Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Further follow up on crime and punishment

Comes now the question: what can be done about racial disparities in law enforcement. As I have said, there are multiple decision points and decision makers: police, prosecutors, judges and juries. However, since something like 80% of cases are plea bargained (probably effectively more if you count dismissals and diversion) judges and juries come in for only a minority of cases. Plea bargaining seems to be where most of the action is.

So maybe the answer is to eliminate plea bargaining and have every case go to trial. Seems easy, right? Well, before we get to plausibility, would that eliminate disparities? Judges will still decide whether to let cases go to trial at all, or dismiss them; and can also decide to reduce charges. But again, this is much more likely for people who can afford substantial time of good lawyers. Public defenders are far too overburdened to have much success at this stage, and you are also assuming that no judges harbor any bias. Then you have to assume that the public defenders of poor people can be just as effective at trial as the well-paid defenders of affluent people. Finally, you have to assume as well that jurors do not harbor any bias. None of these assumptions is in the least plausible.


But let's pretend they are. Eliminating plea bargaining would mean we need five times as many courtrooms; five times as many judges; five times as many court officers; five times as many court reporters; five times as many prosecutors; five times as many defenders; five times as many jurors; and parking spaces for all of them. It would also mean that people would spend far more time in pre-trial detention -- well, poor people specifically -- I don't know by what ratio exactly but the jail population might easily triple. And the jails are overcrowded already. I don't know that having every case go to trial would necessarily result in longer average sentences -- in fact some people would be acquitted who would otherwise have taken a plea. But that's a gamble as well.

So, would the taxpayers agree to this? According to the Urban Institute, per capita expenditures on the courts range from about $100 to more than $200 per year, depending on the state; so this would be asking taxpayers to kick in $400 to $800 per year each -- that's per capita mind you, so it includes children and retired people and people who don't work, so the actual amount paid per worker would be at least twice that. That's only after we'd constructed hundreds of new courthouses. In Connecticut we'd have to build 120 of them, so that would cost several billion dollars. We'd also have to build several new jails. I'm not even going to try to estimate the cost of that.

So this doesn't seem like a very likely proposal. What can we do instead? Most of the criminal justice population -- I've seen estimates as high as 80% -- have some sort of behavioral health problem, that is substance use disorder or mental illness. In fact, since we closed the psychiatric hospitals, jail and prison has turned out to be the alternative for a lot of people. They generally also have limited formal education and very poor prospects in the job market. But they'll almost all get out of jail after a while. 

So what we need to do instead is stop treating substance use disorders and mental illness as crimes. What most people need is not incarceration, but treatment, housing, and education. That would actually be a lot cheaper than jail, and a lot more effective at reducing crime.

Wednesday Bible Study: Ouch!

I think I speak for nearly all members of my sex in saying that Joshua 5 is my least favorite chapter of the Bible. Why the baby boys were not circumcised while the people were wandering in the wilderness is not explained, but it is what it is. 

Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they[a] had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites.

At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth.[b]

Now this is why he did so: All those who came out of Egypt—all the men of military age—died in the wilderness on the way after leaving Egypt. All the people that came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the wilderness during the journey from Egypt had not. The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the Lord. For the Lord had sworn to them that they would not see the land he had solemnly promised their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. So he raised up their sons in their place, and these were the ones Joshua circumcised. They were still uncircumcised because they had not been circumcised on the way. And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed.

I don't suppose Joshua circumcised all 40,000 personally, although that's literally what this says. What did they do with 40,000 foreskins?

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal[c] to this day.

10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. 11 The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped the day after[d] they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.

13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord[e] have for his servant?”

15 The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

Not sure what this is all about. The commander of the Lord's army makes no further appearance.


  1. Joshua 5:1 Another textual tradition we
  2. Joshua 5:3 Gibeath Haaraloth means the hill of foreskins.
  3. Joshua 5:9 Gilgal sounds like the Hebrew for roll.
  4. Joshua 5:12 Or the day
  5. Joshua 5:14 Or lord

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Crime and Punishment

Update: Learn how to read: I did not say that only poor people plea bargain, or anything remotely like that. I said that only people who can afford good lawyers have a decent chance of getting their case dismissed. As I said correctly, the vast majority of cases are plea bargained. And as I also said, explicitly, clearly, and truthfully, it would be impossible for every case to go to trial because the courts can't handle the workload they have now.

I do not publish idiotic comments. Please stop wasting my time with stupid crap.


 It is possible for a law to be explicitly racist, and of course throughout much of U.S. history a lot of it was. (Obviously, in the slave states, 100% of the law was explicitly racist but the 14th Amendment did not effectively eliminate explicitly racist laws.) Even without mentioning race, a law can have racist intent or effect by penalizing similar conduct differently, depending on irrelevant criteria that happen to be associated with race. The vastly disproportionate penalties for possession of crack as opposed to powder cocaine is one simple example.


What I want to talk about right now, however, is racially discriminatory enforcement of the law.  Racial disparities exist at every point in juvenile justice. While black and white youth engage in behaviors that are potentially justiciable at similar rates, Black and Latino youth are more likely to be arrested; more likely to go to trial instead of being diverted to community service or counseling; more likely to be convicted at trial; and more likely to receive sentences of confinement if convicted. 

The same goes for minor crimes by adults, be it shoplifting or selling loossies. (the penalty for which, if you happen to be Black, is summary execution.) That doesn't mean there shouldn't be laws against petty theft, or maybe even against selling loossies although that's more questionable. But it does mean the law should be enforced fairly, which it is not.

But what I really want to talk about right now is the war on [some people who use some] drugs. You may have noticed on your stroll around the neighborhood that there are establishments that sell alcohol, tobacco and nicotine delivery devices, openly and blatantly. They even have advertisements in the window. These are dangerous, addictive drugs. How do they get away with it? Well, it's perfectly legal.

Other drugs with potential for addiction however -- and by the way nicotine is the single drug which the greatest potential for addiction -- are illegal. These include opioids that have not been prescribed by a physician, amphetamines that have not been prescribed by a physician, benzodiazapines that not been prescribed by a physician . . . oh wait a minute, even when they have been prescribed by a physician these all have the potential to become addictive. Oh well, only illegal when not prescribed. Then there is cannabis, which until recently could never be prescribed, has very low potential for addiction, but was illegal everywhere.

As with juvenile delinquency and minor property crimes, enforcement of these laws has been highly racially disproportionate. White and Black people use illicit drugs at similar rates (some studies find that white people are actually more likely to use them) but Black people are far more likely to be arrested, charged, tried, convicted and incarcerated. That should not happen. But unlike laws against theft, there is a very compelling argument that these laws should not exist at all. 

We are seeing a growing consensus about that with respect to cannabis, which is now legal in many states. It is obvious that the costs of prohibition far exceed the costs of actual use of cannabis. And in fact for some people there may be benefits, although I will say that because of prohibition, the studies to determine this are lagging. I think medical marijuana may be overhyped but that's really beside the point.

That said, many people still have the impression that the personal and social costs of opioid or amphetamine misuse are so horrific that criminal penalties for use, possession, or small scale sale are necessary. Experience shows otherwise. Portugal decriminalized all small scale drug possession in 2001 and the result was that HIV infection, drug related crime (i.e. theft to support drug habits) and other social consequences declined sharply. This happened because decriminalization was accompanied by increased resources for counseling and treatment, and a change in cultural attitudes about drug use, with reduced stigma and sympathetic understanding of drug misuse. By the way, the large majority of people who ever use these drugs do not go on to become addicted or develop a problematic pattern of use.

Since then, 25 other countries, and the state of Oregon, have moved toward decriminalization. You can read all about the movement here. Since the drug laws have a powerfully racist effect, decriminalization will also eliminate a major cause of racial disparities in life chances and social status. That's important. But it's the right thing to do regardless. And no, there's nothing the fuck wrong with me, I agree with the vast majority of people who study this issue from a public health point of view. 

It seems I need to explain how the criminal justice system works. At the front end, the police have discretion about who they are going to arrest in the first place, and then they decide what to charge them with at booking. Who gets arrested in the first place depends in part on where the police concentrate their efforts -- what communities, what sorts of offenses -- as well as their personal discretion. As for charges, sometimes they are pretty unambiguous but the facts often offer options. Beyond that, what most people don't understand, is that the vast majority of cases do not go to trial. A person who can afford to pay a good lawyer may get a dismissal, because the police often don't have good enough evidence to get a conviction at trial and the judge may be convinced of that. 


However, most defendants can't afford a lawyer or at least not a lot of a lawyer's time, so they get very cursory defense. What happens in those cases -- the vast majority -- is a plea bargain. It's up to the discretion of prosecutors what charges they'll actually stick the person with and what the sentence will be. Innocent people often plead guilty because of the threat of a stiffer sentence if they don't. But the sentence that guilty people get is up to the prosecutor. The justice system is seriously overloaded and they couldn't possibly take every case to trial even if they wanted to. At the same time, if everybody go the maximum possible charge and sentence, there wouldn't be a fraction of enough room in jail for them all. But putting people in jail, generally speaking, does not deter or reduce crime. Instead, it turns minor offenders into more serious criminals. Diversion programs -- sending minor offenders to counseling, substance abuse treatment, restitution -- is more effective at reducing crime. But all of these choices require judgment and discretion. There isn't any glib answer.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Sunday Sermonette: How's that again?

We have a lot of fun pointing out the innumerable contradictions in the Bible, but Joshua 4 is extra special in containing a blatant contradiction within a single chapter. This author really needs an editor! Other than that, the only apparent purpose of this chapter is to harp on the miracle of stopping the flow of the Jordan, to demonstrate God's power.

When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”

So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been[a] in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.

Err, no they aren't. See verse 20, on the same page.

10 Now the priests who carried the ark remained standing in the middle of the Jordan until everything the Lord had commanded Joshua was done by the people, just as Moses had directed Joshua. The people hurried over, 11 and as soon as all of them had crossed, the ark of the Lord and the priests came to the other side while the people watched. 12 The men of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over, ready for battle, in front of the Israelites, as Moses had directed them. 13 About forty thousand armed for battle crossed over before the Lord to the plains of Jericho for war.

Wow, something bad must have happened. The Census in Numbers 26 counted 601,730 "from twenty years old and upward, throughout their fathers' house, all that are able to go to war in Israel." so evidently 560,000 of them are either exempt from military service, ran away, or died. Note that very little time has passed since then, just enough for Moses to give his sermons in Deuteronomy.

14 That day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they stood in awe of him all the days of his life, just as they had stood in awe of Moses.

15 Then the Lord said to Joshua, 16 “Command the priests carrying the ark of the covenant law to come up out of the Jordan.”

17 So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.”

18 And the priests came up out of the river carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord. No sooner had they set their feet on the dry ground than the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and ran at flood stage as before.

19 On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. 20 And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. 21 

Uhm, I thought they were at the place where the priests who carried the ark had stood, and they are there to this day. Hmm.

He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea[b] when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”


  1. Joshua 4:9 Or Joshua also set up twelve stones
  2. Joshua 4:23 Or the Sea of Reeds

Friday, March 26, 2021

Some specific thoughts on gun safety

Thanks for the comments on the previous post. 


That most of the media and political attention goes to the occasional mass shootings, while the daily toll of smaller scale incidents that account for the vast majority of firearm injuries and deaths is mostly ignored should not be surprising. It's front page news, sometimes for days, when an airliner goes down and a hundred people or more die, but the daily toll of motor vehicle deaths and injuries, which is a couple of orders of magnitude greater over time, is scarcely news at all. This is in part because of the sheer scale of the mass  catastrophe events, and also precisely because of their relative rarity. People tend not to notice events that happen regularly and predictably. 


However, another factor in the case of firearm violence is that it does disproportionately affect Black men, and that may explain some of the disproportionate focus on some of these incidents which have mostly affected white victims. The reasons for that are well understood by sociologists but are apparently difficult to explain to much of the public. It's a very important problem and I do mean to write about it, but the solutions are beyond the scope of this post so I will put that in the parking lot.


I would like to take the analogy with cars a lot farther. First, we don't talk about car control, we talk about traffic safety. And I think it will help if we talk about firearm safety, rather than gun control. We don't want to control guns, we want to affect what people do with them and reduce the toll of injuries and death. I don't think it's at all realistic to talk about banning handguns because a) regardless of what I think about the 2d Amendment the SC isn't going to go along with it in the lifetime of most of us and b) it isn't politically feasible even in states with the most support for firearm regulation. 


But we don't ban cars either. Well, there are moves to create car free zones in cities, and there is far less motor vehicle traffic in Basel or Amsterdam than there is in U.S. cities -- almost none, actually. So people could drive less and fewer people can need to own cars. Those are worthy objectives. But we do, more importantly, make driving and car ownership privileges subject to requirements of proven competence and standards of behavior. There is no reason why you shouldn't need a license to own, store or transport a firearm, that you can only get after you  undergo training and pass an exam; that there can't be legal requirements for how you store weapons and where and when you can take them; that they be registered and that you carry insurance; and that the privileges of ownership can be taken away, or denied if you don't qualify in the first place. I understand that all of this only pertains to operation of motor vehicles on public roads, so it's not a perfect analogy, but it seems close enough.

In fact so-called "red flag"  laws that allow for firearms to be confiscated under some circumstances do show evidence for effectiveness in reducing injuries and deaths. 

And while semi-automatic rifles are not usually the weapon of choice for day-to-day murder, they are the weapon of choice for mass murder and furthermore, there is no legitimate reason I can think of for civilians to own them. They aren't hunting or sporting weapons. Their only purpose, the purpose for which they are designed, is to kill Homo sapiens. The only reason a guy wants to walk into Walmart with a rifle across his back is because he's afraid his dick is too small, and there are more constructive approaches to that problem. I see no reason not to treat them the way we do fully automatic weapons: they must be stored at licensed gun ranges and can't leave the premises except under specific authorization for transportation. If you want to get your rocks off going to the range and shooting at a paper cutout of Michael Bloomberg, okay.


There is more we could do. Pediatricians can advise parents about the risks of firearm ownership and safe storage. Every time we read about kid getting a hold of Daddy's gun and killing his friend or his little sister is one time too many. Physicians should have a mechanism for getting guns away from people who are depressed or suicidal, and people with a legitimate fear of domestic violence should also have recourse. Yes, this should be subject to court review. There can be requirements that weapons have mechanisms so that only their (licensed) owners can fire them. (Yes, you can give your fob to somebody else but at least it can't happen without your knowledge.) 


There are probably additional measures that people can think of. I'm not saying that many or any of these are realistic political possibilities, but I do think they deserve a calm and reasoned discussion. 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Discussing good public policy

A very common problem in policy debates is conflation of what would be wise policy with what the courts think is permissible under the constitution. After all, the Constitution has been amended many times because 2/3 of both houses of congress and 3/4 of state legislatures thought it was a good idea. Sometimes this happened because the plain language of the constitution was thought to be inadequate or inappropriate -- viz. 13 and 14 -- or because politicians didn't like the way the courts were interpreting it -- viz. 16. So it should be possible for us to have a discussion about what sensible public policy would be on gun ownership and safety without referring to the Second Amendment or what you think it means. That's a separate question. Yes, as a practical matter we might come up against it if we wanted to implement our policies, but we ought to be able to cross that bridge later. 

So a guy entered a supermarket in Atlanta today carrying all of this upon his person:



This image was provided by the police, and you can read a discussion of the incident here. (For some reason the news stories say he had five guns but I count six.) Without referring to the Constitution, do you believe that it is wise to allow people to carry what appears to be a high powered semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun, three semi-automatic pistols, and a revolver, into a grocery store? Please justify your answer. And by the way, the turkeys and hams are already dead.

Answer the question I asked, not some other question.

Extremely bizarre comment: I just got an anonymous comment accusing me of ignoring this guy. You see why I have to moderate comments.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Wednesday Bible Study: A recycled miracle

Since the scouts have already forded the Jordan, we know it's perfectly possible. However, apparently we an never get enough demonstrations of Yahweh's power so he parts the waters of the Jordan as he had parted the Red Sea. Of course nobody is chasing the people this time, it's just for show. A couple of additional comments at the appropriate place.

Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. After three days the officers went throughout the camp, giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits[a] between you and the ark; do not go near it.”

Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” So they took it up and went ahead of them.

And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’”

Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God. 10 This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. 11 

 Actually, no. Like many of God's promises, he doesn't keep this one. We learn even in this very book that the Israelites fail to drive out the Jebusites, who "dwell with the children of Judah at Jerusalem unto this day," (Joshua 15:63), nor do they drive out the Canaanites (Joshua 16:10) and in Judges 3 we find that "Now these are the nations which the Lord left ... the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites."

See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. 12 Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13 

No reason for choosing these men is given and they aren't actually given anything to do. This seems to be a stray sentence.

And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”

14 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

Actually not the whole nation, just the military age men. But the women don't count.


  1. Joshua 3:4 That is, about 3,000 feet or about 900 meters

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The truth about the National Rifle Association

Drawing here on Jill Lepore's "These Truths: A history of the United States," know that gun safety legislation was widespread in the early 19th Century. Carrying concealed weapons was outlawed in Kentucky and Louisiana (yes) in 1813, and by numerous other states by 1859 including Texas, Indiana, Oklahoma, Alabama and Tennessee. In western cities and towns, sheriffs routinely confiscated the guns of visitors. This was completely normal and subject to no constitutional challenge whatever.

The National Rifle Association likes to represent itself as America's oldest civil rights organization, but that is complete bullshit. The NRA at its founding and long thereafter had no interest in civil rights. It was founded in 1871 as a sporting and hunting association, and its main activity was sponsoring target shooting contests. It supported and even sponsored gun safety legislation. The NRA supported the 1934 National Firearms Act and the 1938 Federal Firearms Act, which between them effectively outlawed automatic weapons, required licensing of gun dealers, established a waiting period for purchase of handguns. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld these measures in 1939, the Solicitor General arguing that the Second Amendment right "is not one which can be used for private purposes, but only one which exists where the arms are borne in the militia or some other military organization provided for by law and intended for the protection of the state." Well duhh, that's what it literally says.

The NRA supported a ban on mail order gun sales in 1963, and supported the 1968 Gun Control Act. Ronald Reagan supported gun control legislation as governor of California, and Richard Nixon did so as president, saying "I don't know why any individual should have a right to have a revolver in his house." The idea that the Second Amendment pertains to an individual right to carry a gun became the position of the NRA only in the 1970s, and endorsed Ronald Reagan, who thereupon changed his position on gun control. The campaign to reinterpret the Second Amendment began after that. So this whole concept of gun rights is a fairly recent issue. Let's just keep that in mind.

Starting a new life

I'm getting the second shot of the Pfizer vaccine this morning. CDC says to wait two weeks until I assume I'm fully protected but I expect that's being over-conservative. Anyway, it will mean real freedom for me. However, the ending of mitigation measures all over the country is premature. Yes, most of the most vulnerable people -- not all of them -- are now protected against serious disease, but we have seen that many young people end up with long term suffering and disability, even after a very mild acute course. 

Now is not the time to pretend this is over.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Windham County

 I've started posting again on the Windham County blog. Check it out if you might be interested.


 By way of Pharyngula, there's this: 


In case you don't know, Thomas R. Holtz is one of the world's foremost vertebrate paleontologists. And no, there's no such thing as the Dinosauria kingdom, dinosaurs are definitely animals, and birds are dinosaurs, just as humans are mammals. 

I draw your attention to this because it is an epidemic --people who think they know more about a subject than actual experts. They are following the example of their Dear Leader, which is why they can just decide that masks don't protect against transmission of Covid-19, that climate change is a hoax, or that taxes on profits cause corporations to raise consumer prices. The dismissal of science, and expertise in general, is extremely dangerous, because it has real social, biological and political consequences. Sure, experts get some things wrong and they sometimes disagree. Human knowledge is still limited and fallible. But some people know a lot more than you do about particular subjects, and your first option should be to believe them.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Sunday Sermonette: Scout's Honor

Joshua 2 is inherently puzzling. Why is this story here? What are we to take from it? And, like many of the stories in the Bible, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Remember that in Numbers 13, Joshua was one of 12 scouts Moses dispatched to check out Canaan and assess it for conquerability. God wound up killing 10 of them for not telling Moses what he wanted to hear, but Joshua and Caleb said it was definitely gettable, so they were spared and in fact Joshua wound up getting the top job. So obviously these two guys know what news they're supposed to come back with. Note that they don't learn anything of tactical value, only that the people are afraid of the Israelites. Since they're already committed to the invasion and God has promised them success, this information wouldn't seem to matter one way or the other.

And how did they get into the city and find their way to the house of ill repute? Maybe they asked the concierge where they could get laid. Somebody recognized them and the news got back to the king, but nobody tried to challenge or grab them at the time. Note that nobody on either side seems to have any problem with Rahab's profession. One must ask whether the spies availed themselves of her services. It would seem to follow because there's no other reason for them to have stayed there.


It seems to me that building a house with a window into the city wall is probably not the greatest idea. That this prestige dwelling is used as a whorehouse says something about the priorities of the city fathers. On the whole a strange tale. 

Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.

The king of Jericho was told, “Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.”

But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.

Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea[a] for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.[b] 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.

12 “Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign 13 that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them—and that you will save us from death.”

14 “Our lives for your lives!” the men assured her. “If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.”

15 So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. 16 She said to them, “Go to the hills so the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there three days until they return, and then go on your way.”

17 Now the men had said to her, “This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us 18 unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house. 19 If any of them go outside your house into the street, their blood will be on their own heads; we will not be responsible. As for those who are in the house with you, their blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on them. 20 But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear.”

21 “Agreed,” she replied. “Let it be as you say.”

So she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.

22 When they left, they went into the hills and stayed there three days, until the pursuers had searched all along the road and returned without finding them. 23 Then the two men started back. They went down out of the hills, forded the river and came to Joshua son of Nun and told him everything that had happened to them. 24 They said to Joshua, “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.”


  1. Joshua 2:10 Or the Sea of Reeds
  2. Joshua 2:10 The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the Lord, often by totally destroying them.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Frieden's complaint

 Former CDC Director Tom Frieden talked with an editor at BMJ. He did not mince words:

In the US what we’ve seen is a response [to the Covid-19 pandemic] that wasn’t organised, wasn’t based on science, and didn’t communicate openly, honestly, or forthrightly with the American public. So I’m enormously encouraged by the start of the Biden administration where it’s very clear there’s organisation, there’s a plan, there’s clear communication, and science will rule again. 

Q:It must have been painful to watch as political appointees to the CDC began making decisions about data, policy, and recommendations

It really was unprecedented. The CDC was undermined, sidelined, and maligned in a way that has never happened before. Materials were put on the CDC website that weren’t written by the CDC. I would compare that to someone writing graffiti on a national monument, except as someone pointed out to me [at least in that case] everyone knows it’s graffiti. I think it’ll take some time for the trust in the CDC to be regained. . . . 

At the press conference at which the CDC announced the recommendation that people should wear masks, President Trump said, I’m not going to wear a mask. Now, if President Trump had said, I don’t want the CDC issuing a recommendation that people wear masks, that would have been within his authority—[though] I wouldn’t agree with it [and think] it would have been a terrible mistake. But to have the complete dysfunctionality of a government that’s recommending masks and at the very same press conference, undermining that recommendation was really mind boggling.


Okay, that's important for Americans to know. So why is this only happening in a British medical journal? Eric Alterman's e-mail newsletter may help us understand:

Thanks to a heads-up from Mediaite, we may take a moment to focus on what ought to be considered a seminal moment in the history of the White House press corps. It came last week when, during one of Jen Psaki’s briefings, NBC News White House correspondent Peter Alexander tried to script Joe Biden with a demand that he praise Donald Trump’s vaccine performance. I swear I’m not making this up.

(One reason, by the way, that even political obsessives may not be aware of it is the fact that, as Eric Boehlert notes, while CNN ran “virtually every minute of every White House press briefing live and in its entirety,” it stopped after a month of Biden’s.)

Sounding like a made man in the Trump crime family, Alexander complained that, in Biden’s speech to the nation last week, “there was no mention of the president under whose administration these vaccines were developed … Does former President Trump not deserve any credit on vaccines?” Psaki didn’t take the bait, praising “science and medical experts,” who, you know, actually developed the vaccine, and also noting that “most of the infrastructure to vaccinate people was not in place when Biden took office.” After not getting the answer he wanted, Alexander nevertheless kept at it. “But on the development of the vaccines, it was Operation Warp Speed that was invented, executed, initiated under the former president.”

That’s all bad enough. But here is what would be called “the beauty part” were it not so damn morally, intellectually, and professionally revolting. Alexander went on: “So in the spirit of bipartisanship and unity last night, as opposed to the first comments which were about the denials in the first days, weeks or months, why not just say, ‘With credit to the previous administration and the former president for putting us in this position, we are glad that we have been able to move it forward?’”

Got that? This guy is not from Fox or Newsmax or Breitbart or OAN or Gateway Pundit or Ben Shapiro or National Review or Sinclair or The Daily Caller or The Washington Times, etc., etc. And he’s not merely demanding to know why the president is not crediting the man who regularly accuses him of being senile and having stolen the election and having a son who belongs in jail and of hating his country, but the man who in his spare time totally screwed up virtually everything having to do with both the virus and vaccine, because in addition to all of the above he’s an egomaniacal psychopath. That’s why, when Stephen Colbert asked Dr. Fauci “what changed” under Biden, the good doctor grinningly replied, “Everything.” Don’t forget also that we know that the Trump administration did not bother to come up with a plan to distribute the vaccine, though even here, Alexander took up the Trump team’s dishonest propaganda: “You can’t say it was absolutely not usable at all,” though, in fact, dropping vaccines off at the airport in each state and saying, “Go to it, guys,” is pretty damn close to unusable.

What I would ask, if I didn’t already know better, is what the hell is an NBC reporter doing trying to script the president on behalf of Trump in the first place? And no less important, why is he doing so, when, even narrowly speaking, he’s talking bullshit? And why didn’t the rest of the room burst out in hysterics? And why hasn’t he been fired for it? And really, how can we ever believe anything he ever reports again, knowing that this is his attitude toward covering the Biden administration? And what business does NBC News think it’s in, anyway?

This is a short newsletter, so here are some short answers.

  • White House reporters think their job is to play “gotcha,” not to get news.
  • White House reporters cannot admit that one of America’s two major political parties has become a cult in thrall to autocratic, conspiracy-minded lunatics who care not a whit about governance, even if that means hundreds of thousands of people must die unnecessarily.
  • There are exceptions, of course, but most TV journalists think of themselves as entertainers, not as news gatherers. They care about their Q Ratings far more than about telling the truth. They understand, likely accurately, that their corporate bosses don’t want the truth and their audiences have not been prepared to hear it. That’s why they loved Trump; he cast them as “the enemy of the people” and gave them a clear role to play. It’s also why the members of the White House press still have not figured out how to handle a president whose only concern is how to get the job done that he was elected to do, without theatrics and the kind of childish playacting that so many White House reporters think the job entails.


. . .

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Wednesday Bible Study: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

As I briefly mentioned previously, scholars believe that the core of the Book of Joshua was written at about the same time as Deuteronomy, perhaps based on some older sources, but probably didn't take its final form until much later. In any case, D was obviously aware of its basic contents. 


The purported events of the book happened hundreds of years before it was written. Like everything that has gone before, Joshua is almost certainly entirely fictitious. The Israelites did not conquer Canaan from the east. They were indigenous to the area. There is no archaeological evidence of the conquest and sacking of the various cities described here. It helps that like Moses, Joshua has no descendants, which avoids any resulting problems. 


This will no doubt offend some people, but it is too obvious not to point out that the Book of Joshua casts the Israelites in the role of Nazis and Joshua in the role of Hitler, the difference being that they win their lebensraum. Perhaps a more precise analogy would be the European conquest of the Americas. The entire book is a long litany of massacres, enslavement, torture and murder. The point of all this is to demonstrate the greatness of Yahweh, but of course this is not his character in modern, Rabbinical Judaism. The relevance of the Book of Joshua to present-day Judaism and Christianity is apparent in only the most extremist versions. For most believers, it is best left unmentioned. Anyway, the first chapter just records the passing of the baton.

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west.

Actually the territory of the Israelites never extended this far.

No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

10 So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: 11 “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.’”

12 But to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, 13 “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you after he said, ‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’ 14 Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them 15 until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”

16 Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses. 18 Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey it, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!”

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

I want to say one word to you, just one word:

Plastics. That was famous advice given to Dustin Hoffman's character in The Graduate, and if we were only concerned about Benjamin Braddock's financial future, it was actually excellent advice. But the recent discussion in the comments prompted me to hoist the issue to the front page. The problem of plastic waste is already catastrophic, and it's on track to get worse. 


There are lots of good sources about this, including the Wikipedia article, but look out: there are industry front groups that are pretending to want to do something about it but they're largely fraudulent. As commenters have noted, recycling is a core fraud. The idea that we can all be virtuous by tossing our plastic waste in the blue bin, and then everything is okay, is an intentional deceit. Maybe 8% of plastic gets recycled, and the biggest contributors to the problem of plastic waste in the environment are not recyclable at all. National Geographic has some background:


  • Half of all plastics ever manufactured have been made in the last 15 years.
  • Production increased exponentially, from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 448 million tons by 2015. Production is expected to double by 2050.
  • Every year, about 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations. That’s the equivalent of setting five garbage bags full of trash on every foot of coastline around the world.
  • Plastics often contain additives making them stronger, more flexible, and durable. But many of these additives can extend the life of products if they become litter, with some estimates ranging to at least 400 years to break down.


The most damage from plastic waste occurs in the oceans, where creatures consume it and are weakened or killed. While there may be some promise in creating degradable plastics, the products that are available now are almost as fraudulent as recycling. They only break down under engineered conditions, and are nearly as persistent in the natural environment as plastic shopping bags. There are ways to greatly reduce and ultimately nearly eliminate single use plastic. Many states and towns, for example, have banned single use plastic shopping bags. You have to bring our own reusable bag, and in my case I already had a bunch because they give away tote bags at academic conferences. The merchants love it because it saves them money. (The grocery business is extremely low margin.) My infinitimart sells reusable mesh bags for produce that you can use instead of the little plastic bags on rolls. No need for a straw in your drink! But these measures are pretty trivial compared to the magnitude of the problem, which will require strong political action.

I won't go into all that in more depth here, but one thing you probably didn't think about is that those disposable face masks everybody is wearing now are largely made of plastic, which breaks down into non-degradable microfibers, and people are throwing away 3 million of them every day. I actually don't dispose of them, because I only wear one for short periods while shopping, basically, and you can in fact reuse them dozens of times if that's all you do. But washable, reusable cloth masks are a better choice. You can even make your own. It's a small, very small thing, but it's easy, and can even save you a few pennies.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Sunday Sermonette: The end

With the death of Moses, we now come to the end of Deuteronomy and the end of the Torah. The Book of Joshua, which follows, continues the same story with the prophesied conquest of Canaan from the west. Scholars believe that core portions of Joshua were written at about the same time as Deuteronomy, but it didn't take it's final form until much later. Like Deuteronomy, it depicts events that purportedly took place hundreds of years before it was written, and it is entirely fictitious. We'll say more about this next time when we introduce it. For now, this is short and semi-sweet.

34 Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him[a] in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is.

Apparently God buried Moses personally. 

Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit[b] of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.

10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.


  1. Deuteronomy 34:6 Or He was buried
  2. Deuteronomy 34:9 Or Spirit

Saturday, March 13, 2021


 I finally broke down and tried the impossible burger. They sell it at my local superduperhyperultramegamart, so I figured I didn't have an excuse not to. I haven't eaten beef for about 45 years, so I really didn't remember what it tastes like and I had some trepidation. Everybody says it's a convincing imitation, and I thought I might be grossed out.

Well, no, I wasn't really grossed out, but on the other hand I didn't feel like I'd been missing anything. I actually think some of the veggie burgers you can get (or make yourself) that aren't pretending to be meat are better. And by the way they are also nutritionally superior. But since the vast majority of the earth's population apparently feels that they just have to be eating something that at least seems to be meat, please do go for it. A plant based diet requires 1/10 of the land surface and fossil fuels and other unsustainable inputs that it takes to grow feed for animals. Our species can't survive if everybody has to eat meat. So if you just have to have it, and this does the requisite floating of your boat, please do go for it. 

I was actually hoping to find "meat" balls but they only had burger and sausage. In fact the soy-based meatballs that have been around for 20 years are just fine, they work great in meatball subs or spaghetti and meatballs. So if your problem is that you just didn't know how to make vegetarian meals and it was too hard to learn, that's no longer operative. There is no longer any reason for anybody to eat the flesh of tetrapods.

One more thing: It comes encased in a whole lot of largely non-recyclable plastic. That's a definite count against it. When I worked as a short-order cook in my youth our frozen hamburger patties came in a cardboard box, separated by slips of paper. I presume the manufacturers want to see the product and that it looks like actual ground beef, but it does work against the purpose.

Friday, March 12, 2021

More on how to think

The argument from authority is fallacious only under specific circumstances. The range of human knowledge is so vast, and knowledge in specific areas so deep, that none of us can have a substantial grasp of more than a fraction of our heritage of learning. I don't know much about opera, shipbuilding, barley cultivation, electrical engineering, parasitology, Sanskrit literature, or the mathematics of infinities. Obviously, the list of subjects I don't know much or anything about is orders of magnitude larger than the subjects about which I have some substantial grasp -- enough to read critically what others write -- and the subjects about which I can legitimately claim to be an authority are even fewer. That's why I pay an auto mechanic and and electrician as well as a physician.

So, as we go through life, we have to depend on experts to provide conclusions about most matters. That is the only wise and sane way to live. Knowing which experts to trust would be very challenging indeed if we didn't have credentialing and peer review systems. Whether you like it or not, people who have advanced degrees and get their papers published in peer reviewed journals are much more likely to be reliable authorities than any random blowhard. And that's also why we have certification and/or licensing systems for auto mechanics, electricians and physicians.

However, experts are not always right. We have to believe them most of the time, but I or someone I refer you to presents a well documented, well reasoned argument that you are not inclined to agree with -- whether because it does not accord with your preconceptions or your religious reverence for Donald J. Trump, for example -- it is not a valid  response to say either "The great sage Simplicio thinks otherwise so I can ignore this," nor to say "This is just an argument from authority." The former is indeed the argument from authority. If Simplicio has provided an argument that rebuts my offer, you need to say what that is so we can evaluate it. It may well be that Simplicio is wrong after all. On the other hand, what I have offered is not an argument from authority, it is an actual argument that happens to have been provided by authorities. You need to read the argument and, if you find something wrong with it, say what that is. That it comes from authority is not a reason to reject it, it is a reason to accept it by default, and the burden is on you to show why it is wrong.


The Lancet is based in Britain but it is an international journal of public health and medicine. The editors frequently commission panels on matters of interest internationally or in specific regions. The authors of the Lancet report on public health in the Trump era are in fact Americans. As with all Lancet commissions, they represent a range of expertise and the sections on particular issues are written by people with the specifically relevant expertise. 



Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Wednesday Bible study: One more thing

It so happens there is an article in the NYT today about Deuteronomy. It's paywalled,  so you may not be able to read it. It's about a scholar with the unfortunate name of Dershowitz (no relation apparently) who thinks that a text found in 1883 and proclaimed to be an early version of part of Deuteronomy, and commonly believed to be a forger, was not a forgery after all. That's a complicated sentence. Anyway, if you're interested and you can read it, great. Meanwhile I thought I'd just excerpt this paragraph which briefly explains the common understanding of the nature of Deuteronomy, which is more or less as I described it earlier but is well-stated here.

Deuteronomy, as it appears in the Bible, contains Moses’ farewell sermon to the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land. In his address, Moses recalls their history, and emphasizes the importance of following the laws, including the Ten Commandments (first revealed in Exodus), which he then restates.

Ironically, Deuteronomy itself has been described as a “pious forgery,” as scholars call works created to justify a particular belief or practice. The Hebrew Bible states that during the reign of Josiah, around 622 B.C.E., priests discovered an ancient “Book of the Law” in the Temple in Jerusalem. Since the 19th century, scholars have held that Deuteronomy (or its nucleus of laws) was that book, which in fact had been composed shortly beforehand to justify the centralization of worship at the Temple and other priestly reforms.

Wednesday Bible Study: The blessing of the tribes

As he prepares for death, Moses blesses each of the tribes in turn. However, the list of the tribes of Israel varies from place to place in the Bible. In this instance, there are only 11. Simeon, Ephraim, and Manasseh, each of which appear elsewhere, are omitted here. The usual number we think of is 12, but it's 13 in Numbers 1. Here's a handy dandy table from SAB:





33 This is the blessing with which Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death. He said,

“The Lord came from Sinai,
    and dawned from Se′ir upon us;[a]
    he shone forth from Mount Paran,
he came from the ten thousands of holy ones,
    with flaming fire[b] at his right hand.

Oddly, the tens of thousands of holy ones are not mentioned in the original, in Exodus.

Yea, he loved his people;[c]
    all those consecrated to him were in his[d] hand;
so they followed[e] in thy steps,
    receiving direction from thee,
when Moses commanded us a law,
    as a possession for the assembly of Jacob.
Thus the Lord became king in Jesh′urun,
    when the heads of the people were gathered,
    all the tribes of Israel together.

“Let Reuben live, and not die,
    nor let his men be few.”

And this he said of Judah:

“Hear, O Lord, the voice of Judah,
    and bring him in to his people.
With thy hands contend[f] for him,
    and be a help against his adversaries.”

And of Levi he said,

“Give to Levi[g] thy Thummim,
    and thy Urim to thy godly one,
whom thou didst test at Massah,

The Thummim and Urim are magic divining stones, you may recall.

    with whom thou didst strive at the waters of Mer′ibah;
who said of his father and mother,
    ‘I regard them not’;
he disowned his brothers,
    and ignored his children.
For they observed thy word,
    and kept thy covenant.
10 They shall teach Jacob thy ordinances,
    and Israel thy law;
they shall put incense before thee,
    and whole burnt offering upon thy altar.
11 Bless, O Lord, his substance,
    and accept the work of his hands;
crush the loins of his adversaries,
    of those that hate him, that they rise not again.”

12 Of Benjamin he said,

“The beloved of the Lord,
    he dwells in safety by him;
he encompasses him all the day long,
    and makes his dwelling between his shoulders.”

13 And of Joseph he said,

“Blessed by the Lord be his land,
    with the choicest gifts of heaven above,[h]
    and of the deep that couches beneath,
14 with the choicest fruits of the sun,
    and the rich yield of the months,
15 with the finest produce of the ancient mountains,
    and the abundance of the everlasting hills,
16 with the best gifts of the earth and its fulness,
    and the favor of him that dwelt in the bush.
Let these come upon the head of Joseph,
    and upon the crown of the head of him that is prince among his brothers.
17 His firstling bull has majesty,
    and his horns are the horns of a wild ox;
with them he shall push the peoples,
    all of them, to the ends of the earth;
such are the ten thousands of E′phraim,
    and such are the thousands of Manas′seh.”

18 And of Zeb′ulun he said,

“Rejoice, Zeb′ulun, in your going out;
    and Is′sachar, in your tents.
19 They shall call peoples to their mountain;
    there they offer right sacrifices;
for they suck the affluence of the seas
    and the hidden treasures of the sand.”

20 And of Gad he said,

“Blessed be he who enlarges Gad!
    Gad couches like a lion,
    he tears the arm, and the crown of the head.
21 He chose the best of the land for himself,
    for there a commander’s portion was reserved;
and he came to the heads of the people,
    with Israel he executed the commands
    and just decrees of the Lord.”

22 And of Dan he said,

“Dan is a lion’s whelp,
    that leaps forth from Bashan.”

23 And of Naph′tali he said,

“O Naph′tali, satisfied with favor,
    and full of the blessing of the Lord,
    possess the lake and the south.”

24 And of Asher he said,

“Blessed above sons be Asher;
    let him be the favorite of his brothers,
    and let him dip his foot in oil.
25 Your bars shall be iron and bronze;
    and as your days, so shall your strength be.

26 “There is none like God, O Jesh′urun,
    who rides through the heavens to your help,
    and in his majesty through the skies.
27 The eternal God is your dwelling place,
    and underneath are the everlasting arms.
And he thrust out the enemy before you,
    and said, Destroy.
28 So Israel dwelt in safety,
    the fountain of Jacob alone,
in a land of grain and wine;
    yea, his heavens drop down dew.
29 Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you,
    a people saved by the Lord,
the shield of your help,
    and the sword of your triumph!
Your enemies shall come fawning to you;
    and you shall tread upon their high places.”


  1. Deuteronomy 33:2 Gk Syr Vg: Heb them
  2. Deuteronomy 33:2 The meaning of the Hebrew word is uncertain
  3. Deuteronomy 33:3 Gk: Heb peoples
  4. Deuteronomy 33:3 Heb thy
  5. Deuteronomy 33:3 The meaning of the Hebrew word is uncertain
  6. Deuteronomy 33:7 Cn: Heb with his hands he contended
  7. Deuteronomy 33:8 Gk: Heb lacks Give to Levi
  8. Deuteronomy 33:13 Two Heb Mss and Tg: Heb with the dew