Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

The Matrix

Historian Timothy Snyder has what I believe is the correct understanding of uncle Vlad's Russia. It's not a very long read and it's worth reading the whole thing, but the basic idea is that Russians live in a manufactured reality. There's not point sacrificing part of Ukraine to give him an "off ramp" because he'll do whatever he wants, and if he doesn't work, he'll just lie to the Russian people about it, and they'll accept it. Here's a pull quote:


Some observers of the Russo-Ukrainian war seem to think that its greatest danger is that Ukraine will win, or win too quickly, and that this will be uncomfortable for Putin, and that we should care. This is a deeply perverse way of seeing things.  Putin has chosen to fight a war of aggression and destruction in Ukraine.  Wherever Russia controls Ukrainian territory, Russians commit genocidal crimes against citizens of Ukraine, including mass rape, mass killing, and mass deportation.  A democracy is defending itself against an autocracy, and the fate of democracies hangs in the balance. . . . 

Yet there is an even more basic problem with this reasoning, which arises from a false understanding of how power in Russia works. The Russian media and political system is designed to keep Putin in power regardless of what happens in the outside world.  Russian politics takes place within a closed information environment which Putin himself designed and which Putin himself runs.  He does not need our help in the real world to craft reassuring fictions for Russians.  He has been doing this for twenty years without our help. . . .

What matters in Russian politics is not Putin's feelings nor battlefield realities but the ability of the Putin regime to change the story for Russian media consumers.  It is senseless, as the Ukrainians understand, to sentence real people of real territories to suffer and die for the sake of Russian narratives that do not even depend upon the real world. What happens if Putin decides that he is losing in Ukraine?  He will act to protect himself by declaring victory and changing the subject.

 The point for us here in the U.S. is that this would be our fate if Fox was the only available news medium.  This is the ultimate goal of Trumpism and the conservative movement. Believe it.


Sunday, May 29, 2022


I just finished reading The Emperor of All Maladies: A biography of cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee. I have a quibble with the title -- it should be history, not biography. By personifying cancer, he plays into just the mythologizing he is trying to dispel. But that aside, I found the book very informative. 

I knew the general outline of the story, but not a lot of the details. What I want to comment on here, which I believe is the key takeaway, is that medical practice is subject to ideological capture, even in the modern era of "scientific" medicine. In the center of the book is the horror story of radical mastectomy. Before the true nature of cancer was understood, surgeons responded to breast cancer by what I can only describe as savage  butchery. They not only removed the breasts and surrounding lymph nodes, but underlying muscle and bone, creating ghastly disfigurement and disability. Leading surgeons competed with each other to commit the most ghastly assaults on their patients, boasted loudly of the extremism of the damage they inflicted, and reacted to criticism with sneering disdain. 

All this was based on the assumption, entirely false as it turns out, that cancer spreads concentrically. In other words, they removed all of these body parts because they presumed that metastasis was confined within a radius of the original tumor and they were removing all of the places it could lurk. They were wrong.

Cancer cells can break off an travel through the blood stream to anywhere in the body. Either the cancer was still confined within the original lesion, in which case just removing the tumor would be completely curative; or it was too late to cure it by surgery. Not until the 1980s did physicians understand the nature of cancer, that it consists of cells whose genomes have mutated so they replicate uncontrollably. They also learned that there are innumerable different cancer producing mutations and types of cancer cells. 

Originally, chemotherapy consisted of chemicals which indiscriminately prevent cell division, or kill dividing cells. This did suppress cancer, but of course normal cells also need to divide, particularly the stem cells in the bone marrow that differentiate into the various types of blood cells. This means there is a limit to the amount of chemotherapy you can inflict on a person without killing them. So the next big fad in cancer treatment was called autologous bone marrow transplant. This meant extracting marrow from the patient, giving doses of chemotherapy so high it completely wiped out the bone marrow, which ordinarily would have killed the woman; and then reimplanting the reserved marrow so that it could regrow. Although women usually survived the treatment, it caused appalling suffering and long term damage.

People were so convinced this was effective that there was a passionate political movement to make it available without rigorous clinical trials. Countless women went through the hell of bone marrow transplant chemotherapy. But it turns out the only evidence of its effectiveness was a fraud perpetrated by a South African physician. 

Radical mastectomy and bone marrow transplant for this purpose are no longer performed. (There are other reasons for bone marrow transplants, to be clear.) Now that cancer is better understood, there are so-called targeted therapies that can treat cancer with specific characteristics, which have much less severe side effects than indiscriminate chemotherapy; and surgery for breast cancer is far less drastic. But could medical practice be going down some wrong roads today? Certainly. We need to be far more diligent about basing medical intervention on good evidence. That's why the so-called "right to treat" movement is so misguided. Giving people unproven treatments is not doing them any favors.

Sunday Sermonette: God the deceiver

(Ch. 22 is the last of 1 Kings, but as I have noted before the division of the book in two is arbitrary and is not in the Tanakh.) The plot here is a bit complicated and it's more than a bit weird so I'll state it clearly.  God finally gets around to killing Ahab because Ahab because Ahab spared the life of Benhadad (1 Kings 20). So god hatches an elaborate plot. For unspecified reasons, God knows that if Israel and Judah attack Syria, the Syrians will concentrate on killing Ahab and leave the rest of the army alone.. Why the Syrians will do this is not explained. So Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, comes to visit and they talk about attacking Syria. They get 400 prophets to come and give advice, all of whom say to go for it. But Jehoshaphat wants a second, or rather 401st opinion,  so Ahab reluctantly sends for Michaiah, whose prophecies Ahab never likes. 

Michaiah says that he saw God on his throne, surrounded by his innumerable servants. God wanted somebody to persuade Ahab to attack the Syrian king Ramothgilead, and a "spirit" came forward to say he could make the prophets lie. Evidently God couldn't do it himself. So the 400 prophets are lying but, according to Michaiah, if the Israelites attack Israel will be left leaderless and they'll all go home. Ahab says "bullshit" and sends Michaiah off to be imprisoned on bread and water. Then they attack. The Syrians identify Jehoshaphat and they leave him alone, because they only want to kill Ahab, which they do. 

Jehoshaphat rules over Judah in accordance with God's will, and "the remnant of the male cult prostitutes who remained in the days of his father Asa, he exterminated from the land." Make of it what you will. We are told that the further deeds of Ahab and Jehoshaphat are told in the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel and the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah, both of which have been lost. Then there's a pointless reference to a marine expedition that never happened, and we are told that Ahab's successor Ahaziah did evil and worshipped Baal. The End.


22 For three years Syria and Israel continued without war. But in the third year Jehosh′aphat the king of Judah came down to the king of Israel. And the king of Israel said to his servants, “Do you know that Ramoth-gilead belongs to us, and we keep quiet and do not take it out of the hand of the king of Syria?” And he said to Jehosh′aphat, “Will you go with me to battle at Ramoth-gilead?” And Jehosh′aphat said to the king of Israel, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.”

And Jehosh′aphat said to the king of Israel, “Inquire first for the word of the Lord.” Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said to them, “Shall I go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I forbear?” And they said, “Go up; for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.” But Jehosh′aphat said, “Is there not here another prophet of the Lord of whom we may inquire?” And the king of Israel said to Jehosh′aphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, Micai′ah the son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.” And Jehosh′aphat said, “Let not the king say so.” Then the king of Israel summoned an officer and said, “Bring quickly Micai′ah the son of Imlah.” 10 Now the king of Israel and Jehosh′aphat the king of Judah were sitting on their thrones, arrayed in their robes, at the threshing floor at the entrance of the gate of Samar′ia; and all the prophets were prophesying before them. 11 And Zedeki′ah the son of Chena′anah made for himself horns of iron, and said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘With these you shall push the Syrians until they are destroyed.’” 12 And all the prophets prophesied so, and said, “Go up to Ramoth-gilead and triumph; the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.”

Micaiah Predicts Failure

13 And the messenger who went to summon Micai′ah said to him, “Behold, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king; let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.” 14 But Micai′ah said, “As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that I will speak.” 15 And when he had come to the king, the king said to him, “Micai′ah, shall we go to Ramoth-gilead to battle, or shall we forbear?” And he answered him, “Go up and triumph; the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.” 16 But the king said to him, “How many times shall I adjure you that you speak to me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?” 17 And he said, “I saw all Israel scattered upon the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd; and the Lord said, ‘These have no master; let each return to his home in peace.’” 18 And the king of Israel said to Jehosh′aphat, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?” 19 And Micai′ah said, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; 20 and the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. 21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ 22 And the Lord said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go forth, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go forth and do so.’ 23 Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has spoken evil concerning you.”

24 Then Zedeki′ah the son of Chena′anah came near and struck Micai′ah on the cheek, and said, “How did the Spirit of the Lord go from me to speak to you?” 25 And Micai′ah said, “Behold, you shall see on that day when you go into an inner chamber to hide yourself.” 26 And the king of Israel said, “Seize Micai′ah, and take him back to Amon the governor of the city and to Jo′ash the king’s son; 27 and say, ‘Thus says the king, “Put this fellow in prison, and feed him with scant fare of bread and water, until I come in peace.”’” 28 And Micai′ah said, “If you return in peace, the Lord has not spoken by me.” And he said, “Hear, all you peoples!”

Defeat and Death of Ahab

29 So the king of Israel and Jehosh′aphat the king of Judah went up to Ramoth-gilead. 30 And the king of Israel said to Jehosh′aphat, “I will disguise myself and go into battle, but you wear your robes.” And the king of Israel disguised himself and went into battle. 31 Now the king of Syria had commanded the thirty-two captains of his chariots, “Fight with neither small nor great, but only with the king of Israel.” 32 And when the captains of the chariots saw Jehosh′aphat, they said, “It is surely the king of Israel.” So they turned to fight against him; and Jehosh′aphat cried out. 33 And when the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, they turned back from pursuing him. 34 But a certain man drew his bow at a venture, and struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate; therefore he said to the driver of his chariot, “Turn about, and carry me out of the battle, for I am wounded.” 35 And the battle grew hot that day, and the king was propped up in his chariot facing the Syrians, until at evening he died; and the blood of the wound flowed into the bottom of the chariot. 36 And about sunset a cry went through the army, “Every man to his city, and every man to his country!”

37 So the king died, and was brought to Samar′ia; and they buried the king in Samar′ia. 38 And they washed the chariot by the pool of Samar′ia, and the dogs licked up his blood, and the harlots washed themselves in it, according to the word of the Lord which he had spoken. 39 Now the rest of the acts of Ahab, and all that he did, and the ivory house which he built, and all the cities that he built, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 40 So Ahab slept with his fathers; and Ahazi′ah his son reigned in his stead.

Jehoshaphat Reigns over Judah

41 Jehosh′aphat the son of Asa began to reign over Judah in the fourth year of Ahab king of Israel. 42 Jehosh′aphat was thirty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Azu′bah the daughter of Shilhi. 43 He walked in all the way of Asa his father; he did not turn aside from it, doing what was right in the sight of the Lord; yet the high places were not taken away, and the people still sacrificed and burned incense on the high places. 44 Jehosh′aphat also made peace with the king of Israel.

45 Now the rest of the acts of Jehosh′aphat, and his might that he showed, and how he warred, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 46 And the remnant of the male cult prostitutes who remained in the days of his father Asa, he exterminated from the land.

47 There was no king in Edom; a deputy was king. 48 Jehosh′aphat made ships of Tarshish to go to Ophir for gold; but they did not go, for the ships were wrecked at E′zion-ge′ber. 49 Then Ahazi′ah the son of Ahab said to Jehosh′aphat, “Let my servants go with your servants in the ships,” but Jehosh′aphat was not willing. 50 And Jehosh′aphat slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David his father; and Jeho′ram his son reigned in his stead.

Ahaziah Reigns over Israel

51 Ahazi′ah the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samar′ia in the seventeenth year of Jehosh′aphat king of Judah, and he reigned two years over Israel. 52 He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of his father, and in the way of his mother, and in the way of Jerobo′am the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. 53 He served Ba′al and worshiped him, and provoked the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger in every way that his father had done.


Saturday, May 28, 2022

Mental Ilness

Among all the ridiculous deflections, excuses, and illogic Republicans use to repel any suggestion that there should be gun safety legislation, one of the most plausible sounding is that a causal factor in firearm violence is mental illness. Of course, they don't actually support increasing funding for behavioral health care or addressing social determinants of mental illness, so it's just hypocrisy. However, it is also not so plausible after all.

A common estimate is that about 20% of the population has a diagnosable mental illness, and it is also estimated that the prevalence in mass shooters is similar. But the concept of mental illness is pretty muddled anyway. Officially, a "mental illness" is an entity described in a book called the DSM-5, which originally stood for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual but it doesn't really have statistics and nobody calls it that any more. For the vast majority of these entities, however, determining whether somebody has THE DISEASE is purely a matter of judgment, based on subjective criteria. Two diagnosticians confronted with the same subject will often make different diagnoses, and the same person may have changing diagnoses over time. It is entirely possible for two people to have the same diagnosis who have no symptoms in common, and in fact who have opposite symptoms -- e.g. insomnia/excessive sleep, hyperactivity/lethargy. The dirty secret is that psychiatrists have no idea what specifically is going on in the brain that might correspond to the diagnoses they make, and they have no idea how the drugs they prescribe work, to the extent they do at all.

You might say that anybody who commits mass murder is mentally ill, because their behavior is markedly abnormal, and as far as I'm concerned that's a reasonable position. However, it is also useless, because it's tautological. There is no way to predict who will commit these acts, and it's probably as much a function of their social environment and immediate experiences as it is baseline facts about their brains. For example, racially motivated mass murders require a social environment of racism as well as whatever is "the matter" with the perpetrator.

However, whether you want to call it a specific disease or not, there are a lot of people in chronic emotional distress, and people who have difficult regulating their behavior so they can live successfully, and these largely (although not entirely) overlap. They can benefit from counseling, and in some cases empirical use of medications (although probably not as many cases as there are prescriptions), and even more from supportive social environments. There are investments we can make that will help. Whether these will result in fewer mass shootings, however, is highly speculative.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

A Public Health Response

I've written here about firearms a few times and I'm not going to repeat myself at length. The problem of firearm violence obviously has three dimensions. The first is epidemiological/etiological -- what are the patterns of its occurrence, and can we identify causes? The second is prescriptive -- if we can identify causes, are there policies that would effectively prevent it? The third, of course, is political -- is it possible to implement effective policies?

I won't bother to link to statistics because the exact numbers aren't important. Qualitatively, mass shootings, however you want to define them -- four or more deaths in one incident is a common operationalization, but it's arbitrary -- account for a pretty small minority of firearm deaths in the U.S. We do see more and more AR15 style weapons used in these, but handguns are far more commonly the instrument of death, including in many mass shootings.

The mass shootings get a lot more attention than the daily toll of more isolated deaths. That's just human nature. And they do in some ways have repercussions beyond the sheer numbers of dead. They devastate communities and have an emotional impact on people who aren't so directly affected. In some cases, they are intended as terrorist intimidation or assaults on particular groups of people, such as African Americans, Latinos, or sexual minorities, so those cases can affect the emotional well-being of millions of people. So yes, we'd like to stop them. Let's talk about that first.

Mental illness and video games, along with all the other explanations so-called gun rights defenders like to put forth, obviously exist all over the world. But only in the U.S. do we have routine massacres, barring conditions of war or social collapse. (The Mexican drug wars I would classify as an example of the latter.) That guns are much more easily obtained in the U.S. than most other countries is a ready explanation, but it isn't sufficient. Almost every household in Switzerland has a gun, but it's a very peaceful country. One important difference is that everyone has been trained in use of those weapons and weapon safety, and I suspect another is that people who are disturbed and evidently dangerous get weeded out in compulsory military training. On the other hand countries that have experienced devastating massacres, such as the UK and Australia, have taken measures to drastically reduce gun ownership and they haven't seen similar incidents since. So outside of the Swiss context it does seem to matter.


Another difference is that every affluent country other than the United States, and some less affluent, has universal comprehensive health care and people with psycho-emotional problems get identified and helped. Another is that there is less social and economic inequality in other affluent countries, and hence fewer people who build up toxic resentment. But I would  say that one essential problem is cultural. There's a strain of toxic masculinity in the U.S. that's less powerful elsewhere, and it is strongly associated with the culture of firearm fanaticism. At the same time, we have a lot of socio-cultural diversity and a lot of Americans are infected by one or another form of bigotry. Young men who need to prove that they are powerful and manly may conflate that with one or more such resentments and we get the racist massacres. 


There have been a couple of incidents perpetrated by Islamic Jihadists, of course. The U.S. isn't uniquely vulnerable, but I'm hoping that movement is in decline. (I don't put the Pulse nightclub massacre in that category because the perpetrator was very confused about religion, did not identify with any specific ideology, and his actions were most likely the result of psycho-sexual torment.)

But all of those considerations can't account for all of these incidents. For example there is no compelling explanation for the actions of Stephen Paddock. I will say that his attack would not have been a fraction as deadly had he not been able to make his weapons mimic fully automatic fire by the use of bump stocks. If those had not been obtainable dozens of lives might have been saved. So that seems a no-brainer although this was a unique case.

So, these incidents are diverse in etiology, and they involve profound problems in U.S. society. Given that complexity and our seeming inability to solve our problems of inequality, division, cultural toxicity and inadequate social welfare, it tempting to say we should go the way of Australia and just round up all the guns. But we know that isn't going to happen.  

I will say that these military-style rifles have no purpose other than to kill humans. That is what they are designed for. There is also no reason to allow large-capacity magazines. Getting rid of them wouldn't prevent these tragedies, but it could make them less deadly. But the mass killing problem aside, there are possibly achievable ways to reduce the overall toll of firearm violence. I'll get to that next.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Wednesday Bible Study: Biblical morality

Chapter 21 is another one of those stories that makes you scratch your head about why it's in the Bible. I'm just going to summarize it. This guy Naboth owns a vineyard which, for some reason, Ahab wants. (Remember that two chapters earlier, Ahab was going to be deposed and most of the Israelites killed, but that never happened and we've forgotten all about it.) But Naboth won't sell it so Ahab goes to bed and refuses to eat. So Jezebel has a plan: she writes letters telling some local potentates to accuse Naboth of blaspheming against God and the King, and have him stoned to death, and she signs Ahabs name. They do it, and Ahab gets the vineyard. Nice people! 

I'll give God some credit, he doesn't like this so he has Elijah track Ahab down and tell him that he and all his family will die and the dogs will lick his blood. Same for Jezebel. But Ahab does the sackcloth and ashes routine so God says okay, I won't punish Ahab, but I'll punish his son later. Makes perfect sense!

21 Now Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of Ahab king of Samar′ia. And after this Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; and I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” But Naboth said to Ahab, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And Ahab went into his house vexed and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And he lay down on his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no food.

But Jez′ebel his wife came to him, and said to him, “Why is your spirit so vexed that you eat no food?” And he said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite, and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if it please you, I will give you another vineyard for it’; and he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.’” And Jez′ebel his wife said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Arise, and eat bread, and let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal, and she sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who dwelt with Naboth in his city. And she wrote in the letters, “Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people; 10 and set two base fellows opposite him, and let them bring a charge against him, saying, ‘You have cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out, and stone him to death.” 11 And the men of his city, the elders and the nobles who dwelt in his city, did as Jez′ebel had sent word to them. As it was written in the letters which she had sent to them, 12 they proclaimed a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people. 13 And the two base fellows came in and sat opposite him; and the base fellows brought a charge against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, “Naboth cursed God and the king.” So they took him outside the city, and stoned him to death with stones. 14 Then they sent to Jez′ebel, saying, “Naboth has been stoned; he is dead.”

15 As soon as Jez′ebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jez′ebel said to Ahab, “Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.” 16 And as soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab arose to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.

Elijah Pronounces God’s Sentence

17 Then the word of the Lord came to Eli′jah the Tishbite, saying, 18 “Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who is in Samar′ia; behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. 19 And you shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Have you killed, and also taken possession?”’ And you shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your own blood.”’”

20 Ahab said to Eli′jah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” He answered, “I have found you, because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord. 21 Behold, I will bring evil upon you; I will utterly sweep you away, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel; 22 and I will make your house like the house of Jerobo′am the son of Nebat, and like the house of Ba′asha the son of Ahi′jah, for the anger to which you have provoked me, and because you have made Israel to sin. 23 And of Jez′ebel the Lord also said, ‘The dogs shall eat Jez′ebel within the bounds of Jezreel.’ 24 Any one belonging to Ahab who dies in the city the dogs shall eat; and any one of his who dies in the open country the birds of the air shall eat.”

25 (There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jez′ebel his wife incited. 26 He did very abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord cast out before the people of Israel.)

27 And when Ahab heard those words, he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted and lay in sackcloth, and went about dejectedly. 28 And the word of the Lord came to Eli′jah the Tishbite, saying, 29 “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the evil upon his house.”

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The disinformation gap

 This lengthy Kos diary is well done and covers a lot of important ground. The writer asks the question, why is that conservatives are so much more likely to believe insane conspiracy theories and other disinformation. I won't try to summarize the whole thing but I will say this much.

The highly disproportionate belief in falsehoods by conservatives is a scientific fact, not just an impression. Many experiments have confirmed that conservative political orientation is associated with psychological predispositions which create forms of gullibility. As the diarist writes:

Conservatives register a greater response to negative stimuli because they tend to view the world as a dangerous place and are “hyper-attuned” to the hazards in the world.

This is why fearmongering is used more often as a persuasion technique in right-wing media, and why conspiracies are more likely to take root in conservative thought. Liberals, on the other hand, tend to be more hopeful about mankind and are much more likely to respond to persuasion over the perceived benefits of something presented. This explains why there is such a huge disconnect in legislative policy initiatives from both parties.

The proclivity to perceive enemies and danger everywhere makes people susceptible to false threat claims. There is an entire media disinformation industry that exploits this tendency, starting of course with Fox News. There is a great deal more here, and I urge you to read it. The insanity on the right is absolutely appalling, we need to understand it if we want to combat it.

Monday, May 23, 2022

The real pedophile conspiracy

With these people, an accusation is always a confession. Yes, I'm linking to conservative Christian writer Russell Moore in Christianity Today who has just read the report on the coverup by Southern Baptist convention leadership of widespread sexual abuse by clergy. Just so you know, the Southern Baptist convention is the largest protestant denomination in the United States. It was formed in 1845 when it split from the northern baptists over the issue of slavery. Presumably you can guess which side they were on.

Nowadays, the SBC affirms male dominance. Women cannot be pastors and, according to the official church doctrine called the Baptist Faith and Message:

The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God's image. The marriage relationship models the way God relates to his people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.

Obviously, since the 1970s they have opposed abortion under any circumstances. However, raping children is just fine with them. Christ deliver us from Christianity.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Sunday Sermonette: Pack it off and send it to Muncie ....

I've got a maiden aunt there in dire need of more confusion. (No, I don't know exactly what that's supposed to mean but I had a high school classmate who said it a lot.) In the previous chapter, God told Elijah to appoint Hazael king of Syria and Jehu king of Israel, and between them they'd kill all but the 7,000 righteous men remaining in Israel. But that is instantly forgotten Benhadad is king of Syria, Ahab is still king of Israel, they fight each other, and God gives Ahab the victory. This is only after some very strange goings on between Ahab and Benhadad. Ahab lets Benhadad go after the war. Then a lion kills a man for refusing to smite a prophet who had asked to be smitten. Then the prophet gets somebody else to smite him, pretended to be a man wounded in battle, then revealed himself to Ahab as a prophet and said that Ahab and Israel would be destroyed because Ahab didn't kill Benhadad when he had the chance. Whatev.

20 Ben-ha′dad the king of Syria gathered all his army together; thirty-two kings were with him, and horses and chariots; and he went up and besieged Samar′ia, and fought against it. And he sent messengers into the city to Ahab king of Israel, and said to him, “Thus says Ben-ha′dad: ‘Your silver and your gold are mine; your fairest wives and children also are mine.’” And the king of Israel answered, “As you say, my lord, O king, I am yours, and all that I have.” The messengers came again, and said, “Thus says Ben-ha′dad: ‘I sent to you, saying, “Deliver to me your silver and your gold, your wives and your children”; nevertheless I will send my servants to you tomorrow about this time, and they shall search your house and the houses of your servants, and lay hands on whatever pleases them,[a] and take it away.’”

Then the king of Israel called all the elders of the land, and said, “Mark, now, and see how this man is seeking trouble; for he sent to me for my wives and my children, and for my silver and my gold, and I did not refuse him.” And all the elders and all the people said to him, “Do not heed or consent.” So he said to the messengers of Ben-ha′dad, “Tell my lord the king, ‘All that you first demanded of your servant I will do; but this thing I cannot do.’” And the messengers departed and brought him word again. 10 Ben-ha′dad sent to him and said, “The gods do so to me and more also, if the dust of Samar′ia shall suffice for handfuls for all the people who follow me.” 11 And the king of Israel answered, “Tell him, ‘Let not him that girds on his armor boast himself as he that puts it off.’” 12 When Ben-ha′dad heard this message as he was drinking with the kings in the booths, he said to his men, “Take your positions.” And they took their positions against the city.

Prophetic Opposition to Ahab

13 And behold, a prophet came near to Ahab king of Israel and said, “Thus says the Lord, Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will give it into your hand this day; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” 14 And Ahab said, “By whom?” He said, “Thus says the Lord, By the servants of the governors of the districts.” Then he said, “Who shall begin the battle?” He answered, “You.” 15 Then he mustered the servants of the governors of the districts, and they were two hundred and thirty-two; and after them he mustered all the people of Israel, seven thousand.

16 And they went out at noon, while Ben-ha′dad was drinking himself drunk in the booths, he and the thirty-two kings who helped him. 17 The servants of the governors of the districts went out first. And Ben-ha′dad sent out scouts, and they reported to him, “Men are coming out from Samar′ia.” 18 He said, “If they have come out for peace, take them alive; or if they have come out for war, take them alive.”

19 So these went out of the city, the servants of the governors of the districts, and the army which followed them. 20 And each killed his man; the Syrians fled and Israel pursued them, but Ben-ha′dad king of Syria escaped on a horse with horsemen. 21 And the king of Israel went out, and captured[b] the horses and chariots, and killed the Syrians with a great slaughter.

22 Then the prophet came near to the king of Israel, and said to him, “Come, strengthen yourself, and consider well what you have to do; for in the spring the king of Syria will come up against you.”

The Arameans Are Defeated

23 And the servants of the king of Syria said to him, “Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we; but let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they. 24 And do this: remove the kings, each from his post, and put commanders in their places; 25 and muster an army like the army that you have lost, horse for horse, and chariot for chariot; then we will fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.” And he hearkened to their voice, and did so.

26 In the spring Ben-ha′dad mustered the Syrians, and went up to Aphek, to fight against Israel. 27 And the people of Israel were mustered, and were provisioned, and went against them; the people of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of goats, but the Syrians filled the country. 28 And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Syrians have said, “The Lord is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.’” 29 And they encamped opposite one another seven days. Then on the seventh day the battle was joined; and the people of Israel smote of the Syrians a hundred thousand foot soldiers in one day. 30 And the rest fled into the city of Aphek; and the wall fell upon twenty-seven thousand men that were left.

Ben-ha′dad also fled, and entered an inner chamber in the city. 31 And his servants said to him, “Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings; let us put sackcloth on our loins and ropes upon our heads, and go out to the king of Israel; perhaps he will spare your life.” 32 So they girded sackcloth on their loins, and put ropes on their heads, and went to the king of Israel and said, “Your servant Ben-ha′dad says, ‘Pray, let me live.’” And he said, “Does he still live? He is my brother.” 33 Now the men were watching for an omen, and they quickly took it up from him and said, “Yes, your brother Ben-ha′dad.” Then he said, “Go and bring him.” Then Ben-ha′dad came forth to him; and he caused him to come up into the chariot. 34 And Ben-ha′dad said to him, “The cities which my father took from your father I will restore; and you may establish bazaars for yourself in Damascus, as my father did in Samar′ia.” And Ahab said, “I will let you go on these terms.” So he made a covenant with him and let him go.

A Prophet Condemns Ahab

35 And a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to his fellow at the command of the Lord, “Strike me, I pray.” But the man refused to strike him. 36 Then he said to him, “Because you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord, behold, as soon as you have gone from me, a lion shall kill you.” And as soon as he had departed from him, a lion met him and killed him. 37 Then he found another man, and said, “Strike me, I pray.” And the man struck him, smiting and wounding him. 38 So the prophet departed, and waited for the king by the way, disguising himself with a bandage over his eyes. 39 And as the king passed, he cried to the king and said, “Your servant went out into the midst of the battle; and behold, a soldier turned and brought a man to me, and said, ‘Keep this man; if by any means he be missing, your life shall be for his life, or else you shall pay a talent of silver.’ 40 And as your servant was busy here and there, he was gone.” The king of Israel said to him, “So shall your judgment be; you yourself have decided it.” 41 Then he made haste to take the bandage away from his eyes; and the king of Israel recognized him as one of the prophets. 42 And he said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall go for his life, and your people for his people.’” 43 And the king of Israel went to his house resentful and sullen, and came to Samar′ia.


  1. 1 Kings 20:6 Gk Syr Vg: Heb you
  2. 1 Kings 20:21 Gk: Heb smote

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Big Gummint

I'm buying a factory built shed to store equipment -- I have a lot of acreage, and I heat with firewood, so I have a tractor, a riding lawnmower, a log splitter, chain saws and whatnot. So I went to the town hall and submitted an application for a building permit. This costs, by the way, $239. The clerk old me my paperwork was in order.

The next afternoon, I got a call from the building inspector. It turns out that the Eastern Highlands Health District requires me to submit a separate application so that they can certify that the structure will not be on top of my septic system. (The health district is the public health agency for a consortium of small towns.) It turns out that this application costs another $50. 

Now, anybody with a room temperature IQ can determine whether a structure is on top of a septic system. Septic system here, structure there. QED. It does not require a sanitarian. The building inspector can make this determination himself, for the original $239. It is because of nonsense like this that many people have come to resent government.

I am not the only progressive who thinks that the public interest is ill-served by making policies and processes too complicated. Sure, we don't want people putting buildings on top of their septic tanks, although you could say if somebody does that it's their own problem. But sure, it's worth having the building inspector make sure that doesn't happen as part of the permitting process. But making people apply to a separate agency, prepare a separate application, and pay extra money is just bureaucratic metastasis. The only reason for it is to supply someone with a salary. 

So yes, this does happen. It's important for government to make doing business with it easy, but it usually isn't. That needs fixing.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Worst case scenario

Kim Jong Un has, to widespread surprise, announced that the DPRK is facing an explosive Covid epidemic. The surprise, of course, is not that it is happening, but they he has admitted it. The official story out of North Korea is that they had succeeded in keeping the virus out of the country entirely, by closing borders, until recently. Then this catastrophe happened.

Many people are skeptical of that account and believe the virus must have been in the country earlier, but I'm inclined to think it may be true because whenever it arrived, we would almost certainly have seen widespread infection, sickness and death. The country has no capacity to test, trace contacts, or isolate cases, and as far as we know no-one is vaccinated, with the possible exception of the Kim family and his closest associates. Even they can only have received the Chinese vaccine, which is not very effective.

The population is poorly nourished, the health care system is woefully inadequate, and the result is that with the highly contagious Omicron variant appearing in a population with zero prior immunity to the coronavirus and generally weak immune systems, the virus will spread like wildfire and the case fatality rate will be substantially higher than we have seen elsewhere. It is probably much too late for the North Koreans to implement effective mitigation measures, so what we will now see what happens in a country that has essentially zero response to the initial wave of the epidemic. Or I should say we might see it, getting accurate information about what happens in the DPRK is very difficult. 

Anyway, if Kim will accept the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, in my opinion we should certainly provide them. It probably won't make Kim behave any more nicely, but it will show that we, at least, have humane values. Kim's judgement in this matter has been catastrophically wrong, but he probably won't pay a price for it personally. Unless, of course, he catches the virus.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

I know you don't want to hear this . . .

but it is very likely we are about to see a resurgence of Covid-19 -- not just infections, but serious illness, hospitalization, and death. We're all pretending it's over, and people are going to keep pretending even when it's obviously not, and that's going to make it much more difficult to respond adequately. 

Eric Topol explains the problem. It's a long read, but in a nutshell, the problem is that the virus mutates rapidly and variant that's currently becoming dominant eludes immunity from vaccination and prior infection. The vaccine still offers some protection -- you should definitely get your booster and if you got it a while ago, get a fourth shot. But its effectiveness against severe illness is less than it was against prior strains, and with high prevalence the risk of further mutations is also high. Existing treatments are also ineffective against it. 

There is hope in the form of potential nasal vaccines. By creating immunity in the nasal mucosa, these may block transmission very effectively. But there's no Operation Warp Speed to bring them to use quickly. Congress has also declined to continue funding for  other programs such as vaccination outreach and testing. This is just stupid. So get your booster, if you or someone in your household is vulnerable you should wear a mask in crowded indoor spaces (and maybe you should anyway), and don't risk exposure unnecessarily. Sorry, but  it isn't over.

Wednesday Bible Study: A shaggy dog tail

Chapter 19 has Elijah go through an elaborate ordeal and pointless experiences in order to receive a communication from God, all of which begins with a communication from God that could just has easily have been the final information, so we could have skipped the whole thing. 

To summarize: Ahab tells Jezebel that Elijah massacred the priests of Baal, so Jezebel sends a message to Elijah that she's going to have him killed the next day. Elijah goes and sits under a tree and asks God to kill him now. He falls asleep, then an angel wakes him up and gives him a cake and some water. Then the angel gives him more food, tells him to eat it, and tells him to go to Mount Horeb, where he stays the usual forty days and forty nights without eating or drinking. Then he has a conversation with God in which he informs God, who apparently didn't know, that the Israelites have destroyed his altars and killed his priests, and now they want to kill Elijah. God tells him to go stand on the mountain. A strong wind broke the rocks apart, but that wasn't God. Then there was an earthquake, then a fire, but they weren't God either. Then there was a "still, small voice" and that was God. 

The voice asked him what he was doing there, even though he had already told God which is how this whole thing began, so he repeats the information, word for word. (God is apparently very forgetful.) So God tells him to anoint Haz′ael king of Syria; 16 and Jehu king of Israel. How Elijah has the power to do this is not explained. Then he's to appoint  Eli′sha to be prophet in his place. Haz'ael and Jehu will murder  all of the Israelites except for 7,000 who were faithful to Yahweh. Elijah goes and finds Elisha and recruits him to be the prophet. That's it. 

However, there is a major continuity problem. Other than  appointing Elishah, none of this stuff ever happens. Haz'ael does not become king of Syria, Jehu does not become king of Israel, and they don't kill all but 7,000 Israelites -- in fact as far as we know they don't even exist. You'll see in the next chapter.

19 Ahab told Jez′ebel all that Eli′jah had done, and how he had slain all the prophets with the sword. Then Jez′ebel sent a messenger to Eli′jah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid, and he arose and went for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree; and he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree; and behold, an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank, and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, else the journey will be too great for you.” And he arose, and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

Elijah Meets God at Horeb

And there he came to a cave, and lodged there; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Eli′jah?” 10 He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thy altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” 11 And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 13 And when Eli′jah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Eli′jah?” 14 He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thy altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” 15 And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, you shall anoint Haz′ael to be king over Syria; 16 and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel; and Eli′sha the son of Shaphat of A′bel-meho′lah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. 17 And him who escapes from the sword of Haz′ael shall Jehu slay; and him who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Eli′sha slay. 18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Ba′al, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

Elisha Becomes Elijah’s Disciple

19 So he departed from there, and found Eli′sha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing, with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth. Eli′jah passed by him and cast his mantle upon him. 20 And he left the oxen, and ran after Eli′jah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” 21 And he returned from following him, and took the yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Eli′jah, and ministered to him.

Monday, May 16, 2022


 Here's a good discussion by Talia Levin of the belief system that motivated Payton Gendron to murder ten people in a Buffalo supermarket. This is, of course, also the mainstream ideology of the Republican party, and the explanation for its allegiance to an idiotic lunatic. I suppose it's technically correct that replacement theory is in fact a "theory" in that it presents a causal explanation, but it depends on a ridiculous moral assumption for that even to matter.

It is true that the percentage of the U.S. population which is of predominant European ancestry (coded as "white") and Christian is declining. It is not true that this is the result of a Jewish conspiracy, but regardless, it doesn't matter anyway. Why should I care that a larger share of the people around me have ancestors from other parts of the globe? I haven't been "replaced," I'm still here, and so is Tucker Carlson. I just have the opportunity to meet people with more diverse backgrounds and experiences. As far as my voting interests, they are unrelated to my pigmentation. I'm perfectly happy to vote along with Black and Brown people for candidates who we mutually support.

If Republicans don't want growing numbers of people who don't identify as white Christians to vote against them, then stop calling their presence here illegitimate and promising to deny them their fair share of wealth and power. Then you won't have a problem.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Sunday Sermonette: A very sore winner

Chapter 18 is very long, but it tells a simple story. After long and pointless maneuvering, Elijah meets Ahab, he challenges the priests of Baal to a miracle contest, Elijah wins, then he murders all of the priests of Baal. Then God makes it rain. That's it. Enjoy!

18 After many days the word of the Lord came to Eli′jah, in the third year, saying, “Go, show yourself to Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth.” So Eli′jah went to show himself to Ahab. Now the famine was severe in Samar′ia. And Ahab called Obadi′ah, who was over the household. (Now Obadi′ah revered the Lord greatly; and when Jez′ebel cut off the prophets of the Lord, Obadi′ah took a hundred prophets and hid them by fifties in a cave, and fed them with bread and water.) And Ahab said to Obadi′ah, “Go through the land to all the springs of water and to all the valleys; perhaps we may find grass and save the horses and mules alive, and not lose some of the animals.” So they divided the land between them to pass through it; Ahab went in one direction by himself, and Obadi′ah went in another direction by himself.

And as Obadi′ah was on the way, behold, Eli′jah met him; and Obadi′ah recognized him, and fell on his face, and said, “Is it you, my lord Eli′jah?” And he answered him, “It is I. Go, tell your lord, ‘Behold, Eli′jah is here.’” And he said, “Wherein have I sinned, that you would give your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me? 10 As the Lord your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom whither my lord has not sent to seek you; and when they would say, ‘He is not here,’ he would take an oath of the kingdom or nation, that they had not found you. 11 And now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, “Behold, Eli′jah is here.”’ 12 And as soon as I have gone from you, the Spirit of the Lord will carry you whither I know not; and so, when I come and tell Ahab and he cannot find you, he will kill me, although I your servant have revered the Lord from my youth. 13 Has it not been told my lord what I did when Jez′ebel killed the prophets of the Lord, how I hid a hundred men of the Lord’s prophets by fifties in a cave, and fed them with bread and water? 14 And now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, “Behold, Eli′jah is here”’; and he will kill me.” 15 And Eli′jah said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today.” 16 So Obadi′ah went to meet Ahab, and told him; and Ahab went to meet Eli′jah.

17 When Ahab saw Eli′jah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” 18 And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel; but you have, and your father’s house, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the Ba′als. 19 Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the four hundred and fifty prophets of Ba′al and the four hundred prophets of Ashe′rah, who eat at Jez′ebel’s table.”

Elijah’s Triumph over the Priests of Baal

20 So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel, and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel. 21 And Eli′jah came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Ba′al, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. 22 Then Eli′jah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Ba′al’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. 23 Let two bulls be given to us; and let them choose one bull for themselves, and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; and I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, and put no fire to it. 24 And you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.” 25 Then Eli′jah said to the prophets of Ba′al, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; and call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” 26 And they took the bull which was given them, and they prepared it, and called on the name of Ba′al from morning until noon, saying, “O Ba′al, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped about the altar which they had made. 27 And at noon Eli′jah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is musing, or he has gone aside, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 28 And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. 29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice; no one answered, no one heeded.

30 Then Eli′jah said to all the people, “Come near to me”; and all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down; 31 Eli′jah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name”; 32 and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. 33 And he put the wood in order, and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water, and pour it on the burnt offering, and on the wood.” 34 And he said, “Do it a second time”; and they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time”; and they did it a third time. 35 And the water ran round about the altar, and filled the trench also with water.

36 And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Eli′jah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that thou, O Lord, art God, and that thou hast turned their hearts back.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” 40 And Eli′jah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Ba′al; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them; and Eli′jah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and killed them there.

The Drought Ends

41 And Eli′jah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.” 42 So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Eli′jah went up to the top of Carmel; and he bowed himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees. 43 And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked, and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again seven times.” 44 And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising out of the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’” 45 And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. 46 And the hand of the Lord was on Eli′jah; and he girded up his loins and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.

Saturday, May 14, 2022


It is the official position of the Party of Life that babies in the legal custody of the United States should starve to death. Also, prominent members of the other party are pedophiles.

This is not a political party. It is a depraved death cult. 

Oh, there's also this.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Political Science, continued

Now I'm going to say a bit about politics in the U.S. Elections -- certainly not in the U.S. -- are not machines for turning voters' policy preferences into representation that produces them. Consider a current and very clear case. Polls consistently find that close to 70% of the electorate does not want Roe v. Wade to be overturned and wants abortion to remain legal. Yes, views about the circumstances under which it should be legal vary, but there is scant support for the bills being pushed through many state legislatures that would ban abortion entirely or allow it only under very narrow conditions.  But despite what is presumably the support of 70% of voters, the senate couldn't pass a bill codifying abortion access.

This is different from many political issues in that people are aware of it, understand it, and can't help but perceive that policy will affect their lives or those of people they know, and exactly how. Most people have limited information or understanding of most policy issues, and that's a major reason why the electoral system isn't principally about turning popular will into policy. People do know that they receive, or will receive, Social Security benefits, so those are very hard to take away. But people don't understand the complexities of health insurance markets or the tax system. They can easily be tricked by rhetoric. "I'm going to cut taxes," when they really mean taxes on wealthy people, not you. Many false beliefs are prevalent. For example, people overestimate the percentage of the federal budget that goes to foreign assistance by orders of magnitude.

Of course people's votes are also influenced by factors that have nothing to do with policy at all.  There is always racism, sexism, religious or ethnic loyalty. People also respond to personality and charisma. Supposedly people voted for George Bush II because he was somebody they might want to have a beer with and Al Gore wasn't. Republicans somehow manage to effectively present themselves as part of and champions of ordinary people, whereas they portray their opponents as "elitists." Never mind that Bush graduated from Andover, Yale and Harvard, inherited a fortune, and his cowboy accent was completely phony. Somehow this works. (Viz. J.D. Vance.)

But the abortion issue doesn't have those sorts of complications, which let's us isolate on a couple of factors. The first is so-called concentrated vs. diffuse interests. For a lot of people who oppose legal abortion, probably most of them actually, it's the issue they care about the most -- quite possibly the only issue they care about. It completely determines their voting choices. For most of that large majority that favors legal abortion, however, it's just one of many issues that matter to them. As long as Roe v. Wade has been the law of the land, in fact, it hasn't seemed to matter very much to most people, who just assumed that what politicians said about it was pretty much irrelevant. 

That may change now but in the meantime the issue has benefited abortion opponents because if you can guarantee getting 30% of the people to vote for you on the basis of that issue alone, you can pick off another 20% who will vote for you for other reasons. Those 30% also tend to be activists, who donate money and volunteer for campaigns. 

We have a federal system, of course, and in some states support for legal abortion is lower and even below 50%. So it's not surprising that legislation to outlaw abortion would advance in a few states. But in the U.S., conservatives have advantages that magnify their numbers. Liberal voters tend to be concentrated in urban areas, whereas conservative voters are spread out in less densely populated regions. That means all those Democratic voters can be squeezed into a single district where Democrats win overwhelmingly, whereas conservatives may win three districts by a much narrower margin. This is a built in advantage, but it can be exacerbated by gerrymandering. 

Then of course there is the Senate and the electoral college. That Wyoming has the same number of senators as California is just ridiculous, but there it is. Because electoral votes are allocated according to representation in both the house and the senate, small rural states also get an extra advantage in presidential elections. 

Finally, there is the incorrigible problem of the corporate news media, which pay little attention to public policy issues and instead focus on personalities, electoral horse races, and stenographically and uncritically channeling political rhetoric. The exception if the Fox News propaganda network which continually spews lies and bigotry. That seems to work for a lot of people.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Wednesday Bible Study: Introducing The Big Kahuna

In Chapter 17, we meet Elijah, who is arguably the most important figure in the Tanakh. From the Jewish perspective, he is the harbinger of the Messiah, according to the Book of Malachi. He is therefore central to the eschatology of all the faiths that revere the Hebrew Bible, including Christianity and Islam. He is obviously also the inspiration for the Jesus of the Gospels, performing several miracles that prefigure ones attributed to Jesus. (However, Christian theology conflates him with John the Baptist, not Jesus himself.) Elijah appears at the Transfiguration in all three of the synoptic Gospels. (That is Matthew, Mark and Luke which share many elements.) In contemporary Judaism, his name is invoked weekly at the close of the Sabbath and he also has a role in the Seder and other Jewish customs. As we meet him in this chapter, he performs two miracles which prefigure miracles of Jesus. So it is really at this point that the link between Old Testament and New is established. (Jesus explicitly renounced the laws of the Torah in Matthew 22.)

So here goes.

17 Now Eli′jah the Tishbite, of Tishbe[a] in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” And the word of the Lord came to him, “Depart from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, that is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith that is east of the Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook. And after a while the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

The Widow of Zarephath

Then the word of the Lord came to him, “Arise, go to Zar′ephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 10 So he arose and went to Zar′ephath; and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks; and he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” 11 And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12 And she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a cruse; and now, I am gathering a couple of sticks, that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” 13 And Eli′jah said to her, “Fear not; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the Lord the God of Israel, ‘The jar of meal shall not be spent, and the cruse of oil shall not fail, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” 15 And she went and did as Eli′jah said; and she, and he, and her household ate for many days. 16 The jar of meal was not spent, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord which he spoke by Eli′jah.

Elijah Revives the Widow’s Son

17 After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; and his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18 And she said to Eli′jah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” 19 And he said to her, “Give me your son.” And he took him from her bosom, and carried him up into the upper chamber, where he lodged, and laid him upon his own bed. 20 And he cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, hast thou brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by slaying her son?” 21 Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s soul come into him again.” 22 And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Eli′jah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23 And Eli′jah took the child, and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and delivered him to his mother; and Eli′jah said, “See, your son lives.” 24 And the woman said to Eli′jah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”


  1. 1 Kings 17:1 Gk: Heb of the settlers