Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Wednesday Bible Study: The human condition

 In Chapter 7, Job doesn't exactly curse God, but he certainly complains about the pain and injustice of existence. I think this is the essence of the book because we never do get a satisfactory answer. God just doesn't have to be accountable for anything, he's mighty and inscrutable and we're just dirt. Job wants an explanation. We'll see if he gets one.

“Do not mortals have hard service on earth?
    Are not their days like those of hired laborers?
Like a slave longing for the evening shadows,
    or a hired laborer waiting to be paid,
so I have been allotted months of futility,
    and nights of misery have been assigned to me.
When I lie down I think, ‘How long before I get up?’
    The night drags on, and I toss and turn until dawn.
My body is clothed with worms and scabs,
    my skin is broken and festering.

“My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle,
    and they come to an end without hope.
Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath;
    my eyes will never see happiness again.
The eye that now sees me will see me no longer;
    you will look for me, but I will be no more.
As a cloud vanishes and is gone,
    so one who goes down to the grave does not return.
10 He will never come to his house again;
    his place will know him no more.

11 “Therefore I will not keep silent;
    I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit,
    I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
12 Am I the sea, or the monster of the deep,
    that you put me under guard?
13 When I think my bed will comfort me
    and my couch will ease my complaint,
14 even then you frighten me with dreams
    and terrify me with visions,
15 so that I prefer strangling and death,
    rather than this body of mine.
16 I despise my life; I would not live forever.
    Let me alone; my days have no meaning.

17 “What is mankind that you make so much of them,
    that you give them so much attention,
18 that you examine them every morning
    and test them every moment?
19 Will you never look away from me,
    or let me alone even for an instant?
20 If I have sinned, what have I done to you,
    you who see everything we do?
Why have you made me your target?
    Have I become a burden to you?[a]
21 Why do you not pardon my offenses
    and forgive my sins?
For I will soon lie down in the dust;
    you will search for me, but I will be no more.”


Job 7:20 A few manuscripts of the Masoretic Text, an ancient Hebrew scribal tradition and Septuagint; most manuscripts of the Masoretic Text I have become a burden to myself

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Ignorance is Strength

 The next item on our bullet list: "An open border is no border."


Taken as a hypothetical, this would be half true. When you cross an open border, you enter a new jurisdiction and become subject to its laws. The border between Maryland and Virginia is open, but it's still a border. The same goes for the national borders within the European Union. To be sure, that has caused some friction, but it is obviously incorrect to say that they aren't borders at all. Keeping people out is not the only function of a border.

That said, what this is supposed to mean is that keeping people out is indeed the principal function of the borders of the United States and they don't even count as borders if they're open. Well okay, you can think that if you want. I agree that there are so many people who want to come to the U.S., largely out of desperation, that we could not allow open borders. Borders within the EU are open, but the border around it is not. However, quite obviously and indisputably, neither is ours. The U.S. borders are heavily patrolled, it is very difficult to enter the U.S. illegally, and the vast majority of people who try are apprehended immediately. That is just a fact. So the claim about "open borders" is just a lie, like most Republican rhetoric. 


And BTW, illicit drugs do not enter the country transported by illegal border crossers. It would be far too dangerous to entrust your valuable product to such a dangerous method. They mostly come concealed in freight, or carried by people who are crossing legally, mostly U.S. citizens. Nevertheless, much of the traffic is intercepted. Be that as it may, the only useful approach to illicit drugs is demand reduction. As long as there is demand, suppliers will always find a way.

With that nonsense out of the way, there is an important honest discussion we could have about immigration. The U.S. economy depends on immigration, and crackdowns on undocumented workers have caused major problems for farmers and other businesses in the U.S. with attendant economic harm. Our birth rate is now below replacement level and we are developing a serious shortage of workers. We probably should allow more legal immigration. And no, it's not going to change the character of the country, certainly not in a bad way. Irish, Italians, eastern Europeans, didn't used to be "white." Now they are. We're lucky to have Chinese, Thai, Indian, Mexican and for that matter Ethiopian restaurants and cultural festivals. But all that is completely aside from the question of "open borders." That's unmitigated bullshit.

Monday, August 28, 2023


Next on the bullet list: "Reverse racism is racism."


These are just words, until you define exactly what you mean. If you just mean that an ideology that treats a normally privileged caste as inferior is racism, as is an ideology that endorses a traditional hierarchy, sure. If someone were to claim that people of European descent are somehow inferior humans, and ought to be deprived of educational an economic opportunity and even the right to vote, that would be racism. However, that is obviously not what people are trying to assert, since nobody would argue with them.

What they are really saying is that frankly acknowledging historical injustice, and trying to find ways to correct it, is racist. Teaching children about slavery, and Jim Crow and the KKK terror and disenfranchisement and separate and unequal schools and discrimination in employment, housing and criminal justice might make white kids feel bad, so just shut up about it. Advocating for policies to overcome the disadvantages that some people face in life might threaten the privileges that some people currently enjoy, and they're entitled to those privileges because ... oops, that's actual racism.


I'll be brief. As for the first claim, that we ought to hide unpleasant truths, that is never beneficial to anyone. Truth is empowering. I want to know and understand history, and that never makes me feel bad about myself. It gives me the tools to understand the world I live in, to find my way in it, and to work to change it for the better. I know I have ancestors who enslaved people (specifically in southern Maryland, on the Delmarva peninsula) but I don't personally feel ashamed about it. It just means I understand something about my family's history and how we came to where we are. (I also understand something about some famous African American people who share my last name.)

As for the second, that ameliorating oppression threatens the privileged, even if that were true I'd say it would be just, so we need to do it. However, I don't believe it's true. Societies succeed as a whole. If we provide high quality education, more opportunity, and equal participation in civic society to everyone, we all benefit. It is not what they call a zero sum game. Societies that waste the talents and potential of a large part of their population are disadvantaged and impoverished societies.


There are some specific questions about how to go about promoting justice that can be rather complicated, I'll grant you that. But the principle is not.


Sunday, August 27, 2023

Sunday Sermonette: Despair

Job responds with what amounts to despair. He wants to die, and he wants his despair to be respected. This soliloquy, and especially the second half of it in the next chapter, reminds me of Hamlet's "Oh that this too, too solid flesh would melt" soliloquy, the somewhat lesser known one. But as a literary critic, I would say that Shakespeare does it much more efficiently. This runs through an excessive amount of imagery to make a pretty simple statement.

Then Job replied:

“If only my anguish could be weighed
    and all my misery be placed on the scales!
It would surely outweigh the sand of the seas—
    no wonder my words have been impetuous.
The arrows of the Almighty are in me,
    my spirit drinks in their poison;
    God’s terrors are marshaled against me.
Does a wild donkey bray when it has grass,
    or an ox bellow when it has fodder?
Is tasteless food eaten without salt,
    or is there flavor in the sap of the mallow[a]?
I refuse to touch it;
    such food makes me ill.

“Oh, that I might have my request,
    that God would grant what I hope for,
that God would be willing to crush me,
    to let loose his hand and cut off my life!
10 Then I would still have this consolation—
    my joy in unrelenting pain—
    that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.

11 “What strength do I have, that I should still hope?
    What prospects, that I should be patient?
12 Do I have the strength of stone?
    Is my flesh bronze?
13 Do I have any power to help myself,
    now that success has been driven from me?

14 “Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend
    forsakes the fear of the Almighty.
15 But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams,
    as the streams that overflow
16 when darkened by thawing ice
    and swollen with melting snow,
17 but that stop flowing in the dry season,
    and in the heat vanish from their channels.
18 Caravans turn aside from their routes;
    they go off into the wasteland and perish.
19 The caravans of Tema look for water,
    the traveling merchants of Sheba look in hope.
20 They are distressed, because they had been confident;
    they arrive there, only to be disappointed.
21 Now you too have proved to be of no help;
    you see something dreadful and are afraid.
22 Have I ever said, ‘Give something on my behalf,
    pay a ransom for me from your wealth,
23 deliver me from the hand of the enemy,
    rescue me from the clutches of the ruthless’?

24 “Teach me, and I will be quiet;
    show me where I have been wrong.
25 How painful are honest words!
    But what do your arguments prove?
26 Do you mean to correct what I say,
    and treat my desperate words as wind?
27 You would even cast lots for the fatherless
    and barter away your friend.

28 “But now be so kind as to look at me.
    Would I lie to your face?
29 Relent, do not be unjust;
    reconsider, for my integrity is at stake.[b]
30 Is there any wickedness on my lips?
    Can my mouth not discern malice?


  1. Job 6:6 The meaning of the Hebrew for this phrase is uncertain.
  2. Job 6:29 Or my righteousness still stands



Saturday, August 26, 2023

The most atrocious crime in all of history

 The next point on the bullet list is "Human flourishing requires fossil fuels." 

I'm not going to spend time arguing about the science, which is absolutely settled and has been for decades. In fact the pace and consequences of climate change have been at the upper bound of previous estimates. The disaster is already upon us, which is obvious to anyone. And no, all those dead and homeless people aren't flourishing.


Fortunately, the cost of sustainable energy is already lower than the cost of fossil fuels. We do need to make major investments in energy distribution and storage, and electrification. Instead of everybody driving themselves around in electric cars, we should also invest in mass transit. There are a lot of ways we can build a better world while freeing ourselves from fossil fuels, but I'll leave all that for another time.


What I want to discuss now is denialism. It is mostly paid for by fossil fuel company executives and shareholders who put their insatiable greed ahead of the welfare and the very lives of their own grandchildren. They have bought almost the entire Republican party, politicians and pundits who are also perfectly happy to betray humanity for a taste of power and a pittance. There is also an ideological incentive for some people. They worship at the altar of the Free Market™, and admitting the truth about carbon emissions would require accepting the necessity of government intervention to fix the failure of the market. I don't know which motive is more reprehensible.


This is a true existential crisis, and it's completely and indisputably the good guys vs. the bad guys. Nobody with a shred of conscience should vote for any Republican, ever. The party is a deadly threat to humanity.


Note on the previous post: What some people seem to be confused about all the time is social construction of reality. Just because something is socially constructed doesn't mean it isn't real or doesn't matter. That goes for race as well as gender. Those are social realities, and they affect people's lives very much. But social reality, unlike biological reality, can change.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Sex, sexuality and gender

The second bullet point is "There are two genders."


In the vernacular, people may use gender and sex (in the sense of whether an entity is male or female) interchangeably, but in scientific language they do not mean the same thing. Sex is a biological term, gender a sociological term.* Biologically, most metazoans mostly come in two sexes, designated male and female, distinguished by their role in reproduction. They both contribute half the genetic material to offspring, but the gamete -- the cell that combines the genes of the two parents and then divides and redivides to produce the new animal -- remains with the female and receives nutrition from it during its initial development. Some species can reproduce asexually, and some (notably some annelids) are hermaphroditic, meaning they have the requisite organs to play both the male and female role in reproduction. The genetic mechanism that distinguishes between males and females differs among phyla.

We all know that humans exclusively reproduce sexually, the occasional religious myth aside. However, not everyone is born definitively male or female. Most of the time people who have two X chromosomes are definitively female, and people with an X and a Y are male, but not always. Some people are born with ambiguous genitalia.

Most people have an inherent desire to engage in sexual activity -- another meaning of the word sex -- which evolution obviously favors since it's essential to reproduction. However, we have a lot of inherent desires that get put to uses other than the ones that drove their evolution. People don't just run after prey, they do it for fun and competition. We don't just use our hands to make tools, we don't just talk to collaborate on tasks. I could go on and on. Part of the behavioral reward for reproductive sex comes from rubbing the genitals together, and we can rub them against some other body part or some other object entirely and get a similar effect. Which as you know people do quite often. (Our close relatives, bonobos, engage in sexual activity with each other quite indiscriminately, regardless of their biological sex, age or familial relationship, as a means of social bonding.) So sex has other functions than just reproduction.


Sexuality refers to the kinds of sexual activity a person prefers, and most often specifically to the preferred sex of partners. Some people just happen to want to engage in sexual activity with people of the same sex as themselves, either exclusively or some of the time. They're a minority, but they have always and everywhere existed. Actually in ancient Greece, a culture we much admire, it was a normal practice for men to engage in sex with adolescent boys. The Torah most certainly condemns homosexual activity (although you have to wonder about David and Jonathan), but Jesus never mentions it. The Torah also promulgates dozens of laws that Christians ignore. While you're denouncing homosexuals, you're probably wearing garments made of blended fabrics, eating pork and shellfish, cutting your forelocks, and failing to perform the required sacrifices.


We don't know why some people have same-sex orientation, but it seems to be hard wired early in life. Probably, people are born that way. It isn't a choice, and trying to change it doesn't work, it just makes people miserable. It doesn't do you or anybody else any harm, so why the hell should you care?  

Gender refers to the social categories to which male and female humans are normally assigned. For example, until 1920, in the United States, women could not vote or hold elective office. To this day, a woman has never been elected president, and we still have disproportionately few female governors, or members of congress. On the other hand, the medical profession used to be almost exclusively male, but now half of medical school graduates are women. Obviously, gender role norms vary enormously among cultures and subcultures, and they can change over time.

But must there be just two? Certainly not, many societies including Native Americans of the plains, and Indians of Asia, have had third genders. We don't have a generally accepted non-binary category but many people feel they don't belong to the male or female category. Other people were designated as one or the other at birth, and have the corresponding sexual organs, but feel that they belong to the other category. Again, we don't know why, but it's not a choice and it isn't learned, it's something people usually recognize about themselves when they are quite young. Again, this has always been true, but people with these feelings have usually had to hide them. There is more than one example of a soldier or prominent man who was discovered to be biologically female, often only after death. And once again, it doesn't do you or anybody else any harm, so why should you care?

The tactic of Republicans to suddenly try to gin up a moral panic about transgender people is evil. It hurts people, and there is just no reason for it. None at all. It's disgusting. Agreed, there are some reasonable questions to be debated regarding athletic competition, but it seems to me we can leave that up to the respective sporting authorities. Other than that, it's no business at all of any politician and shouldn't be a concern of voters either.


*It's also a linguistic term. Many languages assign a "gender" to every noun, of which there may well be more than two. But that's really a separate discussion.


Thursday, August 24, 2023

God bothering

I thought our commenter's list of reasons, via Vivek Ramaswany, why people would want to vote Republican was interesting, and possibly largely correct -- or at least it reflects the surface of how Republican candidates and pundits talk, although I think it probably doesn't represent all of the underlying reasons. Anyway, it gives me an agenda, so I'm going to take the assertions one by one, starting with this one:

God is real. While there is no doubt that religion, or professed religion, is a motivator for Republican voters, there obviously has to be a lot more to it than just the assertion that God is real. Joe Biden is an observant Catholic, and the vast majority of Democratic candidates and officials also profess to be religious. We elect presidents, members of congress, and other officials to carry out the business of governing, not be chaplains. So the real issue is that people have specific religious or quasi-religious beliefs that entail public policy in some way.

The obvious ones, that get talked about publicly, are moral beliefs, specifically that abortion, homosexuality, and gender noncomformity are sins. Obviously they want abortion to be illegal, and treated as a criminal act. I have noted many times that there is no biblical authority for this on the contrary; and that it is a very modern conceit, which even the conservative denominations did not embrace until the 1960s. But yeah, they believe it. 

Most actually do want to criminalize sexual and gender noncomformity, I believe, although the public claims mostly stop short of that. They want to legalize discrimination against non-conforming people, and there is also talk about banning gender affirming health care for minors, based largely on falsehoods. While these positions are unpopular with the general public, I'm sure that Christian conservative voters really do believe them, because that's what their preachers tell them to believe.

However, there is another important underlying belief, that I have mentioned before. This has to do with the book of Revelation and its confusing prophecies. A substantial proportion of Christian conservatives believe that the End Times are approaching. Fulfillment of the prophecy, as they interpret it, require that Israel gain control over the entire territory of Biblical Israel (which was considerably larger than any territory the Israelites ever actually controlled), and rebuild the Temple, among other eventualities. This puts them in alliance with radical Zionists, although they also believe that 1/3 of the Jews will convert to Christianity and the rest will be massacred and condemned to hell. Anyway, these beliefs are very dangerous because any actual attempt to implement them would probably start World War III.


I must also say that the thrice-married, philandering, thieving, lying, Donald J. Trump, whose only God is himself,  is a strange vessel for these beliefs.

Next: There are two genders.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Wednesday Bible Study: The comfort keeps getting colder

Eliphaz continues to yammer on, now at great length riffing on how God is all powerful, and recommending prayer. The way I read this is basically "Beg for succor, and you might get it." Of course that doesn't explain anything - - the whole premise is that God (here called The Almighty) is capricious.

“Call if you will, but who will answer you?
    To which of the holy ones will you turn?
Resentment kills a fool,
    and envy slays the simple.
I myself have seen a fool taking root,
    but suddenly his house was cursed.
His children are far from safety,
    crushed in court without a defender.
The hungry consume his harvest,
    taking it even from among thorns,
    and the thirsty pant after his wealth.
For hardship does not spring from the soil,
    nor does trouble sprout from the ground.
Yet man is born to trouble
    as surely as sparks fly upward.

“But if I were you, I would appeal to God;
    I would lay my cause before him.
He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,
    miracles that cannot be counted.
10 He provides rain for the earth;
    he sends water on the countryside.
11 The lowly he sets on high,
    and those who mourn are lifted to safety.
12 He thwarts the plans of the crafty,
    so that their hands achieve no success.
13 He catches the wise in their craftiness,
    and the schemes of the wily are swept away.
14 Darkness comes upon them in the daytime;
    at noon they grope as in the night.
15 He saves the needy from the sword in their mouth;
    he saves them from the clutches of the powerful.
16 So the poor have hope,
    and injustice shuts its mouth.

17 “Blessed is the one whom God corrects;
    so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.[a]
18 For he wounds, but he also binds up;
    he injures, but his hands also heal.
19 From six calamities he will rescue you;
    in seven no harm will touch you.
20 In famine he will deliver you from death,
    and in battle from the stroke of the sword.
21 You will be protected from the lash of the tongue,
    and need not fear when destruction comes.
22 You will laugh at destruction and famine,
    and need not fear the wild animals.
23 For you will have a covenant with the stones of the field,
    and the wild animals will be at peace with you.
24 You will know that your tent is secure;
    you will take stock of your property and find nothing missing.
25 You will know that your children will be many,
    and your descendants like the grass of the earth.
26 You will come to the grave in full vigor,
    like sheaves gathered in season.

27 “We have examined this, and it is true.
    So hear it and apply it to yourself.”


  1. Job 5:17 Hebrew Shaddai; here and throughout Job

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

A promise I won't make

Running for First Selectman makes me think about some issues a bit differently. Our town has fiscal problems, because we have a very small commercial tax base, and few kids in school which means our per pupil cost is high. (We still need a principal and a custodian and a building, and class sizes are small.) I might be able to do something about that. At least I have ideas and I'll campaign on them.

But one of the biggest complaints people have is that the power goes out very frequently, and it usually takes a long time to get it restored. I finally broke down and got a standby generator, but they're expensive and this is not a wealthy town either -- a lot of people can't afford one, they can barely pay their taxes. 

The reason this happens is because, first of all, we live in a forest, and second, in case you hadn't noticed, storms are getting more frequent and more severe. On Friday, we had a tornado -- one of five tornadoes that touched down in southern New England on that day. It's rare for New England to get that many tornadoes in an entire year. We've had several bouts of severe weather this summer, and in the past few years, tropical cyclones and squall lines have knocked out power here for days or a week at least five times that I can recall offhand. It's only going to get worse.

Fortunately, nobody has been seriously injured in these events and property damage has mostly been minor, with the exception of the power company's property, but obviously our luck might not hold. After a lot of public pressure, the power company has made a more visible effort to trim the trees along the power lines but the result doesn't make much difference. You can't remove more than a small percentage of the dangerous limbs and trees, and I have to say Asplundh makes a pretty unconvincing show of even trying. 

So we're just going to have to adapt. The firehouse has a generator, obviously, and can provide people with showers, water, recharging their devices. We can set up a program to provide meals as well, check on vulnerable people and, in the winter, provide shelter for people who lose heat. But the whole world has to face up to this. It's not the new normal, not at all. It's just going to get worse.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

A couple of thoughts

I presume my Friday post was put behind the wall of protection because it contained a naughty word, but I must say I've used naughty words before without that happening. This seems to be a sign of the times.


Previously I had mused about the cult of Trumpism, and I got a comment to the effect that people turned to Trump because they had lost faith in government after being lied to repeatedly over the years. Since Trump never says a single word that isn't a lie, that seemed like a strange argument so I asked for examples and the ones I got were so ridiculous I couldn't publish them. They even included examples of people supposedly lying about Trump which in fact were entirely specious, and no that doesn't make any sense because it's out of chronological order. Hunter has it right. It's a cult of personality that isn't actually about anything else:

There's been another uptick in stories about the Republican base and their deep-seated political beliefs that turn on a dime whenever you bring up the surnames Trump or Biden. The funniest is probably the hapless Iowa business owner now famous for a CNN interview in which he praised the government's new grants that have really boosted his business, only to also oppose them because President Joe Biden did them. He simultaneously dumped on Donald Trump for being a terrible person while hoping the seditionist crime boss wins reelection.

But the same dynamic can also be found in angry mob form. It was The Washington Post's Josh Dawsey who pointed us to a glorious tidbit in the recent New Yorker pre-obituary of the Ron DeSantis campaign: Hunting for anti-Trump messaging they might use, the campaign found that 70% of polled Republicans agreed the pandemic lockdowns during the Trump presidency were bad. If they switched the language to a direct attack on Trump, calling them "Trump's COVID lockdowns," though, the numbers flipped completely. Seventy percent of Republicans wouldn't agree that those were bad. . . .

We have long known that reality can't hold a candle to what members of the Republican base want to believe inside their own noggins, but the Trump era has solidified that dichotomy. It now seems almost a point of pride for Republican politicians and voters alike to switch out their political beliefs not just by the day, but by the question. Almost the entirety of the party changes their positions to match whatever position Trump has last stated. It’s to the point where Republican Party officials didn't even try to draft up a new party platform for Trump's 2020 election, they just slapped together a We Support Whatever Dear Leader Thinks statement and called it done.


Of course this is entirely typical of authoritarian personality cults. Hitler and Stalin were both malignant narcissists and shameless liars. Whenever they changed their story, reality changed for their sheeplike followers. Orwell depicted this in 1984 with the device of the memory hole. I've seen various explanations for the psychology behind this, but basically, thinking for yourself is work. That's also why these fascists consistently use the device of demonization to rally their followers. There is always an "other" to be scorned and even exterminated. The Jews, the kulaks,  gay and transgender people. Now Democrats are all "communists" and "marxists" and "elitists" who are laughing at you. (No, I'm not laughing.) Who is more elite than a man who inherited a fortune and got an Ivy League degree, and shits on a gold plated toilet? (Uh oh, Blogger is going to censor me for that.) Let me clue you in: he's the guy who's laughing at you, as he cashes the checks you send him. It's time for you to get woke.

Sunday Sermonette: Cold Comfort

I don't publish comments that are ridiculous. It's that simple. I'm trying to keep the discourse here at least reasonably reality based.

Now we hear from the three comforters. In the play J.B., MacLeish makes Eliphaz a psychiatrist, Zophar a priest, and Bildad a communist. In other words he translates the comforters into contemporary discourse, but just as in the original, their attempts at comforting Job are pretty much gibberish and no help at all. Here in the original Eliphaz basically says that all people are miserable sinners, no-one is innocent, Job must have done something to earn his fate. Obviously this makes Eliphaz popular with Christians. In J.B., Eliphaz the psychiatrist essentially says that guilt is an illusion. Either way, it's no help.

Then Eliphaz the Temanite replied:

“If someone ventures a word with you, will you be impatient?
    But who can keep from speaking?
Think how you have instructed many,
    how you have strengthened feeble hands.
Your words have supported those who stumbled;
    you have strengthened faltering knees.
But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged;
    it strikes you, and you are dismayed.
Should not your piety be your confidence
    and your blameless ways your hope?

“Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished?
    Where were the upright ever destroyed?
As I have observed, those who plow evil
    and those who sow trouble reap it.
At the breath of God they perish;
    at the blast of his anger they are no more.
10 The lions may roar and growl,
    yet the teeth of the great lions are broken.
11 The lion perishes for lack of prey,
    and the cubs of the lioness are scattered.

12 “A word was secretly brought to me,
    my ears caught a whisper of it.
13 Amid disquieting dreams in the night,
    when deep sleep falls on people,
14 fear and trembling seized me
    and made all my bones shake.
15 A spirit glided past my face,
    and the hair on my body stood on end.
16 It stopped,
    but I could not tell what it was.
A form stood before my eyes,
    and I heard a hushed voice:
17 ‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God?
    Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker?
18 If God places no trust in his servants,
    if he charges his angels with error,
19 how much more those who live in houses of clay,
    whose foundations are in the dust,
    who are crushed more readily than a moth!
20 Between dawn and dusk they are broken to pieces;
    unnoticed, they perish forever.
21 Are not the cords of their tent pulled up,
    so that they die without wisdom?’

Friday, August 18, 2023

Five alarms

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Wednesday Bible Study: A poetic interlude

Ch. 3 is a poem, in which Job laments his existence, and wishes for the succor of extinction. At the same time, he invokes the ubiquity of suffering and the despair countless others have felt. It refers to injustice and oppression, as well as simple misfortune such as his own. This is the first serious reflection on the human condition we have encountered in the Tanakh, and by far the most sophisticated literary creation. Again, we aren't sure whether the book has a single authorship, or whether this poem was inserted into the larger work by an editor. In any case, its existence implies that there must have been a substantial literary tradition in Hebrew in the time this was written, which has largely been lost. This author's literary skill could not have been sui generis

After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. He said:

“May the day of my birth perish,
    and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’
That day—may it turn to darkness;
    may God above not care about it;
    may no light shine on it.
May gloom and utter darkness claim it once more;
    may a cloud settle over it;
    may blackness overwhelm it.
That night—may thick darkness seize it;
    may it not be included among the days of the year
    nor be entered in any of the months.
May that night be barren;
    may no shout of joy be heard in it.
May those who curse days[a] curse that day,
    those who are ready to rouse Leviathan.
May its morning stars become dark;
    may it wait for daylight in vain
    and not see the first rays of dawn,
10 for it did not shut the doors of the womb on me
    to hide trouble from my eyes.

11 “Why did I not perish at birth,
    and die as I came from the womb?
12 Why were there knees to receive me
    and breasts that I might be nursed?
13 For now I would be lying down in peace;
    I would be asleep and at rest
14 with kings and rulers of the earth,
    who built for themselves places now lying in ruins,
15 with princes who had gold,
    who filled their houses with silver.
16 Or why was I not hidden away in the ground like a stillborn child,
    like an infant who never saw the light of day?
17 There the wicked cease from turmoil,
    and there the weary are at rest.
18 Captives also enjoy their ease;
    they no longer hear the slave driver’s shout.
19 The small and the great are there,
    and the slaves are freed from their owners.

20 “Why is light given to those in misery,
    and life to the bitter of soul,
21 to those who long for death that does not come,
    who search for it more than for hidden treasure,
22 who are filled with gladness
    and rejoice when they reach the grave?
23 Why is life given to a man
    whose way is hidden,
    whom God has hedged in?
24 For sighing has become my daily food;
    my groans pour out like water.
25 What I feared has come upon me;
    what I dreaded has happened to me.
26 I have no peace, no quietness;
    I have no rest, but only turmoil.”


  1. Job 3:8 Or curse the sea

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Journalistic norms

 Here's Paul Campos commenting on a Peter Baker view from nowhere piece in the NYT. Key Baker quote: "Yet most Americans made up their minds about Mr. Trump long before prosecutors like Fani T. Willis or Jack Smith weighed in, polls have shown. He is, depending on the perspective, a serial lawbreaker finally being brought to justice or a victim of persecution by partisans intent on keeping him out of office."


I do have a few reflections of my own on the very weird place in which we find ourselves. First, given the presumption of innocence that is fundamental to the criminal justice system, journalists and their editors have long maintained that their own profession inherits it. They use the term "alleged" so reflexively that they often continue to use it even after someone is convicted. This norm is generally a good one. What is known publicly about a case can be misleading or even just plain wrong. What investigators, prosecutors and reporters say publicly about a case can be only part of the story, out of context, or even invented. 


However, the crimes of Orange Julius happened largely completely out in the open. There isn't a whole lot in the Willis or Smith indictments that we didn't already know. It isn't necessary to say that he is guilty of specific felonies to say that his actions are reprehensible and should disqualify him from ever holding any position of responsibility, let alone public office. To deny that is to exist in an alternative reality which . . . 

. . . happens to be where the people in the second half of Baker's dichotomy are living. It's certainly incumbent on journalists to report their existence, but it is not incumbent to pretend that they're just people with a different perspective. What they are in fact is people who have been duped.

It is just human nature that it is very difficult to admit you've been conned, even to yourself. Sadly, the reaction to being confronted with the straight dope is often completely contrary: to dig in deeper to confirmed belief in the lie. A great misfortune has befallen us at a time of grave crisis, when we need the honest and wise leadership we in fact have in the White House right now but it's largely paralyzed by an insane cult that has eaten the brains of some 30% of the citizenry and, due to undemocratic features of our governmental structure, managed to get control of a substantial part of the leverage of power. Yes, it's scary.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Sunday Sermonette: Frenemies

The character of Satan as a partial solution to the problem of evil creates many problems. It means, first of all, that Judaism and Christianity are not in fact monotheistic. Christianity isn't anyway, because of the Trinity, the goddess Mary, and innumerable demigod saints. But Satan clearly has the full status of a rival God. His existence implies that Yahweh is neither omniscient nor omnipotent. Satan knows things that Yahweh does not, and exercises powers of his own. You can't have it both ways.

The relationship between the two seems rivalrous, but also cordial if not rather chummy. What we see here is much like the relationship that Bob Dylan presents in All Along the Watchtower, in which God complains that he doesn't get enough respect and Satan counsels equanimity, invoking their long relationship in the process. I'm guessing Dylan was inspired by in his conception by Job. 


Note the literary device here of repetition from Chapter 1. Having lost the first bet, Satan makes another, but the setup is the same. It's like a musical theme and variation. Oddly, in the footnotes, the translators admit that they have mistranslated two words. I'm not sure what that's all about. Presumably you should substitute the words in the footnotes for the words in the text.

On another day the angels[a] came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. And the Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”

“Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish[b] woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

11 When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. 12 When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. 13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.


  1. Job 2:1 Hebrew the sons of God
  2. Job 2:10 The Hebrew word rendered foolish denotes moral deficiency.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

A whole new perspective

Through a chain of events that I won't bore you by reciting, I find myself the Democratic candidate for First Selectman of the very small town I live in. (I expect that's surprising. It is to me.) This suddenly makes me think about problems I really hadn't considered much before.

Our town's main industry is agriculture. We don't really have a main street. There's a liquor store, an auto repair business, an acupuncturist, a seamstress (really) and a chain saw shop. We have a sawmill and a campground. That's about it. Our problem is that agricultural land pays very little in real estate taxes, which means that almost the entire burden of financing the town falls on residential property. We also have a small population which means there are only about 100 kids in our elementary school (pre-K through 6) and maybe 48 of our own kids in a regional 7 through 12 school, for which we pay by the head. Because the schools are so small, they are very expensive. You still have to pay a principal and a janitor, and maintenance on the, spread out over few pupils, with small class sizes. We could send our kids to a classy private school for the same money.

Oh yeah, this is not a wealthy town. The median household income is toward the bottom of Connecticut towns. But the property taxes are near the top, because based on what you see in the previous paragraph, they have to be. Many people whose families have lived here for generations can't really afford to live here any more. There is state aid to education, but the formula doesn't allocate as much money as we need because while our families aren't wealthy, they aren't officially below the poverty line either, at least not many of them. Now you're seeing the problem. 

Financing public schools and other municipal services from residential property taxes is a really bad policy. But it's ubiquitous -- it's how we do it everywhere in the U.S. And now you can begin to see why rural and small town people are alienated from government. The reasons they are getting screwed, and the potential solutions, have nothing to do with the stories they are being told by Republicans, but to tell you the truth, Democrats aren't doing much about it either. If I win in November,* this will be my problem. I have a couple of ideas about what to do, but they'll go up against some natural reservations people have about the town's identity and character. I'll keep you posted. 

*Normally I wouldn't be worried about this possibility, since being on the Democratic ballot line is not considered a qualification for office here, but so far the Republicans don't have a candidate. We'll see.

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

Wednesday Bible Study: Profundity?

The Book of Job has been influential in Jewish and Christian theology, and in later secular Western culture. There have been many allusions to it in literature and art, and it was adapted into a play in verse, titled J.B., by the American poet Archibald MacLeish, which won a Pulitzer prize.* Scholars believe it to have been written between the 7th and 4th Centuries BCE, but as with much of the Tanakh there is controversy as to whether it has a single authorship, or represents an accretion of material. 

As with Esther, the setting is not in Judah. Job appears to be an Israelite who has a relationship with the Israelite god, but he lives in what is thought to be an area south of Judah in the Levant or possibly in Arabia. He makes sacrifices to god himself, without the intercession of the priesthood. I have not seen any commentary on this anomaly, but it's pretty glaring.

The subject is what we today call theodicy -- the problem that a supposedly benevolent God allows for suffering and injustice. That hasn't actually been a problem in the Torah and histories so far, because Yahweh is not in fact benevolent, he's a seriously psychopathic SOB. However, it had apparently started to vex people by the time this was written. The book makes a partial attempt at a solution by introducing the character of Satan. The idea that God has sons or some sort of community around him has been seen before, in somewhat variable form, but the specific idea of an adversary - which is the meaning of the word Satan -- is novel as far as I know. 

Of course, giving Satan agency means depriving God of both omniscience and omnipotence. God doesn't know what Satan has been up to and has to ask; and he surrenders some power to Satan. There is a good deal more that could be said but I've gone on long enough, so without further ado, here's Chapter One.


* MacLeish was a friend of my grandfather, Francis McCloskey. I directed J.B. in high school, believe it or not.

In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.

His sons used to hold feasts in their homes on their birthdays, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would make arrangements for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom.

One day the angels[a] came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan[b] also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

13 One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, 15 and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

16 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

17 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

18 While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 19 when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
    and naked I will depart.[c]
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
    may the name of the Lord be praised.”

22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.


  1. Job 1:6 Hebrew the sons of God
  2. Job 1:6 Hebrew satan means adversary.
  3. Job 1:21 Or will return there

Monday, August 07, 2023

Richer than all their tribe

Professor Campos laments the large incomes of U.S. physicians, and it is certainly true that they make more than the sawbones in other countries. Quoting from a WaPo article, which I don't link directly due to the paywall:

By accounting for all streams of income, [a study] revealed that doctors make more than anyone thought — and more than any other occupation we’ve measured. In the prime earning years of 40 to 55, the average physician made $405,000 in 2017 — almost all of it (94 percent) from wages. Doctors in the top 10 percent averaged $1.3 million. And those in the top 1 percent averaged an astounding $4 million, though most of that (85 percent) came from business income or capital gains.

In certain specialties, doctors see substantially more in their peak earning years: Neurosurgeons (about $920,000), orthopedic surgeons ($789,000) and radiation oncologists ($709,000) all did especially well for themselves. Specialty incomes cover 2005 to 2017 and are expressed in 2017 dollars.


Yep, that's a lot of money. But to me it's at least as significant that the income for primary care physicians -- the most important kind as far as I'm concerned -- is far less, about $225,000/year. That's still a lot of money to us Great Unwashed, but in fairness, but in fairness physicians usually enter the workforce with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, they have sacrificed many years of their lives to extremely arduous training during which they were scantily compensated, they have very serious responsibilities, their work is stressful, they work long hours and their leisure time is often interrupted. What is more important, the vast discrepancies in income discourage physicians from entering primary care, which has created a serious shortage of primary care providers. There is a boatload of reforms we need to make in how we pay for medical services, but this is an important one.