to represent a net benefit to humanity. But this assumption must be interrogated skeptically and must no longer be axiomatic in our thinking. We can make a better world, or a worse one. Right now, this moment, is a hinge of history. We need to think deeply, act as deliberately and wisely as we can, and above all act for the good and humane.  Whether the technologies made possible by modern science are for better or for worse, the only way forward is to believe in the science and make humanity the master of technology, not its slave.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The community health center crisis

Federally qualified health centers, most of which are in a category called community health centers, are vital health care infrastructure. They are non-profit community based organizations that receive federal support to provide primary care services in medically underserved areas, and to serve the uninsured and underinsured. Most of their income is from Medicaid and Medicare, and they charge on a sliding scale (going to zero) for people who are uninsured. They typically provide pre-natal care, may have dentistry and other specialty care, and substance abuse and mental health treatment. 

Right now they are in crisis. The physicians who wrote the linked article work at Upham's Corner Community Health Center, which I am very familiar with from my time in Boston. It's in the "United Nations" community in Dorchester. Like all CHCs, Upham's Corner has been financially devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic. They were already in financially perilous circumstances. Congress cut off their subsidy funding for many months in 2017, and it is now scheduled to expire again in November. With the precipitous decline in visits during the pandemic, they have lost much of their revenue from health insurance and many have been forced to close. As Doctors Kishay and Hayden tell us:

Congress should adequately fund CHCs. We cannot rely on our private health system to care for Americans in crisis. Though the $1.3 billion provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was a start, it amounts to less than 10% of CHCs’ normal annual revenue. The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, now under consideration, would provide $7.6 billion in emergency funding to CHCs to help clinics make up for revenue losses. Congress should also provide CHCs with $77 billion over 5 years, as requested by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), reauthorizing the CHCF for this period, funding infrastructure for scaling up telehealth, and supporting critical workforce programs such as the National Health Service Corps and the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education program.

They are a bit too circumspect here. The problem is not "congress," it is the Senate. The good doctors have other good proposals, and they discuss the role and importance of CHCs in promoting a humane and effective health care system. Do read the article. But this is just one more in the long list of emergencies we face right now. Since Mitch McConnell won't act to save the nation, we need a new Senate majority.


Wednesday, August 19, 2020

What Digby sez. . .

 Just to make sure this is settled once and for all, Digby reviews the Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian interference on the 2016 election. And just to be clear:

Paul Manafort, the campaign chair -- that's right, the chair of the Ronald T. Dump campaign -- was a Russian agent who colluded -- yes, that's the right word -- extensively with Konstantin V. Kilimnik, who was and is an agent of the GRU. As Digby sez, "The report calls Donald Trump's campaign chairman a "grave counter-intelligence threat." How that doesn't fit everyone's definition of collusion is hard to fathom." Roger Stone, the dirty trickster, orchestrated the release of material from Wickleaks that Russian intelligence had hacked from the DNC and John Podesta. There's a lot more, just read it.

Mueller was tasked only with pursuing possible criminal conduct. He was not allowed to engage in a counterintelligence investigation, by the terms of his appointment. He did find a lot of criminal conduct, as we know, but he would have found a lot more if the Resident and his associates had not lied to him. They kept on lying to the Senate committee. Digby: "As the Los Angeles Times has reported, the committee made criminal referrals of Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Erik Prince and Sam Clovis to federal prosecutors in 2019, for misleading Congress. There's no word on what might have come of those referrals." 

This report was signed by every single Republican on the committee.

Wednesday Bible Study: Descent into the bizarre

 We've had some really weird chapters before, but Numbers 11 is in competition for the Bizzarro Award. Many of the stories and prescriptions in Leviticus and Numbers can be explained as having an essentially political motive -- to entrench the power and wealth of the priesthood, or to create and enforce social order. Much of it, obviously, is about the glorification of God and demonstration of his power. Numbers 11 is in the latter category, but God's behavior is just lunatic. There is also a somewhat puzzling story in the middle of it all that may be explicable in political terms but is difficult to interpret. From here on, I must warn you, the Book of Numbers gets consistently weird and gruesome. A lot of it is about God killing and otherwise torturing Hebrews. He is one seriously sick individual.

11 Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord, and when he heard them his anger was aroused.

This implies that Yahweh doesn't hear everything, but on this occasion he happened to be in the neighborhood. Viz. Genesis when he happened to be walking in the garden and discovered that the people were clothed.

Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the Lord and the fire died down. So that place was called Taberah,[a] because fire from the Lord had burned among them.

Nice guy. He hears people complaining so he burns them alive.

The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”

Well, now we know something about the culinary traditions. I do have to point out, however, that all along they have been making grain offerings. Where did they get it from?

The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin. The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into loaves. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down.

10 Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. The Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled. 11 He asked the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors? 13 Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.”

16 The Lord said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. 17 I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.

Remember that in Exodus there was already a delegation of authority as organized by Moses's father in law; and that the leaders of the clans have been specified here in Numbers. Spiritual authority presumably belongs to the priesthood. So it isn't entirely clear what is being newly bestowed here, but the idea appears to be that lay people other than Moses may have the gift of prophecy and have spiritual authority. This is obviously essential to legitimacy of the rest of the Tanakh.

18 “Tell the people: ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. 19 You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, 20 but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”’”

21 But Moses said, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ 22 Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?”

23 The Lord answered Moses, “Is the Lord’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”

24 So Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the tent. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied—but did not do so again.

26 However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. 27 A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”

29 But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” 30 Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

So, as I say, it is now established that there can be prophets. This is a significant development, but we have no way of knowing how to separate the true prophets from the false. 

31 Now a wind went out from the Lord and drove quail in from the sea. It scattered them up to two cubits[b] deep all around the camp, as far as a day’s walk in any direction. 32 

Quoting Skeptics Annotated Bible: "God sent quails to feed his people until they were "two cubits [about a meter] high upon the face of the earth."Taking the "face of the earth" to be a circle with a radius of say 30 kilometers (an approximate day's journey), this would amount to 3 trillion (3x1012) liters of quails. At 2 quails per liter, this would provide a couple million quails for each of several million people."

All that day and night and all the next day the people went out and gathered quail. No one gathered less than ten homers.[c] Then they spread them out all around the camp. 33 But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the Lord burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. 34 Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah,[d] because there they buried the people who had craved other food.

So God's threat that they would eat quail for a month until they loathed it was idle. He just killed a bunch of them instead and then they moved on. I suspect that much of this derives from campfire stories -- memories of fires and plagues, and in this case the bi-annual quail migration between Africa and Eurasia, in which some animals might be knocked down by a storm. A memory of this happening on some occasion was likely worked into this tale.

35 From Kibroth Hattaavah the people traveled to Hazeroth and stayed there.


  1. Numbers 11:3 Taberah means burning.
  2. Numbers 11:31 That is, about 3 feet or about 90 centimeters
  3. Numbers 11:32 That is, possibly about 1 3/4 tons or about 1.6 metric tons
  4. Numbers 11:34 Kibroth Hattaavah means graves of craving

Monday, August 17, 2020

This is double plus ungood news

 It's one study, and it isn't very long follow-up, just two or three months, but this is a very ugly result. German researchers did magnetic resonance imaging of the hearts of 100 people who had recovered from Covid-19. Two thirds of them had not been hospitalized. It turned out that 78% of them had abnormal results indicating inflammation of the heart muscle, and/or reduced cardiac functioning, regardless of the severity of their illness. They don't fully explain how the sample of patients was obtained but they describe them as "unselected," in other words they are assumed to be representative of all patients who have recovered from the disease. The median age was 49, by the way.

It's too soon to know what percentage of people may suffer permanent heart damage from this, but it's pretty clear that some will. Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez is out for the season due to myocarditis as a complication of Covid-19, and here we are talking about a young, healthy, world class athlete. Believe me, you want no part of this virus. It is not the flu, and no it is not just an inconvenience if you don't die from it. Read that again. It's 78% of people who had "recovered." The idea that it isn't worth the economic cost to control transmission looks pretty damn silly when you consider the economic cost of millions of people with heart failure, which is a pretty reasonable extrapolation from this. 

When you consider that 5.5 million Americans have tested positive, and by the best estimates about 40% of them have had symptoms, if you figure that 78% of them will have experienced cardiomyopathy that's already 1.7 million people. I should tell you that my mother was diagnosed with heart failure after recovering so that's apparently one, at least. Most of them presumably don't know it, although an unknown but substantial number do report continuing symptoms of various kinds long after they tested negative. 

It's for real, folks.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Sunday Sermonette: Herb Alpert in the desert

 Numbers 10 is another of those chapters that is obviously based on two original documents. And again, it is a narrative of a fictitious past that doesn't have any obvious relevance to the time it was written, let alone the present. I don't imagine it is ever the subject of a sermon or a Bible lesson. But it's in the Bible so we have to read it. I make a couple of comments along the way.

10 The Lord said to Moses: “Make two trumpets of hammered silver, and use them for calling the community together and for having the camps set out. When both are sounded, the whole community is to assemble before you at the entrance to the tent of meeting. If only one is sounded, the leaders—the heads of the clans of Israel—are to assemble before you. When a trumpet blast is sounded, the tribes camping on the east are to set out. At the sounding of a second blast, the camps on the south are to set out. The blast will be the signal for setting out. To gather the assembly, blow the trumpets, but not with the signal for setting out.

This is the Book of Numbers, so unfortunately I have to take the numbers seriously. We have already been told that there are more than 600,000 adult men in this assemblage, which alone is the entire population of Boston. There must be something like 1.5 million people here altogether, with their livestock. Ergo, it is impossible for more than a tiny fraction of them to be within earshot of these trumpets, and it is also impossible for them to assemble before the tent of meeting. They would literally stretch for miles. Nowadays silver trumpets are not actually made of silver, but of copper and an alloy of nickel and zinc which appears silvery. I doubt that an actual solid silver trumpet would sound very good, because the metal is too soft to be highly resonant.

“The sons of Aaron, the priests, are to blow the trumpets. This is to be a lasting ordinance for you and the generations to come. When you go into battle in your own land against an enemy who is oppressing you, sound a blast on the trumpets. Then you will be remembered by the Lord your God and rescued from your enemies. 10 Also at your times of rejoicing—your appointed festivals and New Moon feasts—you are to sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and they will be a memorial for you before your God. I am the Lord your God.”

11 On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle of the covenant law. 12 Then the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and traveled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran. 13 They set out, this first time, at the Lord’s command through Moses.

This wandering from one place to another in the desert seems pointless. Remember they're still subsisting on manna, there's nothing to graze the herds on anywhere, so why bother to move around?

14 The divisions of the camp of Judah went first, under their standard. Nahshon son of Amminadab was in command. 15 Nethanel son of Zuar was over the division of the tribe of Issachar, 16 and Eliab son of Helon was over the division of the tribe of Zebulun. 17 Then the tabernacle was taken down, and the Gershonites and Merarites, who carried it, set out.

18 The divisions of the camp of Reuben went next, under their standard. Elizur son of Shedeur was in command. 19 Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai was over the division of the tribe of Simeon, 20 and Eliasaph son of Deuel was over the division of the tribe of Gad. 21 Then the Kohathites set out, carrying the holy things. The tabernacle was to be set up before they arrived.

22 The divisions of the camp of Ephraim went next, under their standard. Elishama son of Ammihud was in command. 23 Gamaliel son of Pedahzur was over the division of the tribe of Manasseh, 24 and Abidan son of Gideoni was over the division of the tribe of Benjamin.

25 Finally, as the rear guard for all the units, the divisions of the camp of Dan set out under their standard. Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai was in command. 26 Pagiel son of Okran was over the division of the tribe of Asher, 27 and Ahira son of Enan was over the division of the tribe of Naphtali. 28 This was the order of march for the Israelite divisions as they set out.

Again, why does anybody care about these people's names? 

29 Now Moses said to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, “We are setting out for the place about which the Lord said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us and we will treat you well, for the Lord has promised good things to Israel.”

30 He answered, “No, I will not go; I am going back to my own land and my own people.”

31 But Moses said, “Please do not leave us. You know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you can be our eyes. 32 If you come with us, we will share with you whatever good things the Lord gives us.”

Why the heck does this guy know where they should camp? Anyway they're just going where God guides them. However, in Exodus Moses's father-in-law was named Jethro, mostly, although in Exodus 2 he was named Reuel, who at other times was Jethro's father.  This Hobab character shows up for the first time here. Either he changed his name or the mother-in-law remarried.

33 So they set out from the mountain of the Lord and traveled for three days. The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them during those three days to find them a place to rest. 34 The cloud of the Lord was over them by day when they set out from the camp.

35 Whenever the ark set out, Moses said,

“Rise up, Lord!
    May your enemies be scattered;
    may your foes flee before you.”

36 Whenever it came to rest, he said,

“Return, Lord,
    to the countless thousands of Israel.”

Friday, August 14, 2020


 Dr. Black is nonplussed by the people who are outraged about being required to wear masks. You don't have to think about it for more than a second to realize that we are legally bound by all sorts of rules intended to protect public health. You can't drive above the speed limit -- well, okay, not a whole lot above it -- you can't sell contaminated food, you can't dump sewage in the river, you can't play football without a helmet. 

To be sure, some people still chafe at seat belt laws and emissions tests, but for the most part we've gotten used to those and they were never the occasion for outraged mass movements. Motorcycle helmet laws do impinge on a tribal identity, so they have gotten a lot more pushback. That can be understood, but the tribe that thinks being required to wear a mask is equivalent to Stalinism didn't exist until 2020. Granted most of these people seem to worship the Great Pumpkin and he made it a marker of religious piety, but in fact it's a trivial inconvenience. It does not actually restrict breathing in any way, it is not uncomfortable, you barely even notice you have it on. Health care professionals wear them for hours on end. Armed robbers never seemed to mind. So this is just foolishness.

And of course unlike motorcycle helmets the main reason is to protect others, not yourself. But here we get into the "philosophy" of Randianism, that it's virtuous not to give a shit about anybody but yourself. But that never works, and it trivially doesn't work in this instance. If more of the people around you are infected, you are more likely to become infected. If there ever was a situation in which what goes 'round, comes 'round, this is the perfect example. So stop being a moronic asshole. Thank you.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The post-reality reality

 Here is a presentation by David Neiwert about the explosive growth of the preposterous Q-Anon fantasy not only in the U.S., but around the world.

This is highly disturbing, to say the least. This is an utterly preposterous belief system that it seems no sane person could think was anything but an elaborate joke, for even an instant. For those of you who just returned from a vacation in outer space, the basic idea is that prominent Democrats are actually leaders of an international child sex trafficking ring that not only sexually assaults the children but also murders them, extracts hormones from them, and eats them. Yes, eats them. It isn't clear what's taking him so long, but at some moment (which has been predicted, and come and gone, at various points in the past) their hero Ronald T. Dump is going arrest them all and have them executed.

Okaaaay. The thing is that now several duly nominated Republican candidates for office, including the U.S. congress, are proponents of this insanity, and they have the full backing of their state parties and the RNC. Dump himself has congratulated and praised them, and he frequently re-tweets Q-Anon material. Several of what now appear to be millions of followers have committed, or attempted to commit, acts of violence, and more are sure to come.

The Internet was supposed to make information free to everyone, and create a vigorous market for ideas and usher in a new age of enlightenment.  Instead it has led millions of people down rabbit holes into delusional worlds. We can have a polity in which people debate based on differing values, differing priorities for policy, and in which people may differ over legitimately disputable factual matters. But we cannot survive a polity in which there is no such thing as objective truth. 

Note: Several commenters on Neiwert's piece propose that this is a Russian intelligence operation. That seems quite plausible. The Russians may not have started it, but they appear to have jumped on it and are now promoting it and giving it most of its vigor. Just one more way in which we have been captured by an adversarial foreign power, to go along with their highly effective blackmail of the White House occupant. You might think this would bother any remaining Republican voters who are not themselves insane but evidently it does not.

Wednesday Bible Study: The road to nowhere

As we have noted many times, the divisions into chapters and verses were made by medieval monks, and they often seem odd. Numbers 9 is obviously two separate segments. I'll insert comments where I have something to note.

The Lord spoke to Moses in the Desert of Sinai in the first month of the second year after they came out of Egypt. He said, “Have the Israelites celebrate the Passover at the appointed time. Celebrate it at the appointed time, at twilight on the fourteenth day of this month, in accordance with all its rules and regulations.”

So Moses told the Israelites to celebrate the Passover, and they did so in the Desert of Sinai at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. The Israelites did everything just as the Lord commanded Moses.

This seems unnecessary since the people have already been commanded to observe the passover and have been doing so.

But some of them could not celebrate the Passover on that day because they were ceremonially unclean on account of a dead body. So they came to Moses and Aaron that same day and said to Moses, “We have become unclean because of a dead body, but why should we be kept from presenting the Lord’s offering with the other Israelites at the appointed time?”

Moses answered them, “Wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, 10 “Tell the Israelites: ‘When any of you or your descendants are unclean because of a dead body or are away on a journey, they are still to celebrate the Lord’s Passover, 11 but they are to do it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight.

Not sure what the "but" is all about. This is the same time as everybody else.

They are to eat the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 12 They must not leave any of it till morning or break any of its bones. When they celebrate the Passover, they must follow all the regulations. 13 But if anyone who is ceremonially clean and not on a journey fails to celebrate the Passover, they must be cut off from their people for not presenting the Lord’s offering at the appointed time. They will bear the consequences of their sin.

14 “‘A foreigner residing among you is also to celebrate the Lord’s Passover in accordance with its rules and regulations. You must have the same regulations for both the foreigner and the native-born.’”

Here is a definite continuity error. Exodus 12 says that strangers may participate in the Passover, but only if  they are circumcised. And yet just a few verses earlier it says unequivocally that "no stranger shall eat thereof." I was at the apartment of some Jewish friends in Chicago on Passover and I did share the Seder with them. I am circumcised so I was good for two out of three.

15 On the day the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant law, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. 16 That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. 17 Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. 18 At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. 19 When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord’s order and did not set out. 20 Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. 21 Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. 22 Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. 23 At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out. They obeyed the Lord’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses.


Well okay, but where are they going? They're just wandering aimlessly and pointlessly around in the desert. Just sayin'.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

A poli-sci digression

 I commend to your attention Henry Farrell's review and his personal take on Hacker and Pierson's Let Them Eat Tweets. I actually don't have much to add to this, you should read it, but I'll pull quote the gist.

Hacker and Pierson draw their description of the “Conservative Dilemma” from Daniel Ziblatt’s work on nineteenth century conservative parties, generalizing and extending his basic idea. The conservative dilemma is straightforward: conservatism is not likely to be a politically popular cause in a democracy. Conservatism is the political movement that represents the interests of those who have against those who have not. When a country democratizes, conservatism reflects the interests of the old propertied class – the landed gentry and its allies in the United Kingdom; the Junker aristocracy in Prussia. So why should a majority ever vote for a party that represents the interests of the propertied minority? . . . .

Hacker and Pierson argue that modern US conservatives as represented by the Republican Party face their own version of this dilemma – how to attract mass support for an agenda of cutting taxes for rich people? Furthermore, the dilemma has gotten ever more vexing as US economic inequality has increased, so that the interests of the Republican party’s clients and ordinary voters clash ever more. This, then is the engine that they argue has driven US Republicans ever further to the extremes. If they want to get their agenda through, they need popular support, and the best way to generate that support is through fostering division and extremism, amplifying the beliefs of a sufficient number of voters that their way of life is under threat from un-American, irreligious people who want to destroy their traditions. Plutocratic populism – the key phenomenon that they set out to analyze – is precisely a welding of a plutocratic agenda with populist rhetoric.


I haven't read the book, alas, but if I do have a critique of Farrell's review, at least, it's that it pays insufficient attention to racism, and just plain disinformation. The focus is on the NRA, right wing "Christians," and Faux News, all of which are certainly important in the strategy. But the party is just as much about white racism and anti-intellectualism, redefining "elites" as people with a college education who believe in science. We're oppressing the masses, don't you see, because we made up the climate change hoax and the Covid-19 hoax, and evolution, and the harmful effects of pollution. The only waay out of this is to utterly destroy the Republican party. Root it out, reduce it to a pitiful remnant. Take power back for the people. 

PS: If you vote Republican because you believe in "fiscal responsibility" you are the sorriest dupe who ever lived.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Hey indeedy for this headline . . .


Two decades of pandemic war games failed to account for Donald Trump. 

 What's interesting about this is that they never realized they needed a way to simulate ineptitude. 

The scenarios foresaw leaky travel bans, a scramble for vaccines and disputes between state and federal leaders, but none could anticipate the current levels of dysfunction in the United States. 

The gist is that public health specialists have been running simulations of pandemics knowing that they will happen and that nations, and the world, need to be prepared. In these simulations, the U.S. was presumed to have the most robust public health capability and to be among the most successful nations at coping effectively. In reality, the U.S. has turned out to be among the most catastrophic failures. Brazil, sure. But the United States?

By late January, [Tom] Inglesby [of Johns Hopkins] was anxious. The coronavirus outbreak was escalating at a frightening pace in China and spreading to other countries, including the United States. These were the kinds of foreboding signs that he had plugged into his simulations. But the Trump administration seemed to view the outbreak as China’s problem, says Inglesby. During the third week of January, Trump posted one reassuring tweet about the coronavirus and around 40 regarding his impeachment hearings, his rallies and defeating the Democrats. The only public action that the government took was to screen travellers coming from China for symptoms at a handful of international airports. 

The piece goes on to recite the by now familiar litany of failures, including sidelining the CDC and other experts, pretending the whole thing wasn't real, the testing debacle, lifting restrictions too early and allowing the epidemic to get out of control, lack of any coordinated national response to allocate supplies, build up public health infrastructure and capacity, and here we are.

Voting for a president is not an appropriate way to "send a message" or vent your frustrations or let your racism flag fly. Presidents have a job to do. They must not be insane idiots.