Mildred Fish-Harnack, the only American to be executed by the Third Reich for involvement in the _German_ anti-Nazi underground

The Times of Israel had a feature on Rebecca Donner’s new book, “All The Frequent Troubles Of Our Days”, about the life and tragic death of her great-great-aunt, Mildred Fish-Harnack. The title of the article claims that she “led the largest resistance group in Nazi Germany” — which would have been news to the Valkyrie plotters. Granted, hyperbole is the stock in trade of newspaper headline writers.

I speed-read the book: I was familiar with parts of the story, as the Harnack family was related by marriage to the Bonhoeffer, Delbrück, and von Dohnanyi families, two of which feature through secondary characters in my WW II alternate history “Operation Flash”. Also, I had read Red Orchestra chief Leopold Trepper‘s autobiography, “Le Grand Jeu” (The Great Game) in my youth.

At any rate, Donner’s book is neither an objective history nor a historical novel (which her editor felt she should write instead), more a sort of docudrama. In an interview, she said she was inspired to write it also by the 2016 election (oh, puhleeze). Overall, it is an excellent read, written with obvious admiration for her ancestor.

Mildred Fish was born in 1902 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to parents of German ancestry (like much of the town’s population at the time). She learned to speak and write German fluently in her youth. Her father (who passed away when she was an adolescent) had been a teacher; she followed in his path, getting a Bachelor’s and then a Master’s Degree in English at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

In 1926, she joined the faculty of the Milwaukee State Normal School [today U. of Wisconsin – Milwaukee] as a lecturer in English. There she met Arvid Harnack, Doctor of Law and a nephew of the German Lutheran theologian Adolf von Harnack[*]; Arvid had come to the US on a Rockefeller Fellowship. After a brief, apparently passionate affair they married; unusual for the time, Mildred hyphenated her name rather than taking the surname Harnack. Arvid returned to Germany at the end of his fellowship, Mildred joined him there a year later, on a fellowship from the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) to work on a doctorate on American literature, first in Jena, then at the Liebig University in Giessen (where Arvid got a second doctorate, with a thesis on “The Pre-Marxist Workers Movement in the USA”). As you might have guessed from the title, the couple were already involved with far-left politics at the time.

She later got a Humboldt Foundation fellowship to study and lecture at what is now the Humboldt University of Berlin. She was a popular lecturer there (she introduced her students to then-recent American writers like John Dos Passos and Walt Whitman), but was told in early 1932 that her services were no longer required. Instead, she found an outlet for her energy and teaching skill as an English teacher at the Berliner Abendgymnasium, a night school for adults who had not had the benefit of an academic-track high school and wanted to remedy this.

Arvid too saw his academic career thwarted because of his far-left views, then completely blocked after the National Socialist takeover and the forced Gleichschaltung [“switching into line”] of the universities. (At least part of the academic establishment appears to have needed little “switching”, as the contemptible behavior of such figures as Martin Heidegger and Johannes Stark illustrates.) From 1931 until 1933, Arvid Harnack had been co-running (with his Doktorvater/Ph.D. advisor Friedrich Lenz) a “Scientific Society for the Study of the Soviet Planned Economy”, meeting of which were attended by figures ranging from Marxists to the maverick nationalist writer Ernst Jünger, and even a Nazi politician or two.

Ironically, Arvid Harnack, barried from a position in academia, did get one in the Reich’s government apparatus! He worked as an expert at the Reich Economic Ministry in 1933, rising to the rank of Oberregierungsrat (Senior Government Counselor) in 1938. He appears to have been recruited by the GRU (Soviet military intelligence) as early as 1932, during a “study trip” to Russia, but later both Harnacks also supplied intel to the First Secretary of the US Embassy, Donald R. Heath . Ms. Donner claims he held “two positions, one at the U.S. embassy in Berlin and one in the ranks of a department that has no official name or organizational structure, although soon it will come under the auspices of a hastily cobbled-together wartime intelligence group called the Office of the Coordinator of Information, the precursor to what will eventually become—after several iterations, upheavals, shake-ups, and shakedowns—the Central Intelligence Agency.” I could not readily find other sources that he actually worked for them — OCI was only founded in July 1941, less than half a year before the Reich declared war on the USA. (June 13, 1942, FDR split it into the public Office of War Information and the clandestine Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA.) Still, it is quite possible that Heath indeed was involved in information gathering — his young son, under the cover of taking German lessons from Mildred, remembers acting as a courier.

There was never a group that named itself the Rote Kapelle (Red Orchestra): that moniker was coined by their pursuers, specifically by the Abwehr office in Belgium who first picked up Morse transmissions to the Soviets in June 1941. [Colloquially, Morse code telegraphists were referred to as “pianists” at the time — hence “orchestra”.] Instead, there were a loose alliance numbering several interconnected groups in Germany alone: one circle around the Harnacks, another around a Luftwaffe lieutenant named Harro Schulze-Boysen and his wife Libertas (“Libs” to her friends), who came from one of Germany’s most socially prominent families (her relatives included a former lover of the Kaiser. (Later, one would marry into the Spencer-Churchill family to become the 11th Duchess of Marlborough.[**]) Schulze-Boysen worked at the Luftwaffe Ministry; none other than his supreme chief Goering himself had been a witness at the Schulze-Boysen’s wedding.

A Jewish communist named Herbert Baum (died under “severe interrogation” June 1942) ran yet another group. Also involved was Adam Kuckhoff (married to Mildred’s close friend Greta Kuckhoff). Arvid’s brother Falk Harnack, a student in Munich, was involved with the White Rose society there, which was Christian and pacifist rather than left-wing in its orientation. (Unlike many members, Falk survived to become a screenwriter after the war.)

By marriage, the Harnacks were related at one or two removes to people in the conservative resistance group working out of the Abwehr (military intelligence) headquarters: legal expert Hans von Dohnanyi and Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.[***]

While many “Rote Kapelle” activists were either Marxists or at least socialists, this was definitely not the case for all of them.

In contrast, the Belgian and French cells were run by seasoned GRU operative Leopold Trepper.

At any rate, a radioman for the group was caught in Brussels (through signal triangulation). Under protracted torture, he gave up the code: a pile of encrypted messages waiting to be transmitted was decrypted, and found to contain both information about the upcoming Case Blue (the upcoming Wehrmacht drive for Stalingrad)… and addresses of “safe houses” in Berlin. These led directly to the arrests of the Schulze-Boysens and many others: the Harnacks were arrested during a holiday on the Baltic coast.

[It should be noted that the “Red Orchestra” trials were kept in camera, no news published, even relatives of the executed were sworn to secrecy under threat they themselves might be in the dock.]

The book paints the prosecutor, Manfred Roeder, as an ogre. Journalist Heinz Höhne, in his 1971 book Kennwort: Direktor (“Code name: Director”, originally serialized in Der Spiegel, where Höhne was editor of the Anglo-American desk) paints a more complex picture here (in German). (The late Höhne was extremely well-informed about the inner workings of the Reich.)

It appears that the original plan was to put the accused in front of a People’s [Kangaroo] Court: however, the military court system asserted its jurisdiction on cases of espionage for a hostile army, and tried to guard a vestige of judicial independence and procedural safeguards. That Schulze-Boysen and Harnack had let themselves be recruited by Soviet intelligence, not even people deep into regime change plots like Hans Oster [the Abwehr’s #2] could swallow, let alone the army judges: however, it appears they made plays to save some of the others from the gallows (and succeeded in some cases, such as Greta Kuckhoff). Arvid Harnack was a lost cause, but the judges found Mildred only guilty of Beihilfe (aiding and abetting), not of Hochverrat (high treason, i.e., against the regime — which theoretically carried only a prison sentence) not of Landesverrat (treason against the country, which carried the death penalty), nor of the “rubber band crime” of Wehrkraftzersetzung (subversion of military strength, also punishable by death). Mildred was thus at first only sentenced to six years in prison.

When Hitler, y”sh, got the sentences for approval, he was so furious at the prison sentences for Mildred and for Erika Gräfin [=countess] von Brockdorff that he ordered a retrial for them, before a different court-martial. Here he got his wish: both women were sentenced to death. (As was Greta Kuckhoff: she however was given a retrial later, and only found guilty of aiding and abetting preparations for treason — she was sent to prison and survived the war to become the head of the GDR’s central bank.)

Abwehr chief Canaris and army judge Karl Sack, both part of the nationalist anti-Hitler resistance, refused to lift a finger for the Red Orchestra group, whose actions they called “glatten Landesverrat” (flat-out treason) — Canaris claimed they cost 150,000 soldiers their lives, a claim peddled by postwar, radical rightist elements in Germany who likely applauded Canaris’s own execution at Flossenbürg concentration camp. Heinz Höhne, hardly a flaming leftie, finds only evidence for an Abwehr sabotage team being accorded a Red Army “Reception committee” with machine gun fire — several dozen dead, not hundreds of thousands.

Mildred was in poor health by then: she had had an ectopic pregnancy some time before, and appears to have had tuberculosis — whether from the poor conditions inside Plötzensee Prison or from before is not clear, but her imprisonment conditions for sure didn’t help matters, let alone the “sharpened interrogations” [verschärfte Vernehmungen, official euphemism for torture] she underwent.

As she was on death row, she kept her nerve by reading a volume of Goethe that was smuggled in for her, and penciling English translations into the margin. This is how the Lutheran prison chaplain, Harald Poelchau [****] found her. The book takes its title from this passage she translated:

“In all the frequent troubles of our days

A God gave compensation — more his praise

In looking sky- and heavenward as duty

In sunshine and in virtue and in beauty.”

Reportedly, her last words as she was laid on the guillotine were Und dennoch habe ich Deutschland so geliebt [“And yet I have loved Germany so much”].

[*] Adolf Harnack was ennobled in 1914 by Kaiser Wilhelm II

[**] Winston Churchill was a first cousin of the 9th Duke of Marlborough — his father Randolph Churchill had been the second son of the 7th Duke, who had been careful to father “an heir and a spare” as it was put at the time.

[***] Later, Nazi prosecutors would sometimes use the term “Schwarze Kapelle” (Black Orchestra) for this group, to distinguish it from the “Rote Kapelle”.

[****] Rev. Poelchau was himself a member of the Resistance, and later awarded Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem for hiding Jews and helping others escape.

The Ottoman Empire’s “Sultanate of Women”

It’s been a hard monthday’s night, and I’ve been working like a dog…

so this will be brief. The other day I stumbled upon this fascinating documentary about a period in Ottoman Turkish history that has become known as the “Sultanate of Women” (ca. 1533-1656 CE).

Briefly: ordinarily the sultan had his harem, from which he picked whoever struck his fancy for that night, and produced multiple offspring, each with a different harem-lady. One of the males would become the new sultan: the others would be strangled with a bowstring (such as not to spill royal blood).

However, Suleyman the Magnificent broke the mold: he apparently fell in love with one of the women, named Hürrem (originally named Roxelana — she apparently was the daughter of an Orthodox priest), slept with her exclusively, and not just kept her as his consort but then eventually (gasp!) married her, turning her into the Haseki Sultan. She even took an active part in affairs of state during her husband’s long reign.

This started a long period where either the Haseki Sultan or the Valide Sultan [mother of the Sultan] had enough sway at the court that the Ottomans spoke of a “sultanate of women”.

Lots of great anecdotes in the documentary, including reminescences about the harem by “the Last Ottoman”, Shehzade [=Imperial Prince] Ertuğrul Osman (1912-2009).

Simchat Torah/Rejoicing in the Torah

In Israel, today is the holiday of Simchat Torah — in Diaspora it comes one day later.

Congregants in synagogue dance in procession with the Torah scrolls, while singing songs such as detailed below.

We end the annual Torah reading cycle with the last portion of the Torah, Ve-Zot ha-Bracha (“and this is the blessing”, which corresponds to Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12 — Torah portions are named by their incipits/opening words or phrases.) But to indicate “we’re not done — this just means a new cycle”, immediately afterwards the first lines of Bereishit (“In the beginning”, i.e. Genesis) are read.

During the morning service, every congregant is called up to the Torah, even if it’s just for one line. (This is different from the seven people who get called up during a Sabbath service, each for one designated chunk of the weekly portion, plus the Maftir who is called up for the Haftara/reading from the Prophets and Writings.) But two special honors are reserved, usually in honor of large charitable contributions, for the person called up to read the very last line (the chatan Torah, “groom of the Torah”[*]) and the one who is honored with the very first line of the new cycle — the chatan Bereishit (“groom of Genesis”) who gets to read the very first line of the new cycle.

As one Simchat Torah song goes: “It is a great mitzvah to be always in a state of happiness.” (R’ Nachman of Bratzlav). I’ve failed miserably at this injunction in my life — on the other hand, I am an optimist. It’s just such hard work some days…

Chag sameach!

[*] In Reform and Conservative synagogues, a woman can be called up as “kallat Torah” or “kallat Bereishit”. While chatan and kallah literally mean “groom” and “bride” — the words also mean son-in-law and daughter-in-law, respectively), the terms are idiomatically used in Hebrew for anyone awarded a prize or an honor — Aaron Ciechanover would be a “chatan pras Nobel” and Shafrira Goldwasser a “kallat pras Turing”, for example.

German elections: A chaotic start of the post-Merkel era

Yesterday were national elections for Germany’s Bundestag (Federal Assembly), its unicameral parliament.

German elections do not function by the first-past-the-post system like the USA, UK, or Canada, nor by full proportional representation as in Israel, but by a hybrid system in which each voters gets to vote twice: once “for a person” and once “for a list”. (I just learned that New Zealand has a similar MMPR, mixed-member proportional representation, system.)

The first vote is for who gets to represent your constituency (there are 299 total, elected first-past-the-post); the second is for a party slate at the federal level (the remaining 410 436 seats).

There is a 5% electoral threshold: parties that pull less than 5% federally are excluded from the Bundestag. However — and this saved the far-left Die Linke from electoral oblivion this time — if a party has at least three elected constituency seats, it can stay in the Bundestag even if it drops below 5%.

Coalitions are pretty much unavoidable in such a system: usually they have either the CDU/CSU or the SPD as the senior partner and a smaller party such as the FDP or the Greens as the junior partner. The CDU (Christian Democratic Union) and its Bavarian sister party the CSU (Christian Social Union) are by European standards center-right on social and moral issues, center on economic issues: it arose after the war from the ashes of the pre-Third Reich [Catholic] Center Party and its small Protestant counterparts. Postwar Germany’s first Chancellor — in many ways its founding father — Konrad Adenauer belonged to the CDU, had been a longtime Center Party mayor of Cologne until forced out of office and into hiding in a monastery during the Hitler [y”sh] nightmare.

The SPD or Social-democratic Party of Germany has been around since the days of the Kaisers, with an interruption during the Third Reich. The two main junior parties are the pro-business FDP (Freedom-loving Democratic Party) and the Greens, the latter internally split between a “realist” and a “fundamentalist” wing. Presumably not Koalitionsfähig (=acceptable for a coalition) are the far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) and Die Linke (The Left, mostly former East German “ex-“communists).

Bundeskanzler (Federal Chancellor, i.e., Prime Minister) Angela Merkel had announced her retirement, though she will stay on as a caretaker head of government while a coalition is cobbled together.

Results for all constituencies are meanwhile in, reports Die Welt. The SPD is the largest party by a hairbreadth, marking hefty gains over their dismal score last time. The CDU/CSU is the biggest loser, marking its worst showing in its entire existence: Die Welt (itself right-leaning) commented repeatedly on the numerous electoral gaffes of its leader Armin Laschet. The Greens booked solid gains and will be the third party; the far-left Die Linke got a serious drubbing and was nearly knocked out of partiament altogether. (It was saved from oblivion by an exception to the 5% rule if the

The far-right AfD lost votes but stays above 10%; some 8.7% voted for miscellaneous (sonstige) slates or candidates.

This is the projected composition of the Bundestag.

Assuming the AfD and Linke are not Koalitionsfähig, this leaves four parties, with the following coalition options for a majority:

  • “Jamaica”: black-green-yellow CDU/CSU – Green – FDP
  • “Traffic Light”: red-yellow-green SPD – FDP – Green
  • “grand coalition”: SPD – CDU/CSU. The only two-party option.
  • “German flag coalition”: SPD – CDU/CSU – FDP. I would not count this one 100% out, consisting of Germany’s three traditional democratic parties — could the FDP act as a bridge here?
  • [theoretically] “Pan-African flag coalition” of SPD – CDU/CSU – Greens
  • [theoretically] a kind of national unity coalition of all four

Stay tuned. And be sure the knives are out for the current CDU/CSU leadership.

UPDATE: this is more a curiosum than anything else, but: Deutsche Welle in English reports that one seat may actually go to the South Schleswig Voters Association, which represents the Danish and Frisian minorities in Germany’s northernmost province. Apparently ethnic minority parties are not subject to the “5% rule”.

Also, you may have noticed the total number of seats changing. The Bundestag has no fixed size: as a compensatory mechanism for “overhang seats” (initial representation in excess of national vote share, due to overperformance in constituency seats), so-called “Ausgleichsmandate” (literally, “leveling seats”) are added to the Chamber.

UPDATE 2: in the federal states of Thuringia and Saxony, the far-right AfD is the largest party now (see, e.g., the live-ticker of the Frankfurter Allgemeine).

Also, here is an interactive graphic representation of vote migrations since 2017, based on polls by Infratest Dimap. This is the view for the CDU:

“Andere”=”other”, “Nichtwähler”=non-voters

Unrelated? Dr. Mordechai Kedar on Ibn Khaldun’s cyclical theory of history; Bill Whittle on what’s wrong with Boeing

I’m sure you’ve all seen variants on this meme:

It’s attributed here (whence I grabbed the meme following a Google Images search) to a post-apocalyptic novel, but the idea is very old: Oswald Spengler articulates pretty much the same thing in his Decline of the West (Die Untergang des Abendlandes). I just had no idea how old.

A YouTube channel named (in Hebrew) “coming to the professors” has many interviews with Prof. Mordechai Kedar, lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan University whose work I have previously discussed here. Unabashedly Orthodox and religious Zionist, he nevertheless speaks of Arab culture with a level of empathy that puts many “yefe nefesh” [“beautiful souls”, i.e., “bleeding hearts”] to shame.

The other day he had a long lecture on Ibn Khaldun’s cyclical theory of history; now an abridged English version has been posted. Dr. Kedar is extremely articulate in Hebrew, a bit more hesitant in English. (I cannot vouch for his spoken Arabic: suffice to say he has apparently declined at least one serious offer of a professorship in the Gulf States.)

Abū Zayd ‘Abd ar-Raḥmān ibn Muḥammad ibn Khaldūn al-Ḥaḍramī (Tunis 1332 – Cairo 1406), generally referred to as Ibn Khaldun, was a medieval historian and philosopher of history. His major life work, Kitab al-`Ibar [Hebrew speakers will recognize ktav [al] ha`avar, writing about the past] was a seven-book series with a “history of the world” up to his own time. However, what has been read and studied outside the Arab realm is the first book, al-Muqqadimah, [“The Introduction”, or, “Prolegomena”], in which he lays out his theory of how human society evolves.

His reference point is, of course, the desert, but one can substitute any unforgiving environment or climate.

First phase: people start out in the desert. Because it is impossible to survive in this environment alone (for one, if you do find water, the well or oasis needs to be guarded lest a competing tribe rob you of it), group cohesion, or what Ibn Khaldun calls Issabiya (which Dr. Kedar translated with the German loan word Volksgeist, popular spirit), becomes all-important for survival.

Next, the tribe discovers a more fertile/hospitable land and — thanks in no small part to its Issabiya — conquers and settles it. [The reference to the Arab conquest of the Fertile Crescent is obvious.]

The next generation grows up with parents who experienced that struggle, and is influenced by this, and continues to learn the ways of the warrior and of survival in the desert.

The generation after them mostly hears these things second-hand, a little bit from surviving grandparents. In the next generation after that, it is no longer in living memory. Every generation progressively loses Issabiya and becomes more attached to a hedonistic lifestyle of riches, alcohol, cannabis [hashish in Ibn Khaldun’s time], exotic eroticism, etc.

Finally, they will be displaced and dispossessed by a hungry young upstart tribe, who have eyed their lands and seen the inhabitants lack the will to live on. [Some will die, others will flee, yet others will presumably assimilate into the new culture.]

Now, you wonder, what does all this have to do with Boeing? I will let Bill Whittle explain.

Briefly, Boeing went from a hungry, passionate startup where the founders wagered their own fortune, to a company that did the seemingly impossible (the B-17 Flying Fortress, the B-29 Superfortress, the B-52 which is still operational in 2021, but also the Boeing 707, the Jumbo, the 737, the Dreamliner,…) to a corporate dinosaur that has seemingly forgotten what it’s all about and just lumbers and blunders on from one fiasco to the next. The company that once could build the first stage of the Saturn on fairly short notice has trouble producing a leak-proof spacesuit now, as it drowns in bureaucratic entropy. Meanwhile, in that very same space field, small upstarts are eating their lunch, the way a small upstart named Apple [that is meanwhile well on the road to dinosaurification itself] once ate IBM’s lunch. [Have you used any IBM computers lately?]

Is this process inevitable? Perhaps it needn’t be, methinks, but arresting it requires firmly, and constantly, reminding ourselves what we’re all about. And reinventing ourselves when we have to.[*]

[*] This is exactly what IBM did, by the way: reinventing itself as a services rather than a hardware company. Microsoft is far into the process of doing the same.

Sabbath musical delight: Steven Wilson, “Drive Home”

I have a soft spot in my heart for the work of Steven Wilson, the musical brain behind athmospheric neo-prog band Porcupine Tree (think: Pink Floyd for the 21st Century).

Metal fans may know him from his collaboration as producer and studio keyboardist with Opeth, for the “Deliverance” and “Damnation” albums. Opeth, while starting out in the Scandinavian metal scene, always had more in common with melodic progressive rock bands like Camel — it took Steven Wilson’s “midwifeship” to help them chart a new musical course in which they have persisted to this day.

Wilson was however extremely prolific, engaging in side projects that were pop-oriented (No-Man, Blackfield), or more electronic, plus several solo albums. Of late, he’s been remastering classic prog-rock records from the 70s and 80s.

He used to have a studio in Tel-Aviv not far from Casa Arbel, despite not having any Jewish roots that I know of.

Here is a recent track from one of his solo albums that I’d somehow missed.

Enjoy, have a good weekend, shabbat shalom and chag sameach!

Why Israel declined to give Meyer Lansky sanctuary

At Mrs. Arbel’s behest, we watched the new movie “Lansky” in which Harvey Keitel portrays the eponymous “Mob’s Accountant” in his twilight years.

Meyer Lansky [born Meyer Suchowlanski] was the real-life original for the character of Hyman Roth in the classic “The Godfather II”.

The new movie was directed by Eytan Rockaway, whose father Robert, an emeritus professor of history, wrote the book “But He Was Good To His Mother” about Jewish figures in organized crime.

The frame story is about a somewhat washed-up journalist, separated from his wife, who travels to Miami and meets the elderly mobster in a coffee shop, hoping to get an interview — then is hired to write a book to tell Lansky’s life story. The latter is told to us in flashback scenes, interspersed with dialogue between Lansky/Keitel and the writer. I cannot fault Harvey Keitel’s acting performance, but otherwise the movie felt a bit forced in places. The soundtrack was basically Audiomachine meets retro analog electronica: here is an excerpt to give you a taste.

Most of what I saw jibed with what I’d read in various sources, including his assocation with “Lucky” Luciano; his role in the US gambling industry (both legal and illegal) and in the birth of Las Vegas; his attempts to shield his childhood friend and associate, Ben “Bugsy” Siegel from execution by irate mob investors; and his activities in Havana during the days of Batista. One scene sent me down a rabbit hole though: the one in which Lansky, on the run from the FBI and the IRS for old tax violations [echoes of Al Capone there] flies to Israel and seeks sanctuary here under the Law of Return.

Now the Law of Return is not unconditional: an exception is made for anyone who “has a criminal past and is likely to endanger the public peace” [my literal translation].

The movie claims that, despite Lansky’s past services to Jewish rescue organizations during WW II and later to the nascent State of Israel, then-PM Golda Meir gave the order to turn the request down, afraid that otherwise Richard Nixon would nix [ahem] the F-4 Phantom jet fighter for Israel.

Hebrew sources (as quoted in the Hebrew Wikipedia page) tell a different story: that Lansky (by then in his late sixties) has taken up residence in swanky Herzliya Pituach [today the heart of Israel’s “Silicon Wadi”] and that the police had observed a string of mobsters coming to visit him. This raised concern that he was not merely looking to live out his last years in the Holy Land, but was seeking to use it as a basis for operations — something which Israel obviously needed like a thorn in the rear end [as one says in Hebrew, “kmo kotz ba-tachat”].

Turns out his Israeli former mistress, Tzali de Toledo, told the story of their affair in the weekend supplement of English Haaretz [caveat lector]. She wrote a memoir, “Always Remember”, based on her memories and the 350 love letters he wrote her, all of which he ended with “always remember that I love you”.

The article is a fascinating read, even if one has to be cautious about believing everything said in it. She attributes the decision to deny Lansky citizenship to then-interior minister Yosef Burg (a veteran politician from the National Religious Party[*]). He had sent the Prosecutor-General, Dr. Gavriel Bach [**] on a fact-finding trip to Washington, DC to go look at Lansky’s FBI file. That ran to thousands of pages, but the wily Lansky was too careful not to leave “fingerprints” or “smoking guns”, so there was lots of hearsay and nothing much actionable in the file. Bach told Burg he was skeptical a denial would be upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court, but Burg went ahead anyway. Lansky appealed to the Supreme Court, which however sided with the minister.

Lansky eventually got a visa for El Salvador and left, then was arrested during transit at Miami airport.

Ironically, he was acquitted of all charges in 1974 and lived out his life a free man. Also ironically, Ehud Olmert, then a young upstart politico, had made a lot of hay about “getting rid of that criminal” — then later ended up serving prison time himself for accepting bribes.

The affair with de Toledo, however, apparently continued until the year before Lansky’s death, with her visiting him twice a year in Miami until he got too sick to leave his wife’s presence.

Sometimes, the real story is more bizarre and fantastic than fiction — which, after all, has to make sense to the reader.

[*] There is an old Israeli joke about a mummy of an Egyptian Pharaoh being revived. He asks the people around him where they’re from, but has never heard of England, nor of the US. Then one of them says he’s from Israel, and the Pharaoh answers: “Oh yes, I’ve heard of Israel. Is Yosef Burg still a minister there?”

[**] No relation to the composer (Bach means “Brook” in German). He had been a prosecutor at the Eichmann [y”sh] Trial.

COVID19 update, September 23, 2021: boosters; Denmark, the US, and the importance of establishing “bilateral trust”

(1) So an FDA advisory panel has ruled unanimously in favor of boosters for age 65+ (plus people in risk groups) but voted overwhelmingly against general boosters. Now the FDA itself has apparently followed its advisory panel. Its European Union counterpart will rule in early October. So far, Israel is the only country where anyone who had their 2nd dose 5 months or longer ago can show up for a booster dose.

The results kind-of speak for themselves. Courtesy of the Ministry of Health dashboard, These are our daily new severe case counts (dates given, blue=unvaccinated, light green=vaccinated without booster; dark green=with booster)

While below is the total severe patient population:

If you normalize these graphs per 100,000 unvaccinated/vaccinated/boosted people, the results become truly lopsided. Daily new admissions per 100,000:

Total severe patient population over 60:

So here in Israel, the boosters definitely are having an effect. And that remains true also for younger patients:

Note, however, the different scale of the Y axis. You can definitely say that overall, the lion’s share of the effect of the boosters can be achieved with just the age 60 and over patients.

Keep also in mind that Israel uses Pfizer almost exclusively; while we have recently started giving Moderna to adults who have never been vaccinated, we simply don’t have enough of them for meaningful statistics. Other countries (Denmark, Austria, the USA, … come to mind) use Moderna more broadly, however, and as I’ve noted here previously, there is increasing evidence that Moderna’s protection is longer lasting than Pfizer’s. A few days ago, this paper came out in SCIENCE:

Pegu, A.; O’Connell, S. E.; Schmidt, S. D.; O’Dell, S.; Talana, C. A.; Lai, L.; Albert, J.; Anderson, E.; Bennett, H.; Corbett, K. S.; et al. Durability of MRNA-1273 Vaccine–Induced Antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 Variants. Science (80-. ). 2021, 373 (6561), 1372–1377.

[…] Pegu et al. examined how viral variants, including the B.1.351 (Beta) and B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant, affected the immune response in a small number of individuals who received the Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine. By analyzing sera obtained 6 months after the second shot in the primary vaccine series, the researchers found that neutralizing antibody titers persisted against all variants tested. […]

Anecdotally, the people in my social circle who got Moderna experienced more side effects than those who got Pfizer: one got something called “Moderna arm” (popularly misnamed “COVID arm”), a red rash on the upper arm where vaccinated. (It went away on its own, as this apparently tends to do.) Why Moderna has this side effect while Pfizer, based on the same technology, does not is not clear — it might be a reaction to the proprietary encapsulant Moderna employs, which allows their vaccine to be stored in ordinary deep-freezers rather than ultracold “Revco”s.

Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson, makers of the single-shot vaccine also given to about 15million people in the USA, announced Tuesday that a booster shot of that increases efficacy against moderate and severe COVID19 to 94%.

(2) In RealClearPolicy, an associate professor of philosophy named Kevin Vallier contrasts US with Danish COVID handling. Denmark has no vaccination mandate — yet, microstates aside[*], one of the highest vaccination rates in the world.

A few weeks ago, Denmark lifted all COVID restrictions. The government has declared COVID no longer a societal threat. Danes have reached an 86% vaccination rate, including 96% of people over 50 – and they have accomplished this without vaccine mandates.

Danish citizens and institutions settled into a high-trust equilibrium early on[…]

Petersen argues that authorities must be transparent in their communications in order to maintain the trust of citizens. They must be frank about the negative aspects of vaccines. While negative reports reduce vaccination rates, telling the truth maintains trust, which matters more in the long run. Unlike American health officials, Danish officials did not mislead the public.

Petersen’s research group also found that successful mass vaccination requires that people see it as a collective, moral project. Though moral projects risk encouraging social shaming, Danes kept such instincts in check.

Health policy functions better if authorities trust citizens, too. Danish authorities could assume that citizens would follow their recommendations in good faith. They did not try to control the public’s behavior. They kept restrictions relatively light. In contrast, Fauci does not seem to trust the American public.

[…] In the United States, government and health authorities must admit fault, take full responsibility, and tell the truth. The vaccinated must not harshly condemn the unvaccinated. Research on social norms suggests that shaming people can boost compliance with important social norms, but it can backfire when we shame those who believe they have done nothing wrong. Enforcing norms works when people accept them. Blaming people for violating norms they reject creates resentment, antagonistic behavior, and ongoing cycles of blame. Since the unvaccinated believe their mistrust of authorities is justified, they often respond to sanction with outrage. And the truth is, their mistrust is not entirely mistaken.

Read the whole thing.

(3) Meanwhile, we are starting to use the Regeneron monoclonal antibodies treatment on mild cases with the highest probability of turning severe. [This will, in fact, include a disproportionately large percentage of the unvaccinated.]

(4) Moderna CEO predicts this epidemic will be a thing of the past in a year.

A happy Sukkot/Festival of Booths to those who are observing it!


[*] The British exclave of Gibraltar actually has a vaccination rate “over 100%”, as many cross-border commuters from Spain got their shots in Gibraltar before they were easily available outside.

COVID19 micro-update, September 22, 2021: India and home care kits. Also: RIP Prof Angelo Codevilla

(A) Dr. John Campbell reports on India. After a grueling delta wave (which we used to call the Indian variant, after all) their case numbers, and especially their mortality, have now receded.

Only about 14% of people are vaccinated there (presumably mostly with AstraZeneca, developed for places where an ultracold supply chain is impossible). One approach the local governments in the various states (he highlights Goa and Uttar Pradesh) have taken is to send home care kits to everyone who tests positive.

These include thermometers, cheap pulse oximeters (that one we’ve been doing since May last year) for early warning about severe cases, vitamin C, D, and zinc supplements, and… much-maligned ivermectin. (India ignores the ‘helpful’ advice coming out of the WHO — which appears to be perceived there as doing the bidding of Emperor Xi.)

They also include doxycycline in their kits, but that appears to be primarily as prophylaxis for secondary bacterial pneumonia.

Correlation is not causation, and data collection there is of course problematic, But I agree with Dr. Campbell that what we’re seeing there should be food for thought.

(B) Bari Weiss on her Substack blog has several guests expressing their views on vaccination mandates, ranging from reluctantly pro to fiercely anti. I link, you decide. (I’ve made my own position clear: I have been and am outspokenly pro-vaccination, but believe that mandates do more harm than good, compared to a well-run voluntary drive coupled with transparency.)

Good on Bari, at any rate, to have an actual reasoned debate. No wonder they had to pester her out at the New York Slimes.

(C) will this cause another abrupt 180 degree turn? Insty is referencing Henry Kissinger’s famous quip about the Iran-Iraq War. And of course the Babylon Bee is having a field day.

(D) On a completely (?) unrelated note, RIP Prof. Angelo Codevilla. Here is a quite enlightening (if critical) interview with the political scientist. His essay on America’s Ruling Class and Country Class (later expanded into book form) is still one of the most incisive things I’ve read about US society.

Here is a lecture at Hillsdale College. May his memory be blessed.

Canada Elections: Justin “Zoolander” Trudeau as Wile E. Coyote

There is a French term “fils a papa” for a guy whose main asset in life is the reputation of his bigshot father. There is also the slang neologism “himbo” for a male bimbo: a good-looking, feather-brained guy.

Justin son of Pierre Trudeau — a.k.a. Derek Zoolander at Insty’s — fits both stereotypes to a tee, and what he lacks in IQ he overcompensates in woke sanctimoniousness. Somehow he managed to become PM of Canada — then in 2019, the Canadians realized that even their famous niceness has limits beyond which it should not be pushed, and he lost his majority. However, he continued to run the country with a minority government — continuing to make a pig’s breakfast of things and be a general embarrassment. The only reason he isn’t the biggest laughing stock of the West is FICUS Joe Biden.

Pretty much all of us remember the too-clever-by-half schemes of Wile E. Coyote in the Bugs Bunny cartoons. The scheme this time was to call a snap election, in the hope that the electorate would give him a majority “mandate” for his woke-left agenda. But unlike South of the border, in Canada you need a valid ID card to vote — you can’t just stuff ballots, have people vote repeatedly, have “undocumented immigrants” vote,… So you actually have to convince voters to seal the deal.

And that apparently didn’t work so well. In fact, several key ministers, including the “useful idiot” who called the Taliban “our brothers”, lost their parliamentary seats, as did the leader of the Green Party. Overall the situation in parliament is basically the same as before, Wile E. Coyote still short of a majority. The Conservatives led by Erin O’Toole actually pulled the largest percentage of the popular vote (34.0%, vs. 32.2% for Zoolander’s [il]Liberals), but placed “first past the post” in just 119 “ridings”, as electoral districts are called in Canada.

(CBC election map, with 99% of votes called)

Note, by the way, a classic illustration of the “regionally dominant” exception to Duverger’s Law: despite pulling less than half the popular vote of the New Democrats, the Bloc Québecois actually ends up with more seats in parliament (as it is the de facto majority party in Québec, and probably close to nonexistent outside — cf. the Scottish National Party and the Welsh nationalists of Plaid Cymru in the UK).

Meanwhile, Zoolander/Coyote is claiming he “has a clear mandate“. He’s clearly been smoking his own supply.

I think I’ve found what should have been Trudeau’s campaign song – performed by Papa Pat Patterson’s favorite Canadian band.

“You know the dealer, the dealer is a man
With the love grass in his hand
Oh but the pusher is a monster
Good God, he’s not a natural man
The dealer for a nickel
Lord, he’ll sell you lots of sweet dreams
Ah, but the pusher ruin your body
Lord, he’ll leave your, he’ll leave your mind to scream
But the pusher don’t care
Ah, if you live or if you die….”

Sukkot post: Italian-Jewish composer Salomone de Rossi

In honor of Sukkot (the Festival of Booths) here is a film from the Spielberg Jewish Film Archive, specifically from the Israel Music Heritage Project.

Salomone [Italian for Solomon/Shlomo] de Rossi (1570-ca. 1630) grew up in the Jewish ghetto of Mantua [Italian: Mantova]. He joined the orchestra at the Gonzaga court (then directed by Claudio Monteverdi): when the latter moved to Venice in 1613 to become maestro di cappella at San Marco [St. Mark’s Cathedral], Rossi succeeded him.

He wrote prolifically, and indeed part of his output was printed: stylistically, he was a transitional figure between the Renaissance and the Early Baroque. But somewhat unusually, he wrote a significant corpus of choir and orchestral compositions for the synagogue, under the title “Shirim asher li-Shlomo” (a pun on the Hebrew title of the Song of Solomon in the Bible).

Chag Sukkot sameach!

Rick Beato: why record labels are finished (and so are book publishers)

Still snowed undern at work. Leaving you with this:

Remember “…like a fish needs a bike”? And neither the music nor the book industry seem to ‘get’ it – or are trying to offer any form of added value that would make them compelling in the new era.

The current model seems to be: go all-out for your handful of ‘tent pole artists/authors’, and leave everybody else to their own devices while doing Hollywood accounting. If you’re going to have to do everything yourself anyhow — why not just work for yourself and keep as much of the money as you can?

Sabbath musical delight: Bach’s prelude from cello suite Nr. 1, and how much better is a $1M cello than a $10K cello?

I stumbled onto this in my YouTUbe feed. A cellist plays the same piece on a $5K Jay Haide mass-produced cello, a $180K+ artisanal instrument, and a $1M antique by Alessandro Gagliano [1700-1735, one of the “lesser deities” overshadowed by Stradivari and Guarneri].

I know money is “nit oyfn shabbes gereit” but it is a great illustration of Pareto’s Law or of the Law of Diminishing Returns: while of course most people will say the $1M cello is the best if they know it, I’m not convinced this would be the result in double-blind testing.

The Jay Haide brand is a portmanteau of California luthier Jay Ifshin and his Guangzhou/Canton-born foreman Haide Lin, overseeing workshop production in China: their top line is built as close copies of historical instruments. I’m not a cellist, but I do think I have some musical ear, and you’re never going to tell me the Jay Haide is only 0.5% as good as the Gagliano —- at least over 95% as good.

Violinist Rob Landes takes things a step further. Instead of a well-known classical piece, he takes three themes from gaming soundtracks (that test different ranges of the violin), and plays them on violins “#1, #2, #3, #4, and #5”, only revealing at the end in which order he played the following:

  • a cheap Chinese factory instrument that sells for $70 on Amazon
  • a better-quality mass-produced instrument that sells for $500 (intended as a practice violin for beginning and intermediate students)
  • A $10K bespoke instrument built by a luthier
  • An expensive historical instrument by one of the “lesser deities”
  • A $10M Stradivarius

I’ve been known to needle Mrs. Arbel by offering the opinion that my favorite violin is a Mellotron 🙂 but seriously, have a listen at this. The $70 “Amazon violin” is clearly inferior to the other four, but differences between the other four are hard to tell. I had a preference for what turned out to be the $10K instrument, but that may have been a well-known cognitive bias (a form of “anchoring bias”).

Have a nice weekend and Shabbat shalom

The T-34: possibly the best tank of WW II

Buried in work: here is a good introduction on video to the T-34 tank. If there is any one Soviet-produced weapon system in WW II that may have tipped the scales for the Russians, it’s this battlewagon. It wasn’t perfect, and in the beginning of Barbarossa its deployment was abominable[*] — but even then the Wehrmacht’s two leading Panzer gurus, Generals Heinz Guderian and Paul Ewald von Kleist[**], were shocked at how far ahead this T-34/76 tank was of their own Panzer IIIs and even Panzer IVs. At that point, however, the Red Army only had about 1,200 of them in the field, half of which broke down even before they got into action — but by early 1942, factories in the Urals were turning out 1,200 a month, and the design was being continuously improved.

In some ways, the later German Panthers and Tigers were superior — but also overengineered, hard to maintain except by well-trained crews, and for the price of every one of them, six to eight T-34s (or, for that matter, Shermans) could be turned out.

Below are two videos that give a closer inside look at the T-34/85 version, an upgunned (to 85mm) version introduced later in the war in response to the Panthers and Tigers.

“Quantity has a quality all its own” has been misattributed to Stalin [y”sh] but appears to have originated in the US defense community. I would modify this to “Quantity of ‘good enough’ can overcome a quality difference with ‘the best'”. And once the teething troubles were overcome, the T-34 was quite “good enough”.

[*] Perhaps it would have helped if the Red Army’s chief tank strategist, Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, hadn’t been tortured and killed in the Great Purges, as had 90% of all generals and 50% of all colonels. They might have known better than to send these tanks into battle without individual radios. Command tanks signaling with flags — that’s Psaki-level stupidity. That latter aspect, however, was quickly remedied.

[**] The von Kleist noble family, aside from generals, includes everything from the co-inventor of the Leyden jar to a jazz flautist: its most famous civilian member would be the Romantic poet, novelist, and playwright Heinrich von Kleist.

Looking around the media before Yom Kippur

Tonight starts Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (10 Tishrei on our calendar), our holiest day marked by fasting, prayer, and reflection. Ahead of this, a few miscellaneous observations from the media:

(a) The orientalist Dr. Mordechai Kedar (professor of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University, and fairly frequently interviewed by Arabic-language media if they choose to present an Israeli Zionist view in Arabic) shared his “year that was” on ALex Zeitlin’s YouTube channel (in Hebrew). About 21:30 into the video, he points out something that perhaps is obvious to people who live here, but not necessarily to outside observers:

The vehemence with which King Abdullah hectors Israel about accepting a “two-state solution” and a “Palestinian state in the West Bank” is not necessarily motivated by his personal enthusiasm for this cause, or by animosity toward Israel proper. The main motive is his own political survival.

Where it used to be the Israeli right-wing that was floating the slogan “Jordan is Palestine” or “Palestinian state in Jordan”, this has now become a slogan of “Palestinian intellectuals” living in Jordan. They are increasingly talking about “al-watan el-badil” [sp?], “the alternative homeland”, in a region running from the Jordan river to Amman. [NB: “Palestinian” Arabs are actually the majority of the Jordanian population, although the country’s elite belongs to the Beduin minority, and the royal family of course came from the Ḥejaz region in present-day Saudi Arabia.]

(b) New York Post columnist Karol Markowicz[*] comments in The Spectator (UK) about the way in which the elite imposes severe COVID restrictions on “the peons” that it flaunts itself. How ancient Roman: quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi — that which is permitted to Jupiter is not permitted to the [lowly] ox.

I definitely am glad to be living in a country where, socio-economic disparities aside, there is not [yet?] such an extreme feudal-serf rift.

(c) Speaking of neo-feudals and the serfs they lord it over, it appears the Gavin Newsom/Noisome/Nuisance recall has failed. Presumably he will celebrate his “victory” at the French Laundry. Check out Dave Rubin on YouTube: I also wonder what Joel Kotkin will have to say.

(c) I was amused to see in the Jerusalem Post [which has become a mess] that “China’s Xi refuses Biden’s offer of face-to-face summit“. How silly: of course Xi only will meet him ‘head’ to rear carapace.

Back in the day, Modern Drummer magazine’s poll was won five years in a row by Rush’s Neil Peart (RIP) — so they created a “Hall of Fame” status to give somebody else a chance of winning. Similarly, but l’havdil [freely: “not wishing to compare”], I am giving Zhou Bi Den “Hall of Fame” (or Hall of Infamy?) status for the Turtleboy of the Month award, or my illustrious (ahem) prize committee could just award it to him every month.

(d) relatedly, the Jerusalem Post back in the day (when it was still a readable newspaper) used to run a feature: “Teshuvah: The Ten Neediest Cases” about the ten [Israeli and diaspora Jewish] public figures most in need of repentance and apology. I would place Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain at the top of that list, because whoever is minding “Joe nisht mit allem in” [Joe ‘not all there’] right now will have an awful lot to answer for one day, if not before an earthly court then before a Heavenly one. It might be that all this disastrous stuff is actually the work of different puppeteers and Klain is trying to mitigate the damage. But I have my doubts, even as we are enjoined [Pirkei Avot 1:6] to “judge everyone on the credit side of the scales” (דן את כל אדם לכף זכות) all year, and especially before this holiday. We might know the true answer one day.

Finally: at the beginning of the holiday, we have a strange prayer in Aramaic [once the lingua franca of the entire region] in which we request of the Almighty that He annul all vows [kol nidrei] which were made under duress. Max Bruch adapted the melody for cello and orchestra. Here is one performance, by Mischa Maisky.

No photo description available.

[*] “Karol” is actually a woman, surprisingly (given the Slavic last name): Karol with a ‘K’ in Polish is the equivalent of Charles, as in Karol Wojtyla/Pope John Paul II, RIP.

Apartment building collapse in Israel: miraculously, nobody got hurt

Following the horror in Champlain Towers South , some of us have been wondering if such a collapse could happen here.

Yesterday it did, on Serlin Street in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ḥolon — and miraculously, and thanks to the presence of mind of several people in the Ḥolon Fire Department, nobody got hurt.

As reported in the Hebrew news media: around 7:15 am, a resident returned from synagogue and found his front door wedged (as in: yes, my key works, but the door can’t move). He called the fire department.

The firemen forced open the door, let him in, and noticed a huge crack in the living room wall. He called his supervisor, rashaf [freely: Fireman Officer] Yoni Butchakovsky, who came over, took one good look, and ordered immediate evacuation of the entire building “with only your wallets and handbags”. Some were allowed to return later to pick up essential medicines and personal effects they had forgotten.

Then this happened:

And thank G-d and the presence of mind of the fireman and the rashaf, nobody got hurt.

The man who called the fire dept. had been living in the building (with his parents) since birth and was 40 years old, but it looked of older vintage, maybe 1960s. [A source meanwhile told me it was built in 1967.] This was a period when many 4- to 6-floor, brutalist, and frankly foeilelijke [a Dutch word, literally “scold-ugly”, that’s more printable than English “fugly”] boxes were slapped down to quickly provide housing for an influx of immigrants. The fact that Ḥolon (as the name says: Ḥol = sand, Ḥolot = dunes) is literally built on sand dunes does not help much.

Building standards were drastically tightened here following the First Gulf War, including mandatory safe rooms in each apartment (usually the stacked safe rooms are a structural core or mainstay of the building). Many of these older buildings are eligible for “Tama 38” (evacuate, reinforce and retrofit, add floors, reoccupy) or “pinui binui” (evacuate, demolish, build anew according to modern standards) urban improvement schemes, and several buildings in my own neighborhood are going through this now. The Ḥolon municipality, however, was at pains to say no application for either scheme had been received from the “va`ad bayit” (home owners association).

And no, one cannot blame “greedy landlords” in this case. Managed residential rental complexes are next to nonexistent here: typically, in an Israeli apartment [really: condo] building, each unit has a different owner, who either lives in it themselves or rents it out as one-unit landlords. (As rental income on the first such apartment is nearly tax-free, and real estate is considered a safe investment here, many people do this.)

A financial advice columnist recommended that everybody check that their home insurance was in order. If (G-d forbid) the building comes crashing down from a HamAss missile, National Insurance will eventually cover the bill, but structural faults in the construction are another matter. And for a 50-year old bulding, where the contractor may have gone out of business long ago or may not even be alive anymore… good luck suing them for damages.

COVID19 mini-update, September 12, 2021: Biden’s vexatious vaccination mandate trial balloon

(1) About the progress of our booster campaign: stay tuned for updates. Our propagation factor R has been lower than one (indicating the epidemic is decaying) for several days now, but our statistics could be skewed because of the Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year) holiday and the attendant reporting delays. Severe cases are hovering about a plateau, but at this point the 10% or so unvaccinated people represent the overwhelming majority of severe cases in hospital (and for the most severe cases, those on ECMO, 90%).

(2) Ynet (in Hebrew) interviewed Prof. Yosef “Yossi” Caraco, head of the clinical pharmacology unit at Hadassah Hospital, on promising results in a phase II trial with molnupiravir, a new oral broad-spectrum antiviral developed by MSD (Merck Sharp and Dohme) that also appears to be pretty effective against mild and moderate COVID19. He wants to recruit a large number of unvaccinated volunteers for a phase III trial. “We have to change our treatment paradigm. Severe patients don’t start out as severe patients. We need a way to stop mild and moderate cases from getting severe.”

(3) Dr. John Campbell has lots to say about zinc supplementation: note that this is for general immune boosting, not just COVID. [Full disclosure: I’ve been on zinc supplements for a year and a half now because of COVID, and my recurrent skin infections have basically disappeared.]

(4) And now… [suppresses stream of unprintable Dutch, French, German, and Hebrew] for Biden’s Vexatious VaccinationTM “mandate”. Here are my two cents (or seven agorot) worth.

Look, I am about as pro-vaccination as they come. Like Ben Shapiro, I have for many months been telling everybody I knew to get their shots, and have shared and am sharing all I know or learned about the relevant science to the best of my ability. [*]

That said, I regard FICUS Biden’s attempt (or trial balloon?) to ram through a vaccination mandate as, in no particular order, Asinine, Bullying, Counterproductive, probably unconstitutional (I defer to Insty here, who is after all a constitutional law professor), and certainly vexatious.

There’s an old piece of military wisdom: an officer or NCO should never give an order that they know won’t be obeyed. This rule has a corollary of sorts in civilian life: never force people to do something they are tolerably willing to do voluntarily if asked.

There is no need for 99.94% vaccination coverage: all you need on an epidemiological level is for the total percentage of people to be either recovered or properly vaccinated to exceed the herd immunity threshold.

The essentially wall-to-wall support[**] that Israel’s vaccination effort has rests in no small measure on two pillars: (a) it is voluntary (even, as I learned to my surprise, in the medical sector!); (b) the health authorities (led by active medical people rather than professional pen-pushers) have been consistently up-front with us and shared what they knew, including what they knew they don’t know. A lesser but significant factor, that is a corollary of the second: careful screening of risk patients.

Biden, with his consistent Mierdas Touch [***], manages to turn everything he touches into merde/mierdas/gavno/Scheisse/chara. Or is it his handlers/puppetteers?

A number of cynical observers wonder if the Biden regime is trying to deflect attention from the total fustercluck in Afghanistan (and everything else that’s going pear-shaped domestically) by trying to fan the flames of a conflict between “safety” and “freedom”.

And of course, this cartoon draws itself.

What the heck were you ‘thinking’, Biden puppeteers? And if you were actively trying to discredit vaccinations, you couldn’t be doing a better job. Congratulations. Matt Margolis will have to replace with [incidentally, meaning “Biden sausage” in Dutch]…

Likewise from

ADDENDUM: Insty links to a collection of “Buck Joe Fiden” chants at college football games.

[*] While my own research is in physical chemistry (or chemical physics, take your pick), I have a working knowledge of the molecular biology and medicine relevant to COVID, which is why I took this blogging ‘beat’ upon myself.

[**] in the “general [population] sector”, i.e., everyone other than chareidim and Arabs, over 90% of adults are vaccinated This is the graph including these more recalcitrant sectors:

[***] To the best of my knowledge, first coined by Sarah Hoyt.

Sabbath music remembrance: Paradigm Blue, “Bravado” (9/11 tribute)

Today being the Sabbath, I would normally post some music (classical or not) that is both interesting and pleasant enough to qualify as “oneg Shabbat” (Sabbath delight).

But today is also the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

In its wake, Paradigm Blue (then primarily a Rush cover band) recorded and released this 9/11 tribute, a cover of the song “Bravado” overlaid with audio from the day.

May you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life. Shabbat shalom.

(Lyrics: Neil Peart OBM)

If we burn our wings
Flying too close to the sun
If the moment of glory
Is over before it's begun
If the dream is won
Though everything is lost
We will pay the price
But we will not count the cost (x2)
When the dust has cleared
And victory denied
A summit too lofty
River a little too wide
If we keep our pride
Though paradise is lost
We will pay the price
But we will not count the cost (x2)
And if the music stops
There's only the sound of the rain
All the hope and glory
All the sacrifice in vain
And if love remains
Though everything is lost
We will pay the price
But we will not count the cost…

“Boomer”, “Generation X”, “Millenials: are generational cohorts based on ubiquitous technology more meaningful?

from Mediawiki CC BY-SA 4.0 cmglee

Demographers started using the term “Baby Boomers” for those born during the postwar baby boom [in the West: the former USSR never saw that boom to that extent because so many Russian men of reproductive age fell on the Eastern Front]. The terms for subsequent generations emerged gradually, and overzealous sociologists and journalists make much of real and imaginary divisions between those generations.
[Full disclosure: I was born on the conventional seam line between “boomer” and “Generation X”, yet I’ve never really identified much as either.]

But perhaps a more meaningful definition might be possible: not by birth years, but by technologies you have never truly known life without, and which you have always taken for granted. Those generational cohorts may vary by geographical location, as some regions of the world were earlier or later adopters of a given technology.

  • Generation Radio: the latter half of so of the Greatest Generation, and definitely the Silent Generation, never knew a world where radio and wireless communications weren’t a thing.
  • Generation TV: have never known a world without television. For the US that would be essentially all “boomers”, but even in the West, TV broadcasts were only widely watched rather later. (Sure, there were experimental broadcasts in the UK by Baird, and in Germany by Nipkow, even before WW II, but I’m talking about a technology being a part of daily life for most.)
  • Generation PC: have never (really) known a world without personal computers. [By that criterion, I’d be clearly generation TV but not generation PC, as the first time I could lay my grubby hands on an early Commodore computer was in my junior year in HS.]
  • Generation Internet: never knew a world without online access. [My daughter would qualify, as we had internet access (however slow) from when she was a toddler.] France is a tricky case here, since it had a pretty sophisticated pre-Internet messaging system called Minitel, but because of that was comparatively late to the broader Internet.
  • Generation Always On: never really knew life without ubiquitous online access (via smartphones or more powerful devices).

Or perhaps replace “never knew life without X” by “always had X in their formative years” in all of the above.

Portland State U. professor resigns, saying university has become an indoctrination mill

You may have seen Peter Boghossian in various online debates, or you may remember his name from the “social text 2.0” style punking he carried out [with Helen Pluckrose] in which totally and wilfully absurd garbage was submitted — and published! — in various “scholarly” social science journals to show their total lack of standards as long as you parrot intellectual AIDS postmodernist dogma.

He made a point, apparently, of inviting controversial speakers of all stripes to get students used to critically processing and debating their arguments. But that might make them question pseudoscientific neo-Marxism used as a Trojan horse for neo-feudalism woke ideology, and we can’t have that.

I never once believed —  nor do I now —  that the purpose of instruction was to lead my students to a particular conclusion. Rather, I sought to create the conditions for rigorous thought; to help them gain the tools to hunt and furrow for their own conclusions. This is why I became a teacher and why I love teaching.

But brick by brick, the university has made this kind of intellectual exploration impossible. It has transformed a bastion of free inquiry into a Social Justice factory whose only inputs were race, gender, and victimhood and whose only outputs were grievance and division.

Students at Portland State are not being taught to think. Rather, they are being trained to mimic the moral certainty of ideologues. Faculty and administrators have abdicatedthe university’s truth-seeking mission and instead drive intolerance of divergent beliefs and opinions. This has created a culture of offense where students are now afraid to speak openly and honestly. 

I noticed signs of the illiberalism that has now fully swallowed the academy quite early during my time at Portland State. I witnessed students refusing to engage with different points of view.  Questions from faculty at diversity trainings that challenged approved narratives were instantly dismissed. Those who asked for evidence to justify new institutional policies were accused of microaggressions. And professors were accused of bigotry for assigning canonical texts written by philosophers who happened to have been European and male.  

At first, I didn’t realize how systemic this was and I believed I could question this new culture. So I began asking questions. What is the evidence that trigger warnings and safe spaces contribute to student learning? Why should racial consciousness be thelens through which we view our role as educators? How did we decide that “cultural appropriation” is immoral?

Unlike my colleagues, I asked these questions out loud and in public. 

Read the whole thing to see what happened to him. I hope Hillsdale College (or its Israeli counterpart, Shalem College) make him a good offer soon.

I could not help being reminded of one of the most morose Scandinavian metal songs I know. (In drop-C tuning, the song nearly plays itself ;)) The lyrics are ostensibly about the breakup of a toxic relationship. But by accident, the first verse fits what Dr. Boghossian went through.

The neck, and then the chain 
The head is hung in shame 
The neck, and then the chain 
The head is hung in shame 

I thought that you had grown 
That you’d carry on 
But now that I am gone 
What else’s been withdrawn 

you used to be like my twin 
And all it’s been 
Was it all for nothing