Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Epistemology IV: Conspiracy theories

This is a bit of a digression, I had intended to write about biomedicine and epidemiology next, but I decided to insert something else.

First, I'll just note that dictionary definitions of science aren't really accurate or useful. This is a member of a class of problems we run into frequently here, that is arguments about the meaning of words substituting for arguments about substantive matters. I would say that the reason you won't find a good dictionary definition of science is that the concept is too complex. You can read about the difficulty of defining science here, if you are interested in academic philosophy.

Specifically, the subject matter and product of science is not limited to proven facts. Scientists deal in the full range of certainty and uncertainty, from conjectures that they consider unlikely but ought to be tested, to alternative hypotheses, to conclusions of which they feel fairly confident, to conclusions which are generally accepted and are woven into broader, widely accepted theories. Note that the word "theory" as used by scientists does not mean what it usually means in the vernacular, which is more like what scientists call a hypothesis. Rather, a theory is an explanatory model that includes numerous observations and presumed causal relationships. For example, Einstein's theory of gravity hold that mass warps space-time, such that other masses' trajectory through space-time follows the warped path. 


There is a lot more to it than that but the essential point is that the theory makes numerous predictions which have been tested and found to hold true. That increases confidence in the correctness of the theory, but it will probably never be considered "proved." It's just the working theory we have now. And as I noted last time, doubts are creeping in. However, even if something else is going on, the theory is still useful for the purposes which have been established, just as Newton's theory is useful for everyday purposes.

Let us now turn to a commonly used term "conspiracy theory." People have come to use this to mean something more specific than the words taken by themselves would imply. After all, there are conspiracies, and there is nothing inherently irrational in having theories about them. Investigators and prosecutors formulate conspiracy theories all the time, and sometimes they prove them in court. I remember some years ago (before the present Q and pizzagate madness) a Big Professor publishing a study of personal characteristics associated with belief in conspiracy theories. He asked people about such theories as scientists conspiring to invent the hoax of global warming to get grant funding, the Illuminati secretly controlling global affairs, that sort of thing. One of his conspiracy theories was that drug companies conceal evidence that their products are ineffective or unsafe. 

I actually wrote to him and pointed out that the latter conspiracy theory is in fact true. He scoffed. The FDA has since changed its regulations to make this more difficult, but the problem has not been eliminated. By the way, this is why Purdue Pharma is out of business and has paid billions in fines and damages.

Anyway, "conspiracy theory" now means a theory that is objectively ridiculous, generally involving powerful people somehow secretly controlling important matters or engaging in nefarious activities. However, this does actually happen. The difficulty, as with the demarcation problem, is in deciding which conspiracy theories are actually ridiculous. In some cases this should not be a problem. That prominent Democratic politicians and operatives, along with Hollywood stars, secretly run a global child sex trafficking ring and kill the children in order to extract a chemical that preserves the conspirators' youth is in that category. If you had any doubt of it before, you might reconsider since we had a Republican led administration and Department of Justice for four years and they didn't do anything about it.

But other cases are more doubtful. Did James Earl Ray act alone in killing Martin Luther King? How about Sirhan Sirhan and RFK? There is reason to doubt the accepted version of these events, but on the other hand there is no strong evidence in favor of any other versions. Where people go wrong is in feeling certain about one or another version -- deciding that they know the One True Story. Sometimes we don't, and probably never will. But some people have a hard time living with that.



Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Wednesday Bible Study: Hitting the snooze button

Joshua 17 continues with the division of the land. I'm afraid I just can't work up the energy to comment in detail on this, it all seems essentially pointless and boring. I'll just make some general observations. Remember that this is completely fictitious. None of this tale is based in historic reality, although one would suppose it does reflect something about the distribution of territory in the time of King Josiah. There may be politics involved, regarding how disputed or unclear boundaries, and aspirations that some clans may have had to acquire land, including from non-Israelites. There is no way to check on any of this because there is no other documentary evidence from this time. 

This does tell us that we are talking about a tribal society, and clans within the tribes. This type of organization persists among some semitic people, but the Jewish people were obviously homogenized in the diaspora. I should think, however, that the clans did not have such sharply defined territories in reality. The acknowledgment of the continued presence of other Canaanite people must reflect reality, even though it means God failed to keep his promises. The story of the daughters of Zelophehad refers back to Numbers 27 and 36. Although it is no doubt fictional the point is to establish a law of inheritance for a man who dies with daughters, but no sons, an obvious problem in a patriarchal society.

17 This was the allotment for the tribe of Manasseh as Joseph’s firstborn, that is, for Makir, Manasseh’s firstborn. Makir was the ancestor of the Gileadites, who had received Gilead and Bashan because the Makirites were great soldiers. So this allotment was for the rest of the people of Manasseh—the clans of Abiezer, Helek, Asriel, Shechem, Hepher and Shemida. These are the other male descendants of Manasseh son of Joseph by their clans.

Now Zelophehad son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Makir, the son of Manasseh, had no sons but only daughters, whose names were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirzah. They went to Eleazar the priest, Joshua son of Nun, and the leaders and said, “The Lord commanded Moses to give us an inheritance among our relatives.” So Joshua gave them an inheritance along with the brothers of their father, according to the Lord’s command. Manasseh’s share consisted of ten tracts of land besides Gilead and Bashan east of the Jordan, because the daughters of the tribe of Manasseh received an inheritance among the sons. The land of Gilead belonged to the rest of the descendants of Manasseh.

The territory of Manasseh extended from Asher to Mikmethath east of Shechem. The boundary ran southward from there to include the people living at En Tappuah. (Manasseh had the land of Tappuah, but Tappuah itself, on the boundary of Manasseh, belonged to the Ephraimites.) Then the boundary continued south to the Kanah Ravine. There were towns belonging to Ephraim lying among the towns of Manasseh, but the boundary of Manasseh was the northern side of the ravine and ended at the Mediterranean Sea. 10 On the south the land belonged to Ephraim, on the north to Manasseh. The territory of Manasseh reached the Mediterranean Sea and bordered Asher on the north and Issachar on the east.

11 Within Issachar and Asher, Manasseh also had Beth Shan, Ibleam and the people of Dor, Endor, Taanach and Megiddo, together with their surrounding settlements (the third in the list is Naphoth[a]).

12 Yet the Manassites were not able to occupy these towns, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that region. 13 However, when the Israelites grew stronger, they subjected the Canaanites to forced labor but did not drive them out completely.

14 The people of Joseph said to Joshua, “Why have you given us only one allotment and one portion for an inheritance? We are a numerous people, and the Lord has blessed us abundantly.”

15 “If you are so numerous,” Joshua answered, “and if the hill country of Ephraim is too small for you, go up into the forest and clear land for yourselves there in the land of the Perizzites and Rephaites.”

16 The people of Joseph replied, “The hill country is not enough for us, and all the Canaanites who live in the plain have chariots fitted with iron, both those in Beth Shan and its settlements and those in the Valley of Jezreel.”

17 But Joshua said to the tribes of Joseph—to Ephraim and Manasseh—“You are numerous and very powerful. You will have not only one allotment 18 but the forested hill country as well. Clear it, and its farthest limits will be yours; though the Canaanites have chariots fitted with iron and though they are strong, you can drive them out.”


  1. Joshua 17:11 That is, Naphoth Dor

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Epistemology III: The Scientific Method

Okay, here's the dirty secret: there is no such thing. Scientists use many different methods. Some methods are characteristic of certain disciplines, while within disciplines there may be groups of scientists who specialize in or emphasize various methods. This is territory I fear to tread because it can give people some wrong ideas, also because it's quite complicated, but I'll try to keep it simple and be careful about walling off the wrong ideas.

In fact philosophers have found it very difficult to define science, or to clearly distinguish it from non-science or pseudo-science. Despite the pretensions of some, science is a flawed human enterprise and can be affected by cognitive biases, mistakes, and fraud. It is also dynamic -- we can't say that past theories that are no longer considered valid were unscientific. They may have been created by people who were doing perfectly good science at the time. That scientific theories and conclusions are often superseded -- that they turn out to be wrong -- leads some people to decide that there is no reason to believe anything scientists say, and that homeopathy or creationism are just as legitimate. In the jargon, they grant no "privilege" to science over other forms of explanation or knowledge generation.

Karl Popper, an Austrian-British philosopher, is well known for maintaining that the main criterion for a proposition being scientific is that it be falsifiable. It has to make predictions which, in principle at least, can be shown to be wrong. He should have added, in most people's view, that its proponents have to accept that it is wrong once the falsifying evidence shows up. However, even with this codicil, the idea is too slippery to really work. For one thing, you can usually find ways to modify the theory -- add a new piece that explains the discrepancy. That's how the ancient Greeks came to keep adding epicycles to account for planetary motions that didn't work in their simpler geocentric universe.

What killed the Ptolemaic universe was that Copernicus found a much simpler explanation. Galileo's observations of the phases of Venus certainly made the Ptolemaic universe require even more complicated bells and whistles, and the heliocentric universe worked much better -- until it didn't. Now we have a universe that has no center -- except that the center of the visible universe, all of the universe that we can ever see or know, is once again the earth, although at the same time the earth has no special importance, except to us. Everywhere else is also at the center, from its own perspective. Is this idea simpler? I'm not sure. It doesn't require all those epicycles but it requires a lot of differential equations and in fact the gravitational interactions of multiple bodies are unsolvable. 


The theory of evolution is in fact a whole lot more complicated than creationism, and it keeps getting more complicated. Parts of it that were once essential dogma have been abandoned, replaced by different concepts. Darwin had remarkable insights, but his theory is no longer the accepted theory. I suppose you could say that it has evolved. You could also say that it has been falsified, except that it hasn't -- essential pieces remain, so we still call it by the same name.

So maybe Popper should have said falsifiable or correctable, the distinction being a matter of degree. We should presume that whatever theories we hold today may be corrected in the future. Since Einsteinian gravity replaced Newtonian gravity, was Newton wrong? Not really. His theory worked just fine for the conditions he was able to observe and within the accuracy of the measurements he could make. But Einstein's theory is both more accurate and of wider application. It explains the motions of solar system bodies more accurately (although only within measurement tolerances unavailable to Newton) and it explains the much larger scale and much higher velocities of motion in the larger universe much better. Nevertheless many physicists are starting to think there may be something wrong with it. For one thing, they've had to add the epicycle of dark matter, a completely unexplained phenomenon which would account for 85% of all the matter in the universe. Oops! They've also had to add dark energy (aka the cosmological constant), another completely unexplained epicycle that accounts for 69% of all the mass-energy in the universe. Double oops! Finally, the theory cannot be reconciled with the current theory of the other forces in the universe, electromagnetism the strong forcee, and the so-called weak force. (Oh yeah, maybe there's a fifth one lurking.)

But where the average person has the most trouble is with biomedicine and its black-sheep cousin, epidemiology. To be continued .  . .

Monday, May 10, 2021

Epistemology II: Categories

I've discussed this before, but it bears repeating, and deeper consideration. Many philosophers have pondered these issues, but I base my thinking on the German philosopher Jurgen Hambermas in his magnum opus The Theory of Communicative Action. (I don't necessarily recommend that you try to read it, it's extremely wonky.) 

First, as an academic philosopher with a grounding in sociolinguistics, Habermas more or less takes it for granted, but I'll spell it out. Although we have bestowed the name Homo sapiens, "thinking man,"* on ourselves, what really distinguishes us is language. The other apes obviously think in some way; they can solve puzzles and make plans, although with not nearly our degree of sophistication. But we do our thinking with language. We run a silent monologue in our heads. We can record it, refine it, share it with others, by writing it down or saying it aloud. And others may criticize what we write and say.

Human society is largely created through the medium of language. It is of course shaped by the constraints of the physical environment, and some degree of physical coercion is also involved, but other apes cannot create nearly the degree of social complexity that we can because their communicative resources are far more limited. In fact it is a reasonable conclusion that a main reason there is more interpersonal violence among chimpanzees than there is among humans is because they don't have other ways of settling disputes or expressing displeasure with other's actions. Bonobos, who are our closest relatives, are more peaceful than chimpanzees. They bond through sexual activity, which they practice quite indiscriminately without regard to age or gender

Anyway, we largely bond through conversation, and we limit companionable sex to a small number of partners. It is through language that we label social categories and roles, define organizations, transact business, make rules and policy -- one can say that society is made largely out of language.


This means that language has to do several different kinds of work. Once you notice this, it seems glaringly obvious, but philosophers actually seemed not to realize it until the 20th Century. They were concerned with how language represents reality, and there was even an influential school that claimed that the meaning of a statement was equivalent to the means by which its truth value could be established. Oops! Along came John Searle and other speech act theorists who first noticed that the truth of a statement by a priest that you are married or a judge that you are guilty is established by the utterance itself. It took them a while longer to realize that most of what we say is either not verifiable at all -- it doesn't have a truth value, even in principle -- or, while criticizable, can't be strictly ruled true or false. What is the truth value of hello and goodbye? Of a question? Of an instruction?  


Then there are claims that do make some sort of representation but can't be strictly judged as true or false. These are of various kinds. If I assert that I am experiencing an emotion of some kind, you may or may not think I'm sincere but there is usually no way to prove it. (Emerging technology may complicate this claim but I will just note that the polygraph is bullshit.) A sharper distinction is that of moral evaluation -- claims about what is right or good, or evil, and to what degree, under what circumstances, by whom. Then there are claims about what is beautiful -- is that a good painting, or novel, and what is it worth?

To cut to the chase, Habermas refers to categories of "criticizable," rather than verifiable, claims. The category of representation -- hard core, "out there" truth -- certainly does exist. This may be subdivided into what we directly apprehend, and what may be concluded by deduction. The latter includes conclusions that require deep learning and thought -- expertise. If I tell you that I am presently sitting at an antique slant front desk, in principle you can determine if that is true. You would have to come into my house or look in the window, which is not possible in reality, but we can legitimately distinguish between my lying and telling the truth in this instance. 

If I were to tell you that the desk was made by the cabinetmaker Lemuel Walton in Philadelphia in 1834, I would be relying on expertise, whether my own or that of Leslie Keno. The assertion has a definite truth value, but the vast majority of us are incapable of evaluating it for ourselves. We have to rely on the experts, and so we have to judge how trustworthy they are. (I invented Walton, so it would not in fact be true.) Habermas puts both kinds of assertions in the "First World," the True.


Then there are moral categories. These also are of two kinds. There are my own personal feelings about what is right, and there are socially constructed categories that we are expected to accept. This is the Second World, of the Good, but watch out! Here we often encounter confusion. There are social facts -- assertions about the nature of society that belong in the First World. Police do have certain authority; people are classified by gender and expected to behave in gender conforming ways; people are classified by race and experience differential treatment depending on that classification. (Granted these sorts of assertions entail a great deal of complexity and definite conclusions about specifics can be debatable.) Whether that is good or right, however, belongs to the Second World, and does not have the same kind of truth value.

Finally, there is the Beautiful. What pleases you? This can be as trivial as being happy when the Yankees or the Red Sox win, or as profound as King Lear vs. Hamlet, but ultimately, nobody can tell you that you're right or wrong.

Mixing up these categories is a recipe for communicative failure, not to mention failure of the thought process, which as I said in the beginning is dependent on language. So take your time and make the effort to keep them all straight.

Sunday, May 09, 2021


There are many important things that I know to be true to a moral certainty, that many other people do not believe. I could call these people misinformed or ignorant, but they are just as certain that they are right and I am wrong. There are also innumerable matters of which I am uncertain, but other people do have definite beliefs about them that I know to be wrong.


This is a knotty problem indeed, because convincing these people that they are ignorant or misinformed is nearly impossible, and they will certainly never convince me. So the urgent question is, how can I be so certain about these controversial matters? This is the subdivision of philosophy called epistemology, the philosophy of knowledge.

First I need to say something which is difficult for some people to hear: my personal history shapes my beliefs and gives me confidence in matters which as far as I'm concerned should not be controversial. This is difficult because I seem to be claiming a category of elite status that many people resent. Specifically, I grew up in a family of highly educated people, and I went on to get an expensive education of my own in highly selective institutions, specifically Swarthmore, Tufts, and Brandeis. I have a M.A. in environmental policy, which means I have taken graduate courses in biology, politics, economics and public policy; and a Ph.D. in social policy which means I have taken graduate courses and passed qualifying examinations in economics, political science, and sociology. I have extensive training in statistics and causal inference, research methods, and scientific writing. I have subscribed to Scientific American since I was 13 years old. I read JAMA, the New England Journal of Medicine, and BMJ every week. I read the New York Times every day (and usually yell at it),and I subscribe to other magazines which I won't bother to list and I read 30 or more books of history, science, and sociology every year. I have more than 50 peer reviewed scientific publications, and additional book chapters, non-peer reviewed publications and reports, conference presentations, and other scientific production that goes on even longer.

I'm not bragging. This means I have expertise in certain areas, but I still have to trust and admire the expertise of automotive technicians, medical technologists, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, chefs, farmers, and a whole lot of other people who know how to do things I can't do. I don't try to tell them how to do their jobs. I also don't know a whole lot about, for example, physics and cosmology. I trust physicists when they say the universe is about 13.8 billion years, and I trust astronomers who say the earth is about 4.5 billion years (depending on when exactly you think the thing became enough like the rock we know and love to merit the name). 


Why? Because I know they have gone through a process similar to the one I went through, concerning a different area of expertise, to gain the kind of knowledge they promulgate. and I have read enough about how they come to their conclusions to see that it's consistent with areas in which I do have substantial expertise, it's internally consistent, and there is a professional culture of skepticism, mutual criticism, and caution in drawing conclusions that makes them credible. And I can see that the theories of cosmology, geology, and evolution are mutually consistent and can plausibly explain the world around me. 

When it comes to current events, I trust information sources that also trust scientific expertise. And I trust sources that provide information that is internally consistent, consistent with other observable reality, and logically presented. I trust sources that correct errors when they do (inevitably) make some, and that are able to separate information from analysis, to the extent that is possible.  I didn't personally count all the ballots cast in the 2020 election, but based on my knowledge of the world, and how elections work, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Joseph R. Biden won the presidential election by approximately 7 million votes, and that it was a fair election, and the vote count was honest and accurate. This is a fact, not merely an opinion. The sun rose in the east this morning (or more accurately the rotation of the earth brought it into view above the eastern horizon), and Joseph R Biden was elected president in a free and fair election. These assertions have equal epistemological status. They are both as knowably true as any assertion can be. 

And you know what else? Ted Cruz, Kevin McCarthy, and the 147 House members who voted not to certify the election results know it too. They are liars. To be continued.

Note: Yes, everything is public health -- guns, education, transportation, poverty, pollution, you name it, all public policies involve public health,

Nobody lied about the Gore/Bush election. There was legitimate controversy. Once the Supreme Court ruled, Gore conceded. There is a legitimate question about whether the SC ruling was correct, but nobody told lies about what had happened. Same with Stacy Abrams. There is no comparison whatever. So shove it.



Wednesday Bible Study: At least this chapter is mercifully short

More of the divinely inspired word. Note that as in most cases, God has failed to keep one of his promises. 


Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you, and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Hivites, and the Perizzites, ... and the Amorites, and the Jebusites. Joshua 3:10

For thou shalt drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots, and though they be strong. Joshua 17:17-18

I'll have a real post later today.

16 The allotment for Joseph began at the Jordan, east of the springs of Jericho, and went up from there through the desert into the hill country of Bethel. It went on from Bethel (that is, Luz),[a] crossed over to the territory of the Arkites in Ataroth, descended westward to the territory of the Japhletites as far as the region of Lower Beth Horon and on to Gezer, ending at the Mediterranean Sea.

So Manasseh and Ephraim, the descendants of Joseph, received their inheritance.

This was the territory of Ephraim, according to its clans:

The boundary of their inheritance went from Ataroth Addar in the east to Upper Beth Horon and continued to the Mediterranean Sea. From Mikmethath on the north it curved eastward to Taanath Shiloh, passing by it to Janoah on the east. Then it went down from Janoah to Ataroth and Naarah, touched Jericho and came out at the Jordan. From Tappuah the border went west to the Kanah Ravine and ended at the Mediterranean Sea. This was the inheritance of the tribe of the Ephraimites, according to its clans. It also included all the towns and their villages that were set aside for the Ephraimites within the inheritance of the Manassites.

10 They did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim but are required to do forced labor.


  1. Joshua 16:2 Septuagint; Hebrew Bethel to Luz

Friday, May 07, 2021

Recommended reading

 If you haven't yet read this by Zeynep Tufecki, do so now. That is an order. 


I remember all too well the early days of the Internet, followed by its wholesale migration to the World Wide Web. There was an intoxicating culture of revolution. The Internet was going to make information -- assumed to be a synonym for truth -- free for all. It would bring down tyrants, and liberate everyone from the soft tyranny of ideology and politicians' seductive promises and lies. Of course, all of these visionaries couldn't perceive their own ideology -- this was all closely bound up with  a glib libertarianism and faith in a coming meritocracy in which they presumed they would rise to the top.

Well, that didn't happen. Before the WWW became largely synonymous with the Internet, the precursor of social media as we know it today was the on-line forum. Of course these still exist, with more sophisticated features, but the early experience should have served as a warning. The most popular subject for these fora was pornography, while accurate information and enlightening discourse were in short supply. With the development of contemporary forms of social media, the same excitement about a coming liberatory era re-appeared.  Instead we got a catastrophe. As Tufecki writes:

Power always learns, and powerful tools always fall into its hands. This is a hard lesson of history but a solid one. It is key to understanding how, in seven years, digital technologies have gone from being hailed as tools of freedom and change to being blamed for upheavals in Western democracies—for enabling increased polarization, rising authoritarianism, and meddling in national elections by Russia and others.

But to fully understand what has happened, we also need to examine how human social dynamics, ubiquitous digital connectivity, and the business models of tech giants combine to create an environment where misinformation thrives and even true information can confuse and paralyze rather than informing and illuminating.


But Tufecki is wise enough to understand that the blame does not rest foundationally on the technology. She observes that "The Russian government may have used online platforms to remotely meddle in US elections, but Russia did not create the conditions of social distrust, weak institutions, and detached elites that made the US vulnerable to that kind of meddling." She goes on to check the campaign of lies that led to the Iraq war; the 2008 financial collapse that enriched some billionaires while costing millions of ordinary people their homes and jobs; the growing inaccessibility of higher education; tax evasion by multinational corporations and their billionaire executives; and all of the conditions which have left so many people vulnerable to misinformation and demagoguery. We need a kind of revolution, but the digital one won't make it happen.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Blogger's block

I've had a hard time posting today because it seems half the world has gone batshit insane, smacking my gob. After all the shit she's had to put up with, I think Hillary deserves a hearing

Her bid for the White House was engulfed by a tidal wave of fabricated news and false conspiracy theories. Now Hillary Clinton is calling for a “global reckoning” with disinformation that includes reining in the power of big tech.

The former secretary of state and first lady warns that the breakdown of a shared truth, and the divisiveness that surely follows, poses a danger to democracy at a moment when China is selling the conceit that autocracy works. . . .

Five years on, Trump has come and gone from the White House and America now has a female vice-president in Kamala Harris. But the dangerous lies have continued to thrive online, notably in the QAnon conspiracy movement, leading all the way to the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol on 6 January. Far-right Republicans have become openly anti-democratic, endorsing Trump’s falsehoods and seeking to suppress voters of color.

The traditional the-truth-is-somewhere-in-the-middle approach will no longer do, Clinton argues.

“They’ve got to rid themselves of both-sidesism,” she says. “It is not the same to say something critical of somebody on the other side of the aisle and to instigate an attack on the Capitol and to vote against certifying the election. Those are not comparable, and it goes back to the problem of the press actually coming to grips with how out of bounds and dangerous the new political philosophy on the right happens to be.”


But if anything, the Republican party has just gotten more insane. The Arizona state government is actually paying a right wing conspiracy theorist to test Maricopa County ballots for bamboo fibers on the theory that China somehow inserted 40,000 fake ballots into the 2020 election. If you live in Arizona, your tax dollars are paying for this. Rupert Murdoch's minions are telling people not to get vaccinated, in other words committing murder for fun and profit. As you know -- no link necessary -- the Republicans are preparing to expel Liz Cheney from congressional leadership for not endorsing the absurd lie that the election was stolen. Some 25-30% of the country, at the least, is insane. We can't survive this.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Wednesday Bible study: My eyeballs roll up into my head

I warned you that we are in a very tedious stretch of the Book of Joshua. Why the authors decided to supply all of this surveyor's data I cannot say. I will just note verses 16 and 17: "16 And Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Aksah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.” 17 Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Aksah to him in marriage." So yes, according to Exodus, you're allowed to sell your daughter. She doesn't seem to mind much -- she comes back and asks Caleb for a spring, which he gives her. 

In verse 33, Eshtaol and Zorah are given to Judah. In Joshua 19, just four chapters later, they are given to Dan. Looks like the editor was napping on the job.

15 The allotment for the tribe of Judah, according to its clans, extended down to the territory of Edom, to the Desert of Zin in the extreme south.

Their southern boundary started from the bay at the southern end of the Dead Sea, crossed south of Scorpion Pass, continued on to Zin and went over to the south of Kadesh Barnea. Then it ran past Hezron up to Addar and curved around to Karka. It then passed along to Azmon and joined the Wadi of Egypt, ending at the Mediterranean Sea. This is their[a] southern boundary.

The eastern boundary is the Dead Sea as far as the mouth of the Jordan.

The northern boundary started from the bay of the sea at the mouth of the Jordan, went up to Beth Hoglah and continued north of Beth Arabah to the Stone of Bohan son of Reuben. The boundary then went up to Debir from the Valley of Achor and turned north to Gilgal, which faces the Pass of Adummim south of the gorge. It continued along to the waters of En Shemesh and came out at En Rogel. Then it ran up the Valley of Ben Hinnom along the southern slope of the Jebusite city (that is, Jerusalem). From there it climbed to the top of the hill west of the Hinnom Valley at the northern end of the Valley of Rephaim. From the hilltop the boundary headed toward the spring of the waters of Nephtoah, came out at the towns of Mount Ephron and went down toward Baalah (that is, Kiriath Jearim). 10 Then it curved westward from Baalah to Mount Seir, ran along the northern slope of Mount Jearim (that is, Kesalon), continued down to Beth Shemesh and crossed to Timnah. 11 It went to the northern slope of Ekron, turned toward Shikkeron, passed along to Mount Baalah and reached Jabneel. The boundary ended at the sea.

12 The western boundary is the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea.

These are the boundaries around the people of Judah by their clans.

13 In accordance with the Lord’s command to him, Joshua gave to Caleb son of Jephunneh a portion in Judah—Kiriath Arba, that is, Hebron. (Arba was the forefather of Anak.) 14 From Hebron Caleb drove out the three Anakites—Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai, the sons of Anak. 15 From there he marched against the people living in Debir (formerly called Kiriath Sepher). 16 And Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Aksah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.” 17 Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Aksah to him in marriage.

18 One day when she came to Othniel, she urged him[b] to ask her father for a field. When she got off her donkey, Caleb asked her, “What can I do for you?”

19 She replied, “Do me a special favor. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me also springs of water.” So Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs.

20 This is the inheritance of the tribe of Judah, according to its clans:

21 The southernmost towns of the tribe of Judah in the Negev toward the boundary of Edom were:

Kabzeel, Eder, Jagur, 22 Kinah, Dimonah, Adadah, 23 Kedesh, Hazor, Ithnan, 24 Ziph, Telem, Bealoth, 25 Hazor Hadattah, Kerioth Hezron (that is, Hazor), 26 Amam, Shema, Moladah, 27 Hazar Gaddah, Heshmon, Beth Pelet, 28 Hazar Shual, Beersheba, Biziothiah, 29 Baalah, Iyim, Ezem, 30 Eltolad, Kesil, Hormah, 31 Ziklag, Madmannah, Sansannah, 32 Lebaoth, Shilhim, Ain and Rimmon—a total of twenty-nine towns and their villages.

33 In the western foothills:

Eshtaol, Zorah, Ashnah, 34 Zanoah, En Gannim, Tappuah, Enam, 35 Jarmuth, Adullam, Sokoh, Azekah, 36 Shaaraim, Adithaim and Gederah (or Gederothaim)[c]—fourteen towns and their villages.

37 Zenan, Hadashah, Migdal Gad, 38 Dilean, Mizpah, Joktheel, 39 Lachish, Bozkath, Eglon, 40 Kabbon, Lahmas, Kitlish, 41 Gederoth, Beth Dagon, Naamah and Makkedah—sixteen towns and their villages.

42 Libnah, Ether, Ashan, 43 Iphtah, Ashnah, Nezib, 44 Keilah, Akzib and Mareshah—nine towns and their villages.

45 Ekron, with its surrounding settlements and villages; 46 west of Ekron, all that were in the vicinity of Ashdod, together with their villages; 47 Ashdod, its surrounding settlements and villages; and Gaza, its settlements and villages, as far as the Wadi of Egypt and the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea.

48 In the hill country:

Shamir, Jattir, Sokoh, 49 Dannah, Kiriath Sannah (that is, Debir), 50 Anab, Eshtemoh, Anim, 51 Goshen, Holon and Giloh—eleven towns and their villages.

52 Arab, Dumah, Eshan, 53 Janim, Beth Tappuah, Aphekah, 54 Humtah, Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) and Zior—nine towns and their villages.

55 Maon, Carmel, Ziph, Juttah, 56 Jezreel, Jokdeam, Zanoah, 57 Kain, Gibeah and Timnah—ten towns and their villages.

58 Halhul, Beth Zur, Gedor, 59 Maarath, Beth Anoth and Eltekon—six towns and their villages.[d]

60 Kiriath Baal (that is, Kiriath Jearim) and Rabbah—two towns and their villages.

61 In the wilderness:

Beth Arabah, Middin, Sekakah, 62 Nibshan, the City of Salt and En Gedi—six towns and their villages.

63 Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the people of Judah.


  1. Joshua 15:4 Septuagint; Hebrew your
  2. Joshua 15:18 Hebrew and some Septuagint manuscripts; other Septuagint manuscripts (see also note at Judges 1:14) Othniel, he urged her
  3. Joshua 15:36 Or Gederah and Gederothaim
  4. Joshua 15:59 The Septuagint adds another district of eleven towns, including Tekoa and Ephrathah (Bethlehem).

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

About this herd immunity concept . . .

You have no doubt read, or heard on the teevee, that experts are now saying we are unlikely to achieve herd immunity to the Covid-19 virus. Many people take this to be terrible news, a cause of despair, and even a reason not to bother to be vaccinated.

No, no, and no. The fact is the term herd immunity was bandied about far too much, and far too irresponsibly, from the beginning. It isn't even a sharply definable concept, as a matter of fact. The idea is that if enough people are immune, whether from vaccination or having been infected, the virus will not find enough susceptible hosts for trains of transmission to be maintained and then even people who are not immune are unlikely to be exposed, so we can forget about the virus. However, this was never a realistic prospect because the proportion of people who are immune will vary enormously from place to place for the foreseeable future. And places include places outside of the U.S. Furthermore, transmissibility and the required proportion of immune people also varies, depending on factors such as populations density, household structure, the kinds of work people do, and so on. 

What this means is that no matter what the proportion of immune people in the U.S. population overall, there will always be the possibility of an infectious person showing up, whether it is a visitor from abroad, someone who has taken a trip abroad, or a pocket within the U.S. where circulation continues. Right now in much of the world, where the epidemic is raging, only a tiny percentage of the population has been vaccinated. Here in the U.S., thanks to some evil politicians and liars on television, something like 30% of the population doesn't want to be vaccinated. Meanwhile, the virus mutates and more transmissible strains are circulating, putting the threshold for herd immunity even higher. 

However, this is not a disaster. People who are properly vaccinated are very safe for now, and as the proportion of people who are vaccinated rises, transmission will slow even if it doesn't stop entirely. As the most vulnerable people are most likely to be vaccinated, the stress on the health care system and the death rate will continue to decline. In time, we can hope that nearly all young children will have been vaccinated, or been infected while they are at very low risk of severe disease, and that some degree of immunity will be long lasting. Unfortunately we don't yet know about the latter proposition, and it matters a lot. If that does happen, Covid-19 will go the way of common childhood diseases that pose little threat. If not, we may need to get booster shots every year or two, but once we don't have to try to vaccinate the entire population all at once that can be handled as all vaccinations are now provided routinely.

In other words, this probably won't go away, but it will become manageable. Getting vaccination to low and middle income countries has to be a priority for the rich countries -- it's in our interest. And Tucker Carlson needs to eat shit and take a vow of silence. Here's a discussion at the NYT, if the paywall stops you Digby has pulled an excerpt.

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Sunday Sermonette: My eyes glaze over

Joshua 14 continues with the division of the land among the tribes, with specific bequests to a couple of individual characters. Again, I'm really not sure why the writers in the 7th Century BCE thought it useful to tell this tale. It must have something to do with regional and national politics at the time but I haven't found any efforts to reconstruct it. And I don't really have anything to say about it, except that it is clearly completely irrelevant to any contemporary religious interest, or any interest for at least the past 2,000 years at the very least; and has no historical reality either. Yet here it is, taking up a good chunk of the holy book which is supposed to guide people's lives. Whatev.

14 Now these are the areas the Israelites received as an inheritance in the land of Canaan, which Eleazar the priest, Joshua son of Nun and the heads of the tribal clans of Israel allotted to them. Their inheritances were assigned by lot to the nine and a half tribes, as the Lord had commanded through Moses. Moses had granted the two and a half tribes their inheritance east of the Jordan but had not granted the Levites an inheritance among the rest, for Joseph’s descendants had become two tribes—Manasseh and Ephraim. The Levites received no share of the land but only towns to live in, with pasturelands for their flocks and herds. So the Israelites divided the land, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Allotment for Caleb

Now the people of Judah approached Joshua at Gilgal, and Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God at Kadesh Barnea about you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions, but my fellow Israelites who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt in fear. I, however, followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly. So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.’[a]

10 “Now then, just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the wilderness. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! 11 I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. 12 Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.”

13 Then Joshua blessed Caleb son of Jephunneh and gave him Hebron as his inheritance. 14 So Hebron has belonged to Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite ever since, because he followed the Lord, the God of Israel, wholeheartedly. 15 (Hebron used to be called Kiriath Arba after Arba, who was the greatest man among the Anakites.)

Then the land had rest from war.


  1. Joshua 14:9 Deut. 1:36

The wheels of justice grind slow . . .

Before I get to the sermonette, first, offered without comment, Marik von Rennenkampff and David Corn.


Merrick Garland became AG on March 12, IIRC. The DoJ has a huge backlog of work, not least the Jan. 6 insurrection which has already resulted in charges against more than 100 people with more being added regularly. This is one of the most complicated investigations and prosecutions ever. While trying to clear the cases of individuals who got caught up in the riot, investigators are untangling the leadership, relationships and actions of the organized groups who came to the Capitol armed and with a specific plan to stop certification of the election and harm or murder members of congress. 

Meanwhile, the SDNY is investigating the Trump organization's finances. They just got access to the financial records and tax returns about a month ago, after DoJ obstruction ended. There are reported to be literally millions of pages of documents. They are also investigating Rudy Giuliani's actions in Ukraine, which are at least tangentially linked to the 2016 election -- some of the same players are involved -- and directly linked to what may be corrupt and illegal actions by members of the Trump administration. 


There is a good deal more corruption that occurred in the previous administration, some of which has been publicly reported and even led to resignations, which has not resulted in prosecution. Then there is the case of Matt Gaetz, which seems fairly simple on its surface but there are rumors that it is more complicated. In any case they will have to sew it up very tight in order to proceed. All of this will take a while, and they will have to decide whether and when to follow up on Robert Mueller's referrals for possible prosecution. As a legal and practical matter, these will not be easy decisions and events will certainly not move quickly. Patience, grasshopper.

Friday, April 30, 2021

A couple of recommended reads and critical thinking lesson #79

First, I commend to your attention Johnathan Gruber and Simon Johnson on infrastructure. You may have noticed that the Republican response to the administration's infrastructure proposal is that "infrastructure" only means roads and bridges and therefore the rest of it is unworthy of federal support. That's an example of argument by vocabulary, a type of fallacy that I've noted before. e.g.:

"Organic" means carbon compounds.

All food consists of carbon compounds.

Ergo the concept of organic food is meaningless.


If I need to explain to you what's wrong with that, you probably should give someone your power of attorney. As Gruber and Johnson assert, "Infrastructure is the name given to shared systems that underpin productivity and make it possible to create good jobs at high wages." In the post-war era, U.S. government investment in basic science paid immense dividends:

By the mid-1960s, the US government was spending nearly 2% of GDP on public science investments – and the returns were extraordinary. Every tech giant of today stands on the shoulders of federal investments in research and development (R&D). On the health side, the honor roll begins with large-scale production of antibiotics in the 1940s, and stretches to the Human Genome Project in the 1990s and the COVID-19 vaccines of today.These investments in science did not just change the way we solve problems and save lives; they also created countless good jobs. The genomics sector that arose from the Human Genome Project now employs around 270,000 people at an average annual wage of $70,000. Every dollar invested in the National Institutes of Health creates more than $8 in complementary private investment and yields three dollars of stock-market value to share prices of companies that use the technology developed.

But now federal spending on science has fallen to 0.6% of GDP, placing the U.S. 12th in the world. China's investment is at twice the level. There's more in the infrastructure bill that's essential to keeping the U.S. economy strong in the 21st Century, but that's one important piece.


Nicole Hemmer writes about living in a world of lies.  She's an Associate Research Scholar at Columbia (hey, that's what I am at a different university). She notes that starting with the escalator descent at Trump Tower in 2015, 


From exhaustive fact checks to contentious briefing-room clashes over the administration's "alternative facts," debunking the whirl of lies became a full-time process and started derailing pressing long-term conversations. But as the past few weeks have shown, the mendacity that once seemed like a feature of politics in the age of Trump has outlived the former president's Twitter feed.

The past week alone has featured increasingly ridiculous false claims issuing from the right. There's the one about the Biden administration taking away Americans' hamburgers. And the one about the White House giving gift bags with the vice president's book to migrant children -- that one was effectively retracted by the New York Post and the reporter resigned, saying she was forced to write a false story.


She goes on to discuss the difficulty journalism as it is conventionally practiced has in dealing with the shameless mendacity of the right. It's worth your time to read it.


Now, although Dr. Hemmer is a scholar and an employee of Columbia University, this essay happens to appear in CNN. I am often unhappy with CNN -- they relentlessly promoted the Trump Candidacy in 2016 as a matter of fact, because it was good for ratings. But they do have a basic commitment to the truth.

Now let us suppose that you come across a video purporting to be a hidden camera interview with an unwitting interlocutor named Chuck U. Farley. The presenters -- consisting only of an obscure right wing web site, a Russian propaganda organ, and two Murdoch-owned tabloids -- purport that Farley is a "technical director" at CNN, whatever exactly that means, and that he is being interviewed by a spy who is pretending to be a nurse of something. Farley says that he took a job at CNN because they were committed to making Joe Biden president and he wanted to be a part of that. Specifically the way they did that is by reporting favorably on Biden's health and suggesting that Trump's wasn't so great, and that was decisive in the election. (Of course these media organs all claim that Trump actually won the election but we'll put that aside for now.)

If you are a person with the least bit of skepticism, you might want to check this out. CNN lists all of its executives on a readily accessible web page, maybe 24 people. None is named Chuck U. Farley. On a separate page, it lists all of its on-air presenters, reporters, and producers. None of them is named Chuck U. Farley. If you enter Chuck's name into your favorite Internet search engine, you will find a dead British comedian, and these five presentations of the hidden camera interview story, and that is it. No such person appears to exist outside of this hermetic environment. Even more curious, this blockbuster story has not been picked up any other outlet, including Faux News. CNN has not bothered to comment on it. 

Maybe, just maybe, you've been duped.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Religious Exemptions

Connecticut has just become the 6th state to end religious exemptions for childhood vaccination. Medical exemptions, of course, are still allowed. Note that the law does not require parents to vaccinate their children, but it does require that children receive a specified schedule of vaccinations in order to attend public school.

I can understand why this is a difficult issue for liberals, in the post-FDR sense of the word. Speaking only for myself here, while I personally do my best to be guided by science and reason, I see freedom of belief as an inherent value -- not an absolute, value, of course, because liberty interests are always in conflict and every case is a balancing act. But a value nevertheless. I respect the First Amendment on this. 

But of course, religious belief does not in general exempt people from the secular law. If your religion demands human sacrifice, you don't get to practice it. If your religion demands that other people not be allowed to practice theirs -- assuming no human sacrifice or other violations of the secular law are involved -- you don't get your way. Adults can choose to harm themselves for religious reasons, as for example by refusing medical procedures or following an unhealthy diet. However, there is plenty of case law that says they can't refuse life saving treatment for their children, or starve them, or torture or imprison them, because they think Jesus wants them to do it.

In the case of childhood vaccination, people who claim religious exemption aren't just harming their own children, the are endangering others who cannot be vaccinated, or for whom vaccination is ineffective, for legitimate medical reasons. So this falls very close to, if not within, the human sacrifice moral category. I also have to say that I doubt that most people who want to claim this exemption really do have any religious objection, it's just an excuse. The only religion with a substantial number of followers that has an actual objection to vaccination, as far as I know offhand, is Christian Science. Most of these people have just made up their own religious beliefs, for the occasion. What's actually going on is that they have false factual beliefs. 


So on reflection, I support this legislation. Happy to hear other opinions, but any based on factually false assertions about vaccination will not be entertained.

I''m just going to rip off the American Constitution Society on this one

This is really off topic for this blog, but it's important to continue to emphasize that a good percentage of the population exists in an alternate, Faux News-induced non-reality. Robert Mueller, unfortunately, had the highly legalistic attitude that if he couldn't indict, he shouldn't make any judgment. Since he believed that it was not possible to indict a sitting president, he didn't draw conclusions about Individual One. This is unfortunate because -- along with AG Barr's initial misrepresentation of the report -- it allowed Faux News and others in the alternate reality sphere to claim that the report exonerated the Great Orange Excrescence. It did not. As always, they are lying. Here is a summary from the ACS:


Before reading further, remember that Merrick Garland has been Attorney General only since March 11, and he and is DoJ do have a few matters to deal with. There is also a question of what the president and congressional leadership will consider politically expedient at this point. I have no particular insight about that.



The Special Counsel investigation uncovered extensive criminal activity

  • The investigation produced 37 indictments; seven guilty pleas or convictions; and compelling evidence that the president obstructed justice on multiple occasions. Mueller also uncovered and referred 14 criminal matters to other components of the Department of Justice.
  • Trump associates repeatedly lied to investigators about their contacts with Russians, and President Trump refused to answer questions about his efforts to impede federal proceedings and influence the testimony of witnesses.
  • A statement signed by over 1,000 former federal prosecutors concluded that if any other American engaged in the same efforts to impede federal proceedings the way Trump did, they would likely be indicted for multiple charges of obstruction of justice.


Russia engaged in extensive attacks on the U.S. election system in 2016

  • Russian interference in the 2016 election was “sweeping and systemic.”[1]
  • Major attack avenues included a social media “information warfare” campaign that “favored” candidate Trump[2] and the hacking of Clinton campaign-related databases and release of stolen materials through Russian-created entities and Wikileaks.[3]
  • Russia also targeted databases in many states related to administering elections gaining access to information for millions of registered voters.[4]


The investigation “identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign” and established that the Trump Campaign “showed interest in WikiLeaks's releases of documents and welcomed their potential to damage candidate Clinton” 

  • In 2015 and 2016, Michael Cohen pursued a hotel/residence project in Moscow on behalf of Trump while he was campaigning for President.[5] Then-candidate Trump personally signed a letter of intent.
  • Senior members of the Trump campaign, including Paul Manafort, Donald Trump, Jr., and Jared Kushner took a June 9, 2016, meeting with Russian nationals at Trump Tower, New York, after outreach from an intermediary informed Trump, Jr., that the Russians had derogatory information on Clinton that was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”[6]
  • Beginning in June 2016, a Trump associate “forecast to senior [Trump] Campaign officials that WikiLeaks would release information damaging to candidate Clinton.”[7] A section of the Report that remains heavily redacted suggests that Roger Stone was this associate and that he had significant contacts with the campaign about Wikileaks.[8]
  • The Report described multiple occasions where Trump associates lied to investigators about Trump associate contacts with Russia. Trump associates George Papadopoulos, Rick Gates, Michael Flynn, and Michael Cohen all admitted that they made false statements to federal investigators or to Congress about their contacts. In addition, Roger Stone faces trial this fall for obstruction of justice, five counts of making false statements, and one count of witness tampering.
  • The Report contains no evidence that any Trump campaign official reported their contacts with Russia or WikiLeaks to U.S. law enforcement authorities during the campaign or presidential transition, despite public reports on Russian hacking starting in June 2016 and candidate Trump’s August 2016 intelligence briefing warning him that Russia was seeking to interfere in the election.
  • The Report raised questions about why Trump associates and then-candidate Trump repeatedly asserted Trump had no connections to Russia.[9]


Special Counsel Mueller declined to exonerate President Trump and instead detailed multiple episodes in which he engaged in obstructive conduct

  • The Mueller Report states that if the Special Counsel’s Office felt they could clear the president of wrongdoing, they would have said so. Instead, the Report explicitly states that it “does not exonerate” the President[10] and explains that the Office of Special Counsel “accepted” the Department of Justice policy that a sitting President cannot be indicted.[11]
  • The Mueller report details multiple episodes in which there is evidence that the President obstructed justice. The pattern of conduct and the manner in which the President sought to impede investigations—including through one-on-one meetings with senior officials—is damning to the President.
  • Five episodes of obstructive conduct stand out as being particularly serious:
    • In June 2017 President Trump directed White House Counsel Don McGahn to order the firing of the Special Counsel after press reports that Mueller was investigating the President for obstruction of justice;[12] months later Trump asked McGahn to falsely refute press accounts reporting this directive and create a false paper record on this issue – all of which McGahn refused to do.[13]
    • After National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was fired in February 2017 for lying to FBI investigators about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Kislyak, Trump cleared his office for a one-on-one meeting with then-FBI Director James Comey and asked Comey to “let [Flynn] go;” he also asked then-Deputy National Security Advisor K.T. McFarland to draft an internal memo saying Trump did not direct Flynn to call Kislyak, which McFarland did not do because she did not know whether that was true.[14]
    • In July 2017, the President directed former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to instruct the Attorney General to limit Mueller’s investigation, a step the Report asserted “was intended to prevent further investigative scrutiny of the President’s and his campaign’s conduct.”[15]
    • In 2017 and 2018, the President asked the Attorney General to “un-recuse” himself from the Mueller inquiry, actions from which a “reasonable inference” could be made that “the President believed that an unrecused Attorney General would play a protective role and could shield the President from the ongoing Russia Investigation.”[16]
    • The Report raises questions about whether the President, by and through his private attorneys, floated the possibility of pardons for the purpose of influencing the cooperation of Flynn, Manafort, and an unnamed person with law enforcement.[17]


Congress needs to continue investigating and assessing elements of the Mueller Report

  • The redactions of the Mueller Report appear to conceal the extent to which the Trump campaign had advance knowledge of the release of hacked emails by WikiLeaks. For instance, redactions conceal content of discussions that the Report states occurred between Trump, Cohen, and Manafort in July 2016 shortly after Wikileaks released hacked emails;[18] the Report further notes, “Trump told Gates that more releases of damaging information would be coming,” but redacts the contextual information around that statement.[19]
  • A second issue the Report does not examine is the fact that the President was involved in conduct that was the subject of a case the Special Counsel referred to the Southern District of New York – which the Report notes “ultimately led to the conviction of Cohen in the Southern District of New York for campaign-finance offenses related to payments he said he made at the direction of the President.”[20]
  • The Report also redacts in entirety its discussion of 12 of the 14 matters Mueller referred to other law enforcement authorities.[21]
  • Further, the Report details non-cooperation with the inquiry by the President, including refusing requests by the Special Counsel for an interview; providing written responses that the Office of the Special Counsel considered “incomplete” and “imprecise” and that involved the President stating on “more than 30 occasions that he ‘does not recall’ or ‘remember’ or ‘have an independent recollection.’”[22]


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Wednesday Bible Study: Get ready for some tedium

The next few chapters of Joshua are far more boring than watching grass grow. It's an endless recitation of the tracts given to the various tribes. Scholars can't associate most of the place names with known locations, so we don't even know who gets what. There really isn't much to say about this, except that the repeated assertion that the Levites get "no inheritance," the idea being that they will live off of the temple offerings, is contradicted later on when they get cities, suburbs and farm land. Whatev. There is also the promise at the beginning of future genocide and theft of land, but we'll get to that later.

13 When Joshua had grown old, the Lord said to him, “You are now very old, and there are still very large areas of land to be taken over.

“This is the land that remains: all the regions of the Philistines and Geshurites, from the Shihor River on the east of Egypt to the territory of Ekron on the north, all of it counted as Canaanite though held by the five Philistine rulers in Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron; the territory of the Avvites on the south; all the land of the Canaanites, from Arah of the Sidonians as far as Aphek and the border of the Amorites; the area of Byblos; and all Lebanon to the east, from Baal Gad below Mount Hermon to Lebo Hamath.

“As for all the inhabitants of the mountain regions from Lebanon to Misrephoth Maim, that is, all the Sidonians, I myself will drive them out before the Israelites. Be sure to allocate this land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have instructed you, and divide it as an inheritance among the nine tribes and half of the tribe of Manasseh.”

Division of the Land East of the Jordan

The other half of Manasseh,[a] the Reubenites and the Gadites had received the inheritance that Moses had given them east of the Jordan, as he, the servant of the Lord, had assigned it to them.

It extended from Aroer on the rim of the Arnon Gorge, and from the town in the middle of the gorge, and included the whole plateau of Medeba as far as Dibon, 10 and all the towns of Sihon king of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon, out to the border of the Ammonites. 11 It also included Gilead, the territory of the people of Geshur and Maakah, all of Mount Hermon and all Bashan as far as Salekah— 12 that is, the whole kingdom of Og in Bashan, who had reigned in Ashtaroth and Edrei. (He was the last of the Rephaites.) Moses had defeated them and taken over their land. 13 But the Israelites did not drive out the people of Geshur and Maakah, so they continue to live among the Israelites to this day.

14 But to the tribe of Levi he gave no inheritance, since the food offerings presented to the Lord, the God of Israel, are their inheritance, as he promised them.

15 This is what Moses had given to the tribe of Reuben, according to its clans:

16 The territory from Aroer on the rim of the Arnon Gorge, and from the town in the middle of the gorge, and the whole plateau past Medeba 17 to Heshbon and all its towns on the plateau, including Dibon, Bamoth Baal, Beth Baal Meon, 18 Jahaz, Kedemoth, Mephaath, 19 Kiriathaim, Sibmah, Zereth Shahar on the hill in the valley, 20 Beth Peor, the slopes of Pisgah, and Beth Jeshimoth— 21 all the towns on the plateau and the entire realm of Sihon king of the Amorites, who ruled at Heshbon. Moses had defeated him and the Midianite chiefs, Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur and Reba—princes allied with Sihon—who lived in that country. 22 In addition to those slain in battle, the Israelites had put to the sword Balaam son of Beor, who practiced divination. 23 The boundary of the Reubenites was the bank of the Jordan. These towns and their villages were the inheritance of the Reubenites, according to their clans.

24 This is what Moses had given to the tribe of Gad, according to its clans:

25 The territory of Jazer, all the towns of Gilead and half the Ammonite country as far as Aroer, near Rabbah; 26 and from Heshbon to Ramath Mizpah and Betonim, and from Mahanaim to the territory of Debir; 27 and in the valley, Beth Haram, Beth Nimrah, Sukkoth and Zaphon with the rest of the realm of Sihon king of Heshbon (the east side of the Jordan, the territory up to the end of the Sea of Galilee[b]). 28 These towns and their villages were the inheritance of the Gadites, according to their clans.

29 This is what Moses had given to the half-tribe of Manasseh, that is, to half the family of the descendants of Manasseh, according to its clans:

30 The territory extending from Mahanaim and including all of Bashan, the entire realm of Og king of Bashan—all the settlements of Jair in Bashan, sixty towns, 31 half of Gilead, and Ashtaroth and Edrei (the royal cities of Og in Bashan). This was for the descendants of Makir son of Manasseh—for half of the sons of Makir, according to their clans.

32 This is the inheritance Moses had given when he was in the plains of Moab across the Jordan east of Jericho. 33 But to the tribe of Levi, Moses had given no inheritance; the Lord, the God of Israel, is their inheritance, as he promised them.


  1. Joshua 13:8 Hebrew With it (that is, with the other half of Manasseh)
  2. Joshua 13:27 Hebrew Kinnereth

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Just a quick follow-up . . .

 . . . on the ridiculous Biden wants to ban beef lie. Daniel Dale tells the quick history of this malevolent idiocy, although he feels compelled by the corporate media kneejerk to say "inaccurate" instead of "made up, fictitious, mendacious, malicious and false." Anyway the point is that Republican politicians and conservative media all picked this up and yelled and screamed about it and amplified it and deceived their millions of sheeplike followers, because they do not care about the truth and neither do the idiots who pay attention to them. We cannot survive this.

A thing or two more: People may wonder why I mention this here but whatever my reasons, it's worth remembering. This is from a little more than a year ago. Remember who controlled the Senate at that time.

Senate panel backs assessment that Russia interfered in 2016: A bipartisan Senate report released Tuesday affirms the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusions that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election in a far-ranging influence campaign approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin and aimed at helping Donald Trump win the White House.

The report rejects Trump’s claims that the intelligence community was biased against him when it concluded that Russia had interfered on his behalf in the election. It says instead that intelligence officials had specific information that Russia preferred Trump in the election, that it sought to denigrate Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton and that Putin had “approved and directed aspects” of the Kremlin’s influence campaign. . . .

Trump has repeatedly questioned the assessment, which was also endorsed by former special counsel Robert Mueller in his report last year. Mueller concluded that Russian interference was “sweeping and systematic,” but he did not allege a criminal conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., said in a statement that his panel “found no reason to dispute” the intelligence community’s conclusions, saying they reflected strong tradecraft and analytical reasoning.

Mueller got more than two dozen indictments, and convictions of several high ranking Trump campaign officials. One of them, Paul Manafort, the campaign manager, has since been found to have provided internal campaign polling information to a Russian spy, Konstantin Kolimnik, who passed the information on to the GRU for use in shaping the campaign of interference. There is a good deal more that can be said about all this but it's not really the focus of this blog.

Thing two: It took less than 24 hours for Faux News and it's far right minions to perpetrate yet another ridiculous hoax.