The Invisible Sculpture Sale is Symbolic of the Systematic Shams Elites Expect Us to Swallow

“Everything is possible when nothing is real” (Living Colour)


Artist sells 'invisible sculpture' for $18K | Fox News

You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet:

The $18,000 “Immaterial” Sculpture

The art world is in a crisis of relevance these days. Just about the only time art gets attention outside the culture industry cocoon is when it can exemplify stupidity, envy, or a combination of the two.

Stupidity comes when a PR hungry artist performs a silly stunt, like taping a banana to the wall. Or puts their dirty unmade bed into a gallery

Envy is invoked when a stunning sales price is announced. Most understand a high value for rarity and quality, such as a presumed work by a master like Leonardo Di Vinci; the uncertain Salvator Mundi sold for $450 million in 2017. People wonder how anyone could have that much money to spend on something made just to look at, and imagine what they could do those kind of funds.

But usually the art selling for inflated…

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COVID19 mini-update, June 15, 2021: Israel drops indoor mask requirement, last vestige of COVID restrictions

As of today, Israel abolished its final remaining COVID restriction not related to international travel: the requirement to wear masks indoors in public/shared spaces. (The outdoor mask mandate was abolished about a month ago, after several weeks of non-enforcement.)

Incoming travelers from abroad still are subject to COVID test and quarantine: however, you can get an antibody test (for either vaccine or past recovery — Israel treats these as equivalent) and if you do have antibodies, get discharged from quarantine the same day. If you have a “green tag” from Israel (vaccination or recovery certificate), you can skip the quarantine altogether. (All other uses of the “green tag” have been abolished effective June 1.)

According to the Ministry of Health dashboard, we have 212 active cases in the country (presumably, as usual, half of them asymptomatic), 11 of them in isolation hotels, 53 in hospital, the rest in self-isolation at home. Of those 53, 29 are severe cases (19 on respirators, some of them hospitalized months ago), the 24 remaining ones mild cases hospitalized for something else.

Deaths are down to 1 every other day or so, from 80+ a day at the peak of the epidemic. The average over the past month is 1/day. Inside sources tell me almost everybody hospitalized now is from the Arab or Beduin sectors, which have been very vaccine-shy. The “general sector” (everybody not Arab, Beduin, or “ultra-Orthodox”) has over 90% vaccinated or documented recovery above the age of 16 — again, the working assumption of our public health authorities is that recovery imparts a level of protection comparable to the Pfizer vaccine we use here. Corona wards in the major cities in the center of the country have been shut down or mothballed for lack of patients, or repurposed as generic internal medicine wards.

One tail-end issue that came up, and has landed on the desk of the new Minister of Health, Nitzan Horowitz (a former journalist, and actually a fairly sharp cookie despite me disagreeing with pretty much everything he stands for): at the height of the crisis, emergency authorization for hiring several hundred additional doctors was given to the public hospitals during the height of the epidemic. Now the budget has dried up, and those doctors find themselves out of a job despite the public hospitals being chronically understaffed even in normal times (especially during the winter season)…

Unprecedented Israeli government sworn in: Netanyahu finally heads to opposition

Just seconds ago in the Knesset, a motion of confidence in the new coalition passed 60-59 with one abstention.

Binyamin Netanyahu, after 12 years, had to vacate his seat on the Government Bench and take a seat as an ordinary MK. So did most other ministers, except the several holdovers such as Denfense Minister Binyamin “Benny” Gantz.

And now incoming PM Naftali Bennett took the oath.

The first step of the procedure was the vote on a new Speaker of the Knesset: former Jerusalem police commissioner Michael “Miki” Levy, the candidate of the coalition, won that vote handily with 65 votes (including a few from the opposition). He was then handed the hammer by outgoing Speaker, Yariv Levin. He skipped his acceptance speech so a hospitalized MK, who and came especially to the Knesset for the confidence vote, could vote immediately and then be brought back to the hospital.

Presently, the ministers are sworn in one by one, in alphabetical order.

Netanyahu is down for now… but not out.

A few firsts:

  • unprecedented 2 minority ministers (1 Druze, 1 Arab)
  • first-ever Ethiopian Jewish minister (Pnina Tamano-Shata, minister of Immigrant Absorption)
  • unprecedented number of woman ministers, including in key ministries (such as Ayelet Shaked as Interior Minister and Yifat Shasha-Biton as Education Minister)
  • first-ever Orthodox PM
  • … but also…
  • smallest ‘home’ faction ever for the PM (just 6 MKs)
  • not even 61 MKs

Of course Netanyahu will try to stay relevant and make [his former associate!] Bennett’s life hell. Even without that, within 5 months the new government will have to get a budget approved with 61 MKs, or Bennett is done.

So I would not rush to eulogize Netanyahu — we haven’t seen the last of him.

Honestly, for many like myself it’s a bittersweet moment. Netanyahu has been a talented leader and both friend and foe admire his political cunning — but after 15 years as PM (3 years 1996-1999 and then the last 12 years) he had clearly developed a case of “Louis XIV syndrome” (l’état, c’est moi). And in the process of, slicha al ha-bitui/pardon the expression, shafting one political ally after another for short-term political gain, his mounting paranoia that “they’re out to get me” (yes, many were, but not all) became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The coalition now sworn in is an extraordinarily heterogenous one — hard left, moderate left, center, and right-wing; from hardline secularist to modern Orthodox; from hardcore Jewish nationalist to the Islamist United Arab List (Bennett back-handedly praised Netanyahu for having “koshered” Mansour Abbas by being the first to offer him to join hist coalition);…

If he is brought down permanently, it will likely be because of a putsch inside the party. Former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat as well as the outgoing health minister (Yuli Edelstein) and finance minister (Israel Katz) have all thrown their hats into the ring for the party leadership primaries.


UPDATE: Tal Schneider in the Times of Israel sees Netanyahu unseated by a new generation, many of them with media backgrounds. The only minister from the older generation is Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai, a former IDF spokesman, now 74 years old (Netanyahu is 71). The others range from their late thirties to their early sixties.

While Netanyahu has been perceived throughout the years as a wizard of tech and media, many of his successors built their public fortune in the news industry. Lapid, Labor’s Merav Michaeli, Meretz’s Nitzan Horowitz, and New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar all worked as news professionals as columnist, reporter or anchor.

And key figures were Netanyahu’s apprentices. (The one trait about Netanyahu I personally disliked most was not one that “world public opinion” cared about, but that he systematically cut down any of his own associates who became too strong.)

Bennett was Netanyahu’s chief of staff, Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked was director of Netanyahu’s political office, and Avigdor Liberman was Likud’s director-general, a senior adviser to Netanyahu and a political partner when Likud and Yisrael Beytenu ran on a combined list in the 2013 elections. Blue and White head Benny Gantz was the IDF chief of staff under Netanyahu, Lapid was a senior minister in his 2013 government, and New Hope’s Sa’ar was Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary as well as a senior minister under him.

And further down the list of New Hope lawmakers, the connections continue: Ze’ev Elkin was a minister in Netanyahu’s cabinet as well as a confidant of the premier, Yoaz Hendel served as Netanyahu’s communication director and Zvi Hauser is a former cabinet secretary.

The lawmakers making up the foundations of Israel’s next coalition studied in Netanyahu’s academy, learning from the best.

This is the next generation of leaders. They reached this position thanks to him, but also despite him.

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post, whose new editor Yaakov Katz has been beating the drum against Netanyahu to such an extent that he alienated many of the paper’s longtime readers, published an editorial hard to imagine in the US hyperpartisan mediascape: We must recognize Netanyahu’s achievements despite his flaws

[T]here is a Jewish tradition of hakarat hatov –  expressing gratitude. Netanyahu is a human being with faults and failings, but he is also someone who has dedicated his life and career to the Jewish state, and has achieved an impressive list of accomplishments.As we have noted, Netanyahu realized early on the need for a broad corona vaccine acquisition and distribution campaign, and he managed to achieve it even as he was being ridiculed by some members of the new government.Netanyahu can also take credit for the Abraham Accords, normalizing relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. The impact of these new relations should not be underestimated: they helped create a new Middle East to the benefit of all.

Netanyahu’s pushback on the threat from a nuclear Iran was one of the themes that ties his different terms in office: when most of the Western world was far from seeing the threat, Netanyahu was already fighting it.In fact, his approach to this issue played a significant role in preparing the ground for relations with the Sunni Arab states that felt similarly threatened by Iran. Netanyahu was willing to stand up to Barack Obama in a last-ditch effort to prevent the signing of the nuclear deal in 2015. While this angered many Democrats and severely undermined bipartisan support in the US, it was noted by other US allies that similarly felt threatened, such as Saudi Arabia.

As The Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon has noted, “Everything is interconnected in this ‘Bibi doctrine.’ … He leveraged Israel’s strengths – agricultural expertise, technology, innovation, intel, security expertise – into things that it could provide the world.”Under Netanyahu, there were improved diplomatic relations with Russia, China, India, South America and Africa.

It should also be noted that while there was the usual criticism in the UN of Israel’s response to the recent Hamas rockets, there were several countries, including Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Panama, where the Israeli flag was flown on government buildings in solidarity during Operation Guardian of the Walls. […]

It is too early to say how exactly Netanyahu will be remembered in history, but it’s not too early to thank him for his service to our nation. We do not forget his divisiveness but we also do not forget his contribution in transforming Israel into a military and economic powerhouse.

Can you imagine a US major newspaper writing a similar editorial about Trump instead of falling back on infantile “two minutes hate for Emmanuel Goldstein”?

UPDATE 2: there were a few last-minute changes and swaps in the cabinet list. Here is the final portfolio distribution as of 23:30:

Prime MinisterNaftali Bennett (Yamina)
Alternate Prime Minister/Foreign Affairs: Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid)
Deputy Prime Minister/Defense: Benny Gantz (Blue and White)
Deputy Prime Minister/Justice: Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope)

Finance: Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu)
Education: Yifat Shasha-Biton (New Hope)
Interior: Ayelet Shaked (Yamina)
Health: Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) 

Transportation: Merav Michaeli (Labor)
Environmental Protection: Tamar Zandberg (Meretz)
Public Security: Omer Bar-Lev (Labor)  
Communications: Yoaz Hendel (New Hope)
Economy: Orna Barbivay (Yesh Atid) 
Labor; Social Services and Social Affairs: Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid)
Energy: Karin Elharrar (Yesh Atid)
Diaspora Affairs: Nachman Shai (Labor)
Intelligence Services: Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid)
Tourism: Yoel Razvozov (Yesh Atid)
Religious Affairs: Matan Kahana (Yamina)
Culture and Sports: [Yechiel] “Chili” Tropper (Blue and White)
Aliyah and Integration: Pnina Tamano-Shata (Blue and White) [1st-ever Ethiopian Jew in cabinet]
Agriculture and Negev and Galilee Development: Oded Forer (Yisrael Beytenu)
Construction, Ministerial Liaison to the Knesset: Ze’ev Elkin (New Hope)  
Regional Cooperation: Essawi Frej (Meretz) [Arab]
Science and Technology: Orit Farkash Hacohen (Blue and White)   
Social Equity: Meirav Cohen (Yesh Atid)  
Minister in the Finance Ministry: Hamed Amar (Yisrael Beytenu) [Druze]

Knesset Speaker: Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid)
Finance Committee chairman: Alex Kushnir (Yisrael Beytenu)
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman: Ram Ben Barak (Yesh Atid)
Law and Constitution Committee chairman: [Reform] Rabbi Gilad Kariv (Labor)
Aliyah and Diaspora Affairs Committee chairman: Yair Golan (Meretz)

Several commentators have pointed out that the single most powerful figure in fact, if not in the public eye, will be finance minister Avigdor Liberman from the Russian immigrants party Yisrael Beiteinu, whose associate Alex Kushnir also chairs the Finance committee.

UPDATE 2: Instapundit calls it “another win for the bad guys” and doesn’t expect this to end well. I can understand the latter; but as to the former, the one person most responsible for bringing down that undeniably highly talented leader is none other than the same leader himself — or, to be more specific, his egotistic belief in his own irreplacablity, his ceaseless cutting-down of any associate who might become too prominent, and his taking political Macchiavellianism to such extremes that essentially nobody still believed any promise he made.

Even Winston Churchill, whom Netanyahu sees himself as an Israeli version of, and whose ego was as big as Netanyahu’s, realized he would have to leave the stage one day. Thus, he carefully groomed a successor (Anthony Eden) over the course of more than a decade in and out of power.[*] Netanyahu, in contrast, simply seems to have been in denial about the fact that his unprecedentedly long tenure (at 15 years total, he is Israel’s longest-serving leader in history, outdoing even David Ben-Gurion) would have to come to an end one day, let alone that he planned for who would step into his shoes.

At any rate, he is supposed to have a meeting with the new PM — again, his onetime BFF — this afternoon about the transition of power. Boy, would I love to be a fly on the wall there…

Newly elected Prime Minister Naftali Bennett waves, with Yair Lapid (left) and Gideon Sa'ar (right) alongside him, after their new coalition wins Knesset approval, June 13, 2021 (Haim Zach / GPO)

UPDATE 3: via Gil Hoffman on Twitter, this group picture of the new government by press photographer Marc Israel Sellem


(Sitting between the two alternate PMs is [mostly ceremonial] President Reuven “Ruby” Rivlin.)

[*] Even so, as Andrew Roberts explains in great detail in his priceless biography “Churchill: Walking With Destiny”, Anthony Eden finally had to force the hand of the octogenerian Churchill to step down — though this happened away from the limelight, and Churchill was allowed to retire gracefully and to overwhelming public accolades. (He was even offered the Dukedom of London, but turned it down under pressure from his son Randolph Churchill MP who feared he would have to leave the House for the Lords after his father would go on to the hereafter.

Winston, despite no longer having the mental vigor he still had during World War Two, had gotten misgivings about Eden’s ability to do the job. Sadly, he proved to be right. However, Eden was succeeded by another Churchill protégé, the pragmatist Harold Macmillan.

Sabbath musical delight: “La Folia”, to the Baroque era what “the 12-bar blues” is to the 20th century?

I once was asked whether improvisation over a fixed harmonic scheme — like the 12-bar blues — was a new invention of the 20th century.

I started explaining about the passacaglia and the chaconne in Baroque classical music, or the even earlier “ground” in Renaissance England — but these are primarily centered on the bass line and do allow reharmonization (or minor-major interchange, as in the middle section of Bach’s immortal Chaconne in D minor for solo violin).

A more direct equivalent is “La Folia” (literally “the madness”). Below the bass line is given in G minor, and the harmonic scheme spelled out in Roman numeral notation. (CC:BY 3.0 “Hyacinth” from Mediawiki.)

In modern jazz/rock notation — which is absolute rather than relative — this would translate to (in G minor):

Gm | D | Gm | F7 | Bb | F7 | Gm | D | Gm | D | Gm | F7 | Bb | F7 | Gm – D | Gm||

This scheme supposedly originates in a tune called “Les folies d’Espagne” or “La Folia d’España” from the 16th century. For our purposes, the essential thing is that multiple composers from the Baroque era (and later) wrote series of variations over it, which they simply called “la Folia” the way we’d speak of “the 12-bar blues” today. And indeed, group improvisation over the Folia framework appears to have been a thing then, presumably then as now ranging from the sublime to the utterly banal, depending on the musical skill and inspiration level of the performer.

Here is a lecture, with musical examples, about La Folia at Tel-Aviv University, given during the pandemic via Zoom.

Here is Vivaldi’s version (in Baroque chamber tuning, i.e., a half-step down from modern concert pitch):

This is Itzhak Perlman playing Kreisler’s solo violin arrangement of Corelli’s version

One “La Folia” version that movie buffs know as “the Barry Lyndon theme” is of course Händel’s sarabande from keyboard sonata in D minor HWV 437, embedded below in the orchestral arrangement used for the movie:

For a more modern tribute to La Folia, see the closing section of “Force Majeure” by German electronic music pioneers Tangerine Dream, which starts at 15:51 into the movie. (I hope the embed preserves the timestamp, otherwise click here).

Have a nice weekend, shabbat shalom, and enjoy!

UPDATE: J. S. Bach’s quasi-Folia: the aria “unser trefflicher, lieber Kammerherr” (in B minor) from the Peasants Cantata BWV 212:

Economic “long COVID” aftereffects: Apple Campus and normalization of remote working; global chip shortage; Bidenflation

(1) Steve Green, Bill Whittle, and Scott Ott (remember “Scrappleface”?) comment on “what if you built the biggest, best, greenest headquarters office space and nobody came”?

“Over the last year, we often felt not just unheard, but at times actively ignored. Messages like, ‘we know many of you are eager to reconnect in person with your colleagues back in the office with no messaging acknowledging that there are directly contradictory feelings amongst us feels dismissive and invalidating.”

Leaving aside the dripping sense of entitlement[*] and the nauseating pop-psych speak, the COVID19 pandemic triggered a number changes waiting to happen. One of them was the normalization of telecommuting (a.k.a. “remote working”) for many office jobs: we saw first-hand that yes, many of these can be done from home just fine.

I telecommuted for months myself: since my employer worked under a quota, they asked everyone who could work from home to do so, in order to free up quota slots for essential lab workers. How efficiently one can work from home depends on a number of factors: some of us cannot deal with auditory distractions, others thrive on noisy environments (these are the ones who, pre- and post-pandemic, might go to cafés to go write or design). There’s the stereotype of the blogger / writer in pajamas; others (like yours truly) made a point of dressing for work even at home — to flip the “you’re at work now” switch in the brain, so to speak.

I’m certain there are plenty of jobs at Apple that can be done just fine from home with a fast internet connection, and using Zoom (or, since everybody at Apple is in the Apple ‘ecosystem’, Facetime) instead of long meetings. (I actually prefer online over realspace conferences, personally: trying to outshout each other doesn’t wo

But I was also reminded of something not mentioned in the video: Parkinson’s Law of the perfect headquarters building. The British naval historian C. Northcote Parkinson make several trenchant observations about the dynamics of large organizations, collectively known as “Parkinson’s Laws”. [Archive of original article in the Nov. 19, 1955 issue of The Economist; ] Some you may have heard of include: work expands to fill the time available to completion; officials make work for each other; officials want to multiply subordinates, not rivals; and Parkinson’s Law of Triviality, according to which the more trivial the expense, the more debate it entails.

Parkinson also observes that:

During a period of exciting discovery or progress there is no time to plan the perfect headquarters. The time for that comes later, when all the important work has been done. Perfection, we know, is finality; and finality is death. […]

Great hopes centered on the League [of Nations] from its inception in 1920 until about 1930. By 1933, at the latest, the experiment was seen to have failed. Its physical embodiment, however, the Palace of the Nations, was not opened until 1937. It was a structure no doubt justly admired. Deep thought had gone into the design of secretariat and council chambers, committee rooms and cafeteria. Everything was there which ingenuity could devise– except, indeed, the League itself. By the year when its Palace was formally opened the League had practically ceased to exist. [It is presently the United NebbichNations office at Geneva.]

C. Northcote Parkinson, “Parkinson’s Law”, book into which the Economist article was expanded. [PDF available here.]

Yes, I know Apple has a market cap over $2 trillion, and that their just-released M1 CPU has the potential to be transformative. (I’ve been an Apple user for over 35 years myself.) At the same time, I can see “bureaucratic entropy” affecting Apple as it becomes ever more invested in luxury beliefs and ever further from the Steve Jobs-era passion for making ‘insanely great’ products.

Now they have a perfect headquarters building, into which enormous amounts of time, money, and energy have gone — and a substantial percentage of its own employees prefer to telecommute from their spare bedrooms…

(2) Global chip shortage. This is not all about COVID: as this ColdFusion video explains, a perfect storm has hit the chip manufacturing sector: a historical drought in Taiwan (chip fabbing is very water-intensive); increased demand for GPUs due to historically high cryptocurrency prices (leading to record ‘bitcoin mining’, generally done on GPUs); … Go watch the whole things

The big shock to me was just how high a percentage of the semiconductor ‘foundry’ market is held by just one company: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, better known as TSMC.

What ‘fabless semiconductor’ companies are TSMC’s most important clients? AMD, Apple, Nvidia, Qualcomm, Broadcom,…

(3) “Bidenflation”: it’s a thing now. Just three links via Insty:

NOTHING TO SEE HERE, MOVE ALONG:  Deutsche Bank Issues a Terrifying Warning for America Under Biden. “Already, many sources of rising prices are filtering through into the US economy. Even if they are transitory on paper, they may feed into expectations just as they did in the 1970s. The risk then, is that even if they are only embedded for a few months they may be difficult to contain, especially with stimulus so high.”

Related:  CPI inflation indicator hits 5 percent. “Trillions of dollars of proposed new deficit spending would further increase inflation, and would mostly stimulate the politically connected. The Federal Reserve should resist political pressure to further flood the money supply in hopes of stimulating a faster COVID recovery.”

DO TELL:  Not a drill: Inflation is here. “The optimists, including those at the Fed, believe that the current inflation is temporary — a combination of demand spiking as the economy reopens while the supply chains haven’t fully recovered from the disruptions of the pandemic lockdowns. But this understates the scale and scope of what we are seeing. There are reasons to believe that the current moment is different from previous economic recoveries.”

And what for?   Half of the pandemic’s unemployment money may have been stolen. “Criminals may have stolen as much as half of the unemployment benefits the U.S. has been pumping out over the past year, some experts say. . . . Blake Hall, CEO of, a service that tries to prevent this kind of fraud, tells Axios that America has lost more than $400 billion to fraudulent claims. As much as 50% of all unemployment monies might have been stolen, he says. Haywood Talcove, the CEO of LexisNexis Risk Solutions, estimates that at least 70% of the money stolen by impostors ultimately left the country, much of it ending up in the hands of criminal syndicates in China, Nigeria, Russia and elsewhere.”

But the most telling item, perhaps:

INFLATION:  Why is Blackrock buying every single family house they can find, paying 20-50% above asking price?Why would they pay such a premium?

Gee, whodathunkit? Runaway gov’t spending fueled by what amounts to money printing: this isn’t quite the 1923 Weimar Republic [Biden: “hold my beer”], but as Herbert Stein’s law goes: “that which cannot go on forever, won’t”…

[*] not to mention the unpunctuated run-on sentence, a hallmark of a certain overcredentialed, undereducated generation

Three quick takes

Been an insane day at work, but just two quick takes:

(1) So in the US Senate, it appears that the Orwellianly named “For The People Act”, which should properly be called “The Perpetual One-Party State Act Through Ballot Stuffing Act” is dead in the water as Joe Manchin (D-WV) refuses to support it and also does not support ending the filibuster. (For non-US readers: in the US Senate, a motion to end debate and hold a vote requires a mini-supermajority of 60 votes.)

Powerline points out that, unlike congresscritters from gerrymandered whackadoodle districts, senators represent the entire state, so may lose their seat if they move too far out of step with their constituents.

(2) Meanwhile here in Israel, the main principles of the coalition agreement for the “Change Government” have become public. The two alternating prime ministers have veto power over each other, an arrangement that cannot help reminding me of the two Consuls in the Roman Republic.

Caretaker PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving PM in history, seems hell-bent on tarnishing what is otherwise an enviable legacy. His latest claims about “massive election fraud” do not even pass the laugh test: Israel’s voter ID is so stringent that this is basically impossible, and we only have remote voting for cases like diplomatic personnel on duty abroad.

Netanyahu supporters are anguished about his having to step down, and look for conspiracies everywhere except for what is plainly under their nose: that 3D chess master of tactical political maneuvering has finally run out of allies he hasn’t, pardon my French, screwed over yet. It’s no accident that many of the parties in the “Change Coalition” are either led by former close Netanyahu associates, or have such downticket, or both.

(3) Some European reporters cannot understand why Israelis even in the center are now adamantly against giving up ‘settlements’ in the disputed territories and ‘have adopted the extreme right position’. Well, guess what: the last time we voluntarily dismantled settlements (the 2005 Unilateral Disengagement from Gaza) we say the territory used as launchpads for terrorist attacks and rockets fired indiscriminately at civilian residential areas. Gee, I have no idea how this would affect the popularity for the ‘land for peace’ position…

This isn’t like the Netherlands and Belgium negotiating about the future of the province of Limburg or the enclave of Baarle-Hertog. It isn’t even France and Germany negotiating the future of the Saarland. If it were a matter of giving up land for others to live on peacefully, some would oppose and some would support the move. Likely, if the other side were genuinely renouncing violence, ‘land for peace’ would carry the day with the center and even parts of the moderate right. ‘Land for terrorist rocket bases so moral narcissists can feel good about themselves ’ , however, has no appeal at all outside the far-left fringe.

77th anniversary of D-Day: the somewhat under-appreciated Juno Beach landings

Today, 77 years ago, an Allied armada carried out the largest-scale amphibious operation in history in Normandy.

Elaborate deception maneuvers (I will blog about “Operation Mincemeat” another time) had led the Germans to expect the invasion elsewhere, at the Calais Narrows.

The major landings were divided into five “beaches”: from west to east:

The one name nearly everybody remembers is Omaha Beach, by far the bloodiest of them all (2,000-5,000), as featured in the movie “Saving Private Ryan”. Utah Beach has the lowest casualty figures of all (under 200), unless those of the Airborne landings inland are added to the count. The two British landing sectors, Gold Beach and Sword Beach, cost 1,000-1,100 casualties (of which 350 dead) and 700 casualties, respectively.

What about the Canadian Juno Beach? Wikipedia (caveat lector) lists 340 dead, 574 wounded, and 47 captured. Here is a 5-part YouTube video about it:

I am keenly aware that I likely would not have been here without the landings. So many of us owe our very existence to the brave warriors putting their lives on the line on that day.


Sabbath musical delight: Händel’s keyboard suite in D minor, HWV 428

Georg Friedrich Händel (or George Frederick Handel, for the English) is best known for his orchestral music (e.g. “Water Music”, “Music for the Royal Fireworks”) and his oratoria (particularly the “Messiah”). Being an organist and harpsichordist himself, he also wrote a large collection of keyboard and organ music. (There is a story about a musical “duel” at the Saxon court between him and Domenico Scarlatti: the judges ruled the contest a draw, with Händel superior on the organ and Scarlatti on the harpsichord.)

Händel’s organ concerti are somewhat well-known (and crowd pleasers): his works for solo keyboard have been neglected a little, standing in the tall shadow of Scarlatti, and both of them in the tallest shadow of them all, J. S. Bach.

A few solo keyboard pieces are well known, particularly the tuneful “Harmonious Blacksmith” variations from the Suite in E major HWV 430, and of course the grave, stately Sarabande from the suite in D minor HWV 437 is widely known as an orchestral arrangement, especially since its use as the theme music of Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon”. (It is based on La Folia, a set chordal sequence that filled some of the same roles to musicians and improvisers of the day as the 12-bar blues does to blues and rock musicians. I will blog about that one another time.)

The suite in D minor HWV 428, as its fifth movement contains a charming set of an aria with five variations (“Air and Double 1-5”) that I like a lot. Below follow some performances of either the whole suite or just the Air and Doubles.

Sviatoslav Richter’s performance, as always a little idiosyncratic but enlightening. The Air starts at 8:42, the variations at 13:51.

Eric Heidsieck (V. Aria and Variations, audio only)

Dutch pianist Daria van den Bercken on AVRO TV, the whole suite

And finally Vasilisa Bogorodskaya, with score displayed along with the music. (She does not observe repeats, hence her recording is shorter even allowing for tempo differences.)

Enjoy and shabbat shalom!

“The amazing Madoff clawback”: The surprising silver lining of the Bernie Madoff scandal

Rich Tenorio in the Times of Israel discusses a new book by Jim Campbell about the Bernie Madoff scandal and its somewhat surprising happy ending (Ben Sales’s term). No, this does not refer to the recent death in prison of the disgraced investor, but to the recovery of the lion’s share of the robbed assets.

Madoff came from a middle-class Jewish family. In 1960, with about $5,000 he had saved up working as a lifeguard and sprinkler installer, he started his own brokerage after passing the required licensing exam. He focused on “penny stocks”. As such stocks were not traded on the stock exchange floor, he harnessed computers (still in their infancy in the business world) to keep track fo stock valuayions; his system evolved into what would become NASDAQ. Madoff became both a mainstay of Wall Street and a fixture of the Jewish community’s uppermost reaches.

Madoff’s offices covered three floors of the Lipstick Building on Third Avenue in NYC (across the street from Citigroup Center).

Lipstick Building - Philip Johnson.jpg

His legitimate operation covered the 18th and 19th floors; on the 17th floor was his “other” operation where even his children (who worked for him in the legit op) did not have access. From there, he and a relative handful of employees ran the greatest Ponzi scheme not run by a national government.

Some of the factors that contributed to Madoff’s success:

  • He ran both a completely legitimate operation and his scam at the same time, packaging the latter as an exclusive investor club for “friends of Bernie”
  • Unlike typical confidence tricksters, he was somewhat standoffish and introvert, and relied on his good name, his role
  • He engaged in classic “affinity fraud“, a law enforcement term for when fraudsters recruit “marks” from among their own ethnic, religious,… milieu, leveraging “he’s one of us” trust. 85% of Madoff’s victims were Jewish like himself.
  • In fact, his favorite marks were Jewish private and public charitable foundations — according to US tax law, a private foundation’s annual charitable spending must equal at least 5% of its net worth, hence the annual expenditure (and hence the annual amount they would seek to cash in from their Madoff investments) was relatively small and predictable
  • The returns he offered were large and consistent, but not grossly different (about 1% per month) from the time-averaged performance of more respectable investment funds.

It was the consistency that drew the attention and envy of business rivals. Harry Markopolos, a portfolio manager with Rampart Capital Management, was ordered to try and reverse-engineer Madoff’s investment strategy. When he started analyzing the numbers, he very quicly realized they were too neat to be true. Normally, when plotting the value of investments over time, you would expect some noise on the curve due to market volatility, as well as some longer-term fluctuation due to market “boom and bust” cycles. Instead, Madoff produced straight lines that just couldn’t be real.

Markopolos alerted the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) multiple times, but was given the brushoff every time.

Campbell assumes that Madoff’s operation could otherwise have kept growing, and might be around today in 2021 with a book value of about $240 billion (!) if it weren’t for the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. Beleaguered investors with Madoff accounts found themselves in the position of having to cash in their Madoff investment to plug the holes elsewhere — and try as he might, Madoff simply couldn’t raise new investors (a.k.a. freiereim/suckers) fast enough to raise the required cash. He then confessed to his sons and explained he was going to turn himself in: his sons beat him to it, and the rest is history.

Private fortunes and nonprofit charities were ravaged. Here is a human-interest story of a widow who lost her entire life savings to Madoff — and went from a very comfortable lifestyle to working as a housecleaner to make ends meet.

The Madoff story has a somewhat surprising silver lining though: the amazing Madoff Clawback, as the Wall Street Journal expose about it is titled. Normally, the “clawback” or recovery rate of stolen funds in such cases is about 5-30%; Irving Picard, the court-appointed trustee and his chief counsel David Sheehan achieved an astonishing and unprecendented 75% (yes, three quarters).

First of all: the $65 billion figure quoted is the total on-paper balance of all the Madoff investment accounts: this included the accrued “profits”. As a defrauded investor, you can only put in claims for the money you actually invested, not for the completely bogus “return on investment”. In the end, about $17.5 billion were claimed.

Now not everybody who had invested in Madoff actually lost money: some of his earlier investors had made a hefty profit financed with the deposits from new freierim (suckers), and were smart and/or prescient enough to cash in while the cashing was good. Some were indeed “feeders” who helped Madoff recruit new marks. They (or their estates, if deceased) could be sued for civil forfeiture: in one case, the Picower estate, Picard extracted no less than $7 billion. Even Hadassah, which had invested $40 million and withdrawn a total of $137 million before its supposed remaining balance of $90 million was wiped out, ended up contributing $45 million to a fund for Madoff victims.

I cannot help wondering about two things here:

(a) just how divorced from anything tangible are goings-on in “high finance” really, especially in this economy?

(b) Big as Madoff’s operation was, isn’t it dwarfed by some legally sanctioned Ponzi schemes that are orders of magnitude larger, such as “college for everyone” and the US Social Security system?

On this somewhat dyspeptic note, I wish you all a nice weekend, and my fellow Jews Shabbat shalom.

End of an era? Yair Lapid announces a post-Netanyahu “government of change” has been assembled [updated: full cabinet list]

Hebrew media report (e.g. KAN TV here) that, with less than one hour to go before the midnight deadline, all eight (!) factions that will make up the “mimshelet shinui” (change government, read: anti-Netanyahu government) have signed the coalition agreement, and cabinet formateur Yair Lapid will report has reported to President Reuven “Ruby” Rivlin that he is able to form a government.

The coalition will consist of:

  • Yamina (Rightward) led by Naftali Bennett
  • Tiqva Chadasha (New Hope), i.e., Likud without Bibi, led by Gideon Sa`ar
  • Yesh Atid (There Is a Future, centrist) led by Yair Lapid
  • Kachol Lavan (Blue and White, centrist) led by Benny Gantz
  • Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel our home, Russian immigrants, right-wing secularists) led by Avigdor Lieberman
  • Labour, led by Meirav Michaeli
  • Meretz (hard left), led by Nitzan Horowitz
  • and… the United Arab List (moderate Islamists) led by Mansour Abbas

Naftali Bennett will start out as Prime Minister and Yair Lapid as Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, then they will exchange places after two years. Former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz will be Defense Minister, while New Hope chair Gideon Sa`ar, a seasoned politico, will be Justice Minister. Avigdor Lieberman will be finance minister, Nitzan Horowitz health minister, and I forgot which post will go to Meirav Michaeli. Yamina’s #2, Ayelet Shaked, will be Interior Minister.

It was a nail-biter until the last moment, with Ayelet Shaked (Yamina’s #2) and Meirav Michaeli fighting for a spot on the Judicial Appointments Committee. Supposedly they eventually agreed to rotate their spot.

And of course, in last-ditch maneuvers, Netanyahu loyalists try to pressure and woo individual MKs to drop their support, in the hope of denying the coalition a 61 MK majority.


The coalition document signed by the leaders of the anti-Netanyahu bloc. (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Signatures on the coalition document, from the Jerusalem Post

PS: as a side story, today the Knesset voted for former Jewish Agency chairman Yitzḥak Herzog (Labour) as the new President, who will succeed Ruby Rivlin in about a month. “Bougie” Herzog will serve a single 7-year term in this largely ceremonial and internationally representative position. He is a “political prince”: his father, Chaim Herzog z”l, was himself President 1983-1993, and his father, Rabbi Yitzḥak Halevi Herzog [for whom the grandson is named], was the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Arbel snarks that we should send empty boxes and packing tape to Balfour Street [the Prime Minister’s official residence], and Sharpies for labeling… And asks who will pay for the gasoline for the moving trucks. I am fairly sure that there would be plenty of volunteers to contribute some…

And in an unrelated item, the Gaza chief of UNRWA, an agency that exists exclusively to perpetuate for the “Palestinian refugee problem”, has been recalled for speaking the truth, namely that IDF strikes in Gaza were “precise”.

UPDATE: via YNet (in Hebrew), the full cabinet list (subject to last-minute adjustments):

  • Naftali Bennett (R): Prime Minister (1st rotation, will swap with Lapid for 2nd rotation)
  • Yair Lapid (YA): Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister
  • Benny Gantz (BW): Defense Minister
  • Avigdor Liberman (YB): Treasury/Finance Minister
  • Gideon Saar (NH): Justice Minister
  • Ayelet Shaked (R): Interior Minister
  • Yifat Shasha-Biton (NH): Education Minister
  • Merav Michaeli (L): Transportation Minister
  • Omer Bar-Lev (L): Internal Security Minister
  • Nitzan Horowitz (M): Health Minister
  • Tamar Zandberg (M): Environmental Protection Minister
  • Miki Levi (YA): Speaker of the Knesset
  • Issawi Fredj (M): Regional Cooperation Minister
  • Zeev Elkin (NH): Housing Minister
  • Penina Tamano-Shata (BW): Immigration and Absorption Minister
  • Nachman Shai (L): Diaspora Minister
  • Yoaz Hendel (NH): Communications Minister
  • Karin Elharrar (YA): Energy Minister
  • Meir Cohen (YA): Labor and Social Welfare Minister

This list is not complete: in particular, I don’t see an agriculture minister, a portfolio about which Liberman and Gantz’s factions were bickering. I don’t see a Science Minister either, though that office in practice has very little influence — most of Israel’s public funding of science passed through the Council for Higher Education, under the nominal aegis of the Education Minister.

Mansour Abbas’s United Arab List will not get a cabinet position, but instead one or more committee charmanships in the Knesset and $16 billion budget for Arab community needs. Developing…

The surprising etymology of “bugger” — as a term for neo-gnosticist heretic

It was one of Winston Churchill’s favorite expletives (together with the British all-purpose intensive “bloody”). In the UK it actually is a legal term (or at least was, for centuries, thanks to the Buggery Act of Henry VIII). But where does the word “bugger” come from?

For starters, originally it had no sexual meaning at all, but meant “heretic”. Allow me to explain.

In Bulgaria there was, near the end of the first millenium, a neo-gnostic sect known as the Bogomils, followers of a heretic priest named Bogomil [“beloved by G-d” —the Slavic equivalent of German Gottlieb, Latin Amadeus, Greek Theophile, or Hebrew Yedidia].

What were their beliefs? The ultra-short version: there are two supreme beings, a good, purely spiritual one, and an evil one associated with the material world, which they identified with the Biblical G-d. Everything associated with the material world is intrinsically sinful, and the established church is irredeemably corrupt, as are the worldly authorities.

Admittedly, like Bertrand Russell, I do have moments where the gnostic doctrine that “the world was created by the devil while G-d wasn’t watching” feels strangely compelling 😉

The Bogomils themselves (also known abroad as the Bulgari, on account of the movement’s land of origin) never spread beyond the Balkans. They did, however, inspire other neo-Gnostic movements in Western Europe, known as the Cathars [from the Greek word for purity] or the Albigenses [from the city of Albi] in France. In Old French, “Bulgari” was corrupted into “bougres”, a term also applied to the Albigensians.

Wikipedia (caveat lector):

The Cathars ate a pescatarian diet. They did not eat cheese, eggs, meat, or milk because these are by-products of sexual intercourse.[35] The Cathars believed that animals were carriers of reincarnated souls, and forbade the killing of all animal life apart from fish,[35][36] which they believed were produced by spontaneous generation.[36]

[…] Cathars believed that one would be repeatedly reincarnated until one commits to the self-denial of the material world. [Hmm, sounds a bit Buddhist — N.A.]

The adherents were, of course, very violently persecuted — a subject for another article, perhaps. Suffice for now to recall two factoids as illustration:

(a) During the Albigensian Crusade, at the 1209 Sack of Béziers, the papal legate supposedly told the Crusaders: Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius [“Kill them all. The Lord knows those who are his own.”] Legate Amalric wrote Pope Innocent III later that some 20,000 people had been put to the sword at his command.

(b) Following the nine-month Siege of Montségur, those who refused to renounce the Cathar faith were burned on a pyre. It is said that no stakes were needed, as the condemned mounted the pyre voluntarily. Heavy metal superstars Iron Maiden often have history-themed lyrics: the song Montségur is about the siege.

The names of the movement gave rise to words for “heretic” in several languages: “Cathar” became Ketzer in German and ketter in Dutch, and Old French bougre became “bugger” in Middle English. The French word also survives in the expression pauvre bougre = poor fellow, poor sod, and as an intensifier in invective like ‘bougre d’imbécile!’ [freely: bloody imbecile! or: f***ing idiot!].

So how did we get from there to the sexual meaning?

[…] To the Cathars, reproduction was a moral evil to be avoided, as it continued the chain of reincarnation and suffering in the material world. It was claimed by their opponents that, given this loathing for procreation, they generally resorted to [homosexuality and animal “husband”-ry]. Such was the situation that a charge of heresy leveled against a suspected Cathar was usually dismissed if the accused could show he was legally married.

Of course, it was nothing unusual for the Church to ascribe nonorthogenital practices to movements it had turned against for theological or power-political reasons: similar allegations were leveled at the Knights Templar.

Such offenses, in England, were traditionally dealt with by the ecclesiastical courts. Then Henry VIII, as part of a series of laws curtailing the power of the clergy in general, made it a capital crime under the purvey of civil courts with the Buggery Act of 1533, punishing “the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with Mankind or Beast”. Later jurisprudence limited “Mankind” to one specific type of act, and that with either men or women. The law remained on the books for centuries until superseded by a section of the general Offences Against the Person Act 1828, itself in turn superseded by the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. [Incidentally, simple consensual homosexuality remained a felony in England until 1967 — as I first learned when reading about the history of the Beatles. Their manager Brian Epstein, who had a habit of picking up “rough trade”, had been mugged by one of his “dates” — as technically Epstein had committed a felony, he availed himself of the right to appear as “Mr. X”.]

Uses of “bugger” in English invective follow naturally. Indeed, they have parallels in other languages: “bugger off!” [i.e., get lost] corresponds to “sodemieter op!” in Dutch and more or less to “fous-le camp!” or “fiche le camp!” in French. Also, “silly bugger” corresponds to “stommekloot” [dumb testicle] or “dwazekloot” [silly testicle] in Dutch. [“kloot” or its plural “kloten” has the same all-purpose expletive role in Dutch as the f-word in English.]

Let us briefly return to the original “bougres”. The idea that anything observed by the senses is intrinsically impure and suspect, that only correct doctrine can lead to truth, well… This resembles today’s ‘woke’ narrative-über-alles journalism. Does that mean today’s left journalists are practicing intellectual buggery, in the etymological sense of the word?

Memorial Day post II: the defense of Antwerp against V-1 “buzzbombs”

I have earlier posted about the (unfairly forgotten) Battle for the Scheldt [Estuary] and the outsized role of Canadian troops in it, thus opening up the large port of Antwerp for Allied logistics.

For opposite reasons, the port loomed equally large in Wehrmacht strategic thinking: remember that the ultimate goal of von Rundstedt’s offensive (what became the “Battle of the Bulge”) was Antwerp. Another prong of the effort to deny Antwerp to Allied supply lines was a barrage of V-1 “buzzbombs”.

Unlike the supersonic V-2 rockets which nothing at the time could stop (the Allies did engage in disinformation about where they hit in order to throw off German targeting), the primitive ramjet drones that V-1s were could be downed, either by fast fighter planes or by well-directed anti-aircraft artillery. This 1947 US army movie details the efforts that ultimately stopped about 90% of incoming V-1s on Antwerp.

The ones that did make it through wreaked a lot of havoc in the city and the docks —- from my childhood, I remember stories about the direct hit on a movie theater — but it would literally have been ten times worse without the “Antwerp X” network.

Have a meaningful Memorial Day

Derp-seal of the week: WaPo “fact-checker” Glenn Kessler

Whatever your views on Marjorie Taylor Greene, and on whether it is appropriate or trivializing to compare the other major political party to the NSDAP… for an alleged “fact-checker” to give her four Pinocchios for saying the Nazi Party is “National Socialist” is ‘special’ even with such crowded competition. Nick Arama gives a righteous fisking.

The NSDAP’s full name actually was Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, [National Socialist German Workers Party — “Nazi” is a typical German ‘nickronym’, pardon the portmanteau.] And guess what, the “immutable” Twenty-Five Point Programme includes such items as:

10. It must be the first duty of every citizen to perform physical or mental work. The activities of the individual must not clash with the general interest, but must proceed within the framework of the community and be for the general good.

We demand therefore:

11. The abolition of incomes unearned by work.

The breaking of the slavery of interest. [….]

13. We demand the nationalization of all businesses which have been formed into corporations (trusts).

14. We demand profit-sharing in large industrial enterprises.

15. We demand the extensive development of insurance for old age.

16. We demand the creation and maintenance of a healthy middle class, the immediate communalizing of big department stores, and their lease at a cheap rate to small traders, and that the utmost consideration shall be shown to all small traders in the placing of State and municipal orders.

17. We demand a land reform suitable to our national requirements, the passing of a law for the expropriation of land for communal purposes without compensation; the abolition of ground rent, and the prohibition of all speculation in land. [….]

20. The State must consider a thorough reconstruction of our national system of education (with the aim of opening up to every able and hard-working German the possibility of higher education and of thus obtaining advancement). [..] We demand the education of gifted children of poor parents, whatever their class or occupation, at the expense of the State.

21. The State must ensure that the nation’s health standards are raised by protecting mothers and infants, by prohibiting child labor, by promoting physical strength through legislation providing for compulsory gymnastics and sports, and by the extensive support of clubs engaged in the physical training of youth.

[…] 24. The common interest before self-interest. [Gemeinnutz vor Eigennutz.]

And in fact, here is how Adolf H. [may his name be erased] put it himself in 1920: “Since we are socialists, we must necessarily also be antisemites because we want to fight against the very opposite: materialism and mammonism… How can you not be an antisemite, being a socialist!” 

Heck, just look at the thrice-damned flag of the [bowel] movement, designed by AH his-infinitely-damned self, and AH’s own explanation for it in Mein Kampf. The big red background to indicate socialism, the white for nationalism, and the black swastika for the racial element. [Of course the black-white-red combination also appeared in the Kaiser’s Imperial War Flag (Reichskriegsflagge).]

You can argue MTG is out of line with her comparisons; you can argue that “antisemitism is the socialism of fools” (as the German social democrat August Bebel memorably put it). You could even argue that AH’s socialism was a put-on front, and that the numerous “for Aryans only” welfare programs he introduced were bribes to keep the German population on his side while he had a very different agenda[*], but…

giving a four-pinocchio “whopper” rating to calling a National Socialist party national socialist sets a new benchmark in either wilfull stupidity or intellectual dishonesty — or “embrace the healing power of ‘and'”.

So my Derpseal of the Week, despite the fierce competition for the award, is Glenn Kessler.

Or, to quote a proverb in my mother tongue

What good can specs and candles be / When the owl does not care to see?

[*] Entire Standarten [regiments] of the SA [“brownshirts”], especially in urban industrial areas, were known as “beefsteak regiments” — brown on the outside, red on the inside, you see.

AH’s main rivals for the party leadership, deputy party chief Gregor Strasser and SA [“brownshirts”] leader Ernst Röhm, definitely took the “socialist” part in “national socialist” [even] more seriously. Both were eliminated in the 1934 Night of the Long Knives; Gregor’s brother Otto Strasser fled abroad and later became an inspiration for the so-called “International Third Position” movement that combines elements of European far-“left” and far-“right” ideologies.

Memorial Day post: the forgotten battle for the Scheldt Estuary

A Dutch regional TV station (for the Zeeland or Zealand region) produced this interesting documentary about one of the less well-known, but for that no less bloody and protracted, battles of the war: the battle for the Scheldt [Estuary]. The documentary is mostly in Dutch, but with excellent, idiomatic English subtitles.

Antwerp, then as now, was the second largest port in Europe. The city and port themselves fell to the Allies with nary a shot fired, thanks in no small measure to local resistance movements. This on paper gave the Allied armies a plum supply port.

Except… Antwerp is not on the sea, but about 80 km inland, on the broad and deep Scheldt river. (Compare Hamburg, another large port deep inland, connected to the sea by the Elbe.)

Map of the Battle of the Scheldt in 1944

And the Scheldt estuary in Zeeland (“Westerschelde” or Western Scheldt in the above map) was still under German control. Moreover, the westernmost approaches, around Breskens to the south and Flushing (Vlissingen) to the North, had been heavily fortified.

Montgomery could have cut Zeeland off immediately after the liberation of Antwerp, but he had his eyes on a much bigger prize: capturing the Rhine bridge at Arnhem and enabling a rapid thrust into Germany itself, with a view to ending the war by Christmas 1944. This “One Bridge Too Far” debacle has of course been discussed to a fare-thee-well, and been the eponymous subject of one of the most famous war movies of the 20th century. By the time Operation Market Garden had ended in noble failure, the Wehrmacht was ensconced even more thoroughly at the mouth of the Scheldt.

The area was wrested from the Nazis over months of protracted and bloody fighting, in which particularly the Canadian forces played a larger-than-life role. See the movie above for lots of detail.

One of the most controversial aspects on the Allied side was the bombing of the Walcheren dikes, in an attempt to dislodge the Wehrmacht garrison by inundation. Leaflets were dropped to get the civilians to seek refuge on high ground, but still many Zealanders drowned, aside from countless who lost their houses as much of the island became a flood plain. The German fortifications were hardly affected at all, and still had to be reduced at great cost in especially Canadian lives.

Nearly one-third of Dutch land mass is below sea level. Zealand would again be hard hit eight years later — this time by Mother Nature, in the 1953 North Sea Flood. This prompted the Dutch, veterans of a millennium of war against the sea, to construct the Delta Works, which together with their sister project the Zuiderzee Works, have been recognized one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.]

“Luctor et emergo” is the province’s Latin motto. “I struggle and emerge.”

Go watch the whole documentary. “Niet klagen maar dragen,” a Zealand proverb is quoted. “Do not complain, bear up.” Perhaps this, combined with the natural modesty of Canadians, contributed to this battle zone being nearly forgotten. It deserves to be remembered.

Happy Memorial Day.

Sabbath musical delight: J. S. Bach, “Peasants Cantata” BWV 212

This “Burlesque Cantata” (Bach’s own title) was commissioned in 1742 for the birthday of a land estate administrator, Kammerherr [Chamberlain] von Dieskau. The libretto, by Bach’s frequent lyrical collaborator “Picander”, has peasants on the estate discussing the new lord of the manor, in Saxon dialect. “Mer hahn en neue Oberkeet” would correspond to standard German “Wir haben eine neue Obrigkeit” [we have a new authority, or freely: we have a new lord of the manor].

Here is a modern-practice performance in standard concert pitch, with the baritone part sung by the great Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, a descendant of the original Chamberlain von Dieskau on his mother’s side.

And here is a more “historically informed” performance

Enjoy and shabbat shalom!

The Dutch “Hunger Winter” and two medical discoveries resulting from it

The 1944-1945 winter is etched in the memory of the Dutch as “de hongerwinter” (the hunger winter), in which about 20,000 mostly elderly people died in what was arguably a man-made famine.

map from . Gray=liberated territory, olive green=German occupied territory, dark olive green=areas hardest hit by the famine. Bars compare all-cause mortality between early 1944 [baseline] to early

Several factors conspired to create it.

  • much of the Dutch population is concentrated in a dense Western area known today as Randstad Holland (“suburbia Holland”) with very limited food production; much of the agriculture was/is concentrated in the eastern region across the inland see called the Ijsselmeer (formerly the Waddenzee), and in the South and Southeast which had already been liberated by the Allies
  • in support of Montgomery’s failed “one bridge too far” attempt to seize the Rhine bridges by airborne troops [and thus cut the war short by an early swing into Germany itself] a railway strike had been called. In retaliation, a German military commander named Christensen forbade all civilian train transport, including of foodstuffs. By the time the blockade was lifted, a lot of damage had been done
  • the winter was quite cold, though not one of the 20th century coldest winters on record, and there was such a dramatic shortage of heating fuel in the cities that people resorted to all manner of expedients, from sawing down trees via demolishing abandoned houses for wood to removing the crossties from streetcar tracks. The country’s main sources of coal, in Dutch Limburg, were across the front line.
    Keep in mind that a large percentage of our daily calorie consumption at rest, our “metabolic base load”, is to maintain body temperature, and you will realize why a famine causes dramatically more fatalities in very cold weather [Leningrad Siege, the hunger winter] than in warm weather [e.g., the siege of Jerusalem during the Israeli war of Independence].
  • years of privations left people with few reserves of body fat to draw on

Eventually the weather improved, flour was allowed in from neutral Sweden, and the Allies were allowed to drop humanitarian food supplies from bombers [Operation Manna and Operation Chowhound]. But only the Nazi capitulation put a real stop to it.

In the wake of the Hongerwinter came two medical discoveries.

(1) A Dutch pediatrician named Willem Dicke was looking after a ward with celiac patients. With wheat being in short supply, other carbohydrate sources were being substituted ranging from potatoes to sugar beets and tulip bulbs. Surprisingly, the health of his patients improved. Then after liberation, the precious bread arrived, was given to his patients, and… they got worse again. This led Dicke to start experimenting with their diet until he arrived at the gluten-free diet that is now the standard for managing celiac patients. [One side effect of the recent “gluten free” fad is that people who actually do have celiac have more options available.]

Dicke was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology in 1962, but the nomination became moot when he suddenly died of a stroke. [Nobel Prizes are not awarded posthumously.]

(2) Epigenetics. What the heck is this even, you say? Well, you have the genetic information, but in addition organisms have mechanisms for up- or down-regulating certain genes, either as part of the development cycle or in response to external/environmental factors. One mechanism is the targeted methylation (or demethylation) of certain base pairs.

Under certain circumstances, these changes can be passed on to offspring for at least one generation. One of the earliest studied examples, if not the earliest, was among children of parents born during, or shortly after, the Dutch hongerwinter. That the parents on average are shorter and have “slower” metabolisms (which lead to obesity and diabetes when food is abundant) was not unexpected: that the same held true of their offspring was the surprising discovery. If you will permit a metaphor: It appears the epigenetic “energy saver mode” switches that had been triggered in the parents made it down to their offspring.

A popular science article in the New York Times [archived copy]

A few scholarly articles:

Painter, R.; Osmond, C.; Gluckman, P.; Hanson, M.; Phillips, D.; Roseboom, T. Transgenerational Effects of Prenatal Exposure to the Dutch Famine on Neonatal Adiposity and Health in Later Life. BJOG An Int. J. Obstet. Gynaecol. 2008, 115, 1243–1249. DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.2008.01822.x [paywalled] [PubMed link]

Tobi, E. W.; Goeman, J. J.; Monajemi, R.; Gu, H.; Putter, H.; Zhang, Y.; Slieker, R. C.; Stok, A. P.; Thijssen, P. E.; Müller, F.; van Zwet, E. W.; Bock, C.; Meissner, A.; Lumey, L. H.; Eline Slagboom, P.; Heijmans, B. T. DNA Methylation Signatures Link Prenatal Famine Exposure to Growth and Metabolism. Nat. Commun. 2014, 5, 5592. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms6592 [Open Access]

Turtleboy of the month: John Cena, apologizing for calling Taiwan a country

I’ve got nothing

Actor and WWE star John Cena was slammed online starting late Monday evening and continuing well into Tuesday morning after apologizing to communist China for calling Taiwan a “country.”

Cena called Taiwan a “country” during a promotional video for his upcoming movie “Fast & Furious 9.” In his apology, Cena said [emphasis added]:

Hi China, I’m John Cena. I’m in the middle of Fast and Furious 9 promotions. I’m doing a lot of interviews. I made a mistake in one of my interviews. Everyone was asking me if I could use Chinese – [movie] staff gave me a lot of information, so there was a lot of interviews and information.

I made one mistake. I have to say something very, very, very important now. I love and respect China and Chinese people. I’m very, very sorry about my mistake. I apologize, I apologize, I’m very sorry. You must understand that I really love, really respect China and the Chinese people. My apologies. See you.

Like Taiwan isn’t largely inhabited by Chinese people themselves — so it’s OK to diss non-Communist Chinese?

“Ooh Xi, I wanna be your turtle-boy!” [to the tune of “I Wanna Be Your Dog”]

It’s such a crowded field for the worst turtle-boy of the month, but this one is special. Like, short-bus special.

UPDATE: Razorfist weight in [language alert]:

“Kohlenklau”, or how Germany’s transportation constraints led to crippling coal shortages during WW II

Returning for a while to research for the Operation Flash sequel.

I have previously blogged about Germany’s shortage of petroleum during WW II, and how they compensated using synthetic fuel from coal liquefaction processes that had already been developed during the Weimar era.

It should be kept in mind that every ton of gasoline from coal liquefaction required input (as feedstock or energy source) of 5 tons of high-grade coal to as much as 22 (!) tons of inferior “Braunkohl” (lignite). Well, you might say, coal was pretty much the only natural resource Germany had in relative abundance.

So why was there a domestic shortage of coal? Growing up, neighbors who had been forced civilian laborers in Germany remember propaganda posters about a named “Kohlenklau”

(coal grabber)

“Kohlenklau” is out and about! He grabs the gas and steals the light, robs electricity and coal. Do not tolerate it! GRAB HIM!

— and there was even an honest-to-G-d board game [!] “Jagd auf Kohlenklau” [hunt for Kohlenklau]!

Game board.
See (in Italian) or

So what gives? TIK explains in this video, drawing primarily on the book by A. C. Mierzejewski, The Most Valuable Asset of the Reich: A History of the German National Railway, Vol. 2, 1933-1945; University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2000.

In fact, between 1924 and 1933, Germany was the 2nd largest producer of coal, after the USA. But it’s not enough to dig up coal — you need to get it to where it is needed, be it cities (for use as domestic fuel), steel factories, coal liquefaction plants,…

And this is where it went pear-shaped. Germany did have an extensive railway network, but it was managed in the classic command-economy style at its Göring worst[*], and the limited capacity and rolling stock had to also meet the exigencies of troop transport and supply.

Even years before the Allied air forces were able to systematically target railway lines and junctions in Germany’s heartland, a capacity crunch had hit hard. It apparently got to the point where miners in the Ruhr area had to be regularly sent home, as mined coal was backed up because of train shortages. Even marshaling yards were dysfunctional because of a lack of marshaling locomotives.

So coal rations for the civilian population had to be shrunk to free up more coal (read: more coal transportation capacity) for the military and military industries. When too many people started grumbling, local party leaders would seize coal supplies and divert them from the war effort…

And all because, for all the much-vaunted reputation of the Wehrmacht as a high-tech [of the day] army and of the Reich as an industrial powerhouse, its transportation logistics were actually severely lacking even before the RAF, the USAAF, and various Resistance sabotage actions started gumming them up further…

[*] one of Göring’s ministerial portfolios was that for the “Four-Year Plan”. Multiple competing and overlapping fiefdoms in each sector of society was a feature of the Third Reich, one calculated both to have the potentates competing for results and too preoccupied with fighting each other to ever get serious about replacing the Führer [y”sh]…

COVID19 mini-update, May 25, 2021: Yesterday’s “conspiracy theory” about lab origin now embraced by Fauci?!

You may recall that, right back to the beginning of the pandemic, some people were speculating that this was either an escaped bioweapon [very dubious] or the result of a lab leak during “gain of function” research. This was pooh-poohed all over as a conspiracy theory, but from the beginning there were mainstream media sources who questioned the CCP’s official narrative: as I reported on April 15 last year,

Washington Post, in a rare display of journalism, dropped a bombshell (archive copy at in case it gets “airbrushed”)” It appears that my friend “masgramondou” was not far off the mark with his origin theory for the epidemic.

The other day, the Wall Street Journal reported that back in November 2019, three employees of the Wuhan Institute of Virology were hospitalized with a disease that wasn’r idenitfied at the time, but with hindsight might well have been COVID.

And now, Dr. Anthony “Weathervane” Fauci is saying he is not sure about natural origin. Which leaves a number of media sites furiously retro-editing their earlier report. Tim Pool has comments:

Jordan Schachtel [via Instapindit], however, argues that the real COVID19 crisis was caused by the Chinese disinformation operation accompanying it.

But why not embrace the healing power of “and”? A lab accident, the regime faces a major PR debacle, then improvises “making lemons into lemonade”…

ָADDENDUM: Israel drops nearly all remaining restrictions June 1, including the “green tag” program.

ADDENDUM 2: Welcome, Instapundit readers! Check out the cover story in the UK Spectator by veteran science journalist Matt Ridley [himself a Ph.D. biologist]: The COVID lab leak theory is looking increasingly plausible.

In March last year, it was widely agreed by everybody sensible, me included, that talk of the pandemic originating in a laboratory was pseudoscientific nonsense almost on a par with UFOs and the Loch Ness monster. My own reasoning was that Mother Nature is a better genetic engineer than we will ever be, so something as accomplished at infection and spread could not possibly have been put together in a lab. 

Today, the mood has changed. Even Dr Anthony Fauci, the US President’s chief medical advisor, now says he is ‘not convinced’ the virus emerged naturally. This month a letter in Science magazine from 18 senior virologists and other experts — including a close collaborator of the Wuhan lab at the centre of the debate, Ralph Baric — demanded that such a hypothesis be taken seriously. Suddenly, too, journalists have woken up and begun writing articles admitting they might have been hasty in dismissing a lab leak as a Trumpian conspiracy theory last year. CNN reported this week that the Biden administration shut down the State Department’s investigation into this.

The turning point, ironically, was the ‘press conference’ on 9 February in Wuhan where a team of western scientists representing the World Health Organisation sat meekly through a three-hour propaganda session at the end of a 12-day study tour. Strictly chaperoned throughout, the western scientists (approved by the Chinese government) had mainly listened to presentations by their Chinese colleagues during their visit and done no research themselves. Yet the result was presented to the world as if it was the WHO’s conclusion. 

The press conference was told that the lab leak theory was ‘extremely unlikely’ and would not be investigated further, because the scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology said so during a three-hour visit by the study team. By contrast, the theory favoured by the Chinese government — that the virus reached Wuhan on frozen meat from a rabbit or ferret-badger farm in southern China or southeast Asia — was said to be plausible, despite a total lack of evidence. 

So risible was this little stage play that even WHO’s director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, had to backtrack a few days later: ‘All hypotheses remain open and require further study.’ […]

The problem is partly that journalists confused two different theories last year: that the virus might have escaped from a laboratory openly doing research that was intended to prevent a pandemic, or that a secret project to create a nasty virus for use as a bioweapon had either gone wrong or succeeded all too well. The latter theory remains implausible; the former has never been so. 

Go read the whole thing. “The purpose of all these virus hunts and experiments was to predict and avert the next pandemic. At best they failed in that; at worst they might have caused it.

ADDENDUM 3: well, well… Facebook ends ban on posts assering COVID-19 was man-made (WSJ)

ADDENDUM 4: US Senate unanimously passed amendment to end US federal funding of “gain of function research” in China. [This research was originally begun as a US-Chinese joint venture, then forcibly shut down in the US in 2015 because of the risk involved, after which it continued in China, apparently with some US funding.]

ADDENDUM 5: more from Tim Pool: Fauci faces firing as massive scandal about to erupt after Fauci admits funding went to Wuhan lab

COVID19 mini-update, May 23, 2021: Preliminary results indicate Pfizer, Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccines largely remain effective against Indian variant

I have been winding down COVID19 coverage on the blog, but this item seemed worth highlighting in light of the more contagious Indian strain. The first results are in concerning effectiveness of the two main vaccines used in the UK, the mRNA-based Pfizer and the viral vector-based Oxford/Astrazeneca. A preprint can be read here:

An annotated excerpt [my annotations in square brackets], with some line breaks added. 95%CI stands for “95% confidence interval”:

Effectiveness was notably lower after 1 dose of vaccine with B.1.617.2 [“Indian variant”] cases 33.5% (95%CI: 20.6 to 44.3) compared to B.1.1.7 [“British variant”] cases 51.1% (95%CI: 47.3 to 54.7) with similar results for both vaccines.

With BNT162b2 [=Pfizer/BioNTech] 2 dose effectiveness [is] reduced from 93.4% (95%CI: 90.4 to 95.5) with B.1.1.7 to 87.9% (95%CI: 78.2 to 93.2) with B.1.617.2.

With ChAdOx1 [=Oxford/Astrazeneca] 2 dose effectiveness reduced from 66.1% (95% CI: 54.0 to 75.0) with B.1.1.7 to 59.8% (95%CI: 28.9 to 77.3) with B.1.617.2.

Sequenced cases detected after 1 or 2 doses of vaccination had higher odds of infection with B.1.617.2 compared to unvaccinated cases (OR 1.40; 95%CI: 1.13-1.75). [In plain English: among the small group who got infected despite vaccination, the Indian/British case mix was definitely more ‘Indian’ than among the unvaccinated reference group.]


After 2 doses of either vaccine there were only modest differences in vaccine effectiveness with the B.1.617.2 [“Indian”] variant. Absolute differences in vaccine effectiveness were more marked with dose 1. This would support maximising vaccine uptake with 2 doses among vulnerable groups.

To be fair, the confidence intervals on these numbers need tightening up with much more data, particularly for Oxford/Astrazeneca, but the results for Pfizer are a little tighter — and in fact the confidence intervals for British and Indian variants still overlap. When more extensive data will be available, I would place my money on Pfizer [and its Irish twin Moderna] turning out to be a little, but not a whole lot, less effective. Likely, the same would hold for recovery from past COVID19 infection. (An insider here told me that based on preliminary data in Israel, past infection is not greatly different in protection to a 2-dose Pfizer regime.)

My bottom line is guarded optimism: with some caution, I expect that populations where the combined percentage of 2-dose vaccinations and COVID recoveries is high enough to transition into functional herd immunity territory will remain resilient toward the new Indian variant.

Table 2 from the preprint