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 

Krupp, Berthold Beitz, and repentance

[In Judaism, the period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is also called the Ten Days of Repentance. In honor thereof, this story.]

I just finished rereading William Manchester’s well-written and entertaining, if in places highly tendentious, The Arms of Krupp about the history of the (in)famous dynasty of Ruhr smokestack barons.

In brief, the dynasty started in the 16th century when a Dutch merchant (probably originally named Arndt Krop[*]) settled in the town of Essen on the Ruhr. During a plague epidemic, he bought up houses and plots of land by the bushel load — Manchester claims many sold their land for what it would bear, then spent the money on reveling before the plague would take them. Epidemic over, he found himself holding the family’s initial fortune.

His descendant Friedrich Krupp (1787-1826), in search of the “secret formula” for cast steel, started a small steel mill that took advantage of the plentiful coal in the area. That enterprise only took off under his son, an eccentric genius named Alfred Krupp, a.k.a., “the cannon king”. He in fact made at least as much money making rails, wheels, and locomotives for the emerging railway network (the wheels gave rise to the Krupp logo of three interlocking circles), but after conquering the objections of hidebound Prussian staff officers (who swore by bronze for cannon) did become the armorer of Wilhelm I and his chancellor Otto von Bismarck. Alfred, a visionary, also started the firm’s tradition of paternalistic benevolence towards Krupp employees, with old age pensions, company housing, a company hospital,… that were decades ahead of their time. Essen effectively became a Krupp company town and never entirely ceased being one.

His son Friedrich Alfred Krupp, a close intimate of the new Kaiser Wilhelm II, continued in his ways, until a lurid scandal [**] led to his “death by apoplexy” (sealed coffin, buried without an autopsy — you get the idea). This left his daughter “big Bertha” [**] the sole owner, until Wilhelm II found a suitable husband in the guise of an older diplomat named Gustav Freiherr [=baron, literally “free lord”] von Bohlen und Halbach. Gustav took his wife’s family name in front of his, and became the head of the dynasty while Bertha remained the owner. Gustav was Germany’s armorer during WW I (ironically, British gunner shot Vickers shells at the German with a Krupp-patented time fuse — for which Vickers paid royalties to Krupp!), nursed the firm through the lean years of the Weimar Republic, then like other Ruhr Schlotbaronen (smokestack barons) rallied behind the upstart National Socialist leader Hitler [y”sh]. (Bertha despised the latter and kept her distance from him.) Others like Fritz Thyssen had a change of heart later (Thyssen spent most of WW II in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps). Not Gustav — although following his first stroke in 1941 he became increasingly non compos mentis. Son Alfried became the “regent”, so to speak, and in 1943 was appointed the sole heir and owner by Führer decree (the so-called “Lex Krupp”).

At the first Nuremberg trial, the prosecution made the fatal mistake of indicting Gustav (by now completely senile), not being aware Alfried had stepped in his shoes. It is quite likely Alfried would have been sentenced to death or at least life in prison otherwise — not just because of his role in enabling Counts I and II (“conspiracy to war” and “war of aggression”) of the indictment, but because of the rampant exploitation of POWs and concentration camp prisoners (the Jews among the latter were worked to death).

A move by the prosecution for a swap was blocked by the non-US judges, and so Alfried instead found himself on the dock at the 10th subsequent Nuremberg trial. He was very ably defended there by one Otto Kranzbühler, who followed a strategy of presenting his client as a dissolute playboy who hadn’t really been involved in company affairs. He got off with just 12 years in prison, which he served under very comfortable conditions at Landsberg Fortress[****] — after five years, at the height of the Cold War, US High Commissioner John McCloy released him from prison. Alfried wasted no time in getting his firm back in the saddle (for peacetime production) — in doing so, he made an inspired choice for a right-hand man, a former insurance executive named Berthold Beitz (1913-2013). [Here I am stepping away from the Manchester book.]

It was hard to think of two more different people. Alfried was a misanthrope and remained an unrepentant National Socialist to his dying day. Berthold was a very extroverted man of deep humanity (“atzil nefesh”, noble of soul, one of the people he saved would describe him in Hebrew), who had saved hundreds of Jews from the execution pits or the gas chambers.

Born in 1913 in Zemmin, Vorpommern (Hither Pomerania), he at first grew up in the house of his maternal grandfather, the estate manager for a local nobleman. (His father was a sergeant-major in WW I.) The family fell on lean times during the Great Depression; in addition, young Berthold had been too focused on sports (particularly sailing and canoeing) and had just passing grades, so he had to drop his plan to attend medical school. Instead, his father (a bank employee) through old connections secured him an two-year apprenticeship at a bank in Stralsund. Upon completion, he tried to get away as far as he could and ended up a manager at the Hamburg office of a daughter company of Royal Shell Dutch Oil. He also volunteered for the Wehrmacht despite being too old for the conscription laws at the time — eventually he became a sergeant-major in the reserves as well as applied as an officer candidate. (The German Wikipedia article speculates he may have tried to procure himself an alibi for not joining any NSDAP-affiliated organizations.) Following the invasion of Poland, he was transfered to a small oil field in the Carpathian mountains, where his wife Else (a fellow employee in Hamburg) followed him after the birth of their daughter.

Following Operation Barbarossa, he was transfered again, now to the newly seized oil field at Boryslaw. About 30% of the inhabitants of the town (really more a shtetl) were Jews, as were about 20% of the oil well’s staff (who had stayed on site).

After witnessing the brutal “evacuation” of a children’s hospital or orphanage — and understanding that these children were not credibly usable as forced labor, hence probably being sent to their deaths — he and his wife placed his Jewish workers, then increasingly other Jews, under their protection. Unlike Oskar Schindler, he did not have to resort to bribery (much) — there was literally no more Kriegswichtige (war-essential) enterprise than petrol, and he was able to issue protective “R” badges (for Rüstungsarbeiter, armament worker) by the hundreds. On at least one occasion, he ran up to a deportation train headed for the nearby Belzec extermination camp and succeeded in extricating 250 people from it. (His administrative assistant, Hilde Berger, later became Oskar Schindler’s secretary at Plaszow.)

“This had nothing to do with politics,” he would later say about his motives. ” “It wasn’t anti-Fascism, nor was it resistance. We saw from dawn to dusk, as close as could be, what was happening to Boryslav’s Jews. When you see a mother holding her children being shot, while you yourself have children, your reaction has to be completely different.”

Youtube screen capture from short documentary in English and Hebrew. “R” Certificate Nr. 748/K declares that the bearer, Rita Brauner, born… with ID number 295, armband number [left blank] is employed by the firm as a bookkeeper and typist and resided at the worker’s barracks at Carpathian Street 24.

When in March 1944, Borysow now being close to the front, he was drafted into the Wehrmacht, his protected Jews fled into the surrounding forests to await the approaching Red Army. In all, Yad Vashem credits him with saving about 800 lives, and in 1973 he was honored as a Righteous Among The Nations. (His wife Elsa was added in 2006.)

On one occasion he narrowly escaped the SS himself. Two women with his “blue passes” had been arrested as couriers for a resistance organization. By a phenomenal stroke of luck, the Gestapo agent who came to interrogate him was a former high school classmate, who agreed to destroy the evidence.

After the war, he became an insurance executive. Despite no prior knowledge of the business, he quickly rose to prominence because of his innovative, “American” management practices — which is why he appears to have been brought to Alfried Krupp’s attention.

Beitz’s management style couldn’t be more different from Krupp’s: informal (“call me Beitz, and if I like your work I’ll call you by your first name”) where Alfried was arch-formal, instinctive where Alfried’s was methodical. (“I make 80% of business decisions from the gut”, Beitz has been quoted.)

It was Beitz who twisted Alfried Krupp’s arm into paying an indemnity to the surviving former Jewish slave laborers of the firm — overriding the firm’s legal counsel who insisted they await a court decision on the matter. (With characteristic cynicism, Alfried later declined to pay similar indemnities to non-Jewish former slave laborers, as “he had had to pay so much to the Jews”. The money amounted to less than one percent of the firm’s net worth.)

At any rate, when Alfried Krupp was moribund from cancer, it was obvious that his son Arndt, a “gay” fashion designer and playboy, had no interest at all in the family business. So instead Alfried rolled his fortune into a foundation chaired by Beitz — who held the position until his 2013 death at the very old age of 99. Along the way, he had overseen the merger of Krupp with onetime archrival Thyssen (originally based in Duisburg) in 1999.

In 2013, the year of his death at the ripe old age of 99, he had an emotional reunion with Jurek Rothenberg, one of his former rescuees, who flew in from Israel for the occasion.

Alfried Krupp remained unrepentant to his dying day — yet transfered his family’s life work for generations into the hands of a man whose basic humanity had led him down a much brighter path. G-d, or history, truly moves in mysterious ways.

Ktiva ve-chatima tova. — may you be inscribed and sealed for good [i.e., in the Book of Life].

[*] In Dutch, a “krop” is a head of lettuce or cabbage. Arndt is a middle Dutch and low German form of Arnold.

[**] He appears to have had a perversion or two in common with the Roman emperor Tiberius, who likewise had a palace of debauchery built on the island of Capri. F. A. Krupp’s hideaway where here

[***] She actually should have been nicknamed “tall Bertha” since she was very tall and slender like her grandfather. The actual “dicke Bertha” (fat/big Bertha) was a 420mm (!) WW I siege mortar named after her.

[****] This fortress was also where Hitler [y”sh] had served his sentence following the abortive 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, and had written/dictated the first draft of Mein Kampf. (Rudolf Hess and a Catholic priest named Bernhard Stämpfle edited it into something approximating coherence. Stämpfle was later killed in the Night of the Long Knives — possibly because he knew too much.)

In fact, even during his imprisonment, Alfried Krupp held business meetings with his subordinates. It already being the Cold War era, and the Allies (the Americans especially, Landsberg being in the US occupation zone) wanting to see West Germany back on its economic feet ASAP, the prison authorities allowed these meetings to happen.

ADDENDUM: an Alfried Krupp rival in the firm’s management had been the administrative jurist and banker (Dresdner Bank) Ewald Löser or Ewald Loeser (1888-1970). He had been the city treasurer of Leipzig under then-Oberbürgermeister (freely: Lord Mayor) Carl Goerdeler, a kingpin of the anti-Nazi resistance who would have become Chancellor of Germany had one of the wartime assassination plots on Hitler [y”sh] succeeded. (In my alternate history series “Operation Flash”, Goerdeler does become the leader of a Germany trying to denazify itself while fighting on two fronts.)

In 1943, Alfried Krupp got rid of Löser, who was appointed the trustee of the Philips radio and vacuum tube manufacturer in Eindhoven, occupied Dutch Limburg.

After the failed July 20 “Valkyrie Plot”, Löser was arrested on account of his name appearing as a Finance Minister-designate on a minister list for the Goerdeler cabinet. He however escaped the gallows by pretending to be insane and amnesiac, and survived until liberation in an asylum. This did not spare him from being in the dock at the 10th Subsequent Nuremberg Trial together with Alfried Krupp and (in a 2:1 split among the judges, dixit Manchester) being sentenced to 7 years there.

Ironically, as William Manchester points out, Löser — the only anti-Nazi or at least non-Nazi among the lot — was the only defendant not granted early release together with Alfried Krupp. Manchester quotes McCloy as calling this “a dreadful mistake”. Ultimately Loeser was released five months later into hospital convalescent care. I was unable to find any information about his later life, in German or in English.

Shana tova

Out with the old year and its curses

In with the new year and its blessings

A wonderful, healthy, and productive Jewish New Year!

In honor of the holiday, herewith a Bach motet for double choir, Singet dem Herren ein neues Lied BWV 225 (“Singeth unto the L-rd a new song”/שירו לה׳ שיר חדש).

When in 1789 Mozart visited the St. Thomas School in Leipzig, the school’s choirboys, led by then-Thomaskantor Johann Friedrich Drese (himself a former student of Bach’s) performed this motet for him. Mozart — who was very hard to impress by any composer other than himself — supposedly cried out: “now here is something I can learn from!”, begged to see the music, was given the performance parts to look at (the work had never been printed and only handwritten performance parts existed), and reportedly hand-copied them and treasured the copy.

Shana tova, chag sameach, ktiva u-chatima tova

On “experts” and having skin in the game

Entrepreneurs who doesn’t have their act together, or who merely have bad luck, stand to lose the shirts on their backs if they fail. Okay, there are exceptions, like the wannabe son from a rich family with very deep pockets, or the “ahead of his time” visionary who fails and then gets snapped up by a more established competitor, but by and large, entrepreneurs have at least some skin in the game.

The citizen-soldiers turned generals who defended my fledgling country made mistakes, like all humans do, but by and large were kept honest by the knowledge that they too stood to lose all if they failed in their primary mission.

Conversely, we all know the phenomenon of the kibitzer from abroad who has an easy time moralizing because they don’t have to live with the consequences of implementing their half-baked or wholly “baked”[*] schemes.

I have been in academia on three continents and still am in one of the three. The toxic phenomenon of the administrative class at US universities — even a decade ago I would go as far as to speak of a “hostile takeover” — resulted in no small part from these bureaucrats being insulated from the universities’s primary mission (to teach and, for select universities, to do research) and not having to cope with the consequences of their own policies. In contrast, where I am now, senior administrators are faculty on a limited term in office who get to return to the trenches at the end of it.

Instapundit has commented numerous times on today’s “experts” and senior government bureaucrats facing no consequences for failure. The architects of the Afghanistan debacle, for instance, will likely just award each other medals, or get promoted further along the track to total incompetence. A few may quit or get fired, and via the revolving door become K street lobbyists or consultants.

Instapundit even hints at the fate of Admiral Byng for “failing to do his utmost” (the origin of the phrase “[shooting or hanging some] to encourage the others”). I’m not a blood-thirsty person, so would be quite happy with public disgrace and barring from further office holding — though sometimes, people who have made a disastrous mistake go on to learn from it and make comebacks. (Winston Churchill’s Dardanelles gamble comes to mind.) But this, too, presupposes being made to face consequences.

I’m old enough that I remember programmers being told to “eat your own dogfood” (i.e., you yourself should use the software you are working on) — another way of keeping oneself honest.

I see very little of any feedback mechanism of this kind in action with today’s “Overclass”. In any sane society, a serial flip-flopper and political weathervane like Anthony Faux-Xi would long ago have been relegated to teaching voluteer science classes to junior high schoolers.

There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth among my colleagues in many places about “the loss of trust in experts”. A very large part of that, however, is of the “experts” own making. And their arrogant incompetence and the lack of trust it engenders are costing lives by the thousands, from Afghanistan to COVID wards in hospitals.

And as ever, the fish rots from the head down. I’m looking at you, “President” Houseplant. [Mrs. Arbel takes offense at the comparison: “houseplants gladden the heart and give you oxygen”.]

[*] I’m ashamed to say I reached middle age before I knew “baked” could be a slang term for “stoned”.

Sabbath musical delight II: Angela Hewitt live at Wigmore Hall plays Bach’s Art of Fugue BWV 1080

I have a fairly eclectic taste in music, but If I ever had to go to a desert island with just one album, it would be J. S. Bach’s Art Of The Fugue BWV 1080, the greatest work of absolute polyphonic music ever written.

The score indicates no instrumentation, but it can hardly be an accident that all fits within the four octaves (two each way from middle C) any good keyboard instrument in Bach’s time was sure to have, nor that it is technically playable on one with just two (very skilled) hands.

Here is Angela Hewitt on a livestream from Wigmore Hall playing the work in its entirety. She ends the final Unfinished Fugue on the last actual note in the manuscript (rather than attempt a completion), then segues into a piano arrangement of the chorale Vor Deinem Thron Tret Ich Hiermit BWV 668 (Before Thy Throne I Herewith Appear) which Bach dictated on his deathbed. Angela’s emotion here is palpable.

Her live performance differs considerably from the recorded album, in that she allows herself here a level of rubato that one at times associates with performers from a more romantic era. Still, it is a scintillating performance.

Enjoy, Happy Labor Day (to US readers), and Shabbat shalom

Sabbath musical delight: Genesis, “Eleventh Earl of Mar”

This song tells the historical tale of John Erskine, Earl of Mar (1675-1732), and of the First Jacobite Rising (1715) which he led, both in lyrics and in shifting musical moods. Here is the original:

And here is “Elektrik Hob”s excellent piano transcription, sheet music and all.

Not having grown up in England or Scotland, I knew nothing about the 11th Earl when I first heard the track in high school (one of the very first Genesis songs I ever heard — the first was the much less proggy “Turn It On Again”). But I vividly remember to this day, after being intrigued by the odd scale of the opening guitar melody (it’s mixolydian b6, a.k.a. Aeolian dominant, a.k.a., the “Hindu scale”) my musical shock when I heard a swelling Ebmaj7 chord suddenly change to B minor. (The D acts as the pivot note.) I had no idea that such a modulation was even possible, let alone sounded good…

Enjoy, have a good weekend, happy Labor Day to my American readers, and Shabbat shalom!

Turtleboy of the week: (thank G-d) former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert

Yes, Virginia, my country also has its ChiCom apologists (masquerading as mere sinophiles[*]), aside from “realists” who think Israel cannot afford the luxury of antagonizing the “future superpower”. As much as the latter argument makes my stomach turn, it has a certain Talleyrandian logic.

China has even been buying up local industries like the Tnuva dairy cooperative. It is now even building the new Haifa port. And it seems they have lately been adding to the payroll former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert (or, as Israel Matzav refers to him by a bilingual pun, “Ehud All-Merde”). Olmert served a prison sentence five years ago for accepting bribes as a public official (in the “Holyland” and “Rishon Tours” scandals), and post-prison has been trying to position himself as a media pundit. The Jerusalem Post, desperate for copy as they often are, gave him a weekly megaphone he does not deserve, mostly to show off that Binyamin Netanyahu lives rent-free in his head. (I think it was overdue for Netanyahu to go before he ran his own considerable legacy into the ground, but Olmert is not fit to tie Bibi’s shoes.)

So in his latest piece of logorrhea, he comes out as both an apologist for Joe Bidet [sic]’s disastrous Afghanistan debacle and for “our partners the Chinese” (read: the ChiCom regime and its state-owned companies). I couldn’t even make it to the end of this piece of nauseating dreck.

So, while there is fierce competition for the Xi’s Turtleboy of the Week Award, Ehud All-Merde is a most deserving winner.

“You’re such a good turtleboy, Ehud! Let me wax your shell some more.”

[*] A certain degree of mutual affinity does exist between Jewish and traditional Chinese culture — both scholar-merchant cultures, after all. (Israel also enjoys excellent relations with Singapore, with its predominantly South Chinese elite.) That is quite distinct from becoming an apologist for Xi Jinping’s dictatorship, however. I would personally be delighted if Israel extended full diplomatic recognition to Taiwan — which is arguably culturally more Chinese than mainland China.

COVID19 mini-update, September 1, 2021: Israel booster sitrep

[A brief update as I catch my breath after a marathon work writing session:]

(a) Despite the “delta wave” and record numbers of positive tests, Israel’s state schools opened on the usual September 1. (The independent religious school system traditionally opens on Rosh Chodesh Elul, one month before Rosh Hashana/Jewish New Year.) COVID self-testing kits were distributed the day before: the idea is that children who test positive stay out of school. (At that age, if they’re symptomatic at all, the chances that they will get severely ill are quite slim — though obviously not zero. The staggering percentages of obesity I see these days — even in these age groups — for sure don’t help one bit.)

(b) Dr. John Campbell comments on a “government report” on the effect of the boosters in Israel. [While it’s hosted on the Ministry of Health web server and the Director of Health and the previous “COVID czar”, the authors are reputed academic scientists, one of them a personal acquaintance. It’s clearly formatted as a preprint of a scientific paper rather than an official report.]

From the MoH dashboard (in Hebrew):

Above are severe hospitalized cases in the past month, now at 689 down from a high of 753. After plateauing for a while, they are now finally trending down. Deep-diving in the numbers during the plateau phase reveals a continuing rise of cases among the unvaccinated, compensated by a decline in cases among the vaccinated. Below (light-blue bars) you can see the progress of that campaign, broken down by age group:

Daily deaths sadly still average about two dozen — but seem to have plateaued. Likely they will start dropping with a lag of about a week after severe cases.

Meanwhile the propagation coefficient R continues to fall and is now at it lowest point during the delta wave, 1.07.

Also meanwhile, in the 60+ age group (both the most vulnerable and the first to get the booster shots), the odds ratio for severe illness unvac:vac has now increase to 15.7:1. (It was down to around 4:1 or 5:1 before the boosters, or an apparent “booster multiplier” of about a factor of four.

The preprint cited above, comparing between similar “boosted” and “vaccinated but unboosted” populations, finds a booster multiplier of 11.4 against confirmed infection and 15.5 against severe illness, the respective 95% confidence intervals being 10.0-12.9 and 10.5-22.8.

(c) Israel’s State Comptroller-General (literally, “Auditor-General of the State”, mevaqer ha-medina) Matanya Engelman released his report on the handling of the COVID19 epidemic by the Netanyahu government. [Full text in Hebrew from the Comptroller-General’s office.] It does not deal with the vaccination drive at all (something for which friend and foe give Netanyahu credit). Instead, criticism is leveled at Netanyahu cutting the cabinet out of many decisions; the furlough program as “a failure” that had “the opposite effect of what was intended” and “encouraged people to not go back to work”; hints that enforcement of restrictions was unequal and favored the chareidi sector [considering that Netanyahu was completely dependent on their Shas and UTJ parties for his political survival — the widely used Hebrew expression speaks of them holding him by the “eggs”]. Interestingly enough, the report does not seem to mention the execrable former [thank G-d!] minister of health Yaakov Litzman.

(d) Anecdata: a neighbor, a somewhat frail man in his 70s, “got COVID” despite the booster shot. However, he only felt ill (with mild fever) for about a day. His wife did not contract the disease at all.

ADDENDUM: the Times of Israel, reports on a new study in a peer-reviewed journal on vaccination of patients with a history of allergic reactions. I tracked down the original peer-reviewed article, which came out two days ago.

Shavit, R.; Maoz-Segal, R.; Iancovici-Kidon, M.; Offengenden, I.; Haj Yahia, S.; Machnes Maayan, D.; Lifshitz-Tunitsky, Y.; Niznik, S.; Frizinsky, S.; Deutch, M.; et al. Prevalence of Allergic Reactions After Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccination Among Adults With High Allergy Risk. JAMA Netw. Open 2021, 4 (8), e2122255. [Open Access]

 In a prospective cohort study from December 27, 2020, to February 22, 2021, 8102 patients with allergies who applied to the COVID 19 vaccine referral center at the Sheba Medical Center [by a vaccination center or their GP — NA] underwent risk assessment using an algorithm that included a detailed questionnaire. […] Five patients (0.1%) were found to be ineligible for immunization by the clinical and immunology team according to the Israeli MOH instructions (2 patients owing to known sensitivity to PEG and 3 patients with multiple anaphylactic reactions to different injectable drugs). […The remaining] High-risk patients (n = 429) were considered “highly allergic” and were immunized under medical supervision [at Sheba Medical Center’s allergy clinic, NA]. […] Out of [these 429, a]fter the first dose of the BNT162b2 vaccine, 420 patients (97.9%) had no immediate allergic event, 6 (1.4%) developed minor allergic responses, and 3 (0.7%) had anaphylactic reactions. [Fast-forward to the body of the paper:] The[se 9 patients]: were treated with adrenaline, antihistamines, and an inhaled bronchodilator; 1 patient also received systemic glucocorticoids. Symptoms resolved within 2 to 6 hours and no patients required hospitalization. Two of these patients had a prior diagnosis of multiple drug allergies, and 1 patient had food allergy with anaphylaxis and asthma. These 3 patients did not receive the second dose of the vaccine and did not receive any other COVID-19 vaccine because no other vaccines were available in Israel during the study period. All 9 patients who experienced an immediate reaction to the first dose were followed up by our team within 2 weeks; none reported recurrent or ongoing allergic symptoms. 

So how does their secondary screening “algorithm” work? From the body of the paper:

Patients who were not clearly [from the standard oral and medical history screening, NA] at low risk of allergic reactions were instructed to complete a detailed questionnaire and were referred for further assessment at the clinical immunology and allergy department. The questionnaire included 5 questions about: (1) prior allergic or anaphylactic reactions to 1 or more oral or injectable drugs or vaccines, (2) other allergies (eg, insect bites, food, inhaled allergens, or asthma), (3) treatments used during prior allergic reactions (ie, antihistamines and/or glucocorticoids and/or adrenaline, or hospitalization), (4) current use of drugs (ie, adrenaline syringe carriage and/or antihistamine and/or asthma therapy used regularly), and (5) other immune comorbidities (eg, chronic urticaria, mast cell disorders).

Multiple drug allergy was identified if hypersensitivity to more than 1 drug group was reported (eg, penicillin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Specifically, respiratory disease exacerbated by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and aspirin was considered hypersensitivity to a single drug group. Multiple allergies were noted if patients had 2 or more of the following: (1) drug allergy regardless of the number of compounds, (2) insect sting allergy, (3) food allergy, and (4) allergic rhinitis and/or asthma.

Patients were considered to be at high risk for allergic reactions if one of the following was present: (1) prior anaphylactic reaction to any drug or vaccine, (2) multiple drug allergies, (3) multiple allergies, or (4) mast cell disorders, as were patients who were deferred by their GP or local allergist or the immunization team from vaccination in the regular setting because of concerns about allergic reactions.

[…] among the group of patients defined as being at low risk [by their secondary screening process, NA], no severe allergic reactions were reported to our center or to the MOH in Israel.

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.