Of Dutch (Nederlands), “Flemish” (Vlaams), and “tussentaal” (intermediate language) as a koiné

I would not want to feed all the people who have told me that the two national languages of Belgium are French and “Flemish”, rather than Dutch.[*] Yet I am old enough to remember it being referred to by my elementary school teachers as ABN, Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands — “Common Civilized [!] Dutch”. (By the time I entered junior high school, ABN gave way to the somewhat more politically correct Algemeen Nederlands — Common Dutch, or Standard Dutch if you like. The Van Dale dictionary — the Dutch equivalent of the OED or Merriam-Webster — refers to specific usages in Flanders as Zuidnederlands — Southern Dutch.

In terms of the written language, e.g. as used by the newspaper De Standaard which I have frequently quoted in my COVID19 updates about Belgium, the variant used in Flanders is no more different from that used in The Netherlands than Oxford and American English are, probably less. The spelling differences of the latter two — like defense vs. defence, amortize vs. amortise,… — are completely absent between Algemeen Nederlands and Zuidnederlands. There are vocabulary differences, just like there are between British and American English — “Zuidnederlands” contains a fair number of French loanwords and calques (loan translation) from French, unsurprisingly given the exposure to Belgium’s second official language. The linguistic term for a situation like Oxford vs. American English, or (written) Algemeen Nederlands vs. Zuidnederlands, is a “pluricentric language”. (English of course also has Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand varieties, although these are definitely part of cluster with Oxford/British English, distinct from American English.)

But what about the spoken language? Now here things get murkier.

At the local level, especially among older people in rural areas, local dialects used to be commonly spoken, and to an extent still are. These come in four dialect clusters:

  • Brabants/Brabantian as spoken in the provinces of Brabant and Antwerp, particularly the Dutch-speaking minority in Brussels and the majority population of Antwerp. (It’s quite possible that the 2nd language there today is Moroccan Arabic, and the 3rd Yiddish.)
  • Oostvlaams/East Flemish dialects as spoken in the province of Oostvlaanderen/East Flanders, e.g. in the city of Ghent
  • Westvlaams/West Flemish dialects as spoken in the North Sea coastal province of Westvlaanderen/West Flanders, e.g., in towns like Brugge/Bruges, Oostende/Ostend, and Ieper/Ypres
  • Limburgs/Limburgian, which is linguistically closer to Plattdeutsch/Low German, as spoken in the Easternmost province as well as in adjacent Dutch Limburg.

The border between Dutch and Plattdeutsch/Low German is a classic example of a dialect continuum: the dialects of Aachen (Germany), Maastricht (Dutch Limburg), and Hasselt (Belgian Limburg) are mutually intelligible to a surprising degree. In contrast, dialects from “Bachten de Kupe” (the area of West Flanders enclosed by the sea, the Ijzer/Yser river, and the French border) border on incomprehensible to speakers of Brabant or Limburg dialects, or to the Dutch.

What happens in such a situation in most countries is that the two parties switch to their Dachsprache, “roof language” or “umbrella language” — e.g., a Bavarian and somebody from the Ruhr area will speak standard German to each other. Moroccan and Syrian Arabic, for instance, have limited mutual intelligibility, so when people from these places meet, they will usually communicate in Modern Standard Arabic.

Likewise in Flanders, any type of official, formal speech is likely to be in what you could call “newsreader Dutch”, standard Dutch but without the stereotypical “Hollands” accent, and with occasional Belgicisms.

Informally, however, one often hears people speak a form of what Flemish linguists call “tussentaal” (in-between language, intermediate language), or sometimes “soapvlaams” (soap opera Flemish) or “Verkavelingsvlaams” (housing development Flemish): a kind-of “common denominator of dialects”. Tussentaal is not in significant use as a written language (except, e.g., when representing dialect speech in Dutch-language fiction, or for effect). And while it is definitely true that highly educated speakers often speak what amounts to Algemeen Zuidnederlands, tussentaal is not a basilect (language of low socioeconomic strata) — tussentaal is spoken to greater or lesser extent in all social classes.

An example of a universal feature of all Flemish dialects that you will hear in tussentaal is the archaic “gij” or “ge” (thou) as the all-purpose second person pronoun, instead of standard Dutch trio “jij” (singular familiar you), “U” (singular respectful you), or “jullie” (plural you). In many dialects, and often is tussentaal, one might hear “gijlie” for 2nd person plural, much like “y’all” in the American South.

So what is Tussentaal really? Is it a regiolect (i.e., a regional dialect), or a cluster of regiolects? (Tussentaal is not homogenous across Flanders.)

Or is it rather a koiné language? The term originates with Koiné Greek, the “common Greek” in which the Christian New Testament was written (as distinct from the literary Attic Greek which some of us still learned in High School). Koiné arose as a kind-of lingua franca dialect between different Greek dialects. The Wikipedia article [caveat lector] on modern koiné languages cites spoken Québecois French and Australian English as two modern examples. (The formal written languages, in both cases, are slight variants of standard French and Oxford English, respectively.) The concept of a koiné, besides coexistence with local dialects, does admit of a mild degree of regional (and socio-economic) variation, so that does seem to be the best fit.

[*] In fact, German has official status in Belgium as well, because of the German-speaking cantons of Eupen-Malmédy-St.-Vith, which were attached to Belgium as part of the post-WW I Versailles Treaty.

Today 66 years ago: VE Day 1945, and the very last German holdouts by… the North Pole

A British movietone newsreel about that long-awaited Victory in Europe Day.

There was fighting going on until the last day — and indeed for some days beyond, in some cases by German troops trying to exfiltrate through Russian lines to surrender to the Western Allies.

There was no parallel in the of the decades-long Japanese holdouts like Hiroo Onoda, whose story was the inspiration of the concept album “Nude” by progressive rock band Camel. Two German U-boats, U-530 and U-977, set course for Argentina, which led to lots of postwar speculation and legends.

The very last German troops to lay down their weapons to the Western Allies were the 11-man crew of a Kriegsmarine weather station on Nordaustlandet, the 2nd largest island (after Spitsbergen) in the Svalbard archipelago. They had learned of the surrender by radio, but no transportation could be spared to retrieve them until a Norwegian walrus hunting laid anchor on September 4, 1945. (See the German Wikipedia page on Operation Haudegen as well as this page on War History Online and on Amusing Planet.) The station commander, Lt. Wilhelm Dege, apparently wrote a book about his experiences titled “War North of [the] 80[th parallel].” The station still stands and is occasionally used as an emergency shelter by explorers of that inhospitable place.

Operation Haudegen
Image from https://www.amusingplanet.com/2020/01/the-last-german-surrender.html

COVID19 mini-update, May 7, 2021: The Lancet paper on efficacy of Pfizer in Israel; Germany says, “patents are not the bottleneck, production capacity is”

(1) My homeland has effectively been a country-sized Phase IV trial for Pfizer. Analysis of the efficacy of the vaccine on this mass scale has been circulating in preprint form, but now the paper has been published after peer review in The Lancet.

Haas, E. J.; Angulo, F. J.; McLaughlin, J. M.; Anis, E.; Singer, S. R.; Khan, F.; Brooks, N.; Smaja, M.; Mircus, G.; Pan, K.; Southern, J.; Swerdlow, D. L.; Jodar, L.; Levy, Y.; Alroy-Preis, S. Impact and Effectiveness of MRNA BNT162b2 Vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 Infections and COVID-19 Cases, Hospitalisations, and Deaths Following a Nationwide Vaccination Campaign in Israel: An Observational Study Using National Surveillance Data. Lancet 2021.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)00947-8 [Paper appears to be Open Access]

(These funny links you see are called DOIs, or Digital Object Identifiers, in scholarly publishing: they are maintained at a central database by the various publishers, and are meant to be link rot-proof permalinks to scholarly papers. They can also be looked up in CrossRef.org and you will get all the human-readable “metadata” like authors, title, journal name,… with a single click.)

The figures are actually similar to what was reported in earlier studies, but the uncertainty intervals have shrunk drastically because, well, we’re talking a sample of millions now, not 30,000 or so participants in a Phase III trial.

The moneygraf from the abstract:

During the analysis period (Jan 24 to April 3, 2021), there were 232 268 SARS-CoV-2 infections, 7694 COVID-19 hospitalisations, 4481 severe or critical COVID-19 hospitalisations, and 1113 COVID-19 deaths in people aged 16 years or older. By April 3, 2021, 4 714 932 (72·1%) of 6 538 911 people aged 16 years and older were fully vaccinated with two doses of BNT162b2. Adjusted estimates of vaccine effectiveness at 7 days or longer after the second dose were 95·3% (95% CI 94·9–95·7; incidence rate 91·5 per 100 000 person-days in unvaccinated vs 3·1 per 100 000 person-days in fully vaccinated individuals) against SARS-CoV-2 infection, 91·5% (90·7–92·2; 40·9 vs 1·8 per 100 000 person-days) against asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection, 97·0% (96·7–97·2; 32·5 vs 0·8 per 100 000 person-days) against symptomatic COVID-19, 97·2% (96·8–97·5; 4·6 vs 0·3 per 100 000 person-days) against COVID-19-related hospitalisation, 97·5% (97·1–97·8; 2·7 vs 0·2 per 100 000 person-days) against severe or critical COVID-19-related hospitalisation, and 96·7% (96·0–97·3; 0·6 vs 0·1 per 100 000 person-days) against COVID-19-related death. In all age groups, as vaccine coverage increased, the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 outcomes declined. 8006 of 8472 samples tested showed a spike gene target failure, giving an estimated prevalence of the B.1.1.7 [“British”] variant of 94·5% among SARS-CoV-2 infections.

Summarizing in table form:

Effectiveness against:percentageconfidence interval
Any level of SARS-CoV-2 infection95.394.9 — 95.7
Asymptomatic COVID-1991.590.7 — 92.2
Symptomatic COVID-1997.096.7 — 97.2
Hospitalization for COVID-1997.296.8 — 97.5
Severe or critical COVID-1997.597.1 — 97.8
Death related to COVID-1996.796.0 — 97.3
Effectiveness of Pfizer two-vaccine regime in Israel (mostly B.1.1.7 epidemic)

Lots more in the paper itself, which is not paywalled: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)00947-8

(2) The recent proposal to make COVID19 vaccines patent-free is predictably raising the ire of the pharmaceutical industry. And here we have the topsy-turvy situation that statist Germany is telling the US, “not so fast!” and “beware of unintended consequences”. Also, more pertinently perhaps, “it is not intellectual property that’s the bottleneck, but production capacity”.

The EU, and especially European Commission chair, the German Ursula von der Leyen — learned this to their chagrin with the Oxford/AstraZeneca fracas. The low per-dose cost and permissive IP of that vaccine helped them little when the factories couldn’t churn out the doses fast enough. (It reminds me a little bit of “free healthcare” not being very useful if you have a 6-month wait for a specialist and a 2-year wait for surgery.)

(3) I have had my differences with Paul Mirengoff at times, but on this one he’s dead on target. It is a good reminder that (a) most journalists, and nearly all opinion journalists, are innumerate, and the exceptions rarely have more than the most superficial understanding of statistics; (b) while the “woke left” is setting new benchmarks in intellectual dishonesty every day, they sadly do not have a monopoly. I have to keep reminding myself that one can be a expert in one area of human endeavor and a complete fool in another outside one’s expertise.

Let me sign off with a little musical balm for the soul, courtesy of Franz Liszt and Paul Barton. Have a good weekend and, for my coreligionists, shabbat shalom

Concert Etude S.144 Nr. 3 in Db major, “Un Sospiro”

The Sixtus affair, Emperor “Karl the Unready”, and the end of the Habsburg empire

Yesterday I saw a documentary on (then newly) declassified documents about what to me was an unknown episode in the First World War. Briefly, the last Habsburg emperor, Karl I was persuaded by his consort, Empress Zita of Bourbon-Parma, to make back-channel approaches to the Allies via her brother Sixtus, an officer in the Belgian army. (She saw the famine and privations striking Vienna, and correctly saw that the Dual Monarchy would not survive unless Austria-Hungary extricated itself from the war.)

When the German leadership — Kaiser Wilhelm II, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg and his chief of staff Erich Ludendorff — found out, this blew up famously. See all about it in the fascinating documentary below.

I couldn’t help thinking that Karl I should really have been called Karl the Unready. Yes, I know that “Aethelred the Unready” really meant “Aethelred the unwilling to listen to counsel”, but I could not resist the pun. Karl I had not expected to ever come to the throne following the very long reign of Franz Joseph (who’s up there with Louis XIV, Elizabeth I of England, [Addendum: Queen Victoria, Hirohito], and Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom in the shortlist of longest-ruling monarchs). However, first the heir apparent, the melancholy Crown Prince Rudolph, had killed himself and his lover in a suicide pact at the Mayerling hunting lodge.

Rudolf having been an only son, Franz Joseph’s younger brother Archduke Karl Ludwig became the heir presumptive, but he died in 1896 from typhoid fever, presumably contracted on a trip to Eretz Israel and Egypt. All hopes had then been put on his son, Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Franz Ferdinand appears to have been a garrulous sort, but he was clear-sighted in one regard: the only way the Habsburg dual monarchy could survive was its reform into a federation of states for all the nationalities. It is quite possible that, had the assassin’s bullet at Sarajevo missed and had he lived to succeed Franz Joseph when the latter died of old age in 1916, the Habsburgs might still be on the throne ruling a form of Central European Commonwealth. (It is unlikely that World War Two would ever have broken out in this timeline: hmm, I see an alternate history project once I’m done with Valkyrie 1943…)

Franz Ferdinand had married a commoner in a morganatic marriage (a.k.a., a “left-hand marriage”), i.e., one in which the offspring are excluded from the line of succession. Suddenly, Franz Ferdinand nephew, Karl Ludwig’s grandson Karl, found himself the heir presumptive, his father Archduke Otto Franz having died of syphilis in 1906.

Karl wasn’t a wastrel or a roué like his father had been: he was a devout Catholic and appears to have been an enthusiastic military officer who studied on the side, but had never been prepared for his duties as head of state for the simple reason nobody expected those to befall him.

Karl would die a broken man in exile on Madeira: after Austria declared itself a republic in 1918. He had tried repeatedly to reclaim the other Habsburg throne, that of Hungary, where Admiral Miklos Horthy was nominally his Regent: Horthy, however, refused to play ball and vacate his position, as we have covered here previously. Zita outlived him by many decades; Karl’s nominal heir, Otto von Habsburg, would go on to play a major role in post-WW II politics at the level of what would become the European Union.

Allow me to include a Biographics video on Emperor Franz Joseph, the predecessor under whose reign the prewar Viennese culture we think of came to be. His Empress Elisabeth “Sisi” (from the Bavarian royal House of Wittelsbach) is the second player in this video, and was instrumental in reforming the Austrian empire into the Austro-Hungarian “Royal and Imperial” dual monarchy.

The “Deutschlandlied”, formerly “Deutschland über Alles”: a brief history

There are two tunes that in the popular imagination are associated with Germany in WW II: the Horst Wessel Song[*], which is an NSDAP battle song that acted as the Third Reich’s unofficial second anthem, and of course “Deutschland über Alles”. Some people expressed surprise to me that the latter is still being played as the German national anthem at official functions. So what is the real story here?

The tune is actually by none other than Joseph Haydn, and originally was written by him as the music for the Habsburg anthem with the title “G-tt erhalte Franz der Kaiser” (G-d save Francis the Emperor). (It appears he may have adapted the tune from a folk song.) Classical music aficionados will recognize it as the theme from the middle movement of the “Emperor Quartet” Op. 76, Nr. 3, for which Haydn recycled it.

In 1841, a German nationalist poet named Hoffmann von Fallersleben gave it new lyrics in three stanzas. Each is themed differently:

  • the first, with the well-known incipit “Germany, Germany above all” (Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles) has greater-German nationalist themes, speaking of borders from the Meuse to the Nyemen, from the Baltic Sea to the Adige in Northern Italy.[**] (This was definitely “Greater Germany nationalism”, unlike the “Little Germany nationalism” of Otto von Bismarck, who preferred a smaller state with a clear Prussian-Protestant complexion.)
  • the second is a panegyric to German women, loyalty, wine, and song
  • the third stanza speaks of Einigkeit, Recht, und Freiheit (unity, justice, and freedom) and brotherhood

According to Wikipedia[***], the Deutschlandlied’s first singing at an official ceremony took place in 1890, but it became one of the most popular patriotic songs during the reign of Wilhelm II. (Meanwhile, in Austro-Hungary, the melody was still in use as the Habsburg anthem until the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1918.) In 1922, Weimar chancellor Friedrich Ebert adopted it as the official German anthem.

During the Third Reich, only the first two stanzas were sung, as National Socialism frowned on the message of the third stanza about “justice”, “freedom”, and “brotherhood”.

In the postwar era, the new Federal Republic of Germany of course needed an anthem. One proposition was to use Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from the Ninth Symphony (with lyrics by Schiller) — which, of course, eventually would become the anthem of the European Union. For a while, a mix of tunes was used at official functions, even once the Cologne carnival song “Heidewitzka” (a nod to Chancellor Adenauer’s long tenure as Oberbürgermeister, Lord Mayor, of the city).

Eventually, in correspondence between Adenauer and [mostly ceremonial] President Theodor Heuss, it was decided to restore the Deutschlandlied, but with the specification that only the third stanza be sung. After the reunification, in 1991, then-Chancellor Kohl and President Richard von Weiszäcker [brother of the Nobel Physicist] reaffirmed the third stanza’s, and only the third stanza’s, status as the national anthem of the reunited republic.

From Wikipedia (Gemeinfrei/Public Domain). Note that Haydn’s original is in G major,
while this version is in the more brass ensemble-friendly key of Eb major

[*] Horst Wessel was a street brawler in the Berlin SA (Sturmabteilung, “the brownshirts”) who worked part-time as a procurer/souteneur/pooier/Zuhalter. He appears to have been killed in a turf war with a “colleague”; the NSDAP brownwashed him into a martyr for their cause.

The tune was borrowed from a popular song and minor hit, the original lyrics dealing with the life of a sailor.

[**] The German essayist Hans Magnus Enzensberger (RIP) satirized the incipit by naming one of his books, “Deutschland, Deutschland unter Anderem” (Germany, Germany among others/other nations).

[***] always caveat lector (reader beware) with Wikipedia, except for bare, verifiable facts on issues not of current controversy.

David Bernstein on Biden’s “Jewish Heritage Month”

David E. Bernstein (law professor at George Mason University in the DC suburbs) in the Times of Israel:

President Biden has released a proclamation for Jewish American Heritage Month. This was almost certainly written by Jewish staffers and vetted by whoever is in charge of Jewish communal relations, so it provides an interesting insight into the mindset of the subtype of American Jews who are politically active in progressive politics.

Several things of note.

First, there is no mention of God or of the Jewish religion, beyond a nod to American religious freedom. Instead, there a reference to “Jewish values.”[…]

Second, there is no specific mention of American Jewish contributions to the arts, commerce, education, or science, despite many Jews who have had prominent roles in each area. But there is an entire paragraph celebrating Jews’ contributions to progressive causes: […]

This is followed by a second, vaguer paragraph that alludes to “tikkun olam” (healing the world), a concept that has become a virtual substitute religion for progressive Jews, so much so that some have taken to suggesting that for a segment of American Jews “tikkun olamism” has replace Judaism: […]

Third, there is an acknowledgment that “In recent years, Jewish Americans have increasingly been the target of white nationalism and the antisemitic violence it fuels.” There is no similar acknowledgment of, or even allusion to, antisemitic violence American Jews have faced from Islamists and Black radicals, which includes two recent murders by the latter. […]

Fourth, there is no acknowledgment of Jews’ roles in resettling Holocaust survivors, assisting with the establishment and survival of the State of Israel, and advocacy for Soviet and Ethiopian Jews, the three greatest specifically Jewish accomplishments of the American Jewish community.

Admittedly, this is only one presidential proclamation. But it does reflect the Jewish worldview of a large swathe of American Jewry: secular, proud of their Jewish heritage mostly as a reflection of pride in Jews’ contributions to left-wing politics, a sense of Jews as victims of right-wing, and only right-wing, antisemitism, and a lack of concern for Jews’ ties with their co-religionists around the world.

Unfortunately, while the proclamation gives a nod to “Jewish continuity” this form of deracinated Jewish identity is highly unlikely to survive another generation or two.

Amen. Offering my $0.02 (barely NIS 0.06 at the current exchange rate), and stressing that I am speaking in broad sociological tendencies rather than about individuals: American Jews are disproportionately members of the New Class. New Class members of any ethnicity vote New Class sensibilities first, second, and third, and any Jewish (or other) sensibilities only after that if at all. This is very different from the voting behavior of Jewish communities in Europe, which have a much larger proportion of small business owners and tend to be much more heterogenous politically.

In fact, in continental Europe’s largest Jewish community, that of France, you see a telling intra-community ethnopolitical split — with the older, more establishment, Ashkenazi community trending left on average, and the newer North African Jewish community trending right. The latter community, hailing from France’s former colonies Morocco and Tunisia and from the former French overseas province [département d’outre-mer] Algeria, is both socio-economically more working and middle class and religiously more traditional (if not necessarily Orthodox — I have known several Liberal rabbis of North African origin). As they are less likely to intermarry and more likely to have children than their Ashkenazi brethren, they increasingly are determining the complexion of the entire community. And yes, on average, they are definitely politically more conservative than the Ashkenazim.

But this isn’t an ethnic thing either. The Jewish community in France’s northern neighbor, Belgium, is about 90% Ashkenazim, mostly of Polish origin.[*] Yet we see a similar intra-community split here, again driven primarily by socio-economics.

[*] Belgium’s small Sephardic community is a mix of a centuries-old “Portuguese Rite” group going back to Dona Gracia (Ḥannah) Mendes in the 16th Century, and more recent Turkish and North African arrivals. One longtime leader of that community (now z”l) was of Egyptian-Jewish origin.

Sabbath musical delight: J. S. Bach, sinfonia to Cantata BWV 29, also appearing as Preludio to Sonata in E major for solo violin, BWV 1006, and… as the organ solo in Deep Purple’s “Nothing At All”

A key part of J. S. Bach’s musical duties in Leipzig was to provide cantatas (vocal-instrumental multimovement ensemble compositions) for the church services at the Thomaskirche (and, subordinate to that, the Nikolaikirche). Some of these services, while nominally using religious texts, were actually composed for secular occasions, such as BWV 29, “Wir danken dir, Herr” (we thank Thee, O Lord) which was a Ratswechselkantate (cantata for the changing/installation of the town council) for the year 1731. The opening Sinfonia has long been a favorite of audiences:

Cantata BWV 29 (in baroque chamber pitch, a semitone below today’s concert pitch)

The same piece of music appears, a whole step up, as the prelude to Sonata in E major for solo violin. Here is Itzḥak Perlman playing it:

Considering the frequent bariolages (rapid alternation between a fingered and an open string) and other violinistic devices, likely Bach originally wrote the piece on violin, then decided it could work on other instruments as well. (Bach, famous in his day primarily as a virtuoso organist and harpsichordist rather than a composer, would often transcribe violin pieces by Vivaldi, Marcello, and himself for organ or harpsichord.)

Several piano arrangements have been written (by Saint-Saens, Siloti, and Rachmaninoff): I think the pianist here is playing the Siloti arrangement

Classical and classical-rock crossover violinist Rachel Barton Pine gives a really nice analysis here:

Which brings me to Deep Purple. I was a big fan of the pioneering hard rock band in my teens, and the band’s classically-trained organist Jon Lord (RIP) has always been one of my rock heroes. The band are still touring[*] and releassing albums: out of curiosity I cued up their latest, “Whoosh!”, expecting some musical nostalgia — and was pleasantly surprised by how fresh and energetic the album sounded.

The track “Nothing At All”, in the organ solo starting at 2:44, quotes the Sinfonia verbatim (link to 2:44 timestamp):

Enjoy and Shabbat shalom

[*] The Mark VIII lineup consists of drummer Ian Paice (the only continuous member for all the band’s history), Deep Purple Mark II singer Ian Gillan and bassist/backing vocalist Roger Glover, former Dixie Dregs [US jazz-rock band] founder and guitarist Steve Morse, and Jon Lord’s hand-picked successor Don Airey on keys.

Lag BaOmer pilgrimage tragedy: 44 dead in stampede at Meron

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

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

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

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

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

Meron Disaster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

From the Myocarditis Foundation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anand Tofrani on the miserable economic failure of Operation Barbarossa

In my research for “Operation Flash, Episode 4: Hungarian Rhapsody”, I stumbled (via WW II vlogger TIK) upon the book “Oil and the Great Powers: Britain and Germany, 1914 to 1945” by Anand Toprani (Oxford University Press, 2019: http://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780198834601.001.0001 ).

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

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

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

Tofrani, p. 251

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy and Shabbat shalom!

A reflection on oligarchy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Novum Organum (London, 1620), Aphorism 41.

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

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

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

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

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

(Ch. 11: online text here.)

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

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

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

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

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

March 19: Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insty in the NY Post:

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

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

And Victor Davis Hanson:

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

The rules of cynical CEO censure are transparent. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If a Jew may quote the Christian New Testament:

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

(Matthew 23:27, KJV)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Major Karol Plagge
Major Karl Plagge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to Wikipedia:

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

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

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

Israel Independence Day

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

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

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

Yom Atzma’ut sameach!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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