Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Sunday Sermonette: The distaff

In Chapter 22, a woman becomes the first (and last) queen of Israel. She accomplishes this by nefarious means and oesn't last long, but it prompted me to reflect on female characters in the Tanakh. It's a patriarchal society, obviously. Notable female characters are relatively scarce, and fewer still have much agency. Eve's only role in the plot is to succumb to the serpent's wiles and have three children, one of whom goes off to the land of Nod and finds a wife -- evidently somebody else was having his own creation there. Sarah is just Abraham's incestuous wife and half sister, who goes along for the ride. Lot's daughters get him drunk and boink him to impregnate themselves, but his wife doesn't even have a name.. 


Rachel and Leah are the first women who are portrayed in some depth who's stories are told with empathy. They act with agency, within the constraints of the patriarchy, but that's the  last we hear of women in Genesis. In Exodus three women have bit parts. Pharaoh's daughter rescues the baby Moses. His wife Zipporah throws a bloody foreskin at him. His sister Miriam leads the celebration after the exodus. But the rest of the Torah is all about the doings of men. In Joshua, the brothel keeper Rahab betrays Jericho to the Israelites, which was evidently the right thing to do. 


In Judges, Deborah becomes the respected and effective leader of Israel, by merit. This is quite surprising in the otherwise macho male context, but she does have to act through a male representative. Delilah is of course the ultimate vamp, who uses her sexual wiles to betray Samson to the Philistines. This is something of an archetypal story. It's rather surprising that people name their daughters after her. The Book of Samuel features the necromancer ("witch") of Endor but otherwise for the rest of the Deuteronomistic history women just have stuff happen to them (viz Baathsheba and Jezebel), until now.


The Book of Ruth, which was written much later, was inserted between Judges and Samuel by the Christian monks who canonized the Old Testament.In the Tanakh, it's near the end, reflecting its much later composition, although it was indeed set in the mythic past where the monks put it. It is told from the female point of view, which we haven't seen since Rachel and Leah, but it features far more development of the female characters and moral sensibility which is totally uncharacteristic of the earlier material and much more relatable to us today. Although the people still have to follow the patriarchal rules, the male hero is an actual nice guy, something we haven't seen much of elsewhere.

 Anyway, I'm sure feminist scholars have had a lot to say about all this. For now I'm just giving you a list of things to think about.


22 The people of Jerusalem made Ahaziah, Jehoram’s youngest son, king in his place, since the raiders, who came with the Arabs into the camp, had killed all the older sons. So Ahaziah son of Jehoram king of Judah began to reign.

Ahaziah was twenty-two[a] years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem one year. His mother’s name was Athaliah, a granddaughter of Omri.

He too followed the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother encouraged him to act wickedly. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, as the house of Ahab had done, for after his father’s death they became his advisers, to his undoing. He also followed their counsel when he went with Joram[b] son of Ahab king of Israel to wage war against Hazael king of Aram at Ramoth Gilead. The Arameans wounded Joram; so he returned to Jezreel to recover from the wounds they had inflicted on him at Ramoth[c] in his battle with Hazael king of Aram.

Then Ahaziah[d] son of Jehoram king of Judah went down to Jezreel to see Joram son of Ahab because he had been wounded.

Through Ahaziah’s visit to Joram, God brought about Ahaziah’s downfall. When Ahaziah arrived, he went out with Joram to meet Jehu son of Nimshi, whom the Lord had anointed to destroy the house of Ahab. While Jehu was executing judgment on the house of Ahab, he found the officials of Judah and the sons of Ahaziah’s relatives, who had been attending Ahaziah, and he killed them. He then went in search of Ahaziah, and his men captured him while he was hiding in Samaria. He was brought to Jehu and put to death. They buried him, for they said, “He was a son of Jehoshaphat, who sought the Lord with all his heart.” So there was no one in the house of Ahaziah powerful enough to retain the kingdom.

Athaliah and Joash

10 When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family of the house of Judah. 11 But Jehosheba,[e] the daughter of King Jehoram, took Joash son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the royal princes who were about to be murdered and put him and his nurse in a bedroom. Because Jehosheba,[f] the daughter of King Jehoram and wife of the priest Jehoiada, was Ahaziah’s sister, she hid the child from Athaliah so she could not kill him. 12 He remained hidden with them at the temple of God for six years while Athaliah ruled the land.


  1. 2 Chronicles 22:2 Some Septuagint manuscripts and Syriac (see also 2 Kings 8:26); Hebrew forty-two
  2. 2 Chronicles 22:5 Hebrew Jehoram, a variant of Joram; also in verses 6 and 7
  3. 2 Chronicles 22:6 Hebrew Ramah, a variant of Ramoth
  4. 2 Chronicles 22:6 Some Hebrew manuscripts, Septuagint, Vulgate and Syriac (see also 2 Kings 8:29); most Hebrew manuscripts Azariah
  5. 2 Chronicles 22:11 Hebrew Jehoshabeath, a variant of Jehosheba
  6. 2 Chronicles 22:11 Hebrew Jehoshabeath, a variant of Jehosheba




Saturday, February 25, 2023

As I was saying

 I seldom link to the NYT (or, as Atrios calls it, "that fucking newspaper) because it's paywalled. But I believe you get three free reads a month, and in any case I'm going to pull the good stuff from Krugthulu's latest. It's about this:

Many House Republicans are reportedly listening to Russell Vought, Donald Trump’s former budget director, who has a new think tank and has been circulating a budget proposal titled “A Commitment to End Woke and Weaponized Government,” which purports to show a way to balance the budget without touching Medicare and Social Security. The document uses the word “woke” 77 times, and — weirdly for a fiscal blueprint — also manages to mention critical race theory 16 times.

By "woke" government he refers to means tested programs -- Medicaid, SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), and Affordable Care Act subsidies. Now, in the first place, it is not true that you could balance the budget even by eliminating these entirely. But Krugman's main point is that the beneficiaries aren't who Vought and other Republicans seem to think they are.


When they hear about means-tested programs, they think “welfare,” and when they think about welfare, they imagine that the beneficiaries are inner-city Black people. In modern America, however, some of the biggest beneficiaries of means-tested programs are rural white people — who also happen to be the core of the Republican base.

Consider Owsley County, Ky. Eastern Kentucky is at the epicenter of the “Eastern Heartland,” a region that has been left stranded by the rise of the knowledge economy and the migration of jobs to highly educated metropolitan areas. The county is almost entirely non-Hispanic white; 88 percent of its voters supported Trump in 2020. And 52 percent of its population is covered by Medicaid, while more than 40 percent are SNAP recipients.


Medicaid is in fact quite popular in "red" states and as you may recall, when Republicans controlled both houses they found it impossible to repeal the ACA because it is very popular among their own constituents.  As the Krugster goes on to explain, these programs are also investments in the future because children who have the benefit of safety net programs including SNAP and Medicaid grow up to be better educated and more productive adults. And oh yeah -- children are among the principal beneficiaries of most programs. (BTW, while the majority of Medicaid beneficiaries are children and their families, the majority of Medicaid spending goes to older people in long term care.) 

So yeah, let's stay woke, and invest even more in our people.


Friday, February 24, 2023

Makers and Takers

 Speaker of the House Marjorie Taylor Greene recently twitted this:


The entire population of the earth is about 8 billion. The population of China is about 1.4 billion. With that as background, let's consider her other recent proposal, a "divorce" between the red and blue states.  Okay, let's try that. This is from the Brookings Institution.



In case that's difficult to read, 71% of U.S. GDP is generated in counties won by Joe Biden. Here's another fun fact. These are the states that are most dependent on the federal government, i.e. they get back more in federal spending than they pay in federal taxes Notice anything they might have in common? (Okay, New Mexico and Arizona are now contested.) (Source: Wallethub)



And here's the overall picture, from Moneygeek:




So by all means let's have our divorce. Or, failing that, let's give the Republicans what they want. Cut Medciare, Medicaid, Social Security and other federal programs. Balance the budget without raising taxes. Let's see what happens to their voters.