Looking around: omicron sitrep in Israel; Ambrose Evans-Pritchard on Putin’s game in Ukraine

(1) Here in Israel we are apparently at the crest of the omicron wave, says Prof. Eran Segal. Cases over 60 (the most at-risk group) have started falling, but severe cases may continue to rise over the next week as they lag infections. He expects a drop by the end of the week.

Dr. John Campbell interviews Michael Cohen MD, a British-born physician practicing in Tel-Aviv.

A few quick takeaways:

  • He has seen lots and lots of omicron patients (and patients with omicron combined with something else) in his practice over the past week. He’s had to send one elderly person to the hospital, who was discharged after a short stay; four others had pneumonias (not severe enough to warrant hospitalization). I wonder how many of these are omicron and how many opportunistic superinfections (as are also seen in seasonal flu).
  • Disease presentation is almost exclusively upper-respiratory, unlike the previous waves (Wuhan “classic”, alpha, delta) which saw many life-threatening lower-lung infections among older patients
  • Level of symptoms varied from a common cold to a nasty flu
  • There isn’t enough information yet about “long COVID” in omicron, but he doubts there will be a lot since the level of systemic involvement is much lower in omicron than in previous strains. (Many of the long sequelae of earlier strains have been linked to blood clotting.)
  • general precautions: make sure you get enough vitamin D, zinc, and preferably (if you are taking high doses of vitamin D) also vitamin K2 to ensure calcium metabolism isn’t adversely affected.
  • monoclonal antibody therapy is not very useful against omicron, since the antibodies were developed for the Wuhan strain, from which omicron is even further away than from delta.

He himself hasn’t gotten omicron as far as he knows, though he contracted “Wuhan classic” from a patient very early in the pandemic. (He was coughing so badly that he suspected he’d contracted pertussis/”whooping cough”, but tested negative for that — COVID19 RT-PCR testing wasn’t available yet in early 2020. He cites this as an example of the importance of differential diagnosis.

(2) Mrs. Arbel could bring herself to watch no more than 6-7 minutes of the Biden trainwreck press conference before she couldn’t take anymore. Yes, that conference where the FICUS talked of a “minor incursion”. Meanwhile, the US is telling US nationals to leave Ukraine on commercial flights while they still can do so (or, presumably, by crossing the border with Poland); the UK is evacuating nonessential embassy staff, as Boris Johnson warns invasion will be “painful and bloody” for Putin; Israel is weighing options — abandoning its policy of cautious neutrality between Russia and Ukraine, or whether to plan an airlift for the remaining Jewish community in Ukraine. The FTSE (the UK counterpart to the DJIA index) slumped as the Ukraine crisis spooks markets.

The Daily Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard [cached copy] thinks Putin has a golden opportunity for territorial expansion “thanks” to the ineptitude and disarray of Western “leadership”.

German hunger for gas, Biden’s insouciance and a toothless Nato leave Ukraine utterly exposed to a Russian invasion […]

European [NATO] disarmed through the austerity years and is now near rock bottom, while Russia has been rearming for a decade.

The White House is perceived to be a pushover after waiving its objections to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline last July in a shabby deal with Germany, which undercut Ukraine’s vital interest in what may be viewed by historians as a latter day Munich.

China’s sabre-rattling over Taiwan leaves Mr Biden facing the risk of two continental crises at the same time.

Mr Putin does not have to worry about serious economic retaliation.

Germany has effectively vetoed use of the financial “nuclear option”, which would be to expel Russia from the Swift system of international payments.

Berlin’s argument is that such sanctions have asymmetric blowback. The US has little direct exposure and would suffer modest loss. German and European companies with large interests in Russia would take the brunt.

This leaves little on the table beyond surgical sanctions on Russian banks and other manageable frictions. “I don’t see anything on the economic front that would seriously frighten Putin,” said Ian Bond, a former ambassador and British security planner now at the Centre for European Reform.

If Mr Putin is to attack, he must act soon. He has a narrow window for a combined-arms invasion with tanks and towed-artillery before the infamous rasputitsa turns the ground into a bog.

The military imperative is to lunge deep into Ukraine and deliver a knock-out blow before the mid-March thaw. That is not easy: it took six weeks for Russian forces to clear the Chechen capital of Grozny in urban fighting. Kiev, Kharkiv, Dnipro, Zaporizhzia, and Odessa are all larger.

Alternatively, they might of course try to install a puppet regime, as the UK’s FM Dominic Raab has alleged. The Russian regime, predictably, calls this “disinformation”.

The myth of “we had to obey orders, or we’d be shot ourselves”

Somebody at work asked me the other day if SS and Wehrmacht soldiers commanded to participate in the early “Holocaust by bullets”, mass executions of Soviet POWs, hostage mass killings, or other National Socialist massacres could refuse to participate without being shot themselves.

Indeed, in postwar trials in Germany, direct participants often invoked the defense of “Befehlsnotstand” (literally: command emergency; idiomatically: obeisance under duress; obeying an order on pains of death or severe punishment). In the 1950s and 1960s, many courts accepted that defense, especially for soldiers, NCOs, and junior officers.

However, in later jurisprudence, the German Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Supreme Criminal Court) and Bundesverfassungsgericht (Federal Constitutional Court) established that this defense only applies when the defendant would have faced “clear and present danger to his life or that of his family”, and not for lesser negative repercussions such as demotion, transfer to the front, or transfer to a penal unit.

While some 23,000 Wehrmacht and Waffen SS personnel were executed for insubordination, I am not aware of a single example where this happened solely for refusal to participate in mass shootings. Christopher Browning, in his ground-breaking monograph Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland on Reserve Police Battalion 101 and its role in the ‘Holocaust by bullets,’ found that 10% of the men (including one platoon commander) refused outright, and another 20% found ways to avoid participation — and that not even the platoon commander was ever punished.

Yesterday, I stumbled onto a more specific study by Dr. David H. Kitterman of Northern Arizona University, expanding on an earlier German study.

(1) Kitterman, D. H. Those Who Said “No!”: Germans Who Refused to Execute Civilians during World War II. Ger. Stud. Rev. 1988, 11 (2), 241. https://doi.org/10.2307/1429971

The author, investigating the files of the “Z-Commission” in Ludwigsburg[*] analyzed 85 cases of refusal to carry out such orders. I have already blogged here about two examples, both posthumously awarded the title “Righteous Among The Nations”: Lt. Albert Battel and Maj. Karl Plagge — but they were not the only ones.

So what consequences did these men suffer for their refusal?

The one case sent to a concentration camp was an Ordnungspolizei (uniformed “Green police”) 1st Lieutenant [Oberleutnant] Nikolaus Ernst “Klaus” Hornig, a trained lawyer by background, who refused an order to have his platoon shoot 780 Soviet POWs — saying he could not do such a thing “as a jurist, Catholic, and army officer”. He also said that such an action “smacked of [NKVD] methods”, and invoked Article 47 of the Militärstrafgesetzbuch (Military Penal Code), which I have discussed here in my post on Albert Battel.

Art. 47: I. If through the execution of a military order a penal offense is committed, then only the commanding superior officer is responsible. [So far, no surprise.] However, the obeying subordinate is liable to punishment as a participant if:
1. He has exceeded [the limits of] the order given 
2. It was known to him that the purpose of the superior officer’s order was a military or civil crime or offense.
 [Original wording: “wenn ihm bekannt gewesen, daß der Befehl des Vorgesetzten eine Handlung betraf, welche ein bürgerliches oder militärisches Verbrechen oder Vergehen bezweckte.”]

Significantly, he was not charged with insubordination (as Art. 47 sub 2 would have been a defense against that charge), but with the purposely vaguely defined offense of Wehrkraftzersetzung (undermining the fighting spirit through speech and example — specifically, lecturing his troops about Article 47 and the justified refusal of criminal orders). In November 1942 he was sentenced to three to four years in prison, and sent to Buchenwald. SS-Reichsführer Himmler [y”sh] was displeased with the mild sentence and ordered a retrial (he could do so as Hornig was now in his “empire”): in March 1945, Hornig’s sentence was increased to 6-7 years. That sentence Himmler refused to sign off on, but the camp was liberated just a month later and 1Lt. Hornig survived his ordeal.

Three other Verweigerer (refusers) were sent to combat units as punishment: one of them fell in battle, as might have happened otherwise anyhow.

Among the seven “demotions or lack of promotion” was one woman, a nurse who refused to participate in mass “euthanasia”. Her pay was reduced but she was not otherwise punished.

And yes, there is the tragic case of Feldwebel [Sgt.-Major] Anton Schmid, who was executed for rescuing Jews — but his actions went way beyond refusal of a criminal order: not only did he help 300 Jews escape, but he actually supplied arms to the Jewish underground in the Wilna ghetto. Heroic as his actions were (he, too, was posthumously given the Righteous Among The Nations distinction by Yad Vashem, citation here: https://www.yadvashem.org/righteous/stories/schmid.html ), this is an ‘exception’ that actually proves the rule. [Here is the testimony of Abba Kovner, a leader of the Jewish resistance in the Wilna ghetto, about Schmid at the Eichmann Trial: Kovner first learned about Eichmann y”sh and his role from Schmid.]

A spurious example, proffered by the defense at a postwar trial, was of an SS Haupsturmführer (Captain) who was supposedly shot for refusing to carry out a mass killing of Jews. In fact, the Ludwigsburg commission found that the SS-Captain in question was actually executed more than two years later on an unrelated charge (cowardice in the face of the enemy, for having withdrawn against orders as the Red Army was approaching the “fortress city” of Memel/Klaipeida in Lithuania).

Another “related but not the same thing” case was an SS Unterscharführer (Corporal) named Viktor Pestek , a wounded Waffen SS man sent on a ‘convalescence assignment’ as a camp guard at Auschwitz. There, he fell in love with a Jewish inmate and tried to help her and others escape (and actually did help a Jewish Czech army officer named Siegfried Lederer escape by giving him an SS uniform and a false passbook). Pestek was caught while trying to exfiltrate three additional prisoners, sentenced to death for desertion and treason, and executed.

So it seems fairly clear that simple refusal to participate in a mass killing was actually possible for a Wehrmacht or even SS soldier. In part, there was the complication that these acts were technically illegal even by the debased legal standards of the Third Reich, and hence the desire for secrecy or at least discretion on the part of the SS apparatus; but, sadly, there was also the knowledge that for every soldier or NCO who refused, one or two other would be found who would commit these crimes willingly or even enthusiastically.

It appears, however, that locally recruited auxiliaries did not have that option. Jeffrey Burds, in his monograph on the Rovno mass killings:

(1) Burds, J. Holocaust in Rovno; Palgrave Macmillan US: New York, 2013. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137388407

gives several examples of German shooters who were excused when they couldn’t go through with it (any longer), but on pp. 58-59 adds:

While German shooters may have had a choice on whether or not to take part in the massacre, such latitude was evidently not available to the far more numerous members of the Ukrainian militia.86
A Jewish survivor from Rovno, Batia Zaluska, testified that “several of the Ukrainian executioners dropped their weapons and started running toward the pits. Their commander shouted after them: ‘What’s the matter with you, Jew-lovers, an order is an order?’ He thereupon gave the order to shoot them, and they were mowed down into the pit,” side by side with their Jewish victims.87

[*] Full name: “Zentrale Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen zur Aufklärung nationalsozialistischer Verbrechen” , Central Office of the State Justice Administrations for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes.

Sabbath musical delight: Michael Hoenig, “Departure from the Northern wasteland”

I was planning to post an analysis of a forgotten pop music gem from the days when pop music could be inventive, but a walk outside in unseasonably cold weather reminded me of how much colder I’d experienced winters elsewhere.

Now as a Norwegian friend of mine put it, “there’s no such thing as too cold weather, only not-warm-enough clothes”. And truth be told, when dressed appropriately I really enjoy cold, clear, clean air. But I couldn’t help being reminded of the title of this forgotten gem of Berlin School electronic music: Michael Hoenig’s “Departure From The Northern Wasteland”. It always gives me a mental image of being aboard a jetliner taking off from Oslo, Helsinki, or some such place in mid-winter and flying south, back home.

Michael Hoenig began his career as a keyboardist in the German “Krautrock” band Agitation Free, but left it in frustration as he preferred performing composed music over their choice of freewheeling jams. For a few months, he filled in for Peter Baumann in a tour of the classic Tangerine Dream lineup of Edgar Froese (RIP), Christopher Franke, and Baumann — the latter had gone off to India to find himself (sigh of cosmic weariness).

Anyway, TD were at their first creative peak at the time, putting out such genre-defining classics as the studio albums Phaedra, Rubycon, and Stratosfear; the marvelous soundtrack to William Friedkin’s “Sorcerer”; and the [heavily edited] live albums Ricochet and Encore. But Hoenig put out his own take on the TD-era electronic ambient sound (what we called ‘cosmic music’ in Dutch – detractors may have dropped the ‘s’). Not improvisational like TD, but composed and rehearsed. (I’ve heard a bootleg recording of a live performance of the title track on Radio RIAS Berlin — it sounded almost note for note the same, except half a step down — may have been the tape speed of the bootlegger.) Below follows the album in its entirety: the best part is the eponymous title track. Those who like shifting time signatures, or Philip Glass / Steve Reich type “phase patterns” shouldn’t miss this one, and it’s great, relaxing background music when working or reading.

Hoenig later went into soundtrack work for movies and TV series (Dark Skies), and also for computer games (Baldur’s Gate is one title I remember — gaming has never appealed much to me). Anyway, this album is one favorite in my (large) electronic collection.

Enjoy, have a great weekend, and Shabbat shalom.

Jordan Peterson resigns from tenured professorship at U. Of Toronto: blistering resignation letter in National Post

Jordan Peterson finally reached the point he was so sick of what his workplace had turned into that he decided to take early retirement — and he hasn’t even turned sixty!

His open resignation letter was printed as an op-ed in the National Post (archive copy here). However, as certain things have a way of being “memory-holed”, I am reproducing the entire text below the fold.

And wait for a vindictive DIE bureaucracy to try and punish him post-resignation for “hanging out the dirty laundry”, by taking away emeritus status or trying to affect his pension benefits. Especially the latter likely won’t succeed, but, having lived half my life in academia myself (thank G-d today in an environment vastly more accepting of heterodoxy) I sure as heck know the kind of “people” who will try.



Jordan Peterson: Why I am no longer a tenured professor at the University of Toronto 

The appalling ideology of diversity, inclusion and equity is demolishing education and business Author of the article:Jordan Peterson, Special to National PostPublishing date:Jan 19, 2022 • 1 day ago • 10 minute read

I recently resigned from my position as full tenured professor at the University of Toronto. I am now professor emeritus, and before I turned sixty. Emeritus is generally a designation reserved for superannuated faculty, albeit those who had served their term with some distinction. I had envisioned teaching and researching at the U of T, full time, until they had to haul my skeleton out of my office. I loved my job. And my students, undergraduates and graduates alike, were positively predisposed toward me. But that career path was not meant to be. There were many reasons, including the fact that I can now teach many more people and with less interference online. But here’s a few more:

First, my qualified and supremely trained heterosexual white male graduate students (and I’ve had many others, by the way) face a negligible chance of being offered university research positions, despite stellar scientific dossiers. This is partly because of Diversity, Inclusivity and Equity mandates (my preferred acronym: DIE). These have been imposed universally in academia, despite the fact that university hiring committees had already done everything reasonable for all the years of my career, and then some, to ensure that no qualified “minority” candidates were ever overlooked. My students are also partly unacceptable precisely because they are my students. I am academic persona non grata, because of my unacceptable philosophical positions. And this isn’t just some inconvenience. These facts rendered my job morally untenable. How can I accept prospective researchers and train them in good conscience knowing their employment prospects to be minimal?

Second reason: This is one of many issues of appalling ideology currently demolishing the universities and, downstream, the general culture. Not least because there simply is not enough qualified BIPOC people in the pipeline to meet diversity targets quickly enough (BIPOC: black, indigenous and people of colour, for those of you not in the knowing woke). This has been common knowledge among any remotely truthful academic who has served on a hiring committee for the last three decades. This means we’re out to produce a generation of researchers utterly unqualified for the job. And we’ve seen what that means already in the horrible grievance studies “disciplines.” That, combined with the death of objective testing, has compromised the universities so badly that it can hardly be overstated. And what happens in the universities eventually colours everything. As we have discovered.

All my craven colleagues must craft DIE statements to obtain a research grant. They all lie (excepting the minority of true believers) and they teach their students to do the same. And they do it constantly, with various rationalizations and justifications, further corrupting what is already a stunningly corrupt enterprise. Some of my colleagues even allow themselves to undergo so-called anti-bias training, conducted by supremely unqualified Human Resources personnel, lecturing inanely and blithely and in an accusatory manner about theoretically all-pervasive racist/sexist/heterosexist attitudes. Such training is now often a precondition to occupy a faculty position on a hiring committee.Need I point out that implicit attitudes cannot — by the definitions generated by those who have made them a central point of our culture — be transformed by short-term explicit training? Assuming that those biases exist in the manner claimed, and that is a very weak claim, and I’m speaking scientifically here. The Implicit Association test — the much-vaunted IAT, which purports to objectively diagnose implicit bias (that’s automatic racism and the like) is by no means powerful enough — valid and reliable enough — to do what it purports to do. Two of the original designers of that test, Anthony Greenwald and Brian Nosek, have said as much, publicly. The third, Professor Mahzarin Banaji of Harvard, remains recalcitrant. Much of this can be attributed to her overtly leftist political agenda, as well as to her embeddedness within a sub-discipline of psychology, social psychology, so corrupt that it denied the existence of left-wing authoritarianism for six decades after World War II. The same social psychologists, broadly speaking, also casually regard conservatism (in the guise of “system justification”) as a form of psychopathology.

MORE ON THIS TOPIC 

  1. Jordan Peterson: Open the damn country back up, before Canadians wreck something we can’t fix 
  2. Jordan Peterson returns to Cambridge where he was a victim of cancel culture in 2019 

Banaji’s continued countenancing of the misuse of her research instrument, combined with the status of her position at Harvard, is a prime reason we still suffer under the DIE yoke, with its baleful effect on what was once the closest we had ever come to truly meritorious selection. There are good reasons to suppose that DIE-motivated eradication of objective testing, such as the GRE for graduate school admission, will have deleterious effects on the ability of students so selected to master such topics as the statistics all social sciences (and medicine, for that matter) rely upon completely for their validity.

Furthermore, the accrediting boards for graduate clinical psychology training programs in Canada are now planning to refuse to accredit university clinical programs unless they have a “social justice” orientation. That, combined with some recent legislative changes in Canada, claiming to outlaw so-called “conversion therapy” (but really making it exceedingly risky for clinicians to do anything ever but agree always and about everything with their clients) have likely doomed the practice of clinical psychology, which always depended entirely on trust and privacy. Similar moves are afoot in other professional disciplines, such as medicine and law. And if you don’t think that psychologists, lawyers and other professionals are anything but terrified of their now woke governing professional colleges, much to everyone’s extreme detriment, you simply don’t understand how far this has all gone.

Just exactly what am I supposed to do when I meet a graduate student or young professor, hired on DIE grounds? Manifest instant skepticism regarding their professional ability? What a slap in the face to a truly meritorious young outsider. And perhaps that’s the point. The DIE ideology is not friend to peace and tolerance. It is absolutely and completely the enemy of competence and justice.And for those of you who think that I am overstating the case, or that this is something limited in some trivial sense to the universities, consider some other examples: This report from Hollywood, cliched hotbed of “liberal” sentiment, for example, indicates just how far this has gone. In 2020, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Oscar people) embarked on a five-year plan (does that ring any historical bells?) “to diversify our organization and expand our definition of the best,” They did so in an attempt which included developing “new representation and inclusion standards for Oscars,” to, hypothetically, “better reflectthe diversity of the movie-going audience.” What fruit has this initiative, offspring of the DIE ideology, borne? According to a recent article, penned by Peter Kiefer and Peter Savodnik, but posted on former NY Times’ journalist Bari Weiss’s Common Sense website (and Weiss left the Times, because of the intrusion of radical left ideology into that newspaper, just as Tara Henley did recently, vis a vis the CBC): “We spoke to more than 25 writers, directors, and producers — all of whom identify as liberal, and all of whom described a pervasive fear of running afoul of the new dogma. … How to survive the revolution? By becoming its most ardent supporter. … Suddenly, every conversation with every agent or head of content started with: Is anyone BIPOC attached to this?”

And this is everywhere — and if you don’t see it, your head is either in the sand or shoved somewhere far more unmentionable. CBS, for example, has literally mandated that every writers’ room be at least 40 per cent BIPOC in 2021 (50 per cent in 2022).We are now at the point where race, ethnicity, “gender,” or sexual preference is first, accepted as the fundamental characteristic defining each person (just as the radical leftists were hoping) and second, is now treated as the most important qualification for study, research and employment.Need I point out that this is insane ?

Even the benighted New York Times has its doubts. A headline from August 11, 2021: Are Workplace Diversity Programs Doing More Harm than Good? In a word, yes. How can accusing your employees of racism etc. sufficient to require re-training (particularly in relationship to those who are working in good faith to overcome whatever bias they might still, in these modern, liberal times, manifest) be anything other than insulting, annoying, invasive, high-handed, moralizing, inappropriate, ill-considered, counterproductive, and otherwise unjustifiable?

And if you think DIE is bad, wait until you get a load of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) scores . Purporting to assess corporate moral responsibility, these scores, which can dramatically affect an enterprise’s financial viability, are nothing less than the equivalent of China’s damnable social credit system, applied to the entrepreneurial and financial world. CEOs: what in the world is wrong with you? Can’t you see that the ideologues who push such appalling nonsense are driven by an agenda that is not only absolutely antithetical to your free-market enterprise, as such, but precisely targeted at the freedoms that made your success possible? Can’t you see that by going along, sheep-like (just as the professors are doing; just as the artists and writers are doing) that you are generating a veritable fifth column within your businesses? Are you really so blind, cowed and cowardly? With all your so-called privilege?

And it’s not just the universities. And the professional colleges. And Hollywood. And the corporate world. Diversity, Inclusivity and Equity — that radical leftist Trinity — is destroying us. Wondering about the divisiveness that is currently besetting us? Look no farther than DIE. Wondering — more specifically — about the attractiveness of Trump? Look no farther than DIE. When does the left go too far? When they worship at the altar of DIE, and insist that the rest of us, who mostly want to be left alone, do so as well. Enough already. Enough. Enough.

Finally, do you know that Vladimir Putin himself is capitalizing on this woke madness? Anna Mahjar-Barducci at MEMRI.org covered his recent speech. I quote from the article’s translation: “The advocates of so-called ‘social progress’ believe they are introducing humanity to some kind of a new and better consciousness. Godspeed, hoist the flags, as we say, go right ahead. The only thing that I want to say now is that their prescriptions are not new at all. It may come as a surprise to some people, but Russia has been there already. After the 1917 revolution, the Bolsheviks, relying on the dogmas of Marx and Engels, also said that they would change existing ways and customs, and not just political and economic ones, but the very notion of human morality and the foundations of a healthy society. The destruction of age-old values, religion, and relations between people, up to and including the total rejection of family (we had that, too), encouragement to inform on loved ones — all this was proclaimed progress and, by the way, was widely supported around the world back then and was quite fashionable, same as today. By the way, the Bolsheviks were absolutely intolerant of opinions other than theirs.

“This, I believe, should call to mind some of what we are witnessing now. Looking at what is happening in a number of Western countries, we are amazed to see the domestic practices — which we, fortunately, have left, I hope — in the distant past. The fight for equality and against discrimination has turned into aggressive dogmatism bordering on absurdity, when the works of the great authors of the past — such as Shakespeare — are no longer taught at schools or universities, because their ideas are believed to be backward. The classics are declared backward and ignorant of the importance of gender or race. In Hollywood, memos are distributed about proper storytelling and how many characters of what color or gender should be in a movie. This is even worse than the agitprop department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.”

This, from the head of the former totalitarian enterprise, against whom we fought a five decades’ long Cold War, risking the entire planet (in a very real manner). This, from the head of a country riven in a literally genocidal manner by ideas that Putin himself attributes to the progressives in the West, to the generally accepting audience of his once-burned (once (!)) twice-shy listeners.And all of you going along with the DIE activists, whatever your reasons: this is on you. Professors. Cowering cravenly in pretence and silence. Teaching your students to dissimulate and lie. To get along. As the walls crumble. For shame. CEOs: signalling a virtue you don’t possess and shouldn’t want to please a minority who literally live their lives by displeasure. You’re evil capitalists, after all, and should be proud of it. At the moment, I can’t tell if you’re more reprehensibly timid even than the professors. Why the hell don’t you banish the human resource DIE upstarts back to the more-appropriately-named Personnel departments, stop them from interfering with the psyches of you and your employees, and be done with it? Musicians, artists, writers: stop bending your sacred and meritorious art to the demands of the propagandists before you fatally betray the spirit of your own intuition. Stop censoring your thought. Stop saying you will hire for your orchestral and theatrical productions for any reason other than talent and excellence. That’s all you have. That’s all any of us have.

He who sows the wind will reap the whirlwind. And the wind is rising

80 year ago to this day: the Wannsee Conference, January 20, 1942

In the Southwest of Berlin, on the border with Brandenburg province, the Havel river has two bights, a smaller and a larger one, which are known in German as the Kleine Wannsee and the Große Wannsee, respectively. The shores of these not-quite-lakes are popular outdoor hangouts for Berliners.

Along a stretch of the Grosse Wannsee’s western shore runs the street Am Großen Wannsee. The eastern side of the street is taken up by sailing club houses etc.; on the western side stand, aside from a clinic, many opulent villas with a lake view, including the former house of Expressionist painter Max Liebermann at Nr. 42 (today a museum dedicated to the painter).

Perhaps the largest villa, at Nr. 56-58 (today the Wannsee Conference Memorial and Educational Site), used to belong to a disgraced (non-Jewish) German industrialist named Friedrich Minoux, . From prison, he sold it under duress to a front organization of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), which turned it into a guest and conference house.

CC:BY-SA 3.0 A. Savin, MediaWiki

Eighty years ago to this day, a group of senior ministerial officials — most of them “state secretaries” or “ministerial directors” [*] — met here. The meeting was chaired by the head of the RSHA (Reichssicherheitshauptamt, Reich Security Main Office), SS-Obergruppenführer [General] Reinhard Heydrich [y”sh].[**] Minutes were taken down by Heydrich’s underling in charge of Jewish “Emigration”, Obersturmbannführer [Lt. Col.] Adolf Eichmann [y”sh].[***]

Let me be clear: this was not the meeting where the decision to proceed with the Shoah was taken. The first major phase of the Shoah, what some historians refer to as the “Holocaust by bullets”, had started already in the first weeks of Operation Barbarossa (the invasion of the USSR): the grisly works of the Einsatzgruppen [“task groups”] and their local auxiliaries would ultimately claim up to 2 million people. [Daily progress reports sent to the Reich Chancellery have been preserved: this was most emphatically not a “rogue operation” but something happening with the blessing of the dictator himself.]

No written order in Hitler’s [y”sh] hand was ever found: the closest thing we have was a July 31, 1941 letter from Hermann Göring, writing in his capacity as deputy Führer (this was after Rudolf Hess’s bizarre flight to England), charging Heydrich to “submit to me soonest, a comprehensive plan for the organizational, practical, and material preparations for the sought-after Final Solution of the Jewish Question“. [To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time the phrase Endlösung der Judenfrage occurs in any official document.]

This letter, and a large collection of relevant documents, can be downloaded at the website of the Wannsee memorial site.

The German historian Peter Longerich, following his appearance as an expert witness at the Irving v. Lipstadt trial, turned his testimony into the brief but fascinating book “The Unwritten Order“. I could not find a digital version to link to, but as a reviewer on Amazon summarizes:

No “smoking gun” direct written order from Hitler for the annihilation of the European Jews has ever been found. Dr. Longerich however assembles a very large collection of circumstantial evidence (Goebbels diary notices, notes from meetings, progress reports of Einsatzgruppe killings being sent to the Reich Chancellery,…) that the impulse to escalate from expulsion to physical extermination came from the apex of the leadership pyramid (i.e., AH himself); that AH verbally gave instructions to Himmler et al. and was kept in the loop, including written progress reports to the Reich Chancellery; and that Himmler and his subordinates explicitly invoked AH’s name down the command chain.
Also, Longerich rightly points out that AH would temporarily apply the brakes on earlier anti-Jewish measures when those interfered with his other policy goals at the time — for instance, he froze the deportations to the Generalgouvernement in the lead-up to Barbarossa, such as not to interfere with troop movements and invasion preparations. He pointed did not interfere in this manner when things escalated from deportation to Einsatzkommandos in the wake of the armies invading Russia: this is a “smoking gun by omission”, since we know “Ereignismeldungen” (event reports, in context: progress reports) were sent to the Reich Chancellery.
Longerich also discusses the overall context, namely, of the General Plan East for a mass culling of the Soviet population (plans spoke of 30 million) through an engineered famine. It is hard to say which is more staggering, the callous inhumanity of such plans or their megalomania.
Finally, Longerich argues that no program on this scale and entailing such resources — while invoking the name of the Führer, at that — could have been conducted in the Third Reich without the Führer’s approval if not outright instigation.

So what was this meeting about then? Basically, an organizational and logistical meeting about escalation to the next phase: gathering all Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, and transporting them to “special treatment” at purpose-built extermination centers in occupied Poland. This latter Sonderbehandlung is just one of many bureaucratic euphemisms that can be found in the minutes: German historians call this Tarnsprache (literally “camouflage speak”).

While some of the participants were hardened murderers — such as Einsatzkommando 2 commander Sturmbannführer [Major] Rudolf Lange — others were senior bureaucrats representing the “Justice”, Interior, Foreign, and other ministries. Did anyone even raise a voice in protest?

One participant, Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzinger, a career civil servant who represented the Reich Chancellary, tried to resign his post (his resignation was refused), and after the war claimed that he had vocally raised objections at the conference. (He was a witness at the Nuremberg trials, and died shortly later of natural causes.)

The State Secretary in the Interior Ministry, Wilhelm Stuckart, made a more ambiguous “deal with the devil”. At the time, he was the de facto Interior Minister, as the nominal minister Wilhelm Frick had lost favor with the Führer. (In September 1943, the Interior portfolio would be given over to Heinrich Himmler, who aside from being Reichsführer-SS was already the supreme head of all German police.)

Stuckart had been instrumental in drafting the Nuremberg Laws and other discriminatory legislation. And there is no evidence that he objected to the fate of “full” Jews. What probably saved him from the noose after the war was that he managed to represent himself as the savior of Mischlinge (“half-” and “quarter”-Jews), and of those living in mixed marriages (only within the Reich itself). Stuckart claimed that Heydrich was in favor of consigning them all to destruction, but that he at the Wannsee conference (and at a March 6 followup meeting on this specific issue) managed to push through his compromise that first-degree Mischlinge (those with two Jewish grandparents) would be sterilized forcibly instead, but that this would be deferred until after the “final victory” (which thank G-d never came), as there were not enough resources. Was he claiming credit for a decision made by others on purely practical grounds? At any rate, he managed to sow enough “reasonable doubt” in the eyes of the court that he was sentenced to time serve in pretrial detention and released. On November 15, 1953, he was killed in a car crash — there has been speculation that his demise was not entirely accidental.

Stuckart’s own deputy, Hans Globke, after the war became the longtime right-hand man and enforcer of the Federal German Republic’s first chancellor, the impeccably non-Nazi Konrad Adenauer.

As I was about to post this, I found this lecture (in English) by the acting head of the memorial site:

I cannot repeat this quote from Robert Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” often enough:

That old saw “to understand all is to forgive all” is a load of tripe. Some things, the more you understand, the more you loathe them.

NEVER AGAIN

לעולם לא עוד


[*] In German administrative parlance, a “state secretary” is something like what in the US would be called a “Permanent Under-Secretary”, i.e., a combination deputy minister and director-general of the ministry

[**] Heydrich wore a second hat as the Deputy [and in fact true] Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, i.e., occupied Czechia. Half a year later he would be assassinated by Czech SOE operatives in Operation Anthropoid.

[***] Eichmann [y”sh] was not a deputy of Heydrich’s but three levels down the hierarchy, head of “Referat” [freely: Desk] IV_B4, a sub-department of the Gestapo.

Looking around: Xi gets what Xi wants; Israel breaks omicron records; Netanyahu plea bargain?; Andrew Roberts on America’s last king

(a) US informs Israel [and Greece] it no longer supports EastMed pipeline to Europe – The Jerusalem Post [Analysis of impact for Israeli-Greek ties.]

Xi gets what Xi wants, and so does Putin. All the talk about Trump being in the pocket of Russia was Imax-level projection on the part of an [anti]Democratic party.

(b) Meanwhile, we just crossed the 2 million COVID infections mark, out of a population of about 9.5 million, the Times of Israel reports.

Serious COVID cases surge past 500 as total infections pass 2 million mark
In its first full set of data in several days, the Health Ministry updates that there are currently 533 patients with COVID hospitalized in serious condition.

Among those, 104 are on ventilators. Overall, 1,608 patients with COVID are hospitalized, with most in light or moderate condition.

More than 72,000 people tested positive for COVID yesterday, a new daily record, with over 393,000 current active infections, and more than 2 million infected since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

More than 146,000 school-age children are currently out due to infection, and a further 142,000 are in quarantine due to exposure.

Close to 8,900 medical staff are absent from work due to infection or exposure, including 1,209 doctors and 2,540 nurses.

We’re talking about six times peak infection rate pre-omicron. However, severe cases are a bit over half the previous record.

Eran Segal on Twitter shows the evolution of the R rate, which is now at 1.44 and dropping steadily toward 1 (below which infection numbers will start dropping)

Image

Quoted in the Times of Israel: “We estimate that we are approaching the peak of morbidity in the coming days, and it will happen this week if it isn’t already now,” Segal said. “We understand that the actual number of infected is twice those seen in the data, so that it is very possible that the number of verified [daily] cases is around 200,000.”

Starting next week, free antigen testing kits will be distributed nationwide, while the quarantine period has been reduced to just 5 days past a positive test (if asymptomatic).

The 2nd booster shot turns out to be of limited value, local research has revealed, and hence will probably not be offered to further groups beyond the over-60 and at-risk groups.

In tangentially related news, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla was awarded the Genesis Prize, a.k.a. “The Jewish Nobel Prize”.

(c) A major headline grabber here for several days has been the discussion about a plea bargain for Binyamin Netanyahu, under which he would plead guilty to reduced charges of “breach of public trust”, the sentence would bear a kalon (freely: designation of “moral turpitude”, which would bar him from running for election or serving in any public office for 7 years), but he would not have to serve any time in prison. However, he is reportedly concerned he would be sent to jail despite the deal, as recently happened with the former tourism minister.

Even harsh Netanyahu critics like legal expert Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer have qualms, concerning the vague legal definition of “breach of public trust”.

(d) In unrelated news: Andrew Roberts, who already wrote stellar biographies of Napoleon and Winston Churchill, now does the seemingly impossible and takes up the defense of “Mad” King George III. Here he is in a 1-hour interview in the “Uncommon Knowledge” series of the Hoover Institute.

It takes some guts to defend George III to an American interlocutor, but Andrew Roberts isn’t your average debater. A large part of his argument rests on English monarchs since William & Mary being constitutional monarchs with barely any real executive power: Queen Anne, last of the Stuart monarchs, was the last to “withhold Royal Assent” (read: exercise a veto) on a law, and the only real power left to George III (the third Hanover monarch) was to appoint Prime Ministers — and there he only once went against the default of sending for the leader of the majority party (when he appointed William Pitt the Younger, who however won an election shortly after).

Ashkenazim and Sephardim? No, there’s more to the story — how about Yehudei Artzot ha-Islam

You may have heard the terms “Ashkenazim” and “Sephardim”, or “Ashkenazi Jews” and “Sephardi Jews”. If you live in the West, most if not all Jews you may have come in contact with are Ashkenazim — from the medieval Hebrew name for, broadly speaking, German lands. (Modern Hebrew calls Germany “Germania”.)

Growing up in the Lowlands, I’d never heard the word “Sephardi” (from the medieval and modern Hebrew name of Spain) — because we called them “Portuguese Jews” instead, and both Antwerp and Amsterdam have “Portuguese synagogues”. [After the 1492 Alhambra Decree which expelled unconverted Jews from Spain, many went to Portugal at first, to be struck by a similar expulsion decree in turn five years later. The Jews who made it to the Lowlands ports by boat were a mixture of Spanish-via-Portugal and “native” Portuguese Jews, with Spanish and Portuguese surnames still occurring in the community.]

But by and large, the Jewish community in, say, the United States is overwhelmingly Ashkenazi — mostly, descending from a mid-19th century migration from Germany, then a massive immigration in the late 19th-early 20th century from the Tsarist “Pale of Settlement” in Eastern Europe (including Mrs. Arbel’s ancestors).

In contrast, Israel has about as many “Sephardim” as Ashkenazim, or so it seems. Why am I putting quotation marks?

Because out of a combination of intellectual laziness and of similarities of synagogue ritual, Israeli public discourse tends to lump in all non-Ashkenazi groups (other than the Ethiopian Jews) into a single “Sephardi” or “Mizrachi” (“Oriental”) category. Never mind that one large subgroup of the “Mizrachim”, Moroccan Jews, actually come from the Maghreb (Arabic: “West”) of Africa, more West than most Ashkenazim.

But it’s even more confusing than that. Some of these “Mizrachi” communities are indeed mostly of Spanish Expulsion origins: for example, most Turkish Jews can trace their ancestry to the Spanish Expulsion (and many have typical Sephardic surnames such as Benveniste, Abarbanel,…), a small minority are Romaniotes (see below). They ended up there, and elsewhere in the Ottoman Empire like present-day Bulgaria or the mighty Greek port of Thessaloniki (a.k.a., Saloniki or Turkish Selanik), when the Sultan responded to the Expulsion Decree by inviting them in, as he was eager to take advantage of their business acumen.

But calling Iraqi and Iranian Jews “Sephardic”? Iranian Jews have lived in Iran for over 2,000 years, and have their own independent traditions. (Unlike Ethiopian Jews, they were never disconnected from rabbinical Judaism since the Talmud was actually compiled pretty much next door, in cities like Pumbedita = today’s Fallujah.) Likewise, most Syrian Jews, until forced to leave, have lived in Syria since long before the Spanish Expulsion.

One could use a distinction based on synagogue ritual and religious minhagim (customs). In the 16th Century, a Sephardic rabbi named R’ Joseph Caro condensed the extensive Talmudic and post-Talmudic commentaries down to a “simple” if-this-then-that manual which he called the Shulchan Arukh, or “Set Table”. This manual did not take account of divergent yet well-established customs in Ashkenaz, and an Ashkenazi rabbi named Moses Isserles added a set of glosses which he called the Mapa or “Tablecloth” 🙂 From a strictly ritual point of view, one could call a community Sephardic if it follows the ‘Set Table’ as written, and Ashkenazi if it also follows the “Tablecloth”.

But what do you do then with Teimanim (Yemenite Jews), who have their separate traditions rooted in the Mishne Torah (“Recapitulation of the Torah”) of Maimonides? [Note to unfamiliar readers: we are not talking about theological differences here, but about differences in implementation of the same Jewish law.] Or what to make of the “Nusach Sefard” (“Sephard” prayer rite) practiced by some strictly Orthodox groups that are purely Ashkenazi?! Or the related “Nusach Ari” laid down by Sephardic kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria (the “Ari”) and practiced by the largest, and definitely highest-profile, Chasidic group, the Lubavitcher Chasidim (a.k.a., Chabad)? Last time I checked, Chasidism was an Ashkenazi movement.

A much more meaningful term that has been proposed is Yehudei Artzot ha-Islam, Jews from Islamic Countries — since the one thing Moroccan, Algerian, Libyan, Egyptian, Syrian, Iraqi, Iranian, Turkish,… and even Yemenite Jews all have in common is that their communities and culture have been immersed for many generations in an Islamic host culture — and were inevitably shaped by that, the way Central and Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews were inevitably shaped by the surrounding Christian culture (be it Catholic, Protestant, or especially Russian Orthodox).

But even the “Yehudei Artzot ha-Natzrut” (term I just invented for Jews from Christian Countries) contain non-Ashkenazi groups with their own identity, quite aside from the Sephardim of the West. (I mean, can you meaningfully call Justices Benjamin Cardozo and Abraham Fortas “Jews from Islamic Countries” when their families have spent centuries in Christian ambit following al-Andalus?)

To begin with, Italian Jews contain a proud subcommunity that has been living in Italy since Roman Empire times: the ones in Rome refer to themselves as the “Scuola Tempio” (“Temple School”) and have a tradition of descending from the Hebrew slaves brought to Rome by Titus following the destruction of the Second Temple. They have their own synagogue ritual and religious customs, which are neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardi. Neither Yiddish nor Ladino, but judeo-Italian was their argot.

And then there are the Romaniotes (“[East]-Roman”, a.k.a., Byzantine Jews) of Greece, who can trace their presence in Greece to Antiquity, spoke a form of Demotic Greek to each other, had Greek names, pronounced Hebrew a Hellenized way,… Col. Mordechai Frizis, “The Greek Lion of Judah”, is but one example. This was the dominant Jewish community in Greece outside Thessaloniki (which, from the 16th century until the Shoah, had the world’s largest Sephardic community in the narrow sense of the word).

And we haven’t gotten into the Mountain Jews and the Bukharan Jews yet, both of whom settled in the Caucasus and Central Asia, respectively, many centuries before the Ashkenazi-Sephardi split. The Georgian Jews were in a Christian ambit, the Bukharan Jews in a Muslim ambit — but one quite different from the one Moroccan or Yemenite Jews experienced. Do they have more in common with each other than with either group?

I have a long-standing theory that one of the things that drives political ideologues the most crazy about Jews is the fact that we are not easily pigeonholed in simplistic classification schemes. Yet I’m reminded of an undergraduate chemistry professor who said a theory of chemical bonding doesn’t have to be perfect to be useful as a teaching tool, “it just has to be correct 90% or better of the time, and the rest you can teach as exceptions to the rule”.

In that spirit: without claiming there is no such thing as “Ashkenazi”, and “Sephardi” Jews, I believe a more useful (or “less wrong”) dichotomy from a sociological point of view would be “Jews from Christian Lands” vs. “Jews from Muslim Lands”, with an allowance for edge cases and for smaller groups that were separated from mainstream Judaism before it fully evolved. I will devote a separate post to them — the Ethiopian Jews, the Cochin Jews, and other “once-lost tribes” — in the near future.

MLK day reflection

I just finished the book “Active Measures” by Thomas Rid about the history of disinformation/desinformatsiya/”active measures” — a full book review will follow here or elsewhere.

A cornerstone of successful disinformation campaigns, like of “black propaganda“, is embedding the “payload” in a cargo of true (and even verifiable) information. (Sefton Delmer, the head of British “Black Propaganda” operations against the Third Reich [y”sh] during WW II, put it as follows: “cover, cover, cover, dirt, cover, cover”.) The statement “a half-truth is more effective than a whole lie” has been attributed to many sources, from Stalin [y”sh] to the Bible[*], but one poetic wording I’ll always remember:

And the parson made it his text that week, and he said likewise,
That a lie which is half a truth is ever the blackest of lies,
That a lie which is all a lie may be met and fought with outright,
But a lie which is part a truth is a harder matter to fight.

Alfred Tennyson, “The Grandmother“, Stanza VIII

Thomas Rid shows over and over that the Soviet and East German “Active Measures” departments of their respective intelligence services, in their own internal documents and training, referred over and over to none other than Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as V. I. Lenin. This quote stood out to me:

The more powerful enemy can be vanquished only by exerting the utmost effort, and by the most thorough, careful, attentive, skilful and obligatory use of any, even the smallest, rift between the enemies, any conflict of interests among the bourgeoisie of the various countries and among the various groups or types of bourgeoisie within the various countries, and also by taking advantage of any, even the smallest, opportunity of winning a mass ally, even though this ally is temporary, vacillating, unstable, unreliable, and conditional.

Rid, Thomas. Active Measures (pp. 314-315). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition. The footnotes cite the original source as Lenin’s essay, “Left-wing communism, an infantile disorder”, Collected Works, pp. 70-71. [Cached copy of the full text at marxists dot org.]

As did this:

Lenin’s perhaps most influential and visionary pamphlet, written in 1902, is titled What Is to Be Done? It sketches out a vision for a revolutionary party. “Have we sufficient forces to be able to direct our propaganda and agitation among all classes of the population?” Lenin writes, answering himself, “Of course we have.”12 To mobilize the masses, Lenin suggested, the movement would have to utilize every manifestation of discontent, and seize every grain of even rudimentary protest.

Rid, Thomas. Active Measures (pp. 316-317). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

Why is this reminding me of the entire project of the “woke” movement? Finding the slightest internecine rift and blowing it out of all proportion, or fanning the flames of any little brushfire between them?

Fundamentally, this is the project of the “woke” Brahmandarin regressives: setting brother against brother[**] in a game of divide et impera [often translated ‘divide and conquer, but literally, ‘divide and rule’].

Nothing could be further than this project from the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King:

Image

In 2022, this statement — once self-evidently progressive — would be considered hopelessly conservative and unenlightened by the neo-racists and neo-segregationists of the “woke” [to LSD trips] regressive “progressive” left. Because, frankly, they know that they cannot lord it over the rest of us if we were to judge people only by the content of their individual character, rather than by their ascribed groups and ever-shifting place in the victimhood hierarchy.

I cannot but end on the band U2’s homage to MLK. Happy Martin Luther King Day.

a remix with audio from various MLK speeches

[*] Jewish law considers lashon hara` (literally, “evil tongue”; idiomatically, slander that is partially truthful), a worse transgression than hotza’at shem ra` (wholly false slander) because it does greater damage.

[**] I don’t have to travel far for this. Neo-Marxists have been trying for years to conjure the shed ha-`adati, [“the ethnic djinn”] out of the bottle — to fan cultural tensions between Ashkenazim [Jews of European background] and Sephardim or Mizrachim [more properly called Yehudei artzot ha-Islam, Jews from Muslim countries] into ethnic conflict: while tension do exist, they have mellowed much owing to widespread intermarriage between the two. I remember a sketch on ha-Chartzufim [Israel’s copycat of “Spitting Image”] where a pathetic-looking ethnic djinn begs politicos to leave him alone as he’s too tired.

COVID mini-update: even BBC now talking about end of the pandemic phase

Not just Dr. John Campbell, but even the BBC [!], are now talking seriously about the end of the pandemic phase.

In brief: theoretically it is possible that some variant after omicron could get us into a lockdown/vaccination scramble again. However, the variants would need to be all of the following

  1. more contagious than omicron (which is itself already more contagious than the common cold!)
  2. more virulent
  3. represent at least a partial immune escape relative to both omicron and the earlier variants

Just 1. on its own would trade you endemic omicron for endemic omicron prime — basically, same difference. Just 2. on its own wouldn’t be able to outcompete omicron. Even 1 and 2 together, in the absence of 3, would just run into an immunity wall.

By way of illustration of this last point, the total percentage of “COVID-naive individuals”, in the immunological sense of the word (no vaccination, no previous infection) in England is just… 2.5% according to Dr. Campbell, quoting the ZOE project.

Some really stark graphics from OurWorldInData put the omicron wave in perspective relative to the others. Let me just shown you the one for England:

Note that all percentages here are normalized to 100% for the peak of the alpha wave (“UK variant”, in the UK “Kent variant”) on January 10, 2021. So you see that at the peak, England has 2.7x as many cases, but half as many patients in hospital, 17% as many patients on ventilators (about 16x less likely than for the alpha wave), and 16:1 improved hazard ratio), and 21% as many dead (about 13x less likely than for the alpha wave).

Germany is a slightly different story, in that they had a massive second delta wave right before omicron. So you see cases receding, then going up again — while severe morbidity and mortality drop as omicron displaces delta. [Addendum January 17: see the map of omicron percentages here.]

Here in Israel, it’s much the same story as the UK, playing out a few weeks later:

At least one mainstream medical source , Dr. Idit Matot, the head of anesthesiology at Sourasky Medical Center (still widely referred to here by its old name Ichilov Hospital — one of the “Big Four” hospitals) calls for treating our “severe omicron cases” with some caution:

“It’s important to know: The numbers shown to us about coronavirus patients in hospitals — both mild (for the most part) and serious — have coronavirus, but the large majority of them aren’t hospitalized for coronavirus,” wrote Matot, who is director of anesthesia at the hospital.

She said two children being treated at the hospital — one for a cerebral hemorrhage and the other for a bladder infection — are listed as serious coronavirus cases, even though that is not what they are hospitalized for.

“Therefore, the publication of the number of serious patients with coronavirus that appears each day in the media is misleading,” she said.

Note that I doubt any actual monkey business is involved. Cerebral hemorrhage is definitely a serious condition likely requiring the ICU, and if the person also incidentally tests positive for COVID, they have to be placed in the COVID ward to be isolated from the other patients, so they end up in the COVID ICU ward… It’s easy to see how confusion and clerical errors arise. “Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by derpitude.”

Meanwhile, Prof. Eran Segal on Twitter (in Hebrew) guesstimates, from “bedikot seker” (survey testing of random population samples), that the actual infection rate in Israel is 3-4 times higher than reported — hence, with 5 days of 40,000+ verified infections, we are looking at 10% of the population being infected in just those 5 days alone.

He also points out that thus far, aside from South Africa, the following countries are past their respective omicron peaks: UK, Ireland, Denmark, Canada, and South Korea.

ADDENDUM: A map of omicron percentages around the world

And now for two totally unrelated news items:

(a) A hostage situation at a Reform synagogue in Colleyville, in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex (actually, not that far from our old house) was thank G-d resolved without casualties other than the attacker himself (purportedly the brother of a convicted Islamist terrorist serving an 86-year sentence). Leave it to FICUS spokestool Jen #hashtagDiplomacy Psaki to refer to it in a way that would make the Pravda proud:

(b) NPR is apparently in deep financial trouble. It’s always been predictably New-class Preening Radio but, judging from Tucker Carlson’s selection of clips below, seems to have gone completely off the deep end with chingadavirus of the brain lately. I had a feeling my brain cells were dying in screaming agony as I watched and listened to this mind-rotting wokedreck…

Sabbath musical delight, with a smile: Weird Al Yankovic, “Craigslist” featuring Ray Manzarek of The Doors

[Because we all could use a laugh.] How did I ever miss this delightful bit of musical comedy? “Weird” Al Yankovic did this parody on several The Doors songs (particularly “When The Music’s Over”) — and the keyboardist/bassist is none other than Ray Manzarek (RIP) himself. Here is the original video:

And here is video of Ray Manzarek in the studio, laying down the keyboard parts (which, as is his wont, includes the bass part on his left hand —- The Doors didn’t have a bassist).

Have a good laugh and a great weekend, and Shabbat shalom

BONUS: Ray explains how he met Jim Morrison, how The Doors came about , and how they assembled their first major hit, “Light My Fire”

Joe Biden’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day: SCOTUS nixes OSHA vaccination mandate; Kirsten Synema nixes ending filibuster, meaning he cannot pass “ballot-stuffing for perpetual one-party rule” act; even WaPo cannot defend worst POTUS speech in 50 years

(1) I am not a US constitutional law scholar, but Instapundit (who is one) has been saying all along that the proposed OSHA employer vaccination mandate is unconstitutional, so I wasn’t surprised that SCOTUS nixed it 6-3. Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion was joined by Kavanaugh, and Barrett; Thomas and Alito joined a concurring opinion written by Gorsuch. Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor dissented.

In a much narrower case, ruling 5-4, the court did impose a stay on a lower-court injunction that blocked the Biden bubatron [puppet show] from imposing a mandate on healthcare facilities that receive Federal Medicare and Medicaid funding. Here, Roberts and Kavanaugh joined the three regressives“progressives” on the court.

But “baseball crank” (via the Powerline lawbloggers) believes that a mandate on Federal contractors outside healthcare will not fly, in view of the 6-3 decision.

Leaving constitutional law aspects aside, at any rate, whatever healthcare rationale these mandates might have had went out the window with omicron.

(b) Paul Mirengoff of Powerline thinks the speech Biden gave yesterday may have been the worst ever given by any POTUS, worse even than the “malaise speech”.

How bad was the speech? So bad that even ankle-biting partisan Dick Durbin found it objectionable. Putting it as politely and as compatibly with his rank partisanship as reasonably possible, Durbin agreed that Biden “went a little too far in his rhetoric.” 

I want to make two observations about Biden’s speech. First, it was boycotted by Georgia’s leading “voting-rights” activists. Leaders of a coalition of voting rights groups declined to attend. 

Even Stacey Abrams was a no-show. She cited “scheduling issues,” a laughably implausible excuse for not attending a presidential speech in her backyard.

Thus, the only people likely to have appreciated Biden’s over-the-top rhetoric — Stacey Abrams and her crew — weren’t in attendance because Biden seems already to have alienated them. With his speech, he alienated, or at least offended, nearly everyone to the right of Abrams and her crew. 

My second observation is that Biden lied about himself. This doesn’t distinguish the Georgia speech from standard Biden fare. However, this particular lie — the claim of having been arrested for protesting in favor of civil rights — adds to the disgrace because Biden, a one-time ally of segregationists, was falsely and shamefully attempting to stand alongside heroes of the civil rights movement who suffered imprisonment for their efforts.

Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s fact checker, gives the president four Pinocchios, the maximum number, for his claim about being arrested.

But the worst howler, for me, was Biden going on about “the most important is who counts the votes”. Has somebody hacked the FICUS’s teleprompter to insert that Josef Stalin [y”sh] quote?!

I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this—who will count the votes, and how.

said in 1923; Boris Bazhanov The Memoirs of Stalin’s Former Secretary (1992); Oxford Essential Quotations, 5th Edition, edited by Susan Ratcliffe, https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780191843730.001.0001/q-oro-ed5-00010383

(c) Nevertheless, Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) announced on the Senate floor that she will not support ending the filibuster to enable passing this monstrosity with the Orwellian name “For The People”.

“There’s no need for me to restate my longstanding support for the 60-vote threshold to pass legislation. There’s no need for me to restate its role in protecting our country from wild reversals of federal policy,” she said before the chamber Thursday. “This week’s harried discussions about Senate rules are but a poor substitute for what I believe could have and should have been a thoughtful public debate at any time over the past year.”

“But what is the legislative filibuster, other than a tool that requires new federal policy to be broadly supported by senators, representing the broader cross-section of Americans?” the senator asked. “Demands to eliminate this threshold from whichever party holds the fleeting majority amount to a group of people separated on two sides of a canyon, shouting that solution to their colleagues.”

The Arizona Democrat said that she is dedicated to making her public service in Congress reflect the diversity of her constituency and the nation at large, and urged her colleagues to stop viewing the American people as an ideological monolith that will automatically get on board with every progressive proposal.

[…]

Moderate Democratic senator Joe Manchin, who has also repeatedly refused to endorse any effort to weaken the filibuster, applauded Sinema for standing firm Thursday. “Very good. Excellent speech,” he said. Biden is reportedly heading to Capitol Hill Thursday in a last-ditch effort to convince the pair of Democratic holdouts to lower the filibuster hurdle for the voting bills.

(d) Not even the ever more desperate attempts (such as this one) of the MSM “DJ Lethal”s to turntable and scratch the DNC vinyl records

can save Biden from disastrously tanking in the polls.

From https://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/biden_administration/prez_track_jan13?fullbrowser

I gotta record a KISS parody about FICUS Biden, “He’s got the mierdas touch“…

COVID19 micro-update: amazing omicron data out of Southern California

Via Dr. John Campbell, an amazing preprint from UC Berkeley and the Kaiser Permanente HMO, concerning Southern California.

Lewnard, J. A.; Hong, V. X.; Patel, M. M.; Kahn, R.; Lipsitch, M.; Tartof, S. Clinical Outcomes among Patients Infected with Omicron (B.1.1.529) SARS-CoV-2 Variant in Southern California. medRxiv 2022. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1101/2022.01.11.22269045

In the table below, SGTF is not a typo for SHTF (s— hits the fan) but for S-gene target failure, a genetic marker for omicron vs. delta infection

Looking in terms of cases rather than person-days:

%of omicron%of deltatimes less likelyN_omicronN_delta
Numbers of cases5229716982
Any hospital admission0.4491.3072.9235222
Symptomatic hospital admission0.3481.2723.7182216
Intensive Care0.0130.13510.1723
Ventilatednil0.065011
Deaths0.0020.08243.1114

This is extraordinarily good news, which is consistent with what we’re seeing here: despite sky-high infection rates, severe cases (light blue in the graph below) have plateaued, and overall hospital occupancy for COVID actually seems to be trending down.

(The study above found that average duration of hospitalization is also about 70% shorter with omicron than with delta. This may help explain why, even with increased admissions because of the massive case numbers, hospitals aren’t getting choked —- people are getting discharged way faster than in the past.)

The comparison is a biological heresy, as we’re talking variants vs. different species, but omicron vs. delta almost looks like cowpox (vaccinia) vs. smallpox (variola)…

COVID19 omicron wave: 4 pictures that say more than 4,000 words

(1) From the UK government’s COVID data page: https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/cases

Cases over past 12 months (i.e., spanning delta peak and current omicron wave):

You see a dramatic increase in cases, like here in Israel, but it looks like it’s peaked. We are where the UK was 3-4 weeks ago.

Hospital admissions:

Yeah, they’re up, but nowhere near what you’d expect from the dramatic increase in cases. We see 4-5 times as many cases as during the winter wave, and half the hospitalizations. So the apparent hospitalization risk for a confirmed infection is something like 1/8 to 1/10th of back then. Also, we will see the decline in cases echoed 7-10 days down the line in hospital admissions.

Respirator ICU beds:

Those have basically flatlined — there is even a hint of a decrease. This is consistent with the emerging understanding that omicron is almost exclusively an upper respiratory system disease, unlike the older variants where nontrivial percentages of patients had severe lower lung involvement (with all the life-threatening complications that entails).

Deaths (G-d forbid):

The drop at the end may be due to reporting delays (gray bars indicate incomplete data). But still, a very far cry from the mortality wave in early 2021…

Incidentally, at the peak, England alone was logging as many as a quarter-million new cases per day. Israel has about one-sixth the population, and now has 2 consecutive days of over 40,000 cases — does that mean we are nearing peak omicron in Israel? Let’s not jump to conclusions because of differences in testing strategies.

Also, about 14 million people have been confirmed infected in the UK since the beginning — if we’re going to assume the vast majority is omicron, and that we’ll have as many on the right-hand of the peak as on the left, then we might be looking at almost 50% of the population getting infected one way or another (asymptomatic, minimally symptomatic, or flu-level disease — with a small minority of more severe cases).

(2) Below Dr. Campbell discusses US cases and hospital admissions

(3) Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute (on Twitter, in Hebrew) pointed out that Israel (with basically no lockdown) and the Netherlands (in pretty harsh lockdown since December 19) have similar morbidity levels, and concludes that at least against omicron, “lockdowns don’t work”.

(4) I talked over the phone to a health professional in Belgium (where locked-down Dutchmen came to party over the holidays ;)). Yes, lots and lots of cases, hospital beds also filling up, but… almost no omicron patients showing up in the ICU wards. “Aside from the enormous case numbers, that’s the main difference with past waves,” my interlocutor said.

Again: to the extent that omicron could create a [short-lived] emergency at all, it would be because a very small percentage of a very large number can create a sudden demand spike on hospitals. However, as best as I can tell, the UK appears to have weathered this storm without having to resort to opening “Florence Nightingale Hospitals” (emergency field hospitals), and I suspect the same will happen elsewhere. The US still had substantial delta caseloads until quite recently: as Dr. Campbell shows in the video above, omicron has now largely outcompeted delta there as well, so I suspect ICU occupancies will start trending down there as well.

Besides, my interlocutor stressed that a regular hospital bed with some oxygen is immensely less personnel- and resource-intensive than an ICU bed.

COVID19 update: South Africa declares “end of pandemic phase”; have London case loads peaked?; sitrep from Israel; derpseals of the week

(1) The Telegraph wonders why the “don’t panic” reports from South Africa were not heeded sooner.

Bloomberg News reports on clear signs from South African that the “acute pandemic phase” there is over. They are past the omicron wave and adequate herd immunity should now exist in the country, through a combination of vaccination (35-40% of the population), large numbers of recovery from beta (the “South African” variant), recoveries from delta, and now very large numbers of recovery from omicron.

(2) Statistics from GLA (the Greater London Area) give a tentative indication that the omicron wave there has peaked. Very rapidly mounting infections over 3-4 weeks, then tapering off, seems to be the pattern of omicron.

(3) also, the alarmed reports of a new “deltacron” variant, a delta-omicron hybrid, in Cyprus appear to be due to lab error.

(4) Meanwhile, here in Israel, daily infections now exceed the previous record by a factor of two. There are no lockdowns, and Green Pass is only used for very specific things anymore:

The working assumption of the government’s scientific advisors (including particularly Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute) seems to be that about one-quarter to one-third of the population will be infected no matter what, but that the severe morbidity and especially direct mortality will be limited. Via Eran Segal’s twitter feed:

The Bank of Israel governor warned that economic disruption is likely to be caused — even without any lockdowns — due to the supply chain and essential services being affected by lots of people getting sick all at once. However, as he says, this is unlikely to have long-term macroeconomic consequences because this is going to be a short-term event.

Opinion polls report a majority of Israelis are unhappy about the Bennett government’s relatively hands-off treatment of the crisis — it is quite clear he sees omicron infecting a large swath of Israeli society as inevitable, and, inspired apparently by his scientific advisors, the Bennett government appears to have decided to choose “ripping off a band aid” over a long and protracted cycle of lockdowns and semi-lockdowns. Veteran opinion journalist Sever Plotzker was actually arguing in the Yediot Achronot that Israel needs a 10-day hard lockdown and a vaccination mandate: the piece was long on talking-head-ism and short on science. (I have heard rumors Bennett was mulling a mandate some weeks ago, but that the medical establishment talked him out of it.)

The Times of Israel’s Nathan Jeffay visits a COVID ward at Hadassah Medical Center

https://www.timesofisrael.com/view-from-a-covid-ward-with-omicron-even-serious-patients-are-breathing-easier/

One part of the arsenal that is far more rarely used today is the ventilator, which was thought to be the ultimate piece of medical equipment in the first wave. “We’re simply not in the same constant race to help people breathe, to catch them in time just before they fall into serious difficulty breathing,” said Fridlender. “There isn’t the same level of pressure. This makes a huge difference.”

He said this is the latest of several changes that have made coronavirus wards feel less isolated and intense during the course of the pandemic, commenting: “Departments are different now in many ways. At the start of the pandemic, there were no visitors, but that changed, and now family members visit in full protective gear, and this has brought about a big change in how wards feel.”

[Dr.] Fridlender is reassured by Omicron’s apparently lighter impact on people than its predecessors. “I assume that if the virus doesn’t change, then with this strain the proportion of seriously ill people will remain low,” he stated — adding that this doesn’t mean that Israel is out of the woods.

The current variant spreads so fast that it may infect such large numbers that serious illness among just a small minority could put major pressure on healthcare, he believes. He warned: “Even if a relatively small proportion of people is very small the numbers could be such that we have a large number of sick people.”

The real concern at hospitals is, at this point, not so much about COVID cases on their own, but that they come on top of the already high caseload of seasonal respiratory disease (flu and pneumonia). COVID czar Salman Zarka [the first time we have an Israeli [correction January 17:] Arab Druze in such a responsible government position, BTW] says a lockdown should be on the table, but only as a last resort.

This concern is echoed by public health director Prof. Sharon Alroy Preis:

[…] “At the moment, most of the patients in serious conditions have been infected with Delta,” Alroy Preis said. “The problem with Omicron is that the moment that such high numbers get infected, even a very small percentage of them becoming serious translates into a high absolute number.” […]

(5) The Derpseal of the Week Award is shared by US Supreme Court justices Steven Breyer (Seriously? “750 million infections” in the US?! Braying jackass.) and Sonia “wise Latina” Sotomayor. And “100,000 children in the hospital with omicron?” for which even the WaCompost highly partisan fact checker gave her four Pinocchios [“howler” — their worst rating]

“Those numbers show that omicron is as deadly and causes as much serious disease in the unvaccinated as delta did. … We have over 100,000 children, which we’ve never had before, in serious condition and many on ventilators,” she said.

Debunking the statement, the Post cited HHS data that there are about 5,000 children hospitalized in a pediatric bed as of January 8. These patients include kids with suspected Covid or a confirmed positive test result, and well as those in observation beds. Calling her claim “wildly incorrect,” the publication wrote that  “Sotomayor’s number is at least 20 times higher than reality.”

And of course, “now she tells us”, https://www.wsj.com/articles/now-she-tells-us-11641843802?mod=djemBestOfTheWeb

Again, Dr. Walensky’s pivot may be inspired by the different nature of omicron, by the desire of Biden’s puppeteers to make the public forget about the pandemic (and their incompetent handling of it) by election time — my money is on a confluence of both.

As for the point that came up during her testimony, about how many comorbidities had people who died with COVID in the US: to be fair to Walensky, I’m reminded of the Hamburg city coroner saying in 2020 [according to local law — gotta check if it’s German federal law or Free City of Hamburg law — everybody who died of an infectious disease needs a full autopsy], “if the patient is over 60 and you haven’t found any comorbidities, you just weren’t looking hard enough”.

And in unrelated medical news, much ado about the first successful transgenic pig heart transplant into a human had succeeded. This is a major achievement and a first step on the road away from spending years on a donor waiting list. (The eventual solution will be growing replacement organs from the recipient’s own adult stem cells, which completely eliminates the problem of organ rejection.)

Yet this achievement was clearly outdone by the much earlier transplantation of a jackass’s brain into a human, the result being Alexandra Occasional Cortex.

Depressing article by Joel Kotkin, “Welcome to the end of democracy”

Today’s (UK) Spectator, a.k.a. “The Speccie”, has a long and depressing article by Joel Kotkin, most recently the author of “The coming of the new feudalism“. For context, note that urban geographer Joel Kotkin is not a minarchist or fire-breathing conservative, but a lifelong old-school liberal who just recently changed his party registration from D to Independent.

The original article is here, behind a paywall

https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/welcome-to-the-end-of-democracy

but you can find a cached copy here https://archive.fo/XuZTt . Read the whole long essay: I cannot do it justice by selective quoting. Let me just give you the incipit and a few excerpts :

We bemoan autocracies in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Russia and China but largely ignore the more subtle authoritarian trend in the West. Don’t expect a crudely effective dictatorship out of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: we may remain, as we are now, nominally democratic, but be ruled by a technocratic class empowered by greater powers of surveillance than those enjoyed by even the nosiest of dictatorships.

He goes on to give evidence for the ever-greater concentration of capital and real estate in ever fewer hands; that those hands benefit less from success in an undistorted free market than from “hypersubsidies” and cronyist relations with governments and the administrative state; that small and medium enterprises either are “assimilated by the Amazoogle borg” or go under; and as a result, that the middle class will shrink further and further.

All this is covered in his book

, but then he goes a step further

What is the end game for the oligarchs and their clerical allies?

Climate-change policies could nurture the new autocracy for a generation. As tech oligarchs and the financial establishment implement the Davos notion of a Great Reset, they will force a quick end to fossil fuels. There are huge opportunities for massive investment by super-rich companies and speculators in the ‘green economy,’ all made possible with tax breaks, loans and guaranteed sales to governmental units.

[…] The conscious policy of degrowth as a means of forcibly reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require getting most people out of their cars, and forcing them to travel far less and to live in tiny apartments. Enforcement will be necessarily intrusive as well. Planners in the UK and elsewhere are pushing for family ‘carbon budgets.’ Add surveillance technology and we end up with something akin to China’s ‘social credit’ system, in which your right to free movement is subject to government approval.

[…]

In a digitalised economy, it’s good to control the critical niches. The oligarchs do this brilliantly. They have seized dominant shares of key markets from search (Google) to social media (Facebook) to book sales (Amazon). Google and Apple together provide over 95 per cent of operating software for mobile devices, while Microsoft still accounts for over 80 per cent of the software that runs personal computers around the world.

I have covered Silicon Valley for forty-five years. Today, it is less the hypercompetitive, free-spirited place I knew, and more like the early twentieth-century trusts. Mike Malone, who has chronicled Silicon Valley as deeply as anyone, sees it losing much of its ethos. The new masters of tech, he suggests, have shifted from ‘blue-collar kids to the children of privilege,’ and moved away from the production ethos that once made the Valley so inspiring and egalitarian. An intensely competitive industry has become enamoured with the allure of ‘the sure thing’ backed by massive capital and sometimes by government. Competition is no longer a spur to creativity: competitors are simply bought out.

[…] Wealth cannot rule on its own. Autocracy needs a proselytising class who can justify the rulers and salve the distressed souls of the lower orders. In medieval times, the Catholic Church served this role, essentially justifying the feudal order as the expression of divine will. Today’s version, a sort of clerisy or intelligentsia, is mostly not religious and consists of people from the upper bureaucracy, academia, and the culture and media industries.

The pandemic has been a boon to this class too. The emergency allowed governments to grant them unprecedented executive and administrative powers not just in centralised France but even in usually semi-sensible Great Britain and Australia. For some, the lockdowns served as a ‘test run’ for necessary measures to realise their preferred climate-change policies. In the new schema, the real class enemy is not the excesses of the ultra-rich, or even wasteful spending by government: it’s the consumption patterns of the masses. We see this in the response of progressive media and even politicians such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to complaints about the rising costs of food, rent and energy. The clerisy sees even the essentials as ephemeral, and supply-chain problems as the consequence of too much consumption by the masses.

[…] The leaders of woke capitalism have signed onto a pledge to defund fossil fuels in the great quest for Net Zero. This is not, as the wacko right and the wacko left might think, a conscious conspiracy. Instead, it is propelled by tech firms’ natural desire for profits derived from replacing the carbon-spewing analog world wherever possible, and the irresistible lure for investors and corporations of a huge, subsidised and government-financed market.

Most tech and finance executives are not ideologues. Nor are they, despite appearances, sociopaths. Yet they feel justified in censoring and even demonetising not just Donald Trump or the New York Post or Bari Weiss, but also the credentialed experts whose views diverge from the accepted line for staffers at Google, Facebook and Twitter, organisations where woke instruction is increasingly imposed. (These companies’ location in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Puget Sound region, two of the most lopsidedly progressive areas in the country, is also a factor.) Many firms espouse woke ideas, says Jim Wunderman, president of the Bay Area Council, because they are ‘afraid of their own employees.’

[…]

In practice this often means eliminating conservative opinions — and not just views from the crazy fringe, according to former employees. Academic experts such as Judith Curry and Roger Pielke, with somewhat contrarian takes on climate, are routinely ignored, attacked and marginalised. Sceptics like the long-time environmentalist Mike Shellenberger, the Obama advisor Steven Koonin and the ‘sceptical environmentalist’ Bjorn Lomborg are largely consigned to the social-media memory hole for detailing the environmentalists’ record of exaggeration, hyperbolic projections and immiserating policies.

We are increasingly ruled by a perfect marriage of class convenience, with more power for the clerisy and ever-greater economic opportunities for the oligarchy — all with the added benefit of encouraging them to feel good about themselves. Even as they push austerity on the masses, they live like medieval lords, indulging in lavish weddings and building estates reminiscent of the Habsburgs’. Jeff Bezos just spent $100 million (£80 million) on a Hawaiian retreat. Bill Gates’s daughter just enjoyed a $2 million (£1.5 million) wedding. John Kerry, president Biden’s chief climate scold and beneficiary of an heiress’s fortune, travels on a private jet that use thirty times the energy of the average American vehicle.

That’s fine. The anointed purchase ‘environmental offsets’: a green version of indulgences. […]

Again read the whole thing. His peroration:

The time could be shorter than we think. The tech oligarchs are creating something similar to what Aldous Huxley called in Brave New World Revisited a ‘scientific caste system.’ There is ‘no good reason,’ Huxley wrote in 1958, that ‘a thoroughly scientific dictatorship should ever be overthrown.’ It will condition its subjects from the womb so that they ‘grow up to love their servitude’ and ‘never dream of revolution.’ It will maintain a strict social order and provide enough diversion through drugs, sex and videos to keep their artificially narrowed minds occupied and sated.

The fusion of government with large oligopolistic companies, and the technologically-enhanced collection of private information, allow the new autocracies to monitor our lives in ways that Mao, Stalin or Hitler would have envied. A rising tide of money and administrative power defines the rising autocracy. If we as citizens, whatever our political orientation, are not vigilant, our democracy will become an increasingly hollow vessel.

What’s going on in Kazakhstan?

This Central Asian nation — one of the former USSR “Soviet republics” — has been in the grip of deadly riots following a steep increase in energy prices. The President has requested military ‘peacekeeping’ assistance by the post-Soviet Collective Security Treaty Organization. US Foreign Secretary Anthony Blinken quipped in response that

“I think one lesson in recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave,” Blinken told reporters.

Predictably, the answer from Russia was sputtering about American Indians, Vietnam, etc. etc.

A little context is appropriate here, as many people in the West may not even have heard of the place — except as the “fictional” home of Borat Sagdiev, perhaps. You might be surprised to learn that not only is it a real country, but in terms of land mass, Kazakhstan is actually the 9th largest fully independent country on the planet, about tied with Argentina and about 1/4 the area of Canada (or of the USA including Alaska). It has long land borders with both Russia and China.

from https://followthepin.com/where-is-kazakhstan/

[ Space buffs might know that the Russian cosmodrome at Baikonur is located in Kazakhstan — Russia has a lease until 2050].

Historically, the population were nomadic cattle farmers of Turkic origin. To this day, 3/4 practice either Sunni Islam or a form of Islam not affiliated with either Sunna or Shia. The ethnic Russian minority — part of which settled there during the Tsarist era, part under Communism — is mostly Russian Orthodox. There are small Protestant, pagan (not “neo-pagan”), and Jewish communities — the latter overwhelmingly Ashkenazi transplants from the Western former USSR.

Where Ukraine used to be the bread basket of the USSR, Kazakhstan was its stockyard. Attempts to forcibly collectivize cattle farming in the early 1930s had the same disastrous results as the contemporaneous Holodomor (Ukrainian man-made famine), and were even more lethal in relative terms (i.e., as a percentage of the population).

The discovery of massive oil and uranium reserves would dramatically transform the economy of the region. After independence, the country saw extremely rapid economic growth. Politically speaking, it is a de facto one-party state, with the former 1st Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, as the country’s longtime strongman until his resignation in March 2019. There are clear signs of a cult of personality: when the country’s capital, Astana, was renamed Nursultan, I was convinced this was a posthumous honor — yet it appears he is still very much alive at age 81.

My two cents’ worth as a distant observer:

(a) there appears to be genuine discontent with the lack of non-sham democracy in Kazakhstan. It has repeatedly bubbled to the surface in recent years, and appears to have been a factor in Nazarbaev’s retirement “for health reasons”. It may just be the latest flare-up of this chronic problem. (The current president was a hand-picked protégé of Nazarbaev’s.)

(b) However, Kazakhstan’s two powerful neighbors would just love to lay their hands on the country’s natural resources. I definitely would not put it past either of them — but, given historical overlordship, especially not past Russia — to ‘stir the pot’ a little with influence and disinformation operations to create chaos, and an excuse to come in to ‘restore order’.

Developing…

Sabbath musical delight: Rush, “Cold Fire”

Songs about love (and physical lust) are “done to death” lyrically in mainstream pop and rock music.

Like most of the bands I like to listen to most, Rush generally give the subject a wide berth. Lyricist and virtuoso drummer Neil Peart (RIP) tended to deal with philosophical subjects, sometimes history, speculative fiction,… but only rarely touched on relationships.

A rare exception is the song “Cold Fire” from the album “Counterparts”. The album marked their return to a harder power trio sound after the lush synthesizer textures of previous albums (which also stretched the band’s ability to reproduce the album sound live as a three-piece to the limit, and perhaps beyond). I’m among the minority of Rush fans who like albums like “Signals” and “Power Windows” _better_, but maybe that’s because I have a somewhat “catholic” musical taste [the word used in the original meaning of “universal”] and couldn’t care less about hard rock purism. I do have to admit that the sound engineering on “Counterparts” is just marvelous — that’s Kevin “Caveman” Shirley for you.

Don’t be put off by the harsh opening chords — the tune is actually quite melodic for the most part. Neil Pearl’s drumming is fantastic — those obsessed with “trap beats” in which rapid syncopated cymbal parts are programmed on a drum machine can hear an actual drummer play such parts _live_, without ProTools, while still playing a driving beat on bass and snare drums.

Here is the studio original:

And yes, they could play like this live, without AutoTune or Melodyne, without canned backing tracks.

And now for the lyrics:

It was long after midnight
When we got to unconditional love
She said sure, my heart is boundless
But don't push my limits too far

I said if love was so transcendent
I don't understand these boundaries
She said just don't disappoint me
You know how complex women are
I'll be around
If you don't let me down
Too far

It was just before sunrise
When we started on traditional roles
She said sure I'll be your partner
But don't make too many demands

I said if love has these conditions
I don't understand those songs you love
She said this is not a love song
This isn't fantasy-land
I'll be around
If you don't push me down
Too far

[[Don't go too far]]
The phosphorescent wave on a tropical sea
Is a cold fire
[[Don't cross the line]]
The pattern of moonlight on the bedroom floor
Is a cold fire
[[Don't let me down]]
The flame at the heart of a pawnbroker's diamond
Is a cold fire
[[Don't break the spell]]
The look in your eyes as you head for the door
Is a cold fire

[OUTRO]
Love is blind if you are gentle
Love can turn to a long, cold burn

Have a nice weekend and Shabbat shalom

COVID19 micro-update: Australia, Israel sitreps, and three possible endgames: like seasonal flu, like dengue fever, or disappearing

Dr. John Campbell, in the second half of this video, interviews a doctor from New South Wales (Australia’s most populous state, with Sydney as the largest city). In a nutshell:

  • we are having very large numbers of cases
  • Hospitalization have gone up
  • we have some more people in the ICU
  • However, the lion’s share of ICU patients have the delta strain — in Australia, omicron hasn’t displaced delta yet [the way it did in South Africa and is doing in the UK]
Screenshot from Dr. Campbell’ s video

Dr Mike Hansen sees three possible endgames after omicron:

1. COVID becomes like seasonal flu, with one predominant strain each winter season [besides other respiratory viruses]

2. COVID becomes like dengue fever: multiple strains circulating and making some people sick

3. COVID disappears entirely

(2) Now for an Israel situation report. We have had all-time infection records for two days in a row now. As our RT-PCR testing infrastructure tops out around 180,000 cases/day, the number of people who were exposed to a confirmed carrier is exceeding the daily testing capacity. Hence, starting today, you can only get an RT-PCR test if you are over 60 or in a risk group (immunocompromised, major chronic disease,…) — otherwise, you are to self-isolate for 7 days. Rapid testing is of course still available.

According to our Ministry of Health COVID dashboard the reproductive number now exceeds two. We now have 134 severe cases in hospital nationwide — reportedly, 88 of them unvaccinated. I suspect most of these are still delta cases, as (see screenshot above) omicron is the majority variant now but has not yet displaced delta.

Daily reports of employees testing positive on campus went from one or two every week to two handfuls a day. I was exposed myself some days ago when a participant in a face-to-face meeting turned out to test positive later: I still managed to get tested and turned out negative.

Mrs. Arbel (who’s in a risk group) got a repeat booster as her booster was expiring: as usual, she was off her feed for about a day. For now, these 2nd boosters are only available for age 60+, risk groups, and medical personnel. I doubt this will be extended, as omicron is both a partial immune escape variant and (thank G-d) continues to present as much milder than delta.

(3) News of the weird: (h/t: Mrs. Arbel) a Portuguese nurse working in England who was on a ventilator, in a coma, from COVID woke up after being administered…. Sildenafil citrate, a.k.a. VIAGRA.

ADDENDUM: Prof. Cyrille Cohen at Bar-Ilan university about the “new French variant” that is popping up in some news media: “We know enough not to be concerned”.

Also, technical term of the day: “COVID-naive individuals”. No, not naive in the cognitive, but in the immunological sense: people whose immune system has never been challenged by COVID antigens (be they from virus or vaccine) and hence has no prior knowledge of them.

Further, Israel cancels all “red” countries, reopens its skies for air travel. The whole rationale for closing the skies was to either keep omicron out, or buy time to get prepared. Now that it is the dominant variant here (and has spread to pretty much the entire planet), plus we now know pretty much what we are dealing with, that air travel ban has outlived its usefulness.

Fiction writing fact check: how do silencers work, and how effective are they?

Pretty good video on the subject. And yes, the idea that they bring the gun’s noise down to a quiet “phht” is Hollywood Baloney.

[Not dead yet, but been writing all day. With a bit of luck, I might finally finish Episode 4/Book 2 of Operation Flash. I am also working on a Dutch omnibus edition of the first three episodes, which will be called “Valkyrie 1943”.]

Derpseals hall of “fame”: Justin Zoolander Trudeau and Alexandra Occasional Cortex

[Hammering away at a new book project in between work, so blogging light today.]

Gad Saad goes dumpster-diving so we don’t have to. His summary would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad. Watch it all, and weep.

Even in such a crowded field of masters of derpitude and vapidity, these two stand out to such a degree that they would win derp-seal of the week time and again. They are truly parody-proof, in that no cartoonish parody could be worse than the original. Hence, they are hereby both awarded “Hall of Fame” status so others can have a chance to “win” the world’s least coveted award.