GameStop, hedge funds going “The Producers”, and identity politics as a smokescreen

The GameStop fracas has been a revelatory moment, and not in the way some people were expecting.

Tucker Carlson on Fox News, "The Identity Politics Smoke Screen"

The above screenshot was taken at 10:31 from a must-watch Tucker Carlson segment (video embed below).

Tim Pool, from his own ex-Bernie Bro angle, surprisingly (?) comes to a similar conclusion: Big Finance and Big Tech want you to look elsewhere while they’re feathering their own beds through market manipulation, so they gin up outrage left and right through toxic identity politics.

And the Biden admin? Well, aside from 0bama admin retreads and failed-upwards cases like the former PA health official with a trendy gender identity, you have the new Treasury Secretary (and former Fed director) getting $800K in speaking fees from hedge funds, and, guess what (0.33 into the Tim Pool video): the brother of WH spokestool Jen “HashtagSelfie” Psaki[*] is a portfolio manager at the Citadel hedge fund. No wonder that, during the press conference, she throws out a red herring about Janet Yellen’s gender in response to questions about the GameStop fracas and the heavy-handed “it’s OK for us to manipulate the market, but not for you peons!” response from Big Tech/Big Finance.

This thread contains a good introduction to what the hedge funds actually did. This infographic neatly summarizes how ‘shorting’ actually works:

So that’s where we start. A hedge fund tried to force down the price of Gamestop, and short the stock. It usually works fine. It’s been done thousands of times, with no problems. So they shorted Gamestop (GME) from $20, to $10, to $4. Their greed kept compounding. They kept doing it again, and again, for months. Making billions of dollars, and almost bankrupting this company. (shares and share price are used as collateral for loans and access to capital). So they shorted Gamestop (GME) from $20, to $10, to $4. Their greed kept compounding. They kept doing it again, and again, for months. Making billions of dollars, and almost bankrupting this company. 
Enter Wallstreetbets- A trading/investing subreddit. Someone noted that these hedgefunds shorted 140% of all shares available. These hedgefunds were so damn greedy, they borrowed more shares than actually existed. That’s how arrogant and dumb they were. They borrowed 140% of all the available shares. It was literally impossible for them to buy them all back.
So someone on Wallstreetbets realized this, and told everyone. Now, the rule with short selling is that ALL those shares that they borrow, MUST be paid back. And so we reach our main story of how the hedgefund’s greed ruined them. Realizing that these hedgefunds shorted GME by a ridiculous amount, these Redditors (normal people like you and me), bought every share they could get their hands on. Driving the price up like crazy.

Read the whole thread. Now you can either say about the hedge fund shorts, “this is how capitalism should work — nobody complained when Blockbuster Video was shorted” — but then there is nothing wrong with what the RobinHood hobby traders did either. Or you say “this is market manipulation” — and then both sides in the dispute are guilty as sin.

But look again at the low comedy bit in the thread: “shorted 140% of all shared available”. Good heavens. This is like the hilarious Mel Brooks movie and play, The Producers.

[…] while shuffling numbers, [accountant] Leo [played by Gene Wilder] has a revelation—a producer can make a lot more money with a flop than a hit by overselling shares in the production, because no one will audit the books of a play presumed to have lost money. Max [played by Zero Mostel] instantly puts this scheme into action. They will oversell shares on a massive scale and produce a play that will close on opening night, thus avoiding payouts and leaving the duo free to flee to Rio de Janeiro with the profits.

Powerline puts forward a contrarian position — their commenters aren’t buying it though. It is quite possible to be 100% capitalist and 100% opposed to crony capitalism — to the economy being a rigged game the way it was/is in Latin American banana republics or in Mussolini’s “corporate state”. Unlike Powerline (which I generally read attentively) I see absolutely no contradiction between these two positions. And ‘protecting these [small-time hobby] traders against themselves’? Good heavens. Individually, they’ll lose 100s or a couple grand each (unless they decided to climb Mt. Stoopid and bet the farm) — it’s because there’s several million of them that Big Hedge Fund, Inc. is panicking.

This former Biden stenographer expressed anguish at the obvious cognitive decline of his former boss, and used the term “ventriloquist dummy”. Who is speaking through the dummy? I have argued here back in early November that it was the Big Tech/Big Finance complex that engineered Biden’s rigged nomination as they saw him as the candidate most friendly to them if elected. Looks like went well beyond ‘most favored candidate’ level…

ADDENDUM: The Bookworm Room on Australia and the consequences of the “outsource everything to China for short-term profit” economy:

[…] There is more than gender identity at play here – if you aren’t self-sufficient in everything you are done. Identity politics is a distraction – misdirection while your pockets are emptied.

Quite. The neo-feudalization of the economy is an issue that transcends the old left-right divide — which is one of the reasons the oligarchs are trying to stoke the flames of race/gender warfare.

ADDENDUM 2: I was amused to find out that the first documented example of “naked short-selling” was when in 1609, a Dutch trader of French origin named Isaac Le Maire engaged in a speculation campaign of this type against the Dutch East-India Company.

[*] I am on record as having stated Jen Psaki’s level of competence as State Department spokesflack was about adequate for a position like spokesperson of the East Chickenpluck, KY animal control department. A KY resident took offense at this, saying “what do you have against my state”? 😉

COVID19 breaking news, January 28, 2021: first preliminary data on effectiveness of Israeli vaccination campaign [UPDATED]

Vaccination status per age bracket as of this AM. Light green=both doses, dark green=awaiting 2nd dose

As the vaccination campaign in Israel proceeds apace, and now a large chunk of the age 60+ population has had both doses, the public health authorities have released their first preliminary findings on the effectiveness of the vaccine among those who have had both shots and, after one week’s wait, were supposed to be 95% immune. Globes (Israel’s Hebrew-language business paper) has more details than the English-language press. Let me summarize in bullet points:

  • of 715,425 vaccinees, just 317 (or 0.04%) tested positive [after 1 or 2 weeks]. For comparison, our daily infection rate in the general population is about 0.1% per day
  • of those 317, sixteen (16, or 0.002% of vaccinees) needed hospitalization for COVID
  • currently, 322 people under 60 are hospitalized for COVID [note: we do not hospitalize mild and moderate cases for COVID alone, but send them to a “coronahotel” if they are unable to stay at home]. Of these, 83% are unvaccinated, 16% got one dose, and just 1% (to be precise, three patients) had had both doses.
  • of the 834 people age 60 and over hospitalized with COVID, 56% was unvaccinated, 42% got one dose, and just 13 people (rounds up to 2%) had had both doses. It is unclear whether some of these were already infected before they got the second shot: the first shot on its own is only expected to be about 50% effective. It is also not clear whether some of the others have immunodeficiencies.
  • At present, about 65% of people 60 and older have had both shots, but the relevant situation is probably that of a week or more ago with, say, 20-30% coverage. So it would seem that we are looking at about 90% effectiveness or better.
  • In the Pfizer clinical trial, nobody of the about 15,000 vaccinated got seriously ill — while the above statistics (on about 50x the number of people) do indicate that it is possible, albeit rare
  • There are indications the vaccination campaign is already affecting serious morbidity, with a significant drop in hospitalized patients expected to start next week
  • The British variant now accounts for 60% of new cases; fortunately it does not appear to be an ‘escape mutation’ (term I learned from my virologist colleagues) and the vaccine appears to be effective against it. The jury is out on whether this will be the case for the South African mutation.

Obviously, we will need a longer time interval for the data to firm up, but so far things are looking good for the Pfizer vaccine. (We also have a small supply of the Moderna mRNA vaccine, which is used for in-home vaccination of elderly people who cannot make the trip to the vaccination sites. The reason: Moderna has more lenient freezing/cooling requirements and is hence more suitable to be transported in a doctor or nurse’s car or bag.) In all, this is an unofficial Phase IV trial on a massive scale. Check back here for further developments.

If an escape mutation necessitates a ‘reprogramming’ of the vaccine and a new vaccination drive, does this require a whole new FDA approval process, clinical trials and all? An insider told me that seasonal flu vaccines probably have established a precedent for the contrary, as it is impossible to make a selection of strains and run a whole new set of clinical trials every year — by the time they are finished and you can mass-manufacture, flu season is likely over.

UPDATE: Times of Israel reports data from the Maccabi HMO [*] that also include a proper control population:

Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is showing 92 percent effectiveness in Israel, according to the world’s first big controlled investigation on how it works outside of clinical tests. / Only 31 out of 163,000 Israelis vaccinated by Maccabi Healthcare Services caught coronavirus in their first 10 days of full-strength protection, its top vaccine statistics analyst, Anat Ekka Zohar, told The Times of Israel on Thursday. / In an equivalent sample of unvaccinated Israelis, some 6,437 were diagnosed in the same timeframe. […]

Maccabi has analyzed a control group of Israelis with similar age and health profiles [as the] vaccinees, composed entirely of people [who] haven’t been [previously] infected or received shots. This allowed Maccabi to calculate its real-world effectiveness rate. […] Ekka Zohar said she was encouraged by the light symptoms of vaccinated people who caught the coronavirus, as well as by the low infection rates. “None have been hospitalized and they have very very light symptoms,” she stated. “We are talking about headache and a mild feeling of sickness, and they are almost completely without fever. It’s really a very light illness.” […]The Health Ministry reported that there have been 317 infections among 715,425 vaccinees, a rate of 0.044%, or about double the infection rate seen among Maccabi members. However, Maccabi members tend to come from a higher socioeconomic background and live in areas with low infection levels. Ekka Zohar said that if there were a national control group, it would likely indicate a similar effectiveness level to Maccabi’s data.

And in tangentially related news, the origin theory of COVID19 as an accidental leak from a lab engaged in “gain of function” research just went from “only conspiracy theorists believe this” to… being endorsed by a WHO advisor and former Clinton and Biden staffer, Jamie Metzl, in an interview in the Toronto Sun. Wow.

[*] All Israelis by law have to belong to one of the four licensed HMOs [you can switch every six months if you so desire]: Clalit [the largest, historically an arm of the Histadrut trade union federation], Maccabi [historically the HMO of self-employed professionals and well-off people], Meuchedet [“United”, a merger of two smaller HMOs], and the small Leumit [“Nationalist”]. Full disclosure: our family is enrolled in Maccabi, though we carry supplemental private insurance.

International Shoah Memorial Day post: the less well-known story of DP camps after the war and the “survivor baby boom”

On this day seventy-six years ago, January 27, 1945, Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army. The international community marks the anniversary as International Shoah memorial day — Israel has its own Yom HaShoah that follows the Hebrew calendar (on 27 Nisan, almost two weeks after Passover).

A story from the aftermath that is not widely known is that of DP (Displaced Persons) camps in Germany and Austria after the war — the Times of Israel has a long article about them today. A number of my older colleagues and friends were born in the ‘mini baby boom’ there.

In these camps, Jews from several backgrounds met. Some were camp survivors, trying to come to terms with their physical and psychological scars. Others had fled to the East, joined either the Red Army or the Partisans, then after the end of the war had made their way to the occupation zones of the Western Allies. Yet others had survived in hiding and realized there was nothing to return to.

Here, they were in a kind of limbo, their future on hold — would a Western country accept them as immigrants, or would the British allow them to immigrate to the British Mandate? Some took their chances with Aliya Bet (“immigration B”, i.e., ‘illegal’ immigration), but most had no desire to be caught and sent to a British army camp on Cyprus.

The DPs got lots of help (especially food supplies) from American Jewish relief organizations. At least some of these DP camps were in scenic locations in Upper Bavaria, and after the terror and privations, some say it felt like a convalescence leave. And with young survivors of both sexes — many of them either sole survivors, or not reunited with other survivors in their family until later — deeply rooted human instincts took over. It could even happen (as it did to the parents of a good friend) that lovers who had been separated by events found each other via one of the tracing services (no mean feat in the pre-IT days). But more commonly, people met and bonded over shared grief. Soon a wave of marriages and childbirths ensued — the children are now in their early seventies.

One such couple and their newborn baby (from this article)

After the birth of Israel and the War of Independence, the state passed a law offering citizenship to anybody of Jewish descent willing to settle there. Many took up the offer (and ended up arriving just before the large waves of Jewish expulsees from Arab countries), others made their way to the USA, to Canada (such as the parents of Rush frontman Geddy Lee), to Australia,… often after getting in touch with family already born there and willing to sponsor them. (One dear friend’s mother could not get sponsored by her siblings who had gotten to the USA before the war — only after a cousin already ‘native-born’ was located and agreed to act as a sponsor could she come over.)

Many trials and tribulations still lay ahead — but they had enjoyed a brief respite from an unimaginable ordeal.

Genesis instrumental, “After The Ordeal”

Duverger’s Law, and why third parties in the US benefit the one they disagree with most

I often get the question from (continental) Europeans and Israelis, “why does the US only have two parties?” Sure enough, it has more than two, but even the Libertarian party, for better or for worse, is barely even a niche player.

How come? A French political scientist named Maurice Duverger (who himself had a very “colorful” political career, to put it mildly) made the empirical observation that:

[T]he simple-majority single-ballot system [a.k.a., plurality voting, a.k.a. first-past-the-post] favours the two-party system.

Duverger, Maurice (1964). Political parties: their organization and activity in the modern state. Internet Archive. London : Methuen. p. 217

as well as its corollary

[B]oth the simple-majority system with second ballot [i.e., runoff voting] and proportional representation favour multi-partism.

ibid, p. 239

This is generally referred to as “Duverger’s Law”, but really is an empirical observation rather than a mathematical law (the way characteristics of some electoral systems are subject to mathematical proof, e.g. whether or not they satisfy the Condorcet criterion).

A generalization of Duverger’s law I have read is that “the number of viable political parties equals one plus the number of seats per constituency”. In the extreme case where the whole country is a single constituency (i.e., pure proportional representation), you can theoretically get as many parties as you have seats in parliament — Israel was not that far from this chaotic situation until an electoral threshold was introduced.

OK, you say, the US has one Representative per congressional district, and states in Presidential elections are winner-takes-all with the exception of Nebraska and Maine. And yes, in the 1992 US Presidential election, Ross Perot pulled 18.9% but not a single electoral vote.

But what about other countries with plurality voting? How come they have more parties?

Well, consider the UK. For the longest time, it has only had two major parties — the Tories [a.k.a. the Conservative and Unionist Party] and Labour. In the 2015 general election, UKIP (the UK Independence Party) got 12.6% of the vote, but only a single Member of Parliament. (They actually did much better in the 2014 European Parliament elections — ironically, for a Euroskeptic party.)

Likewise, the Liberal Democrat representation in the House is not proportionate to its electoral following, with (2019 election) a measly 11 MPs for 11.6% of the vote. But the Scottish National Party punches way above its weight, translating just 3.9% of the national vote into a whopping 48 MPs (out of a total of 59 from Scots districts). Why? Because it is regionally dominant — it is effectively the first party in a region of the United Kingdom, and functionally nonexistent outside. Likewise, while Green Party’s 2.7% got it one (1) MP, Plaid Cymru [=Welsh nationalists] got 4 MPs (all in Wales) with just 0.5% nationally (but over 20% in Wales).

Electoral Reform Society (UK) via Time magazine. They consider this a bug of plurality voting, while others might consider it a feature.

The situation in Canada is somewhat similar, with the Conservatives and Liberals as the two major parties, and the Parti Québecois as the regionally dominant niche player, translating 7.63% into 32 seats (out of a total of 338), while the New Democratic Party got just 24 seats with 15.98% of the vote!

What does all the above mean in the US context?

A regional third party might be viable at the Congressional level, and might become a serious spoiler in a Presidential election. If tomorrow a politician with a rabid following (say, the 45th President) decided to found a Dixie Party, and it were to compete directly with the GOP in a cluster of Southern states, that hypothetical Dixie Party could become a force in Congress, and might even find itself wooed as a coalition partner under certain circumstances. But this would presuppose 1st party status in those states — the same number of votes spread in penny packets over the whole USA will get you zilch.

And guess who, in this scenario, would be laughing all the way to the bank in the presidential election?

A hypothetical “Patriot Party”, “MAGA Party”, or similar would largely compete for the same voters as the GOP. If it can drive the GOP out of the market in certain constituencies, it can become a player at the Congressional level; if it can make the GOP go the way of the Whig Party at the national level, it will effectively replace the GOP as the opponent of the DINOcrat Party. Anything less than these two scenarios simply strengthens the hand of the DINOcrats — whether we like this or not.

Consider the 1st round of the Senate elections in GA. Note: I am not saying you should, or shouldn’t, vote Libertarian: I am simply noting that if the Libertarian hadn’t run for the Perdue seat, Perdue would easily have made the 50% threshold needed to prevent a runoff election (which probably was ballot-stuffed by the DINOcrats), and we would have had GOP control of the Senate. Does anyone believe Senate control by the current version of the DINOcrat Party is somehow closer to libertarian aims? I somehow didn’t think libertarians subscribed to Lenin’s “worse is better”… (Yes, I know, Lenin referred to setting the stage for armed revolution.)

Seriously, as one who grew up in a modified Condorcet system and lives in a proportional representation system, I am 100% sympathetic to the desire for a viable third party. All I am saying is: in a plurality voting system, pretty much the only kind of third party that can have any impact is a regionally dominant one — anything else in practice hurts the major party that is closest in views to the third party, as they would share a voter reservoir.

Finally, Donald Trump may have a number of flaws, but he wouldn’t have gotten as far as he did in business without being shrewd and understanding markets — electorates are a different kind of market, if you like. I would imagine that the above calculus (by him or one of his advisors) figured into his decision not to establish a new Patriot Party ticket.

Constitutional law professors left, center, right: 2nd impeachment trial in the Senate unconstitutional.

Instapundit — himself the Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law at U. of Tennessee — uses the arcane judicial term “clown show”. But, you might say, Insty is a libertarian. [UPDATE: libertarian senator Rand Paul (R-KY) announced he will boycott the trial as being unconstitutional.] What about other law professors?

Yesterday the news came in that Chief Justice John Roberts apparently declined to preside, and that D senator Pat Leahy would instead do so, in his capacity as President Pro Tempore of the US Senate. [By long-standing tradition, in the US the most senior senator of the majority party fills that role. Though exactly how that works when the Senate is split 50:50 is a bit opaque to this foreign observer.]

Ann Althouse, law professor emeritus at U. of Wisconsin, and a political centrist, reacts to the CNN claim that Roberts ‘ducked’ his responsibility :

Ducks by skipping?!! That’s a daffy way to put it. I think it means John Roberts arrived at the view that there was no occasion for the Chief Justice to preside, and therefore he has a duty to refrain from participating. That’s not ducking and it’s not skipping. When he presides, it’s because he must, and when he refrains, it’s because he must. It’s based on an interpretation of law. […]

The article says “Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and the president pro tempore of the chamber, will preside for Trump’s second impeachment trial.” So, it seems a decision has been made, but did Roberts participate? Did the Senate Democrats want him, or are they, on their own, taking the opportunity to exclude him? Biskupic writes that the constitutional text is, “When the President of the United States is impeached, the Chief Justice shall preside,” which obscures the argument Roberts-excluders must make. The actual text is “When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside.” The argument must be that Trump is no longer the President of the United States, therefore there’s no role for the Chief Justice. That also provides a foundation for an argument that there is now no occasion for a trial of impeachment — impeachment is a procedure for removing the President — and it is an abuse of power for the Senate to try the former President, deprived of the safeguard of the Chief Justice as a neutral arbiter.

And then there’s Alan Dershowitz, law professor emeritus at Harvard Law School. A liberal and a Democrat, but undeniably a legal scholar and somebody who has never refrained from taking up the defense of impopular causes when he felt they had the law on their side. In an op-ed in The Hill, he lays out how the House impeachment — the root of the Senate one, committed no fewer than six separate violations of the Constitution. Let me quote in full:

First, it violated the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from abridging free speech. By impeaching Trump for free speech that was protected in the unanimous Supreme Court decision in the case of Brandenburg versus Ohio, the First Amendment was violated.

Second, the House violated the substantive impeachment criteria for the Constitution, which limits impeachment to “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” It cannot be a high crime or misdemeanor for a president to deliver remarks protected by the Constitution. If Congress can pass no law abridging free speech, then it certainly cannot pass one impeachment resolution abridging free speech of a president.

Third, it violated due process by handing the president and his legal team no opportunity to present a defense or to formally challenge the article of impeachment. This sets a precedent for any future president.

Fourth, by trying to put Trump on trial in the Senate after he leaves office, the House violated the provision that allows Congress to remove a sitting president and, only if the Senate decides to remove him by a vote, could it add the sanction for a future disbarment from running for office. Congress has no authority over any president once he leaves office. If Congress had the power to impeach a private citizen to prevent him from running in the future, it could claim jurisdiction over millions of Americans eligible to be candidates for president in 2024. This would be a perilous interpretation of the Constitution which would allow the party in control of Congress to impeach a popular candidate and preclude him from running.

Fifth, if the Senate were to conduct a trial of a private citizen, including a former president, then it would violate both the spirit and the letter of the prohibition against bills of attainder. For Great Britain, Parliament had the authority to try kings, other officials, and private citizens. The Framers of the Constitution rejected that power of Congress and also limited its trial jurisdiction to impeaching government officials only while they served in office and could be removed. To conduct a show trial of a past president would be in violation of the prohibition against bills of attainder.

Sixth, Congress voted in favor of the resolution calling on Vice President Mike Pence to violate the 25th Amendment of the Constitution by falsely claiming that Trump is unable to continue to perform his duties. It is clear that the Framers of the 25th Amendment had intended it to apply only to presidents disrupted by physical illnesses, such as a stroke, or by obvious mental incapacity, such as advanced Alzheimers, or turning unconscious after having been shot. To call on the vice president to improperly invoke the 25th Amendment was to act in violation of the Constitution.

Dershowitz goes on to criticize Trump for the speech itself, but cautions:

We often hear that no one is above the law, including the president. That is true, and it also applies to Congress. Thus, the House is not above the law. It must comply with the six provisions of the Constitution that it has violated. Trump was wrong to give his address last week, and voters are entitled to take into account all his actions in the last four years.

However, the Constitution sets limits on the power of Congress over the president. These limits are critical to our system of separation of powers and of checks and balances. When any one branch will improperly seize power it does not have, this system is undone. Just as a president should be held to account for a violation of the Constitution, then so should the House when it exceeds its authority granted by the Constitution.

And just now, Insty posted a RealClearPolitics headline, “D prospects of convicting Trump fade away“. His advice: “Drag it out as long as possible, waste their momentum and make them look dumb on TV. Then crush it.” Also Insty: “When you put clowns in charge, you’re gonna have a clown show”.

Another exhibit for the “Clowns In Charge” theory (h/t: the BbESM): ‘More like a snack for a toddler than a meal for an adult’: How our National Guard troops are being fed at the Capitol

The troops down at the Capitol say the bad meals didn’t start on Day One. In early January, according to Maryland National Guard troops, the meals were fine. Shortly before the inauguration, though, things changed, and the cold, child-sized meals started arriving.

The D.C. National Guard has provided food for most of the time the troops have been at the Capitol. It was only when the National Guard Bureau (part of the Pentagon) took over the contracting in recent days that the food went downhill. NGB spokeswoman Nahuku McFadden admitted that the contractor did not provide enough food on at least one occasion.

“Soldiers and Airmen have to go out on their own in the D.C. area and buy their own meals if nothing is donated,” one National Guard spouse reported, “mainly because the food delivered and provided by the National Guard is cold or not even worth eating. The breakfast and lunch portions look more like a snack for a toddler than a meal for an adult.”

The Guard has a duty to feed the troops decent food, and the units at the Capitol aren’t exactly cut off from supply lines. As one former officer put it, “You’re telling me that in Washington, D.C., during COVID that there’s a restaurant in town that wouldn’t do backflips to feed these troops?”

UPDATE (via Insty): Schumer: “Biden should declare a climate emergency so he can do things without Congress“. #criminallyInsane Perhaps my (alas) coreligionist might recall the original German, in response to a different ’emergency’: “Gib mir vier Jahre Zeit” (give me four years’ time)?!? יצאת מדעתך?!! [Are you out of your mind?!?] “Toddlers running with C4”, indeed.

Biden: “I don’t know what I’m signing” is told “sign it anyway”?!

I did not know about this news source until this link was forwarded to me, and when I queried people I know about the site’s trustworthiness, several vouched for it.

Beware of confirmation bias, and beware of desinformatsiya. But if this is genuine… check the embedded video for yourselves.

Joe Biden said “I don’t know what I’m signing” on camera as he proceeded to sign an unknown executive order. In the video posted to BitChute, an unidentified person told him to “sign it anyways.”

D-io mio.

I must say: the stream of radical and frankly in part insane executive orders Biden’s been signing in recent days don’t sound like anything the Biden I knew would have stood for. Sure, you can say he’s on the payroll of the ChiComs (or simply, of the highest bidder) via Hunter. But while I can see him killing the Keystone Pipeline at the behest of foreign paymasters, some of the other stuff (critical reverse racism race theory, TG, etc.) is much harder to reconcile with this theory — and doesn’t look like Biden stuff, frankly.

Remember, he was rammed down the DNC primary electorate’s throat as the moderate, since he and avowed Socialist Bernie Sanders were the only two candidates to get serious traction — and Sanders couldn’t be suffered to win. An actual Socialist would either guarantee a Trump landslide in a fair general election, or if elected, would crimp the style of Big Tech and Big Finance corporate donors too much. So since neither other moderates, nor SJW candidates, seemed to have a chance, Biden it was, with help from poll punking superdelegates. His vapid VP/understudy couldn’t even get 2% of the primary electorate.

We learned quickly that the “unity” he was talking about really meant Gleichschaltung (literally, “synchronization” or “coordination” in German). Again, not really the old Biden.

Now there has been lots of talk about him losing his mental faculties. Calling him “a potted plant”, as certain bloggers have been known to do, is of course hyperbole. And he’s always been a walking, talking gaffe machine. But I cannot dispel the notion — having seen dementia from very close up — that he really is nisht mit Allen in (not all there anymore).

Him literally repeating the instructions on the prompter (“salute the Marines”) is merely cringeworthy. But if what was shown in this video is genuine, we are dealing with something else entirely, and “Big Uncle Joe” is just a marionette for his puppeteers. Big Tech/Big Finance oligarchs? Ideological crusaders? A coalition of both?

Mark my words, all reading this: whether you love or hate Trump (or do both at the same time), you will yet be nostalgic for him. Neither a one-party soft dictatorship, nor a hard-right regime emerging as a backlash against it, is something any sane person would care to live under.

PS: can anybody tell me why 5,000 National Guard in DC are needed until mid-March? A number of people are asking just what unpleasant surprises are in store that may get people to march on the Capital?

[An insider report from the deployed NG at Powerline]

I strongly suspect one reason might be the monstrosity known as HR-1, the proposed House resolution that seeks to (G-d forbid) make vote-by-fraudmail without safeguards the law of the land.

UPDATE: “Salute The Marines” video (h/t: Jolie L.). Dear G-d…

COVID19 mini-update, January 22, 2021: Israel vaccination progress; Pfizer side effects study; WHO quietly issues caution about RT-PCR with high replication counts

(1) Israel’s vaccination drive proceeds apace, with nearly 2.5 million people having gotten the first dose, and 900,000 having gotten the second dose. Progress by age bracket can be seen below, light green representing people who got both doses and dark green those who got first doses and are awaiting their second shots (3 weeks after the first).

Unless you are medical personnel, have pre-existing conditions that put you at risk (Hebrew uses the interesting term machalot reqa, “background diseases”), etc. the lower age limit for vaccination is 40. However, two HMOs, Clalit and Meuchedet, have informally lowered the age limit to 35 as their vaccination staff and logistics can handle the extra load; and hints have been dropped in the press that next week vaccination may be opened to all comers above 16. (Screening for allergies will continue, and wisely so.)

As we now have a significant cohort with two vaccination doses, I am awaiting hard numbers on protection effectiveness from a vastly larger sample than the Phase III trial. Stay tuned in about 3-4 weeks.

(2) Concerning side effects of the 2nd shot (generally stronger than the 1st), Ichilov Hospital released the results of a study on 1,735 of its own medical personnel.

Out of a sample of 1,735 medical workers, the hospital said nearly 37 percent of those vaccinated felt side effects. Of those who did [emphasis mine, NA], the most common was light pain in the injection area, which was reported by 51%. Another 32% said they felt localized pain that limited their movement, while 11% reported slight swelling, 5% localized redness and 1.5% paresthesia in the area of the injection. 86% did not take off any time from work.

Just over 3% contacted a doctor about side effects, and 0.28% (which would be 5 out of 1,735) visited an ER. 0.06% (i.e., one individual) reported temporary facial numbness.

Anecdotally, of the people in our social circle who’ve had 2nd shots, one was enough under the weather that she took a day’s sick leave. Pain at the injection site persisting 2-3 days seems to be fairly common, as is mild fatigue setting in several hours after administration. Mrs. Arbel had the pain but not the fatigue; I have another week and a half to go to my second shot.

In general, people who show up for vaccinations are screened for allergic reactions here — both by questioning and by checking their HMO records (which are fully online here and shared between the HMOs). This may account for our “adverse event”[*] count being lower than what has been reported from the USA and Norway.

There was earlier a report that former Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau (age 82) tested positive despite having gotten both shots — but the timeline appears to indicate he was likely already infected (by his wife, who contracted the active disease) when he got the 2nd. His son reported the rabbi is doing fine, not feeling ill. Did the vaccine block active COVID, or was he just lucky and would have stayed asymptomatic regardless? Beware of extrapolations from a single data point.

(3) Via a source on MeWe: To my surprise, the WHO issued revised guidelines for RT-PCR testing, and in particular caution against taking ‘positive’ results with very high Ct values [from my POV, anything over 32] as evidence of infection. (Testing centers here routinely go as high as Ct=40.) The revised guidelines also recommend that testing centers report the Ct value together with any positive result. This revision is long overdue and may bring back the ‘casedemic’ we have been seeing to somewhat more realistic proportions.

[*] In medical lingo, an adverse reaction that requires significant medical intervention — e.g., anaphylactic shock requiring an EpiPen.

UPDATE: with things in the US as hyper-politicized as they are, I understand Tom Knighton’s suspicion that the recent change in the way COVID19 cases in the US are counted, is just a little too conveniently timed .

Dance on a volcano

Today, Donald J. Trump left Andrews Air Force Base for the last time. In his place will be installed, in a town that looks like it is under military siege, a man my writing mentor refers to as the FICUS (Fraud In Chief of the US).

No, I do not wish him ill. Corrupt as he is, Biden represents the moderate wing of a party that has increasingly become hostage to hard-left extremists. The man was never an intellectual, but the mental decay compared with even Biden in his VP role is very noticeable. If he were still in full possession of his mental powers, he might tell the vindictive hotheads in his own party to cool it. [And I would be praying daily for his health and welfare then — even if only as the lesser evil compared to the radical wing of the party.] Sadly, I believe he is completely the puppet of his handlers at this point.

Whether or not you support the man, it is undeniable that he got to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue under a cloud. It may theoretically [as a lifelong data cruncher, I find this nearly impossible to believe] be possible he won fair and square. But even if he did, it was a squeaker and hardly a sweeping mandate — which looks even weaker, if not nonexistent, considering the lackluster downticket performance of his party.

A pragmatic, astute practical politician would under those circumstances steer toward the middle, and avoid sweeping radical measures, even if they were largely symbolic in character. I could even see the Biden of yesteryear do this.

Alas, I believe that the zealots, would-be oligarchs from Big Tech and Big Finance, and all the other elements of the DINOcrat party are so intoxicated by their manufactured ‘victory’ that they will massively overreach — counting on willing allies in a media that would make the Pravda blush, and a Big Tech apparatus that seems to regard “1984” as a howto manual they intend to one-up, rather than a dystopian warning.

At any point in the past, when some overexcitable conservatives and libertarians predicted civil war in the US, my response was ‘pull the other one, it’s got bells’. Now, I am sad to say, I see this as a very real possibility if zealots prevail.

Instapundit , in his latest NYPost column which you should read in its entirety, puts it this way:

One promise of the Biden campaign was that after the craziness of the Trump years, electing the ex-veep would return the country to normal. Instead, Democrats are doubling down on crazy. It’s enough to make you wish for “smug and arrogant” — but sane.

Four years ago I blogged about Trump and the rage of the Brahmandarins – the half-elected, half-hereditary Nomenklatura caste that sees itself as entitled to the reins of power and authority by virtue of its soi-disant greater learning and intellect. For four years, the Vaishya [merchant caste] Trump filled positions in his administration, wherever he could, with people from non-Brahmandarin backgrounds (much as Margaret Thatcher preferred self-made men — many of them Jews — over Old Etonians in her cabinet). Trump’s record was mixed, and he fired many of the people he appointed — but to the Brahmandarins, actual performance mattered less than that Trump and those appointees were “not our kind, dear”.

I read some commentary pieces across the aisle. The sheer glee that “our kind of people” are again in charge is palpable. Tangible achievements are irrelevant: complete failures can ‘fail upward’ for having a trendy gender identity, and an Ed.D. that might have gotten a B as a course term paper at my alma mater ‘entitles’ the bearer to being addressed as ‘Doctor’. And do not get me started on Anthony Fauci. What matters is that you belong to the Nomenklatura — that is all. A full professor at MIT or Stanford may be accused of being ‘anti-science’ when (s)he opposes the pablum being spouted—never mind credentials, citation impact, and the like.

These people have the sense of entitlement of medieval feudal nobles, the decadence of Versailles courtiers, and sadly not a whiff of the noblesse oblige that one sometimes found among the worthier nobles. They tie the rest of us up in restrictions, regulations, and laws from which they gleefully exempt themselves. If I didn’t know better, I’d say they were like the child sticking its finger in a dog’s maw and daring the dog to bite it.

Unless sanity prevails soon — and it is not going to prevail as long as they are obsessed with damnatio memoriae of Trump — they are dancing on a volcano.

“Dance On A Volcano”


Many of us have been wondering if Biden was actually a Trojan Horse, a moderate they could get ‘elected’ and then replace by a San Francisco lib who couldn’t even get 2% in the primaries. This article by Matt Margolis indicates that the gag order on Biden’s cognitive decline has been lifted from the leftie media, and that the 25th Amendment might well be trotted out to get (barf) Willie Brown’s old squeeze installed instead.

Also, for a very long roundup of shamnauguration news, see J. J. Sefton at Ace of Spades.

And Victor Davis Hanson reminds us that the only things Americans like less than a sore loser is a vindictive winner.

MLK Day meets George Orwell: the bizarro world concept of “multiracial whiteness”

Today is Martin Luther King Day. Below is a restoration using AI techniques of a film of his historic “I Have A Dream” speech.

Of course, today having a dream that people should be judged according to the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin, would qualify you as a far-right extremist, as the Babylon Bee quips.

And on this MLK Day 2021, dear reader, we have officially reached peak academentia. A ‘professor’ at New York University, using critical Marxist theory [what else?] ascribes black and Latino support for Donald Trump to, guess what: “multiracial whiteness“.

Multiracial. Whiteness.

I. Can’t. Even.

One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool. - George Orwell
One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.” (George Orwell, “Notes on Nationalism”, 1945)

I have a feeling I know very well what Martin Luther King, were he alive today, would have to say to this ‘professor’ and the likes of her.

UPDATE: go read “Cockburn” at The Spectator satirizing “The terrifying scourge of ‘multiracial whiteness’” It would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad that this is the level of pseudo-intellectual sophistry academia has sunk to #academentia

COVID19 mini-update: fixing your indoor air (not just for COVID); vitamin D evidence in the House of Commons; Bell’s Palsy; COVID19 risk as a function of age

From Dr. Roger Seheult’s medical tutoring channel

Via Dr. John Campbell, David Davis MP presents some great evidence from the Spanish region of Andalusia about administering calciferol (a vitamin D metabolite) reducing mortality by about 2/3 among vulnerable patients.

For some reason, Israel seems to have many fewer adverse events than the US, let alone Norway. I suspect that screening prospective vaccinees for a history of allergic reactions may pay off here: on the three occasions we showed up for jabs (Mrs. Arbel twice, me once), we were questioned in detail about this, and our answers cross-referenced with our files in the HMO’s medical database. The nurse was actually reluctant to jab me because of some spurious suspected cross-reaction with an IV antibiotic: I convinced her that if I never had an allergic reaction in over a decade of annual flu shots, chances were I’d be fine with a Pfizer mRNA vaccine.

About a dozen people reported Bell’s Palsy, a form of facial paralysis. However, having had a mild bout of this in the wake of a viral infection last year, I suspect many of these are cum hoc sed non propter hoc (together with, but not because of it):

In the general population, having nothing to do with Covid-19 nor the Covid-19 vaccine, approximately 40,000 individuals develop Bell’s palsy annually in the United States, or approximately 1 in 10,000. In both groups of vaccine trial participants, the rate (1 in 10,000) was commensurate with the incidence of sudden facial paralysis in the general population. While the exact cause is often not identifiable, it is most likely caused by viral inflammation of the nerve. Typically the herpesvirus lives in a dormant state in the nerve, and may become activated and cause the nerve to swell in times of stress or illness. The bacteria that causes Lyme disease can also cause dysfunction and resultant weakness or paralysis of the facial nerve. In many cases, the paralysis resolves spontaneously over weeks. But in some cases, some or all of the weakness remains.

And finally, I had a few queries: just how dependent is mortality on age? I have previously covered a paper with a meta-analysis presenting a simple exponential dependence of the infection fatality rate on age:

(numbers in parentheses are uncertainty intervals on the parameters)

In addition, here is a table extracted from the latest daily update of the Clalit HMO: and the Ministry of Health COVID19 dashboard. (Note: our criteria for coding a death as COVID are fairly strict.)

Age bracketNumber of deadPercentage of deadPercentage of infections
Total COVID19 fatalities in Israel since the beginning of the pandemic: 3,984.

Erich Fellgiebel, his role in “Valkyrie”, and how it was misrepresented in the movie

The Hollywood movie “Valkyrie”, featuring Tom Cruise as Col. von Stauffenberg, is a pretty good dramatization of the abortive July 20, 1944 plot. The movie scores high marks for historical accuracy by Hollywood standards — but that would ordinarily be damning with very faint praise. It is not an easy tale to compress into a 2-hour movie without at least some dramatic license: the latter included having some composite characters, such as Henning von Tresckow (played by Kenneth Branagh) carrying out some actions that in real life were those of his adjutant Fabian von Schlabrendorff (one of the few survivors). The single weakest point about the movie was the portrayal of Gen. Erich Fellgiebel, the head of the Signals Corps, as a weak, hesitant drunkard who had to be strong-armed by Stauffenberg into going along with the plot. (It appears the script made a composite of Fellgiebel, Helmut Stieff, and some others.)

I just got hold of a German-language volume entitled “Stauffenberg’s Gefährten: Das Schicksal der unbekannten Verschwörer” (S.’s companions: the fate of the unknown conspirators), edited by the former deputy chair of the Bundestag, Antje Vollmer, and the chief archivist of the Springer publishing house, Lars-Broder Keil. It consists of ten short biographies of co-conspirators: the one about Fellgiebel [a secondary character in my alternate history series “Operation Flash”] was written by Keil himself. Let me give you my summary in English: you will see this man was very unlike his cartoonish portrayal by Eddie Izzard.

General Erich Fellgiebel (Picture credit: Memorial for the German Resistance, public domain)

Youth and career

Erich Fellgiebel (EF) was born Oct. 4, 1886 as oldest of four children of landowner Albert Fellgiebel, on the Buchenhagen estate near Posen [presently Poznan, Poland]. The children loved the outdoors and the flat, wide open spaces. Fellgiebel was a quick and precocious learner. That and his introvert demeanor got him the nickname “Herr Professor”. Only later his character evolved to be more extrovert.

EF became a Prussian Army cadet in 1905. With his technical interests, he was attracted to telegraphy and thus quickly gravitated in the emerging Signals direction, but horseback riding also became a lifelong passion.

Seeing the total failure of communications during WW I, EF devoted himself in the Weimar-era Reichswehr to intensive development in this regard. He worked more like a modern industrial manager than like a traditional officer: teamwork, a knack for picking good people, delegating day-to-day business to trusted subordinates to focus on unsolved problems, without losing sight of the whole. He was one of the first people in Germany to own a[n experimental] TV set. Open, convivial, charismatic, he loved entertaining people: his weaknesses were impulsivity, impatience, and a degree of adrenalin addiction.

His first marriage failed 1919, shortly after his first son Walther-Peer Fellgiebel was born: the latter would be raised largely by foster parents, become a highly decorated front officer in WW II and after the war had a dual career as an industrial manager and the chair of the Association of Knight’s Cross Awardees (Ordensgemeinschaft der Ritterkreuzträger). 1920 EF remarried to his cousin Cläre, an intellectual, studious woman who became fluent in French and English. Two more children from that marriage, daughter Susanne and son Gert, who idolized their father.

EF’s nickname, as the Wehrmacht’s most senior communications officer, was “Strippenpapst” ([paper] strips pope). He introduced many innovations: long-distance field cables, UHF transmissions, radios in every tank,… aside from [Keil does not discuss this] making the Enigma system the primary means of encrypted radio communications.

Disgust with National Socialism and recruitment into the conspiracy

Like his superior officers, Army Chief of Staff Col.-Gen.[*] Ludwig Beck [forced into retirement 1938], and the latter’s successor Col.-Gen. Franz Halder, EF held the opinion Germany should not conduct a war of aggression. Through them EF makes contact with the military resistance, but flinches from overt insubordination until 1942. He changed his mind after seeing how Hitler [y”sh] degrades seasoned general staff officers to flunkies and gives ever more nonsensical directives. EF begins to openly make critical, even derogatory statements, even in the presence of junior officers fed on NS propaganda. On one occasion somebody chided him, “General, if somebody were to hear this.” EF answered, “Well, one has to risk one’s neck sometimes.”

Himmler tells one of his aides: “This Fellgiebel is a peculiar man. He is actually a pacifist.” Aide: “He never hid his opinion about war.” “Well, then he shouldn’t have become a general.”

Yet EF is tolerated, since he seems indispensable. But Hitler no longer tolerates his presence. One Lt.-Col. Ludolf Sander becomes EF’s liaison officer at the Wolf’s Lair/Wolfsschanze, while Fellgiebel sits at the Army HQ in Mauerwald, 20 km away by trolley. But he still has the run of the place, and comes over regularly.

At the wedding of Walther-Peer in March 1944 he even says: “From this happy officer’s couple you will go in a year to a family of acre coachmen — if you’re lucky.” No later than February 1943, he was himself recruiting resistants together with his chief of staff, Col. Kurt Hahn, and his own deputy Lt.-Gen. Fritz Thiele. His team gets people in place in five branches of Armed Forces Signals (Heeresnachrichtenwesen, HNW).

Fellgiebel was involved in planning troop movements for the coup, together with Stauffenberg and Olbricht, and has direct contact with some others, under cover of a shared passion for horseback riding.

Why he didn’t blow up the switchboard

The claim that the July 20 coup failed “because Fellgiebel didn’t blow up the switchboard at the Wolf’s Lair as he was supposed to” was first made in a February 1945 OSS report to FDR, presumably written by the OSS Chief of Station for Europe, future CIA director Allen Dulles. The latter’s primary source of information was his friend and asset Hans-Bernd Gisevius,

Blowing up the switchboard at Rastenburg would have been pointless because of all the backups and redundancies in the system. Better to block all transmissions from the NS and let all communications from the conspirators through.

Fellgiebel, after he sees H. stumbling about alive, places a creatively-ambiguous phone call out “Something terrible has happened! The Führer is alive!” (Etwas furchtbares ist passiert. Der Führer lebt!) — in order to give the conspirators a heads-up that their target is still alive. When no ‘stand down’ response follows, he tells his own underlings in the conspiracy to proceed as planned.

His deputy Thiele shows nerves though, as he knows Fromm won’t cooperate now.

Arrest, trial, and death

Fellgiebel is arrested on the 21st. His aide-de-camp Arntz offers him his pistol, but he declines [to commit suicide[: “One stands up, one does not do such a thing”. This Arntz was actually a linguist, and had been thoroughly NSDAP until he had a falling out over disagreement with the “official” rune-ology (that facetiously tried to ‘prove’ that writing was invented by the ancient Germans). Postwar, Arntz became the main source about the Fellgiebel group.

Fellgiebel and Hahn claimed to the Gestapo that they had not made any major planning — because if they revealed such, their co-conspirators would be sought and found. Perversely, the Gestapo transcripts of these interrogations were later cited by Dulles

His relatives were arrested and placed in Sippenhaft (kin imprisonment): wife and son for 2.5 months, after which Gerd (who apparently was the only one other than EF himself who knew something about the coup) was sent to a penal unit and did not survive the war. Even the half-estranged son Walther-Peer, was kept in solitary confinement in the cell next to his father. He heard him walk around — since a severe car accident in 1928 he wore a metal brace on the lower thigh, which made the sound of his walk unmistakable. Eventually, Walther-Peer was released following intercession by his superiors.


Daughter Susanne married in March 1945.

After the war, Cläre needs endurance. The Gestapo took away her house and everything she owned, even clothing. But she has trouble getting compensation or a widow’s pension after the war, as EF was not recognized as a resistant. She survives on odd jobs, acting as interpreter for the British Red Cross etc. In the end, even Adenauer’s chancellery gets involved to assist her in navigating the bureaucratic labyrinth. The various procedures in Nordrhein-Westfalen and Berlin dragged out until the late 1950s.

When in September 1952 the Bundeszentrale für Heimatdienst (Federal Central Bureau for Home Service) issues a brochure “The Truth About July 20” and paints EF derogatorily there, she files a formal objection including testimony from contemporaries, and three days later is issued a formal letter of apology.

Even under severe torture, EF had not betrayed names or details. Those who survived because of that now come to the widow’s aid.

After EF was sentenced to death by the Volksgericht (People’s [Kangaroo] Court), the notorious “hanging judge” Roland Freisler paints in graphic detail how he will die. EF answers Freisler on behalf of the condemned, “Your [dis]honor, you’d better hurry up with the hanging, or you’ll be hanged before us.” (Herr Richter, beeilen Sie sich mit dem Aufhängen, sonst hängen Sie eher als wir.)

These are the words of an unbroken man, not of a coward.

[*] Generaloberst (Colonel-General, or if you like Senior General) was a Wehrmacht rank senior to General and junior to Field Marshal/Generalfeldmarschall

COVID19 mini-update, January 14, 2020: Israel has vaccinated 80% of ages 70+

The Times of Israel reports on its liveblog that a kindergarten teacher in Ramle was 1st-dose recipient #2,000,000, in the presence of Prime Minister Netanyahu and Minister of Health Edelstein.

As we have a “young” population pyramid, this means great progress has been made in the most at-risk age brackets. This is best illustrated by this chart of vaccination rates by age bracket, screenshotted from the Ministry of Health’s website: note that of the highly vulnerable 70+ population, about 80% already got their first jabs. At present, first doses are available to ages 50 and over — the younger vaccinees represent people working in healthcare, law enforcement, and education; people with pre-existing conditions; and some who hung around vaccination centers to get “use it or lose it” leftover doses at the end of the session. Official guidelines are not to vaccinate anyone at ages 0-16, but clearly some have been.

Vaccination coverage by age brackets. Dark green: 1st Pfizer doses; light green: 2nd Pfizer doses

Again, let me be clear: this is without any vaccination mandate of any kind. If our public health officials had been as condescending, zig-zaggy, manipulative, and politically opportunistic as their US counterparts, you can be sure this graph would look quite different.

As more than 3 weeks have passed since the beginning of the campaign, now the first batch of patients are getting their second shots. Mrs. Arbel (who got her first jab 3 weeks ago as she is in a risk group) today got her second Pfizer injection: once again, it was administered by an army medic on reserve duty. Thus far, side effects are similar to what she experienced from the 1st jab: mild fatigue setting in after several hours, some swelling in the arm around the injection site. Stay tuned for updates.

She was told to still be cautious for about a week, giving the immune system a chance to get fully up to speed. The Phase III trial indicated a protection rate in the 95% range, but in a few weeks to a month, a firmer number will be established from the massive “Phase IV trial” that our vaccine drive amounts to.

Meanwhile, at the Technion, students and staff are being asked to screen themselves weekly using an antibody “spit test” developed in-house, in an effort to normalize life on campus through regular self-screening. (Aside from science and engineering, the Technion also includes a well-reputed medical school [including two Nobel laureates on the faculty] centered around the Rambam Hospital [*], one of our ‘Big Four’. So the necessary expertise is definitely there.)

Also, back in the USA, Dr. Mike Hansen had his own 2nd Pfizer shot and tells of his experiences on video.

[*] Rambam, the Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben-Maimon, is how we call Maimonides in Hebrew

COVID19 update, January 13, 2020: first-person Pfizer vaccination report

When Israel lowered the minimum vaccination age (absent risk factors) for the general population from 60 to 55 (meanwhile it’s been lowered to 50), I immediately logged on to the site of my HMO [*] and signed up — I needed two tries, as appointments were apparently being snapped up by others. Appointments were allocated in 8-minute slots.

I showed up at the address, which turned out to be a matnas (community center) in an adjacent suburb that the Clalit and Maccabi HMOs had turned into an improvised vaccination center. The login clerk swiped my insurance card, checked my details (name, mispar zehut/[national] ID number — which doubles as health insurance number here –,…) verified that I didn’t have a fever, and referred me to one of four vaccination rooms.

The attendant turned out not to be a nurse, but a lady IDF medic who had been called up for reserve duty for our vaccination drive. She was a native English speaker, so we spoke English even though I am fully fluent in Hebrew. She gave me a fairly careful interview to ensure I had no history of allergic responses to vaccinations, antibiotics (huh?), … and checked my HMO file on her cell phone for annotations about a (spurious) supposed allergic reaction to an IV antibiotic. When I told her I’d had annual flu shots for over a decade without anything untoward, she verified that my last was more than 2 weeks ago — then prepared the shot, but asked me to wait for 30 minutes outside afterward rather than the usual 15, just in case.

She then drew a syringe from a Pfizer vaccine vial, while checking with me whether I was a leftie or a rightie (heh) — then jabbed me in my left arm. We waited on chairs in the courtyard of the community center, keeping social distance, chatting, and reading until the half hour was up.

Meanwhile, after 6 hours, I am just feeling some signs that something was injected, plus some tingling in the fingers of that hand. No fatigue, nothing else so far. Stay tuned for updates.

[*] Every citizen or permanent resident of Israel by law has to be a member of one of the four licensed HMOs: Clalit (“General”, the largest), Meuchedet (“United”), Maccabi (“Maccabee”), and the small niche player Leumit (“Nationalist”). I have blogged about this system and its genesis before.

UPDATE: Israel’s Ministry of Health, collating data from the four HMOs, reports that the first shot on its own is about 50% protective after 14 days — values for the individual HMOs vary from  33% for Clalit to 60% for Maccabi. “The second dose is expected to bring immunity levels to some 95% after about a week.”

[Public Health Director of the Health Ministry, Dr. Sharon] “Alroy-Preis said that 73% of Israelis who are over the age of 60 or who have other high-risk factors have already been vaccinated with at least one shot, but noted that inoculations were slower in the Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities.”

UPDATE 2: now 10.5 hours after the shot. The swelling/fullness sensation in my upper arm has receded, as have the tingles in my left hand.

UPDATE 3: now next morning — all back to normal. This ranks with the ‘gentler’ flu shots I’ve gotten (I haven’t skipped a year for over a decade).

COVID19 mini-update, Jan. 12, 2020: sitrep from Israel

Israel is currently approaching 1.9 million first doses, or over 20% of the population. Yesterday, the eligible age bracket was extended downwards to 55, so I signed up and will get my first Pfizer jab tomorrow, G-d and logistics willing. Mrs., who is in a risk group, will get her 2nd jab. Stay tuned for updates — only one of the many people we spoke to in our circle had significant unpleasant side effects (that sounded like resulting from swollen lymph nodes). Most commonly, people have a bit of malaise on the 1st day and tenderness at the injection site for the 1st and 2nd days — or (especially among older people) seemingly no symptoms at all.

A report from the CDC indicated about one anaphylaxis case per 100,000 injections. We apparently are seeing much less than that here —- but our medical system, whatever the limitations and fiscal sustainability of socialized medicine, exercises much tighter control over patient data, and people with a history of allergic reactions to vaccine are screened out both by the computer (the four licenses HMOs —- every Israeli has to belong to one, although you can move between them once every six months if you so desire) and by the short intake interviews at the vaccination sites.

Most of the older and vulnerable population has gotten their 1st shots at this point. How much protection does the 1st shot on its own impart? Initial results, based on COVID19 hospital admissions, etc., indicate that the single dose on its own, without the waiting period required for the immune system to learn its new enemy, is about 33% protective —- we were told about 50% from the first dose, 95% from both doses plus a 2-week wait afterwards.

But in truth, our whole country has become a giant Phase IV test site. Indeed, an article in the Israeli business paper GLOBES claimed that exactly this has been the strategy used to pitch to the vaccine manufacturers for advance access. The fear was that, if we didn’t get in early, we’d end up sucking hind teat after the large developed countries. Other advantages touted were a small, densely populated country where logistics are comparatively simple, as well as the above mentioned highly integrated medical system.

The Reichstag Fire, and “killing democracy in order to ‘save’ it”

Disclaimer: this post has been on my todo list for a while as part of “deep background research” into my alternate history series. Any similarity to recent events at the US Capitol is neither coincidental nor intentional, but merely unavoidable. “The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.” (Mark Twain) [*]

Picture this. You have just become the head of government (through a dirty coalition maneuver, let’s say), but your power is constrained by the other parties (including your coalition partners). What you really are after is unfettered power to realize your ‘vision’ of society. What better way to acquire it — and get the majority of people behind you — than to orchestrate an attack on the most visible symbol of democracy, ostensibly carried out by your chief opponent? Giving you a pretext to “suspend democracy in order to save it?”

On Monday night, February 27, 1933, the Reichstag building — then as now Germany’s equivalent of the Capitol building — was on fire. With great difficulty, firefighters were able to control the blaze. Still, the damage was extensive enough that the Reichstag had to meet in the Kroll opera house across the square, until its by then sham existence ended twelve years later. Evidence of arson was quickly discovered, and an unemployed construction worker of Dutch origin, named Marinus van der Lubbe, was arrested on the scene. He confessed (presumably after some ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques were applied) to being a communist and to having set the fire. Yet forensic researchers quickly concluded that so many different fires had been started that he could not have done it all alone.

A trial took place in Leipzig — at a time the judiciary in Germany still possessed a semblance of independence — and van der Lubbe stood trial together with KPD faction chair Ernst Torgler and three Bulgarian communists. (It must be pointed out that at the time, the KPD was not a fringe movement in Germany but its third-largest party, after the NSDAP and the Social Democrats. ) The most senior among the Bulgarians, future Comintern and later Bulgarian Communist Party chairman Georgi Dimitrov, famously declined counsel and conducted his own defense with unusual skill and verve. During a notorious mutual cross-examination between himself and Göring, the latter came out looking like a fool and a knave against the wily Dimitrov. In the end, all defendants were acquitted except van der Lubbe, who was sentenced to death and beheaded (under an ex post facto law mandating the death penalty for arson to public buildings). Dimitrov and his companions were expelled across the border and made their way to the USSR.[**]

Meanwhile, already on the morning after the fire, the head of state, Reichspresident Paul von Hindenburg, had signed the Reichstagbrandverordnung (Reichstag Fire Decree). This suspended freedom of expression and the press, habeas corpus, secrecy of the mail and telephone, the right of free association, and other civil liberties. [It wasn’t like they could have Twitter and Facebook censor and permaban people in those days ;)] Three weeks later followed the Ermächtigungsgesetz (Enabling Act), which effectively gave the head of government, Chancellor Adolf HisNameBeErased, plenary powers and made him dictator in all but name. (The next year, after Hindenburg’s death, he would merge the Chancellorship and the Presidency into the single dictatorial office of “Führer”, leader.) Theoretically this Enabling Act would expire after four years unless renewed; in practice, what was by then a single-party rubber stamparliament renewed the Enabling Act twice, as need

Postwar historians and writers fall into three camps.
(a) The “sole perpetrator” thesis is primarily defended by Fritz Tobias, a postwar civil servant who moonlighted as a nonfiction writer, and whose book Der Reichstagsbrand was originally serialized in the German weekly Der Spiegel. An experienced arsonist might conceivably have been able to do this alone, and the theory has Occam’s Razor on its side. Tobias got support from Hans Mommsen, the father of the “functionalist” school of Third Reich and Shoah historiography — who saw the Nazis as just exploiting an extraordinary (for them) piece of luck.
(b) In contrast, the entertaining but self-serving, and in places demonstrably unreliable, memoir Bis zum bitteren Ende (“To The Bitter End“) of anti-Hitler conspiracy member Hans-Bernd Gisevius claims the arson was carried out by a ten-man SA squad, led by a construction engineer with the unintentionally cartoonish name Heini Gewehr (“Henny Rifle”). They supposedly making its way from Göring’s official residence (as Reichstag Chairman) to the Reichstag via an underground tunnel connecting to a common boiler room. [Said tunnel did exist.] Unfortunately for that theory, Gewehr — whom Gisevius assumed to be dead — sued him for defamation (he had lost multiple city contracts in Düsseldorf after has alleged role in the Reichstag fire became public) and won the trial at every instance. “Cui bono?” (Latin: whom does it benefit?) definitely militates in favor of “the SA did it themselves”.
(c) This primarily leaves the third (and to me most plausible) option, that van der Lubbe did set some of the fire, but had been lured into doing so under false flag, and that the main arsonists set him up as the fall guy. Benjamin Carter Hett’s academic monograph “Burning The Reichstag” makes this case, although the well-known WW II and Holocaust historian Richard J. Evans, in the London Review of Books, has voiced substantial criticism of Hett’s work (you can read it and Hett’s rebuttal here).

I realize that at many turning points in history, our timeline took the turn it did because of sheer coincidence — indeed, I am exploring a major ‘road not taken’ in an alternate history series. But some ‘happenstances’ are so convenient as to defy credulity — whether they took place in 1933 or last week.

[*] In particular, I am not implying equivalence between the NSDAP and a present-day US political party— even though some of those who claim they are fighting fascists might be given pause if self-aware enough to see their own behavior.
[**] It was the inability to manipulate the outcome of the Leipzig Trial to his liking that led the dictator to create the notorious Volksgericht [People’s Court], a kangaroo court for ‘political’ crimes.


The disclaimer is a paraphrase of the German-language one at the beginning of Die verlohrene Ehre der Katarina Blum: by Heinrich Böll: “[…] so sind diese Ähnlichkeiten weder beabsichtigt noch zufällig, sondern unvermeidlich.“

Vers la flamme/Toward the flame

The Russian composer Alexander Scriabin[*] in his last years, was obsessed by igneous imagery. One piano piece so inspired is Vers la flamme (“toward the flame”). Below are three very different performances of this very difficult piece. Any connection to current events in Washington, DC is neither intentional nor coincidental, but merely inevitable.[**]

[*] While Molotov’s real last name was Scriabin, he was not the composer’s first cousin as I used to believe.

[**] Paraphrasing Heinrich Böll’s disclaimer in “The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum”

COVID19 mini-update, January 5, 2020: Third lockdown in Israel; progress in vaccination drive; Dr. John Campbell with a UK update

(1) Facing a steep rise in hospital admissions, Israel is going on a third hard lockdown starting Thursday at midnight (There was a soft not-quite-lockdown in force, which was widely ignored.) There is also the idea that by the time this 10 day-2 week lockdown would end, most people currently vaccinated would have had their 2nd shots.

(2) Via Dr. John Campbell, here is a worldwide vaccination tracker. At present, as a percentage of the population, Israel is the leader with 15%, followed by the United Arab Emirates at 7.7% and Baḥrain at 4.2%. Below is the table sorted by percentage of the population.

I do not know if the vaccination drives in the Arab countries are age-selective: I know the one in the UK is. Here,

About 1,370,000 Israelis received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, according to Health Minister Yuli Edelstein. Almost 146,000 of them were inoculated on Monday alone. Approximately 80% of Israelis over the age of 75 have been vaccinated, the CEO of Clalit Health Services [the largest of our four licensed HMOs, NA] told Army Radio Tuesday morning.[…] Maccabi Healthcare Services announced that over 80% of Maccabi members who are at risk have scheduled an appointment to receive the vaccination.

Let me stress: we get this level of response without a mandate of any kind. And these data on the protective effect of the first shot seem pretty encouraging:

Speaking during a briefing on Tuesday, she said that preliminary data shows that after two weeks, some 50% of some 100 people who were vaccinated two weeks ago have developed strong antibodies against the virus. This is up from only between 1% and 2% after one week. Sheba [Medical Center, a.k.a., Tel Hashomer, one of the “Big Four” research and teaching hospitals here] is evaluating the level of antibodies in 400 medical workers who were inoculated at the hospital, but [Dr.] Regev-Yochay said that not everyone has had the vaccine long enough to prove its effectiveness. The hospital will continue to follow these people and more. […]

[…S]he would recommend pushing off administering the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine by a month in order to inoculate more Israelis.“I think it is more important to get more people vaccinated,” said Dr. Gili Regev-Yochay, director of [the] Infectious Disease Epidemiology Unit from Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, “We are only talking about a month. I don’t think it will cause any damage and the damage from the disease is greater.”

I am personally in two minds about this. Yes, covering another one or two age brackets [50-59, then 40-49] would be nice — but the 60+ bracket accounts for almost 95% of the mortality, so there would seem to be a bigger payoff from getting them 90% protected than from giving 50% protection to more people.

Apropos, when I logged on to my HMO’s website this morning, I got a message that for the time being eligibility for the vaccine would not be expanded. It appears that vaccine stocks on hand are approaching 50% depletion, and the idea is to ensure that everyone who got a 1st shot can receive a 2nd shot. The article puts forward the argument

On a related note, I had suspected for some time that there was no love lost between the former COVID19 czar, Prof. Roni Gamzu (now back to his day job as CEO of Ichilov Medical Center, another of the “Big Four”), and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein. This article confirms it. Pretty much the only nice thing I can say about Edelstein is that he’s an improvement compared to his precedessor Yaakov Litzman— an achievement comparable to being a better musician than my late dog, of blessed memory.

(3) Dr. John Campbell with updates on the situation in the UK and the lockdowns

COVID19 mini-update, January 4, 2020: India approves Oxford-AstraZeneca and local Bharatech vaccines; Israel update; UK lockdown; Instapundit; Dr. Seheult meets Dr. Campbell

(1) mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna are not practical options in countries like India, because of their cost and the need for very low temperature storage and transport chains. The more traditional Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine is more attractive in that regard; now India’s regulators have approved both that vaccine and a homegrown one developed by Bharatech.

(2) Israel has thus far given first Pfizer doses about 1.25 million people, and may have to start slowing down as vaccine stocks get depleted. (The HMOs are setting aside 2nd shots for everybody who got the first.) Based on data from, in 2019 we had 1.392 million people age in the eligible age bracket 60 and over. Subtract about a quarter million doses for healthcare workers in the broadest sense, plus about 100,000 doses to younger people. (Part of these are presumably high-risk patients, such as a colleague of mine who is ten years younger but a cancer survivor; others are”use it or lose it” injections at the end of a vaccination shift, where the staff sensibly will inject all comers rather than discard the vaccines — which need to be used within six hours after defrosting.) Still, this means that we appear to have covered 60-70% of our 60+ population.

Meanwhile, Israel’s health minister, Yuli Edelstein (frequent readers will know I do not have a high opinion of him) insists that our country needs another 2-week hard lockdown “to avoid Italian situations”. Giving him the benefit of the doubt here, it may be that this enables people in the most vulnerable groups to get their 2nd shot and have 90% protection, give or take. Do keep in mind that age groups 60+ accounts for a whopping 94% (!) of mortality here; just vaccinating those adequately should put a very serious dent in morbidity and mortality. If we can stretch the coverage window down to age 50 (he said self-servingly ;)) one might even be able to consider a herd immunity strategy for the remaining younger people.

To anybody abroad sitting on the fence about whether having the shot is worth their while, I might suggest: have a look at our morbidity and mortality figures in a month. Those should be decaying rapidly by then if the vaccine is anywhere near as effective as the Phase III trials indicated.

(3) British PM Boris Johnson just announced a lockdown. The Daily Telegraph has the details.

(4) The great blog-patriarch Instapundit had COVID over Christmas. He’s a bit of a “smart health nut” and keeps in good shape, and started taking Vitamin D and zinc supplements early in the pandemic. All this may have helped: he reported symptoms on the order of a really nasty cold, but got over it fairly quickly. His wife never caught it: then again, a recent paper indicated an ‘attack rate’ for household transmission of 17% (about 1 in 6). I know several couples in our social circle where one spouse got COVID and the other either stayed asymptomatic or didn’t get infected at all— but this is by no means universally so.

The great science fiction author David Weber also got COVID — but a rather more severe case, consistent with older age and less favorable health baseline. Refua shlema (speedy healing).

(5) Two educators I have featured here often, pulmonologist and medical school professor Dr. John Seheult and retired nursing school lecturer and textbook author John Campbell, here have a long video discussion with each other.

New Year’s Day post: A brief guide to Bach’s Works Catalogue (BWV), part 2


covered in part 1

II. Instrumental works, BWV 525-1080

A. Organ works BWV 525-771

covered in part 1

B. Solo Keyboard Works BWV 772-994

The “Clavier” or “Keyboard” in Bach’s time meant either the clavichord (which is velocity-sensitive like a piano, but is woefully lacking in sonic volume for unamplified public performance) or the harpsichord (which is loud enough for public performance but lacks velocity sensitivity). Only in his final decade did he have some experience with early fortepianos by Silbermann (and in fact was an agent for them): nevertheless, pianists like Glenn Gould, Angela Hewitt, Andras Schiff, Tatiana Nikolayeva, Sviatoslav Richter, Grigori Sokolov,… all perform the following works on modern grand pianos.

First come two sets of didactic, yet highly musical, short pieces Bach originally wrote for teaching his eldest son W. Friedemann Bach, then continued to use as teaching materials:

BWV 772-786 Two-Part Inventions. These are contrapuntal pieces with two independent voices, which also help develop hand independence in the budding player. I know more than one piano student who can handle a Chopin étude yet balks at the supposedly much simpler Inventions: hand independence is the reason.

BWV 787-801 “Sinfonias”, better known today as the Three-Part Inventions. Here, a third independent voice is introduced, forcing the student to learn to cope with leading two independent voices in one hand (the extra voice may bounce back and forth between both hands). This is excellent preparation for the 3- and 4-voice fugues in the Well-Tempered Clavier (see below.) Unlike typical “exercise” pieces, the Two- and Three-part inventions are highly musical if played as such.

BWV 802-805 Four duets (often played on organ as well)

BWV 806-811 English Suites (read: suites of court dance pieces in the English style). Perhaps underrated, but less popular than the

BWV 812-817 French Suites (ditto in the French style).

BWV 818-824 miscellaneous suites

BWV 825-830 Partitas (published as “Clavierübung I”/Keyboard Training, Vol. I)

BWV 831 Overture in the French Style in B minor (published as “Clavierübung II”/Keyboard Training, Vol. II”, bundled with the Italian Concerto BWV 971)

BWV 832 Suite in A major

BWV 833 Prelude and Partita in F

BWV 834-845 misc. single movements

BWV 846-869 Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I. A set of 24 preludes and fugues in all major and minor keys. While circular temperaments (a.k.a. “well-temperaments”) had started to gain acceptance in Bach’s time, permitting several minor composers to write suites of short pieces in all 24 keys, Bach’s WTC was the first major composition cycle that relied on well-temperament. (The 12-tone equal temperament almost exclusively used on keyboard instruments today is the most ‘universal’ special case. See my previous blog post on the subject.).

BWV 870-893 Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II. The second such cycle Bach wrote, in some preludes forward-looking to the Classicist Era.

I forgot which pianist first referred to the two books of the WTC as the “Old Testament” of piano music, and to Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas as the “New Testament”. Suffice to say that even Mozart and Beethoven held the WTC in awe — Mozart, not a man known for his modesty, referred to Bach as the only composer he could still learn something from, and Beethoven used to say “Nicht Bach, sondern Meer soll er heissen” — not Brook (=Bach), but Sea should be his name. Beethoven had learned the WTC by heart as a child to the point he was said to be able to transpose individual pieces on the fly to a key of the audience’s choice.

BWV 894-902 misc. preludes and fugues

BWV 903 Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue. This work too presupposes well-temperament of some sort. While not the first of its kind, it must have startled audiences of the time. Bach would use chromaticism and modulations (or lack thereof) as expressive devices

BWV 904-9 Fantasia and Fugue pairs

BWV 910-916 Toccatas

BWV 917-923, 931-932 miscellaneous unpaired preludes and fantasias

BWV 924-930 part 1 of Twelve Little Preludes. The short pieces in these collections were intended as beginner teaching material for his children: several of them were later expanded and reworked into Inventions or Preludes in the Well-Tempered Clavier

BWV 933-938 Six Little Preludes

BWV 930-942 part2 of Twelve Litte Preludes (BWV 999 completes the set)

BWV 944 Fantasy and Fugue in A minor

BWV 945-962 miscellaneous fugues and fughettas

BWV 963-970 sonatas and sonata movements

BWV 971 Italian Concerto in F major. A keyboard piece that clearly attempts to convey the flavor of an Italian-style concerto for strings and continuo in three movements. Published as one-half of “Keyboard Training, Vol. 2”. Still beloved by audiences.

BWV 972-987 Keyboard arrangements of concertos by Vivaldi, Marcello, Telemann,…

BWV 988 Goldberg Variations (“Keyboard Training, Vol. IV”). An aria with 30 variations, every third variation a canon at intervals rising by degrees from the unison in variation 3 through the ninth in variation 27, with finally a canonical quodlibet in variation 30. This was commissioned by Count Kayserling, a rich diplomat who employed Bach’s former pupil Johann Gottlieb Goldberg [not Jewish, despite his last name :)] as his private musician. A technically demanding yet intensely musical work that catapulted Glenn Gould to classical superstardom.

BWV 989 Aria and Variations in the Italian Style in A minor

BWV 990 Sarabande in C major (dubious)

BWV 991

BWV 992 Capriccio on the departure of the beloved brother in Bb major. An adolescent work, a lovely bit of program music on Bach’s part. It depicts in different scenes the sadness filling the family, the horn signals of the stagecoach,…

BWV 993 Capriccio in E major

BWV 994 Applicatio (fingering exercise) for W. F. Bach

C. Works for other solo instruments BWV 995-1013

BWV 995-1000 Works for Lute (or guitar)

BWV 1001-1006 Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. These peerless pieces do a unique job of making a single violin sound like multiple instruments, by a combination of double stops, arpeggiated chords, and hinting at multiple voices with snippets of a few notes each. The monumental Chaconne from the Partita in D minor BWV 1004 has been called “the Mount Everest of violin music”, and is often performed in arrangements for guitar, piano, and even full symphony orchestra.

BWV 1007-1012 Sonatas for Solo Cello. The one perennial favorite here is the prelude of the G major sonata.

BWV 1013 Partita for Solo Flute

D. Works for solo instruments with keyboard accompaniment BWV 1014-1040

Sonatas for violin and keyboard BWV 1014-1025

BWV 1026 fugue in G minor for violin and harpsichord

BWV 1027-1029 sonatas for cello and keyboard

BWV 1030-1035 six sonatas for flute and keyboard

E. Concertos for one or more solo instruments and orchestra

BWV 1041 violin concerto in A minor

BWV 1042 violin concerto in E major

BWV 1043 “Double Concerto” for two violins in D minor

BWV 1044 Concerto for flute,  violin, and keyboard in A minor

1045 partial 1st movement of a violin concerto in D major

BWV 1046-1051 Six Brandenburg Concertos. These were written for the Margrave of Brandenburg’s court orchestra. Each concerto has a few solo instruments, the parts customized to the abilities of the respective musicians. For example, the 2nd Brandenburg concerto has a demanding trumpet part exploiting the skill of the trumpeter on staff; the 4th Brandenburg concerto includes both a fairly easy viola da gamba solo (today a cello solo) to be played by the nobleman himself, and a more demanding violin part; the sparkling, flashy keyboard solo in the first movement of the 5th concerto — one of the most marvelous expressions of joy in music that I know — was to be played by Bach himself, who as always would conduct from the keyboard.

BWV 1052-1059 concertos for single keyboard and orchestra

BWV 1060-1062 concertos for two keyboards and orchestra

BWV 1063-4 concertos for three keyboards and orchestra

BWV 1065 concerto for four keyboards and orchestra (actually an arrangement by Bach of a Vivaldi concerto)

F. The four orchestral suites BWV 1066-1069

Perennial audience favorites are the 2nd suite in B minor (with the “Badinerie” and “Bourree”) and the 3rd suite in D major, with the famous “Air” that isn’t really on the G string (at least not in the original key). The Procol Harum hit, “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” was inspired by it — Gary Brooker tried to play the Air from memory, forgot how it went after two bars, then made up something on the fly — and that became the instrumental basis for the song.

G. Miscellaneous BWV 1070-1078

Miscellaneous works 1070-1071

Canons BWV 1072-1078

H. Bach’s musical testament (my term) BWV 1079-1080

BWV 1079 The Musical Offering. A set of contrapuntal variations on a theme assigned by Frederick II of Prussia (a keen amateur flutist, who employed Bach’s 2nd son C. P. E. Bach as his court music director). Most of the variations are canonical, except for the Ricercar a 3, a three-part fugue that appears to be Bach writing down from memory what he had improvised at the king’s request, and the Ricercar a 6, a six-voice fugue that the king had requested, but Bach felt incapable of improvising to his own musical standard and requested to be allowed to submit later. Incidentally, the instrument Bach improvised the Ricercar a 3 on was an early fortepiano built by Silbermann: if Bach himself didn’t eschew the piano, then why should we?

BWV 1080 The Art Of The Fugue. Effectively Bach teaching a variety of fugue writing and counterpoint techniques by example. The entire long work is in D minor, but to the attentive ear a mesmerizing cathedral of absolute music. The last fugue, Contrapunctus XIV, also titled “Fugue with three subjects” (=triple fugue) in C. P. E. Bach’s hand, breaks off in manuscript shortly after Bach introduces his own name (in German note names) as the third theme. The story told by C. P. E. Bach that his father had a fatal stroke at the point the music breaks off is poignant but ahistorical: as Christoph Wolff explains in “J. S. Bach, The Learned Musician”, the work had been completed up to this point some time earlier, but Bach actually was seeking to introduce the main theme of the cycle as the fourth subject (which would have made it Bach’s only quadruple fugue) for the climax of the work. This is a major contrapuntal puzzle and apparently Bach tried to work it out on a missing fragment.

Bach clearly saw BWV1080 as the capstone of his musical legacy, as he made arrangements to have it printed during his lifetime, at great expense to himself. (It was actually published the year after his death.) There are no indications for which instrument(s) it was composed, but it is probably no accident that everything fits in four octaves and is playable by one (very skilled) keyboardist. Many recordings exist, ranging from string quartets via a recorder quartet and organ (Helmut Walcha) to Hermann Scherchen’s full orchestral arrangement: Bach piano interpreters like Grigori Sokolov, Glenn Gould, and Tatiana Nikolayeva have done the work perhaps the most justice.

In honor of New Year’s Day, here is the 1st movement of the 5th Brandenburg Concerto, played by the late great Karl Richter and his orchestra. Enjoy!