Focus, “Sylvia”: original and piano cover

[Totally overwhelmed at work: hopefully back to regular scheduled programming soon. Meanwhile a brief music post.]

Focus, under the twin leadership of flautist, keyboardist, and crazed yodeler Thijs van Leer (“Thijs” is like “Matt” in Dutch) and guitar virtuoso Jan Akkerman, were probably the only Dutch progressive rock band people abroad ever heard. In the early 1970s, they had two international hits with instrumentals: “Hocus Pocus” and this little gem, “Sylvia” which I’m vey fond of. Here is the original:

And today I stumbled upon this amazing piano cover

Aw, these modulations. Enjoy!

Sabbath musical delight: what the Alexander Piano, the world’s longest grand, sounds like

The Alexander Piano began as a high school hobby project that ran completely out of hand. Now it is an actual working, and well-sounding, instrument.

Everybody who’s had the experience of listening to, and especially of playing, the same piece on a concert grand, a baby grand, and an upright realizes how muddy the baby grand and especially the upright sound in the bass register. (It’s one reason I will always prefer a digital piano over an upright.) You won’t notice it (much) when playing a Bach prelude and fugue from the Well-Tempered Clavier, since all of the WTK fits in the four middle octaves, but go to Liszt and Chopin, or even to Beethoven, and you’ll be able to tell right away.

The reason for this is simple physics. The vibrations of an infinitely thin and elastic string are harmonic, i.e., the overtone frequencies are exact multiples of the fundamental frequency. In order to get the low notes on a piano keyboard at a string length that still fits these smaller instruments, progressively thicker strings need to be used, and their motion becomes progressively more anharmonic (i.e., overtone frequencies no longer are exact multiples of the fundamental). Hence you get beats (clashes) between the overtones of your bass notes and the fundamentals of the chords (or middle and treble voices) you play over them. One can reduce this a little bit by tweaking the tuning of the low strings to minimize the beating (this is called “stretch-tuning”).

Even a 9-foot concert grand still has this problem, albeit much less than a 5-foot baby grand, let alone an upright. But what if we just made the instrument still longer? That’s exactly what young Adrian Mann tried.

Here are a few examples: some Gershwin and Scott Joplin:

A few Bach arrangements (Jesu Meine Freude from Cantata BWV 147 and the Little Fugue in G Minor BWV 578)

And, albeit a very dark piece for today (but one of my all-time Liszt favorites), which really puts the bass register to the test:

And, finally, some Rachmaninoff:

I’d love to hear a piece like Debussy’s “The Engulfed Cathedral” on this… Or, for that matter, Chopin’s “Heroic Polonaise” (though it’s echoed by the Liszt piece — one reason why many people mistakenly think it was Liszt’s eulogy for his departed friend…)

Enjoy, have a nice weekend, and Shabbat Shalom!

COVID19 mini-update, August 27, 2021: recovery vs. vaccination immunity redux; Israeli study on Pfizer side effects

Battling multiple deadlines at work, but two important papers came out that I want to at least share the gist of.

(a) [Hat tip: R.] Even the Belgian news media are reporting on this new study from the research arm of Maccabi Health Services, one of Israel’s “big three” HMOs.[*] A preprint is available here

while a write-up in SCIENCE magazine can be found here. Let me just share from the abstract of the preprint:

Results SARS-CoV-2-naïve vaccinees had a 13.06-fold (95% CI, 8.08 to 21.11) increased risk for breakthrough infection with the Delta variant compared to those previously infected, when the first event (infection or vaccination) occurred during January and February of 2021. The increased risk was significant (P<0.001) for symptomatic disease as well. When allowing the infection to occur at any time before vaccination (from March 2020 to February 2021), evidence of waning natural immunity was demonstrated, though SARS-CoV-2 naïve vaccinees had a 5.96-fold (95% CI, 4.85 to 7.33) increased risk for breakthrough infection and a 7.13-fold (95% CI, 5.51 to 9.21) increased risk for symptomatic disease. SARS-CoV-2-naïve vaccinees were also at a greater risk for COVID-19-related-hospitalizations compared to those that were previously infected.

Conclusions This study demonstrated that natural immunity confers longer lasting and stronger protection against infection, symptomatic disease and hospitalization caused by the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, compared to the BNT162b2 two-dose vaccine-induced immunity. Individuals who were both previously infected with SARS-CoV-2 and given a single dose of the vaccine gained additional protection against the Delta variant.

As I’ve repeatedly stated here, the working assumption here was always that “natural immunity” (i.e., acquired through recovery from disease) is at least comparable to vaccination, and possibly stronger. The authorities therefore treat recovery from documented infection on the same basis as vaccination (e.g., for issuing a “green tag”). Now it appears that not only is this protection stronger (at least against the delta variant) but longer-lasting as well.

How come? In a nutshell (caveat: informed speculation): natural immunity is less specific to one component of the virus than the mRNA vaccines, and therefore likely broader spectrum.

Of course, this is acquired at the price of getting the disease — with a risk, increasing exponentially with age, of it proceeding from the merely unpleasant upper-respiratory stage to the life-threatening lower lung stage. If only we could reliably stop the latter from happening, we’d be dealing with this epidemic quite differently…

The mind wonders what this implies for the efficacy of inactivated-virus (Sinovac, [hopefully Sinovac done right],…) vs. mRNA (Pfizer, Moderna) and viral vector (AstraZeneca,…) vaccines.

(b) also today, via the Twitter feed of Ran Balicer, I learned that a paper by his team (the research division of the Clalit HMO, Israel’s largest) came out in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Dagan, N.; Barda, N.; Kepten, E.; Miron, O.; Perchik, S.; Katz, M. A.; Hernán, M. A.; Lipsitch, M.; Reis, B.; Balicer, R. D. Safety of the BNT162b2 MRNA Covid-19 Vaccine in a Nationwide Mass Vaccination Setting. N. Engl. J. Med. 2021, 384 (15), 1412–1423.

From the over three million patients in the HMO’s database, the group assembled three very large samples matched as closely as possible in age distribution, (sub-)ethnicity, “background diseases” (as we call pre-existing conditions in Hebrew),… These groups were:

  • unvaccinated (as the control)
  • Pfizer vaccinated (Israel does not have enough people vaccinated with Moderna for meaningful statistics, and does not use AstraZeneca at all)
  • people who contracted COVID

For a time sampling interval of about a month and a half, the group then tallied for all three groups the incidence of about a dozen different “adverse events”. Below is the key graph from the paper: the “risk ratio” is greater than 1 if the adverse event occurs more frequently than in the unvaccinated control group, and less than 1 if it occurs less frequently. The “whiskers” on the dots indicate the statistical 95% confidence interval. Blue=vaccination, orange=getting COVID. The graphs are on a logarithmic scale.

Not surprisingly, things like pulmonary embolism, intracranial hemorrhage, acute kidney injury, deep vein thrombosis, arrhythmia, myocardial infarction,… are all much more frequent in COVID patients than in the control group, while their incidence for the vaccinated group is within statistical error bars the same as the control group.

The exceptions are lymphadenopathy (med-speak for “swollen lymph nodes”) and myocarditis (see our earlier coverage here). Almost 90% of cases of the latter were young men (and of course, the incidence was much higher among people with COVID). [**]

I should point out that we seem to screen much more diligently for allergies and unpredictable immune systems than other countries — I’ve been given the third degree before all three shots about weird responses I have to some antibiotics (“so are you really sure you want this?”), and so has Mrs. Arbel.

[*] The other two are Clalit (“General”, the largest) and Meuchedet(“United”). The fourth licensed HMO, Leumit (“National[ist]”), is a niche player operating that used to have a quasi-monopoly in the disputed territories. All Israeli citizens and legal residents are by law required to enroll in one of the four licensed HMOs; basic coverage is funded by our health insurance tax,

[**] Herpes zoster (“shingles”) also may be occuring more frequently than in controls (the lower error bar nearly hits 1): this is of course not a new infection with varicella zoster (“chicken pox virus”) but a flare-up of what iin about 10-20% of people remains a dormant virus after a bout of chicken pox. I could conceive of a situation where a immune system “tied up” with handling either an infection or a newly administered vaccine (of any kind) might be less able to hold a flare-up of a dormant infection at bay. But I can’t really figure why this would happen (a bit) more for vaccinees than for people with COVID (or another actual infection). I suspect that this result is a statistical fluke and that in fact it’s not different from controls either way.

Hoover Institute “Goodfellas” on Afghanistan tragedy and “Papier-Maché Tiger”

British-born Harvard historian Prof. Niall Ferguson, John Cochrane, and former National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster discuss the situation in Afghanistan and the Biden regime’s feckless response to it.

Lots of interesting observations. They specifically dismiss the notion that this was all Biden’s doing, however: if you pardon me for paraphrasing Lois McMaster Bujold [no relation], he fouled up this big because he was standing on the shoulders of many dwarves. Too many parts of Washington have become too thoroughly dysfunctional.

Niall Ferguson, BTW, says his wife (Ayaan Hirsi Ali) hasn’t ever been this angry as the last two weeks. She knows exactly what wolves people are being abandoned to.

As for him, he wonders who’s next to exploit the “papier maché tiger”: Xi invading Taiwan? Putin invading Ukraine?

Of special interest: “The Peril of Politicizing Science”

I was sent this unusual opinion piece in an otherwise scientific journal by a colleague who works in the same field (quantum chemistry) as its author.

Anna I. Krylov, “The Peril of Politicizing Science”. J. Phys. Chem. Lett. 12, 5371–5376 (2021).

The paper is not just Open Access but Creative Commons as well. I urge you to read the whole passionate cri de coeur by an author who had the misfortune of growing up in the former USSR, remembers the way science was corrupted there in the name of ideology, and is horrified to see the same happening in the USA now. Let me give you a taste:

I came of age during a relatively mellow period of the Soviet rule, post-Stalin. Still, the ideology permeated all aspects of life, and survival required strict adherence to the party line and enthusiastic displays of ideologically proper behavior. Not joining a young communist organization (Komsomol) would be career suicide—nonmembers were barred from higher education. Openly practicing religion could lead to more grim consequences, up to imprisonment. So could reading the wrong book (Orwell, Solzhenitsyn, etc.). Even a poetry book that was not on the state-approved list could get one in trouble.

Mere compliance was not sufficient—the ideology committees were constantly on the lookout for individuals whose support of the regime was not sufficiently enthusiastic. It was not uncommon to get disciplined for being too quiet during mandatory political assemblies (politinformation or komsomolskoe sobranie) or for showing up late to mandatory mass-celebrations (such as the May or November demonstrations). Once I got a notice for promoting an imperialistic agenda by showing up in jeans for an informal school event. A friend’s dossier was permanently blemished—making him ineligible for Ph.D. programs—for not fully participating in a trip required of university students: an act of “voluntary” help to comrades in collective farms (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Fourth-year chemistry students from Moscow State University (the author is on the right) enjoying a short break in the potato fields during mandatory farm labor, ca. 1987. The sticks were used as aids for separating potatoes from the mud.

Science was not spared from this strict ideological control.(6) Western influences were considered to be dangerous. Textbooks and scientific papers tirelessly emphasized the priority and pre-eminence of Russian and Soviet science. Entire disciplines were declared ideologically impure, reactionary, and hostile to the cause of working-class dominance and the World Revolution. Notable examples of “bourgeois pseudo-science” included genetics and cybernetics. Quantum mechanics and general relativity were also criticized for insufficient alignment with dialectic materialism.

Most relevant to chemistry was the antiresonance campaign (1949–1951).(7)The theory of resonating structures, which brought Linus Pauling the Nobel prize in 1954, was deemed to be bourgeois pseudoscience. Scientists who attempted to defend the merits of the theory and its utility for understanding chemical structures were accused of “cosmopolitism” (Western sympathy) and servility to Western bourgeois science. Some lost jobs. Two high-profile supporters of resonance theory, Syrkin and Dyatkina, were eventually forced to confess their ideological sins and to publicly denounce resonance. Meanwhile, other members of the community took this political purge as an opportunity to advance at the expense of others.(7,8) As noted by many scholars,(7,8)including Pauling himself,(9) the grassroots antiresonance campaign was driven by people who were “displeased with the alignment of forces in their science”.(7) This is a recurring motif in all political campaigns within science in Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, and McCarthy’s America—those who are “on the right side” of the issue can jump a few rungs and take the place of those who were canceled. By the time I studied quantum chemistry at Moscow State University, resonance theory had been rehabilitated. Yet, the history of the campaign and the injustices it entailed were not discussed in the open—the Party did not welcome conversations about its past mistakes. I remember hearing parts of the story, narrated under someone’s breath at a party after copious amounts of alcohol had loosened a tongue.

Fast forward to 2021—another century. The Cold War is a distant memory and the country shown on my birth certificate and school and university diplomas, the USSR, is no longer on the map. But I find myself experiencing its legacy some thousands of miles to the west, as if I am living in an Orwellian twilight zone. I witness ever-increasing attempts to subject science and education to ideological control and censorship. Just as in Soviet times, the censorship is being justified by the greater good. Whereas in 1950, the greater good was advancing the World Revolution (in the USSR; in the USA the greater good meant fighting Communism), in 2021 the greater good is “Social Justice” (the capitalization is important: “Social Justice” is a specific ideology, with goals that have little in common with what lower-case “social justice” means in plain English).(10−12) As in the USSR, the censorship is enthusiastically imposed also from the bottom, by members of the scientific community, whose motives vary from naive idealism to cynical power-grabbing.

Go read it all. The footnotes, BTW, contain links to many other treasures — as well as cringe-inducing examples of the pathologies she is taking a stand against.

She concludes:

Why did I devote a considerable amount of my time to writing this essay? […] The answer is simple: our future is at stake. As a community, we face an important choice. We can succumb to extreme left ideology and spend the rest of our lives ghost-chasing and witch-hunting, rewriting history, politicizing science, redefining elements of language, and turning STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education into a farce. Or we can uphold a key principle of democratic society—the free and uncensored exchange of ideas—and continue our core mission, the pursuit of truth, focusing attention on solving real, important problems of humankind.

The lessons of history are numerous and unambiguous. Despite vast natural and human resources, the USSR lost the Cold War, crumbled, and collapsed. […]

Today, STEM holds the key to solving problems far more important than the nuclear arms race: reversing climate change, fighting global hunger and poverty, controlling pandemics, and harnessing the power of new technologies (quantum computing, bioengineering, and renewable energy) for the benefit of humanity.

Normalizing ideological intrusion into science and abandoning Mertonian principles will cost us dearly. We cannot afford it.


Harry S Truman couldn’t make ends meet after the Presidency? Think again

If you ask a conservative or Republican who is his favorite (or least despised) Democratic POTUS, chances are you’ll hear Harry S Truman. The man who dropped the A bombs on Japan and ended WW II; who at Potsdam undid FDR’s worst mistakes at Yalta; who created the CIA; desegregated the armed forces;…

Here in Israel, the man’s willingness to recognize our country within minutes of its proclamation (of course, this had been coordinated) is fondly enough remember that we have a village Kfar Truman (near the airport), and you may even encounter the first or last name Truman.

I read David McCullough’s award-winning biography many years ago (as did Mrs. Arbel). While McCullough doesn’t gloss over Truman’s association with the toxic Pendergast machine in Kansas City, he makes a lot of Truman refusing to enrich himself from the presidency and in fact being in such dire financial straits post-White House that it prompted the passing of the Former Presidents Act.

Regardless of the merits of Truman’s political positions, or his likability as a plain-spoken Missourian, the narrative of Truman’s post-Presidential penury — “no support of any kind from the government other than his Army pension of $112.54 per month” — appears to be largely a myth. Thus argues a new article by Colorado law professor Paul Campos (via Instapundit) , based in part on the recently declassified personal papers of Bess Truman.

For one thing, Truman’s actual salary as POTUS, $100,000 for his 2nd term ($75,000 for his abridged 1st term) , is worth about 11x that in 2021 dollars, or almost 3x the current presidential salary of $400,000. True, unlike FDR or Hoover, he was anything but independently wealthy, with an estimated net worth of $7,400 in 1944 (about $115K in today’s dollars, according to the inflation calculator).

Campos argues, if you account for relative income, to be on the same percentile of the incoming distribution today you’d need about $3.5 million/year.

But this isn’t the whole story: there was also a $50,000/year expense account (about $550,000/year in today’s dollars) that was exempt from accounting and reporting. Furthermore, there was no requirement that unused funds be returned at the end of the presidency. And according to a note from HST found in Bess Truman’s papers, the money was essentially kept as a “rainy day fund” by the Trumans.

Additionally, the seemingly modest net income from publishing his memoirs appears to have been the result of some creative tax accounting.

As I see it, it’s quite possible that Truman felt some financial anxiety, as a result of past bad business deals and the perceived need to financially support various impecunious relatives. Hence it may be that he lobbied for the passing of a presidential pension law that he objectively didn’t need. But that he didn’t enrich himself from his office is only true by comparison with the obscene example of Clinton, Inc.

Col. (ret.) Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, takes Biden to the woodshed

Hat tip: Mrs. Arbel.

Even the NYT (!), reliable chupaculoswater-carriers for the DNC machine, now says: “the president who won the White House on a promise of competence and compassion has had trouble demonstrating much of either”. (via Instapundit).

And let me remind you of Clark’s Law (or Grey’s Law, depending on the source): any sufficiently advanced form of incompetence is functionally indistinguishable from malice.

I still remember how some of the “Haaretz readers”[*] on campus were happy that this “stupid” “ignorant” “blowhard” Trump lost the election. I answered them then: Atem `od titga`agu le-Trump (you will yet be nostalgic for Trump)…

[*] The Hebrew daily newspaper Haaretz has a readership of just a few percent of the population, and is so predictably out of touch with everybody outside its postmodern, post-Zionist, bubble that people looking for a synonym for yefe nefesh (“beautiful souls”, used sarcastically) may instead use korei iton Ha’aretz (Haaretz [newspaper] readers)as a synonym.

ADDENDUM: this is my shocked face.

Sabbath musical delight: Rick Beato interviews fusion jazz legend Pat Metheny

Rick, being a multi-instrumentalist and accomplished producer himself, is the perfect interviewer for Pat.

But this could have been a lot of jazz geekery and name-checking. And, for example, people wanting to learn more about what Jaco Pastorius [often cited as the greatest electric jazz bassist of all time] was like before he hit the big time with Weather Report won’t be disappointed.

But Pat keeps coming back to the fundamentals. I wasn’t completely surprised that Pat writes at the piano or keyboard rather than on the guitar. I was rather amused to hear him say that the best way to really get into a jazz standard or original tune is to learn to play it in most or all twelve steps, since this will bring new angles to the tune and suggest new ideas.

Something else amusing. Pat, having been an instructor at two music colleges, probably has forgotten more about harmony than I ever knew. And jazz, in many people’s imagination, is about complex extended harmonies and transmutating chord progressions of well-known tunes to the edge of recognition (and beyond). Metheny, instead, says: nothing wrong with plain triads, but your bass line shouldn’t be glued to them. Hmm… sounds a lot like, well, Tony Banks wrote many old Genesis songs? [It’s probably one reason why many of the kind of people who are turned off by jazz otherwise will “get” Pat Metheny.]

Of course, there’s the stories of his first band touring with a small van to every town that would have them. And of recording albums in just two days. (A jazz saxophonist of some “note” [groan] told me this is still the norm for jazz trio or quartet recordings he’s participated in: two days, three “sessions” of the whole set list, and best out of three takes for every tune. Maybe some splicing or punching in to fix glaring bloopers or technical issues.)

The first two albums “Bright Size Life” and “Watercolors” sold under a thousand copies — Rick Beato reveals he actually bought one of the 900 copies of BSL back in the day. “Pat Metheny Group” [a.k.a. “The White Album”, from which all except one tune are classics] was the first to sell well, and it took off from there.

The standard “James” turns out to be his musical tribute to singer-songwriter James Taylor. This is one tune he explains in some detail: a lot of Metheny tunes sound simpler than they actually are (compositionally and to play well). You could almost call it a study in first inversions, with the thirds of the triad often relegated to only the bass.

Metheny mentions several colleagues his age who could not withstand the temptations of the bottle or of worse, and are now lo longer alive. One surprising shtick of Metheny’s: on days he’s performing live, he does not eat until after the show: “I play better when I’m hungry.”

As for not comparing yourself to other musicians, Pat has my favorite line of the whole interview, “Compared to Bach, we all suck.”

Enjoy, have a great weekend, and Shabbat shalom!

COVID19 mini-update, August 20, 2021: recovery vs. vaccine immunity; Moderna superior to Pfizer?; Israel expands booster shots; FB censor fail of the day

Some important updates today:

(a) While Israel has always treated recovery from a documented infection as equivalent to vaccination, this point of view is considered almost heretical in certain other countries (USA, cough, cough). The head of the Infectious Diseases ward at [redacted] told me during a chance social meeting: “At least as good as the best vaccines, possibly better”. I could, however, not get hold of any hard data I could share here. This has changed now.

A team from Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Medicine, led by one Koen Pouwels (name sure sounds Dutch or Flemish to me) just released this preprint on their website:

(1) Pouwels, K. B.; Pritchard, E.; Matthews, P. C.; Stoesser, N.; Eyre, D. W. et al., Impact of Delta on Viral Burden and Vaccine Effectiveness against New SARS-CoV-2 Infections in the UK. Oxford univ. Prepr.

There is a lot of information there, but the main thing I wanted to highlight is this table:

blue=Pfizer; yellow=AstraZeneca; orange=Moderna; green=recovered from actual infection.
Ct<30 means a positive PCR test with a cycle count less than thirty (more likely to be symptomatic); Ct>30 means above thirty cycles (more likely to be asymptomatic, RNA debris of of past infection, or just exposure to the pathogen)

In other words, my interlocutor is correct, and “natural” immunity from past infections is fairly robust. I would love to see data on how it decays over time.

But the other bit of info is how well even a single shot of Moderna works. (The researchers did not yet have enough data for two Moderna shots: the UK predominantly uses AstraZeneca and Pfizer.)

(b) Speaking of Moderna: here is a new study from the Mayo Clinic comparing Moderna to Pfizer and unvaccinated, using a “triplet match” technique in which equally sized samples were extracted, with matching ages, ethnicities,… of Moderna vaccinees, Pfizer vaccinees, and unvaccinated. (Hat tip: Dr. Leila.)

(1) Puranik, A.; Lenehan, P. J.; Silvert, E.; Niesen, M. J. M.; Corchado-Garcia, J.; Oâ Horo, J. C.; Virk, A.; Swift, M. D.; Halamka, J.; Badley, A. D.; et al. Comparison of Two Highly-Effective MRNA Vaccines for COVID-19 during Periods of Alpha and Delta Variant Prevalence. medRxiv  Prepr. Serv. Heal. Sci. 2021, 2, 1–29.

This is probably the moneygraph (literally, not “moneygraf”):

mRNA-1273=Moderna; BNT162b2=Pfizer-BioNTech

This graph is nothing short of stunning to me. We already knew Pfizer and Moderna both offer very strong (95% range) initial protection after two doses, and above we saw that Moderna does considerably better after the first dose — but now it also appears that Moderna’s protection is longer-lasting than Pfizer’s. From the abstract:

[…] Comparing rates of infection between matched individuals fully vaccinated with mRNA-1273 [=Moderna] versus BNT162b2 [=Pfizer] across Mayo Clinic Health System sites in multiple states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Arizona, Florida, and Iowa), mRNA-1273 conferred a two-fold risk reduction against breakthrough infection compared to BNT162b2 (IRR [=incidence rate ratio]= 0.50, 95% CI [=confidence interval]: 0.39-0.64). In Florida, which is currently experiencing its largest COVID- 19 surge to date, the risk of infection in July after full vaccination with mRNA-1273 was about 60% lower than after full vaccination with BNT162b2 (IRR: 0.39, 95% CI: 0.24-0.62). […]

(c) Israel is now over 60% third shots of over-60s (and one-quarter in the 50-59 age cohort), and reportedly the results are so encouraging that the cabinet decided this morning to expand the campaign to anyone over 40 who wants them (and hasn’t had a jab in at least the past 5 months).

“[…] According to experts on the health panel cited by the network, those vaccinated with a booster shot are six to eight times less likely to have a severe case of the disease and four times less likely to get infected, compared with those who received two doses.

The experts also increasingly believe that the Delta variant is not particularly capable of bypassing the Pfizer vaccine used in Israel, rather, it is simply the waning effect of previous shots that is causing vaccinated people to fall ill, according to former Health Ministry director-general Gabi Barbash.”

In this interview (in Hebrew) on YNet, Prof. Ran Balicer, head of the research department of Clalit Health Services [our largest HMO], sounds guardedly optimistic. “The bad news is that we have the fastest spread in the world right now, the good news is that in the 60+ group [the first to get the boosters], the growth slowed down, now maybe has come to a halt.” He shared this graph on his Tw*tter feed:

the pink line in the left graph is the 7-day moving average

Now does that mean we will have to get boosters every 6 months until this epidemic ends? Or, my mind wonders, give Moderna as the booster and then maybe get at least 1 year out of it? (I’ve gotten multiple reports of first-time vaccinees now being given Moderna here, in light of (b).)

I should point out that there is at least one widely used vaccine group with a 3-dose schedule in months 0, 1, and 6: Havrix, Twinix, etc. for Hepatitis B. (Twinix is a mixture of Havrix with a Hepatitis A vaccine. Hepatitis A is a milder, but much more contagious disease, often foodborne. Both diseases are endemic in the entire Middle East, so we got Twinix when we first moved here.) At least against Hepatitis B, protection from 3 doses appears to be long-lasting. ()

(d) which brings me to the Derpseal of the Week. I have gone on a social media detox diet a while ago, but today, i response to a comment I’d left in some talkback section of a newspaper, Facebook decided to censor me for posting a “spam link”. This was a link to a really really dank conspiracy theory website, namely…. the Hepatitis B Foundation

Comment essays on the Afghanistan debacle: the death of accountability, and “everything is possible when nothing is real”

Instapundit in the New York Post: Fire the military and intelligence bigs who bungled Afghanistan — now

[…] When the Soviets left Afghanistan, they were defeated, but they left in order; we snuck out like a guilty lover with a husband approaching the front door.

Our efforts were marked by institutional failure at every level, from the lack of planning at the top to the spooks who told us, last Thursday, that the Afghan army might hold out for more than 90 days (it lasted fewer than 90 hours). These are the same intelligence agencies, by the way, that spent four years promoting the exploded “Russian-collusion” fable. […]

Meanwhile, over the past few months, Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has been jabbering about “white rage” and helping our soldiers master the subtle dialectics of Ibram X. Kendi. We would have been better off if he had read Clausewitz and Sun Tzu, though Milley did inform us that he has read Karl Marx.

This is the biggest foreign failure in most Americans’ lifetimes, and there needs to be an accounting. The normal course of business after government bungling nowadays is that everyone involved tut-tuts a bit, then gets a raise and a promotion, while the government goes back to business as usual.

But in a sane nation, failure would be punished. […]

Meanwhile, we also need a probe, with independent investigators with strong powers. That should be followed by deep structural changes in a military that hasn’t really won a war since well before I was born. Bottom line: Our military must be disciplined to win wars, rather than promote gender ideology and postmodern race theories (at home or abroad).

None of this will transpire, of course. Our society is run by a technocratic-managerial class that never pays a price for failure. Democracy is a glossy finish over an unelected administrative state that isn’t really accountable to anyone and measures success or failure in terms of budgets, p.r. and power, not results.

The excuse for this is that the experts at the top are good at what they do, and ordinary Americans would make a hash of things if they had too much say. That excuse, however, has now been decisively buried in Afghanistan’s harsh soil.

Read the whole thing.

(b) Two essays by Thales at The Declination

(c) Allister Heath in the Daily Telegraph:

[…] Twenty years on, America’s global plan lies in ruins, its elites confounded on almost every issue, the stupidity and incompetence on display over the Afghan withdrawal confirming that they don’t understand the rest of the world, and aren’t fit to govern their own country, let alone the globe. Blinded by a simplistic universalism, they no longer understand religion, tribalism, history, national differences or why countries want to govern themselves. […]

In the Middle East, every country or territory touched by America is in chaos. Afghanistan is back in the hands of the Taliban. Iraq is a nightmare, Syria was the scene of monstrous killings as the West looked on and Libya is a calamity. The Clinton-backed Israel-Palestine peace plan failed: the Gaza withdrawal merely emboldened anti-Semitic Hamas terrorists. Biden’s administration is still sucking up to Iran’s two-faced regime. Does it not see that it is intent on going nuclear and destroying Israel? As for the Gulf States, largely US protectorates, what will their fate be when demand for oil collapses as a result of net zero? The Middle East’s woes have only just begun.[…]

China can no longer be contained: it has grabbed Hong Kong, and will eventually turn to Taiwan. What then? Will America be dragged into a nuclear World War III, also involving another of America’s few imperial success stories, Japan? Will that be how everything comes tumbling down? Or will Washington walk away? And what about India and Pakistan? […]

America’s internal problems are immense: its constitution is broken, its predilection for second-rate gerontocrats such as Biden unrivalled. Racked with self-doubt, its elites in the grip of a bizarre “awakening” centred around a nihilistic, ungrateful self-loathing, it no longer has values to sell, neither capitalism nor democracy nor the American dream. How can people who live in terror of “micro-aggressions” find it in themselves to defeat real evils? 

(d) A seemingly unrelated essay in Quillette about luxury belief systems

The course of the industrial age has witnessed the shift identified by Bertrand Russell: we’ve become so comfortable as a society that, for the vast majority of people in the West, mere survival has completely faded away as a concern. Instead, we spend more and more of our time and energy engaged in status competitions with other people. Our behaviours and beliefs no longer affect our survival in any serious way; they impact only our relative social, political, or economic status.

This has two important consequences. The first is that the need for our beliefs to connect or respond to reality has become increasingly unimportant. We are free to believe literally anything […] None of it really matters—the lights still come on in your house, your car still runs, the grocery stores remain stocked with food. As nanotechnology expert J. Storrs Hall puts it, humans have an enormous capacity to hold beliefs not because they are true, but because they are advantageous to hold. Once upon a time, it was more advantageous to know the facts of the world than not to, so we developed science. Today, our beliefs are less a reflection of our reality than a means of identifying our respective political tribes and negotiating our status within them.

The upshot is that belief has an increasingly Veblenian character. As Hall’s argument is summarized, “The result of this is that we have major social institutions whose support comes in substantial part from virtue signalling rather than from actual useful results … they include health care, education, and environmental and safety regulation, among others.” “Luxury beliefs”—such as the denial of climate change by the Right, or the persistent denial of personal responsibility by the Left—do harm people, eventually. But they tend not to impact the people at the top of the status ladder; it’s those lower in the hierarchy who’ll ultimately suffer.

The second consequence of belief becoming a form of status competition is that life increasingly takes on the character of a zero-sum game, by which one person’s gain is another’s loss.

We are the children of concrete and steel
This is the place where the truth is concealed
This is the time when the lie is revealed
Everything is possible when nothing is real

ADDENDUM: “Something is wrong with the President“. Cue “No-One At The Bridge” by Rush.

The three (actually, four) Defenestrations of Prague

YouTube personality Simon Whistler refers to this as “the most extreme version of ‘throw the bums out’” Defenestration (from the Latin word for window, fenestra — cf. French fenêtre, German Fenster, Dutch venster) literally means the act of throwing somebody out the window. [*]

I knew since junior high history class about “the” Defenestration of Prague, on May 23, 1618, where Protestant nobles infuriated with the decision of the new Habsburg emperor to apply a Catholic “religious test” to nobles and officials, grabbed two counselors of the emperor, plus their secretary, and threw them out of an upper-story window of the building in the right pane of the picture below. This event kicked off the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), in per capita terms the bloodiest war in European history: one-fifth of the entire population of the Holy Roman Empire (in some areas of present-day Germany over 50%!). [To be sure, in absolute numbers the deadliest was World War Two and its associated genocide campaigns.]

By miracle, none of these people died. Catholic legend has it that the Virgin Mary and the angels caught the falling men and gently brought them down; Protestant legend that they fell in a pile of manure, which broke their fall. As pointed out in the lecture by Oxford history professor Peter Wilson embedded below, the more likely scenario is that they hit the sloping walls on their way down and subsequently had a rough slide, rather that an outright fall. The secretary sped away and went to warn the Habsburg Emperor Ferdinand II, and was rewarded with a peerage as Baron von Hohenfall [=high fall] — I couldn’t make this up.

Little did I know this was only the second of three (actually third of four) Prague Defenestrations, if by far the best-known outside the Czech Republic. It was likely inspired by the First: on July 30, 1419, a group of Czech Hussites (i.e, followers of the Czech proto-Protestant preacher Jan Hus[**]) were marching through town, past Old Town Hall, whence a stone was thrown at their leader, the priest Jan Zelivsky. This so enraged the group that they stormed the town hall and threw the burgomaster, the judge, and several town council members to their deaths from the windows. This so shocked King Wenceslas IV [Vaclav IV in Czech] that he died of a heart attack.

The second , often not counted, was a similar incident on September 24, 1483 where followers of the Utraquist Party (a neo-Hussite group taking their name from the doctrine of the Communion of Both Kinds, i.e., bread and wine), fearing for their influence, defenestrated the mayor and several town councilors.

The final, modern, defenestration was a very different event, after the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia. On March 10, 1948, holdover Czech foreign minister Jan Masaryk — the son of the founding father and first President of Czechoslovakia, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk — “committed suicide” by jumping from a window of the Foreign Ministry. It was widely assumed among the Czechs that he received some “assistance” in this “suicide”; eventually, a 2004 Czech police investigation concluded that Masaryk had been “suicided” by NKVD agents, having outlived his usefulness to the new Communist regime.

[*] While other West Germanic languages derive their words for a window from Latin, the English word “window” actually comes from Old Norse, like “vindu” and “vindauge” in modern Norwegian Bokmål and Nynorsk, respectively. I will cover the Norwegian Language Dispute between “too Danish” Bokmål [“book language”] and “too folksy” Nynorsk [“new Norwegian”] some other time.

[**] Jan Hus was himself influenced by the British priest and theologian John Wycliffe (ca. 1320-1384), probably the first to formulate doctrines we would now recognize as “Protestant”.


Afghanistan tragedy: “0bamacare and the DMV had a baby”

Read this Twitchy thread about the complete fustercluck that is the evacuation “plan” — and weep.

Razorfist is his usual diplomatic and restrained self

And Brian Williams got not quite the reaction he bargained for when he interviewed an Afghanistan vet on MSNBC.

Even 0bama’s defense secretary Leon Panetta now says Biden “doesn’t have his act together“.

Sadly, it’s not the first time that the US has hung out to dry people who worked for it, fought for it, or rose up at its behest. Nor is this, alas, the sole province of D administrations. This, however, sets a new benchmark.

The antiDemocratic Party and its Propagandaabteilung the MSM have been trying to convince us for four years that Donald Trump was a Putin puppet. From my perch in distant Tel-Aviv, it looks like an Imax-level exercise in projection.

Why? I must be about the 1,247th person to ask that rhetorical question, but: looking at Zhu Bi Den’s actions since he assumed office… if he actually were owned lock, stock, and barrel by the CCP regime, just what would he have done differently?

UPDATE: via Instapundit:

UPDATE 2: Matt Margolis sums up how even the never-Trumper conservatives are finally waking up and realizing what a giant turdouche sandwich the Biden misadministration is. He even quotes a tweet by Meghan McCain:

COVID micro-update, August 16, 2021: Israel expands Pfizer booster campaign

Am well, simply buried in too much work.

Israel’s booster vaccination campaign of the 60+ age bracket had already reached 60% of the population as of yesterday —- response from this age group exceeded expectations. COVID czar Prof. Nachman Ash said in an interview that if the campaign is working, we should start seen a drop in over-60 hospitalizations as early as next week.

Starting Friday, the campaign was widened to include everyone over fifty, including yours truly. I got my third jab yesterday: the local HMO clinic was crowded with people who had booked appointments. Despite the 1-hour delay this induced on everyone, the ‘jabbers’ did not skimp on the usual allergy questionnaires — which may be one reason we have remarkably few severe adverse incidents. (The default here, if you have a history of allergic reactions to flu shots etc, is to say “maybe you should skip this one”.)

I felt a strong sense of fatigue a couple hours after the shot, went to bed, and slept like a log for eight hours (rather than my usual six): by morning, all I felt was soreness in the deltoid muscle (the injection site). Mrs. Arbel, who had gotten her jab in the first cohort because she is in a risk group, ran a fever the first night, but again was fine in the morning.

The decision to expand to the 50-59 age band was not unanimous in the responsible panel. Public health chief Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis initially opposed it, saying we should finish with the 60+ group (which is at highest risk) before moving down to the 50+ group — while our system can routinely handle about 100,000 jabs a day, she feared the expansion would lead to a slowdown among the 60+. One other member cited that while we know there is a loss of efficacy against symptomatic infection among the elderly, there isn’t enough data to say whether or not this is also the case in the 50-59 band. (Anecdotally, one doctor told me every ICU COVID patient under 60 in their hospital, except one, was unvaccinated.)

Some members actually wanted to go down to age 40, but that proposal did not carry the day as the arguments against going down to 50 apply a fortiori here.

ADDENDUM August 18, 6am:

(a) Is there precedent for widely used vaccines with a 0-1-6 three-shot schedule? Yes, hepatitis B. (I’d forgotten about ours — we got two hepatitis B shots before we first came here two and a half decades ago, then a booster 5-6 months later. Hepatitis B is endemic in the entire Middle East — Israel less so, but we weren’t sure at the time where else there we might be stationed.)

(b) Some initial positive signs. More background here.

VJ Day and 75 India Independence Day

On August 15, 1945, the Showa Emperor [Tenno Showa] Hirohito read out a speech on Japanese radio that has become known as the “Jewel Voice Broadcast”. [The term refers not to the sound of Hirohito’s voice, but to the extremely formal court-Japanese in which the speech was written — Mrs. Arbel is at pains to point out to me.] A translation into more or less idiomatic English from the website of Mt. Holyoke College:

To our good and loyal subjects: After pondering deeply the general trends of the world and the actual conditions obtaining in our empire today, we have decided to effect a settlement of the present situation by resorting to an extraordinary measure.

We have ordered our Government to communicate to the Governments of the United States, Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union that our empire accepts the provisions of their joint declaration.

To strive for the common prosperity and happiness of all nations as well as the security and well-being of our subjects is the solemn obligation which has been handed down by our imperial ancestors and which we lay close to the heart.

[…] we declared war on America and Britain out of our sincere desire to insure Japan’s self-preservation and the stabilization of East Asia […]

But now the war has lasted for nearly four years. Despite the best that has been done by everyone–the gallant fighting of our military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of out servants of the State and the devoted service of our 100,000,000 people–the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage […]

[…] Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.

[Read: it would be right and honorable for all Japan to fight to the death rather than surrender, but we cannot be responsible for the end of humanity. That is, the two A-bombs gave Hirohito what he needed to get his subjects to swallow the bitter medicine of surrender.]

[…] We are keenly aware of the inmost feelings of all of you, our subjects. However, it is according to the dictates of time and fate that we have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the [unavoidable] and suffering what is unsufferable. […]

Let the entire nation continue as one family from generation to generation, ever firm in its faith of the imperishableness of its divine land, and mindful of its heavy burden of responsibilities, and the long road before it. Unite your total strength to be devoted to the construction for the future. Cultivate the ways of rectitude, nobility of spirit, and work with resolution so that you may enhance the innate glory of the Imperial State and keep pace with the progress of the world.

And thus August 15 has been marked as VJ-Day [Victory over Japan Day] and with that the official end of World War Two, though in Australia VP-Day [Victory in the Pacific Day] is used, by analogy with VE-Day or Victory in Europe Day. The actual Instrument of Surrender was not signed until September 2, aboard the USS Missouri.

Here is some historical footage from the day in England: Clement Attlee, the Labour politician who had pulled an upset victory against Winston Churchill’s Tories, addresses the nation to say war is over.

And this rare color footage of VJ Day in the US is overlaid with the voice of President Harry S. Truman as he shares the happy news that was purchased so dearly.

By coincidence, exactly two years later India declared its independence, and today is hence India’s 75th Independence Celebration (if you count the original declaration as Nr. 1 rather than the usual Nr. 0). Happy birthday, India!

The solo in “In That Quiet Earth” by Genesis: a study in exotic modal scales

“In That Quiet Earth”, from the Genesis album “Wind And Wuthering” (the last studio album Steve Hackett played on), is an instrumental that starts of as a kind-of fusion jazz waltz (drummer Phil Collins was moonlighting with fusion band Brand X) — then a sudden change of feel occurs and, over heavy, chugging rhythms that remind one a bit of King Crimson’s darker songs, Tony Banks plays a snarling synthesizer solo that evokes exotic, even extraterrestrial scenes.

Tony was my first keyboard hero. Unlike Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman (or even Jon Lord), he saw himself not as a virtuoso but as a songwriter first — his solos are not the most demanding to play (though “Riding The Scree” is a bit of a finger-buster) but invariably are there to serve the song, set a mood. His solos were composed rather than improvised (though they might originate in a collage of ideas from improvisation sessions), and played note-perfect live.

“ElektrikHob” just posted a transcription of the solo. He indicates the scales underneath the notes. The audio has “ElektrikHob” doubling the solo on top of the original audio to show his transcription is correct.

Here is the original in the context of the whole track (solo starts at 2:42)

Aside from a melody fragment that’s effectively based on a “line cliché” (chord progression in which one voice follows a descending chromatic scale) the solo uses three modes:

  • E Dorian (the 2nd mode of the D major scale): this is nothing unusual, as the Dorian mode often substitutes for minor in all sorts of nonclassical music, from Miles Davis to “What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor” to lots of funk tunes
  • G mixolydian b6, also known as “Aeolian dominant” (G aeolian #3). This is an unusual one. It’s actually the same as one specific Indian raga mode, and hence is sometimes referred to as “the Hindu scale”. It can also be seen as the 5th mode of C melodic minor — in plain English, take the C [ascending] melodic minor scale C-D-Eb-F-G-A-B-C but starting from its 5th note, G.
    Here, that scale is used for recapping the opening theme of the album.
  • D Dorian #4 — this is actually the 4th mode of A harmonic minor, A-B-C-D-E-F-G#-A. [*] This one is quite intriguing: for one, it has a diminished 7th chord on the tonic [“home note”], which several of Tony’s licks exploit. In fact, the ending section of the song sees four successive downward modulations in minor thirds, from B down to Ab to F and finally to D, after which the band segues into the album closer, the ballad “Afterglow”. [**]

Tony also uses rhythmic variation (syncopated melodies, triplet figures, sixteenth note runs,…) to great effect. I suspect the solo was played on an ARP 2600 — version 4 and later had a duophonic keyboard[**] — which would be needed for the descending parallel thirds pattern in the first D dorian #4 passage.

Not the flashiest solo, but one of the most effective in context. When I first heard it almost 40 years ago, I had an image of a battle in a desert on a distant planet, or on Earth in a distant future…

[*] Better known is the 5th mode, E phrygian #3, or “E phrygian dominant”, is also known as “the flamenco scale” of Spanish folk music, the “fraigische steiger” of klezmer music, or the “Ahava Rabba” mode of synagogue melodies. Tool’s “Forty-Six and Two” is possibly my favorite metal song using that mode.

[**] Modulations in successive minor or major thirds were one of Franz Liszt’s beloved tricks. Like other progressive rock keyboardists, Tony had classical training (first with his mother, a piano teacher by trade, then with another private teacher), and his repeatedly expressed his appreciation for late-Romantic and Impressionist composers in interviews.

[***] Duophonic means you could play two notes at a time, rather than just one as with most synthesizers then — which is why keyboardists relied on Mellotrons, organs, or string machines for chords).

While the Polymoog offered a kind of limited polyphony, analog polyphonic instruments in the sense we understand it now followed shortly later with the Yamaha CS-80 (temperamental and heavy but a _beast_ of an instrument), Dave Smith’s legendary Prophet-5, and various Oberheim models.

Sir Dermot Turing on the true story of breaking Enigma

Sir John Dermot Turing, 12th Baronet Turing, is a nephew of “the” Alan Turing.

An author as well as a lawyer and a Ph.D. geneticist, he has written several books on the real Alan Turing (who didn’t much resemble the character played by Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game). Here he is in a lecture about the origins of the Enigma code breaking effort. Enjoy!

And here is another lecture, at Oxford University

[Buried in work up to my ears. Hopefully back to scheduled programming soon.]

COVID19 mini-update, Perseid Meteor Shower Day edition: Israeli PM nixes 4th lockdown; sitrep from Japan

(a) “My heart bleeds for everyone who lost a loved one to COVID; it also bleeds for every small business owner who sees their life’s work destroyed by lockdowns”. Thus [translation mine] spoke Israeli PM Naftali Bennett at a press conference.

Instead, NIS 2.5 billion will allocated for 2,000 permanent hospital staff slots at all levels — since I know Israeli public hospitals to be chronically understaffed[*], this will have benefits well beyond the COVID era. The hospitals are told to brace for a large wave of more delta variant severe cases “until the booster shots campaign does its job”. The latter is presently limited to age 60 and over, as well as the immunocompromised — but the campaign may be expanded to the 45-60 age bracket soon, at which point I will get my own booster. (Mrs. Arbel is in a risk group so got hers early.)

Intriguingly, several sources have told me about first-time vaccinees now being given Moderna instead of Pfizer, at least at Clalit (the largest of the four licensed HMOs). While Moderna is based on the same mRNA technology as Pfizer, I yesterday linked to an intriguing preprint according to which a 1st Moderna shot is significantly more protective against the delta variant than a 1st Pfizer shot.

Summarizing an internal report I have seen down to an elevator pitch: the epidemiologists who wrote it assume Israel will follow trends in the UK, with a sharp further rise in cases (delta is undeniably faster spreading, and Israel is very densely populated) followed by an almost equally steep drop when the new herd immunity threshold is approaching. Moreover (as the Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz openly said in an interview), we may be facing several more variant waves in the future and going in lockdown every time is simply not a realistic approach.

Unlike in the US, say, where enthusiasm for lockdowns and restrictions is mostly the province of one of the two major parties and opposition to them that for another, both attitudes run across the political spectrum here — plus our medical establishment stays clear of partisan politics, and our rotating ‘COVID czars’ come from the trenches rather than government bureaucracy (e.g., Roni Gamzu MD went back to being the CEO of Tel-Aviv’s largest hospital, his successor was the head of the IDF Medical Corps, and the current incumbent is on leave from his position as CEO of Sieff Hospital in Tzfat/Safed). This makes a rational discussion possible about matters that immediately become shouting matches and “180-ism” in the USA.[**]

(b) What about Japan? “Masgramondou”, a.k.a. “Micronetia” posted a very long and detailed sitrep from the rural Japanese prefecture where he lives.

Japan has been able to cope, even in dense metropolitan areas like Tokyo, without heavy lockdowns. Mask-wearing, quibbles about its usefulness aside, is a cultural norm in general during epidemics or when ill — not a “hill to die upon” pro and con, the way it (exasperatingly) is in the US — but it’s not universally practiced and apparently not really enforced. Strict hygiene is part and parcel of life to begin with, and perhaps a degree of physical distance that one doesn’t see in, say, Mediterranean countries.

But Masgramondou points especially to the low percentage of cases that turn severe. After all, 10,000 cases of mild COVID is just a nuisance, but 600 severe cases out of 10,000 is a local health crisis.

Why such a low incidence of severe cases in Japan? Masgramondou points to several factors: very few obese people (except for sumo wrestlers), (relatedly) low incidence of diabetes, seniors staying active and outdoorsy for as long as possible, and hence vitamin D deficiency fairly rare,…

(c) speaking of severe cases: aside from Nadir Arber’s Exo-CD24 “cytokine storm blocker” that cured 93% of serious COVID patients in a clinical trial in Greece (at the time the clinical trial started, Israel had too few severe cases for a statistically meaningful trial), the Health Ministry has now given permission for expanded use of MesenCure, which gets about nine out of ten severe patients out of the hospital. More and faster, please.

(d) Finally, as for the variant that is especially dangerous to women and nursing home residents, the AndrewCuomo variant, Powerline posted a midweek special “Cuomo schadenfreude edition” of their This Week In Pictures.

Part of the funnies are the cringeworthy headlines drooling over The Ghoul. Tim Pool regrets that Cuomo ends up resigning over his personal foibles rather than over shipping COVID patients back to nursing homes (leading to many thousands of unnecessary deaths). So did Mrs. Arbel: I could not help recalling Al Capone, who was finally put in the clink over tax violations that were positively tame compared to his organized crime activities — but on which it was much easier to secure a conviction in court.

[*] This is one reason we, and most who can afford it, carry private supplemental insurance. As socialized medical systems go, Israel’s is possibly the most cost-effective in the world, but even here, it’s fraying at the edges.

[**] It isn’t like we lack shouting matches and kneejerk “he does this, so we do the exact opposite” — but here this tends to be on such matters of existential importance as a prayer service at the Western Wall led by a female rabbi [non-Orthodox, obviously]. We are quite capable of broad consensus, however grudgingly, when facing existential threats. This even applies to Jewish-Arab relations — Jewish and Arab medical personnel understand quite clearly that the virus does not care whether you wear an Islamic headscarf, an Orthodox Jewish skullcap, or neither.

ADDENDUM: what about mind viruses more insidious than COVID (as spotted by Damon Linker, retweeted by the Jerusalem Post staff).


My theory that the seeds of radical environmentalism and wokebaggery are psychological warfare by space aliens who want to ensure our species never expands from Sol III seems ever more compelling.

New COVID variant, especially dangerous to women and nursing home residents, resigns as governor; a reflection on the UN “Climate Code Red”

Some quick updates today:

(A) I was overjoyed to read that Andrew “The Ghoul” Cuomo resigned today as governor of New York State

Dig for gold, dig for fame
You dig to make your name
Are you pacified?

All the wants you waste
All the things you’ve chased…

Then it all crashes down
And you break your crown
And you point your finger
But there’s no one around
Just want one thing
Just to play the king
But the castle’s crumbled
And you’re left with just a name

Where’s yer crown, King Nothing!

(B) speaking of COVID variants other than AndrewCuomo: this preprint indicates that Moderna, the direct competitor to Pfizer (both use the same mRNA technology) may be significantly more protective than Pfizer against the delta variant

(C) So the United Nebbich has decided that we have a climate Code Red. A while ago, I was in a lecture hall and was told by the hectoring lecturer that being a “climate denier” was the moral equivalent of being a Shoah denier. I got up and left. Emotional blackmail has no place in science.

But as my daughter asked me the other day “why don’t you believe in climate change”, this is perhaps a good occasion to break down the answer into components.

  • do I believe that climate changes? Of course it does, it always has, and always will. The
  • do I believe that there may be an anthropogenic (“man-made”) component to this change? Yes, almost certainly
  • do I believe that this is the dominant factor? Here is where I part company with the Church of AGW
  • do I believe that AGW is destroying the planet? No
  • do I believe in “saving the environment”? Yes, if it addresses concrete problems; no, if it is a mere exercise in virtue signaling.
  • do I believe that combating AGW is sufficient reason for a radical reconstruction of the world economy? I see this as a cure in search of a disease, a cure that will almost certainly have worse consequences than the disease itself
  • do I believe “the science is settled”? I am a scientist in my day job, and always have passionately believed in science as a human endeavor that has empowered more humans than all political liberation movements in history put together. But believing in science is not the same as believing in “scientism” (the turning of a certain type of technocratic politicized science into a civil religion).
  • do I believe that an agenda hides between a lot of climate hysteria? Definitely, ranging from geopolitical power games to wet dreams of a soft-totalitarian oligarchic collectivism

(D) I haven’t started a Tartuffe of the Week Award, because there are too many deserving candidates. Still, the “private jets and no masks” 60th birthday bash for the 44th POTUS (a.k.a. the Crook County Machine Messiah) should get Barack Hypokritos Obama at least the Order of Conspicuous Tartuffian Merit.