Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Sunday Sermonette: A couple of good rules, then it goes way downhill

Deuteronomy 22 is actually notorious. It starts out well, then it gets weird, then it gets very, very ugly. I've gone with the Revised Standard Version here because it seems a bit more clear.

22 “You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep go astray, and withhold your help[a] from them; you shall take them back to your brother. And if he is not near you, or if you do not know him, you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall be with you until your brother seeks it; then you shall restore it to him. And so you shall do with his ass; so you shall do with his garment; so you shall do with any lost thing of your brother’s, which he loses and you find; you may not withhold your help. You shall not see your brother’s ass or his ox fallen down by the way, and withhold your help[b] from them; you shall help him to lift them up again.

Okay, can't take issue with that. There's a group Facebook page for residents of my little country town and stray animals seem to be the most common topic.

“A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.

Sorry RuPaul. Wingnuts like this passage but they conveniently ignore most of the rest of the chapter.

“If you chance to come upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting upon the young or upon the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young; you shall let the mother go, but the young you may take to yourself; that it may go well with you, and that you may live long.


“When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if any one fall from it.

This would seem to be the earliest example of a building code. We have recently discussed the justification for these, and it would seem that Yahweh is with us on that.Just in case you ever need some Biblical authority at the town meeting.

“You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed, lest the whole yield be forfeited to the sanctuary,[c] the crop which you have sown and the yield of the vineyard. 10 You shall not plow with an ox and an ass together. 11 You shall not wear a mingled stuff, wool and linen together.

This is just nuts. In the first place, interplanting is a very sound agricultural technique and can result in greatly improved yields. Blended fabrics can also have desirable properties. The big guy is just being a jerk, as far as I can tell.

12 “You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of your cloak with which you cover yourself.

Whatever. But now it gets really, really ugly.

Laws concerning Sexual Relations

13 “If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and then spurns her, 14 and charges her with shameful conduct, and brings an evil name upon her, saying, ‘I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her the tokens of virginity,’ 15 then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the tokens of her virginity to the elders of the city in the gate; 16 and the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man to wife, and he spurns her; 17 and lo, he has made shameful charges against her, saying, “I did not find in your daughter the tokens of virginity.” And yet these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the garment before the elders of the city. 18 Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip him; 19 and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver, and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought an evil name upon a virgin of Israel; and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days. 20 

The "tokens of virginity" would seem to be a bloody sheet. Of course that's easy enough to fake. On the other hand how would the woman's parents come to possess it, particularly under these circumstances?

But if the thing is true, that the tokens of virginity were not found in the young woman, 21 then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has wrought folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house; so you shall purge the evil from the midst of you.

It is not clear how the fact is to be established.  In practice, should this situation ever arise, I expect it would just come down to which family has more political power. That a man would want this to happen to a woman he has just married is obviously appalling in any case.

22 “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; so you shall purge the evil from Israel.

23 “If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, 24 then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife; so you shall purge the evil from the midst of you.

Although the translation is "lies with her," the implication -- as in the case below -- is that he rapes her. 

25 “But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. 26 But to the young woman you shall do nothing; in the young woman there is no offense punishable by death, for this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor; 27 because he came upon her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.

28 “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her; he may not put her away all his days.

Again, what this really means is that if a man rapes a virgin, she has to marry him. That's his punishment, along with a 50 shekel fine.

30 [d] “A man shall not take his father’s wife, nor shall he uncover her who is his father’s.[e]


  1. Deuteronomy 22:1 Heb hide yourself
  2. Deuteronomy 22:4 Heb hide yourself
  3. Deuteronomy 22:9 Heb become holy
  4. Deuteronomy 22:30 Ch 23.1 in Heb
  5. Deuteronomy 22:30 Heb uncover his father’s skirt

Thursday, January 28, 2021

The nature of Trumpism


Brad DeLong is circulating a draft of part of his new book (he gives permission to share it), in which he writes:

     To seize power Mussolini needed to perform the role of the prophet of a new ideology, he then needed a doctrine to cloak his personal despotism, and he needed to keep his opponents divided and off-balance. To claim that his doctrine was “fascism”, and then to at every moment define “fascism” as what seemed tactically opportune, and then to play the trump card of asserting that contradictions and inconsistencies were in fact the point of the leadership principle that was at the core of fascism.
     Thus one point of view is that there is no there there, there was no there there, there never was any there there: that fascism was always a confidence game run by con artists. The goal of the one promoting fascism was to become a leader in order to gain status, wealth, and power. In order to do that, he needed to find people who wanted to be led. And then he had to undertake a delicate psychological negotiation with them to figure out where they wanted to be led to. Only then could he enthrall them, and then pick their pockets.

Mussolini started out as a socialist. Then, in DeLong's telling, he decided that socialism as an ideology would be less effective at mobilizing mass enthusiasm and loyalty than ethno-nationalism.  So that's the route he chose. There's plenty of evidence that Donald Trump has always been a racist, but he was originally a New York libertine who donated to Democratic candidates, was friends with the Clintons among other Democratic figures, and supported abortion rights. This picture is from Ivanka Trump's wedding. (The Clintons also attended his own wedding to Melania.)

Flashback: When Hillary and Bill Hit the Wedding of Donald and Melania |  Hollywood Reporter

But then he got the idea that he could win the Republican nomination for president by reaching into the swamps of racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and white Christian nationalism, with an added dose of authoritarianism and cult of personality: "Only I can fix it." It turns out he was right. He probably didn't expect to win the general election but he did definitively reveal the true nature of the Republican voting bloc.

It turned out that in order to stay in the good graces of those Republican voters it was necessary to grovel before his every whim, no matter how insane. He had the largest inaugural crowd in history.  Kim Jong Un is now our best buddy and will disarm. Vladimir Putin did not interfere in the 2016 election and you know it's true because he says so. There are good people on both sides of a neo-Nazi demonstration and counterprotest. (Well, most Republicans probably believed that already.) Covid 19 is magically going to away, and random quack treatments are effective. The people who claim that Hillary Clinton is the leader of a global conspiracy of Satan worshiping pedophile cannibals are patriots who love their country. Any Republican officeholder who took issue with any of this had to retire, because they couldn't be re-elected.

And now, even as the party has lost the presidency and control of the congress, even after the shocking Capitol invasion, they are embracing the loser ex-president all the more tightly, along with the insane conspiracy theories.  The only explanation is that they have no real policy program. Congress scarcely passed any legislation when the Republicans controlled both houses, except for massive tax cuts for the wealthiest. (By the way, in case you didn't know it, that same legislation includes tax increases for middle income people starting this year, unless the Democrats can stop it.) The personality cult and the ethno-nationalism are all they've got.

Dear Moron: The vast majority of Biden executive orders have consisted of reversals of executive order issued by your Beloved Master. Why don't you try removing your nose from his anus long enough to look around you and observe reality?

I'll let Scott Lemieux "do" the ridiculous NYT editorial about Biden's executive actions. As the editorial itself notes, most of the actions are reversals of executive actions of the previous White House occupant. It would be nice to get them enshrined in legislation eventually, but Moscow Mitch isn't cooperating. Meanwhile, why wait?

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Wednesday Bible Study: More living Biblically

You already know how perpetually amused I am by people who claim that the Bible is their guide to morality, and who imagine themselves to want to impose Biblical law on the rest of us. Once again, they very obviously have not read the book. Deuteronomy 21 is out there with the weirdest of the weird. Let us proceed.

21 If someone is found slain, lying in a field in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess, and it is not known who the killer was, your elders and judges shall go out and measure the distance from the body to the neighboring towns. Then the elders of the town nearest the body shall take a heifer that has never been worked and has never worn a yoke and lead it down to a valley that has not been plowed or planted and where there is a flowing stream. There in the valley they are to break the heifer’s neck. The Levitical priests shall step forward, for the Lord your God has chosen them to minister and to pronounce blessings in the name of the Lord and to decide all cases of dispute and assault. Then all the elders of the town nearest the body shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley, and they shall declare: “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done. Accept this atonement for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, Lord, and do not hold your people guilty of the blood of an innocent person.” Then the bloodshed will be atoned for, and you will have purged from yourselves the guilt of shedding innocent blood, since you have done what is right in the eyes of the Lord.

Okaaaaay. I don't necessarily feel that I need to point out the full absurdity of this. First of all, we have no way of knowing that the killer was from the nearest town, so there is no particular reason why the people of that town would be held responsible, and certainly not collectively. For sure it isn't the heifer's fault! And why the very specific rules about the heifer never having worked, and the unplanted valley, and the flowing stream? This is all irrelevant.  It's all some bizarre made up bullshit.

Marrying a Captive Woman

10 When you go to war against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, 11 if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. 12 Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails 13 and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.

Presumably the woman in this case gets elevated to the status of honorary Israelite, she obviously doesn't have any choice in the matter.  Your soldiers have murdered her parents and now you get to rape her, her alternative being to remain a slave and possibly be raped by several men. But the Good Book tells us how to live.

The Right of the Firstborn

15 If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, 16 when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. 17 He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father’s strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him.

I am only reading the Bible, I obviously don't have the time to meaningly familiarize myself with the Talmud. However, looking briefly at some modern apologetics it appears the Rabbis essentially abolished polygamy in the early centuries C.E. They tend to justify the Torah's endorsement of polygamy as essentially a benefit for women. Women generally could not be independent economic actors, and they could not inherit if they had a brother. Viz. the story of the daughters of Zelophehad in Numbers. They were allowed to inherit, but only so that their father's legacy could be preserved, and they were required to marry their cousins for this purpose. Note also that men were required to marry their widowed sister-in-law. Marriage was essentially an economic arrangement. As the above passage implies affection was possible but not mandatory, and it could not be allowed to interfere with the economic requirements.

A Rebellious Son

18 If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” 21 Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.

I dunno, this seems a bit extreme. Nowadays we send him for counseling.

Various Laws

22 If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole, 23 you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.


No comment.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Ha Ha!

As you have no doubt heard, Dominion Voting Systems is suing Rudy Giuliani for $1.3 billion. They have already filed suit against his fellow "lawyer" Sidney Powell for a similar amount. 

In the lawsuit Monday, the company focused on how Giuliani continued to claim without evidence that Dominion aided election fraud even after he received a cease-and-desist letter. The Canadian-founded company details how listeners of Giuliani reacted by amplifying online his message of a stolen election. The former mayor of New York and well-known prosecutor repeated his claims on podcasts and his radio show and YouTube shows. He also used his platform in recent months to make money pitching cigars, a conservative alternative to the AARP and the sale of gold coins, the lawsuit says.

Giuliani also appeared on TV networks OANN, Fox and Fox Business to make accusations of election fraud, the lawsuit notes. Dominion also details how on January 6 -- hours before a crowd of Trump supporters in Washington violently overran the Capitol -- Giuliani continued to push claims of election fraud about Dominion in tweets, on a YouTube appearance and in his own speech at the event. Giuliani said at the rally, without evidence, that he knew of an expert who had examined Dominion voting machines and saw changed votes, concluding, "This election was stolen," according to the complaint.

They would seem to have a very good case. And by the way I can think of somebody else they might want to sue.


What's most weird about this, however, is why they thought they could get away with this. The same goes for the people who live-streamed themselves invading the U.S. Capitol. It's just one more example of the reality derangement field around the former Resident. Rudy's going to end up surviving on his Social Security check.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

For some mysterious reason I'm supposed to refer to The Daily Beast . . .

. . . who will tell me that CNN lied about the feckless Dump administration vaccine distribution plan. Here is the Daily Beast coverage. I give you two stories.

Story 1:

‘Worse Than We Imagined’: Team Trump Left Biden a COVID Nightmare':

The Biden administration came into power with purpose and an extensive agenda to combat the coronavirus pandemic, but purpose and planning only gets you so far—particularly when the president’s team is only just now getting a clear picture of how badly the previous administration had managed the crisis.

“What we’re inheriting from the Trump administration is so much worse than we could have imagined,” Jeff Zients, the Biden administration’s COVID-19 czar, said in a call with reporters Wednesday. “We don't have the visibility that we would hope to have into supply and allocations.” . . . 

The new administration is already behind, in part because the Trump administration was unprecedentedly hostile during the transition. The question now, however, is how Biden can get a handle on a raging pandemic when his team is already so far behind. . . . 

It’s not just the spread of the virus that the Biden team needs to tackle. Officials will also have to confront the disinformation and misinformation about the virus that has permeated all four corners of the country—where people still believe the virus is a hoax and that public health guidelines are too great of an imposition on their personal freedom to follow. But it’s unclear what power of persuasion the Biden administration will hold and if it will be enough to convince people to take the virus more seriously.

“At least we won’t have a president that’s actively fighting those rules on national television,” one official working with the new Biden COVID-19 team said.

Story 2:  Approximately 16.5 million people in the U.S. have been vaccinated to date—well short of the 20 million that Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar predicted would be vaccinated by the end of 2020. In some cases, staffing shortages have slowed distribution; in others, doses have been purposefully destroyed. Several states have had to change who is eligible for the vaccine after receiving more doses than they were able to distribute.

You can find all of the Daily Beast coronavirus coverage here.

The part about CNN lying is not there.  

Update: Yes, like I said, there was a plan, and as Anthony Fauci and Sam Stein both said, it was inadequate. And CNN accurately quoted a Biden administration official as saying that it was worse than they expected and needed to largely be rebuilt. They named him. He said that. Was he exaggerating somewhat? I don't know, but CNN did not lie or mislead anybody. They are not fake news. 

 As a matter of fact, studies have consistently shown that people who say they get their information mostly from Fox News are misinformed, and have much less accurate knowledge of current events than people who get their information from CNN -- or any other major news organization. That's it. I will not waste my time arguing any further with an idiot.



Sunday Sermonette: Actually, you probably won't see a lot of sermons preached about this one . . .

Deuteronomy 20 is notorious, but it's one of those chapters that believers pretend doesn't exist. It does give some insight into the norms of the ancient world, but this sort of policy was certainly not universal. Empire builders generally, from Alexander to the Romans, allowed conquered people to keep their language and culture, but put governors over them and taxed them. The policy of total enslavement or extermination is extreme. Obviously, this is not the concept of God that most children are taught, but here it is. There are some contradictions with other Biblical passages, most of which I won't nitpick, but in Exodus 23 and repeatedly later, Yahweh says he will drive out these tribes before the Israelites get there, they won't have to fight them. "And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee. I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee. By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land. ... They shall not dwell in thy land." I will also point out that the people singled out for extermination do in fact manage to stick around. The Canaanites are still there in Ezekiel.

20 When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. He shall say: “Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”

The officers shall say to the army: “Has anyone built a new house and not yet begun to live in it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else may begin to live in it. Has anyone planted a vineyard and not begun to enjoy it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else enjoy it. Has anyone become pledged to a woman and not married her? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else marry her.” Then the officers shall add, “Is anyone afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his fellow soldiers will not become disheartened too.” When the officers have finished speaking to the army, they shall appoint commanders over it.

10 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. 11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. 12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 13 When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. 15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.

 This appears to mean that the warriors can rape the women and children.

16 However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy[a] them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.

19 When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them?[b] 20 However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls.

Fruit trees are more valuable than human life. 


  1. Deuteronomy 20:17 The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the Lord, often by totally destroying them.
  2. Deuteronomy 20:19 Or down to use in the siege, for the fruit trees are for the benefit of people.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Bullshit Artist

It's a great puzzle to those of us who are sane how a rabid cult of personality formed around such a repulsive, stupid person as the ex-president. This puzzle sent reporters on innumerable safaris to Midwestern diners, although that was really the wrong place to look. Cultists actually skew moderately affluent, although they are mostly not college-educated. Yeah, we get that his boorish behavior, exhortation of violence, racism and misogyny were a feature, not a bug. They gave the cultists permission to express their own true feelings.

But there's more to it. Those people are hopeless. Their affinity for him is truly felt. They adore him because they are like him. However, there is another group who simply fell for his lies, and the lies of Faux News and the Vulgar Pigboy, amplified by the soulless algorithms of Facebook and Google. Some of them fell down rabbit holes into the Q insanity and other fantasies, which have been shattered by the mere fact of the Biden inauguration. But others simply fell for the false representation of the man, created by his unreality TV show and pumped up by his sycophants and his own boasting. People actually perceived him as competent and strong.

Of course he's an incompetent idiot and a sniveling coward. He's left the federal government a wreckage that it will take most of Biden's first term to repair. And his incompetence and indifference has killed a couple of hundred thousand of us, at least. But it isn't done killing us yet. There is no -- repeat no -- vaccine distribution plan.The Biden administration is going to have to create it from scratch. Quoth CNN:

The Biden administration has promised to try to turn the Covid-19 pandemic around and drastically speed up the pace of vaccinating Americans against the virus. But in the immediate hours following Biden being sworn into office on Wednesday, sources with direct knowledge of the new administration's Covid-related work told CNN one of the biggest shocks that the Biden team had to digest during the transition period was what they saw as a complete lack of a vaccine distribution strategy under former President Donald Trump, even weeks after multiple vaccines were approved for use in the United States.
"There is nothing for us to rework. We are going to have to build everything from scratch," one source said. Another source described the moment that it became clear the Biden administration would have to essentially start from "square one" because there simply was no plan as: "Wow, just further affirmation of complete incompetence."


A hollow man without a soul. 

Update: Well duhh. Of course the Administration claimed to have a vaccine distribution policy and they even had a document. The point is, it was totally inadequate and such as it was, it wasn't being implemented effectively. The states were pretty much on their own. This is because he spurned expertise and put unqualified sycophants in key positions. A bullshit artist, like I said.

Further update: If you watch Faux News, you will be disinformed. You might be better off reading the Wall Street Journal (yeah, it's Communist):

President Joe Biden has promised a more forceful U.S. government response to the coronavirus pandemic, and on his second day in office released a national strategy and signed 10 executive orders and other directives as part of the plan. Here is what we know about his plans to speed the vaccine rollout and beat back Covid-19 . . . To accelerate vaccinations, he said his administration will work with federal, state and local officials to set up thousands of community vaccination centers across the country and deploy mobile units to rural and underserved areas. Mr. Biden promised 100 federally supported centers by the end of his first month in office. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will help set them up, and the federal government will increase reimbursements to states deploying the National Guard to help with vaccinations. Mr. Biden also said he aims to increase the pace of vaccinations by making shots available at independent and chain pharmacies beginning in February.


Or Politico:

Biden officials complained during the transition that their efforts to gather information on the coronavirus response were stymied at times by Trump administration political appointees. Biden aides for weeks were unable to access Tiberius, the central government database used to monitor vaccine distributions, according to one transition official. They were also denied access to certain standing meetings related to the government’s response until a few days before Biden was sworn in.

Yet while few disputed the transition was rocky, officials working on the transition or familiar with its work said it was patently obvious that the Trump administration response was severely lacking, and it should have been no surprise to Biden’s team.

That is particularly the case with the vaccine pipeline, which has been at the center of weeks of finger-pointing between states and the federal government over the slow pace of vaccinations.

 Or The Hill:

States, counties and cities say they are running out of coronavirus vaccines, leading to canceled or postponed appointments for thousands of people even as the country tries to ramp up the pace of vaccinations. Health officials are desperate for clarity from the federal government on vaccine shipments, saying they need accurate numbers for planning weeks in advance. Instead, the figures have been coming in only a week at a time and have not been consistent.

The Biden administration has pledged to work with states to improve communication but for now is scrambling to figure out just how much vaccine is available. "Allocation and supply are critical areas that we did not unfortunately have much visibility into," Jeff Zients, President Biden's COVID-19 coordinator, told reporters. "We will work to provide projections on supply. We hear over and over from governors and local leaders that they just don't know what supply is coming and can't plan. We will absolutely, across the next few days, as we get our arms around what's going on, make sure that we are communicating with states and localities so they can prepare effectively," Zients added.




Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Wednesday Bible Study: Deja vu +

 Deuteronomy 19 is mostly repetition, but it does add a couple of new items, in a weirdly random way.

19 When the Lord your God has destroyed the nations whose land he is giving you, and when you have driven them out and settled in their towns and houses, then set aside for yourselves three cities in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess. Determine the distances involved and divide into three parts the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, so that a person who kills someone may flee for refuge to one of these cities.

This is the rule concerning anyone who kills a person and flees there for safety—anyone who kills a neighbor unintentionally, without malice aforethought. For instance, a man may go into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and as he swings his ax to fell a tree, the head may fly off and hit his neighbor and kill him. That man may flee to one of these cities and save his life. Otherwise, the avenger of blood might pursue him in a rage, overtake him if the distance is too great, and kill him even though he is not deserving of death, since he did it to his neighbor without malice aforethought. This is why I command you to set aside for yourselves three cities.

If the Lord your God enlarges your territory, as he promised on oath to your ancestors, and gives you the whole land he promised them, because you carefully follow all these laws I command you today—to love the Lord your God and to walk always in obedience to him—then you are to set aside three more cities. 10 Do this so that innocent blood will not be shed in your land, which the Lord your God is giving you as your inheritance, and so that you will not be guilty of bloodshed.

This is a little different from the previous version, which specified three cities on each side of the Jordan from the beginning. The concept is kind of weird, however. It would probably be better to  make a law against the avenger of blood, and have a trial.

11 But if out of hate someone lies in wait, assaults and kills a neighbor, and then flees to one of these cities, 12 the killer shall be sent for by the town elders, be brought back from the city, and be handed over to the avenger of blood to die. 13 Show no pity. You must purge from Israel the guilt of shedding innocent blood, so that it may go well with you.

14 Do not move your neighbor’s boundary stone set up by your predecessors in the inheritance you receive in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess.

This is one of those weird random insertions.

15 One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

16 If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime, 17 the two people involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. 18 The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, 19 then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you. 20 The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. 21 Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.


This is the so-called lex talionis, the law of retaliation. It is not clear whether the Israelites actually practiced this, knocking out teeth and performing amputations. Obviously it does not comport with modern ethical ideas.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The world's most thankless job

You have to read this lament by Daniel Dale, who was given the Sisyphean burden of keeping track of Donald Trump's lies by CNN. When he first started out in 2017, the Dumper was telling an average of 2.9 lies per day. By 2018, it was 8.3 and in 2019, they had to add a second reporter to the beat. As Dale recounts:

Trump's 2017 dishonesty tended to be impromptu ad-libbing. His 2018 dishonesty was much more scripted; he used serial lying as a deliberate strategy in the midterm elections. Then he used serial lying as a deliberate strategy in his 2019 Ukraine scandal. Then he used serial lying as a deliberate strategy in his response to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic -- holding daily "briefings" so wildly dishonest that CNN needed me to go on TV right afterward to debunk the nonsense viewers had just heard. 

People almost certainly died because of Trump's Covid-19 lying. And people died at the Capitol because of Trump's lying spree about the 2020 election. Though there was some solid absurdist comedy mixed into the President's dishonesty repertoire -- I couldn't help but be entertained by his imaginary "sir" stories about burly blue-collar workers crying in his presence -- there were always dark consequences, too.


These dark consequences included death threats against reporters -- and physical assaults as well, though Dale doesn't mention it. As he says elsewhere,  years of dishonest propaganda from Fox News, right wing radio and social media had poisoned Republican voters minds so they were primed to absorb the uninterrupted stream of bullshit from their Dear Leader as if it were sacred revelation. 


And sadly, the corporate media generally were simply unable to deal with this appropriately because of the conventions they had absorbed in saner times. We can't have a functioning society, let alone a democracy, if 40% of the population lives in an alternate reality. We must find a way to fix this.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Big Gummint

So I saw a CNN reporter interviewing a Booger Boy or a Crude Boy or a boy of some such ilk. She asked him the obvious question, why was he moved to protest the outcome of the presidential election while carrying a loaded semi-automatic rifle?

He responded that you need to get permission from the government to do anything. You need permission from the government to build a house, or start a business. I suppose he might have gone on to say that you need permission from the government to carry your loaded semi-automatic rifle into the grocery store. This reminded me that a prominent citizen of my town said in 2016 that he was going to vote for a certain orange reality TV star because the town had required him to get a permit for a gravel pit, or more precisely it was the neighboring town that gave him trouble about building a road to the gravel pit.

I expect these people to have room temperature IQs, but I still find this puzzling. As far as I know the candidate in 2016, and the president for the past 4 years, has never publicly addressed the issue of building permits. It would make little sense for him to do so since in general, they have nothing to do with the federal government.* Zoning and building codes are promulgated and enforced by municipalities within parameters set by the states. As they do not entail interstate commerce, the federal government generally cannot get involved because of the 10th Amendment. As far as I know Joe Biden has never taken a position on building permits either, so this seems a strange motivation to violently storm the Capitol.

That being established, why are building permits required? Is this not an unconscionable assault on our God-given liberties? First, as I noted in our last installment, one reason for zoning regulations and I now add, also building codes, is that what you build affects your neighbors. That's why land is designated for certain uses, there are required set-backs from the property line, there might be regulations to maintain the historic character of a neighborhood, height restrictions, and so on. That doesn't mean I necessarily agree with every actually existing regulation, I'm just saying there is a defensible rationale for them. You might not like them, but if you violate them, your neighbors will be unhappy. That's why you also are not allowed to punch them or shoot them.

Another reason for building codes is consumer protection. Most people don't know anything about construction and they might decide to hire a contractor who is cheap, and then have their roof collapse after the first snowfall, or blow off in a hurricane. Wiring has to be done up to code because otherwise the house might catch fire, and the fire company will have to come and put it out and maybe risk their lives rescuing you and your parakeet. Your plumbing needs to be properly hooked up to the municipal sewer system, or a properly designed septic tank, for obvious reasons. If the house is poorly insulated, it will be impossible to heat and it will also cause high emissions of carbon and other pollutants. And so on.

What these libertarians can't seem to understand is that there is more than one person on the planet, i.e. not just themselves. Again, I don't know what this has to do with the presidential election, but I'm just sayin'.

*In very rare cases, a building project might come up against a federal regulatory issue such as protection of surface waters or endangered species. I thought I should mention that because some doofus would otherwise likely quibble.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Sunday Sermonette: True and False Prophets

Like most of the chapters of this sermon of Moses, this one has multiple components. The first  repeats for what must be the fourth time (I haven't been keeping track) the assertion that Levites have "no inheritance" but are entitled to a portion of the sacrifice. The idea of their having no inheritance does not have the literal meaning it would in our society. They can indeed own real estate and there is even land set aside on the outskirts of the towns for their agricultural use. And as this very chapter says, they can own and sell ancestral property, although they can give it up and enter the service of the temple full time. What this means, as far as I can tell, is that there is no territory specifically set aside for their tribe.

18 The Levitical priests—indeed, the whole tribe of Levi—are to have no allotment or inheritance with Israel. They shall live on the food offerings presented to the Lord, for that is their inheritance. They shall have no inheritance among their fellow Israelites; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them.

This is the share due the priests from the people who sacrifice a bull or a sheep: the shoulder, the internal organs and the meat from the head. You are to give them the firstfruits of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the first wool from the shearing of your sheep, for the Lord your God has chosen them and their descendants out of all your tribes to stand and minister in the Lord’s name always.

If a Levite moves from one of your towns anywhere in Israel where he is living, and comes in all earnestness to the place the Lord will choose, he may minister in the name of the Lord his God like all his fellow Levites who serve there in the presence of the Lord. He is to share equally in their benefits, even though he has received money from the sale of family possessions.

As I say, he did have an inheritance as we understand the term.

Occult Practices

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. 10 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.

As we have discussed previously, there is no evidence that any of the inhabitants of the Levant practiced human sacrifice. The part about sacrificing a son or daughter in the fire may actually refer to a purification ritual, or may just be a slander. Of course many Israelite characters in the Torah and later in the Tanakh interpret omens. Viz. Joseph and Daniel, and are not detestable to the Lord.

12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. 13 You must be blameless before the Lord your God.

The Prophet

14 The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so. 15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.

 Who is the prophesied prophet? Well, it could be Samuel, Ezekiel or Jeremiah, or all of the above.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

More on property

As I wrote recently, the concept of private property is a social construct. It isn't a fact of nature, "out there" to be discovered. It's an invention. The social conventions about what can and cannot be property, and what rights inhere in various kinds of property, and who can own what property, vary from time to time and place to place. And possession of property is not inevitably or inherently just.

In the United States, for example -- as in many other times and places -- people could be property. The people who were owned, of course, had no property rights. Slave owners maintained that depriving the of the right to own other people who violate their liberty, and their political rights to govern their own states as they saw fit. Even today some people claim that the principle of liberty gives them the right to discriminate against people of African descent, that equal employment or housing or public accommodation laws are contrary to freedom. As one can readily see, that would depend on one's point of view.

The property rights of slave owners may seem to have been unrestricted. They could rape or kill their slaves if they wished, and they often did. But they were restricted after all, in that they could not dispatch their slaves to assault or steal from other white people. And that brings us to the inescapable point that property rights are always and everywhere limited, for the obvious reason that how you use your property can affect my use and enjoyment of my own. If you erect a building on your property that blocks the sun from my garden or blocks my view of the valley, you have deprived me of some of the use of my property. If you build a lead smelter next to a golf course, you have destroyed 100% of the value of the golf course. That is why there are zoning laws -- to protect some property rights by restricting others.

So liberty for one person inevitably means loss of liberty for another. The essential nature of property is not that it incorporates a universal principle the respect of which answers all arguments. On the contrary, laws and conventions regarding property trade off one set of interests against another. They are determined by political power, not by nature or a deity or any abstract principle. Keep all this in mind as we continue to review the Great Transformation and the origins of our society.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Capitol

As a youth, I worked for about a year for Congress Watch, which was Ralph Nader's lobbying arm. (It isn't clear that it still exists in any meaningful form.) That meant I spent a lot of time in the congressional office buildings and the Capitol, doing the menial task of distributing position papers. Believe it or not, back in those days they were mimeographed. When I lived in D.C. I also became a demonstration organizer. I did non-violence training, trained and supervised demonstration marshals. I participated in the anti-nuclear demonstration after the Three Mile Island meltdown, which was held at the Capitol.  So I have some information that might help you think about the recent unpleasantness. 


As most people know, or should know, the Capitol building was constructed largely by enslaved men. The current configuration is a major expansion of the original. The original House and Senate chambers became too small, occasioning the additions. The original House chamber is now Statuary Hall. The old Senate Chamber has been preserved as a museum. The Supreme Court originally met in the Capitol but now has its own building across the street to the east. The Supreme Court chamber is also now a museum.


The only members of congress who have offices in the Capitol today are the leadership, including the Vice President of the U.S. as president of the senate. The remaining members have offices in separate congressional office buildings (COBs), of which there are six. This is also where the hearing rooms are, and the gyms, cafeterias and hair salons. They are connected to the Capitol building by tunnels, with little toy trains the members can ride if they wish.


The leaders also have offices in the COBs, which is where they meet with members of the public. Their Capitol offices are not generally open to the public and there are no directories or signage to show people where they are. They are not at all easy to find. The original Speaker's office was just outside the House chamber, but it has been combined with two other offices to improve ventilation, creating what is called the Speaker's Lobby where members hang out and can schmooze with reporters and lobbyists. 

You will often read that the new president is sworn in on the Capitol steps, but this isn't really true. The famous steps, which are where the public normally enters, are on the east front facing the Supreme Court building. The West Front, where inaugurations take place, has a large platform, really a raised state, facing the national mall. There are steps leading up to it on the sides, but it isn't the Capitol steps. Other public events are held there, including permitted demonstrations. (I suppose this will no longer be the case.) The West front provided the stage for the Three Mile Island demonstration, and I spent it on the platform.

An ordinary condition of demonstration permits on the mall and other federal properties including the Capitol grounds and the Ellipse is that people are not allowed to carry flag sticks, or any other sort of rigid pole. There are inevitably large numbers of three or four different kinds of police -- Capitol Police, D.C. Police, Park Service, Federal Protective Service -- making sure of it. Another ordinary condition of demonstration permits is that the organizers provide marshals -- like me -- to make sure the crowd stays orderly and defuse any confrontations, and also provide emergency medical services. So what happened on January 6 wasn't only that there weren't enough Capitol police on hand. The entire demonstration should have been illegal and all of those flag-carrying participants should have been stopped and their flagpoles confiscated while they were on the Ellipse and certainly before they ever got to the Capitol. That would be standard procedure even for a demonstration of pacifist monks. 

Something very, very strange happened.

*I also took part as a trainer and marshal in a march on the Pentagon against intervention in Central America, and several other large demonstrations, as well as being in charge of stage security for the Gay Pride festival in two different years.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Wednesday Bible Study: Three things

As it is so often, the division into chapters is fairly arbitrary. Deuteronomy 17 has four pieces, the first of which is just a fragment repeating for the 14th time that sacrificial animals must be unblemished. Why this is so important to the Big Guy, who knows?

The second calls yet again for the execution of apostates. You know what I think of that, I and all my friends would be dead. Fortunately, this law is no longer in effect. I don't know if the Rabbis addressed this at all in the Talmud, or if it just quietly faded away. 


The third is about jurisprudence, but it's awfully vague. It first refers to "your courts," which are evidently local institutions but it doesn't say anything about them or how they work. If a case is "too difficult" for them to judge you're to take it to the appellate court, as it were, which is associated with the Temple. But again, no information about how the judge is appointed or what the judicial procedures may be.

The fourth is interesting. It basically says the King's head shouldn't get too big for his crown. Not too many wives, not too many horses, not too much gelt. Although this pretends to be a command for the future, since this was written at the beginning of the Second Temple period, there had in fact been many kings already. One has to wonder if it isn't a reaction to actual history. BTW, apparently Egypt is where you go to get horses. Not sure why they Israelites couldn't breed them.

Do not sacrifice to the Lord your God an ox or a sheep that has any defect or flaw in it, for that would be detestable to him.

If a man or woman living among you in one of the towns the Lord gives you is found doing evil in the eyes of the Lord your God in violation of his covenant, and contrary to my command has worshiped other gods, bowing down to them or to the sun or the moon or the stars in the sky, and this has been brought to your attention, then you must investigate it thoroughly. If it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, take the man or woman who has done this evil deed to your city gate and stone that person to death. On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting that person to death, and then the hands of all the people. You must purge the evil from among you.

Law Courts

If cases come before your courts that are too difficult for you to judge—whether bloodshed, lawsuits or assaults—take them to the place the Lord your God will choose. Go to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office at that time. Inquire of them and they will give you the verdict. 10 You must act according to the decisions they give you at the place the Lord will choose. Be careful to do everything they instruct you to do. 11 Act according to whatever they teach you and the decisions they give you. Do not turn aside from what they tell you, to the right or to the left. 12 Anyone who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the Lord your God is to be put to death. You must purge the evil from Israel. 13 All the people will hear and be afraid, and will not be contemptuous again.

The King

14 When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” 15 be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite. 16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” 17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Continuing the Great Transformation: Property

For libertarians, property rights are the most sacred value. They will often make arguments to the effect that taxation is theft, as are any laws or regulations that constrain their ability to do with their property as they wish, or reduce its value. Obviously, when pressed, they will agree that there are limits. Just because you own a gun doesn't mean you're allowed to shoot me. Sometimes you'll see a formulation to the effect that you should be able to do whatever you like with your property as long as you don't harm others.

It shouldn't take a profound thinker to see that as soon as you concede this, you have created a vast space of disputable problems, paradoxes, and reductio ad absurdum. Your magic key to the problem of rights and justice has melted like a snowball on a hot stove. But before we get to that, I need to say something about the concept of property fundamentally.

The concept of property, and the rights thereunto pertaining, is not out there in nature, like the rocks and the trees and the stars, waiting to be discovered. In fact there are many different concepts of property and they are all social constructions, specific to a time and culture. The native Americans, before the Europeans came, had no concept that land could be owned. People might have an understanding with neighboring groups about the right to exploit certain territory, or there might be conflicts about it, but there was no individual ownership of land and there could also be areas in which anyone could come and go freely. For this reason, initially they did not understand what the Europeans were doing when they exchanged good for land. Of course, more often, the Europeans just took it. We'll get back to that. To this day nobody owns the oceans. Although international treaties have given nations exclusive rights to exploit their coastal waters, nobody owns those either. In general, nobody owns rivers or large lakes. But different rules could be invented that would change that.


In foraging societies, generally speaking, if there is a successful hunt, or someone comes on a trove of edible plants, nobody owns the the carcass or the nut trees. The people share the resource. Of the meager possessions of the band, we may presume that some intimate items such as clothing or a favorite tool or toy or weapon were understood to pertain to an individual in some way; and shelters pertained to families, although they were largely impermanent. But other tools and resources were held in common. 

When the lords of medieval manors established their holdings, they did so by force of arms. When Europeans seized land in the Americas, they did it the same way. In modern capitalist societies, many fortunes, such as that of the Kennedy family, originated in criminal activity, and regardless, much property is inherited. Much more is the result of pure luck. We can see right away that there is a moral problem with declaring an absolute or even a presumptive right to property: most of it is demonstrably ill-gotten. Much else is of questionable provenance, as the rules by which one becomes entitled to profit or other forms of gain have to be invented, and people can disagree about what they ought to be. In other words, property rights freeze in place a situation which is demonstrably unjust to begin with. 


While you contemplate all that, I'll get to that vast space of disputable problems, paradoxes and reductio ad absurdum next time.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Some true facts about the First Amendment

Here's it is. I may talk about the religion part later, but now I'm just going to deal with the rest of it.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


This is some of what the First Amendment does not require:


  • It does not require Simon and Schuster to publish your book.
  • It does not require the New York Times to publish your editorial.
  • It does not require any person, corporation, university or other entity that owns or controls a medium of communication to allow you to use it to say whatever you want, or for that matter to use it  at all.

The courts have found, in general, that because Congress shall make no such law, and the executive is charged with taking care that the laws be faithfully executed (hence it's the executive, duhh), there can be no law that gives the executive the power to abridge the freedom of speech or of the press etc., therefore it can't do that.  The 14th Amendment extends the guarantees of the Bill of Rights to the states, so this now applies to them as well.  

However, speech (written as well as verbal) can be used for ends which are otherwise illegal. Therefore, the Amendment is not a license for blackmail, extortion, criminal conspiracy, fraud, or terroristic threats. Furthermore, a person who is harmed by false and defamatory speech may have cause for civil action. Public institutions, such as state institutions of higher education, that ordinarily allow their resources to be used for communicative persons by campus organizations, or rent them out, are burdened by the Amendment to some extent, but private universities are not -- although they may have values that militate for tolerance of diverse views. However, as one might easily imagine, speech that conflicts with other of their values presents a need for balance. One of those values, for example, might be truth, although not in the case of, say, Liberty University.

I hope this clears up any confusion. One might think that libertarians, above all others, would respect the right of the owners of newspapers, broadcast outlets, theaters and auditoriums, and social media platforms, to the unrestrained use of their own property.

Update: In response to Mojrim's comment, Michelle Goldberg discusses this problem here. If you can't read it because of the paywall, I'll just say that she ends up concluding:

But the answer isn’t to give Trump his beloved account back. [Russian dissident] Navalny pointed out that Trump’s ban seems arbitrary because so many other bad actors, including autocrats, Covid deniers and troll factories, still have access to the service. He called for platforms to create a more transparent process, appointing committees whose decisions could be appealed. That would be a start.

In the long term, tech monopolies need to be broken up, as Elizabeth Warren has proposed. Singer described the tech barons who finally took action against Trump after enabling him for years as “rulers of a kingdom that abdicated their responsibility for a long time.” This time, with Trump, they ruled judiciously. But they shouldn’t rule over as much as they do.

I'm not sure that is really a total solution, however.