Lag BaOmer pilgrimage tragedy: 44 dead in stampede at Meron

Today, practicing Jews mark the minor holiday of Lag BaOmer, the 33rd day[*] of the counting of the Omer [=the period between Passover and Shavuot]. According to legend,many students of Rabbi Akiva died in a plague that ended on Lag Ba-Omer. The surviving remnant included Rashbi (Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai), one of the pre-eminent scholars of his generation and later the attributed author of the Zohar [“radiance”, a mystical commentary on the Torah that became the foundational work of the kabbala school of Jewish mysticism]. [**]

Lag Ba-Omer is marked with bonfires, in which often marshmallows, (kosher) hot dogs,… are roasted.

In addition, 100,000s of fervently religious Jews make a pilgrimage on that day to the tomb of Rashbi, in the Upper Galilee village of Meron, not far from Tzfat/Safed. The site is always jam-packed on that day, and a number of people in the know said it was disaster waiting to happen.

Last year, there had been a cap of 1,000 visitors on account of COVID: this time around, the cap was raised to 10,000, but approximately ten times that number showed up.

A fairly detailed Wikipedia page in English is already up. It is not the first time in recent memory tragedy has struck on the day — a few years ago, unseasonally hot and dry weather led to bonfires becoming wildfires, killing several — but with 45 dead and 150 wounded, this is the largest civilian disaster in history. Full coverage by clicking on the banner below:

Meron Disaster

Apparently people stumbled in the narrow passage at the exit of the tomb.

Health Ministry director-general Prof. Ḥezy Levy has clarified that, while 17 of the 150 injured people are hospitalized, none are in critical condition.

The tragedy, he added, could have been prevented: “In hindsight we can say that the writing was on the wall. The events at Mount Meron have been going on for years. There are those who claim that this year there were less people because they tried, which did not happen, to go according to the coronavirus plan.”

“When there is a tragedy we always say that ‘the writing was on the wall,’ but we need to investigate how they prepared from a safety perspective, and the security of the worshipers and those celebrating on Mount Meron. These things will be investigated when the time comes by the authorities. I suggest that we do this in an authorized fashion, after we comfort the families and bury the corpses, to my sorrow, and treat the wounded.”

Speedy healing to the wounded, and condolences to the bereaved. Official condolences are flying in from across the world (even from Turkey!), and PM Netanyahu has declared a day of national mourning.

[*] in gematria (Hebrew numerology), lamed=30, gimel=3, hence lag=33. Numerology enthusiasts may note this is 18 Iyar on the Hebrew calendar, with 18 of course being ḥai (חי), i.e., “alive”.

This year, it happens to coincide with April 30, which since my teens I have been marking as Yom Mavet ha-Mamzer [the anniversary of the death of the b*stard], in honor of the Jewish joke where Hitler [y”sh] visits a soothsayer and is told that he will die on a Jewish holiday. “Which one?” “Any day on which you die will be a Jewish holiday.”

[**] The Zohar is a classic example of a “pseudoepigraphic” work, i.e., one where its author(s)tried to enhance its prestige by ascribed authorship to a famous person of the past. In this case, a Spanish rabbi named Moses de León (a.k.a. Moshe ben Shem-tov di Li’on, a. 1240-1305 CE) either wrote or compiled the work, and ascribed authorship to Rashbi.

A musical example of a pseudoepigraphic work is the famous Adagio “by” Albinoni, composed by musicologist and Albinoni biographer Remo Giazotto (1910-1998 CE). Giazotto’s son Adalberto is a fairly famous physicist who was instrumental in the first experimental detection of gravitational waves.

News of the weird: Israeli couple seeks Jewish divorce over… wild boars?!

This sounds like a skit from a Jewish comedy, but… no, it is not a joke. The Jerusalem Post reports:

A married couple from Haifa are planning on getting a divorce, after wild boars infiltrated their private garden. The couple seems to disagree about the proper way of addressing the issue, and it just might cost them their marriage. The husband, in his 40s, has been married to his wife for 17 years, according to N12. Recently, he sent his wife a warning letter through an attorney, claiming that she has been avoiding dealing with the boars entering their garden and that he fears for his life.”I’m afraid of them attacking me,” the husband told N12. “They have already attacked people in the city. It’s a life-threatening situation,” he clarified. 

In the letter, the husband mentions that his wife encourages the boars to roam freely in their private garden. “She lets them come in and feeds them. It’s really bizarre,” he noted. He had even called professionals to help keep the boars away, but his wife opposed the idea. 

His wife, in turn, told N12 that she likes the wild boars, adding that if her husband insists on keeping them away – he is welcome to stay away himself, and has since filed for a divorce. 

The first time ever I saw wild boars here was when driving on a nearly empty highway during the first COVID lockdown — when jackals and wolves could also be spotted.

They always had a habitat in the Carmel range where Ḥaifa is located, but of late they have become a common enough sight in the city region that suburban residents on walks have started carrying sticks, and (on an amusing note) a local rugby club renamed itself the Haifa Wild Boars. Last June, a student one-upped “the dog ate my homework” with “wild boars ate my homework“.

Historically, the city would allow hunters to cull the boars, but the leftist mayor who was eected in 2018 has banned the practice.

While I’ve always found pigs cute (there is something very human about them), I know quite well what damage a wild boar can wreak.

COVID19 update, April 27, 2021: Dr. Campbell on India

I have been somewhat remiss in COVID19 updates. But while things are getting under greater or lesser degrees of control in the West, a tragedy is unfolding in India. The combination of a staggering population (nearly 1.4 billion, or 17.7% of the world’s population) with a precarious healthcare system would not help matters at the best of times, but now variants have developed that definitely appear to be much more contagious than the wild type. As Dr. John Campbell explains in his latest update, hospitals are running out of supplies as basic as oxygen cylinders, and are telling families to go procure them on the black market (for 100x the normal price).

A number of Western countries have closed their airspace to flights from India for fear of importing the Indian variant. Weizmann Institute epidemiologist Prof. Eran Segal, however, points out that all the point mutations in the Indian variant are present in other variants against which the Pfizer vaccine is known to work, so that it is unlikely to be an “escape mutation” (G-d forbid).

In yesterday’s video, Dr. Campbell revealed the (for me startling) fact that vitamin D deficiency is surprisingly prevalent in India despite the sunny climate, which sure does not help matters with any infectious diseases.

Here is a pre-Corona article about this, in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care:

The diet of poorer people, in particular, tends to be quite starchy and lacking in many nutrients, including vitamin D. People who work outside in agriculture might get enough from sunlight, but the darker your skin type, the more you need, and if you work indoors at a factory or office, you will get very little. (Light skin came about as a mutation that happens to allow humans to thrive at more northern latitudes.) Provinces of India where fish is a main part of the diet, like Kerala, appear to have a lower prevalence of vitamin D deficiency — and interestingly enough, Dr. Campbell explains, suffered a much lower casualty rate during the 1918 flu pandemic as well.

(2) Another story Dr. Campbell covers in the first video is of a leaked report of an unusual alleged side effect of the Pfizer vaccine in Israel:

The report said that out of more than 5 million people [doubly] vaccinated in Israel, there were 62 recorded cases of myocarditis [=inflammation of the heart muscle] in the days after the shot. It found that 56 of those cases came after the second shot and most of the affected were men under 30. […] 60 of the patients were treated and released from hospital in good condition. Two of the patients, who were reportedly healthy until receiving the vaccination, including a 22-year-old woman and a 35-year-old man, died.

An investigation is in progress. I reached out to a hospital department head at [details redacted]. (S)he was however quite dismissive of the story: (s)he said the study had no proper control population, but that the incidence figures “looked statistically indistinguishable from pre-COVID”. I hit the books a little and turned up this

The incidence of myocarditis is approximately 1.5 million cases worldwide per year. Incidence is usually estimated between 10 to 20 cases per 100,000 persons. The overall incidence is unknown and probably underdiagnosed.  In the United States, the frequency of myocarditis is difficult to ascertain as many cases are subclinical. In community-based populations, the prevalence and outcomes of myocarditis are unknown as epidemiologic studies suggest that the majority of Coxsackie B virus infections, an important cause of myocarditis are subclinical, thus following a benign course. […] The majority of patients are young and healthy.

From the Myocarditis Foundation:

While we often associate cardiovascular conditions with elderly populations, myocarditis can affect anyone, including young adults, children and infants. In fact, it most often affects otherwise healthy, young, athletic types with the high-risk population being those of ages from puberty through their early 30’s, affecting males twice as often as females. Myocarditis is the 3rd leading cause of Sudden Death in children and young adults.

At that website, one also learns that the majority of myocarditis cases are viral infections, but that a minority (giant cell myocarditis) is autoimmune in origin.

For sure, a diligent investigation is called for. But in light of the above, I am somewhat skeptical that this is ‘signal’ rather than background noise.

Incidentally, the same doctor told me that in hospitals in central Israel, corona wards have completely emptied out, while regional hospitals in localities with substantial Arab and Beduin populations (these populations being the most reluctant to get vaccinated, even more so than the “ultra-Orthodox” sector) still have one or two dozen corona beds filled, almost entirely by people from the said populations.

According to the Ministry of Health COVID19 dashboard, just 0.2% of COVID19 tests return positive at present; Dr. Campbell mentioned a similar figure in the UK, where over 50% of the population has now had at least one shot. And down from 80 dead a day at the peak of the epidemic, we have seen a total of 9 dead for the entire week, an average of 1.3 a day.

(3) Incidentally, Dr. Campbell expresses his frustration that some people see treatment, vaccination, and prevention almost as mutually exclusive, with advocates of one being dismissive of the two others. I agree this is a most unfortunate attitude.

Anand Tofrani on the miserable economic failure of Operation Barbarossa

In my research for “Operation Flash, Episode 4: Hungarian Rhapsody”, I stumbled (via WW II vlogger TIK) upon the book “Oil and the Great Powers: Britain and Germany, 1914 to 1945” by Anand Toprani (Oxford University Press, 2019: ).

Dr. Toprani is an associate professor at the Naval War College in Newport, RI: the book ultimately goes back to his Ph.D. thesis at Georgetown University, which is available Open Access here.

One of the rationales that has been offered for Operation Barbarossa (the invasion of the USSR) was the extraction of resources, specifically grain from the Ukraine and oil from the Caucasus. The latter was not under Axis control for long enough, perhaps, but what about the (vampire) economic revenue from the vast territory that the Third Reich did occupy for considerable time?

Despite its preparation and ruthlessness, the Third Reich’s campaign to exploit the Soviet Union was as much an economic failure as a military one. The value of the resources Germany extracted from Belgium (9.3 billion RM) was double that from the Soviet Union (4.5 billion RM), while that from France (35 billion RM) was eight times greater.179 In terms of oil, Germany probably received more from the Soviet Union through trade before June 22, 1941 than it did through coercion during the occupation.

Tofrani, p. 251

These figures do not include forced labor press-ganged in the above countries to go work in the old Reich

Lots to unpack in that book. For instance: I am somewhat familiar with the chemistry involved in the coal liquefaction (“synthetic gasoline”) plants through the Fischer-Tropsch and Bergius processes. What I did not realize was that this effort actually went back to the Weimar era: even when the production cost per barrel was considerably higher than the price of imported equivalents, the latter required foreign currency the Weimar republic was chronically short of. Coal was one of the few natural resources they were not lacking.

Apparently, between coal liquefaction, Romanian oil (from the fields in Ploesti, near Bucharest), some small wells in Austria and Hungary, and drastic rationing of civilian consumption, the Wehrmacht could sort-of make ends meet until the combination of Allied bombing campaigns and Romania defecting to the Allies in August 1944.

More in a future post. Meanwhile, here is an archived copy of the US Strategic Bombing Survey’s Summary Report (September 30, 1945). From the section, “The Attack On Oil“:

The German oil supply was tight throughout the war, and was a controlling factor in military operations. The chief source of supply, and the only source for aviation gasoline, was 13 synthetic plants together with a small production from three additional ones that started operations in 1944. The major sources of products refined from crude oil were the Ploesti oil fields in Rumania and the Hungarian fields which together accounted for about a quarter of the total supply of liquid fuels in 1943. In addition, there was a small but significant Austrian and domestic production. The refineries at Ploesti were attacked, beginning with a daring and costly low-level attack in August 1943. These had only limited effects; deliveries increased until April 1944 when the attacks were resumed. The 1944 attacks, together with mining of the Danube, materially reduced Rumanian deliveries. In August 1944, Russian occupation eliminated this source of supply and dependence on the synthetic plants became even greater than before. 

Production from the synthetic plants declined steadily and by July 1944 every major plant had been hit. These plants were producing an average of 316,000 tons per month when the attacks began. Their production fell to 107,000 tons in June and 17,000 tons in September. Output of aviation gasoline from synthetic plants dropped from 175,000 tons in April to 30,000 tons in July and 5,000 tons in September. Production recovered somewhat in November and December, but for the rest of the war was but a fraction of pre-attack output. […] Consumption of oil exceeded production from May 1944 on. Accumulated stocks were rapidly used up, and in six months were practically exhausted. The loss of oil production was sharply felt by the armed forces. In August the final run-in-time for aircraft engines was cut from two hours to one-half hour. For lack of fuel, pilot training, previously cut down, was further curtailed. Through the summer, the movement of German Panzer Divisions in the field was hampered more and more seriously as a result of losses in combat and mounting transportation difficulties, together with the fall in fuel production. By December, according to Speer, the fuel shortage had reached catastrophic proportions. When the Germans launched their counter-offensive on December 16, 1944, their reserves of fuel were insufficient to support the operation. They counted on capturing Allied stocks. Failing in this, many panzer units were lost when they ran out of gasoline. In February and March of 1945 the Germans massed 1,200 tanks on the Baranov bridgehead at the Vistula to check the Russians. They were immobilized for lack of gasoline and overrun.

PS: the term “vampire economy” was of course invented by Günter Reimann (pen name of Hans Steinicke, 1904-2005), in his eponymous 1939 book.

Sabbath musical delight: Bach’s Coffee Cantata BWV 211, a comic opera in miniature

One of the places where J. S. Bach made music in Leipzig, outside his official duties as Thomaskantor, was Zimmerman’s coffee house, where he would perform with the Collegium Musicum. Bach himself appears to have been very fond of the beverage, as the inventory of his estate contained no fewer than five coffee pots.

He even dedicated a secular cantata to the beverage, “Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht” [Be quiet, don’t chat]. The libretto, written by his frequent lyricist Picander [best known for having written the libretto of the Matthew Passion], depicts the exasperation of a stick-in-the-mud father about his daughter’s addiction to the beverage, and her defense against him. Eventually he realizes the fight is hopeless and they reconcile. On an amusing note, the daughter is called Lieschen (“Little Lisa, Lizzie”), which was also the nickname of the Bach’s’ daughter Elisabeth (she would later marry Bach’s amanuensis J. C. Altnickol).

Bach never wrote an opera even though Leipzig had an opera company, but was clearly not above “word painting” in music in his cantatas, nor above inserting what he otherwise would dismiss as “cute little ditties”. The Coffee Cantata is perhaps the closest he ever came to writing a miniature comic opera. The full libretto in German (with parallel English translation) can be viewed here. Some of the imagery is quite droll, like Lieschen saying she will turn into a shriveled piece of goat roast (Ziegenbraten) if she doesn’t have her three cups of coffee daily. As admitted caffein addicts ourselves, Mrs. Arbel and I cannot resist smiling at that.

Enjoy and Shabbat shalom!

A reflection on oligarchy

Michels’s Law states that given enough time, any political system will evolve into oligarchy, no matter whether the starting point is one-man dictatorship or participatory democracy.

Oligarchy can take many outward forms, usually derived from its original form. George Orwell’s fictional 1984 had a nominal dictator “Big Brother” whose face everybody knew, but nobody had ever seen in the flesh: he was but an avatar of the Inner Party. Even the Third Reich had aspects of an oligarchy, with its fiercely competing power brokers below the Führer (y”sh).

At the other extreme, the European Union has democratic elections, and a parliament — that in actual practice is more a debating society than anything else. All true power in the EU rests with the unelected bureaucrats of the European Commission: an oligarchy if ever there were one.

Now if you live in an oligarchy that has turned dystopic, do you care whether the oligarchs lording it over you, regulating what you can and cannot say, and extracting taxes in money or kind from you “legitimize” their position as

  • hereditary nobility
  • Mandarinate
  • ideological purity and loyal service to the Party
  • religious doctrinal purity and ascent through the clerical hierarchy
  • … or being one of a handful of tech oligarchs?

Honestly, when given the choice between having my life run by

  • The Elector of Saxony
  • some Chinese mandarin
  • the CPSU chief of my raion or oblast
  • The Prince-Archbishop of Cologne
  • today’s Big Tech oligarchs

The only acceptable answer to me, in the 21st century, is “none of the above”. Despite being a small-c conservative with small-l libertarian sympathies, I see no reason why the latter option should somehow get a “pass” in the name of “free enterprise über Alles”. Never mind that monopolies and oligopolies that “pull up the ladder after they’ve made it to the top” are not free enterprise as I understand the term.

People in the US (and the West more generally) are learning the bitter lesson that speech censorship and ideological Gleichschaltung by a cabal of nominally private companies can be every bit as oppressive as its state-sponsored equivalent. I honestly do not care one whit whether the ‘guardians’ who coerce or censor me hypocritically wrap themselves in the mantle of “enlightened” free enterprise, instead of religious piety, Marxism-Leninism, or whatever. If that makes me an “opponent of free enterprise” to you, well: in the era when payphones where still a thing, I could have offered two quarters to call somebody who cares…

Neat, plausible, and wrong: Mencken’s Observation and how people embrace ideologies divorced from reality

Reality is complex. The human mind, as a coping mechanism, tries to find order in the chaos, to systematize.

Up to a point, this is a highly adaptive reflex, with the human venture which we call science being perhaps its most successful expression.

But as with most if not all good things, every good thing can be taken to excess.[*] H. L. Mencken famously quipped, “there is always a well-known solution to every human problem: neat, plausible, and wrong.” [“The Divine Afflatus,” New York Evening Mail, Nov. 16 , 1917] This is often paraphrased to

Every human problem has a solution that is neat, plausible, and wrong.

ALternatively: … that is simple, elegant, and wrong.

The idea is of course not original: it is just a pithy formulation of what Francis Bacon, the father of what we now call the philosophy of science, called the first idol of the mind, the “Idol of the Tribe”

“Idols of the Tribe are rooted in human nature itself and in the very tribe or race of men. For people falsely claim that human sense is the measure of things, whereas in fact all perceptions of sense and mind are built to the scale of man and not the universe.”

Novum Organum (London, 1620), Aphorism 41.

Bacon includes in this “idol” the predilection of the human imagination to assume a greater degree of order to reality than there really is. (A contemporary example would have been the supposition that planets move in perfect circles, which had just then been challenged by Johannes Kepler’s three laws of motion.)

Bacon’s remedy was a science rooted firmly in experiment, in empirical observation, in what we call the inductive approach rather than the deductive one. (Pure mathematics is the ultimate deductive science, and one without which the more empirical sciences would not have the most powerful tool to do their jobs. But the mindset of the pure mathematician, of trying to reduce everything to logical conclusions from a few axioms, becomes less and less adaptive as sciences move further and further from neat physical models into messy chemical and then biological reality. (How much more so when we go still further up the complexity scale, to human society.)

Alas, the pull of “simple, elegant, and wrong” explanations for reality exerts a powerful pull on humans. It might be tempting to ascribe “wokeness”, third wave misandry “feminism”, and the like to naked Nietzschean ‘will to power’. You might even be largely right about that — and Mencken, a lifelong admirer of Nietzsche, would surely smile from the great beyond — but this cannot by itself account for the great appeal these misbegotten theories have to many people who ought to know better. The hunger for a “neat and plausible” explanation goes a long way towards that.

I call it the “gnostic reflex”. There is a priceless scene in David Weber and Steve White’s “In Death Ground”, where Terran Sky Marshal Hannah Avram tries to explain this particular Terran mentality to an Orion space admiral:

“Well, Lord Talphon, some humans tend to believe that the further removed a political philosophy is from reality, the more morally pure it must be. […] [Terran] civilization’s dominant religion […] was heavily influenced in its formative years by a philosophy called Gnosticism, which held that the world as reported by the senses was inherently corrupt and deceptive. Given that assumption, the only reliable source of knowledge was correct doctrine, and the attitude lingers on in secularized form. Demonstrated unworkability in the real world merely proves a belief system’s ‘higher truth’ in the eyes of its true believers.”

(Ch. 11: online text here.)

I was prompted to these reflections by two videos I saw yesterday and today. The first is about the hunger for “quick fixes” in pop psychology: simple, elegant, and for the most part useless (if not worse than useless).

The second, in part satirical, is by Gad Saad:

And speaking of Gad Saad, here is an oldie but goodie: a 1hr-discussion between him and self-described ex-feminist Janice Fiamengo, about the internal contradictions and divorcedness from reality of simple, elegant, and wrong third-wave fauxminism.

And no, those on “our” side of the political spectrum should not get complacent. This “neo-gnosticism” is today particularly prevalent on the Left, but I am sadly seeing examples on the conservative and libertarian sides as well. As just one example, the defense of Big Social Media in the name of “the government has no right to regulate private companies” — when the said companies collude (including with the government) to implement a level of social censorship that would have been every historical dictator’s wet dream.

[*] “Everything is poison and nothing is without poison: it is only the dose that makes something be [not] a poison,” as Paracelsus famously formulated the fundamental law of pharmacology. This is often compressed into “Only the dose makes the poison” (Latin: sola dosis facit venenum.)

March 19: Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

A few months ago, Mark Felton made a 3-part series about the uprising, which I am reposting below.

As explained in the Times of Israel today, some American Jews actually thought the uprising was “fake news”: an incident staged by the Nazis (y”sh) as a pretext for razing and/or extermination the ghetto. (They were presumably thinking of the Gleiwitz incident, where SS dressed up in Polish uniforms ‘attacked’ a German radio station in that border town and left behind a few drugged concentration camp inmates as their ‘casualties’; the invasion of Poland started hours later as a ‘response’ to this ‘provocation’.) However, the National Socialists were going to ‘liquidate’ the ghetto regardless and saw no need for a manufactured pretext. The uprising was quite real.

It was David Weber, I believe, who wondered how many of the famous last stands in history were fought by people who simply couldn’t make themselves do anything else. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was a case in point.

Capitalism needs a new Martin Luther to call out the “woke indulgence sellers”

In early 16th century Germany, a Blackfriar (Dominican monk) named Johann Tetzel went about selling indulgences. The money was ostensibly to be used for financing the rebuilding of the Sistine Chapel, although it appears that a fair amount went towards the debts the Archbishop of Mainz, Albrecht von Brandenburg, had incurred in ensuring his election to the post.

A Wittenberg parish priest named Martin Luther would hear confession, and upon assigning penance to the penitent, was told that they had already done penance by buying the indulgences. It was even rumored that Tetzel would sell indulgences for future sins — effectively, “get out of Purgatory free” cards.

Example of a Writ of Indulgence (Cultural History Museum of Stralsund, Germany)

Luther considered all this religious malpractice at best, and wrote a 95-point refutation of the doctrine of indulgences which on October 31, 1517, he nailed to the door of his church. This event would likely have been forgotten quickly were it not for the invention of the printing press in the previous century: printed copies in Latin and German circulated like wildfire, however, and the Sunday on or before October 31 is marked by German Lutherans to this day as Reformation Sunday.[*]

When the whole business with carbon offsets began, I could not help seeing the parallels between the sale of carbon offsets and the “sale of indulgences”/Ablassverkauf/aflatenverkoop/commerce des indulgences/מכר שטרות מחילה.

And now, we are being treated to what an increasing number of commentators are starting to recognizee as yet another form of indulgences (read the whole thing for each of these):

Insty in the NY Post:

Don’t ask me, listen to what lefty independent journalist Glenn Greenwald has to say: Big corporations, he writes, are “now deploying woke ideology the way intelligence agencies do: as a disguise.” They run sweatshops and depend on slave labor abroad — many playing footsie with the Chinese government, which is committing genocide against its Uighur population even as many are subjected to forced labor — but they talk “social justice” at home because it helps distract people.

Erick Erickson in Real Clear Politics makes an explicit connection to the sale of indulgences.

And Victor Davis Hanson:

The most privileged CEOs of corporate America—those who sell us everything from soft drinks and sneakers, to professional sports and social media—now jabber to America about its racism, sexism, and assorted sins. 

The rules of cynical CEO censure are transparent. 

First, the corporation never harangues unless it feels it has more to lose—whether by boycotts, protests, or bad publicity—than it stands to gain in staying neutral and silent. 

Second, class concerns are never mentioned. Bastian is paid about $65,000 for each working day of the year. In a sane world, he might seem a ridiculous voice of the oppressed. 

Third, CEOs never fear offending the conservative silent majority, who are assumed not to boycott or protest. 

The woke revolution is not a grassroots movement. It is powered by a well-connected and guilt-ridden elite. Yet the religion of Wokeness assumes these high priests deserve exemptions. Their wealth, credentials, contacts, and power ensure none are ever subject to the consequences of their own sermons. […]

The richest in America—the families who own and operate Amazon, Apple, Bloomberg, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft—are the most likely to voice their derision for its unwoke lower- and middle-classes. […] 

So wokeness is medieval. Sin is not given up as much as atoned for—and excused—through loud confessionals.

Self-righteous elites rant about carbon footprints, needless border security, defunding the police, gun control, and charter schools. But they rarely forgo their own private jets, third and fourth homes, estate walls, armed security guards, and prep schools. Apparently to rant about “privilege” means the less you need to worry about your own. 

Wokeness is an insurance policy. The louder the damnation of American culture, the more likely a career will be saved or enhanced. 

Wokeness is classist and elitist. Those who made or inherited a fortune, got the right degree at the right place, made CEO or four-star rank, live in the right ZIP code, or know the good people, believe they have earned the right to decide what is moral for their inferiors. 

So some of them have created an entire vocabulary of deplorables, irredeemables, clingers, dregs, chumps, and Neanderthals—for the peasants and “losers” who must do what they are told. 

Wokeness is not really about fairness for minorities, the oppressed, and the poor, past or present. It is mostly a self-confessional cult of anointed bullies, and hypocrites of all races and genders, who seek to flex, and increase, their own privilege and power. Period.

If a Jew may quote the Christian New Testament:

[H]ypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but are within full of dead men’s bones and of all uncleanness.

(Matthew 23:27, KJV)

This type of corporatist oligarchic and oligopolistic pseudo-capitalism is in dire need of a modern-day Martin Luther to call out the “woke indulgence sellers” and bring it back to its free-market roots.

[*] J. S. Bach wrote two cantatas for the holiday, Gott der Herr ist Sonne und Schild BWV 79 and Ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott BWV 80.

Sabbath musical delight: Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, on… viola?! (Not a viola joke.)

Bach’s best-known organ piece is probably the best-known organ piece, full stop (no pun intended). Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, is a youth work full of what he would later deprecate as “keyboard hussar” artifices. He himself appears to have disowned it later in life: the extant manuscript is a copy by a student (Ringk) of a student of Bach’s (Kellner).

It has been noted numerous times that the work contains many passages that are highly idiomatic on the violin, such as bariolades [sp?] bariolages [thanks, Mrs. Arbel!]:

The subject of the four-voice fugue is made up entirely of sixteenth notes, with an implied pedal point set against a brief melodic subject that first falls, then rises. Such violinistic figures are frequently encountered in Baroque music and that of Bach, both as fugue subjects and as material in non-imitative pieces.


Such figures are indeed violinistic (and guitaristic!) if the pedal point is an open string: you can then alternate bowing viz picking between the open string and the notes you are fretting on the adjacent string. Bach was proficient on string instruments himself (albeit not a performing virtuoso, like he was on organ and keyboards), and indeed on numerous occasions transcribed violin works by himself and others for keyboard. (Indeed, it is not quite clear which was the chicken and which the egg in some cases, such as the organ fugue in D minor from BWV 539 and the fugue from the sonata for violin solo in G minor, BWV 1001.)

So there are arrangements for solo violin of “Toccata and Fugue”, almost universally transposed a fifth up to A minor so the piece will fit the instrument.

Then I thought: wait, if they were playing on viola instead (said much-maligned instrument being tuned a perfect fifth lower than the violin), they could do it in the original key?

At least two violists (viola players) on YouTube have done creditable jobs of it. The second one plays with a sense of rhythm I can only describe as “rocking”.


ADDENDUM: another unusual feature of the Toccata are the passages in parallel octaves — AFAIK unique in Bach’s organ work. Christoph Wolff explains though:

“…persistent octave doubling, for which there is no parallel elsewhere in Bach’s organ music. However, if we consider that Bach’s Arnstadt organ had no manualiter sixteen-foot stops available, the octave doubling reflects an ingenious solution for making up that deficiency and for creating the effect of an organo pleno [“full organ”] sound that typically requires a sixteen-foot basis.”

Wolff, Christoph. Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician (Norton Paperback) (p. 72). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Major Karl Plagge and his rescue operation at HKP 562 in wartime Wilna/Vilnius

“I wasn’t a hero. I just did my duty. Alas, it wasn’t enough.” (Karl Plagge)

Karl Plagge was born in Darmstadt, the son of a doctor. Following high school, he served in World War One 1916-1918, including battles at Verdun and at the Somme. He was taken POW by the British, from which he returned to Darmstadt in 1919, with a case of polio that made him limp for the rest of his life. As the money for medical school was lacking, he studied engineering at the local technical college. He worked in various jobs until in 1933 he was hired as a consulting engineer by the Hessenwerke machine factory.

Major Karol Plagge
Major Karl Plagge

At first he was a fairly enthusiastic follower of Hitler (y”sh), joining the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers Party, “the Nazis”) in 1931, in the hope it could put an end to the economic ravages of the Great Depression. He became disaffected once the Nazis started enacting racial discrimination laws, however, but kept up his party membership as a “beard”: Hessenwerke’s owner had a (half?-)Jewish wife, and took “the Nazi old fighter” Plagge in as a businesspartner for protection.

At the outbreak of the war he was drafted into the Wehrmacht engineering corps. After the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, he found himself in Wilna (Lithuanian: Vilnius) as the commanding officer of HKP 562: The acronym stands for Heereskraftfahrpark, literally: army motor vehicle park, idiomatically: army motor vehicle repair and maintenance shop.

At that time, Wilna’s population was 53% Polish, 41% Jewish, and about 6% Lithuanian. (Napoleon called it the “Jerusalem of the North”.) Under Nazi occupation, it became part of Reichskommisariat Ostland, and soon the Einsatzkommandos started their grisly murder work (with the help of some local collaborators).

Plagge was appalled at this, and (somewhat similarly to his colleague Albert Battel in Przemysl, whose story I have covered here previously) started staffing his repair shop with ever-increasing numbers of Jewish workers, who then were exempt from “deportation” (read: a short trip to the nearest killing ditch). He argued to his superiors that his “essential” workers would be “better motivated” if they were allowed to keep their families with them, and got permission to do so. Over 1,200 people stayed at his camp at various times.

Plagge exploited the rivalry (and turf wars) between the Wehrmacht and the SS to the max. Instead of the usual starvation rations, he insisted his workers be properly fed, and additionally tolerated black market transactions. He was unable to protect all his workers, though he and the like-minded subordinates he had surrounded himself with intervened a number of times to pull workers out of transports. To facilitate this, at one point he transferred the HKP 562 work camp to an apartment complex (then) outside the city proper. He engaged two clothing manufacturers to set up repair shops there to provide employment (and hence, deportation exemptions) for the older children and wives, and even ran an angora rabbit farm there. Some 250 children were dragged out by the SS and executed during a Kinderaktion while he was one family leave.

As the Red Army started approaching, it was obvious the camp was going to be liquidated. Plagge warned the prisoners, who dug out a number of hiding places inside the complex. There, about 250 of them hid between the liquidation Aktion and the arrival of the Red Army, and thus survived the Shoah.

Plagge had no idea that any of them had survived — he found out during his postwar denazification trial, when several survivors living in Displaced Persons camps in Germany interceded for him. These trials classified people on a scale from 1 “Major war criminal” to 5 “Exonerated”: Plagge, as the commander of a labor camp, had expected at least a 2 or 3, but on the strength of the testimony on his behalf, was classified level 4, Mitläufer (fellow traveler): he himself said he did not deserve exoneration.

In 1999, HKP 562 survivor Pearl Good and her son Michael Good started investigating Plagge’s story, aiming to submit his case for recognition as Righteous Among The Nations by Yad Vashem. At first, the request was declined on the grounds there was no proof that Plagge acted at risk to himself. (The latter was belied by the case of Feldwebel (first sergeant) Anton Schmid, who was shot by firing squad on April 13, 1942 for assisting Wilna Jews.[*]) Then more evidence came in, from Plagge’s correspondence, and eventually in 2005 Major Karl Plagge was duly recognized as a Tzadik umot ha-Olam. Michael Good expanded his evidence into this book.

The HistoryHit Timeline team just uploaded this fascinating documentary, which details the search for archeological evidence of mass killings and hidings places at the location of HKP 562. Several HKP 562 survivors visit the site in person and tell their personal stories, and assist the team with finding the “malinot” (hiding places) where they escaped the SS butchers.

According to Wikipedia:

In a letter to a Jewish lawyer, R. Strauss, dated 26 April 1956, Plagge compared himself to Dr. Rieux, a character in Albert Camus‘s novel The Plague. In the novel, which was written while Camus was living under Nazi occupation in France, Rieux risks his life to save people from the plague, but his efforts cannot save very many people and often appear useless. Like Plagge, Rieux does not see himself as a hero.[40]

Yet is written in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 37a; later quoted in Sura 5 of the Koran) that whosoever saves one life, it is as if they saved an entire world.

[*] 1Sgt. Anton Schmid has been a Righteous Among The Nations since 1967; his name had first been heard in Israel from Wilna resistance leader (and later Israeli poet) Abba Kovner during his testimony at the Eichmann Trial.

Israel Independence Day

Today, Israel celebrates its 73rd anniversary. according to the Jewish calendar (5th of Iyar). Unlike last year, no virtual ceremonies this time: things are pretty much full open here now.

Jeff Dunetz has a really nice article about the backstory of how Harry S Truman ended up going against the loudest voices in his own cabinet and giving Israel the nod, then recognizing the state minutes after its proclamation. Below is a photograph of the document to be telegraphed, with the actual name of the new state scribbled in at the last moment.

Martin Kramer explains that Israel was not the only name considered by the Provisional Government: Yehuda (“Judah”), Tziyon (“Zion”), and even “Ever” (“across” [the Jordan River], the root of the word Ivri=Hebrew) were all mulled, as was “Eretz Israel” (“the Land of Israel”). Eventually Yisra’el/”Israel” won out for pragmatic reasons: the derivatives Yisra’eli/”Israeli” and Yisra’elim/”Israelis” did not already have spoken-for meanings in Hebrew. “Yehudim” and Ivrim both mean “Jews” (wherever they live); “Tzionim” means “Zionists” (i.e., Jewish nationalists). “Israelis” could mean citizens of the new state regardless of religion or ethnicity.

Yom Atzma’ut sameach!

Natan Alterman, “The Silver Platter” (מגש הכסף) #RemembranceDay

And the land grows still, the red eye of the sky 
slowly dimming over smoking frontiers
As the nation arises, torn at heart but breathing,
To receive its miracle, the only miracle

As the ceremony draws near,  it will rise,
standing erect in the moonlight in terror and joy
When across from it will step out a youth and a lass
and slowly march toward the nation

Dressed in battle gear, dirty, shoes heavy with grime,
they ascend the path quietly
To change garb, to wipe their brow, they have not yet found time.
Still bone weary from days and from nights in the field

Full of endless fatigue and unrested,
Yet the dew of their youth is still seen on their head
Thus they stand at attention,
giving no sign of life or death 

Then a nation in tears and amazement
will ask: “Who are you?” and quietly
they will answer, “We are the silver platter
on which the Jewish state was given.”

Thus they will say and fall back in shadows
And the rest will be told In the chronicles of Israel

הארץ תשקוט, עין שמיים אודמת
תעמעם לאיטה על גבולות עשנים,
ואומה תעמוד – קרועת לב אך נושמת
לקבל את הנס, האחד, אין שני…

היא לטקס תיכון, היא תקום למול הסהר
ועמדה למולם עוטה חג ואימה.
אז מנגד יצאו נערה ונער
ואט אט יצעדו הם אל מול האומה.

לובשי חול וחגור וכבדי נעליים
בנתיב יעלו הם, הלוך והחרש
לא החליפו בגדם, לא מחו עוד במים
את עקבות יום הפרך וליל קו האש.

עייפים עד בלי קץ, נזירים ממרגוע
ונוטפים טללי נעורים עבריים…
דם השניים יגשו ועמדו עד בלי נוע
ואין אות אם חיים הם או אם ירויים.

אז תשאל האומה שטופת דמע וקסם
ואמרה: “מי אתם?”, והשניים שוקטים
יענו לה: “אנחנו מגש הכסף,
שעליו לך ניתנה מדינת היהודים”.

כך יאמרו ונפלו לרגלה עוטפי צל
והשאר יסופר בתולדות ישראל.
(Translation by Ami Isseroff. )

COVID19 mini-update, Yom HaZikaron edition: Dr. Campbell looks at the state of therapeutics after 1 year; Daily Telegraph wonders if China is losing the COVID Cold War

(a) Dr. John Campbell reviews the last year in clinical trials of drugs for COVID

A few highlights from his discussion of double-blind clinical trials (particularly the WHO SOLIDARITY and UK RECOVERY trials):

  • not just hydroxychloroquine proved disappointing, but so did remdesivir
  • dexamethasone and other low-cost steroids unambiguously show a clinical benefit in more severe disease, i.e., at the point where your enemy is your own immune system going amok
  • RECOVERY found a clear clinical benefit for tocilizumab (the “-mab” stands for monoclonal antibody) in severe disease
  • There is conflicting evidence about the antiparasitic medication ivermectin (widely used in veterinary medicine) — which is known to have antiviral properties in vitro. However, Dr. Campbell found one of his videos “fact-checked” on Fa[r]cebook as “partially false”, and sarcastically wonders what he is allowed to say.

(b) Sherelle Jacobs in the Daily Telegraph wonders aloud if China is snatching diplomatic defeat from the jaws of make-believe victory. [Cached copy here].

China won the first half of the Covid Cold War decisively. It executed lockdowns with immaculate precision, cuffing dissenters to balcony railings and sealing citizens in their homes. Having near-enough eliminated Covid within its own borders, it fired up its industrial engines to meet roaring demand for Chinese goods. A diplomatic coup over the United States followed, as the World Health Organisation ruled out the Wuhan lab leak theory. Most powerful of all was China’s psychological victory; as Beijing exulted in the liberating discipline of the Chinese Way, the locked down West brooded over the selfish inadequacies of freedom.

Now, though, a lousy vaccine strategy and a counterfeit economic recovery are coming back to haunt the Chinese Communist Party. A Western world that has spent a year luxuriating in existential crisis might dare to wonder: is the brute force of the authoritarian, centralised state no match after all for the innovative agility of a free capitalist society?

In an astonishing admission of weakness, China’s top disease control official has confirmed that the efficacy of the country’s Covid vaccines is low. With trials abroad suggesting that protection rates could be as poor as 50 per cent, the country’s regulator is now considering whether to mix jabs to boost their effectiveness.

This is a catastrophe for China. The country is stuck in an unsustainable zero Covid trap, only able to maintain an upper hand over the virus by closing its borders to almost all foreigners and limiting domestic travel. Beijing could be left behind within months, as rival countries reach herd immunity and reopen for global business. On this point, even the Chinese commentariat has been remarkably candid. State epidemiologists have taken to the airwaves, warning that China’s vaccine rates are insufficient to reach herd immunity by the end of year, let alone the end of the summer. Newspaper column inches that usually foam against the “putrid ambitions” of anti-Chinese forces are instead analysing the progress of Britain, Israel and the United States with sober dread.

Nor are China’s vaccine woes the only threat to the country’s apparent Covid advantage. Doubts are starting to grow about Beijing’s miraculous economic recovery. A recent IMF forecast stirred controversy, projecting that while Western economies would almost completely avoid permanent scarring – and US GDP in 2024 would be even higher than it was anticipated to be before Covid – China’s economy will end up 1.59 per cent smaller than pre-pandemic expectations.

This exposes the drawbacks of a Chinese model that prioritises ambition over invention, saving face over doing the groundwork, and scale over quality. Perhaps in all those official Maoist castigations of Chinese backwardness in the 20th century, the country lost a sense of its essential Self. The pioneering civilisation that gave us the wheel and the compass has “renewed” itself by becoming a piracy powerhouse that cannot innovate. This, it turns out, is a handicap in a pandemic.

(c) Tonight and tomorrow until sundown, 4 Iyar on the Hebrew calendar, is Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day [for the Fallen] in Israel, ending tomorrow night with Yom HaAtzma’ut, Independence Day. Through this juxtaposition, we remind ourselves that the former is the price of the latter.

Last year, the Memorial Day ceremony was a basically virtual one. This time around, with Israel’s epidemic data in de facto herd immunity territory, the traditional ceremony was held in person, albeit still with face masks. (Police quietly stopped enforcing the mask mandate outdoors, and it is expected to be abolished outright next week.) The usual memorial gatherings at military cemeteries will also take place as usual, unlike last year.

A virtual memorial candle lighting site has however been launched, in addition to the above.

COVID19 mini-update, April 11, 2021: clues about rare Oxford/Astrazeneca thrombotic events; Israel “has reached a form of herd immunity”; Pfizer and South African variant

(1) Scientists conclude that in a very small number of people dosed with the Oxford/AstraZeneca viral vector vaccine, administration triggers an autoimmune reaction to Platelet Factor 4,

with results similar to a known complication of anticoagulation therapy with heparins, heparin-induced thrombocytopenia.

The original papers, by two independent teams, appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine: and

A popular, but very detailed, writeup can be found here (via Insty).

(2) Prof. Eran Segal of Weizmann declares Israel “has reached a form of herd immunity“.

Israel may have reached “a sort of herd immunity” and can safely ease further restrictions, a top expert said Saturday.

With over 4.9 million Israelis fully vaccinated, the number of daily coronavirus cases has plummeted by 97 percent, Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, told Channel 12.

To be clear, Israel exclusively used the Pfizer mRNA vaccine (plus a little bit of its “fraternal twin” Moderna, which is somewhat less demanding in terms of cold supply chains). This was the first time ever that messenger RNA vaccines have been used in a large-scale setting, and they have surpassed expectations. This is likely to have a lasting impact on biotech, two different sources told me.

(3) Also in Israel, a team found indications that the South African mutation (which accounts for about 1% of COVID19 cases in Israel) may be able to ‘escape’ the Pfizer jab to some degree. However, it does not spread as easily as the British variant (over 90% of Israeli COVID19 cases), against which Pfizer clearly is as effective as against what biologists call the wild type (the original, unmutated virus, a.k.a., ‘classic COVID’).

The Times of Israel has a popular write-up; the preprint in MedRXiv can be found at

COVID19 mini-update, April 9, 2021: Dr. John Campbell on Oxford/AstraZeneca rare side effects; Israel reopening further

(a) In response to rare (but clearly statistically significant) instances of thrombosis among younger patients dosed with the old-school Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, a number of European countries have limited its use to older patients (55+, 60+, 65+, depending). Dr. John Campbell covers this story in detail here:

In the course of his explanation, he points to infographics from a presentation by the Winton Centre at Cambridge University:

For comparison, among those who’ve gotten the Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs in the UK, just short of 80 thrombotic adverse events occurred. A bit more than half as many people got Pfizer jabs in the UK, for which… 2 (two) similar events were seen, statistically equivalent to the frequency in unvaccinated people. Dr. Campbell, incidentally, still advocates the O/AZ vaccine, especially in older people, but by chance he got Pfizer when he showed up for his jab.

Dr. Campbell points to something else that had escaped me, as I am not a nurse (he spent much of his career teaching nursing school and writing textbooks). Intramuscular vaccinations are not supposed to be given in a blood vessel — and a simple technique to ensure this isn’t happening is, after you jab into the deltoid muscle, to pull back the plunger a little and this aspirate a little bit of fluid into the syringe. If it’s red, you hit a blood vessel, and you should pull out and jab again. if it’s clear, you can safely push the plunger down. Danish health authorities, it seems, has issued instructions to nurses always aspirate: when Dr. Campbell was younger, this was still what he taught to all students.

(b) Israel continues to see further drops in COVID19 statistics: half a percent test positive; severe cases in hospitals have dropped to just 270 (i.e., below a quarter of peak levels), mortality has been in single digits for over a week now. Further lockdown relaxations have been issued, just short of full opening: it is rumored that the outdoor mask mandate will be rescinded next week. (Anecdotally, police have stopped enforcing it.) On my morning power walk and grocery shopping (I live in a dense ‘sub’urban area where it is often faster to get around on foot than by car), I noticed sidewalk cafés and eateries full to the brim, even inside the nearest indoor mall.

Yom HaShoah and the importance of recognizing when the rules of the game have changed

Many people have wondered (as did I, when I was younger) why Jewish communities under National Socialist tyranny didn’t react (sooner) with armed resistance. (Individuals and smaller Jewish groups did, of course.) Contrary to what some people mistakenly assume, Judaism is not a pacifist religion, and the idea of meekly accepting one’s fate at the hands of one’s killers is not some sort of Jewish ideal.

Raul Hilberg, the doyen of Shoah historians, sees this very differently in “The Destruction of the European Jews”, (3rd Edition, Yale University Press, 2003, pp. 25-27). In response to “garden variety” oppressors, the Jewish community developed and honed an adaptive response over many centuries that ultimately relied on the oppressor’s self-interest: make them “not slaughter the goose that lays the golden eggs for them”.

[…] The alleviation-compliance response dates, as we have seen, to pre-Christian times. It has its beginnings with the Jewish philosophers and historians Philo and Josephus, who bargained on behalf of Jewry with the Romans and who cautioned the Jews not to attack, in word or deed, any other people. The Jewish reaction pattern assured the survival of Jewry during the Church’s massive conversion drive. The Jewish policy once more assured to the embattled community a foothold and a chance for survival during the periods of expulsion and exclusion.

If, therefore, the Jews have always played along with an attacker, they have done so with deliberation and calculation, in the knowledge that their policy would result in least damage and least injury. The Jews knew that measures of destruction were self-financing or even profitable up to a certain point but that beyond that limit they could be costly. As one historian put it: ‘‘One does not kill the cow one wants to milk.’’ In the Middle Ages the Jews carried out vital economic functions. Precisely in the usury so much complained of by Luther and his contemporaries, there was an important catalyst for the development of a more complex economic system. In modern times, too, Jews have pioneered in trade, in the professions, and in the arts. Among some Jews the conviction grew that Jewry was ‘‘indispensable.’’

In the early 1920s Hugo Bettauer wrote a fantasy novel entitled Die Stadt ohne Juden (The City without Jews).50 This highly significant novel, published only eleven years before Hitler came to power, depicts an expulsion of the Jews from Vienna. The author shows how Vienna cannot get along without its Jews. Ultimately, the Jews are recalled. That was the mentality of Jewry, and of Jewish leadership, on the eve of the destruction process. When the Nazis took over in 1933, the old Jewish reaction pattern set in again, but this time the results were catastrophic. The German bureaucracy was not slowed by Jewish pleading; it was not stopped by Jewish indispensability. Without regard to cost, the bureaucratic machine, operating with accelerating speed and ever-widening destructive effect, proceeded to annihilate the European Jews. The Jewish community, unable to switch to resistance, increased its cooperation with the tempo of the German measures, thus hastening its own destruction.

In sum, both perpetrators and victims drew upon their age-old experience in dealing with each other. The [Nazis] did it with success. The Jews did it with disaster.

Outside the immediate context of the Shoah, in a broader sense, it boils down to the importance of recognizing when the rules of the game have fundamentally changed, and therefore the old, tried-and-true, approach not only no longer can be expected to work, but clinging to it will be disastrous.

UPDATE: Jeff Dunetz at “Yid With Lid” has Gen. Eisenhower’s historic responses to the horror he was witnessing during the liberation of the camps.

Yom HaShoah

As every year on or near Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day, Yad Vashem shares stories of survivors. I am singling out two.

Zehava Gealel [clearly a postwar Hebrew surname, meaning ‘G-d redeemed’] and her mother and sisters initially avoided capture in Holland through feigning contagious disease, then obtained forged Romanian papers that ensured that (through the Byzantine workings of the Third Reich’s administrative apparatus) they were treated as political prisoners from an allied nation. Hence they ‘only’ got to deal with concentration camps rather than extermination camps.

After the war, she became a nurse, and in retirement a medical researcher. Two of her three children passed away early, but via a third she has 13 great-grandchildren.

Yossi Chen, who after the war had a career in both Military Intelligence and the Mossad, explains his miraculous survival thanks to a partially successful uprising in the small ghetto of Lakhva in Belarus. About half the population was able to escape; some reached the Partisans and were able to survive until the Red Army arrived.


לעולם לא עוד זאת אומרת לעולם לא

Israel coalition negotiations gridlock: Circus Netanyahu

After the latest elections in Israel gave neither the pro- nor the anti-Netanyahu camps a clear majority, it was up to the (largely ceremonial) President of Israel, Reuven “Ruby” Rivlin, to appoint somebody to try and form a coalition. Bickering between the bloc around Yesh Atid [There Is a Future, centrist] chairman Yair Lapid and the heads of the Yamina [Rightward] and Tikva Chadasha [New Hope] factions left Netantahu still with the largest number of MKs expressing confidence in him, 52, still 9 short of a majority in the 120-member Knesset.

Rivlin eventually charged Netanyahu with the formation task, but basically said he only did so because the law and jurisprudence gave him no other options; that he had grave misgivings about appointing somebody who was under indictments for corruption; that he wished he could turn the task over to the Knesset; etc. In an unprecedented (AFAIK) snub, he did not even invite Netanyahu to the announcement, and left the Knesset afterward rather than pose for the traditional photograph with the [caretaker] PM and the Chief Justice.

Is Ruby Rivlin some sort of postmodern woke leftist? Heck no. He’s a born-and-bred Likudnik himself who earned his spurs as first a Likud caucus chair, then as the longtime Speaker of the Knesset. He is actually in some important respects to Netanyahu’s political right — but he is also somebody who has always firmly believed in law and order, and like so many of us has gradually become alienated by Netanyahu’s egomania and increasingly desperate maneuvers. (Trying to assemble a coalition ranging from neo-Kahanists to Islamists sets a new benchmark in political absurd humor.)

Unlike many of my colleagues, I actually admire “Bibi” Netanyahu in many respects, and still believe he has done great things for the country (most recently the successful vaccination drive and the Abraham Accords). But lately, in his desperate clinging to his office when it is well past time to retire (rather than negotiating a graceful exit in return for closing or plea-bargaining down the corruption cases against him) he has tarnished what would otherwise be a great legacy.

Netanyahu is widely assumed to be henpecked by his insufferable spouse Sara Netanyahu, for whom I have heard quite colorful nicknames.

After Rivlin’s announcement that Netanyahu would form the coalition after all, Mrs. Arbel quipped that Sara Netanyahu would now “do a naked happy dance”.

Me: “I need brain bleach for that image.”

Mrs. Arbel: “The whole country needs brain bleach.”

We’re laughing at the circus unfolding in front of us, because it hurts too much to cry.

COVID19 mini-update, April 5, 2021: Dr. Campbell on the UK ‘single-shot first’ vaccination campaign and its effects; miscellaneous updates

(1) It appears that getting a single Pfizer shot after recovering from COVID19 gives about the same protection level as an uninfected person getting the two-dose regime:

Ebinger, J.E., Fert-Bober, J., Printsev, I. et al. Antibody responses to the BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine in individuals previously infected with SARS-CoV-2. Nat Med(2021).

(2) An Israeli study shows that people who are infected with COVID (asymptomatic or otherwise) despite a single vaccine shot are much less efficient ‘spreaders’ than unvaccinated infected people.

Levine-Tiefenbrun, M., Yelin, I., Katz, R. et al. Initial report of decreased SARS-CoV-2 viral load after inoculation with the BNT162b2 vaccine. Nat Med (2021).

(For a popular write-up, see the Jerusalem Post.) See also this preliminary report concerning effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine when living with aCOVID-positive related.

(3) As reported in the Times of Israel and elsewhere, Hebrew U. microbiologist, Prof. Michal Linial, guesstimates that protection by the Pfizer jabs will be “at least one year, possibly two years”. This is, of course, impossible to prove except by observation. A colleague pointed out, however, that Pfizer’s followup from their clinical trials must approach one year for some of the subjects. (The trials having been published, the vaccine vs. placebo information can be “un-blinded”.)

(4) According to the Ministry of Health COVID19 dashboard, deaths, new severe cases, and total severe cases in hospital are all way down from their peak: we saw just 3 (three) dead yesterday (lowest level since June), compared to almost 80 at the peak of the 3rd wave. Just 16 new severe cases were hospitalized yesterday, compared to a few hundred at the peak of the wave.

(5) Dr. John Campbell reports at length from the UK, the large(r) country that has the highest percentage of (partial vaccinees. Note that the UK made the choice to give first jabs (and hence partial protection) to as many people as possible, reaching 59% of the total population and over 90% of the most vulnerable age groups. The 7-day average of daily deaths have dropped from over 1,200 on January 22 to the thirties (a drop by a factor of forty).

Consequently, UK PM Boris Johnson today is laying out the roadmap for exit from restrictions. All in all, this looks like a success for the controversial “single shots first” strategy.

Incidentally, Dr. Campbell points out that isolated cases of blood clots among Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccinees seem to occur primarily in younger women taking oral contraceptives.

ADDENDUM: lots of COVID interactive data visualizations about the UK here:

Attempt to embed one graph: