Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Another big grift

Professor Campos takes a long hard look at the economics of higher education. You can read the whole thing if you're interested. In a pistachio shell, tuition has risen enormously in the past 40 years, as have total revenues and spending, but the money isn't going to instruction. As a matter of fact, more and more teaching is done by low-paid and job insecure adjuncts and non-tenure track faculty. The money is going to more and more highly paid administrators, fancy buildings, athletic programs, and such fol-de-rol. And by the way it is not the case that public subsidies for higher education have declined. They have in fact increased, but again, the money isn't going to instruction, it also is being hoovered up by administrators and buildings.

And by the way students aren't getting more economic payoff from the ever higher tuition.* It is true that the gap in earnings between people with and without degrees has increased, but that's because people without degrees are earning less, not because people with degrees are earning a whole lot more. Campos analyzes the forces driving this trend, pretty compellingly, but he doesn't propose a solution.

It's particularly interesting that the comments on the post quickly veer  into health care. There are different dynamics, but people are experiencing a more and more expensive system, with increasing public subsidies, and they aren't feeling better cared for. It is true that health care administrators, like university administrators, are more and more highly paid, while physicians -- particularly in primary care -- are working harder and making less money. Like universities spending more on student centers and dining halls, health care systems are buying fancier buildings and hospitals are spending more on, well, hospitality - better food,  better amenities for visitors - to attract more of the higher paying patients. There are other drivers of increasing health care costs. I don't want to make too much of the parallels. But I do think it's interesting that people are experiencing these dynamics similarly.

*To be fair, higher tuition isn't coming entirely out of the pockets of students. Federal tuition subsidies have increased, and a lot of people get financial aid and don't actually pay the sticker price. But the money is still flowing in.

Sunday Sermonette: At last a story with a point

Joshua 22 tells a simple story very elaborately, but at least it's clear why this is here. You may recall that three groups of Israelites wanted to settle on the east side of the Jordan, but God insisted that their military age men participate in the conquest of Canaan. Now their obligation is discharged, and they go home with their share of the loot. However, they feel isolated from the rest of the nation so they build their own altar. The people on the west side think they have committed apostasy, and send a delegation to investigate preparatory to bringing the whole army over and murdering them all. Along the way they are references to the miscegenation with Moabite women in Numbers 25 and Achan's theft of "devoted things" in Joshua 7, so this is one more warning against disobedience to Yahweh.

But the east siders explain the altar isn't going to be used for sacrifice, it's just a reminder to the children that they are in the cult of Yahweh. So it's all good. The denouement is that Israelites can remain part of the national and religious community even if they don't have ready access to the tabernacle, while at the same time reemphasizing that the tabernacle and its altar are the one place where sacrifices can be made and Yahweh is imminent. BTW in the KJV they name the new altar "Ed," but that doesn't happen in the New International Version presented here. Remember that all of this folderol about the altar and sacrifices is of course no longer applicable to Judaism or Christianity. If you think about it, the entire Torah and the Deuteronomic history (of which Joshua is the first book) are pretty much irrelevant to contemporary religion, with the exception of a few cherry picked laws observed by orthodox Jews. Even the major festivals are observed in a completely different way since they no longer involve pilgrimages to the tabernacle. They have become abstract objects of veneration, but their content doesn't really matter.

22 Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh and said to them, “You have done all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded, and you have obeyed me in everything I commanded. For a long time now—to this very day—you have not deserted your fellow Israelites but have carried out the mission the Lord your God gave you. Now that the Lord your God has given them rest as he promised, return to your homes in the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan. But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Then Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their homes. (To the half-tribe of Manasseh Moses had given land in Bashan, and to the other half of the tribe Joshua gave land on the west side of the Jordan along with their fellow Israelites.) When Joshua sent them home, he blessed them, saying, “Return to your homes with your great wealth—with large herds of livestock, with silver, gold, bronze and iron, and a great quantity of clothing—and divide the plunder from your enemies with your fellow Israelites.”

So the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh left the Israelites at Shiloh in Canaan to return to Gilead, their own land, which they had acquired in accordance with the command of the Lord through Moses.

10 When they came to Geliloth near the Jordan in the land of Canaan, the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an imposing altar there by the Jordan. 11 And when the Israelites heard that they had built the altar on the border of Canaan at Geliloth near the Jordan on the Israelite side, 12 the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them.

13 So the Israelites sent Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, to the land of Gilead—to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. 14 With him they sent ten of the chief men, one from each of the tribes of Israel, each the head of a family division among the Israelite clans.

15 When they went to Gilead—to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh—they said to them: 16 “The whole assembly of the Lord says: ‘How could you break faith with the God of Israel like this? How could you turn away from the Lord and build yourselves an altar in rebellion against him now? 17 Was not the sin of Peor enough for us? Up to this very day we have not cleansed ourselves from that sin, even though a plague fell on the community of the Lord! 18 And are you now turning away from the Lord?

“‘If you rebel against the Lord today, tomorrow he will be angry with the whole community of Israel. 19 If the land you possess is defiled, come over to the Lord’s land, where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and share the land with us. But do not rebel against the Lord or against us by building an altar for yourselves, other than the altar of the Lord our God. 20 When Achan son of Zerah was unfaithful in regard to the devoted things,[a] did not wrath come on the whole community of Israel? He was not the only one who died for his sin.’”

21 Then Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh replied to the heads of the clans of Israel: 22 “The Mighty One, God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows! And let Israel know! If this has been in rebellion or disobedience to the Lord, do not spare us this day. 23 If we have built our own altar to turn away from the Lord and to offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, or to sacrifice fellowship offerings on it, may the Lord himself call us to account.

24 “No! We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 The Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you—you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the Lord.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the Lord.

26 “That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar—but not for burnt offerings or sacrifices.’ 27 On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship the Lord at his sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings. Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no share in the Lord.’

28 “And we said, ‘If they ever say this to us, or to our descendants, we will answer: Look at the replica of the Lord’s altar, which our ancestors built, not for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but as a witness between us and you.’

29 “Far be it from us to rebel against the Lord and turn away from him today by building an altar for burnt offerings, grain offerings and sacrifices, other than the altar of the Lord our God that stands before his tabernacle.”

30 When Phinehas the priest and the leaders of the community—the heads of the clans of the Israelites—heard what Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had to say, they were pleased. 31 And Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, said to Reuben, Gad and Manasseh, “Today we know that the Lord is with us, because you have not been unfaithful to the Lord in this matter. Now you have rescued the Israelites from the Lord’s hand.”

32 Then Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, and the leaders returned to Canaan from their meeting with the Reubenites and Gadites in Gilead and reported to the Israelites. 33 They were glad to hear the report and praised God. And they talked no more about going to war against them to devastate the country where the Reubenites and the Gadites lived.

34 And the Reubenites and the Gadites gave the altar this name: A Witness Between Us—that the Lord is God.


  1. Joshua 22:20 The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the Lord, often by totally destroying them.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Doo, doo doo, doo doo, doo doo doo . . .

Take a walk on the wild side with Just Security's litigation tracker. It seems the Great Pumpkin is facing 10 civil suits and 4 criminal investigations. That's not counting at least two other criminal investigations that could ultimately lead to him. The Manhattan DA and NY Attorney General investigations have apparently merged in some respects, but it is likely they retain some separate elements. I should say that the Manhattan DA's investigation has been publicly said to target the Trump organization, and what specific individuals or entities might be presented for indictment to the grand jury has not been stated.

It is entirely unclear what the consequences would be of a successful lawsuit, an indictment, or a criminal conviction. He settled a lawsuit over the Trump University fraud just prior to the election, and paid IIRC $12 million in restitution. He also settled a lawsuit over the fraudulent Trump Foundation, which was put out of business, while he occupied the office of president. None of this matters in the least to the millions of lost souls who worship him. (Which is indeed puzzling but I've given up trying to understand it.) 


I would be very surprised if the Fulton County investigation goes anywhere. The DA already has all the evidence she needs, or ever could be, but she also knows that if she indicts a mob will burn down her office and kill her. So there's that. The Manhattan grand jury has been empaneled for six months, which suggests it will be quite a while before we see any outcome from that. We know that the New York investigation concerns bank, insurance and tax fraud but it may well include other matters such as money laundering. 


In any case, let's suppose that sometime in late summer or fall of this year, the grand jury issues a bill of indictment against Dear Leader. It will be a complicated white collar crime prosecution, which will be tied up by lawyers for a long time before it ever gets to trial. Then it will involve matters that jurors and the public will have a hard time understanding, which will be massively obfuscated by lawyers and Faux News. Don't hold your breath, but let us suppose for the sake of argument that he is convicted, maybe next summer. What would be the impact on the mid-term election? I really don't know.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

How deep is the doo doo?

An oddity of the current eventosphere is that political junkies are all breathlessly awaiting the progress of various criminal investigations. There's the January 6 investigation which has already resulted in charges against more than 400 people. Given that the Republicans will never allow an investigation by an independent commission, that's probably all we're going to get on that front. Will it overturn the rock to reveal the evil mastermind? Only time will tell.

However, there is more clarity about investigations focusing on specific prominent individuals. As I have made clear, I avoid prognostication and I try to be cautious in drawing conclusions, but let's review what we do know. I'll take them in alphabetical order, which happens to also be in order of importance, I think.

Andrew Cuomo faces two categories of bad trouble: inappropriate behavior toward women, and malfeasance in office. I do not think he should be governor of New York, and many politicians have resigned over less than what we already know, but Cuomo is hanging tough, and so far the voters, inexplicably, are sticking with him. Although the Attorney General is investigating at the behest of the legislature, the piggish behavior for the most part does not seem to rise to the level of criminality. I believe there is at least one exception in which there could be a claim of assault, but there's no corroboration and it probably wouldn't be prosecutable. This would be a personnel matter and in this case the only controlling authority is the legislature, which has shown no inclination to impeach and remove him. 

He is also accused -- well more than accused, he did it -- of issuing misleading statistics about nursing home deaths from Covid-19, and of letting VIPs and cronies jump the line for tests and vaccination. Yeah that's bad and in fact it might arguably have led to some people, you know, dying. However, it's very hard to make a criminal case out of official acts, unless there's a quid pro quo, i.e. bribery; or violation of a very specific statute. That doesn't seem to be the case here so again, any consequences are up to the legislature and they don't seem interested as long as the voters mostly don't care. So what are you gonna do?

We come now to Matt Gaetz. So far, no charges of course, but published reports make it sound awfully bad for him. However, the real question is whether the investigation leads to other Florida politicians and political donors. That could be deep doo doo indeed. We can only wait and see.

Next on our list is Rudy, Rudy, Rudy. He's an idiot, to begin with, and this is likely a counterintelligence as well as a criminal investigation. Don't hold your breath, however. There is a whole lot of underbrush to wade through as they litigate a special master to identify any potentially privileged material in the 18 or so confiscated devices, and then process the evidence. Again, the real question is not the fate of Rudy per se, but where else this may lead. I will only note that attorney-client communications are not privileged when they constitute a criminal conspiracy in themselves.  Make of that what you will.

I will discuss the letter T next time.

Oh for chrissake: I'm sorry to have to say this, but people who do not have at least a tenuous connection to reality are not allowed to post comments here.

Wednesday Bible Study: Don't worry, we're almost done with Joshua

Joshua 21 is just the incredibly boring recitation of the towns and pasturelands given to the Levites. Levites wrote this whole thing up till now, at least since Exodus, so it's not surprising that a major focus of it is on the perks and loot they get. Apparently, not a few seminarians have reported that reading the Book of Joshua caused them to lose their faith. Indeed, I don't understand how anybody can read it without that effect.

The penultimate verse of this chapter, BTW, is entirely false. The Lord did not deliver all their enemies into their hands. Viz:

As for the Jebusites the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the children of Judah could not drive them out; but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Judah at Jerusalem unto this day. Joshua 15:63

And they drave not out the Canaanites. Joshua 16:10

Yet the children of Manasseh could not drive out the inhabitants of those cities; but the Canaanites would dwell in that land. Joshua 17:12

When the children of Israel were waxen strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute, but did not utterly drive them out. Joshua 17:13

The Lord ... could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron. Judges 1:19

The children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites that inhabited Jerusalem ... neither did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites. Judges 1:21-27

These are the nations which the LORD left ... the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites. Judges 3:1-5

Anyway, in a couple of weeks we'll get to Judges, and the action will pick up.

21 Now the family heads of the Levites approached Eleazar the priest, Joshua son of Nun, and the heads of the other tribal families of Israel at Shiloh in Canaan and said to them, “The Lord commanded through Moses that you give us towns to live in, with pasturelands for our livestock.” So, as the Lord had commanded, the Israelites gave the Levites the following towns and pasturelands out of their own inheritance:

The first lot came out for the Kohathites, according to their clans. The Levites who were descendants of Aaron the priest were allotted thirteen towns from the tribes of Judah, Simeon and Benjamin. The rest of Kohath’s descendants were allotted ten towns from the clans of the tribes of Ephraim, Dan and half of Manasseh.

The descendants of Gershon were allotted thirteen towns from the clans of the tribes of Issachar, Asher, Naphtali and the half-tribe of Manasseh in Bashan.

The descendants of Merari, according to their clans, received twelve towns from the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Zebulun.

So the Israelites allotted to the Levites these towns and their pasturelands, as the Lord had commanded through Moses.

From the tribes of Judah and Simeon they allotted the following towns by name 10 (these towns were assigned to the descendants of Aaron who were from the Kohathite clans of the Levites, because the first lot fell to them):

11 They gave them Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron), with its surrounding pastureland, in the hill country of Judah. (Arba was the forefather of Anak.) 12 But the fields and villages around the city they had given to Caleb son of Jephunneh as his possession.

13 So to the descendants of Aaron the priest they gave Hebron (a city of refuge for one accused of murder), Libnah, 14 Jattir, Eshtemoa, 15 Holon, Debir, 16 Ain, Juttah and Beth Shemesh, together with their pasturelands—nine towns from these two tribes.

17 And from the tribe of Benjamin they gave them Gibeon, Geba, 18 Anathoth and Almon, together with their pasturelands—four towns.

19 The total number of towns for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, came to thirteen, together with their pasturelands.

20 The rest of the Kohathite clans of the Levites were allotted towns from the tribe of Ephraim:

21 In the hill country of Ephraim they were given Shechem (a city of refuge for one accused of murder) and Gezer, 22 Kibzaim and Beth Horon, together with their pasturelands—four towns.

23 Also from the tribe of Dan they received Eltekeh, Gibbethon, 24 Aijalon and Gath Rimmon, together with their pasturelands—four towns.

25 From half the tribe of Manasseh they received Taanach and Gath Rimmon, together with their pasturelands—two towns.

26 All these ten towns and their pasturelands were given to the rest of the Kohathite clans.

27 The Levite clans of the Gershonites were given:

from the half-tribe of Manasseh,

Golan in Bashan (a city of refuge for one accused of murder) and Be Eshterah, together with their pasturelands—two towns;

28 from the tribe of Issachar,

Kishion, Daberath, 29 Jarmuth and En Gannim, together with their pasturelands—four towns;

30 from the tribe of Asher,

Mishal, Abdon, 31 Helkath and Rehob, together with their pasturelands—four towns;

32 from the tribe of Naphtali,

Kedesh in Galilee (a city of refuge for one accused of murder), Hammoth Dor and Kartan, together with their pasturelands—three towns.

33 The total number of towns of the Gershonite clans came to thirteen, together with their pasturelands.

34 The Merarite clans (the rest of the Levites) were given:

from the tribe of Zebulun,

Jokneam, Kartah, 35 Dimnah and Nahalal, together with their pasturelands—four towns;

36 from the tribe of Reuben,

Bezer, Jahaz, 37 Kedemoth and Mephaath, together with their pasturelands—four towns;

38 from the tribe of Gad,

Ramoth in Gilead (a city of refuge for one accused of murder), Mahanaim, 39 Heshbon and Jazer, together with their pasturelands—four towns in all.

40 The total number of towns allotted to the Merarite clans, who were the rest of the Levites, came to twelve.

41 The towns of the Levites in the territory held by the Israelites were forty-eight in all, together with their pasturelands. 42 Each of these towns had pasturelands surrounding it; this was true for all these towns.

43 So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there. 44 The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their ancestors. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Stayin' Alive

I believe I did a post about this recently, but the New York Times has reposted the recent article on the radical increase in human life expectancy alongside a new piece about the declining global birth rate and the aging of the population. Tom Sullivan has put up a summary so I don't have to, and he can deal with their copyright lawyers. 

My two cents, or more like $2 million, is that everybody talks about the declining birth rate and the aging population as, you know, a bad thing. Who's gonna support us in our old age? Where is economic growth going to come from if there are fewer workers? Won't society lose its vigor and innovativeness?

Talk about missing the point, being unclear on the concept, not seeing what is two inches in front of your nose. The human population has to stop growing, at some point if not 50 years ago. Whatever you think constitutes a sustainable population, it obviously cannot be infinite. Ergo, one of two things needs to happen: 

a) The death rate drastically increases and life expectancy goes back down to pre-industrial levels; or

b) The birth rate has to fall meaning, yes, there will eventually be more old people than young people.

Assuming you don't like the idea of (a), the issue with (b) therefore cannot be "Oh my God, how can we stop this from happening!" The issue must be "How can we adapt to the inevitable reality?" On the one hand that actually isn't so hard, on the other hand the reason people don't seem to want to ask the question is because it requires radical demolition of fundamental assumptions about society and the economy.

If you think about it, if there are fewer people every year we don't need to have economic growth. The same amount of economic output will mean more for everybody, year after year. In the second place, maintaining the same amount of output with fewer workers is no problem at all, because technological advances mean that the productivity of workers continually increases. In fact with fewer people and no pressure for growth, it actually gets easier. You can let marginal farmland revert to nature. You can close down the antiquated and least productive factories and other infrastructure.  BUT . . . 


You need to redistribute income and investment.  You need to redirect resources from sixteen mansions, three yachts and a private jetliner for a billionaire, to supporting people who are too old to work and to investing in technological solutions to a shrinking workforce. It also helps that as people are healthier they can be productive for longer, so we don't have to assume that everyone retires at some traditional age. But we can still make that possible. What it requires is imagination, and the political will to remake society.*

*Calling me a socialist is not an intelligent response.

Sunday Sermonette: Is there an echo in here?

The concept of the cities of refuge is evidently one of Yahweh's most important ideas, because he repeats the instructions for them five times: Exodus 21, Numbers 35, Deuteronomy 4 and 19, and again here. Why this bears so much repetition I can't say, but this does give us some insight into the nature of the society organized around tribe and clan. 


The Torah at several points specifies lex talionis, summarized as "eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," with the possibility in some cases of substituting monetary compensation. But it is not clear who decides these matters, and whether there are formally authorized  judges. Priests are given authority to adjudicate some limited categories of dispute, such as whether a pregnancy is the result of adultery, but whether this extends to what we would consider criminal law is not specified. What is mentioned here is "trial before the assembly" but what this consists of and how it is conducted is not described. 

There does not appear to be any law enforcement apparatus, rather the community is called upon to stone blasphemers and conduct this "trial before the assembly," and clearly families are responsible for vengeance in the case of murder. Hence the sanctuary cities. Yahweh expects that in the case of what we would call negligent manslaughter, or even accidental death, the victims family will try to kill the perpetrator. That doesn't seem quite right, so we get this kludgy solution. Evidently this was still the case in the time of King Josiah, even though there was a secular government. Make of it what you will.


20 Then the Lord said to Joshua: “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood. When they flee to one of these cities, they are to stand in the entrance of the city gate and state their case before the elders of that city. Then the elders are to admit the fugitive into their city and provide a place to live among them. If the avenger of blood comes in pursuit, the elders must not surrender the fugitive, because the fugitive killed their neighbor unintentionally and without malice aforethought. They are to stay in that city until they have stood trial before the assembly and until the death of the high priest who is serving at that time. Then they may go back to their own home in the town from which they fled.”

So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. East of the Jordan (on the other side from Jericho) they designated Bezer in the wilderness on the plateau in the tribe of Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead in the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan in the tribe of Manasseh. Any of the Israelites or any foreigner residing among them who killed someone accidentally could flee to these designated cities and not be killed by the avenger of blood prior to standing trial before the assembly.


Friday, May 21, 2021


I'm not talking about the android science officer, although that would be an interesting subject. I'm talking about facts or statistics gathered together for reference or analysis, as the dictionary would have it. 


We recently had a commenter who pointed out that the large majority of firearm homicides in the U.S. are not in the context of mass shootings; and that they are perpetrated with handguns, not long guns. This is true! But how did he know it? 


He knew it because CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control maintains the National Violent Death Reporting System, which pools information from multiple sources. You will see that NCIPC also maintains other data systems. What these systems can tell us is of course limited -- it depends on what data elements exist in the questionnaires on which they depend, which are necessarily closed-ended, check the box type questions -- but this sort of quantitative information can tells us a lot about prevalence and patterns, and be combined with more in-depth, qualitative inquiry to develop a rich understanding of social problems.


The founders recognized the need for good, quantitative information about the population so they put the decennial census in the constitution.  One rationale was just to count people for purposes of apportioning the House and electoral college, but from earliest days the census asked about gender, some concept of race (which changed over the decades) and of course slavery or freedom. As data processing and analysis capabilities grew in the 20th Century, the so-called long form was added to gather much more information from a sample of the population -- about housing, poverty, migration, commuting, detailed ancestry, and other subjects. A census of businesses was added. Now, the long form is no longer used but the American Community Survey has replaced it, which uses sample surveys of various geographic entities on a rotating basis. 

Vital statistics -- registration of births, deaths and marriages -- goes back to before the founding. The categories of causes of death used to be quite quaint, but as medical science evolved the concepts evolved with it. The National Vital Statistics System is where we get out information on life expectancy, causes of death, infant mortality, and many more essential indicators. Then there is the National Health Interview Survey, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and the National Health Care Survey. You can read more about these here.

Physicians must report many diseases to their state public health agency, and specific ones must be reported to CDC. That's how we know about the prevalence of disease, so we can target prevention and response efforts, and get early warning of outbreaks. Crime statistics come from the National Incident Based Reporting System (formerly the Uniform Crime Reports), not wholly reliable but still useful to detect patterns and trends. The Bureau of Labor Statistics was established as part of the New Deal and that's where we get data on unemployment, GDP, and other important economic indicators.

I could go on and on -- there are innumerable data systems that are essential to the enactment and implementation of public policy, business planning, social programs. The people who operate, analyze and report on these systems do not have bullshit jobs. They do an indispensable public service.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Mysterious political calculus

No doubt you have seen the widespread reports of a spate of random attacks on Asian-Americans. Many of these have been especially disturbing because the victims were vulnerable old people. They have happened all over the country and are widely attributed to propaganda blaming the Covid-19 pandemic on China, usually framed as "the Chinese."* It is historically very common in epidemics for people to blame foreigners, or people perceived as foreigners, for introducing the disease, although obviously in most of these cases the people were U.S. citizens.  (Note that many of the victims have been of Korean or other other heritage than Chinese.) 


So, back in April the Senate passed legislation in response. It doesn't create any new category of crime or hate crime. All it does is create a position at DoJ to hasten processing of reports of Covid-19 related crimes or incidents; task DoJ and HHS to work with community based organizations to develop educational materials about anti-Asian prejudice and violence; and require the AG to work with state and local authorities to develop an on-line reporting system. Sen. Josh Hawley was the only senator to vote against it,  because it's his policy to vote against everything. But now the legislation has gone to the house and 63 Republicans voted against it

What is the constituency they are trying to please? People who want to walk up behind old people and hit them with a hammer? People who want to massacre massage parlor workers? The party has become the party of insanity, and maybe this is the least of it. But still, I don't get it. 

Update: WTF do you mean I ignore the racial aspect of the attacks? That's the whole point you  moron. And the race/ethnicity of the attackers, which is various, is completely irrelevant.

* It appears that the Chinese government initially tried to conceal the epidemic in Wuhan, which is bad, but obviously irrelevant.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Wednesday Bible Study: Sorry, we just have to get through this

I got nothin' else to say  about this incredibly boring bullshit. But I'm committed to reading the whole damn book so that's what's gonna happen.

19 The second lot came out for the tribe of Simeon according to its clans. Their inheritance lay within the territory of Judah. It included:

Beersheba (or Sheba),[a] Moladah, Hazar Shual, Balah, Ezem, Eltolad, Bethul, Hormah, Ziklag, Beth Markaboth, Hazar Susah, Beth Lebaoth and Sharuhen—thirteen towns and their villages;

Ain, Rimmon, Ether and Ashan—four towns and their villages— and all the villages around these towns as far as Baalath Beer (Ramah in the Negev).

This was the inheritance of the tribe of the Simeonites, according to its clans. The inheritance of the Simeonites was taken from the share of Judah, because Judah’s portion was more than they needed. So the Simeonites received their inheritance within the territory of Judah.

Allotment for Zebulun

10 The third lot came up for Zebulun according to its clans:

The boundary of their inheritance went as far as Sarid. 11 Going west it ran to Maralah, touched Dabbesheth, and extended to the ravine near Jokneam. 12 It turned east from Sarid toward the sunrise to the territory of Kisloth Tabor and went on to Daberath and up to Japhia. 13 Then it continued eastward to Gath Hepher and Eth Kazin; it came out at Rimmon and turned toward Neah. 14 There the boundary went around on the north to Hannathon and ended at the Valley of Iphtah El. 15 Included were Kattath, Nahalal, Shimron, Idalah and Bethlehem. There were twelve towns and their villages.

16 These towns and their villages were the inheritance of Zebulun, according to its clans.

Allotment for Issachar

17 The fourth lot came out for Issachar according to its clans. 18 Their territory included:

Jezreel, Kesulloth, Shunem, 19 Hapharaim, Shion, Anaharath, 20 Rabbith, Kishion, Ebez, 21 Remeth, En Gannim, En Haddah and Beth Pazzez. 22 The boundary touched Tabor, Shahazumah and Beth Shemesh, and ended at the Jordan. There were sixteen towns and their villages.

23 These towns and their villages were the inheritance of the tribe of Issachar, according to its clans.

Allotment for Asher

24 The fifth lot came out for the tribe of Asher according to its clans. 25 Their territory included:

Helkath, Hali, Beten, Akshaph, 26 Allammelek, Amad and Mishal. On the west the boundary touched Carmel and Shihor Libnath. 27 It then turned east toward Beth Dagon, touched Zebulun and the Valley of Iphtah El, and went north to Beth Emek and Neiel, passing Kabul on the left. 28 It went to Abdon,[b] Rehob, Hammon and Kanah, as far as Greater Sidon. 29 The boundary then turned back toward Ramah and went to the fortified city of Tyre, turned toward Hosah and came out at the Mediterranean Sea in the region of Akzib, 30 Ummah, Aphek and Rehob. There were twenty-two towns and their villages.

31 These towns and their villages were the inheritance of the tribe of Asher, according to its clans.

Allotment for Naphtali

32 The sixth lot came out for Naphtali according to its clans:

33 Their boundary went from Heleph and the large tree in Zaanannim, passing Adami Nekeb and Jabneel to Lakkum and ending at the Jordan. 34 The boundary ran west through Aznoth Tabor and came out at Hukkok. It touched Zebulun on the south, Asher on the west and the Jordan[c] on the east. 35 The fortified towns were Ziddim, Zer, Hammath, Rakkath, Kinnereth, 36 Adamah, Ramah, Hazor, 37 Kedesh, Edrei, En Hazor, 38 Iron, Migdal El, Horem, Beth Anath and Beth Shemesh. There were nineteen towns and their villages.

39 These towns and their villages were the inheritance of the tribe of Naphtali, according to its clans.

Allotment for Dan

40 The seventh lot came out for the tribe of Dan according to its clans. 41 The territory of their inheritance included:

Zorah, Eshtaol, Ir Shemesh, 42 Shaalabbin, Aijalon, Ithlah, 43 Elon, Timnah, Ekron, 44 Eltekeh, Gibbethon, Baalath, 45 Jehud, Bene Berak, Gath Rimmon, 46 Me Jarkon and Rakkon, with the area facing Joppa.

47 (When the territory of the Danites was lost to them, they went up and attacked Leshem, took it, put it to the sword and occupied it. They settled in Leshem and named it Dan after their ancestor.)

48 These towns and their villages were the inheritance of the tribe of Dan, according to its clans.

Allotment for Joshua

49 When they had finished dividing the land into its allotted portions, the Israelites gave Joshua son of Nun an inheritance among them, 50 as the Lord had commanded. They gave him the town he asked for—Timnath Serah[d] in the hill country of Ephraim. And he built up the town and settled there.

51 These are the territories that Eleazar the priest, Joshua son of Nun and the heads of the tribal clans of Israel assigned by lot at Shiloh in the presence of the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. And so they finished dividing the land.


  1. Joshua 19:2 Or Beersheba, Sheba; 1 Chron. 4:28 does not have Sheba.
  2. Joshua 19:28 Some Hebrew manuscripts (see also 21:30); most Hebrew manuscripts Ebron
  3. Joshua 19:34 Septuagint; Hebrew west, and Judah, the Jordan,
  4. Joshua 19:50 Also known as Timnath Heres (see Judges 2:9)

Monday, May 17, 2021

Epistemology VI: Epidemiology

Epidemiology originally largely meant studying how infectious diseases spread, and that's still a major concern of epidemiologists. However, it also includes the study of any and every environmental or behavioral factor affecting human health. For example, the finding that smoking tobacco causes lung cancer (not to mention a bazillion other diseases) is an epidemiological finding. 


Epidemiology is largely an observational science, given the ethical prohibition against exposing humans to potentially hazardous conditions for experimental purposes. That's not to say it hasn't been done, with the victims being especially vulnerable people, but it's no longer condoned. And given the complex associations and interactions among elements of the human environment and behavior, it is usually very challenging to convincingly establish causal relationships. That's why the tobacco companies could hold out so long against the conclusion that their products were deadly, although truth be told they continued to deny it long after they knew it to be true.

There are just a few basic epidemiological study designs. They differ in time, cost and inferential value, so investigators have to balance the tradeoffs among these. The original finding of a link between tobacco and lung cancer was based on what's called a case-control study. The investigators found a bunch of people with lung cancer, and people without lung cancer who were otherwise similar in age and gender. Then they asked them a bunch of questions about their past behavior, including their smoking history. The association was striking: almost everybody with cancer was or had been a smoker, while the prevalence of smoking among people without it was much lower. The probability of this occurring by chance was infinitesimal. But . . . 

This did not prove that smoking causes cancer. The reason is that there might be some other factor, that the researchers didn't think to ask about, that is associated with both smoking and cancer. You can try to control for the factors you did ask about with various statistical techniques, but that gets complicated and there is often room for argument. Another possible objection is that people with cancer, who think smoking may have caused it, unconsciously over-report their smoking history. (Self-report bias is often a big problem, although it's a fairly minor one here.) 


So putting the nail in the coffin of coffin nails required more. Animal experiments showed that tobacco smoke causes lung cancer in rats, which helped. There were larger case-control studies that asked more questions. There were prospective cohort studies. These are more powerful for causal inference, but they take a long time -- decades in this case. Basically, you follow a bunch of people over the years, and you frequently get information about their behavior, environment and health. You can reliably ascertain who starts smoking and when, and compare their health to that of nonsmokers over the years. The so-called Framingham Heart Study, which has now gone on for generations, is probably the most famous example. 

So, I can tell you as certainly as I can tell you my name that smoking tobacco causes lung cancer, heart disease, strokes, other cancers, chronic obstructive  pulmonary disease, and a whole lot more you want no part of. So don't do it.

However, one area where there is serious controversy is nutrition. People get very annoyed, in fact, because the official nutritional advice has often changed over time. Among the many difficulties in nutrition research is getting accurate reports of what people eat. Most people don't remember what they had for lunch yesterday, let alone are able to give an accurate accounting of their entire intake for the past month. Diet is also inextricably linked with other characteristics of people, from income and social class, to ethnicity, to physical activity level, alcohol intake -- all sorts of confounders.


For a long time, a low-fat diet was promoted as healthy. Nope. In fact fat is good at slaking hunger, which means having it in your diet makes you less likely to overeat; and it doesn't cause the glycemic spike you get from starches, which creates risk of diabetes. So then they decided that it's not how much fat you eat, but what kind of fat. 


Without getting too much into the chemistry weeds, edible oils are long chains of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms attached, and what's called a carboxyl group on one end. Since carbon has a valence of four, each carbon atom (except for the ones at the ends) can have two hydrogen atoms attached, the other bonds going to their neighboring carbon atoms. If every position is occupied by a hydrogen atom, it's called a saturated fat. Animal fats, generally, are saturated. But if two adjacent carbon atoms have a double bond, they'll each be missing one hydrogen atom. If this happens, it's called an unsaturated fat.  In nature, almost always when this happens the hydrogen atoms adjacent to the double bond stick out on the same side. This is called a cis fat. But if they stick out on the opposite sides, it's called a trans fat. Although trans fats are rare in nature, they can be manufactured, and food companies liked them because they don't go rancid. They also tend to be solid at room temperature which is useful for some purposes.


Okay. To make a long story as short as I can, food scientists first decided that saturated fats are bad for you. They even promoted margarine -- a trans fat -- as a healthier substitute for butter. Whoops! It turns out that trans fats are the worst thing you can eat. They raise the bad kind of cholesterol and are associated with cardiovascular disease. Ultimately, the FDA banned artificial trans fats from the American food supply. (There is a small amount of trans fat in beef and dairy products, but it hasn't been found to be associated with disease.)


However, for a long time scientists still insisted that saturated fats are bad, and we should be eating unsaturated cis fats, which are various vegetable oils. There were more specific theories, such as omega-3 fatty acids -- with the carbon double bond in the third position from the tail -- have beneficial properties ranging from protection against heart disease to anti-depressive effectiveness. Right now, this is looking not so true after all. Saturated fats aren't so bad for you, and omega-3 fatty acids don't seem to have any super duper properties. (The idea that they do mostly came from their high prevalence in fish, and diets with a lot of fish do seem to be good. However, that doesn't seem to be the reason why after all.) There are other good reasons to reduce the amount of meat in your diet, but that doesn't seem to be one of them.

I won't get into any further discussion of the USDA nutritional recommendations. I do believe that high fiber diets are good, and that means whole grains. Veggies are good also, both for fiber and micronutrients. But are the proportions they recommend exactly right? That's really unprovable. Happy to see debate about this in the comments.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Sunday Sermonette: This will be over soon, I promise

I'm afraid we're still in excruciating boredom territory as the interminable process of dividing up the land continues. I still can't say what the point of all this is or why it's in the book. God works in mysterious ways I guess. My only comment is that it just seems impossible to get rid of the "giants." They are mentioned several times in Deuteronomy, and again in Joshua, and they are supposedly wiped out several times. But here they are again -- and they are still around in Judges. Hard to know what's going on with them.

18 The whole assembly of the Israelites gathered at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there. The country was brought under their control, but there were still seven Israelite tribes who had not yet received their inheritance.

So Joshua said to the Israelites: “How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given you? Appoint three men from each tribe. I will send them out to make a survey of the land and to write a description of it, according to the inheritance of each. Then they will return to me. You are to divide the land into seven parts. Judah is to remain in its territory on the south and the tribes of Joseph in their territory on the north. After you have written descriptions of the seven parts of the land, bring them here to me and I will cast lots for you in the presence of the Lord our God. The Levites, however, do not get a portion among you, because the priestly service of the Lord is their inheritance. And Gad, Reuben and the half-tribe of Manasseh have already received their inheritance on the east side of the Jordan. Moses the servant of the Lord gave it to them.”

As the men started on their way to map out the land, Joshua instructed them, “Go and make a survey of the land and write a description of it. Then return to me, and I will cast lots for you here at Shiloh in the presence of the Lord.” So the men left and went through the land. They wrote its description on a scroll, town by town, in seven parts, and returned to Joshua in the camp at Shiloh. 10 Joshua then cast lots for them in Shiloh in the presence of the Lord, and there he distributed the land to the Israelites according to their tribal divisions.

Allotment for Benjamin

11 The first lot came up for the tribe of Benjamin according to its clans. Their allotted territory lay between the tribes of Judah and Joseph:

12 On the north side their boundary began at the Jordan, passed the northern slope of Jericho and headed west into the hill country, coming out at the wilderness of Beth Aven. 13 From there it crossed to the south slope of Luz (that is, Bethel) and went down to Ataroth Addar on the hill south of Lower Beth Horon.

14 From the hill facing Beth Horon on the south the boundary turned south along the western side and came out at Kiriath Baal (that is, Kiriath Jearim), a town of the people of Judah. This was the western side.

15 The southern side began at the outskirts of Kiriath Jearim on the west, and the boundary came out at the spring of the waters of Nephtoah. 16 The boundary went down to the foot of the hill facing the Valley of Ben Hinnom, north of the Valley of Rephaim. It continued down the Hinnom Valley along the southern slope of the Jebusite city and so to En Rogel. 17 It then curved north, went to En Shemesh, continued to Geliloth, which faces the Pass of Adummim, and ran down to the Stone of Bohan son of Reuben. 18 It continued to the northern slope of Beth Arabah[a] and on down into the Arabah. 19 It then went to the northern slope of Beth Hoglah and came out at the northern bay of the Dead Sea, at the mouth of the Jordan in the south. This was the southern boundary.

20 The Jordan formed the boundary on the eastern side.

These were the boundaries that marked out the inheritance of the clans of Benjamin on all sides.

21 The tribe of Benjamin, according to its clans, had the following towns:

Jericho, Beth Hoglah, Emek Keziz, 22 Beth Arabah, Zemaraim, Bethel, 23 Avvim, Parah, Ophrah, 24 Kephar Ammoni, Ophni and Geba—twelve towns and their villages.

25 Gibeon, Ramah, Beeroth, 26 Mizpah, Kephirah, Mozah, 27 Rekem, Irpeel, Taralah, 28 Zelah, Haeleph, the Jebusite city (that is, Jerusalem), Gibeah and Kiriath—fourteen towns and their villages.

This was the inheritance of Benjamin for its clans.


  1. Joshua 18:18 Septuagint; Hebrew slope facing the Arabah

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Epistemology V: Clinical research

The science most people probably care about the most is the endeavor to promote human health and longevity. That's why the biggest part of the federal scientific enterprise is the National Institutes of Health, with additional money going to research sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the EPA, and others.

Human health research is difficult, however. Obviously, there are stringent ethical limitations on experimenting on humans. Formally, the requirement is that there be "equipoise" -- that you sincerely don't know, or even have compelling reason to believe, which of the experimental conditions is best for the subjects. That isn't really strictly observed, in my opinion, but that's a digression. In any case it means that progress in developing and evaluating new treatments is slow, because you have to pay so much attention to safety along the way. Another difficulty is that for many kinds of treatments, and certainly for lifestyle interventions, you need the people to go home and do something, whether it be take the pills, follow a certain diet, do certain exercises, and people can't be relied upon to do that correctly. In a clinical trial, you can put in extra resources to monitor and support them, but those won't be available if the intervention makes it to the real world.

There is also what's called heterogeneity of treatment effect. A treatment will be deemed effective if the average person is better off than the placebo or alternative treatment at the end of the trial. However, some people may benefit a lot, others not at all, others may be harmed. A treatment ruled ineffective may in fact benefit some people. But you can't go back and say retrospectively that one category of people benefited after all even if the average effect was null or harmful. I'm not going to try to give you a course in statistical inference here but in short, that would violate the mathematical logic by which we decide if outcomes are real or spurious. So you'd have to do a whole new trial just to test the subgroup effect. And that's expensive.

Also expensive is long-term follow up. Typically subjects are followed for no more than six months, but obviously how well they are doing after a year or two or ten matters a lot. There is supposed to be some effort to find this out  by what's called post-marketing surveillance but for the most part the drug companies don't really bother, even when the FDA orders them to. 

There are numerous other problems. People's subjective reports of well being may be influenced by whether they think they got a treatment, and even how the experimenters interact with them. Many conditions get better on their own, so sorting out the treatment effect can be challenging, even when comparing with a placebo. And if there are adverse effects, how do you weigh the against the benefits?

Given all these difficulties, the dirty little secret is that a lot of what doctors do, even quite routinely, doesn't have strong evidence for effectiveness. And human nature being what it is, they will even keep doing things that have been shown not to work, and getting them to stop is very hard. (For one thing they get  paid for it.) So medicine is more effective today than it was 50 or 60 years ago, and it keeps getting better, but progress is slow. There's a lot wasted on ineffective treatment, and finding effective treatments is hard and slow going. But there is an increasing commitment to science and evidence based medicine. La lucha continua.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Gaetzgate Update

Now that his perv pal Joel Greenberg is set to plead guilty to sex trafficking, among other charges, people figure Matt Gaetz is likely deep in the doo doo. Most likely he is, but what piques my curiosity is why the party of Family Values™ still seems fully enamored of him in spite of what is publicly known about his behavior, criminal charges aside. Paying young women to participate in group sex parties fueled by illegal drugs, and showing naked pictures of them to your colleagues on the house floor does not seem entirely consistent with the behavioral norms of the Moral Majority.

I think J.V. Last at The Bulwark has it right. (It's normally paywalled but they're giving this one away.) Republican voters no longer care about policy outcomes or principles of any kind. They only care about presentation,  symbolic enactment. Last compares it to branding, using the specific examples of Red Bull and Elon Musk. To wit:

A lot of people have goofed on Matt Gaetz for this statement: “If you aren’t making news, you aren’t governing.” But he’s right. . . . Does it matter to his future political prospects that Matt Gaetz doesn’t advance legislation? Does it matter that Madison Cawthorn staffed up his office with comms people? Does it matter that Marjorie Taylor Greene doesn’t have committee assignments?

Well, these quirks would matter in a system where legislative accomplishments influenced voter behavior. But Republican voters don’t care  whether or not a border wall is built, or who would have (theoretically) paid for it. They don’t care about whether or not the government fails to manage a global pandemic, killing hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens. They don’t care if unemployment is up—or down. They don’t care about stimulus checks. Or the national debt. . . .

Republican voters—a group distinct from Conservatism Inc.—no longer have any concrete outcomes that they want from government. What they have, instead, is a lifestyle brand.


As long as he isn't in jail, Gaetz actually benefits from his situation, because it draws attention to him. He gets to strut around blathering about Cancel Culture and the Deep State, and that's what the people want to hear. Same with their Orange God, who was one of the first to figure this out. Sure, the racism and general cultural resentments are a part of it, but those are also served by purely performative gestures. Well, and voter suppression. 


Thursday, May 13, 2021

Epistemology IV: Conspiracy theories

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Wednesday Bible Study: Hitting the snooze button

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. Joshua 17:11 That is, Naphoth Dor

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Epistemology III: The Scientific Method

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

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

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

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


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

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

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