Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Going Viral

Helen Bramwell of StatNews is an excellent writer about public health. Here she interviews a bunch of scientists to ask what surprised them about Covid19.  It's a long read, and I won't try to summarize it all, but a couple of points stand out.

The first is that most experts originally thought, based on experience with other coronaviruses, that this one would be stable -- that it would not be able to mutate so as to avoid immunity from previous infections or vaccination. Therefore they believed that the pandemic would peak after a few months and we'd enter an endemic phase. (You might remember those models from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation showing a tapering off of new infections within a few months, at a time when no vaccine was available. They ought to be embarrassed but of course they aren't.) This turned out not to be true, On the contrary, this virus has an exceptional capacity to evolve and evade immunity. It's like influenza in this regard but unfortunately it's also more virulent, i.e. it has a greater likelihood of causing severe disease and death, and it can also cause long term disability. So it's definitely a bummer..

The second is better news. The experts were surprised by how quickly effective vaccines were developed, and how many of them were successful. No, even the best of them aren't highly effective at preventing infection and transmission, but they are very effective at preventing severe disease. I would add on my own behalf that to the extent they do reduce infection and transmission, they'd be a lot more effective if everybody would get vaccinated and boosted. The boosted part is important because it turns out that effectiveness against infection fades after a few months, and of course a booster tailored to the strains that are currently circulating is also going to help. So again, this is analogous to influenza. You need a new shot every year for flu, and probably more often for Covid-19, which sadly not a lot of people are getting. On the other hand the Covid-19 vaccine, when up to date, is actually more effective than most annual flu vaccines.

So, obviously, the disinformation that a lot of right wing pundits and politicians are spreading about this is just criminal. It amounts to mass murder, in fact. I know it's a pain to keep going for shots every few months but it should be considered a social responsibility -- not something you do only for yourself, although it certainly will benefit you, but an obligation you owe to your family, neighbors and coworkers. As for masking, people who are immunocompromised or just don't find it particularly irksome should certainly do it, and nobody should be embarrassed about it. It obviously doesn't hurt anybody and it does some good. We're going to have to live with this, probably for the rest of our lives, so we just need to deal with it like we deal with every other hassle in life, be it bad weather or automobile maintenance or safe food handling or taking out the trash or doing the laundry. It's just part of stayin' alive.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Wednesday Bible Study: Holy holiness

Chapter 5 is basically lifted from 1 Kings 8, but the Chronicler inserts verses 11 and 12. This suggests to me that these verses were in an earlier manuscript of Kings 8, but didn't get copied into the canonical version. Those of you who are interested in music will be glad to see these verses, which in addition to the cymbals, harps and lyres mentioned previously give us 120 trumpets. I don't see how the harps and lyres could possibly have been heard over 120 trumpets, however. There is no description of the arrangement. It's possible the trumpets would have sounded intermittently. 


Theologically speaking, this is extremely important to First Temple Judaism. The Ark, in the Temple, is the physical point of contact between the people and Yahweh. It is purported to be the actual location where he manifests himself and where the priests propitiate him with sacrifices. The Chronicler reproduces these events some 200 years after the Temple was destroyed and the Ark either destroyed or stolen, never to be seen again.So the nature of the relationship between the people and God had to be reimagined in the Second Temple period. The Chronicler seems to take this in stride without really trying to explain it.

When all the work Solomon had done for the temple of the Lord was finished, he brought in the things his father David had dedicated—the silver and gold and all the furnishings—and he placed them in the treasuries of God’s temple.

The Ark Brought to the Temple

Then Solomon summoned to Jerusalem the elderIt'ss of Israel, all the heads of the tribes and the chiefs of the Israelite families, to bring up the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Zion, the City of David. And all the Israelites came together to the king at the time of the festival in the seventh month.

When all the elders of Israel had arrived, the Levites took up the ark, and they brought up the ark and the tent of meeting and all the sacred furnishings in it. The Levitical priests carried them up; and King Solomon and the entire assembly of Israel that had gathered about him were before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and cattle that they could not be recorded or counted.

The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim. The cherubim spread their wings over the place of the ark and covered the ark and its carrying poles. These poles were so long that their ends, extending from the ark, could be seen from in front of the inner sanctuary, but not from outside the Holy Place; and they are still there today. 10 There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets that Moses had placed in it at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites after they came out of Egypt.

11 The priests then withdrew from the Holy Place. All the priests who were there had consecrated themselves, regardless of their divisions. 12 All the Levites who were musicians—Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun and their sons and relatives—stood on the east side of the altar, dressed in fine linen and playing cymbals, harps and lyres. They were accompanied by 120 priests sounding trumpets. 13 The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:

“He is good;
    his love endures forever.”

Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, 14 and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.

Monday, December 26, 2022

Mass Delusions

Many people are puzzled that millions of people can hold such bizarre beliefs as the Qanon variants and the preposterous lies of The Former Guy. But I've been reading a lot of history lately, and I have come to realize that mass delusion is a very common occurrence. I have mentioned The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Racist ideology is of course always delusional the Nazi regime was more than just racist. It completely controlled the informational regime and the vast majority of the German people came to believe in an alternative reality. The same was true of the Soviet Union and Mao's China.

That is not so difficult to understand as those totalitarian regimes closed off any dissenting sources of information and continually indoctrinated the population. It is a bit harder to explain why people outside of totalitarian informational regimes adopt absurd world views. Many people in the United States and Europe believed Soviet propaganda and saw Stalin's Soviet Union as an inspiration for people everywhere struggling for justice and equality; later, others were inspired by Maoism. Nazism per se probably had a smaller following outside of the regime, but certainly there were, and still are, sympathizers.

Now, I would say that the threat posed to the U.S. by the presence of communists among the population was vastly exaggerated. In fact it was pretty much non-existent. There were of course a few Soviet agents in the Communist Party of the U.S. but most members and unofficial believers were idealists who were simply misled about the true nature of the Soviet regime and society. They certainly did not want to impose a regime in the U.S. that was what actually existed in the U.S.S.R. In any case they had no realistic prospect of nationalizing corporations or any other radical goals. They were just a marginal group with admirable ideals and some wrong factual beliefs.


I think a big element of why they believed is because they wanted to. They wanted to find an alternative to the capitalist regime which produced so much injustice and inequality, and Leninism or Maoism had it on offer. Once they learned the truth about those regimes, most of them accepted it. I know because I knew some of them -- actual former members of the CPUSA or other organizations that looked to the U.S.S.R. for inspiration. The scales fell from their eyes pretty readily.

So I can understand how that happened. But I can't understand Qanon or Trumpism in the same way.. What are the ideals that could motivate belief in such ugly, vicious nonsense? You might take a guess.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Sunday Sermonette: More house beautiful

Chapter four continues with the description of the Temple. Some of this is lifted from 1 Kings 7, notably the "sea," (including the fact that pi=3)  but it's followed by other material. Whether the Chronicler created this pastiche himself, or was copying from some earlier patchwork, is unknowable. Note that he skipped over Ch. 6, in which Solomon builds his own palace which for your information was far larger and grander than the Temple of Yahweh. I also can't say why all these details matter, since by the time this was written the First Temple had been destroyed about 200 years earlier. 

He made a bronze altar twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide and ten cubits high.[a] He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits[b] high. It took a line of thirty cubits[c] to measure around it. Below the rim, figures of bulls encircled it—ten to a cubit.[d] The bulls were cast in two rows in one piece with the Sea.

The Sea stood on twelve bulls, three facing north, three facing west, three facing south and three facing east. The Sea rested on top of them, and their hindquarters were toward the center. It was a handbreadth[e] in thickness, and its rim was like the rim of a cup, like a lily blossom. It held three thousand baths.[f]

He then made ten basins for washing and placed five on the south side and five on the north. In them the things to be used for the burnt offerings were rinsed, but the Sea was to be used by the priests for washing.

He made ten gold lampstands according to the specifications for them and placed them in the temple, five on the south side and five on the north.

He made ten tables and placed them in the temple, five on the south side and five on the north. He also made a hundred gold sprinkling bowls.

He made the courtyard of the priests, and the large court and the doors for the court, and overlaid the doors with bronze. 10 He placed the Sea on the south side, at the southeast corner.

11 And Huram also made the pots and shovels and sprinkling bowls.

So Huram finished the work he had undertaken for King Solomon in the temple of God:

12 the two pillars;

the two bowl-shaped capitals on top of the pillars;

the two sets of network decorating the two bowl-shaped capitals on top of the pillars;

13 the four hundred pomegranates for the two sets of network (two rows of pomegranates for each network, decorating the bowl-shaped capitals on top of the pillars);

14 the stands with their basins;

15 the Sea and the twelve bulls under it;

16 the pots, shovels, meat forks and all related articles.

All the objects that Huram-Abi made for King Solomon for the temple of the Lord were of polished bronze. 17 The king had them cast in clay molds in the plain of the Jordan between Sukkoth and Zarethan.[g] 18 All these things that Solomon made amounted to so much that the weight of the bronze could not be calculated.

19 Solomon also made all the furnishings that were in God’s temple:

the golden altar;

the tables on which was the bread of the Presence;

20 the lampstands of pure gold with their lamps, to burn in front of the inner sanctuary as prescribed;

21 the gold floral work and lamps and tongs (they were solid gold);

22 the pure gold wick trimmers, sprinkling bowls, dishes and censers; and the gold doors of the temple: the inner doors to the Most Holy Place and the doors of the main hall.


  1. 2 Chronicles 4:1 That is, about 30 feet long and wide and 15 feet high or about 9 meters long and wide and 4.5 meters high
  2. 2 Chronicles 4:2 That is, about 7 1/2 feet or about 2.3 meters
  3. 2 Chronicles 4:2 That is, about 45 feet or about 14 meters
  4. 2 Chronicles 4:3 That is, about 18 inches or about 45 centimeters
  5. 2 Chronicles 4:5 That is, about 3 inches or about 7.5 centimeters
  6. 2 Chronicles 4:5 That is, about 18,000 gallons or about 66,000 liters
  7. 2 Chronicles 4:17 Hebrew Zeredatha, a variant of Zarethan

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Whatever it is, I'm against it

I was quite interested to read this story about a rural Ohio county where local opposition led to cancellation of plans for a 400 megawatt solar energy project that would have provided the county with $3.6 million a year in tax revenue, adding up to $100 million over the life of the project. The same thing happened in the small town where I live. The town owns land it isn't using -- a six acre and a 12 acre parcel as I recall -- and had a proposal to install solar farms on the land and pay the town a substantial leasing fee. But the town meeting voted it down. Our town is in difficult financial straits, we can't really afford to maintain our public schools, so this seemed insane to me.

Opponents used pretty much the same arguments in both places. It's not consistent with the character of the town, whatever that means. In Ohio, they said that the land should be farmed because that's what people do out there. Solar panels are ugly and the project will harm nearby property values. (It won't, that's been studied.) There are hazardous materials in the panels that might leach into the ground. (Not so, and obviously fossil fuel pollution is real.) Here, people also just said that maybe the town would have a use for the property some day, which is awfully lame.

What's really going on here, obviously, is that people who know that global climate change is a real crisis want renewable energy development, and those people are liberal hippy commie freaks, so we're against it. Even if all it's going to do to us is give us money. This is so stupid I don't even have an adverb for it.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Tufts bomb threats

I have a long association with Tufts University. I received a master's degree in environmental policy from Tufts in 1986, I was a TA for a course in health policy at Tufts while I was working on my doctorate at Brandeis, and I joined the Tufts faculty, first as an adjunct in 1998, then full time in 2010 until I moved to Brown in 2017. Tufts is a full-fledged research university, but the undergraduate college isn't huge, about 6,000 students, so the main Medford campus has a small college feel. My cousin's daughter also graduated from Tufts, and of course I had many friends there through my various relationships.

It hasn't gotten a lot of attention outside of the Boston area, but Tufts has been dealing with a series of bomb threats over the past week, seven of them as of this writing. They've all been fake, but of course they have to be investigated, buildings have to be evacuated, and it's disrupted finals and gotten everybody pretty shook up. The linked article from the student newspaper doesn't emphasize it -- apparently because the police have asked them not to -- but the messages all accuse the university of "anti-white racism" because of its diversity, equity and inclusion programs. 

This seems to be the main schtick of the political right nowadays, rhetoric that associates truthful confrontation with racism, and promotion of equity and justice, with prejudice against or hostility to white people. This is a kind of psychopathology, that you are entitled to your privilege and trying to build a more egalitarian society is therefore unjust. Apparently this kind of fragility is a side effect of that privilege. This idiot or idiots could stew in their own juice, but unfortunately it's too easy to email a bomb threat and cause immense disruption. You have to fear that there will be a lot more of this, and it isn't easy to combat.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Wednesday Bible Study: Design specifications

Chapter 3 basically lays out the design of the Temple. It's generally consistent with the description in 1 Kings 6, but is not copied from it. Some different details are mentioned and the organization and language are different, so there must have been another description of the Temple that the Chronicler relied on. 1 Kings also has an interlude in which God tells Solomon he'll stick with the people if they follow his commandments, which is omitted here. Other than that, nothing interesting to say about this. Since the Temple certainly existed, there's nothing odd about two different people describing it.

Then Solomon began to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David. It was on the threshing floor of Araunah[a] the Jebusite, the place provided by David. He began building on the second day of the second month in the fourth year of his reign.

The foundation Solomon laid for building the temple of God was sixty cubits long and twenty cubits wide[b] (using the cubit of the old standard). The portico at the front of the temple was twenty cubits[c] long across the width of the building and twenty[d] cubits high.

He overlaid the inside with pure gold. He paneled the main hall with juniper and covered it with fine gold and decorated it with palm tree and chain designs. He adorned the temple with precious stones. And the gold he used was gold of Parvaim. He overlaid the ceiling beams, doorframes, walls and doors of the temple with gold, and he carved cherubim on the walls.

He built the Most Holy Place, its length corresponding to the width of the temple—twenty cubits long and twenty cubits wide. He overlaid the inside with six hundred talents[e] of fine gold. The gold nails weighed fifty shekels.[f] He also overlaid the upper parts with gold.

10 For the Most Holy Place he made a pair of sculptured cherubim and overlaid them with gold. 11 The total wingspan of the cherubim was twenty cubits. One wing of the first cherub was five cubits[g] long and touched the temple wall, while its other wing, also five cubits long, touched the wing of the other cherub. 12 Similarly one wing of the second cherub was five cubits long and touched the other temple wall, and its other wing, also five cubits long, touched the wing of the first cherub. 13 The wings of these cherubim extended twenty cubits. They stood on their feet, facing the main hall.[h]

14 He made the curtain of blue, purple and crimson yarn and fine linen, with cherubim worked into it.

15 For the front of the temple he made two pillars, which together were thirty-five cubits[i] long, each with a capital five cubits high. 16 He made interwoven chains[j] and put them on top of the pillars. He also made a hundred pomegranates and attached them to the chains. 17 He erected the pillars in the front of the temple, one to the south and one to the north. The one to the south he named Jakin[k] and the one to the north Boaz.[l]


  1. 2 Chronicles 3:1 Hebrew Ornan, a variant of Araunah
  2. 2 Chronicles 3:3 That is, about 90 feet long and 30 feet wide or about 27 meters long and 9 meters wide
  3. 2 Chronicles 3:4 That is, about 30 feet or about 9 meters; also in verses 8, 11 and 13
  4. 2 Chronicles 3:4 Some Septuagint and Syriac manuscripts; Hebrew and a hundred and twenty
  5. 2 Chronicles 3:8 That is, about 23 tons or about 21 metric tons
  6. 2 Chronicles 3:9 That is, about 1 1/4 pounds or about 575 grams
  7. 2 Chronicles 3:11 That is, about 7 1/2 feet or about 2.3 meters; also in verse 15
  8. 2 Chronicles 3:13 Or facing inward
  9. 2 Chronicles 3:15 That is, about 53 feet or about 16 meters
  10. 2 Chronicles 3:16 Or possibly made chains in the inner sanctuary; the meaning of the Hebrew for this phrase is uncertain.
  11. 2 Chronicles 3:17 Jakin probably means he establishes.
  12. 2 Chronicles 3:17 Boaz probably means in him is strength.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Republicanism is bad for your health . . .

 and might even kill you. Nancy Krieger and colleagues studied Covid-19 mortality rates and stress on hospital capacity in all 435 congressional districts, and its association with the political ideology of the relevant congresscritters and whether there was one-party control of state government. Abstract:


We analyzed observational cross-sectional data on COVID-19 mortality rates (age-standardized) and stress on hospital intensive care unit (ICU) capacity for all 435 US Congressional Districts (CDs) in a period of adult vaccine availability (April 2021–March 2022). Political metrics comprised: (1) ideological scores based on each US Representative's and Senator's concurrent overall voting record and their specific COVID-19 votes, and (2) state trifectas (Governor, State House, and State Senate under the same political party control). Analyses controlled for CD social metrics, population density, vaccination rates, the prevalence of diabetes and obesity, and voter political lean.


During the study period, the higher the exposure to conservatism across several political metrics, the higher the COVID-19 age-standardized mortality rates, even after taking into account the CD's social characteristics; similar patterns occurred for stress on hospital ICU capacity for Republican trifectas and US Senator political ideology scores. For example, in models mutually adjusting for CD political and social metrics and vaccination rates, Republican trifecta and conservative voter political lean independently remained significantly associated with an 11%–26% higher COVID-19 mortality rate.


That's right. exposure to conservatism literally kills people.  They literally convinced people to risk their lives and those of their neighbors, by lying to them. This is also the result:

JACKSON, Miss. -- A Mississippi man who threatened to kill Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky has pleaded guilty to making threats in interstate commerce, federal prosecutors announced Monday.

Robert Wiser Bates, 39, of Ridgeland, threatened to kill Walensky in voicemails left in July 2021 at the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, court records said.

Bates admitted to making the threatening calls in an interview with agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to a news release from office the U.S. Attorney Darren J. LaMarca. He also said he would kill Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor to the president.


The Republican party is guilty of crimes against humanity. 

Update: Give me a break. These are Harvard School of Public Health faculty, publishing the findings in a peer reviewed journal. Guess what? They're smarter than you and they know more about how to do this than you do. The analysis controls for age, prevalence of diabetes, obesity, and socioeconomic variables and other potential confounders so no, those are not the explanation. Also, I didn't say anything about government mandated vaccination, but in fact many vaccines, in all 50 states, are already mandated by the government in order for children to attend school. Whether Covid-19 vaccination should be mandated for adults might be debatable, but the point is people are not getting the vaccine voluntarily because Republican politicians are lying to them. Get it?


Earlier I discussed the insane excesses of Xi Jinping's "zero Covid" policy. The economic and social costs of the draconian, and doomed, effort to end transmission of the virus in China were unsustainable. The policy provoked the first mass protests of his rule, at great peril to the protesters, created supply chain shortages around the world, and severely damaged the Chinese economy. So yeah, not a good idea. But . . .

He suddenly turned 180 on a dime and eliminated all mitigations measures. The result has been equally catastrophic. Eric Fiegl-Ding is an epidemiologist who became well known as an early Cassandra about the Covid pandemic. Some people have criticized him for being overly alarmist, but for the most part his warnings have stood up well, although his style is probably overly dramatic. Anyway he's now gone supernova over the situation in China. Whether he's right to worry that the disaster in China will lead to a resurgence elsewhere in the world I'm no so sure, but in China it's bad. Very bad. I recommend you read the thread, but here's the first bleat:

THERMONUCLEAR BAD—Hospitals completely overwhelmed in China ever since restrictions dropped. Epidemiologist estimate >60% of  & 10% of Earth’s population likely infected over next 90 days. Deaths likely in the millions—plural. This is just the start—


Bodies are piling up outside the morgues because there isn't room for them, and the crematoria are backed up for days. Schools and factories are shut down again, not because of lockdown but because there's nobody to staff them. Obviously, with ineffective vaccines and few people having acquired natural immunity due to the previous policy, everybody is getting sick at once.

What many people apparently don't get is that the point of mitigation measures is not to extinguish the virus but to slow down transmission enough that health services don't get overwhelmed and other essential public services aren't compromised. We actually did that pretty well in the U.S. after the initial disaster in New York City. That pandemic control measures became politicized in such an insane way is one of this country's worst moments. The one thing everybody can do, which is basically cost free, is to get vaccinated and get boosted. Get the latest bivalent shot. Do it. 


Again, that there are politicians telling you not to is a disgrace. A crime against humanity. I've had five shots and I haven't gotten myocarditis, my testicles haven't swollen, and I have not become magnetic.Sure, Bill Gates knows my location but so far he hasn't bothered me. So do it.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Sunday Sermonette: Xerox machine

2 Chronicles 2 is the same story as 1 Kings 5. There are some slight differences in language, which simply suggests that the chronicler was working from a different manuscript than the one that became canonized. (The title of this post is intended to be ironic because the point is, there weren't any copying machines, only human scribes whose copying was imprecise, whether accidentally or on purpose.) As usual, the numbers are ridiculous. The Tanakh seems to multiply everything by 10, approximately.

[a]Solomon gave orders to build a temple for the Name of the Lord and a royal palace for himself. He conscripted 70,000 men as carriers and 80,000 as stonecutters in the hills and 3,600 as foremen over them.

Solomon sent this message to Hiram[b] king of Tyre:

“Send me cedar logs as you did for my father David when you sent him cedar to build a palace to live in. Now I am about to build a temple for the Name of the Lord my God and to dedicate it to him for burning fragrant incense before him, for setting out the consecrated bread regularly, and for making burnt offerings every morning and evening and on the Sabbaths, at the New Moons and at the appointed festivals of the Lord our God. This is a lasting ordinance for Israel.

“The temple I am going to build will be great, because our God is greater than all other gods. But who is able to build a temple for him, since the heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain him? Who then am I to build a temple for him, except as a place to burn sacrifices before him?

“Send me, therefore, a man skilled to work in gold and silver, bronze and iron, and in purple, crimson and blue yarn, and experienced in the art of engraving, to work in Judah and Jerusalem with my skilled workers, whom my father David provided.

“Send me also cedar, juniper and algum[c] logs from Lebanon, for I know that your servants are skilled in cutting timber there. My servants will work with yours to provide me with plenty of lumber, because the temple I build must be large and magnificent. 10 I will give your servants, the woodsmen who cut the timber, twenty thousand cors[d] of ground wheat, twenty thousand cors[e] of barley, twenty thousand baths[f] of wine and twenty thousand baths of olive oil.”

11 Hiram king of Tyre replied by letter to Solomon:

“Because the Lord loves his people, he has made you their king.”

12 And Hiram added:

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who made heaven and earth! He has given King David a wise son, endowed with intelligence and discernment, who will build a temple for the Lord and a palace for himself.

13 “I am sending you Huram-Abi, a man of great skill, 14 whose mother was from Dan and whose father was from Tyre. He is trained to work in gold and silver, bronze and iron, stone and wood, and with purple and blue and crimson yarn and fine linen. He is experienced in all kinds of engraving and can execute any design given to him. He will work with your skilled workers and with those of my lord, David your father.

15 “Now let my lord send his servants the wheat and barley and the olive oil and wine he promised, 16 and we will cut all the logs from Lebanon that you need and will float them as rafts by sea down to Joppa. You can then take them up to Jerusalem.”

17 Solomon took a census of all the foreigners residing in Israel, after the census his father David had taken; and they were found to be 153,600. 18 He assigned 70,000 of them to be carriers and 80,000 to be stonecutters in the hills, with 3,600 foremen over them to keep the people working.


  1. 2 Chronicles 2:1 In Hebrew texts 2:1 is numbered 1:18, and 2:2-18 is numbered 2:1-17.
  2. 2 Chronicles 2:3 Hebrew Huram, a variant of Hiram; also in verses 11 and 12
  3. 2 Chronicles 2:8 Probably a variant of almug
  4. 2 Chronicles 2:10 That is, probably about 3,600 tons or about 3,200 metric tons of wheat
  5. 2 Chronicles 2:10 That is, probably about 3,000 tons or about 2,700 metric tons of barley
  6. 2 Chronicles 2:10 That is, about 120,000 gallons or about 440,000 liters

Saturday, December 17, 2022

More about Nam

I don't believe that a principal motivation for warmaking by U.S. political leaders was the influence of weapons manufacturers. Eisenhower literally warned the country about that in his farewell address. (For those who don't remember, he coined the phrase "military industrial complex.") Initially, U.S. politicians, including Eisenhower and Johnson, sincerely believed that they were combating a communist threat to the U.S. national interest. Many people thought this was nonsensical, but they were in a minority. The United States propped up brutal dictators all over the world in fear that their countries would otherwise go commie. But whether an impoverished faraway land had a nominally communist government was, and is, no threat to U.S. national security. The entire world view was essentially delusional.

But, it is true that the military-industrial complex is a fact that greatly distorts our national priorities. The U.S. had an enormously expensive and powerful military, and there was naturally a tendency to try to find something to do with it. When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, as the saying goes. But the fact is that the communists' strongest selling point in Vietnam was the presence of the U.S. military, which bombed and shot and burned indiscriminately, and sometimes massacred civilians for sport. The South Vietnamese puppet government had no legitimacy whatever, so the people had nowhere else to turn. The U.S. dropped more tonnage of bombs on the small, impoverished country of Vietnam than all the powers dropped in all of WWII, and that is no way to make friends.

I would add that one of the most striking developments in the Vietnam war was the deterioration of the U.S. army. By 1969 or so it was disintegrating, with widespread heroin use by the enlisted men and drunkenness by the officers. Enlisted men commonly murdered their officers, and refused to fight. They were a conscript army, that saw no purpose in the war and had nothing to fight for. The same problem afflicts the Russian army in Ukraine.

And just to forestall any questions or comments, in the year I turned 18 the U.S. was reducing its troop count in Vietnam and the draft was winding down. In case you're too young to know, there was a draft lottery based on your birthday. I had a high number and they only took up to about 10 if I remember correctly. They no longer handed out college deferments so I would have had a difficult choice to make otherwise, but I never had to. Unlike draft dodgers Donald Trump and George W. Bush.

Friday, December 16, 2022


I'm reading Vietnam: An epic tragedy, 1945-1975, by Max Hastings. In many ways it's more instructive than other histories I have read of the Vietnam war. It begins with the Vietminh rebellion against French rule, and the gradual takeover of the war by the U.S., which is helpful context. Hastings ranges over all of the parties: the North Vietnamese government, society and army; the South Vietnamese puppet government, its army and society; U.S political leaders, military leaders, and the military in Vietnam; civilian profiteers; China and the Soviet Union; and the U.S. public, both pro and anti-war.

The partition of Vietnam, that set up the U.S. war, happened about when I was born in 1954. Right now I'm about halfway through the book, which takes us to 1967 or so (Hastings's account isn't rigidly chronological, he tends to wobble around two year intervals), when I was 13 and just old enough to have some political awareness. A couple of years later, I remember that I was handing out fliers opposing the war, when a guy said to me "Do you want to be a communist slave? Get wise to yourself."

I'm struck by the parallels with Afghanistan. The tale of both U.S. occupations is one of self-delusion and folly. There was no actual U.S. national interest in either. The communist regime ultimately prevailed in Vietnam and that was all that happened. This was a terrible misfortune for some Vietnamese, good fortune for few, and made little difference to most except for the blessing of the end of the war. It did not cause Americans to become communist slaves. In fact Vietnam is now a significant trading partner of the U.S. and a tourist attraction. The Taliban likewise have no interest in the U.S. now that its soldiers are gone, although I wouldn't recommend going there as a tourist. The U.S. military and political leadership had no understanding of either country and their military and political tactics were utterly ineffectual.


War, however, in both cases, was horrific, mostly for the Vietnamese and Afghans, but also for the U.S. infantry, though there were far fewer of the latter and they generally suffered less. Americans, at least since WWII if not before, have a tendency to see everything that happens in the world as somehow being about them, and to think that they can fix it for themselves. We really need to get over that.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Wednesday Bible Study: More selective plagiarism

2 Chronicles 1 borrows selectively from 1 Kings 3. Specifically, Solomon's vision at Gibeon appears in both. However, in the Book of Kings, before he makes the sacrifice at Gibeon, he "takes" Pharaoh's daughter. Then, in Kings, after the vision, we get the story of Solomon proposing to split the baby in half, which was claimed by two "harlots." Here, instead, we have Solomon gathering up a lot of horses and other expensive stuff. I can only speculate about the reason for these omissions, although as I have said before the Chronicler seems to want to clean up David and Solomon's act. Solomon's 700 wives and 300 concubines don't get mentioned, and the baby splitting story, if you think about it, is ridiculous.

Solomon son of David established himself firmly over his kingdom, for the Lord his God was with him and made him exceedingly great.

Then Solomon spoke to all Israel—to the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, to the judges and to all the leaders in Israel, the heads of families— and Solomon and the whole assembly went to the high place at Gibeon, for God’s tent of meeting was there, which Moses the Lord’s servant had made in the wilderness. Now David had brought up the ark of God from Kiriath Jearim to the place he had prepared for it, because he had pitched a tent for it in Jerusalem. But the bronze altar that Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, had made was in Gibeon in front of the tabernacle of the Lord; so Solomon and the assembly inquired of him there. Solomon went up to the bronze altar before the Lord in the tent of meeting and offered a thousand burnt offerings on it.

That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon answered God, “You have shown great kindness to David my father and have made me king in his place. Now, Lord God, let your promise to my father David be confirmed, for you have made me king over a people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth. 10 Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

11 God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, 12 therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.”

13 Then Solomon went to Jerusalem from the high place at Gibeon, from before the tent of meeting. And he reigned over Israel.

14 Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses,[a] which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem. 15 The king made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the foothills. 16 Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Kue[b]—the royal merchants purchased them from Kue at the current price. 17 They imported a chariot from Egypt for six hundred shekels[c] of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty.[d] They also exported them to all the kings of the Hittites and of the Arameans.


  1. 2 Chronicles 1:14 Or charioteers
  2. 2 Chronicles 1:16 Probably Cilicia
  3. 2 Chronicles 1:17 That is, about 15 pounds or about 6.9 kilograms
  4. 2 Chronicles 1:17 That is, about 3 3/4 pounds or about 1.7 kilograms

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Fried bank man

 The indictment against Sam the Sham has been unsealed:

1- Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud on Customers 

2- Wire Fraud on Customers

 3- Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud on Lenders 

4- Wire Fraud on Lenders 

5- Conspiracy to Commit Commodities Fraud 

6- Conspiracy to Commit Securities Fraud 

7- Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering 

8- Conspiracy to violate Campaign Finance Laws


I don't know specifically what the money laundering is about, but the rest of it is in plain sight. The ups and downs of the Monopoly money he was playing with aren't really the issue here, although the overall decline in cryptocurrency in recent months probably accelerated the debacle. But basically, this is as simple as it can be. He was stealing depositors' money. That's it.

Nothing new or interesting about that. And the fawning gullibility of the journalist class isn't exactly new either -- viz. Elizabeth Holmes. But at least Holmes was pitching a technology that was understandable and would actually have been worth a lot of money, if it had actually worked; and she didn't pretend to be a philosopher. Bankman-Fried just spewed inane bullshit, that reporters treated as profound wisdom, and touted a business that nobody understood and had no perceptible or definable value -- well, except that it might be useful for money laundering, and apparently it was.

I'm with Dr. Black on this.   They still can't admit they were just swindled by a con artist who wasn't actually even very good at conning. This wasn't a tragedy of hubris, or inexperience, or complex forces beyond our understanding, or a terrible missed transformative opportunity. It was just plain old stealing, concealed behind wishy-washy sophomoric philosophy unworthy of a pot-fueled late night dorm party.


Memo to the New York Times and 60 minutes: Just because somebody is, or purports to be, obscenely wealthy, does not imply, suggest or even marginally increase the probability that anything they believe, or say they believe, is compelling or interesting or worthy of our precious time and attention. It does suggest that you ought to look very hard at the possibility that they are actually a crook.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Fusion Schmusion

No doubt you have already encountered the massive hype by scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory of their claim that they have successfully extracted more energy from a fusion reaction than they put into it. I'm not sure what technical level I should pitch this at -- I really don't know how much people in general understand about it. So I'll start with the basics. Please don't feel insulted if you already know this.


You do probably know that Einstein mass and energy to be equivalent, that is they are convertible one into the other and are manifestations of the same underlying reality. You certainly are familiar with E=MC^2. C is the speed of light, and because on the human scale this is an enormous number the amount of energy equivalent to a given amount of mass also seems enormous to us. When we burn fuel, are not creating energy, we are merely converting one form of energy -- contained in chemical bonds -- into other forms --- electromagnetic radiation and heat, which is the movement of molecules. The total amount of such chemical energy contained in any kind of fuel is minuscule compared to the energy equivalent of its total mass.*

Note, however, that the energy bound up in atomic nuclei contributes to their mass. This is the energy required to hold the nucleons (protons and neutrons) together. It so happens that the required energy goes down as we go from hydrogen through heavier nuclei -- helium, lithium, etc. -- until it is lowest in iron, with 8 protons. Then it starts going up again as elements get heavier. This means you can extract energy by breaking apart very heavy nuclei, such as uranium and plutonium. This is called fission, and it's how nuclear reactors and atomic bombs work. A major problem with fission, however, is that it creates toxic radioactive waste, You also have to mine and process uranium, which comes with environmental costs, and it's hard to tell if someone is doing that to make reactor fuel or bombs. The earth's supply of uranium is also limited. For these and other reasons, nuclear fission has limited potential to contribute to humanity's energy consumption.

But you can also get energy by combining hydrogen nuclei into helium. The net result of that, in addition to energy, is helium -- which is harmless and actually useful -- and free neutrons, which are absorbed by whatever container the whole thing is in and heat it up. Voilá, energy with no dangerous waste. This, BTW, is how the sun produces energy. 

There are a few problems with this however, not the least of which is that it only happens at absurdly high temperatures -- millions of degrees. This means a) you have to put in enormous amounts of energy before it happens and b) you need a way to contain something that hot. There are other technical problems, such as converting the energy into a usable form. Also, the neutrons hitting whatever it may be will rapidly degrade that material. And you need to somehow produce a continuous flow of energy, and a whole lot else.

What the researchers at Lawrence Livermore did is to fire powerful lasers at small packets of tritium (hydrogen nuclei with 2 neutrons) and deuterium (hydrogen with 1 neutron), and smash them together tightly and hotly enough to get one helium nucleus (two protons and two neutrons) and one free neutron. Since the amount of tritium and deuterium in the ocean is for all practical purposes unlimited, we could in principle put off our energy worries until we can buy dilithium crystals from the Ferengi. But as you might already have started to speculate from all of the above, this laboratory demonstration is a very long, long way from any practical utility.

So we're still talking decades, folks. And the danger is that this will cause people to argue that we don't need to invest in renewable energy after all, because nuclear fusion will solve our problems very soon. NO     IT      WON'T.

Update: It didn't even produce a net energy gain.


*The fuel largely disappears because it is converted into a gas. In principle because the combustion product contains less energy than the original fuel, its mass is reduced, but this amount is immeasurably small.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Sunday Sermonette: All the gold on the planet

Ch. 29 is the last of 1 Chronicles, although as we know in the Tanakh it's one book. The division in two was made by medieval Christian monks. It's a logical break point however, with the death of David. The Chronicler also provides references at the end: The Book of Samuel the Seer, The Book of Nathan the Seer, and The Book of Gad the Seer. It makes sense to conclude that the first is the Book of Samuel that we know from the Deuteronomistic history, since the Chronicler has lifted from it a few times. On the other hand, although the book is named for Samuel, he actually dies about 1/3 of the way through so he can't be the author. (We know that the real author(s) lived some 300 years after the purported events of Samuel, in the time of King Josiah.) The books of Nathan and Gad have been lost. One of them may have been the source for this chapter. 

Solomon was already made king in Ch. 22, so here they make him king a second time. I'm not sure what that means. Again, this completely skips over the more complicated story in Samuel in which the succession is contested, and Solomon was not David's first choice of heir.

The amounts of gold and silver contributed to the Temple are utterly ridiculous. (See the footnotes.)

29 Then King David said to the whole assembly: “My son Solomon, the one whom God has chosen, is young and inexperienced. The task is great, because this palatial structure is not for man but for the Lord God. With all my resources I have provided for the temple of my God—gold for the gold work, silver for the silver, bronze for the bronze, iron for the iron and wood for the wood, as well as onyx for the settings, turquoise,[a] stones of various colors, and all kinds of fine stone and marble—all of these in large quantities. Besides, in my devotion to the temple of my God I now give my personal treasures of gold and silver for the temple of my God, over and above everything I have provided for this holy temple: three thousand talents[b] of gold (gold of Ophir) and seven thousand talents[c] of refined silver, for the overlaying of the walls of the buildings, for the gold work and the silver work, and for all the work to be done by the craftsmen. Now, who is willing to consecrate themselves to the Lord today?”

Then the leaders of families, the officers of the tribes of Israel, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, and the officials in charge of the king’s work gave willingly. They gave toward the work on the temple of God five thousand talents[d] and ten thousand darics[e] of gold, ten thousand talents[f] of silver, eighteen thousand talents[g] of bronze and a hundred thousand talents[h] of iron. Anyone who had precious stones gave them to the treasury of the temple of the Lord in the custody of Jehiel the Gershonite. The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord. David the king also rejoiced greatly.

David’s Prayer

10 David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying,

“Praise be to you, Lord,
    the God of our father Israel,
    from everlasting to everlasting.
11 Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power
    and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
    for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;
    you are exalted as head over all.
12 Wealth and honor come from you;
    you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
    to exalt and give strength to all.
13 Now, our God, we give you thanks,
    and praise your glorious name.

14 “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. 15 We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. 16 Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. 17 I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. 18 Lord, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you. 19 And give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes and decrees and to do everything to build the palatial structure for which I have provided.”

20 Then David said to the whole assembly, “Praise the Lord your God.” So they all praised the Lord, the God of their fathers; they bowed down, prostrating themselves before the Lord and the king.

Solomon Acknowledged as King

21 The next day they made sacrifices to the Lord and presented burnt offerings to him: a thousand bulls, a thousand rams and a thousand male lambs, together with their drink offerings, and other sacrifices in abundance for all Israel. 22 They ate and drank with great joy in the presence of the Lord that day.

Then they acknowledged Solomon son of David as king a second time, anointing him before the Lord to be ruler and Zadok to be priest. 23 So Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord as king in place of his father David. He prospered and all Israel obeyed him. 24 All the officers and warriors, as well as all of King David’s sons, pledged their submission to King Solomon.

25 The Lord highly exalted Solomon in the sight of all Israel and bestowed on him royal splendor such as no king over Israel ever had before.

The Death of David

26 David son of Jesse was king over all Israel. 27 He ruled over Israel forty years—seven in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. 28 He died at a good old age, having enjoyed long life, wealth and honor. His son Solomon succeeded him as king.

29 As for the events of King David’s reign, from beginning to end, they are written in the records of Samuel the seer, the records of Nathan the prophet and the records of Gad the seer, 30 together with the details of his reign and power, and the circumstances that surrounded him and Israel and the kingdoms of all the other lands.


  1. 1 Chronicles 29:2 The meaning of the Hebrew for this word is uncertain.
  2. 1 Chronicles 29:4 That is, about 110 tons or about 100 metric tons
  3. 1 Chronicles 29:4 That is, about 260 tons or about 235 metric tons
  4. 1 Chronicles 29:7 That is, about 190 tons or about 170 metric tons
  5. 1 Chronicles 29:7 That is, about 185 pounds or about 84 kilograms
  6. 1 Chronicles 29:7 That is, about 380 tons or about 340 metric tons
  7. 1 Chronicles 29:7 That is, about 675 tons or about 610 metric tons
  8. 1 Chronicles 29:7 That is, about 3,800 tons or about 3,400 metric tons

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Nothing will come of nothing

 For those of you who truly don't believe that there is a dangerous far right extremist movement in the U.S. -- and I don't believe anybody truly disbelieves that -- take note of the recent destruction of electric substations in Moore County North Carolina. This was not an isolated incident, by any means. As the linked article describes in detail, there have been many similar incidents, though the others caused less damage.

Back in January, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warned that American extremists have begun exhibiting an unhealthy interest in attacking the power grid—at first regionally, then nationally—as a means of disrupting the country. Far-right domestic extremists “have developed credible, specific plans to attack electricity infrastructure since at least 2020, identifying the electric grid as a particularly attractive target given its interdependency with other infrastructure sectors,” according to the DHS report.


This tactic is not tied to any specific demands, nor is it in response to any specific grievances. The sole purpose is to cause economic damage and personal misery. These people believe that disruption of the social order and economic distress will create opportunities for them to seize power by force. Note that while some think the Moore County incident was in response to a drag show, the perpetrators have not publicly claimed any motive, which doesn't make sense if they're protesting anything in particular. 


This strategy seems to me basically delusional, but it will be very difficult to counter if it becomes more commonplace. There are tens of thousands of electrical substations, and they are unguarded. It's also possible to knock down transmission lines with explosives, which is more difficult to pull off but probably even harder to prevent if someone has the capability. So yeah, I'd be worried about this.

Thursday, December 08, 2022

People are strange

I couldn't really find any explanation in U.S. media of the ideology or objectives of the organization that was the subject of a mass bust in Germany yesterday. They've been called "far right extremists,"and in the German context you might jump to the conclusion that they are neo-Nazis, but this doesn't seem exactly to be the case. I found what I expect is the most coherent explanation we're likely to get from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. Apparently some neo-Nazis have latched onto it but they're a minority of participants.

In fact members of the "Reichsbürger" movement (which just means citizens of the realm, although the term "reich" has special resonance in Germany) have a variety of beliefs, including Q-anon adherents and other strange conspiracy theorists. What they apparently have in common is a set of ideas comparable to the sovereign citizens movement in the U.S., which based on a variety of historico-legalistic mumbo-jumbo asserts the the German state does not actually exist and that its authority can be ignored. This is impossible to summarize but to quote a bit from the ISD explainer:

The Reichsbürger (‘Citizens of the Empire’) movement is a German ideology with similarities to the ‘sovereign citizens’ found in the US, Canada and UK. While the Reichsbürger movement encompasses different tendencies, they are united by a shared belief that the Federal Republic of Germany is not a sovereign state and that the laws and rules enforced by the German state are thus not binding. Many adherents of the Reichsbürger movement are convinced that the Federal Republic is instead a corporation, often called the ‘BRD GmbH’ (Federal Republic of Germany Limited Liability Company). Similar claims are widespread among sovereign citizen circles in the United States, who believe their country has become a corporation, though they disagree if this happened in the 1800s, or when the US abandoned the gold standard.

As with their US counterparts, there is no consensus in the Reichsbürger scene concerning the last legitimate form of government in Germany. Some members of the Reichsbürger movement believe that the Third Reich still exists but is occupied. Others argue that the German Empire of 1871 continues to persist. . . . 

Reichsbürgers, along with the broader sovereigntist movement, believe they live under occupation by hostile, illegitimate powers. They therefore see resistance against the state and its representatives as legitimate. This can take different forms: from printing their own passports to the declaration of kingdoms or other spaces of sovereignty on private properties, refusals to pay fines, harassment of civil servants and political representatives all the way to taking violent action. During the raid on 7 December, counter-terror police therefore received support from special police units responsible for arresting high-risk suspects, as security agencies have long expressed concern about the high number of armed Reichsbürger adherents. In 2016, a supporter fatally shot a police officer in Georgensmünd (Bavaria) during a police raid related to the illegal possession of firearms. Similar incidents over the past five years have turned violent when ‘Reichsbürger’ tried to evade police controls.


While none of this seems to make any sense, it does point to the deeper truth that the nation state, like all social institutions including money, business corporations, and the PTA is a kind of shared fiction. It exists only because we agree to pretend that it does. That's no excuse for arbitrarily rejecting those beliefs -- we need them, they're part of our nature as a social species. Of course we can question them and try to change them, but overthrowing the German state and restoring the monarchy, especially on behalf of a mixture of random nutjobs, strikes me as a bad idea.


(BTW, Hitler never did provide cheap personal transportation. His Volkswagen project never produced a single civilian automobile. It was what we today call vaporware. Obviously the corporation did start to make cars after the war.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

One absolutely sure true fact

So, I finished the Rise and Fall. Getting through it was difficult, although I already knew the basics of the story. The absolute true fact is that Nazis are bad. Unimaginably bad. The worst people who have ever existed, and that's saying some. There is not and cannot be any such thing as a good person who is a Nazi. Being a Nazi;, thinking that there's something, anything, admirable about Nazis; tolerating Nazis in your school, community, workplace, or among your family and friends, are all moral failings. 

But we really do face a resurgence of ideas that are shared with Nazis, and even directly inspired by them, here in the U.S., today. These ideas have insinuated themselves deeply into the Republican party and are articulated, sometimes in code and sometimes quite overtly, by elected officials. They are also inspiring a growing movement of organized militants, including many of the people who invaded the Capitol on January 6, 2020, several of whom have been convicted of range of crimes including seditious conspiracy.

I would like to have more commenters who make publishable contributions. I will not publish any comment that questions, doubts or takes issue of any kind with what is written above,