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When will there be enough evidence to stop this election farce?  As I understand it, President Trump and all the people supporting him have gathered enough videos, affidavits, expert witnesses, math geniuses (spelling?),”the smartest man in the room”, etc., to more than meet the lowest bar of the three levels of evidence in legal terms. […]

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Being Vulnerable: Gratitude

 

The word “Jew” comes from the name given to the patriarch Judah: “[Leah] conceived again and bore a son, and declared, ‘This time I will thank the LORD.’ Therefore, she named him Judah.” (Gen. 29:35)

So an entire people is named after this one verb: to thank. Saying “thank you” is a definitional part of Judaism. Indeed, we understand that while we can delegate just about any job or task to someone else, “thank you” always has to be done in person, not through an intermediary.

But why does “thank you” really matter?

“Why do you hate me? I have not done anything nice for you!” I heard this as a Chinese expression, but like so many great aphorisms, it clearly translates between cultures. There is something that happens when we feel like we owe someone else. It festers inside us, becoming a barrier to relationships.

That is because saying “thank you” does not come easy. We have to teach our children to do it, and they instinctively resist the urge. “Please,” “Thank you,” and “You are welcome,” form the tripod of a loving relationship, family, or society. Each of these phrases is a step forward.

“Please” is a way of revealing our own needs, exposing our limitations, our reliance on other people. It is an admission that we cannot do things ourselves, that we are asking for something that could be refused. Kids really push back from this one. You can always tell a poorly-raised kid by their manners.

The next step is often even harder. Years ago, when I was a young choral singer, I was taught by the choirmaster how to receive a compliment, even (or especially) if you felt it was not deserved. You do not say, “I wish I had done better,” or “It was nothing [not worthy of thanks].” These are answers that throw the “thank you” back in someone’s face, rejecting them and their overture. Instead, we were taught to simply say, “Thank you.”  If we thank someone, we are making them important to us, and doing it in an open and loving way. It makes all the difference.

“You are welcome” seals the deal, acknowledging mutual need and appreciation. It is far better than “no problem,” for example, since “no problem” belittles the initial gratitude and appreciation, saying that whatever was done is really beneath our attention or concern. The most insecure people are those that have the hardest time learning how to receive the thanks of others.

The challenge is that none of these things come naturally, as we can see from the fact that children (and adults) need to be taught to say them. And if we fail to do them, then we live out that Chinese aphorism: nice acts that are not appreciated become the source of awkwardness or hatred. “No good deed goes unpunished,” is what happens when good deeds are not appreciated and acknowledged by everyone concerned. A kindness is an opportunity to build a relationship; if that opportunity is missed, it becomes a source of tension. The tension is resolved when we can express our needs, receive from others, and exchange words of appreciation.

My people may be called “Jews” after the act of speaking our appreciation, but it bears noticing that the word “thank” does not appear in the Torah prior to Leah using it. Adam, Noah, Avraham, Isaac… in the Torah, none of them say “thank you” to G-d or to anyone else. It took all these generations, and not a little emotional pain and suffering to bring Leah to the point where she could do it – and she was the first to do so!

The guidebook that is the Torah exists (at least in part) because when we did not have it, humanity was lost. The early parts of Genesis tell us of man, left to his own devices, in a state of nature. We gravitated toward evil and violence, self-aggrandizement and hedonistic narcissism without limit.

It took an evolution over many generations to achieve a single person with the greatness of Leah, a person who was willing to be openly vulnerable and needy, who was willing to do whatever could be done to grow in her relationships.

But because she was the first and so very rare, it was clear to G-d that mankind does not invariably arrive at “Thank you” by ourselves. To get there as a people, we needed the Torah, full of laws designed to help us see the good that G-d and others do, and to act out that appreciation. From bringing the first fruits to sacrifices, to commandments to love one another as well as the stranger… the Torah is all about institutionalizing gratitude, making it the foundation of what it means to be a good and kind person.

Out of the chaotic post-Eden mess came Avraham and then his descendants. Avraham is the first in the Torah to use the word “please” (when he asks his wife to lie about their relationship). When he does that, he shows his need. Sara acquiesces, but even so, Avraham does not thank her: the first “thank you” in the Torah comes only three generations later.

Indeed, it took the leadership of Judah, the man named for “gratitude,” to conclude the trials with Joseph and to reunite the family. Gratitude was the prerequisite – in name and in deed – for the Jewish people to go from a tribe to a nation.

The Torah shows us an entirely different dimension to appreciation. The very same word is used when Moses invests himself in his successor, Joshua. Such investiture is giving of oneself, and it is both the same word as “thanks,” and also connected with the word “samach” which is what Moses does by laying hands on Yehoshua. It is the same verb when we “invest” ourselves in our sacrifices, or the priests invest sins into the sacrificial animals on Yom Kippur. This is done through touch, making a physical connection, a transference from one to the other. It all adds up to a simple, rich meaning: When we show gratitude, we invest ourselves into the recipient. This helps explain why vulnerability is a two-way street, a connection between two people that is fraught with uncertainty and danger and risk – as well as reward.

Saying “thank you” is a liberational event, releasing the pressure from the persons who say “thank you,” allowing them to carry on their life without the resentment that leads to awkwardness and hate.

P.S. There is another form of gratitude in the Torah, one that predates Leah. Avraham is the first, and he bows many times, both in subservience and also in appreciation. This same action, of bowing in gratitude, is echoed when we bring the first fruits during giving thanks to G-d for the harvest, as well as many other places.  

 <another @iwe and @susanquinn production. Cross-posted at www.CreativeJudaism.org >

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Love is the drug. We now know beyond doubt that HCQ works & always worked NEVER FORGET that the other side, the fear-mongers, the lockdown proponents, the Big Pharma shills, the control freaks DELIBERATELY SUPPRESSED an effective treatment by lying about it & even banning it, killing 10,000s https://t.co/kZkL23tOKR — Rogue Scholar Books (@RogueScholarPr) November […]

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The Death of a Friend

 

I got some shocking news the other day: a childhood friend had died. I found out through a direct message on Facebook. His wife messaged me and sought out my physical address. She is putting together a memory book and soliciting entries from his friends.

I say the news was shocking, and it was. And yet it shouldn’t have been, I guess. I forget I am a septuagenarian now, locked in my head as a younger, more fit man. My friend was a year older, and he suffered from Multiple Sclerosis — a diagnosis he got as a young fairly newly married man. Although I am not intimately familiar with the disease, it clearly is not a diagnosis that is indicative of an extended life. So I am imagining that by sheer length, my friend had a pretty good run. But how is longevity to be regarded when suffering a debilitating disease — either for the sufferer or their caregiver?

I must now make a shameful confession: I can be careless with friends. I suppose for some people this form of carelessness calls into question the concept of friendship itself. I know of people who never let anyone go, who make persistent contact. That is not me. When I am in proximity I enjoy my friends immensely and engage with them frequently. But when life has taken me away from them or they from me, they enter the memory world. I do not like them less nor cease to cherish what they meant to me, but their reality and substance have changed. I am sure that is a defect in me, but not one I seem able to transcend.

And so it is, that hearing of my friend’s death I am forced to reach back and recover memories of him. It is a different kind of task. It is not so much hard to recall as it is a process to recall. Memories are packed neatly in boxes and on shelves in my mind like a closet with the light out. So I have to open the door, turn on the light and do a bit of rummaging.

What Leadership Ought to Be

 

What is the ideal leader? A person “who shall go out before them and come in before them, and who shall take them out and bring them in,” (Num 27:17). In other words, a good leader is someone we want to follow, who inspires us to do so. A leader should set an example that we want to emulate.

A bad leader, on the other hand, does not lead. Like a prison guard with a whip or a rifle, he leads from behind, using “or else” as his weapon. It is the difference between a leader we love, and a leader we fear.

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On my way to an interview, about half way there when I look down and see that my cup holder is empty. Pop open the glove box. Nothing in there either. I always leave one in the car. Eight months into this and I am still making rookie mistakes. I left the house without a […]

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After World War I, a poet named T.S Eliot wrote about the framentation of life, the faltering of motivation, the failure of the Grand Design to allow forth anything approximating courage or balance: In his poem “The Hollow Men” the ending is a reflection on that theme: the faltering of motivation when the Grand Desisgn […]

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Dear National Review Editors, Please cancel my subscription. I can’t believe I have been a supporter, reader and now buyer of your product when you conduct such shoddy, incompetent and disgusting reporting as you have done since the USA election of November 3rd, 2020. Do you not know who your customers are?!?! I have been […]

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Slowing Down

 

Over time, I’ve been nagged by an annoying thought and it just won’t go away. I’ve tried to ignore it, discount it, and ridicule it, but it is persistent. The other evening, I was walking from one room to another, and noticed my gait—slow and gentle. And there was the truth: I was slowing down, undeniably, and in some ways, disturbingly.

Now you have to understand that most of my life I have put a high value in doing things—almost anything—quickly. I might not be the smartest person, but I was fast and efficient and could run circles around many people. I took pride is this talent for a long time. Finally, I began to notice that I was striving to do things quickly that just were not all that important; they certainly did not demand my meeting a deadline. I also realized that trying to do everything at warp speed was causing me a great deal of stress, but I was the only one who seemed to care about this ability. So, I made a concerted effort to slow myself down. I realized how valuable this goal was when one day, I had rushed home from a work-out and had another obligation to fulfill—not one I was particularly interested in. I decided I simply was not going to rush, but instead took my time. Out of curiosity, I checked the clock when I was ready to leave, and was astounded to realize that I had showered and changed in record time! It wasn’t possible! But, in fact, I discovered when I was simply attentive to what I was doing, timeliness would often take care of itself.

So, what does my discovery of 25 years ago have to do with my slowing down now?

My current slowing down is not voluntary.

* * * * *

The slowing down that I’m experiencing is touching on every aspect of my life. When I go on my morning walks, I’ve changed my gait. We have an increasing number of uneven sidewalks, and I’ve had two spills with a scraped chin and knees. I also don’t think it’s a good idea to walk in the street instead. I’ve realized that when I take large steps, it messes with my center of gravity. So now I am walking just a bit slower and taking smaller steps; it’s only lengthened my walk by a few minutes (depending on whether I stop to pet the local dogs).

The more disturbing changes, however, are my mind. I’m not panicking; I know the early signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s and they don’t describe me. But I am simply not thinking as quickly as I used to think. My brain is less agile, less timely, and it makes me uncomfortable, as I wait for my mind to engage at my preferred rate. Naturally, my physical state, alert or tired, also affects my thinking. There’s no denying, however, that I’m just not as mindful or alert.

There is also my temporarily forgetting a name, a number, the name of a place, a recent occurrence. I know those are a normal part of the aging process—until they are not. I’ve been dropping things, too, and in part I’m just not paying as much attention to my actions.

It’s not like I’m not making an effort to hold off the inevitable: in addition to walking two miles, five days a week, I exercise in the gym. I’ve even recovered 50% bone density in my right hip in my last bone density scan. I also do prayer and meditation every day.

But all those efforts are clearly not going to hold off the aging process indefinitely.

* * * * *

Don’t think this gradual transformation is only depressing; there are a number of pluses. I give myself permission to take my time doing many things. I also take more time to notice the beauty around me on a sunny day. I’m more likely to notice a single bud on the desert rose plant; my favorite duck (named Daphne) out on the pond; the joy of scratching the ears of a dog. I speak my mind more often, although I try to be kind in my word choice. I let others help me out with demanding tasks, since I have nothing to prove. Younger folks hold open doors for me, or help me lift a heavy object, or simply ask if they can help. I like the idea, as my hair grays, that I am a fount of aged wisdom (okay, maybe that’s going too far!) and people look to me for input. That kind of respect is gratifying . . . . So new experiences emerge when I slow down.

* * * * *

So, I’m compelled to look more closely at the person who stares back at me in the mirror. Not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. What does it mean to be 71 years old? How can I best appreciate reaching this milestone in my life, when slowing down is sufficiently evident that it can’t be ignored? How can I gracefully move into the future with the joy and anticipation of my seniority and compassion for myself for my limitations?

Those, my friends, are the questions I’m asking.

And I’m grateful to be alive to ask them.

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I posted an essay by Alexander Macris in the Link Library; the excerpt was “. . .US citizens have a right to say things that no one is able to permit them to say. Now, US citizens will get a right to own firearms that no one is able to manufacture and sell to them. […]

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Quote of the Day: Winston Churchill on Socialism

 

In 1925, Churchill officially rejoined the Conservative Party in Britain.  In a speech in 1926, in “strongly working-class Bolton”, he says:

Let them abandon the utter fallacy, the grotesque, erroneous, fatal blunder of believing that by limiting the enterprise of man, by riveting the shackles of a false equality upon the efforts of all the different forms and different classes of human enterprise, they will increase the well-being of the world.

I think he had the right of it, and this was before the horrors of the Stalinist famines and purges.

Racism, White Guilt, and Academia: My letter to the President of Washington State University

 

I receive the Washington State Magazine from my (former) Alma Mater, Washington State University.  Due to a phrase in the President’s Letter in the most recent issue, I sent the following letter to the President, because I don’t think that sentiment should go unremarked.

Mr. Kirk Schultz, President

Dear Mr. Schultz:

I am a graduate of WSU (BS, Psychology, 1971), and I receive the Washington State Magazine.  In reading the last issue, I noticed something very interesting in the From the President column you wrote.  You mention, in the very first paragraph, some conditions that are affecting WSU, the State, and the wider world.  I was quite surprised that you mention the “continuing challenges of Covid-19, Systemic Racism, and state funding”.  Now, it appears to me as though you are saying that systemic racism is a problem at WSU.  Do you really admit that the University is systemically racist?  Are you admitting that, 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement, that my Alma Mater is systemically racist? Do you believe that no progress has been made in the treatment and opportunities afforded to black people in America since 1964?

I seem to remember that your predecessor as President was a gentleman named Elson Floyd.  I also seem to remember that Mr. Floyd was a black man.  Now, if Mr. Floyd were here today, could you honestly admit, to his face, that WSU is Systemically Racist?  And what might he say to you if you did?  Wouldn’t the admission that WSU is systemically racist be a total affront to the sensibilities of your esteemed predecessor, ignoring all the advances that enabled him to rise to the level of University President?

Personally, my belief is that you, as in most of academia these days, have fallen for the falsehoods perpetuated everywhere by the openly Marxist group that calls itself Black Lives Matter.  That Marxist group has been behind months of riots, looting, and burning cities all over America, including in Seattle and Portland, supposedly to protest the deaths of some black men (most of whom had criminal records and were engaging in unlawful activity), at the hands of police; also note that most homicides of black men are not at the hands of police, but at the hands of other black men.  It makes me sad that my Alma Mater has been basically taken over by the Leftists and Marxists.  There is little that I can do about this, since the takeover has been obvious for many years.

I do think that you should take a good, hard look at your University, and give some thought to what has been happening.  WSU is not, and never was, any kind of racist.  Besides, if it is racist, why ever would I want to donate money to a racist institution?  Or why would any alumni donate to a racist institution?  I have given up donating to WSU, because I try not to support Leftist institutions, and I refuse “white guilt”.

Next year, I will be a Golden Grad.  I have given some thought to returning to Campus for Homecoming next year.  I will not drive 300 miles to celebrate at a racist institution, however.  If by then the governor has relaxed his unilateral restrictions over all of Society, and you have given second thoughts to whether WSU is really systemically racist, I might come.

I thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,

A Week of Gratitude: Day 7 – A Clever Wife

 

My wife loves Halloween. She adores it. She has an actress inside of her and loves playing a new character each year. She starts talking to us in October about the next year’s costumes. This gets debated off and on until something feels right or time picks the costumes for us. She likes us to dress up in themes and over the years we have been ladybugs, the Incredibles, Doctor Who, Star Wars, and this past Halloween, Dia de los Muertos skeletons. From as early as June through Halloween she squirrels away bits and pieces of costumes until a large push at the end gets it done. I like Halloween, but being busy with work I find it hard to muster the time she needs for me to help her. Our children love Halloween too but they hate doing the work to get ready for it and sometimes resist going as a theme because, well, they are teenagers. Each year my wife works really hard to make each of us a wonderful costume while getting variable amounts of help in return. Often there is grumbling about the effort when we want to do something else. Unfortunately, I occasionally add to the discontent.

This past year was a little different because of the lockdowns. We weren’t sure how much Halloween would happen so my wife delayed costume preparation until it started to look like there would be some Halloween after all. Our costumes consisted of gaiters to cover our mouths that had Dia de los Muertos skeletons printed on them. She added some pretty impressive face paint and dark, formal clothes to finish it out. The attached photo is my daughter in her costume. To her credit, my daughter put a lot of effort into her costume while my wife did most of the work for the rest of us.

This photo shows my daughter in her Halloween costume.

This is my daughter in her costume this year. She did the face makeup herself. The car also had a fog machine under it that we turned on once it got dark.  My wife also made the wood surrounding the fake fire.  She’s pretty awesome.

To celebrate Halloween this year, our church did a drive-by trick-or-treat for the kids. The teenagers in the congregation and those of us who work with them decorated our cars to be trick-or-treat outposts. Families would drive by and we would pass out candy to their children. It was a lot of fun. The kids really liked my costume and loved to tell me about theirs (that’s my favorite part of Halloween). As I was interacting with a really cute and precocious five-year-old princess I realized that I was only there and able to enjoy myself so much because of my wife’s hard work and cleverness. I was so grateful that she had done so much to make Halloween a fun day. I would be really lazy about celebrations without a wife who works so hard to make them special. I’m so grateful to have her.

Day 6

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I was asked by a liberal lawyer friend today: Please consider that if this was truly a source of vote fraud someone would have claimed it in court. They didn’t. These are not stupid people. The people involved for both sides are experts in election law. If they saw a viable claim, they would have […]

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Mr. Yon has posted an eight page report that is worth the time absorb: Dispatch 46: ANTIFA in Atlanta – Proud Boys, MAGA: YOU ARE AT WAR He has some interesting commentary comparing and contrasting the  BLM / ANTIFA “forces” in Atlanta and in the Northwest. Teaser #1: …most of those shouting “Black Lives Matter” […]

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COVID-19: ‘Et Tu, Sweden?’

 

Many of us held out hope that Sweden with its contrarian approach to COVID-19 would validate our beliefs that you give people information, give them the freedom to make decisions, and survive the pandemic as best you can. There were early hopes that Sweden had made it through and that its approach would be deemed superior to authoritarian government responses to the pandemic.

Now, that is no longer clear. There are reports that the Swedish government is becoming restive with the laissez-faire approach of chief heath officer Andres Tegnell. My understanding is that under the Swedish constitution, Tegnell operates with unusual independence. This has allowed politicians to absolve themselves of responsibility and avoid electoral consequences for Tegnell’s action (or inaction). But now that the death toll is rising in Sweden associated with COVID-19, politicians are getting worried. So there is pressure for Sweden to get in line with authoritarian responses to COVID-19 practiced elsewhere in Europe.

Someone with greater capabilities than myself needs to do a deep dive into Sweden’s data. Do they suffer from some of the same problems that US data suffers: CDC guidance on designating deaths as COVID deaths whenever the virus is present, questions on whether “excess deaths” exist when other causes dip from prior years as COVID deaths replace them, testing protocols that generate false positives? Are younger people dying in Sweden at higher rates than previously?

And, of course, there is the greatest unknown: is this virus engineered? And if so, what does that mean for strategies to contain/combat it?

We need Sweden to stay the course. This is the closest thing we have to a controlled study about alternative approaches to combatting COVID-19 consistent with overall societal well-being. If we lose Sweden we lose important information for future pandemics. And there will be more. The value of pandemic to authoritarian government is too great to resist.

[Note: Links to all my COVID-19 posts can be found here.]

Robinson’s Rescues

 

This is about a World War II Navy Chaplain, Charles Robinson, who helped free the first Allied POWs in Japan. I’m posting this on Ricochet partly because I was irritated by the recently discovered comments by the Democrat candidate Raphael Warnock in the Georgia special election for Senate, who orated from the pulpit that people cannot serve the military and God. I didn’t find this to be true during my Navy career, whether one was serving as a Chaplain or just an adherent of a religion. Some of the people I respected the most were men of the cloth and I still value their friendship and the time we served together.

The essay is unrelated to the politics of the moment, so if you’d like a break from news about the election, the essay is safe to read. I doubt any of you have heard about Father Robinson, but his story is one that is worthy of sharing and, I believe, undercuts the narrative that Reverend Warnock peddles. Father Robinson pursued studies in theology that led him to become a Jesuit Priest almost 100 years ago, and he went overseas to Japan for his first posting. What he learned while in Japan ended up helping hundreds of prisoners of war in the Tokyo area who had been tortured or were starving at the end of the war.

The full essay is based on a research project for a history class I completed earlier this year. The professor described how Father Robinson had accomplished a mission of mercy for the Jesuits at the Jesuit Sophia University in Tokyo, and due to my Navy background, she suggested I research it for the term paper. My research determined that he had done a lot more of consequence before his rescue mission to Sophia. At the war’s end, he was stationed onboard the Battleship USS Missouri (BB-63), which arrived at the entrance to Tokyo Bay a few days before it would host the surrender ceremony on 2 September 1945. Of the tens of thousands of sailors who came to Tokyo Bay and were present for the surrender ceremony, Father Robinson had a skill that ended up being critical for rescuing hundreds of prisoners of war (POW) languishing in Japan’s numerous POW camps. He used his knowledge and abilities with distinction, in ways that helped smooth the process of quickly freeing the first group of POWs and saving other lives.

The essay is posted online as a webpage at this link. I was surprised by some of the information and photos I was able to find and the essay includes many photos. I’m interested in your thoughts on the essay and Father Robinson’s accomplishments. If anyone has knowledge of other things he accomplished during his lifetime, I’d love to hear about it. Although the archivists were very supportive, the Jesuit archives were able to provide a surprisingly limited amount of information about his life story.

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Other than that Dr. Watson, I’ve got nuthin’ US Senate: There were fraudulent papers, published by individuals interested in doing evil to the world with respect to HCQ. The NEJM & Lancet acknowledged they were fraudulent papers, to scare people. This is people in my field, in academic medicine, committing academic fraud. pic.twitter.com/J1gLKyzCiE — Dr. […]

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R.I.P. Dave Prowse, Darth Vader

 

It remains one of my most thrilling visits to the movies. I had seen clips for this upcoming science fiction film, Star Wars, on Creature Features (in the San Francisco Bay Area, KTVU). I wasn’t impressed. It was just a little scene inside a space ship and that ape creature’s make-up wasn’t nearly as impressive as what was done for Planet of the Apes.

But our family took a vacation to see relatives in Colorado and one of my cousins told me I had to see this film. He had already bought the soundtrack album, which I thought was a rather strange thing to do, not knowing I’d soon do the same. Soon, I was sitting by him in a movie theater in Colorado Springs. As that John Williams surged, words drifted over my head and soon huge spaceships. I had never experienced anything like it. And I love it.

Soon the camera took us inside that rebel ship. It was being invaded. A huge masked man, all in black including a grand black cape boarded the ship. “Scary” didn’t begin to describe him. In the film, he was an underling to greater forces, but it was difficult to imagine who Darth Vader could possibly answer to. Who could be even more dreadful than this Sith Lord? When Vader escaped the explosion of the Death Star, it was frustrating and exciting. Multiple viewings of the film led to discussions with friends, “Will there be a sequel? Darth Vader has to come back.”

And come back he did. With the most unexpected paternity announcement in the history of cinema. Frankly, I was a little disappointed with the character’s softening in Return of the Jedi, but I was touched by his final moments.

Who has had such an amazing, intimidating physical presence on the screen? Maybe Karloff as the Monster. Maybe.

And now Darth Vader has died again. The voice of Vader, James Earl Jones, is still with us. But the body, Dave Prowse, has died. Rest in Peace, dark lord.

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I thought the Kraken was a metaphor for a deluge of irrefutable proofs of fraud. But in the past days I’ve heard another interview with Lt. General McInerney, who referred to the Kraken as the the 305th Military Intelligence Battalion. And now the Kraken also is used as referring to a DOD computer tracking and […]

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Radar Wars: a Case Study in Expertise and Influence

 

In today’s WSJ, David Mamet writes about expertise and influence, pointing out that experts who get important things wrong, sometimes causing great harm to millions of people, often pay no personal price whatsoever. One example he mentions is the pre-WWII secret British debate on air defense technologies and especially the role played by Churchill’s scientific advisor, Professor Frederick Lindemann.

It is an interesting and important story, and is discussed by the scientist/novelist CP Snow in his 1960 book Science and Government…which, he says, was inspired by the following thought:

One of the most bizarre features of any advanced industrial society in our time is that the cardinal choices have to be made by a handful of men: in secret: and, at least in legal form, by men who cannot have a first-hand knowledge of what those choices depend upon or what their results may be…and when I say the “cardinal choices,” I mean those that determine in the crudest sense whether we live or die.

Snow discusses two very cardinal cases in which he was personally if somewhat peripherally involved: the pre-WWII secret debate about air defense technologies, and the mid-war debate about strategic bombing policies. The air defense debate had two main protagonists: Sir Henry Tizard, and Professor Frederick Lindmann (later Lord Cherwell.) These men were similar in many ways: both were scientists, both were patriots, both were men of great courage (involved in early and dangerous aircraft experimentation), both were serious amateur athletes. They were “close but not intimate friends” when they both lived in Berlin–Tizard was a member of a gym there which was run by a former champion lightweight boxer of England and persuaded Lindemann to join and box with him. But Lindemann proved to be such a poor loser that Tizard refused to box with him again. “Still,” says Tizard, “we remained close friends for over twenty-five years, but after 1936 he became a bitter enemy.”

Snow, who makes no secret of his preference for Tizard, tells of a conversation with Lindemann in which he (Snow) remarked that “the English honours system must cause far more pain than pleasure: that every January and June the pleasure to those who got awards was nothing like so great as the pain of those who did not. Miraculously Lindemann’s somber, heavy face lit up…With a gleeful sneer, he said: ‘Of course it is. It wouldn’t be any use getting an ward if one didn’t think of all the people who were miserable because they hadn’t managed it.’”

Some people did like Lindemann, though–and one of them was Winston Churchill, who though still in the political wilderness was not without influence. Indeed, the future PM considered Lindemann (later to become Lord Cherwell) to be his most trusted advisor on matters of science. If Snow’s version of events is correct, Churchill’s trust and advocacy of Lindemann could have driven a decision resulting in Britain’s losing the war before it even started.

During the inter-war era, the bombing plane was greatly feared–it was commonly believed that no effective defense was possible. PM Stanley Baldwin, speaking in 1932, expressed this attitude when he said “I think it is well also for the man in the street to realize that there is no power on earth that can protect him from being bombed, whatever people may tell him. The bomber will always get through.” Indeed, the problem of air defense was very difficult–the bombers could arrive at any time, and by the time they were sighted, it would likely be too late to get fighters in the air. Maintaining standing patrols on all possible attack routes was unfeasible. The only detection devices were longhorns with microphones and amplifiers, intended to pick up enemy engine noise a considerable distance away–but their value was limited, to say the least.

In early 1935, the British government set up a Committee for the Scientific Study of Air Defense, chaired by Tizard. It reported to a higher-level committee, chaired by Lord Swinton, who was the Air Minister. One member of that higher-level committee was Winston Churchill, and he insisted that his favorite scientist, Lindemann (who had been quite vocal about the need for improved air defense), should be appointed to Tizard’s working-level committee.

Radar had only recently been invented and was by no means operationally proven, but all of the members of that Tizard committee–with one exception–viewed it as the key to successful air defense. That exeption was Lindemann. While not hostile to radar, he believed the committee should given equal or greater attention to certain other technologies–specifically, infrared detection and parachute mines…the latter devices were to be dropped from above, and were intended to explode after getting caught on the wing or other part of the enemy bomber. He also thought there were possibilities in machines that would create a strong updraft and flip a bomber on its back.

“Almost from the moment that Lindemann took his seat undisturbed in the committee room,” says Snow, “the meetings did not know half an hour’s harmony or work undisturbed.” Exercising his novelistic talents, Snow imagines what the meetings must have been like:

Lindemann, Hill, and Blackett were all very tall men of distinguished physical presence…Blackett and Hill would be dressed casually, like academics. Tizard and Lindemann, who were both conventional in such things, would be wearing black coats and striped trousers, and both would come to the meetings in bowler hats. At the table, Blackett and Hill, neither of them especially patient men nor overfond of listening to nonsense, sat with incredulity through diatribes by Lindemann, scornfull, contemptuous, barely audible, directed against any decision that Tizard had made, was making, or ever would make. Tizard sat it out for some time. He could be irritable, but he had great resources of temperament, and he knew that this was too serious a time to let the irritability flash. He also knew, from the first speech that Lindemann made in committee, that the friendship of years was smashed.

As Snow tells it, Lindemann just wouldn’t shut up about the wonderfulness of infrared detection, aerial mines, and so forth. “For twelve months Lindemann ground on with his feud on the committee. He was tireless. He was ready at each meeting to begin again from the beginning…Tizard went ahead with the radar decisions and they let Lindemann register his disagreements. But gradually they got worn down…In July 1936, when the committee was preparing a report, Lindemann abused Tizard in his usual form, over the invariable issue of too much priority for radar, but in terms so savage that the secretaries had to be sent out of the room.”

Blackett and Hill couldn’t stand it anymore and were either on the point of resigning or actually did resign, depending on which source one believes. Tizard himself wrote to Swinton “that I must ask you either to remove Lindemann from the committee or accept my resignation,” citing “Lindemann’s “querulousness when anybody differs from him..and his consequent insistence in talking about matters which we think are relatively unimportant.”

A decision of world-changing significant now lay before Lord Swinton. He was an experienced administrator with some tendency toward out-of-the-box thinking: after graduating from Oxford with a law degree and a plan for a career in mining law, he had actually worked in a coal mine for six months–surely a much more hands-on approach than that of the typical aspiring lawyer, then or now. Clearly a highly intelligent man, Swinton was himself no scientist–“his particular academic skills (at Winchester) were in classics and modern languages (French and German); an early mathematical ability apparently being dissipated by bad and eccentric teaching.”

Swinton’s action was decisive. He dissolved the Tizard committee and reconstituted it–still with Tizard as chairman, but this time without Lindemann. In place of the latter was now E V Appleton, an expert on radio-wave propagation. The change sent a very strong signal about the priority which was to be attached to radar. Britain’s radar defense network, known as Chain Home, was aggressively built out and became the centerpiece of an innovative air-defense network, with data from the radar stations sent to Filter Rooms, at which the positions of enemy and friendly forces were plotted and orders transmitted to the fighter squadrons and AA guns.

When Snow’s book describing the radar conflict came out, there were several strong objections to its portrayal of Lindemann. One of those who felt Snow had been unfair to Lindemann was Sir Robert Watson-Watt, the primary inventor of radar. In a Saturday Review article (excerpted here), Watson-Watt stated that “the Lindemann I knew was astonishingly unlike the abominable Snowman,” that Lindemann supported the development of radar all along, and contrary to Snow’s “melodramatic stage character,” he was an able, intelligent administrator.

Snow’s response is included as an appendix in later editions of the book. “The confusion has arisen very largely because most people are not familiar with the nature of scientific-military arguments. The technical dispute on the Tizard Comittee, like eight out of ten scientific-military arguments, was about priorities…(Lindemann) was actively interested in Watson Watt’s (radar) work, but he was not prepared to give radar the near-absolute priority that the Committee had already settled on. The Committee’s preoccupation–its all-important preoccupation–with the operational use of radar meant nothing to him. He had his own order of priorities.” Snow cites a memo written by Lindemann himself, to Churchill:

The only part of the Committee’s work which has so far been successful has been the development of methods of detection and location…I suggest however that the only way of making progress with the equally important development of aerial mines and the related question of shellburst which remains effective for some reasonable period is to put them in the hands of some enthusiastic believer who is not compelled to come back to the Committee every time he wants to make a fresh experiment.

One of the participants in the Tizard Committee meetings, A V Hill, wrote up notes of the meetings in the style of the Earl of Derby’s 1864 translation of The Iliad (!), which Snow includes in his appendix as supporting his view of what transpired. Not a bad poem–I’ve excerpted some of it below. Key characters: Sigma=Tizard, von Alpha-Plus=Lindemann, Odin=Churchill, and Phi= A V Hill himself.

Attending there on ancient Sigma sat
The Elders of the City: Omega
And Theta and von Alpha-plus and Phi
By age exempt from war, but in discourse
Abundant as the cricket that on high
From topmost bough of forest tree sends forth
His music: so they sent their Minutes forth
And all men wondered, even Odin wept
With tears of joy that Ilium was safe

Von Alpha-plus arose and thus began
“O ancient Sigma eminent in war
And in the counsel wise: thy present words
No Trojan can gainsay; and yet the end
Thou hast not reached, the object of debate
This city cannot be immune from war
Until a hail of parachuting mines
Descend unceasing at its eastern gate
So shall the long-haired Greeks remain at home
Nor lay their infernal eggs upon our streets

Thus angrily, and round his body flungHis cloak, and on his head a billycock
Then passing cocked a snook at Lambda-Mu
Last called his shiny Rolls of eighty steeds
And soon without the tent of Odin stood
Him, from his godlike sleep, he sought to rouse
Loud shouting: soon his voice his senses reached:
Forth in his slumber-suit bearlike he came
And spoke to deep designing Alpha-plus
“What cause so urgent leads you through the camp
In the dark night to wander thus alone?

The poem continues with von Alpha-plus complaining to Odin (Churchill) that Sigma and his associates “have no mind to fill the sky with mines attached to parachutes: and precious days they waste in vain experiments with RDF (radar.)”

Him answering, Odin, son of destiny, replied,
“Many, indeed, and fierce, the bombs I’ve dropped,
But never 2-oz mines attached by wires
To parachutes, by day and night alike
In billions at our eastern gate. The like
Has never been before. We two will take
This tidings to the Minister of State.
With Odin Lord Almighty of land and sky and sea
And Alpha-plus to help him, how happy all will be!”

So ancient Sigma and his stag-eyed crew
Theta with bright ideas, Phi with none
Rho with the Minutes, weary Omega
Sat long and silent in the deepening gloom
While Lambda-Mu went out and hanged himself
Snook-cocked by Alpha-plus of deep design
At last with downcast visage Sigma spoke:
“The game is up. Without von Alpha-plus
Of wily counsel and of deep design
Who speaks with politicians and the Press,
And soon may be MP for Oxenbridge

All hope is gone and many-murdering Death
Will hunt his victims in our streets.” To which
Theta of bright ideas, Phi of none
Rho of the Minutes, weary Omega
Had nothing printable to add. But set
A day to meet Geheimrat Alpha-plus
And pray for mercy from his mighty friends
From Odin, godlike son of destiny
And from himself, the man of deep design
Then ancient Sigma and his stag-eyed crew
Will make submission to von Alpha-plus
(Except for Lambda-Mu, who hanged himself)
Your present is requested at 11:
The number of the room is 008.

David Mamet was right to call up this incident as an important case study regarding the use expertise in decision-making. It would have done no good at all to tell Lord Swinton to ‘believe the scientists’…two eminent scientist-administrators were arguing for different paths, yet the decision had to be made.

I don’t think Mamet was correct in referring to Tizard as having ‘helped to develop’ radar; he was not involved in the development work, but in the equally-important decision making as to how, and to what extent, this technology should be used. And he’s a little too hard on Lindemann when he refers to him as having ‘mocked’ radar…the question was one of relative priorities, not about whether radar was of any use and should be employed at all. Still, it’s nice to see the role of expertise in decision-making discussed in a prominent publication and to see the radar case referenced in this context. (And I’m once again impressed by Mamet’s range of knowledge and interests.)

CP Snow also wrote about another Lindemann/Tizard conflict of the WWII era, this one concerning the relative importance of strategic bombing of cities versus allocations of aircraft for other roles such as antisubmarine warfare. It’s on my list to write about one of these days.

The above post was originally posted at Chicago Boyz, and is updated here to discuss the Mamet article.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A Week of Gratitude: Day 5 – Parents

 

On Thanksgiving Day, I have to express gratitude for my parents. When you’re young and stupid it’s easy to take for granted how much your life is shaped for good or ill by your Mom and Dad. The food magically appears, problems get solved with little effort on your part, and there is always someone there to make things better. When you leave the nest, you learn quickly how much work goes into making all of that possible. If you are lucky, and I was lucky, you had parents who modeled the behaviors you will need when you are the one who has to make food appear, solve the problems, and be there to make things better.

Dad is a retired high school teacher and Mom is still a homemaker. With ten of us children running around the house, it took a lot of love and patience to keep things working smoothly. My Dad has a very different personality from mine. He will talk to anyone, which is the worst thing an introverted teenager wants him to do. But I have seen so many people warm to his greeting when I’d have been perfectly content to let them keep having a bad day. He also loves to laugh and to help others. My older son is a lot like him.

Mom is thoughtful and clever. She reads people well and she could see right through my nonsense in a blink. Once I was reading a “who I am” assignment to her that I had written at the beginning of a school year. I wrote something about being short-tempered (or some other teenage nonsense), “so lookout”. I thought it was clever. She looked at me and asked why someone else should look out for my character flaws. I didn’t like that very much, but she was right. The more I thought about what she said, the more it made sense to me and I try to be the one who looks out for myself.

I think that between genetics, which are out of my control, and inevitable parenting mistakes that I make my children will have enough to overcome without me consciously making life difficult for them. My wife and I try to make our home the best of what we both knew. We have a lot of good to draw on. Thanks Mom and Dad!

Day 4

Covid Deaths Are Real: Rebutting Dr. Briand

 

I write to rebut the claims of Dr. Genevieve Briand, a senior lecturer at Johns Hopkins who holds a PhD in Economics and recently released a study questioning the Covid death statistics.  The paper was subsequently withdrawn by Johns Hopkins, quite properly in my view.  Dr. Briand’s analysis is deeply flawed.

Misleading and erroneous analyses like these have serious effects.  It led our friend iWe to author a post yesterday titled Covid – Just A Big Hoax?, which cited Dr. Briand’s study as supporting the assertion “that the total death rates HAVE NOT CHANGED.”

This is false information.  This is not entirely iWe’s fault; though everyone should be very careful about information sources at this time.

I have decided to rebut Dr. Briand’s erroneous analysis.  The article summarizing her analysis is here; the Johns Hopkins explanation of its withdrawal is here, and an hour-long video explaining her results is here.  My data sources and methods will be set forth in the technical note at the bottom of this post.

I.  Age Distribution Analysis

The lead graph in Dr. Briand’s analysis relies upon this chart, showing weekly deaths in the US from February to September 2020:

This graph is color-coded by age category, with reported deaths of older people at the top, showing the percentage of total deaths in each age category — for example, the light blue bar at the top shows that about 30% of all reported deaths in the US have occurred among people aged 85 and up.  This graph includes all reported deaths, from all causes, not just Covid.

This does not show the absence of an increase in the number of deaths.  It shows that the proportion of deaths by age category was not noticeably changed by Covid.  The article setting forth Dr. Briand’s analysis claims:

Surprisingly, the deaths of older people stayed the same before and after COVID-19. Since COVID-19 mainly affects the elderly, experts expected an increase in the percentage of deaths in older age groups. However, this increase is not seen from the CDC data. In fact, the percentages of deaths among all age groups remain relatively the same.

Who are these “experts”?  Why would this be at all surprising?

We know that Covid mostly kills old people.  What about other causes of death?  Do you think that other causes of death affect mostly young people?  Of course not.  Most people who die are old, thank God.  The alternative is for the young to die in large numbers, which would be tragic.  Something’s gotta get us all in the end.

But to rebut Dr. Briand’s claim requires empirical evidence, so I consulted two sources: (1) the CDC page for Covid deaths, which reports deaths by age category for (approximately) February-November 2020, and which lists both Covid-involved deaths and total deaths, and (2) the CDC report on final death figures for 2017, which reports all 2017 deaths by age category.  This allowed me to calculate the total percentage of reported deaths, for each age bracket, for the following 3 periods:

  • All deaths in 2017
  • Covid deaths in 2020 (approx. February-November)
  • Non-Covid deaths in 2020 (approx. February-November)

Here is the result:

It’s hard to tell the difference between the periods, isn’t it?  Unsurprisingly, Covid deaths and non-Covid deaths occur mostly among the old — roughly 30% among people aged 85 and over, another 24-27% among people aged 75-84, and another 19-22% among people aged 65-74.

Thus, we would not expect Covid to significantly change the distribution of deaths by age category.

Remember the quote from the article presenting Dr. Briand’s analysis: “[E]xperts expected  an increase in the percentage of deaths in older age groups.”  Again, what experts?  None are cited.  Their hypothesis is just plain silly.  We all know that deaths occurred overwhelmingly among the old, even before Covid.

I find it both surprising and disturbing that people would be misled by such nonsense.  This is the sort of ridiculous claim that a thoughtful, critical reader should immediately recognize as implausible.  Proving it to be incorrect takes additional work — for example, you need to find the data on the CDC website, and you need to know how to use Excel or a similar program to analyze and graph the data.

Fortunately for you, dear reader, I happen to know how to do both of these things.  :)

But seriously, the real danger is the uncritical acceptance of implausible and unsubstantiated claims.  This seems particularly common when the erroneous conclusion is congenial to one’s political or moral position.  Be careful about this.  There is very, very bad information coming from the Leftist media, and there is very, very bad information promoted by alternative conservative sites.

II.  The “Excess Deaths” Analysis

Dr. Briand’s analysis does not specifically analyze the “excess deaths” information, but the article reporting her findings claims:

Briand also noted that 50,000 to 70,000 deaths are seen both before and after COVID-19, indicating that this number of deaths was normal long before COVID-19 emerged. Therefore, according to Briand, not only has COVID-19 had no effect on the percentage of deaths of older people, but it has also not increased the total number of deaths.

This conclusion is absolute nonsense, though the first part of the first sentence is correct.  The number of weekly deaths generally ranged from 50,000 to 70,000 throughout 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.  This is immaterial.  It is the sort of thing that is meant to mislead.

There is a good graph from the CDC that rebuts this claim (link here):

But perhaps you don’t trust this one.  I haven’t personally verified the information, and when you look closely, it’s not actually reporting death counts.  The blue bars are “Predicted number of deaths from all causes,” and if you follow the link and point to an individual data bar, it reports three numbers: “Average expected number of deaths,” “Upper bound threshold for excess deaths,” and “Predicted (weighted) number of deaths.”

I don’t think that the CDC is playing games with us.  The notes explain that there is a lag in the reporting of deaths.  I deduce that this particular graph uses averages to predict what the total number of reported deaths will be for each week once reporting is complete.

Also, the orange line is the “upper bound threshold for excess deaths,” which appears to be a sort of “trip-wire” for determining whether there is a serious problem.  As you can see, the orange line runs quite a bit above the actual reported deaths.

I decided to so my own analysis.  I was able to download data from the CDC for actual reported weekly deaths, from 2017 to 2020.  The data file included both the “upper bound threshold for excess deaths” and the “average expected count.”  In order to check the plausibility of the CDC’s “average expected count,” I separately calculated the weekly average deaths for 2017, 2018, and 2019, on a week-by-week basis — that is, I averaged the reported deaths for the first week in January 2017, 2018, and 2019; then for the second week in January for each such year, and so on.  (One caveat — the data set did not include the first week in January 2017, for that one week, my calculated average includes only 2018 and 2019 data).  Here is the result:The red line is the actual reported deaths for each week in 2020.  Note the spike starting around Week 13 — mid-March.  That’s Covid.  Important caveat:  Recent deaths are significantly under-reported, as the data is not yet in.  Do not interpret the decline at the right side of this graph as an actual decline in deaths.  It is almost certainly a result of the lag in reporting.

I have two lines for the “normal death” threshold.  The blue line is the CDC’s “average expected count.”  The orange line is the actual weekly average for 2017, 2018, and 2019, calculated by me.  As you can see, the blue line and the orange line are virtually identical, giving me high confidence in the CDC’s calculation of the “average expected count.”

The green and yellow lines are “excess deaths.”  The yellow line shows the excess of actual reported deaths in 2020 compared to the CDC’s “average expected count” for each week, while the green line shows the excess of actual reported deaths for 2020 compared to the weekly average from 2017, 2018, and 2019.

This graph demonstrates that Covid is real.  Its effect shows up in a sharp spike in reported deaths, starting in mid-March 2020.  This is entirely in accord with Covid death figures reported elsewhere.

I performed one more calculation — my own estimate of “excess deaths,” using the green line — i.e. the increase in weekly deaths reported in 2020, compared to the average weekly death figure for the corresponding week in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

For the period from Week 12 to Week 44 — i.e. the week ending March 21, 2020 through the week ending October 31, 2020 — my calculation indicates 316,800 excess deaths.  I did not include reported deaths in November because the data is evidently incomplete.

This rebuts Dr. Briand’s claim that Covid has not increased the total number of deaths in the US.  That claim is demonstrably incorrect.

III.  My comments

After initially taking down the article without explanation, Johns Hopkins posted an explanation, and re-posted the original article.  My initial impression is to think that this response by Johns Hopkins is admirable, though on reflection, this is a sad commentary on the state of our academic and public discourse.  Johns Hopkins acted properly and honorably, but this should not be surprising.  This is how everyone should behave, all of the time.  Still, they deserve kudos for doing the right thing.

I will anticipate an objection (which was made to my initial rebuttal, in the comments to iWe’s post).  Some may claim that they do not trust the CDC figures.  I see no basis for such suspicion.  This is a particularly troubling response by anyone who found Dr. Briand’s flawed analysis to be convincing, as she relied on CDC data.

I am critical of one thing that Johns Hopkins stated in its explanation of its withdrawal of Dr. Briand’s study.  “As assistant director for the Master’s in Applied Economics program at Hopkins, Briand is neither a medical professional nor a disease researcher.”  Fair enough, but Dr. Briand (here) holds a PhD in Economics and, for years, has taught econometrics and statistics.  She doubtless knows far more about statistical analysis and mathematical modeling than 99% of medical professionals.  So do I, it turns out, which makes me pretty weird (even among lawyers).

A final note.  There is clear empirical evidence of a significant spike in total deaths in the US, precisely corresponding to the Covid pandemic.  However, it is not necessarily the case that all of those deaths were the direct result of Covid.  Some may have been the result of the response to Covid, ranging from deaths of despair (such as suicide) to deaths from other causes due to failure to seek medical care.  Sorting out the precise impact of Covid itself, as distinguished from its secondary effects, with require further work.  Actually, I think that this is the sort of thing that Dr. Briand was trying to do, but the details got lost due to her top-line errors.

I hope that this analysis proves helpful.

IV.  Technical Notes

My data source for 2020 reported deaths by age group, both Covid and total, is the CDC (here).  I calculated the non-Covid total as the difference between all deaths and Covid-involved deaths.  This page will be updated periodically, so here is the screenshot:My data source for 2017 deaths by age category is the National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 68, No. 9, “Deaths: Final Data for 2017” (here).  The relevant data is in Table 2 on page 23.

Note that in both cases, I had to combine certain age categories to match the 10-year increments reported in Dr. Briand’s analysis.

My data source for reported deaths and excess death calculations, 2017-2020, is also the CDC (here).  This is the same page as the blue-bar excess-deaths graph reproduced above.  To access the data, scroll down to the “Options” section, “Download Data” subsection, “CSV Format” column, and click on “National and State Estimates of Excess Deaths.”  This will allow you to download a .csv file that can be opened by Microsoft Excel.