Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Corporate media spoonerism

 My grandfather told me this joke when I was maybe 10 years old which he probably got from a New Yorker cartoon, I don't know.

A guy is running down a hospital corridor wearing the notorious hospital johnny with his ass blowing in the breeze, pursued by a nurse carrying a steaming kettle", pursued in turn by a doctor yelling "No  no nurse, I told you to prick his boil!"

Joseph R. Biden Jr. pricked the boil. The corporate media is pathologically incapable of perceiving that and makes the alternative interpretation., because their own failure to tell the truth about Afghanistan for 20 years is now exposed and their manhood is threatened. They are idiots.

Joe Biden acted righteously and courageously by finally ending the pointless, horrifically destructive and outrageously costly U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. Guess who agrees with me, among many others -- Anne Coulter and Ross Douthat, for chrissake.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Arguing for Economic Inequality Part I: Desert

"Desert" in this context means "people getting what they deserve," in other words it's a subset of the broader idea of justice. The arguments people make in defense of economic inequality are many and varied, but they overlap a good deal and share some assumptions. In substantial part they rely on the pseudoscience of Economics 101. So there's a tangled skein to sort out. I've decided to start here.

The desert argument is that some people are justly wealthier than others for such reasons as they work harder, or their talents and skills are superior, or they make a greater contribution to society.

The first seems transparently easy to debunk. I'm willing to concede that all things being equal, someone who chooses to work 60 hours a week can legitimately claim twice the wage of someone who chooses to work 30 hours a week. Of course this is not likely to be a free choice. People who have responsibility for unpaid work -- caring for children or older relatives, keeping house -- and people whose health is not great may not be able to work 60 hours a week. But we'll put that aside, it's really what people generally mean by this.

The fact is, if you think about it for just a few seconds, you will realize that the jobs that require people to work the hardest, that are the most unpleasant, even dangerous, generally pay the least. Nursing home aids, construction laborers, trash collectors, farm laborers, meat processing workers -- these are jobs you probably wouldn't even consider if they paid twice as much as they actually do. On the other hand highly paid professional jobs are much more pleasant to do and even intrinsically rewarding. Many people who do such jobs never want to retire, even though they don't need money.

What about the superior talent and skills? Of course talent is just a matter of luck, so it isn't obvious why people deserve to be compensated for it. And people can have highly lucrative talents that seem to be of dubious benefit to society, but we'll put that one aside for the upcoming section on whether inequality benefits the general welfare. 


The second half of this argument is that people deserve to be compensated for undergoing training and working to acquire skills. There may be an embedded assumption that having skills is also partly a function of talent so better pay is partly an incentive to people to develop their talents, as well as a reward for doing so. There are several problems with this, not least of which is that the opportunity for higher education is very unequally distributed. Most people who want it can't get it because of their economic circumstances, which correlates with their receiving an inferior basic education. 

But that aside, you can take it from me that for a lot of people, probably most, getting an education is not in the least onerous. In fact, college is a hell of a lot more fun than real life and I'm probably not alone in saying that if I had the chance to live my entire life as a college undergraduate I would seriously consider it. And for me at least learning -- acquiring both information and skills -- is intrinsically rewarding and I keep on doing it all the time in fields that have nothing to do with anything I am paid for. Anyway, being a college professor is a much pleasanter occupation than being a nursing aid or a bus driver or a tile setter. 

I'll concede that some training programs are more demanding. For example, it's an ordeal to become a physician. Physicians also have some daunting responsibilities, and the consequences when they make a mistake can be much greater than that of most occupations -- though no greater than a mistake by a truck driver. So I can accept that some differential in pay may be justifiable. But there is no reason why investment bankers or stock traders or corporate CEOs deserve to be fabulously wealthy, at least not based on any of the arguments I've presented here. I'll take on some other arguments anon.

A couple of notes: Brown University is named for Nicholas Brown, Jr., who was an abolitionist. His father was a slave trader. We have been through this before here, at least a couple of times.

Yes, many university presidents are overpaid. I intentionally set aside the question of prominent performers such as athletes, musicians and actors because it's more complicated and it fits better with the next installment. I'll get to it.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Sunday Sermonette: Is there a euphemism for "euphemism"?

There is much discussion of how we are to understand the events of Ruth 3. Essentially, would this read a lot differently if it had been written by D.H. Lawrence? If you take my drift. I would have to say probably yes. The set up certainly implies more than what we are told of the denouement. The KJV hints at what really happened a bit more strongly.

 I can't say how Naomi knows that Boaz customarily gets drunk and passes out on his pile of grain but I suppose the gossip gets around.

One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home[a] for you, where you will be well provided for. Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”

“I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered. So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do.

When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. In the middle of the night something startled the man; he turned—and there was a woman lying at his feet!

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer[b] of our family.”

10 “The Lord bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. 11 And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character. 12 Although it is true that I am a guardian-redeemer of our family, there is another who is more closely related than I. 13 Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to do his duty as your guardian-redeemer, good; let him redeem you. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it. Lie here until morning.”

14 So she lay at his feet until morning, but got up before anyone could be recognized; and he said, “No one must know that a woman came to the threshing floor.”

15 He also said, “Bring me the shawl you are wearing and hold it out.” When she did so, he poured into it six measures of barley and placed the bundle on her. Then he[c] went back to town.

If  a measure is an Epah, as it has been previously, that's 288 pounds of barley. So I'm guessing he did get a happy ending.

16 When Ruth came to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, “How did it go, my daughter?”

Then she told her everything Boaz had done for her 17 and added, “He gave me these six measures of barley, saying, ‘Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’”

18 Then Naomi said, “Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today.”


  1. Ruth 3:1 Hebrew find rest (see 1:9)
  2. Ruth 3:9 The Hebrew word for guardian-redeemer is a legal term for one who has the obligation to redeem a relative in serious difficulty (see Lev. 25:25-55); also in verses 12 and 13.
  3. Ruth 3:15 Most Hebrew manuscripts; many Hebrew manuscripts, Vulgate and Syriac she

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Holy Crap, Batman, it's a preacher

I'll get to my Cromulent Manifesto anon, but meanwhile, in case you're wondering why I look at religion with a jaundiced eye, there's this:


(RNS) — The spokesman for a major evangelical nonprofit was fired for promoting vaccines on the MSNBC “Morning Joe” cable news show, Religion News Service has learned.

Daniel Darling, senior vice president of communications for the National Religious Broadcasters, was fired Friday (Aug. 27) after refusing to admit his pro-vaccine statements were mistaken, according to a source authorized to speak for Darling.

Human life begins at conception and ends at birth.



Friday, August 27, 2021

Arguing for Economic Inequality

In a previous installment, I took up the easy task of debunking arguments for inequality having to do with various personal characteristics. Today I want to take up the somewhat more challenging arguments for economic inequality. 

First, we have to acknowledge that vast disparities in wealth have been with us since the neolithic revolution, albeit to varying degrees in different times and places. That might lead some people to conclude that inequality is just inevitable, so why even bother? I can easily counter that as an error of induction. While complex societies have generally been unequal, the form that inequality took and the way in which it was maintained has varied markedly. European feudalism no longer exists, and indeed ranks of nobility are reduced to largely meaningless labels almost everywhere. Some of the Arab states are still family-owned kingdoms but that just reinforces the point. Inequality in Saudi Arabia takes a very different from than it does in the U.S. So the fact that inequality has been with us for a long time doesn't prove anything, except that it's been a feature of many different societies that few people would want to see restored or adopted.

So the arguments for economic inequality that we encounter are specific to our own system of capitalism. Capitalism emerged in concert with the technological revolution that followed on the Enlightenment. Land ownership was no longer the primary basis of wealth and there were now a whole lot of opportunities to make money by investing in technology. I won't go into this history in more detail but obviously that's where we are now. In the past people got rich by investing in railroads and oil wells and steel mills and motor vehicle factories. Those still exist of course but the real growth opportunities are in information and communication technology. The point is that the vast increase in material output and societal wealth that took off around 1800 has happened under capitalism.

That makes a lot of people think that capitalism is a really good system. The Communist parties of the Soviet Union and China promised both economic growth and equality, but delivered much less economic dynamism than capitalism and no equality either. In many people's minds, this sets up an inescapable dichotomy. You can have capitalism or you can have communism. That seems an easy choice. But is there really no alternative?

All of this is to set up the discussion I will undertake next time.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Wednesday Bible Study: Sweet Charity

 To understand what's going on in Ruth 2, recall Leviticus 19:

9 And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest.

10 And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the LORD your God.

 They didn't have SNAP, or SSI, or food pantries.


Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz.

And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.”

Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.” So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek.

Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!”

“The Lord bless you!” they answered.

Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, “Who does that young woman belong to?”

The overseer replied, “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi. She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.”

So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”

Note that as a single woman she is vulnerable to sexual harassment or assault, so Boaz orders his farmhands to leave her alone.

10 At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”

11 Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. 12 May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”

Note the strong affirmation of conversion. As I said last time, although this was written before Deuteronomy with its prohibition against Moabites joining the congregation, it may at least have been controversial, and so this endorsement may be one of the motivations behind this story.

13 “May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant—though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.”

14 At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.”

When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over. 15 As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Let her gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her. 16 Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.”

17 So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah.[a] 18 She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough.

19 Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!”

Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said.

20 “The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.[b]

21 Then Ruth the Moabite said, “He even said to me, ‘Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.’”

22 Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with the women who work for him, because in someone else’s field you might be harmed.”

23 So Ruth stayed close to the women of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law.


  1. Ruth 2:17 That is, probably about 30 pounds or about 13 kilograms
  2. Ruth 2:20 The Hebrew word for guardian-redeemer is a legal term for one who has the obligation to redeem a relative in serious difficulty (see Lev. 25:25-55).


Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Just so we're clear . . .

A higher percentage of Black and Latino Americans have been vaccinated than white Americans. Who isn't getting vaccinated? White Republicans, and particularly Dump voters.

  • All adults: 69 percent
  • Men: 67 percent
  • Women: 71 percent
  • 18-34: 63 percent
  • 35-49: 58 percent
  • 50-64: 71 percent
  • 65+: 86 percent
  • Whites: 66 percent
  • Blacks: 76 percent
  • Latinos: 71 percent
  • Urban residents: 79 percent
  • Suburban residents: 67 percent
  • Rural residents: 52 percent
  • White evangelicals: 59 percent
  • Democrats: 88 percent
  • Independents: 60 percent
  • Republicans: 55 percent
  • Republicans who support Trump more than party: 46 percent
  • Republicans who support party more than Trump: 62 percent
  • Democratic Sanders-Warren voters: 88 percent
  • Democratic Biden voters: 87 percent
  • Biden voters in 2020 general election: 91 percent
  • Trump voters in 2020 general election: 50 percent
  • White non-college grads: 60 percent
  • White college grads: 80 percent

Monday, August 23, 2021

Mass Movement

I'm not talking about social protest, but the long-running crisis on the planet of displaced people. While war and civil conflict are one cause, many populated areas of earth are becoming uninhabitable because of climate change -- and that in turn is an underlying cause of much of the conflict. The horrific Syrian civil war had its origin in climate change, as agricultural regions dried up and masses of people moved to cities. The war in Yemen as well is driven by water shortage. But the problem is far more widespread. This Kos diary by Pakololo is a good resource and gets you past any paywalls. 

So what is going to happen when tens of millions of people can no longer live in areas of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon? European countries have been able to absorb a lot of refugees, but the political cost to liberal government has been severe, and they won't want to take many more. But keep in mind that climate change is a major driver of migration from Central America to the U.S. border as well. Nothing the U.S. government can do will stop people from coming if the alternative is starvation.

How will societies respond to large regions, entire nations, becoming largely uninhabitable? Is anyone planning for this? Can we even foresee the outcome? This is real, and it's now, not in some comfortably distant future. And one of the two major political parties in the U.S. is essentially united in denying it. That is depravity.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Sunday Sermonette: Now for something completely different

The Book of Ruth is the shortest book of the OT, just four chapters. But it requires an extensive introduction.

In the Tanakh, it is placed in the Ketuvim, the "writings," and comes near the end.  However, in the Christian Bible, it is placed between Judges and 1 Samuel, in the midst of what in the Tanakh is called the Nevi'im, or Prophets. This is because it mentions the birth of a grandfather of King David, enabling the monks who compiled the Old Testament to place it chronologically, so that's what they chose to do. For us, it  will be the first book we encounter that does not include any violence, although that would not be the case if we were following the order of the Tanakh.

Ruth is particularly noteworthy for featuring female protagonists. There have been a few women before now who have exercised some agency, within the patriarchal structure: Sarah (though Hagar has little agency, she is succored by God); Rachel and Leah; Zipporah; Miriam; the daughters of Zelopehad; Rahab; and of course Deborah, the only woman who exercises the agency and status that normally pertains to a man. (Delilah I would classify more as a tool than an agent.) From a feminist perspective, there is dispute about how to evaluate the story of Ruth. Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth make and execute a plan, and get what they want; but they do so fully within the strictures of patriarchal society. In fact, it is only because of patriarchy that their plan is even needed.

The story is structured by levirite marriage. Many people mistakenly believe that Onan's sin was masturbation, but in fact God killed him because he refused to impregnate his brother's widow. The law is that when a man dies, his brother has to marry his widow(s). This both provides for support of the women, and for the maintenance of the late brother's line since any male offspring are considered to be his. As we have seen, this is held to be very important in the culture. Naomi and Ruth may or may not care about that, but as they are both widows they do clearly care that an unmarried woman has no economic prospects (except perhaps to follow the profession of Rahab and Samson's unnamed companion) and is dependent on charity. Neither of their late husbands had a brother, but the levirite system does allow more distant relatives to marry the widow, although it evidently is not an obligation. So they scheme to get Ruth a husband. 

Note that romantic love has nothing to do with it. They choose Boaz because he is wealthy and has a kindly character. It turns out he is not Ruth's late husband's closest relative; another man has a superseding claim if he chooses to exercise it, so that has to be worked  out.

Finally, and this is definitely a problem for the Biblical literalists, Ruth is a Moabite who has converted to the cult of Yahweh and been accepted into the Israelite community. However, Deuteronomy 23 says clearly that "An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord, even unto their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the Lord forever." The Midrash gets around this by concluding that the prohibition refers only to men, but that's quite a stretch when you consider that in the Book of Numbers God gets extremely pissed off when Israelite men start having sex with Moabite women. However, that is not the rationale for the prohibition given in Deuteronomy, so it's not completely ridiculous.

In fact, scholars believe that Ruth was written during the Babylonian period, prior to Deuteronomy. So the writer didn't have that problem. One intent of the writer may be to advocate for conversion, perhaps because the population at the time was depleted. Anyway, here's chapter one.

In the days when the judges ruled,[a] there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

Naomi and Ruth Return to Bethlehem

When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.

Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”

Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”

11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”

14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.

15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”

16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

Note that there is no conversion ceremony. Ruth merely declares her allegiance to Yahweh, and she's good to go. All the folderol evidently came later.

19 So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”

20 “Don’t call me Naomi,[b]” she told them. “Call me Mara,[c] because the Almighty[d] has made my life very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted[e] me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”

22 So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.


  1. Ruth 1:1 Traditionally judged
  2. Ruth 1:20 Naomi means pleasant.
  3. Ruth 1:20 Mara means bitter.
  4. Ruth 1:20 Hebrew Shaddai; also in verse 21
  5. Ruth 1:21 Or has testified against

3 An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever:

3 An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever:

3 An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever:

3 An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever:

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Hear, Hear!

I've had a long week, there's a fucking hurricane coming, and half the country has gone nuts. I don't feel creative enough to post anything interesting of my own, so check out Ryan Cooper. The corporate news media that paid no attention to Afghanistan whatever for the past 10 years is suddenly shoulder to shoulder trashing Joe Biden for getting out. Why is this? 

He offers several reasons. One is that covering the previous administration with even a sliver of honesty required telling people every day that the president was an insane idiot. They weren't actually willing to do that but they were forced to say something at least mildly critical pretty often. So they need a chance to trash the new president to prove that they're "balanced." There's also a kind of instinctive troop worship in their DNA and the implication that the past 20 years were a failure of American arms is just too hard to swallow. But there is also outright corruption:

Finally, there is the fact that wars are extremely profitable for a small group of elites with deep connections to the press. Much of the tens of billions of dollars in occupation money was gobbled up by corrupt defense contractors who turned in shoddy work or straight-up fleeced the taxpayer. These contractors have hired dozens of former military officers who then go on television without disclosing that they have a direct financial interest in the conflicts they invariably advocate prolonging. In 2008, David Barstow at The New York Times found dozens of instances of this; Laura Bassett at HuffPost found the same thing in 2010; the Public Accountability Initiative found the same thing again in 2013; Lee Fang at The Nation found the same thing again in 2014; Paul Farhi at The Washington Post found the same thing again in 2020; and The Intercept found the same thing yet again over the last few days. Troop worship means that corrupt former generals get to ignore fundamental journalistic ethics.


Yep. But I predict that once this blows over, it won't cost Biden 1 point in the polls. In fact it should help him. 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Arguing for Inequality

Last time, I introduced John Baker's Arguing for Equality and summarized the kinds of inequalities he's concerned with. (I should note that he is concerned with inequality among nations as well as within them but spends much less time on that subject.) The structure of the book is largely presentation of arguments against equality, followed by his responses.

So the first clear takeaway is implied by the structure. There are a lot of people who do not believe the kinds of equality Baker wants to achieve are desirable; or if they might be desirable in the abstract, do not believe they are achievable. The arguments justifying economic inequality, and their counterarguments, are rather complicated. Or at least they seem to be complicated because they require revealing and discrediting some deeply embedded assumptions in our culture, mostly associated with the pseudoscience of economics, which I have recently mentioned. I'll get to that. 

But I want to start with what ought to be  simpler case, inequality based on race and gender. Any rational arguments for these forms of inequality, that is arguments that can be rebutted by use of reason, have to depend on factual claims. These take the form that people of African descent (or other non-European heritage), and women, have characteristics that make them unsuited for leadership or high status positions in society. For example, classical tumpeter Rolf Smedvig claimed that women don't have the temperament to play brass instruments virtuosically. Harvard economist and holder of various high level government jobs and the presidency of Harvard Lawrence Summers claimed that women don't have the intrinsic aptitude for high level work in math and science. A more widely held view is that women are temperamentally suited to child rearing and less competitive pursuits than those suitable to men. And of course there is the widely bruited assertion that Black people have lower average IQs than white people and therefore are appropriately of lower social status.


Before even getting to the factual validity of these claims, there is an obvious logical flaw. Even if these claims were true, there are some women who have more aptitude for math and science than some tenured male professors, including Lawrence Summers, and some women who succeed very well in competitive environments, and some Black people who have higher IQs than Charles Murray and Andrew Sullivan. (Combined, I would say.) Therefore this logic cannot justify a general inequality of status.

But of course these claims are factually invalid. Aptitudes, character, and proclivities are a function of people's environment as much as, or more than, their genes and gonads. When people are given similar advantages and opportunities, we see these inequalities melt away, sometimes astonishingly fast. For most of the 20th Century there were few female physicians. When medical schools stopped discriminating, women who would formerly have gone into nursing went to medical school instead, and within just a few years the number of men and women graduating with M.D.s became approximately equal. When Black people move to higher income neighborhoods and attend better schools, their academic and ultimately economic achievement increases markedly. As a matter of fact, just high quality pre-school alone has a substantial effect on ultimate academic achievement. So these sorts of inequalities are just a self-fulfilling prophecy.

However, there are even more pervasive irrational arguments for these inequalities. These include the outright assertion that God decreed differences in status between sexes and among races; and an unexamined loyalty to tribe. Men and white people defend their privilege because they like having it.

I outsource now to Daniel Schultz at Alternet, who rather successfully explains all sorts of wingnuttery as ultimately tracing back to white supremacy. 

It's funny what passes for normal these days. Nearly 100 employees at our local health care system are bucking the company's covid vaccination mandate, complaining that they might get fired for refusing to take a shot. Supporters turned up last week to support the employees, waving Gadsden flags and waving signs reading "Vaccine Mandates = Communism" or "Vaccine Coercion Is Tyranny."


Communism? Really? But then:

Wisconsin Senate President Chris Kapenga aid Friday that health care executives requiring employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 are "bowing to the woke culture being pushed by the left."

"Woke," roughly, means aware of racial and gender based injustice. So what the heck does it have to do with vaccine mandates? Well:


The political and legal commentator Teri Kanefield put out a fascinating idea in a video blog the other day arguing that since the mid-1950's, the US has been struggling toward becoming a true multi-cultural, multi-racial democracy. It's a tough fight, and one in which Kanefield sees progress, however slow in coming. She urges her listeners not to give into easy cynicism on the subject.

But if Kanefield's right about the direction of American history, there's a dark flip side to it: everything in politics has come to revolve around the question of whether the society should be governed for a white Christian minority or for the benefit of all. Government spending, military policy, education, global warming and now public health all come down to that underlying issue, some for obvious reasons, others simply because one side is for it so the other has to be against it.




Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Arguing for Equality

I just re-read the book of that name by political philosopher John Baker. He's a U.S. expat who mostly spent his adult life in the UK and Ireland. The book was first published in 1987. Sadly, inequality has greatly increased since then in the the U.S. and Britain. (As best I can tell, he's been at a university in Ireland since 1987.) The book is not academic at all. It's written in accessible, succinct everyday prose and intended for a general readership. He eschews the convolutions of analytic philosophy.

Although the book is short and easy to read, it's packed with ideas and resists easy summary. But I do want to start with the basic premise: that we should value a society in which there is less inequality of wealth, power and privilege. There are multiple categories of inequality, including gender, race and ethnicity, religion (which overlaps to some extent with the latter), inherited and acquired wealth, and status associated with profession or other sorts of classifications. These all have interrelationships both causal and correlational.

Obviously, not everyone accepts that some or all of these inequities are undesirable, or that they could in practice be eliminated or even reduced. That's why Baker has to argue. And so first he has to explain what he means by equality. People are not all the same. They have different endowments of talent, good looks, character and ambition. So an egalitarian society is not one of sameness, and there will in practice be some range of wealth, prestige and influence. But for Baker equality means first, that everyone's basic needs are met; second, that everyone have the opportunity to develop their talents, capacities and interests and lead a fulfilling life; and third, that no-one have grossly disproportionate political power or claim on resources. In other words, equality implies some form of inclusive democracy.

I'll leave you to ponder these goals, and whether you think they are inherently desirable or achievable. Then I'll have a bit more to say about it.

Wednesday Bible Study: Holy Matrimony

If there is one sure lesson to be taken from the Book of Judges, it is that Bible thumpers who claim that the Good Book is their guide to a righteous and moral life have not actually read it. Judges is a relentless torrent of mass murder, torture and rape presided over by a sadistic psychopath God, who incidentally has forgotten the very laws he propounded in the Torah. This, the final chapter, is a fitting coda. True believers who proclaim the sanctity of human life and marriage between one man and one woman, and pretending there is some sort of Biblical authority for these principles, need only read it. But of course they haven't, and they won't.

Hey, I'm just reading the Bible. I'm quoting it accurately, that's all.  This has nothing to do with any ethnic group. Christians and Jews the world over hold this sacred. I'm just saying if you claim to believe in it, you have to read it.


21 The men of Israel had taken an oath at Mizpah: “Not one of us will give his daughter in marriage to a Benjamite.”

The people went to Bethel,[a] where they sat before God until evening, raising their voices and weeping bitterly. Lord, God of Israel,” they cried, “why has this happened to Israel? Why should one tribe be missing from Israel today?”

That's a very stupid question. God told them to murder all the Benjamite women and children, so they obeyed.

Early the next day the people built an altar and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings.

WTF. They built an altar and made sacrifices? Didn't we just learn that the actual tabernacle is nearby? This is utterly blasphemous. Sacrifices have to be made by the Kohanim, on the single altar in the holy tabernacle. But Yahweh has forgotten all about that.

Then the Israelites asked, “Who from all the tribes of Israel has failed to assemble before the Lord?” For they had taken a solemn oath that anyone who failed to assemble before the Lord at Mizpah was to be put to death.

Now the Israelites grieved for the tribe of Benjamin, their fellow Israelites. “Today one tribe is cut off from Israel,” they said. “How can we provide wives for those who are left, since we have taken an oath by the Lord not to give them any of our daughters in marriage?” Then they asked, “Which one of the tribes of Israel failed to assemble before the Lord at Mizpah?” They discovered that no one from Jabesh Gilead had come to the camp for the assembly. For when they counted the people, they found that none of the people of Jabesh Gilead were there.

10 So the assembly sent twelve thousand fighting men with instructions to go to Jabesh Gilead and put to the sword those living there, including the women and children. 11 “This is what you are to do,” they said. “Kill every male and every woman who is not a virgin.” 12 They found among the people living in Jabesh Gilead four hundred young women who had never slept with a man, and they took them to the camp at Shiloh in Canaan.

So they murder every human in the city except for the virgin woman and girls, who they kidnap and give to be raped. That's very holy of them.

13 Then the whole assembly sent an offer of peace to the Benjamites at the rock of Rimmon. 14 So the Benjamites returned at that time and were given the women of Jabesh Gilead who had been spared. But there were not enough for all of them.

15 The people grieved for Benjamin, because the Lord had made a gap in the tribes of Israel. 16 And the elders of the assembly said, “With the women of Benjamin destroyed, how shall we provide wives for the men who are left? 17 The Benjamite survivors must have heirs,” they said, “so that a tribe of Israel will not be wiped out. 18 We can’t give them our daughters as wives, since we Israelites have taken this oath: ‘Cursed be anyone who gives a wife to a Benjamite.’ 19 But look, there is the annual festival of the Lord in Shiloh, which lies north of Bethel, east of the road that goes from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah.”

20 So they instructed the Benjamites, saying, “Go and hide in the vineyards 21 and watch. When the young women of Shiloh come out to join in the dancing, rush from the vineyards and each of you seize one of them to be your wife. Then return to the land of Benjamin. 22 When their fathers or brothers complain to us, we will say to them, ‘Do us the favor of helping them, because we did not get wives for them during the war. You will not be guilty of breaking your oath because you did not give your daughters to them.’”

23 So that is what the Benjamites did. While the young women were dancing, each man caught one and carried her off to be his wife. Then they returned to their inheritance and rebuilt the towns and settled in them.

Yep, grab 'em and rape 'em. That's the sanctity of marriage.

24 At that time the Israelites left that place and went home to their tribes and clans, each to his own inheritance.

25 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.


  1. Judges 21:2 Or to the house of God


Monday, August 16, 2021

Lashing yourself to the mast

In my previous post on Afghanistan, I noted that the Afghan National Army never developed a logistics capacity and depended on U.S. and NATO forces for transport and supply. I probably should have made more of that. Professor Black quotes a tweet by Jon Walker that makes the point. The Afghan army was designed to be incapable of functioning on its own. The obvious question is why?

As Atrios does ask: "The best you can say about TWENTY DAMN YEARS IN AFGHANISTAN is that the military succeeded very well in achieving their goal of making Afghanistan dependent on their presence, and running to journalists every time that presence was threatened by politicians. . . . I don't know why, precisely, "the military" was so desperate to stay in Afghanistan, but I suspect the answer to that is not so good."


I can answer that. The military needs to be doing something to justify its enormously bloated budget, and provide jobs for officers. 

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Sunday Sermonette: Civil War

As I indicated in a comment on my last Bible post, I suspect that this story has some basis in historical events. There seems no reason why it should have been written if the tribe of Benjamin had not found itself at war at some point against at least a portion of the rest of the Israelites. However, this story is clearly victor's propaganda. The tale in the last chapter, a recycling of the story of Lot in Sodom, is certainly an invention to justify the aggression. Think Reichstag fire or Gulf of Tonkin incident. Furthermore, the details of the war, from the mailing of the body parts, to the participation of 100% of the other tribes, and of course the divine sanction, are certainly invented. It also seems quite implausible that the entire tribe of Benjamin would have made such a sacrifice on behalf of a few rapist-murderers. The Levite and his concubine, BTW, remain nameless.

20 Then all Israel from Dan to Beersheba and from the land of Gilead came together as one and assembled before the Lord in Mizpah. The leaders of all the people of the tribes of Israel took their places in the assembly of God’s people, four hundred thousand men armed with swords. (The Benjamites heard that the Israelites had gone up to Mizpah.) Then the Israelites said, “Tell us how this awful thing happened.”

So the Levite, the husband of the murdered woman, said, “I and my concubine came to Gibeah in Benjamin to spend the night. During the night the men of Gibeah came after me and surrounded the house, intending to kill me. They raped my concubine, and she died. I took my concubine, cut her into pieces and sent one piece to each region of Israel’s inheritance, because they committed this lewd and outrageous act in Israel. Now, all you Israelites, speak up and tell me what you have decided to do.”

All the men rose up together as one, saying, “None of us will go home. No, not one of us will return to his house. But now this is what we’ll do to Gibeah: We’ll go up against it in the order decided by casting lots. 10 We’ll take ten men out of every hundred from all the tribes of Israel, and a hundred from a thousand, and a thousand from ten thousand, to get provisions for the army. Then, when the army arrives at Gibeah[a] in Benjamin, it can give them what they deserve for this outrageous act done in Israel.” 11 So all the Israelites got together and united as one against the city.

12 The tribes of Israel sent messengers throughout the tribe of Benjamin, saying, “What about this awful crime that was committed among you? 13 Now turn those wicked men of Gibeah over to us so that we may put them to death and purge the evil from Israel.”

Literally what NIV translates as "wicked men" is "sons of Belial," a phrase which occurs frequently in the Tanakh  to refer to evil or disreputable people. Belial was probably not in fact a proper name but a word meaning worthless or similar, but in later Jewish and Christian tradition it was presumed to be a name for the devil. The NIV translators apparently wanted to avoid this mistake.

But the Benjamites would not listen to their fellow Israelites. 14 From their towns they came together at Gibeah to fight against the Israelites. 15 At once the Benjamites mobilized twenty-six thousand swordsmen from their towns, in addition to seven hundred able young men from those living in Gibeah. 16 Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred select troops who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.

17 Israel, apart from Benjamin, mustered four hundred thousand swordsmen, all of them fit for battle.

18 The Israelites went up to Bethel[b] and inquired of God. They said, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Benjamites?”

The Lord replied, “Judah shall go first.”

19 The next morning the Israelites got up and pitched camp near Gibeah. 20 The Israelites went out to fight the Benjamites and took up battle positions against them at Gibeah. 21 The Benjamites came out of Gibeah and cut down twenty-two thousand Israelites on the battlefield that day. 22 But the Israelites encouraged one another and again took up their positions where they had stationed themselves the first day. 23 The Israelites went up and wept before the Lord until evening, and they inquired of the Lord. They said, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites?”

The Lord answered, “Go up against them.”

24 Then the Israelites drew near to Benjamin the second day. 25 This time, when the Benjamites came out from Gibeah to oppose them, they cut down another eighteen thousand Israelites, all of them armed with swords.

26 Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the Lord. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the Lord. 27 And the Israelites inquired of the Lord. (In those days the ark of the covenant of God was there, 28 with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, ministering before it.) They asked, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites, or not?”

A couple of points. The ark and the tabernacle have suddenly made their reappearance, but this is mentioned casually, in passing. It has been of no importance throughout Judges and its location was not revealed until now. It is also rather odd that God withholds his assistance until the third day of battle, after which the good guys (from his point of view) have suffered enormous casualties. 

The Lord responded, “Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands.”

29 Then Israel set an ambush around Gibeah. 30 They went up against the Benjamites on the third day and took up positions against Gibeah as they had done before. 31 The Benjamites came out to meet them and were drawn away from the city. They began to inflict casualties on the Israelites as before, so that about thirty men fell in the open field and on the roads—the one leading to Bethel and the other to Gibeah. 32 While the Benjamites were saying, “We are defeating them as before,” the Israelites were saying, “Let’s retreat and draw them away from the city to the roads.”

33 All the men of Israel moved from their places and took up positions at Baal Tamar, and the Israelite ambush charged out of its place on the west[c] of Gibeah.[d] 34 Then ten thousand of Israel’s able young men made a frontal attack on Gibeah. The fighting was so heavy that the Benjamites did not realize how near disaster was. 35 The Lord defeated Benjamin before Israel, and on that day the Israelites struck down 25,100 Benjamites, all armed with swords. 36 Then the Benjamites saw that they were beaten.

Now the men of Israel had given way before Benjamin, because they relied on the ambush they had set near Gibeah. 37 Those who had been in ambush made a sudden dash into Gibeah, spread out and put the whole city to the sword. 38 The Israelites had arranged with the ambush that they should send up a great cloud of smoke from the city, 39 and then the Israelites would counterattack.

The Benjamites had begun to inflict casualties on the Israelites (about thirty), and they said, “We are defeating them as in the first battle.” 40 But when the column of smoke began to rise from the city, the Benjamites turned and saw the whole city going up in smoke. 41 Then the Israelites counterattacked, and the Benjamites were terrified, because they realized that disaster had come on them. 42 So they fled before the Israelites in the direction of the wilderness, but they could not escape the battle. And the Israelites who came out of the towns cut them down there. 43 They surrounded the Benjamites, chased them and easily[e] overran them in the vicinity of Gibeah on the east. 44 Eighteen thousand Benjamites fell, all of them valiant fighters. 45 As they turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, the Israelites cut down five thousand men along the roads. They kept pressing after the Benjamites as far as Gidom and struck down two thousand more.

46 On that day twenty-five thousand Benjamite swordsmen fell, all of them valiant fighters. 47 But six hundred of them turned and fled into the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, where they stayed four months. 48 The men of Israel went back to Benjamin and put all the towns to the sword, including the animals and everything else they found. All the towns they came across they set on fire.

There have to be a few left because, of course, the tribe of Benjamin still exists later on. How this comes about is explained in the next, and final chapter of Judges.


  1. Judges 20:10 One Hebrew manuscript; most Hebrew manuscripts Geba, a variant of Gibeah
  2. Judges 20:18 Or to the house of God; also in verse 26
  3. Judges 20:33 Some Septuagint manuscripts and Vulgate; the meaning of the Hebrew for this word is uncertain.
  4. Judges 20:33 Hebrew Geba, a variant of Gibeah
  5. Judges 20:43 The meaning of the Hebrew for this word is uncertain.

Friday, August 13, 2021


This is not entirely on  topic for Stayin' Alive, but I wrote the Today in Iraq and Afghanistan blog for nigh on 15 years so I feel compelled to comment. A link isn't really necessary because it's all over the news that with the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the Afghan security forces are collapsing and the Taliban are conquering territory, including major cities, much faster than almost anyone expected. But here's a link for the heck of it. Given the abject failure of the Afghan National Army and other government forces, predictions are that the internationally recognized government may not hold on to Kabul for more than a couple of weeks or a month, so NATO countries, including the U.S., are evacuating their nationals.

From the point of view of people like me, by which I mean secular, cosmopolitan, democratic and egalitarian types such as we commonly encounter in the so-called West, this is bad. The Taliban are, as far as I'm concerned, really awful, and I despair for the fate of Afghan women and girls, and for everyone in Afghanistan who values reason, justice and for that matter basic material well being, because the Taliban will not deliver that either. 

President Biden will come under fire from various quarters for this outcome. Notice, however, that Republican and conservative voices have been fairly quiet. Mike Pompeo, in aid of his presidential candidacy, has been disapproving, but some have even supported Biden's decision to cut our losses. I won't link to The Federalist because they're 95% insane, but they have a column by a state department official in the former administration that I agree with completely. (You can find it if you're interested.) It's also maybe a bit hard for them to be overly critical because Biden only affirmed a policy that began with the previous administration, although facts don't usually get in their way.

The fact is this is one area where I have a lot of overlap with the paleocons. (The neocons, of course, started the war.) It was apparent to every informed, impartial observer from early on in the Afghanistan misadventure that it was doomed. The government set up by the invaders was a fraud, utterly corrupt, incompetent, riven by ethnic factionalism and largely consisting of warlords with private armies who were given high level federal government posts. The hundreds of billions spent on "reconstruction" was largely squandered, siphoned off by corruption or wasted due to lack of understanding of local needs and conditions. The NATO-backed government never controlled much territory beyond the provincial and district capitals, and slowly but steadily lost ground to the Taliban and other insurgents throughout the 20 year occupation. 


The Afghan National Army was a hollow shell. It's soldiers had no intrinsic loyalty to the government, many of them were ghost warriors who split their salaries with their COs in exchange for not showing up, and many of them who did show up would cut and run when attacked leaving equipment and weapons to the insurgents. As a result, Taliban were riding around in U.S.-built humvees and wielding U.S. army issue machine guns. The Afghan Army never developed a logistics capability and depended on NATO for transport and supply lines. All of this has become obvious in the past weeks.

The rural economy depended largely on opium, which the Taliban taxed to support themselves. Their leadership enjoyed safe haven from our "ally" Pakistan, which probably also provided financial support and weapons. 

So while what is happening now is tragic, it was always a question of when, not if. And nobody has ever been able to explain to me why it is the responsibility of the United States to export its values and its concept of democracy to lands on the other side of the planet by means of guns and bombs. Which, by the way, in case you hadn't noticed, doesn't work.

So Biden will take a lot of flack, but he's doing what had to be done. We were just digging ourselves deeper and deeper into a hole. It's time to stop digging.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Lest anyone harbor doubt . . .

. . .  about who is behind this insanity and to what part of the political culture it pertains, I'll outsource to Paul Campos.

And yes, there is distrust about the vaccine among some African-Americans, but it's for historical reasons, not because their political leaders are lying to them. Also, they aren't refusing, and they'll accept a mandate. They're just reluctant.

And just to make it absolutely crystal clear, county by county, the percentage of people who are vaccinated is strongly correlated with the percentage who voted for Biden -- or conversely, the percentage unvaccinated is correlated with the vote for the former guy. The linked document has a lot of complicated graphics and statistics, but I'll share this which I think is easiest to grok:


For some reason he shows the r^2; the r is more conventional in this situation, it's .67, and that is a very strong correlation. Most of the variance in vaccination rates can be explained by political allegiance, and it's visually obvious.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Slow News Day

Cuomo resigns, Senate passes infrastructure bill, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issues horrifying new report while the western U.S. continues to burn and half the country is under a heat advisory, hospitals in Texas and Florida overflow while the states' governors actively prevent anybody from doing anything about it . . .  It's all too much, so that we don't even notice the plot by far right extremists and their God Emperor to terminate the U.S. democracy.

So for right now, I'm going to focus on one problem. Unfortunately the best discussion of this I can find is in the NYT, which is paywalled, but if you still have a free article left it's here. I think the author is being appropriately cautious: epidemiologists still aren't sure how the delta variant of Covid-19 is behaving with vaccinated people and children, but here's what I think is likely given the ways in which data is likely to be missing.

First important point. The vaccines are very effective at preventing people who are exposed to delta from being hospitalized or dying. Not 100%, but these events are rare. However, they probably -- I'll say very probably, almost definitely -- aren't as good at preventing people from getting sick, and maybe pretty damn miserable, as they were against earlier strains. They also aren't as good at preventing people from becoming infectious. Again, they help. Vaccination reduces community transition and will spare most people from significant illness. But you can still transmit the virus to others.

Second important point: Delta is much more transmissible, and (although the scientists seem reticent to say this) likely to cause more serious disease.and it is almost certainly more dangerous to children. Part of the mythology of Covid has been that children aren't really vulnerable so why are we making them learn remotely and wear masks when they go back to school in person? That never actually made any sense because even if they didn't get sick, children could be a vector of transmission and give the virus to their teachers and school staff, family members and community. But now more and more of them are getting sick, including very sick and in the hospital and on ventilators and also sometimes dead.

Third important point: If you have a mutant that's more transmissible, it's going to take over and crowd out the less transmissible versions that might confer immunity on some people who don't infect others, or don't infect as many others. That's what happened already with delta. If it acquires another mutation that makes it even more transmissible, we will be even more screwed. The way to prevent that is for everybody to get vaccinated, which will mean less viral replication and less opportunity for mutation.

There is plenty of vaccine in the U.S. for everybody, and it's free. The reason we are in this horrific situation is because the Republican party is an anti-science death cult. They are making us sick and killing us because the party, as a whole, is pathological. The nation cannot survive if these malignant clowns cling to any substantial power.

Update: From Digby, at least they're preferentially killing themselves. And I do not mourn.

Update 2: Learn the facts before you write an ignorant comment. (Source) addendum: There is a difference between people who haven't yet been fully vaccinated because it is difficult for them to do so -- they can't take time off from work, there is no place convenient for them to get it, they haven't had the Internet connections to sign up for an appointment, they have child care and elder care responsibilities, etc. -- and people who outright refuse. The poll shown below, which is scientifically accurate, represents people who are ideologically opposed to getting the vaccine. This correlates very strongly with being a white, conservative Republican. That is the truth.