Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, September 29, 2023


You may have heard that the FDA recently concluded that a common ingredient in over-the-counter cold medicines doesn't work.  That's a gift link to a NYT essay by Randy C. Hatton and

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Wednesday Bible Study: My apologies

This endless yammering is totally frosting my pumpkin. I'm not sure what to do about it, however, because these chapters are long and it seems like an awful lot to do two of them at once. But what the hell, we have to get this over with. In Ch. 15, Eliphaz castigates Job for complaining to God, basically, and just says, as MacLeish translates it, "In Adam's fall we sinned all/We're like the flies the creep and crawl/Across the dusty windowpanes," IIRC, or something like that. In Ch. 16, Job essentially adds the would-be comforters to his afflictions, which is fair enough. What Job doesn't know, however, is that the whole thing happened because God made a bet with Satan. Which is even more atrocious than he imagines.

15 Then Eliphaz the Temanite replied:

“Would a wise person answer with empty notions
    or fill their belly with the hot east wind?
Would they argue with useless words,
    with speeches that have no value?
But you even undermine piety
    and hinder devotion to God.
Your sin prompts your mouth;
    you adopt the tongue of the crafty.
Your own mouth condemns you, not mine;
    your own lips testify against you.

“Are you the first man ever born?
    Were you brought forth before the hills?
Do you listen in on God’s council?
    Do you have a monopoly on wisdom?
What do you know that we do not know?
    What insights do you have that we do not have?
10 The gray-haired and the aged are on our side,
    men even older than your father.
11 Are God’s consolations not enough for you,
    words spoken gently to you?
12 Why has your heart carried you away,
    and why do your eyes flash,
13 so that you vent your rage against God
    and pour out such words from your mouth?

14 “What are mortals, that they could be pure,
    or those born of woman, that they could be righteous?
15 If God places no trust in his holy ones,
    if even the heavens are not pure in his eyes,
16 how much less mortals, who are vile and corrupt,
    who drink up evil like water!

17 “Listen to me and I will explain to you;
    let me tell you what I have seen,
18 what the wise have declared,
    hiding nothing received from their ancestors
19 (to whom alone the land was given
    when no foreigners moved among them):
20 All his days the wicked man suffers torment,
    the ruthless man through all the years stored up for him.
21 Terrifying sounds fill his ears;
    when all seems well, marauders attack him.
22 He despairs of escaping the realm of darkness;
    he is marked for the sword.
23 He wanders about for food like a vulture;
    he knows the day of darkness is at hand.
24 Distress and anguish fill him with terror;
    troubles overwhelm him, like a king poised to attack,
25 because he shakes his fist at God
    and vaunts himself against the Almighty,
26 defiantly charging against him
    with a thick, strong shield.

27 “Though his face is covered with fat
    and his waist bulges with flesh,
28 he will inhabit ruined towns
    and houses where no one lives,
    houses crumbling to rubble.
29 He will no longer be rich and his wealth will not endure,
    nor will his possessions spread over the land.
30 He will not escape the darkness;
    a flame will wither his shoots,
    and the breath of God’s mouth will carry him away.
31 Let him not deceive himself by trusting what is worthless,
    for he will get nothing in return.
32 Before his time he will wither,
    and his branches will not flourish.
33 He will be like a vine stripped of its unripe grapes,
    like an olive tree shedding its blossoms.
34 For the company of the godless will be barren,
    and fire will consume the tents of those who love bribes.
35 They conceive trouble and give birth to evil;
    their womb fashions deceit.”


16 Then Job replied:

“I have heard many things like these;
    you are miserable comforters, all of you!
Will your long-winded speeches never end?
    What ails you that you keep on arguing?
I also could speak like you,
    if you were in my place;
I could make fine speeches against you
    and shake my head at you.
But my mouth would encourage you;
    comfort from my lips would bring you relief.

“Yet if I speak, my pain is not relieved;
    and if I refrain, it does not go away.
Surely, God, you have worn me out;
    you have devastated my entire household.
You have shriveled me up—and it has become a witness;
    my gauntness rises up and testifies against me.
God assails me and tears me in his anger
    and gnashes his teeth at me;
    my opponent fastens on me his piercing eyes.
10 People open their mouths to jeer at me;
    they strike my cheek in scorn
    and unite together against me.
11 God has turned me over to the ungodly
    and thrown me into the clutches of the wicked.
12 All was well with me, but he shattered me;
    he seized me by the neck and crushed me.
He has made me his target;
13     his archers surround me.
Without pity, he pierces my kidneys
    and spills my gall on the ground.
14 Again and again he bursts upon me;
    he rushes at me like a warrior.

15 “I have sewed sackcloth over my skin
    and buried my brow in the dust.
16 My face is red with weeping,
    dark shadows ring my eyes;
17 yet my hands have been free of violence
    and my prayer is pure.

18 “Earth, do not cover my blood;
    may my cry never be laid to rest!
19 Even now my witness is in heaven;
    my advocate is on high.
20 My intercessor is my friend[a]
    as my eyes pour out tears to God;
21 on behalf of a man he pleads with God
    as one pleads for a friend.

22 “Only a few years will pass
    before I take the path of no return.


  1. Job 16:20 Or My friends treat me with scorn


Monday, September 25, 2023

Inexplicable irrationality

For mysterious reasons, there have been anti-vaccination movements since vaccination was invented.* The eradication of smallpox from the earth; the near eradication of polio (which terrified the population in the 1950s); and the near elimination of measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, typhus and other diseases which formerly maimed and killed many children; and many other triumphs ought to have convinced people that vaccination was an unalloyed benefit to humanity. But somehow it's profitable to deny this obvious reality.

The near miraculous success of the Covid 19 vaccines turns out to be one more opportunity for charlatans to get rich. As Politico reports:

The Covid-19 pandemic has produced a remarkable financial windfall for anti-vaccine nonprofits. Revenue more than doubled for the Informed Consent Action Network and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Children’s Health Defense in 2021 compared to the year prior, according to a POLITICO analysis of tax filings. The nonprofits that survived on operating budgets of around a few million dollars just a few years prior are now raking in more than $10 million each.

“Covid vaccines have been the foot in the door for the more general anti-vaccine movement. And unfortunately, that door is open pretty wide now,” said Dr. Dave Gorski, a Michigan-based oncologist who has been tracking anti-vaccine efforts for two decades.

The funding spike reflects a sea change for once-fringe entities. The anti-vaccine movement has now emerged as a modern political force. In practical terms, greater funds enable anti-vaccine groups to expand their public reach, sue federal agencies and organize like-minded activists at the state level, as well as expand their reach abroad.


I don't get it. 


* In 1796 the English physician Edward Jenner,  having heard folklore that dairymaids who contracted the disease cowpox were subsequently immune to smallpox, inoculated a young boy with pus from cowpox lesions and found him to be immune. He repeated the experiment a few times and published his results in 1798. By 1800 the procedure had spread to most of Europe. He called the procedure "vaccination" from the Latin vacca, meaning cow. In this case humanity benefited from the happy fact that infection with a the relatively non-virulent cowpox conferred immunity to the related smallpox virus. However, development of other vaccines would have to await the scientific discovery of pathogenic agents by Pasteur and Koch in the late 19th Century, and the development of the science of virology in the 20th.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Sunday Sermonette: Life sucks and then you die

Ch. 14 is yet more of the seemingly eternal lamentation and despair, now all about mortality. This does seem a bit ambiguous about the possibility of an afterlife. Job seems to be saying that there isn't one, but there is at least a hint of some sort of possible resurrection in the future, or anyway a question about the possibility. At least that's how I read it. But no, there really isn't any.

14 “Mortals, born of woman,
    are of few days and full of trouble.
They spring up like flowers and wither away;
    like fleeting shadows, they do not endure.
Do you fix your eye on them?
    Will you bring them[a] before you for judgment?
Who can bring what is pure from the impure?
    No one!
A person’s days are determined;
    you have decreed the number of his months
    and have set limits he cannot exceed.
So look away from him and let him alone,
    till he has put in his time like a hired laborer.

“At least there is hope for a tree:
    If it is cut down, it will sprout again,
    and its new shoots will not fail.
Its roots may grow old in the ground
    and its stump die in the soil,
yet at the scent of water it will bud
    and put forth shoots like a plant.
10 But a man dies and is laid low;
    he breathes his last and is no more.
11 As the water of a lake dries up
    or a riverbed becomes parched and dry,
12 so he lies down and does not rise;
    till the heavens are no more, people will not awake
    or be roused from their sleep.

13 “If only you would hide me in the grave
    and conceal me till your anger has passed!
If only you would set me a time
    and then remember me!
14 If someone dies, will they live again?
    All the days of my hard service
    I will wait for my renewal[b] to come.
15 You will call and I will answer you;
    you will long for the creature your hands have made.
16 Surely then you will count my steps
    but not keep track of my sin.
17 My offenses will be sealed up in a bag;
    you will cover over my sin.

18 “But as a mountain erodes and crumbles
    and as a rock is moved from its place,
19 as water wears away stones
    and torrents wash away the soil,
    so you destroy a person’s hope.
20 You overpower them once for all, and they are gone;
    you change their countenance and send them away.
21 If their children are honored, they do not know it;
    if their offspring are brought low, they do not see it.
22 They feel but the pain of their own bodies
    and mourn only for themselves.”


  1. Job 14:3 Septuagint, Vulgate and Syriac; Hebrew me
  2. Job 14:14 Or release

Friday, September 22, 2023

Hard Times in the Country

 The AP recently reported on the disappearance of maternity wards in rural areas

Alisha Alderson placed her folded clothes and everything she needed for the last month of her pregnancy in various suitcases. She never imagined she would have to leave the comfort of her home in rural eastern Oregon just weeks before her due date. But following the abrupt closure in August of the only maternity ward within 40 miles, she decided to stay at her brother’s house near Boise, Idaho — a two-hour drive through a mountain pass — to be closer to a hospital. . . .

A growing number of rural hospitals have been shuttering their labor and delivery units, forcing pregnant women to travel longer distances for care or face giving birth in an emergency room. Fewer than half of rural hospitals now have maternity units, prompting government officials and families to scramble for answers. One solution gaining ground across the U.S. is freestanding midwife-led birth centers, but those also often rely on nearby hospitals when serious complications arise.


In fact, although this AP story doesn't mention it, emergency departments in rural areas have also been closing, and in many places hospitals are disappearing entirely. Medical services -- or health care, if you will -- are a commodity in the U.S., increasingly provided by enormous corporate conglomerates that are not in business for their health, so to speak. They're in business for the money and rural hospitals just aren't profitable. There isn't enough population and what there is has too many people on Medicaid, which doesn't pay well, or in states that haven't expanded Medicaid, no insurance at all. There are fixed costs to maintaining a labor and delivery service or an emergency department -- there has to be a certified emergency physician on the premises 24/7 -- and they aren't making enough sales to pay for it.


Where I am, we're close enough to population centers that there are hospitals within reasonable distance, but we can't pay for our schools, roads, or public safety. Now, to be sure, the Republicans aren't doing anything for us but on the other hand, neither are the Democrats. I can understand why people feel alienated from government and politicians, and fall for scammers who stoke their grievances, create scapegoats, and promise some vague radical change. I'm hoping our governor will come here and find ways to work with us to save our town, but if he doesn't, I can understand why people won't vote for him in 2024. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Wednesday Bible Study: Yeah, this is getting tedious

 Sorry for the limited posting of late, I've been distracted by a few issues. Proposal hell, small town politics, memorial arrangement for my mother -- yeah, I have excuses. But I'll get back to it.

Meanwhile, I have to admit the Book of Job is getting very tiresome. It's long-winded and repetitive. Apparently the profession of editor had not been invented in the 6th Century BCE so the author indulges himself with an endless and tedious stream of imagery. I'm tempted to fast forward but for now we'll just stay with the program. Basically, it's the same argument. The "comforters" are telling Job he must have done something to deserve this, he says they have no right to speak for God and he'll speak for himself. Yeah, we go that. Anyway, here it is again.

13 “My eyes have seen all this,
    my ears have heard and understood it.
What you know, I also know;
    I am not inferior to you.
But I desire to speak to the Almighty
    and to argue my case with God.
You, however, smear me with lies;
    you are worthless physicians, all of you!
If only you would be altogether silent!
    For you, that would be wisdom.
Hear now my argument;
    listen to the pleas of my lips.
Will you speak wickedly on God’s behalf?
    Will you speak deceitfully for him?
Will you show him partiality?
    Will you argue the case for God?
Would it turn out well if he examined you?
    Could you deceive him as you might deceive a mortal?
10 He would surely call you to account
    if you secretly showed partiality.
11 Would not his splendor terrify you?
    Would not the dread of him fall on you?
12 Your maxims are proverbs of ashes;
    your defenses are defenses of clay.

13 “Keep silent and let me speak;
    then let come to me what may.
14 Why do I put myself in jeopardy
    and take my life in my hands?
15 Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;
    I will surely[a] defend my ways to his face.
16 Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance,
    for no godless person would dare come before him!
17 Listen carefully to what I say;
    let my words ring in your ears.
18 Now that I have prepared my case,
    I know I will be vindicated.
19 Can anyone bring charges against me?
    If so, I will be silent and die.

20 “Only grant me these two things, God,
    and then I will not hide from you:
21 Withdraw your hand far from me,
    and stop frightening me with your terrors.
22 Then summon me and I will answer,
    or let me speak, and you reply to me.
23 How many wrongs and sins have I committed?
    Show me my offense and my sin.
24 Why do you hide your face
    and consider me your enemy?
25 Will you torment a windblown leaf?
    Will you chase after dry chaff?
26 For you write down bitter things against me
    and make me reap the sins of my youth.
27 You fasten my feet in shackles;
    you keep close watch on all my paths
    by putting marks on the soles of my feet.

28 “So man wastes away like something rotten,
    like a garment eaten by moths.


  1. Job 13:15 Or He will surely slay me; I have no hope — / yet I will

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Sunday Sermonette: More of the same

In Chapter 12 Job rambles on with the same basic idea. God is all powerful, he does whatever he does, and it's impossible to discern justice in his whims. The obvious question occurs to me. Why worship this psycho? Especially since the righteous often suffer and the wicked may be rewarded. But that was, after all, the original bet -- that he will continue to worship God. Okay, but don't ask me why.


12 Then Job replied:

“Doubtless you are the only people who matter,
    and wisdom will die with you!
But I have a mind as well as you;
    I am not inferior to you.
    Who does not know all these things?

“I have become a laughingstock to my friends,
    though I called on God and he answered—
    a mere laughingstock, though righteous and blameless!
Those who are at ease have contempt for misfortune
    as the fate of those whose feet are slipping.
The tents of marauders are undisturbed,
    and those who provoke God are secure—
    those God has in his hand.[a]

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
    or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
    or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
    that the hand of the Lord has done this?
10 In his hand is the life of every creature
    and the breath of all mankind.
11 Does not the ear test words
    as the tongue tastes food?
12 Is not wisdom found among the aged?
    Does not long life bring understanding?

13 “To God belong wisdom and power;
    counsel and understanding are his.
14 What he tears down cannot be rebuilt;
    those he imprisons cannot be released.
15 If he holds back the waters, there is drought;
    if he lets them loose, they devastate the land.
16 To him belong strength and insight;
    both deceived and deceiver are his.
17 He leads rulers away stripped
    and makes fools of judges.
18 He takes off the shackles put on by kings
    and ties a loincloth[b] around their waist.
19 He leads priests away stripped
    and overthrows officials long established.
20 He silences the lips of trusted advisers
    and takes away the discernment of elders.
21 He pours contempt on nobles
    and disarms the mighty.
22 He reveals the deep things of darkness
    and brings utter darkness into the light.
23 He makes nations great, and destroys them;
    he enlarges nations, and disperses them.
24 He deprives the leaders of the earth of their reason;
    he makes them wander in a trackless waste.
25 They grope in darkness with no light;
    he makes them stagger like drunkards.


  1. Job 12:6 Or those whose god is in their own hand
  2. Job 12:18 Or shackles of kings / and ties a belt


Saturday, September 16, 2023

More on idiocy

Wow. I got a comment on my previous post claiming that the reason people don't believe in climate change is because "liberals" have made wild claims about it that have not come true. Man, you need a glass navel to see. In fact the consequences are happening faster, and are more severe, than even the most dire predictions of a few years ago. The truth is the exact opposite of what you claim. This idiot also claims that we shouldn't do anything about it because - China, apparently, although he omitted the name. 

In the first place, logically, the question of whether it is true is completely separate from the question of what China will do. That isn't actually an argument, it's just spewing words. However, if we want China to take serious action - and we do - we will have to do everything we can as well. The larger the markets for renewable energy, the more technological advancement we can create, the cheaper it will get and the faster it will be adopted, by every country, including China. We need to cooperate with them -- buying their solar panels will strengthen their own industry and we can sell them our technology. That's how technological change works. The reason the Chinese drive gasoline powered cars with internal combustion engines is that they were invented in Europe and the U.S., and mass production techniques were developed here. 

Now, continuing with the parade of seriously deluded people, we have Florida Surgeon General, the quack doctor Joseph Ladapo. He is telling Floridians that the mRNA vaccines are unsafe. He is not just a liar, he is a psychopath, who is literally trying to murder people for what I presume he thinks is the political advantage of his overlord Ron "Kinky Boots" DeSantis. I agree with Digby that "We must fervently hope that this campaign will have destroyed his political career. The grotesque bad judgement (or cynical calculation) in hiring this quack to be the surgeon general of the state totally disqualifies him from ever having lives in his hands again."  


But there is more to be said than that. The question is why and how one of the major political parties has made reality into a political issue. Somehow it is "conservative" to spew lies, and conservative voters are expected to believe them, and somehow this is a movement that has swept up a substantial portion of the population. I am not getting this at all. 


And no, I don't publish comments that are materially false, illogical, or dangerous. It is not the case that I don't publish comments because I don't agree with them. Reasonable and intellectually defensible dissent, and legitimate corrections, are fine. 



Thursday, September 14, 2023

Small Town Blues

A couple of weeks ago we had a tornado that knocked out power for a whole lot of people for a day. Okay, no biggie maybe. But yesterday we had a downpour of Biblical proportions that washed out three bridges. This has never happened here before, not even in hurricanes. A town of 1,500 people has no way ever to pay for three new bridges. We'll see what kind of help we can get from the state, but meanwhile there are people who live between two of the bridges who are completely isolated from the road system. I don't know what they're going to do. This is getting to be the new normal everywhere.


Yeah, it's disturbing and frightening. Nobody died here so we can't complain. We aren't Florida or Libya. But who knows what will happen next time? No place is immune and it's just going to keep getting worse. We can build resiliency and we can retreat from the most dangerous places, but not if we remain in the very deep denial that seems to be the response of most of the world, including an entire major U.S. political party. How can you not see what is happening right in front of you?

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Wednesday Bible Study: Inverse theodicy

One solution to the theodicy problem is that Job must in fact be wicked and deserve his fate. That's the one he gets from Zophar in Ch. 11. However, the whole point of the book is that it isn't so: Job is a perfect and upright man. By the way MacLeish cast Zophar as a communist. That isn't evidently relevant to the original concept, but he was inventing what modern ideologues might say to Job. Anyway, Job isn't getting any comfort from any of these Bozos.

11 Then Zophar the Naamathite replied:

“Are all these words to go unanswered?
    Is this talker to be vindicated?
Will your idle talk reduce others to silence?
    Will no one rebuke you when you mock?
You say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless
    and I am pure in your sight.’
Oh, how I wish that God would speak,
    that he would open his lips against you
and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom,
    for true wisdom has two sides.
    Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sin.

“Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
    Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do?
    They are deeper than the depths below—what can you know?
Their measure is longer than the earth
    and wider than the sea.

10 “If he comes along and confines you in prison
    and convenes a court, who can oppose him?
11 Surely he recognizes deceivers;
    and when he sees evil, does he not take note?
12 But the witless can no more become wise
    than a wild donkey’s colt can be born human.[a]

13 “Yet if you devote your heart to him
    and stretch out your hands to him,
14 if you put away the sin that is in your hand
    and allow no evil to dwell in your tent,
15 then, free of fault, you will lift up your face;
    you will stand firm and without fear.
16 You will surely forget your trouble,
    recalling it only as waters gone by.
17 Life will be brighter than noonday,
    and darkness will become like morning.
18 You will be secure, because there is hope;
    you will look about you and take your rest in safety.
19 You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid,
    and many will court your favor.
20 But the eyes of the wicked will fail,
    and escape will elude them;
    their hope will become a dying gasp.”


  1. Job 11:12 Or wild donkey can be born tame

Monday, September 11, 2023

The last bumper sticker: The Sacred Text

 Okay, we've finally come to the end of this tedious exercise. 

            The U.S. Constitution is the strongest guarantor of freedoms in history. 

Again, I'm not sure what the political point is supposed to be here. As far as I know the only people who want to repeal the Constitution are conservative Republicans, notably the followers of Donald J. Trump. But as a liberal of the non-neo variety, I do take issue with the statement.

For some reason Americans are inclined to see the Constitution as equivalent to holy scripture. It's the infallible word of God. Obviously, the Constitution we have today is not the one ratified in 1789. There are those little details like the abolition of slavery, direct election of senators, women voting. But, granted there have been some improvements, does the Constitution we have today really guarantee our freedoms beyond any other society or political arrangement in all of history?

The question is somewhat imponderable because the nature of freedom is imponderable. All freedoms (or liberties if you will) granted to one person may constrain those of another. If you are free to have a shooting range or a lead smelter or an outdoor heavy metal rock concert venue on the property next to mine, obviously I am harmed by it. But if my freedom is protected by, say, zoning regulations that don't let you do that, your freedom is constrained. Obviously there are a million more examples, many of them much more complicated and difficult to decide. The point is that there is no way to "guarantee freedoms" for everybody or even anybody, unless we assign all liberty and agency to a single person, which evidently some Republicans want to do, in which case at least we've guaranteed it for Kim Jon Un, but not, sadly, anyone else.

Liberty is not infinitely expandable. It's a zero sum game, that demands tradeoffs. The Constitution itself can provide only very broad parameters for those tradeoffs. It's only 4,543 words, including the signatures. The tradeoffs are actually made by the legislative process, the courts, and their actual implementation by police, prosecutors, and regulators. Whatever the Constitution actually means and the effect of its words is ultimately decided by the courts, which have disagreed radically over the years. And as we have seen all too often, people who are willing to ignore the Constitution and the law and try to seize power by force or fraud often succeed, as in the Jim Crow south, and as a certain person aspired to do recently, an aspiration that remains a major threat today.


There are some obvious specific flaws in the Constitution, notably the overrepresentation of small, rural states, the possibility of gerrymandering, the powerful role of wealth in electoral outcomes,* the ultimate unaccountability of the Supreme Court. You can make a very respectable argument that people in Scandinavia, Canada and many other countries enjoy more freedom than we do. But be that as it may, the only guarantee of freedom there can ever be is an informed committed, active, citizenry.



*The Golden Rule of Politics: He who has the gold, rules."

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Sunday Sermonette: Job talks back

In Chapter 10, Job complains to God about the injustice done to him, and yearns again for death. Satan doesn't win the bet -- Job doesn't curse God or renounce him. But he walks right up to the edge. He wants an explanation. We'll see if he gets one.

10 “I loathe my very life;
    therefore I will give free rein to my complaint
    and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.
I say to God: Do not declare me guilty,
    but tell me what charges you have against me.
Does it please you to oppress me,
    to spurn the work of your hands,
    while you smile on the plans of the wicked?
Do you have eyes of flesh?
    Do you see as a mortal sees?
Are your days like those of a mortal
    or your years like those of a strong man,
that you must search out my faults
    and probe after my sin—
though you know that I am not guilty
    and that no one can rescue me from your hand?

“Your hands shaped me and made me.
    Will you now turn and destroy me?
Remember that you molded me like clay.
    Will you now turn me to dust again?
10 Did you not pour me out like milk
    and curdle me like cheese,
11 clothe me with skin and flesh
    and knit me together with bones and sinews?
12 You gave me life and showed me kindness,
    and in your providence watched over my spirit.

13 “But this is what you concealed in your heart,
    and I know that this was in your mind:
14 If I sinned, you would be watching me
    and would not let my offense go unpunished.
15 If I am guilty—woe to me!
    Even if I am innocent, I cannot lift my head,
for I am full of shame
    and drowned in[a] my affliction.
16 If I hold my head high, you stalk me like a lion
    and again display your awesome power against me.
17 You bring new witnesses against me
    and increase your anger toward me;
    your forces come against me wave upon wave.

18 “Why then did you bring me out of the womb?
    I wish I had died before any eye saw me.
19 If only I had never come into being,
    or had been carried straight from the womb to the grave!
20 Are not my few days almost over?
    Turn away from me so I can have a moment’s joy
21 before I go to the place of no return,
    to the land of gloom and utter darkness,
22 to the land of deepest night,
    of utter darkness and disorder,
    where even the light is like darkness.”


  1. Job 10:15 Or and aware of

Saturday, September 09, 2023

The next bumper sticker: political science

 As usual, Ramaswamy's glib slogans aren't self-explanatory, but I think we can figure out what he's pretending to be thinking about with this one:

There are three branches of the U.S. government, not four.

One would guess that this is a reference to the bullshit concept of the "Deep State." What that actually means is of course the career civil service -- federal employees who don't get replaced wholesale every time the party in power changes, and who have legal protections to make sure that doesn't happen. Sometimes it also includes the military. (Sometimes it's the Deep State that's persecuting Ronald Dump, sometimes it's Joe Biden personally. They want to have it both ways.) Some conservatives also rail against the "Administrative State," which is more or less the same idea but with an emphasis on the regulatory and rulemaking process more than the people who carry it out.


So here's the view from a guy with a master's degree in environmental policy and a doctorate in social policy. I know, that makes me less credible than the guy on the next barstool, because I'm an elite who's laughing at you, but really I'm not. I've spent a lot of years reading and studying and yes, doing my own research by which I don't mean reading random nutcases on the Internet but actually collecting data from the real world and analyzing it. (This was mostly paid for by grants from the Deep State, in the interest of full disclosure.)

The fact is the world is a helluva lot more complicated in 2023 than it was in 1789, and the country is a whole lot bigger. Let's take the case of prescription drug regulation, an entire problem that didn't exist until the advent of science based medicine in the 20th Century. The ancestral agency to the Food and Drug Administration was created by the Pure Food and Drug Act of 2006, shortly after an incident in which a diptheria antitoxin contaminated by tetanus killed 13 children. It prohibited the interstate transport of adulterated food or drugs, including drugs whose standard of strength, quality of purity of the active ingredient was not clearly stated on the label. Authority to enforce it was given to an agency of the Department of Agriculture. The Food and Drug Administration per se was created in 1927.

If you think about it for one nanosecond, you will realize that congress could not pass legislation specifically outlawing every bogus drug that came onto the market. There had to be a group of professionals, with the use of a chemistry lab, who had the authority to enforce the law, just as congress doesn't pass a bill to arrest and prosecute every criminal. We have police and prosecutors and courts. During the 1930s, journalists and advocates found that the FDA's authority was too limited and that many worthless or injurious products were allowed on the market. Congress finally acted in 1938 after a tragedy in which a contaminated sulfanilimide product killed over 100 people, and by passing the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act which is the original basis of the current FDA. This required a pre-market review of new drugs, and banned false therapeutic claims. 

It's a good thing too, because in the early 1960s it was discovered that a drug widely marketed in Europe for morning sickness of pregnancy caused devastating birth defects. The U.S. was largely spared because Frances Oldham Kelsey of the FDA refused to approve it due to insufficient evidence of safety. This resulted in amendments to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1962 which strengthened the requirements for new drug approval.

So now we do indeed have a large bureaucracy and a demanding process that drug companies have to go through to get their products approved and to keep that approval. On the other hand, they get to make billions and gazillions of dollars because they get exclusive marketing rights for many years for drugs that do get approved. (The details are complicated but not important here.) People argue about whether the FDA is too slow and cumbersome, to too quick and lax, in general or in one case or another, but the basic conclusion is: 

A) We need a regulatory authority because otherwise people would be dying or getting sick or injured because of useless or dangerous drugs, and wasting billions of dollars on frauds, and

B) Congress cannot possibly do this with any specificity but rather has to appropriate money for an agency that has the technical capability and capacity. (Actually the FDA is partly funded by user fees from applicants but that's another story.)

C) The professionals who carry out this critical responsibility must be shielded from political pressure or retaliation.

That's the Deep State. And it's not a fourth branch of government, it's part of the Executive. 

If you want to read an in-depth analysis of the relationship among congress, the presidency and the FDA, you can read this from Kate Cook of Harvard Law School. Congress, and the president, do have important powers over the FDA, while at the same time it retains independence and agency within the parameters set for it. Exactly how these relationships should be structured, and how essential regulatory powers should be exercised within the context of a democratic republic, is obviously subject to debate. But the existence of such agencies is essential to public health and safety and the functioning of modern society.

Thursday, September 07, 2023

Possibly the most ridiculous bumper sticker of them all...

 Continuing with the Ramaswamy bumper stickers, we get this bizarre assertion:

The nuclear family is the greatest form of governance known to mankind.

I don't understand how this is even supposed to be a political statement. Public policy doesn't dictate people's household structure or their living arrangements, which nowadays are generally similar the world over. The nuclear family is not a form of "governance," it's a social arrangement. And looking at the dark backward and abysm of time*, it's a fairly recent invention.


On the African savanna, before we made the Big Mistake of agriculture, we believe, based on observation of foraging societies in historic times and on agricultural evidence, that people generally lived in bands of 20 or maybe 30 individuals. As an adult, in addition to your own spouse and children, you were living with your siblings, your parents, your cousins, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, and if they were lucky to live long enough, great and grand all of the above. Actually, since people started having babies as soon as it was biologically possible, the generations were short and living 45 to 50 years was enough to be in the grandparent, great aunt, or even great grandparent category.

Although women probably mostly suckled their own babies, and there was presumably some expectation of marital fidelity, the economic and social unit was the entire band. Food that was foraged or hunted was shared with everyone. Children were a collective responsibility. Although people were likely to invest a bit more in their own children than their nieces and nephews, everyone had authority and responsibility for all the children. This form of society dissolved into more limited families with the advent of agriculture, settlement, and substantial dwellings. I say more limited, not nuclear, because multi-generational and possibly multi-sibling households were generally commonplace, and of course polygamy was the norm in some societies. 

Our society is much more fragmented. Most people move during their life course, even very long distances, and there are few extended families that constitute households or economic units. The nuclear family -- Mom, Dad, 2 1/2 kids -- or empty nest or single households are indeed the norm. Whether this is the greatest anything, let alone the "greatest form of governance known to mankind," is a question you can answer for yourself. But why this assertion constitutes a reason to vote for one candidate over another is a profound mystery.

*Prospero asks Miranda, "What seest thou else in the dark backward and absym of time?"

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Wednesday Bible Study: Don't ask questions

Job's response to Bildad is essentially an extended riff on the immense power of God, his inscrutability, and oh yeah, he does not offer justice. The righteous may suffer and the wicked may prosper, and we can't ask why. If you leave it at that, the answer to the theodicy problem is that God is not good, he's entirely capricious. I'll actually buy that.

Then Job replied:

“Indeed, I know that this is true.
    But how can mere mortals prove their innocence before God?
Though they wished to dispute with him,
    they could not answer him one time out of a thousand.
His wisdom is profound, his power is vast.
    Who has resisted him and come out unscathed?
He moves mountains without their knowing it
    and overturns them in his anger.
He shakes the earth from its place
    and makes its pillars tremble.
He speaks to the sun and it does not shine;
    he seals off the light of the stars.
He alone stretches out the heavens
    and treads on the waves of the sea.
He is the Maker of the Bear[a] and Orion,
    the Pleiades and the constellations of the south.
10 He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,
    miracles that cannot be counted.
11 When he passes me, I cannot see him;
    when he goes by, I cannot perceive him.
12 If he snatches away, who can stop him?
    Who can say to him, ‘What are you doing?’
13 God does not restrain his anger;
    even the cohorts of Rahab cowered at his feet.

14 “How then can I dispute with him?
    How can I find words to argue with him?
15 Though I were innocent, I could not answer him;
    I could only plead with my Judge for mercy.
16 Even if I summoned him and he responded,
    I do not believe he would give me a hearing.
17 He would crush me with a storm
    and multiply my wounds for no reason.
18 He would not let me catch my breath
    but would overwhelm me with misery.
19 If it is a matter of strength, he is mighty!
    And if it is a matter of justice, who can challenge him[b]?
20 Even if I were innocent, my mouth would condemn me;
    if I were blameless, it would pronounce me guilty.

21 “Although I am blameless,
    I have no concern for myself;
    I despise my own life.
22 It is all the same; that is why I say,
    ‘He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.’
23 When a scourge brings sudden death,
    he mocks the despair of the innocent.
24 When a land falls into the hands of the wicked,
    he blindfolds its judges.
    If it is not he, then who is it?

25 “My days are swifter than a runner;
    they fly away without a glimpse of joy.
26 They skim past like boats of papyrus,
    like eagles swooping down on their prey.
27 If I say, ‘I will forget my complaint,
    I will change my expression, and smile,’
28 I still dread all my sufferings,
    for I know you will not hold me innocent.
29 Since I am already found guilty,
    why should I struggle in vain?
30 Even if I washed myself with soap
    and my hands with cleansing powder,
31 you would plunge me into a slime pit
    so that even my clothes would detest me.

32 “He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him,
    that we might confront each other in court.
33 If only there were someone to mediate between us,
    someone to bring us together,
34 someone to remove God’s rod from me,
    so that his terror would frighten me no more.
35 Then I would speak up without fear of him,
    but as it now stands with me, I cannot.


  1. Job 9:9 Or of Leo
  2. Job 9:19 See Septuagint; Hebrew me