Lockdown: the cure that killed the patient

Synopsis of book by invitation of a publisher

Lockdown may be the most brazen experiment in human annuls. In unison or in sequence, governments shut down countries, closed borders, installed quasi police states and elevated technocrats who toggle ‘what if?’ scenarios on a keyboard; all to micro-manage people whipped into paranoia, by fair means or foul.

The pretext for lockdown, an opportunistic exercise in social engineering that would do Stalin proud, is the ‘mortal threat’ posed by the latest pandemic. The excuse smacks, if not of manipulation then of convenience for ‘Lords of Lockdown,’ the cute title the author gives to the political and expert class from whence lockdown orders and made up rules come. No such overlords rode into battle against contagions of the past – equal, we may add, to Covid in killing power, or lack thereof. Until the crowned virus burst out of stealth mode from Wuhan in January 2020, public health policies were variants of laissez faire. Governments stood aside to let a virus play itself out, as viruses have the habit of doing.

All of it poses different puzzles. The supreme one is, why would anyone whose life is disrupted or ruined or terminated by the lockdown, bow to suppression of a magnitude closer to totalitarianism than to rule by the people for the people? How do even the cleverest meekly submit, or submit because they feel beneficent, moral and pure? One admits, the notion of helping to save life is hard to resist. In that cause huddling at home seems the right and good thing to do.

Admittedly the idea of saving life is more than a strong allure; it is an absolute mandate. But if hard evidence counts? It must do, or we might invent any crackpot cure. And here the author drives the point home: “Round three in the world series. Another lockdown. Who knows, it could work. Third time lucky. No one gives a faulty kettle or a faddish diet three tries. Yet a medical experiment on human guinea pigs, numbering hundreds of millions: it gets three chances. What will it take to learn: The lockdown cure no more stops transmission of Covid than traffic fines stop car crashes.”

Never less than brutally honest, the author gives the fatal diagnosis: lockdown has no science backing, nor as Beatle John Lennon sang, “no religion too.” The ‘sanctity of life’ principle has equally been misapplied to the pandemic, by the religious who misconstrued God’s command, and by the secular who anyway liked the fuzzy feeling from saving life.

Still, the author has not quite done. He goes on to tear the morality argument to shreds. What if saving the one precious life means sacrificing a multiple of equally precious lives? And what if, what if, what if…?

So the knee-jerk copycatting of the command model used by dictatorial China came to be accepted by democracies as the accepted model. Indeed so accepted that dissenters, be they top medical specialists, have their Tweets, You Tube videos and Face Book pages closed down.

Yet no one seems to pose the supreme puzzle. Why would people blessed with democracy and liberty be willing – even to beg – to have their blessings stolen? Why choose to be cloned from the robotic North Koreans? The day the Wuhan virus made landfall every commentator and his aunt predicted that freedom-loving Westerners would never tolerate the way Hubei province was shutdown and quarantined by the Chinese command. Well, Westerners did more than tolerate the idea; they clamoured for the Chinese cure. Not once, not twice, three times over.  

Three lockdowns, three rounds of making havoc, and the elect, who lose nothing, call for more of the same. In the author’s picturesque parallel, their trying out lockdown on a pandemic is no more sane than trying out a bazooka on a cockroach. Rabbis, the author explains, can be more than prone to the madness. As an Israeli rabbi wrote: “Considering the surge of cases in countries around the world, it is not surprising that my family contracted the virus. Yes, we were careful, and we followed all the guidelines, but we got it anyway.” Out of the mouth of babes…

The work excavates how and why the world self-destructed. At the beginning of the lockdown experiment  the author warned to watch out for shenanigans, for long term trouble and strife. He looked up Benjamin Franklin about this. “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

“Lockdown: the cure that killed the patient”, is culled from published essays. The chapters give the reader different perspectives and insights into economic, philosophic, religious and political arguments and their consequences.

The writing is exhilarating, the ideas mind-stirring.  Chapter titles – intriguing and lively – foretell the author’s palatable style in handling a grave, if not momentous matter. Completely fresh ideas combine with colourful and stirring prose to create a work which will entertain while pushing the boundaries of understanding.

The treatise is an eye-opening journey into the evils of a remedy built on the notion that liberty is a dangerous luxury. Perhaps ‘insane’ is not a strong enough word? Now that ‘climate’ ideology is boiling up and beckoning the mother of all lockdowns, generations to come may regret the pilot project on a mere pandemic.  

Lockdowns are both unscientific and immoral

Unaccountable Tsar of South Africa’s secretive Covid Command Council

Round three in the world series. Another lockdown. Who knows, it could work. Third time lucky. No one gives a faulty kettle or a faddish diet three tries. Yet a medical experiment on human guinea pigs, numbering hundreds of millions: it gets three chances. What will it take to learn. The lockdown cure no more stops transmission of Covid than traffic fines stop car crashes. 

The lockdown, the way it gets dumped on the obedient mass, cannot be scientific. In consecutive trials conducted in real time it killed the patient. The cure abolished freedoms with the same efficacy as it demolished economies. Mild and scared, few objected when unelected bureaucrats prescribed second and third doses of an unproven remedy. What do our masters see ahead: piles of body bags and bedlam at emergency morgues? The medics of old kept the sick at home. Our Covid era medics improved on that remedy: they keep the healthy huddled at home. In medical annuls the world was never shut down to fight a microscopic enemy.

Those who run the show call the shots. Who else would – God above? Who needs to run a show? Pandemics in the 1950’s and 60’s equalled the killing rate of Covid, yet nobody ran the show back then. Governments stood aside and let a virus play itself out, in the way viruses do. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)31201-0/  No experts, narrow in wisdom and speculative by nature, relied on murky data and “what if” models to gain power. The family doctor wrote a prescription and ordered the patient to bed.  

Once upon a time democracies struck by a health crisis respected the basic freedoms: to move about, to work, to play, to learn and to pray. “When hysteria is rife we might try some history”, wrote Simon Jenkins under the title, “Why I’m taking the Corona hype with a pinch of salt”. The Wall Street Journal wrote, “The 1968 pandemic raged over three years, yet is largely forgotten today, a testament to how societies are now approaching a (health) crisis in a much different way”. What this means is that pre-science primitives concocted better ways for confronting a plague.  

Take one of the Covid age primitives, Britain’s Boris Johnson, who confronted the contagion with a punchy slogan: “Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.” The first edict worked too well. Town centres and public places became haunts for ghosts. Britain’s economy took the hardest hit in Europe. The second edict was redundant. The health system, as it did almost everywhere, created more capacity than was needed. The third edict evidently fell on deaf ears. Lives were not saved. Britain in fact became the dead centre of Europe. So the wrecking ball, the ‘Stay home’ decree, counted for naught. If Britain’s lockdown saved some from Covid, it definitely consumed more lives by far. And the survivors, the workless: successive lockdowns made them a burden, to themselves and the country.

Then you get the American States of Florida and Texas. Did they pay a price for not abolishing liberty? Were the governors punished for giving tyranny a wider berth than those of New York and California, who put their people through hell, for their own damn good! Ask New Yorkers and Californians. What makes you flee to Florida or Texas?

The pandemic reveals how even the freest societies have a low tolerance for risk to public health. The free and not-so-brave fell to autocratic rule like ninepins. When Corona burst out of stealth mode in Wuhan, the Chinese command shut down parts of Hubei province on January 23rd. Every commentator and his aunt opined that freedom-loving Westerners would not tolerate the unthinkable lockdown. In fact Westerners did more than tolerate lockdown, they clamoured for this Chinese cure.

It should have set off a wailing alarm. A communist dictatorship model is hardly for democracies to replicate. Right now China is stamping out any hint of religion in Xinjiang province. Perhaps a million ethnic-Uyghurs stand accused of radical Islam, and get sent to re-education camps. Mosques are deemed ‘Arabic’ imports. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute reckons that Chinese authorities have demolished 8,000 of them.

But saving life, to the western way of thinking, comes before all else. Let the economy be devastated. Let the masses be suppressed. If lockdown saves one infinitely precious life, so be it.

What however if multiple infinitely precious lives have to be taken to save the one? More, what if the one dies anyway? Was it all for nothing? Closing down society is not a win-win game. To save one life you have to sacrifice many lives. What is the limit to how many may be taken to save the one? The UN reckons that 490 million people in 70 countries will become poverty-stricken. How many lives saved will make it worth ruining 490 million others? Is there an international rate of exchange? And what if those who are saved inhabit mansions, while those who are ruined to save them inhabit hovels? Do we give a lower weight to the dirt poor than to the filthy rich?   

I know one thing. Were I a religious scholar or an ethicist I would give public health the widest berth I could. I would leave it to the class acts. Let the technocrats who toggle ‘what if?’ scenarios on a keyboard idle the time away. Evidently Rabbi Lord Sacks, who was both Judaic scholar and ethicist, thought along similar lines. It seems it came to him that the stricture to save human life is for adoration, not necessarily for adoption. The fact that nations, in the face of the pandemic chose life was a significant victory for the Torah’s ethic of the sanctity of life.”

 Who would not find the sanctity of life revelationary? But from revelation to experimentation on a global pandemic seems a bridge too far – as far as experimenting with a bazooka to zap a cockroach. Nations, in the face of a pandemic, chose life. If that pro-life choice was more than just a token, what the nations really chose was death and ruination.

Two lockdowns, two rounds of destruction, and the privileged who lose nothing call for more of the same. It bring to the fore a last but not least moral poser. Is it right for lords of lockdown to escape the consequences of their own decrees? What makes it right for citizen B to lose his income and job, meanwhile high and mighty A motors off to a vacation pad?

 It is frequently observed that tyrannical movements use and abuse democratic freedoms in order to abolish them. To get a whiff of what the wind could blow in we should heed Hannah Arendt’s definitive 1950 book, ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism.’

“Government by bureaucracy is (rule) by decree. Decrees remain anonymous, and therefore seem to flow from a ruling power that needs no justification. Decrees are used in times of emergency. There are no principles for (commonsense) to grasp, behind the decree, only ever-changing circumstances which only an expert can know in detail. People ruled by decree never know what rules them because of the impossibility of understanding the decrees. There is a carefully organised ignorance of the circumstances in which bureaucrats keep people.”      

Lockdown is a bureaucrat’s delight. Bureaucrats are advised by experts who happen to agree with what the they have a mind to do, which is something no one else quite knows. They run lockdowns by decree, constantly changing the rules, so making them difficult to keep up with. A decree may close off beaches, prohibit liquor, close houses of prayer but allow casinos and cinemas to stay open. We are kept ignorant of what our rulers are up to. Where the decree reigns, know that its soul mate, a contempt for the rule of law, stalks it like a shadow.

Different tyrannies, one lockdown, same evils

California’s Lord of Lockdown
LA’s lawless lawman 

The Covid pandemic will shape the outlook for years to come. In good ways and bad. At the beginning of the lockdowns people confuse with Covid, I often warned that shenanigans would follow. https://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2020/04/beware_of_tyranny_more_than_covid19_.html.   Now that many countries have entered a third round, the entirety of the experiment is open to the naked eye. The sight is not pretty.

 Freedom House, a think-tank in Washington, counts 80 countries with lockdowns where democracy and human rights took a turn for the worse. The list covers dictatorships grown nastier and democracies sunk into quasi police states. Governments to the right and left have taken advantage of a general state of alarm. A journalist named H.L. Mencken wrote, long before the pandemic, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

When people have a pandemic to alarm them they will clamour to be led to safety. Some put their faith in rocky health experts, others in office holders, arrogant as satraps. Both, with big media on their side, find it easy to spread panic and dread. Freedom House counted 91 countries using Covid as an excuse to harass critical commentary. Governments, not to mention media platforms, criminalize ‘fake news’ or ‘misinformation’ about the health crisis, meaning commentary displeasing to the powerful.  

And elections: ruling parties suspend them, on the grounds of spreading Corona. In Hong Kong pro-democracy candidates were expected to do well in the September election. Citing the risk of Covid, pro-China candidates delayed it for a year. Russian President Putin used Covid panic cleverly. He shifted responsibility for strict lockdowns to regional governors; he then took the credit for easing them. A pseudo-referendum to allow Putin to stay in office until 2036 was another good idea. Citing public health, he extended voting to a week, and – note this well, Democrats – he allowed voting at home, in courtyards, in playgrounds and on tree stumps. The ballot was impossible to verify and Putin declared a resounding victory – so impossible that Parliament voted in the new electoral system as a permanent one.

Will all this panic and string-pulling recede with the pandemic? Not if it lasts long enough to get rulers hooked on it. Here we should identify two sorts of tyranny. One is well-meant, the other is not. C S Lewis the classics scholar, author and theologian, wrote in ‘God in the Dock’ about tyranny well-meant. 

“A tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

Clerics were among those ‘moral busybodies’. Once upon a time they used unspeakable cruelty to protect the monopoly of Catholicism and the Pope in Rome. Protestants bore the brunt: burnt, hanged, beheaded, to teach by example, to spare Catholics the torments of purgatory. Evil means were employed to prevent evil.

CS Lewis was a theologian, not a social scientist, and had nothing to say about the other tyranny: evil for evil sake. The masses do not suffer for their own good, or for the approval of the persecutor’s conscience. They suffer in the cause of some cruel and callous scheme. The murderous maniacs of the 1900s fall in this bracket: Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot offered neither penance nor reward, earthly or eternal. Their subjects lived through hell and died, often willingly, for some crackpot utopia.     

Our lords of lockdown are kith and kin of those terrible twins. Some order lockdown for our own good, to save us from Covid. Others order lockdown to exercise power, for the sheer thrill of it. Different motives same outcome. Liberty gets trampled, lives and livelihoods crushed, and far more die from the lockdown’s collateral damage than from Covid.

The tyrants who mean well come in different guises and degrees of selflessness. The front lines are manned by the political class and attendant health advisors. Britain’s Boris Johnson could be at one extreme. The Prime Minster, at the instance of appointed experts, groups his countrymen in tiers of lockdown, with liberties ranging from basic to hardly any. At the other end, the Governor of Florida stops at advising mask wear in public and limiting the size of gatherings. 

Religious authorities are a sub-group of tormentors who mean well. Some chief rabbis appoint a panel of health professionals given the job to impose or to urge dos and don’ts on communities. Their Covid protocols are over and above those imposed by government bodies. Such well-meaning tyrants, such “moral busybodies” who “torment us for our own good,” do so “with the approval of their own conscience.” They sleep better for doing all they can to keep communities safe. Nobody can blame them for mortalities.

Can they not? A spike in suicides is not related to the torments of lockdown? Alcohol and domestic abuse are not cries of lockdown despair? Neglect of health issues leading to preventable death has nothing to do with lockdown? The spate of small businesses gone to the wall, of livelihoods robbed and jobs lost are not aftermaths of lockdown?  A clear conscience after the World Health Organisation warned against lockdown, because the cure kills the patient, and brings poverty and misery? Religious heads and their panels are not to blame for urging stay-at-home as an act of piety?

To spit on lockdowns, curves refuse to flatten, infection rates head where they like, and one in a few hundred infected people die with Covid. None of it stops lords of lockdown egging on their countrymen to greater vigilance, even as lockdown tallies spike taller than Covid tallies. How we hug a faulty lifejacket while we sink! The authors of The Price of Panic present graphs of infection rates from which it cannot be seen when lockdowns began and when they ended. The infection rate, we never learn, is as dependent on lockdown as crime is dependent on jail time.  

It seems too easy for adherents of the lockdown to put their consciences to bed by going for broke. ‘Don’t let your guard down until it’s all over. The goal (which began with preventing hospitals being overrun) has turned into stopping Covid deaths. Until the goal is reached, forget that selfish yearning for liberty. Co-operate!

Is it the correct goal? Certainly scholars of Jewish law are adamant that human life comes before all else. Yes, the economy suffers, but if it saves infinitely precious life, so be it. God is so callous? So rigid? Lockdowns are plunging millions back into extreme poverty, the World Bank warns. The UN reckons that 490 million people in 70 countries will become poverty-stricken, reversing a decade of gains.

Could it be that bible punching bullies misread the Creator’s mind? That would be an error hard to excuse. The questions they had to ask the Almighty were easy enough: what should I (singly) do? Or, what must we (plural) do? You don’t have to be a great scholar to know which of the two questions is right. Failing that, Rabbi Lord Sacks, lately gathered unto his forefathers, spelled out the principle in terms no one could mistake. The ‘I’ question is a moral one; the ‘We’ question is political. The answer to the one is an absolute: Do what you have been commanded. The answer to the other, plural question is: it all depends. Cost-Benefit analysis will guide you to the best course of action.

But how many Rabbis and their medical teams are familiar with the ins and outs of Cost-Benefit? And, if the best course of action evolves from some guesswork, then what? They want clear consciences at the end of the day, as we all do. Why risk making a wrong call and have death on your hands? Better to ask God the wrong question, and get an answer that will indemnify you. What should I do? Save Life. In that case go for broke. Max out the Covid protocols. At all cost prevent death.   

‘The sanctity of life,’ Rabbi Sacks wrote about lockdown, “is a high value but not the only one. What matters are consequences. A ruler or government must act in the long-term interests of the people. That is why, though some will die as a result, governments are gradually easing the lockdown (as) the rate of infection falls, to ease distress and restore suspended liberty.”

Suspended? Would-be tyrants and desperados presiding over collapsed economies would disagree. Obstinate Covid is a gift heaven-sent, giving strongmen an excuse to prolong lockdowns under the pretext of fighting it. Did they look up Benjamin Franklin, I wonder? “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

There is a whole political class that do evil because it can. The quest for safety, it grasps, is all-consuming, and surrenders power into the laps of those who crave it. Also the patronage at their disposal is a money-spinner. Fortunes are made from milking the market for items and services that hapless subjects have to have to feel safe. Panic is obscenely profitable. Tumble people into a contagion and they’ll pay through the teeth to get their hands on test kits or face shields, or even more on the long awaited vaccine. Forget that a dirt cheap, long tested prophylactic mix could have done the protecting job from the beginning.    

A society that divides off a privileged from a dispensable class is a paradise for control freaks. Gavin Newsom, Governor of California, is one. Angela Marsden’s tearful video would send a thrill down Newsom the tyrant as he watches a ‘deplorable’ subject pouring out her pain. A brutal lockdown can destroy a whole class of business owners beyond hope for recovery, something which no financial crisis has done before. Persecutors in the Newsom mould create unemployment of fabulous proportions, not restricted to the working class, but seizing swathes of enterprising people like restaurateurs.       

Los Angeles, indeed, is in the grip of office bearers who could have stepped out of Sodom and Gomorrah. District Attorney George Gascon devised a method to get people to comply with Mayor Garcetti’s malignant stay-home order. The DA will make city streets too dangerous for those who dare go out. Mr Gascon belongs to a breed of radical prosecutors who are  eviscerating law and order so that not too many felons of colour get arrested. His office will not prosecute a range of offenses. They include driving without a licence, trespassing and resisting arrest. His double whammy is well thought out. On the one hand, the law-abiding  will lock themselves in; on the other hand law-breakers get a free pass to make trouble on virtually police-free streets.

Some good may rise out of the plague year. If it does, a new social contract must carry the anti-lockdown motto: ‘Never again.’

A three-card trick

Jacob gets the wrong bride

Unkind people accuse Laban of not being respectful to the deities. His whole attitude is one of levity. The curses of people he swindled and ruined mean nothing to him. They are dismissed with knitted brows, waxed to the compactness of the dark locks of a man approaching fifty, but who concedes nothing to the calendar. He is certain to outlive the son-in-law to be. He gives Jacob, far his senior, a lifespan that fourteen years hard labor must truncate. He, from the superior clan of Abraham, likes to believe in one almighty God, and he looks down on idolaters and their contretemps. Bazaar gods, he calls ebony or metal manikins, though keeping a terafim tucked away. This is the head of a sacrificed baby, boiled clean then dipped in the finest oil from the coconut. In the eye sockets pieces of alabaster are jammed. Through the Canaanite baby he can divine every move Jacob, out in the pastures, makes.

The curses of his ruined associates are like water off a duck’s back. They never catch Laban up. ‘Samas, the light of heaven and earth, should judge you unfairly. May he remove your sight. May Kubaba, god of Carchemish, put a venereal disease on you. May the urine you pass drip to the ground like raindrops.’ No curse has come upon the house of Laban. Blessings, all can see, have done, from the day he employed the heir apparent to the Abraham dynasty.    

People may despise Jacob’s disembodied God, but they respect a work ethic, a talent when they see it. Let the Hebrew worship in solitude ten times a day if he wants. And who cares if no one sees him bring a sacrifice to the invisible deity. Perhaps alone at night with the flocks he brings one. The point is, and the Hebrew-haters concede it, incredible accounts circulate about Jacob’s husbandry. There is no denying it when hills and dales teem with Laban’s livestock, woolly or muscular, or coats that reflect the noonday sun. Laban got a winner at basically the cost of bed and board. You think of your run-of-the-mill shepherd who can barely stumble out a lie to explain lamb bones in the fire pit. Under a nephew who does not own a twig to clean his teeth, every head of Laban’s stock is accounted for. The man is so careful that he watches the flocks all night. On his one day off, the Sabbath, he makes up lost sleep.                 

So Laban: The week of the wedding he invites every notable to a communal hall on the estate. There he discloses his plan. For it to work secrecy is paramount. To ensure no one talks, every man jack of them must deposit a sum of money or food of equivalent value. The promissory notes he issues are redeemable the day after the wedding.

’Remember,’ he tells the packed hall, ‘The return you can expect on your deposit will be many hundred times the value – your money, your meat, your wine and cakes and fine foods. They are worth nothing by comparison. Think. What if Jacob takes my Rachel to Canaan? You know that while he has worked for me these seven years every one of you had abundance of water, giant crops and stock breeding like hot rabbits. The Abraham clan seems to carry prosperity in their saddle bags. If my son-in-law goes the wealth that came with him will go with him. Gentlemen. The old goat is expecting the bride to be Rachel. He wants to remove her to raise a family where, only God knows. If the brother he swindled even allows him to live. Goodbye Jacob, goodbye our good times.’

Blue in the face he lays it on thick. Fat cheeks swelling over tight stock, bandy legs set royally apart, the great head wagging in self-approval, he lets threats and promises sink in. ‘My friends. You lodge deposits on the understanding that if one of you reveals the plan all forfeirt their deposits. After the wedding. Bring your notes …’ He waves a bundle in the air.

Laban is going to pull off three tricks from one event. A thousand guests will gorge on five courses; enough witnesses for when Jacob discovers that Laban has tricked him. He will feel too ashamed to divorce the older sister Leah after marrying in front of a multitude.  

The after effects of the wedding feast weigh on his victims when the axe falls, one two three. They hardly know what hit them. He had transferred the IOUs to a dealer. When irate holders come to protest, he looks surprised. ‘You didn’t expect me to live cluttered up with your items. Did you? I lodged them with a dealer. I dare say, there’ll be storage to pay.’ In fact the dealer had their bills ready. Storage was pricy – more than the value of the deposit in every case. Trick number one to Laban.

He was not derelict in complying with the spirit of Charan’s marriage customs. When Jacob takes his place beneath the carved and stitched canopy, the law officer, appointed by Laban, stands by him. Lamps are snuffed and the players stop in the middle of a dance and strike up the Charan anthem. Couples on the floor scuttle to the sides. Gorgers at their food get awkwardly to their feet, pushing tables forward. There is a furtive movement to smooth down clothes and adjust headgears. At the blast of a horn the bridal party moves forward. It advances down the walkway with the veiled bride looking neither to right nor left.

‘What is this!’ Jacob whispers to the abrasive official. ‘No lights?’ ‘What do you think,’ he hisses. Here a bride does not flaunt her face in front of gawkers and drunks. Turning down the lights is normal. When you’re alone in the bridal chamber, that’s when to look the bride over.’  Second trick to Laban.

You see our predicament,’ he says to Jacob the morning after. ‘It’s the custom. We had to marry older Leah before younger Rachel.  Who, I’m delighted to tell you, is now free to marry.’ The ‘we’ and the ‘free’ are his exit doors. By the ‘we’ Laban passes the blame to others for stopping him giving the bride Jacob expected to get. Now no one can stand in the way. By the ‘free’ he will give Rachel away out of the goodness of his heart – only fair after Jacob got a raw deal. As far as their contract could be honored he had honored it. Still, he feels bad about the whole thing.

With aplomb he deflates the cheated, hard-eyed, quick-breathing newlywed. No triumph or pulling of rank. As the snake charmer snaps fingers to coil the serpent into a receptacle, here is Laban snapping and Jacob fizzling out like a doused fire.  

He, Laban helps himself from dishes on the breakfast table. ‘Sorry can’t offer you anything. Unsupervised food. I saw you eat nothing at the wedding. Leah nibbled, but as a non- Hebrew after her parents she could.’ Jacob says: ‘Uncle. I worked seven years for Rachel. Our contract, remember?’

Contrition creeps into his manner. My son. Wait. For Leah’s sake waitt out the seven wedding days. Upon my word your love shall be your bride on the eighth. I’m going to give you Rachel on credit. No – don’t thank me.’

Jacob, mouth going like a bird’s beak.  Laban, quick to seize the moment. believe you me, Jacob. I’d hold the wedding tomorrow had not my oracle advised against it. Don’t bundle and mix two celebrations. It never portends well for a marriage. To rush ahead would be gambling with your happiness.’

Taking Jacob by the arm he sits him at the table and resumes the meal. ‘Note, he says between mouthfuls, ‘I said on credit.’ Marry first, work off your seven years later. Hey – the same bride price as for Leah. What could be fairer?’ Trick three to Laban.

For Jacob it was more a question of what could he do? He passes a week as a bystander to the nuptials. They would be nothing like the first public, ostentatious wedding. This time it would be a quick family affair. Came the end of Leah’s bridal week, Jacob and Rachel wed, really for the second time. And he begins to work off her price: another seven years of hard labor. By day he makes Laban wealthier than he has ever been. By night he gives him more grandchildren than he ever dreamed possible.

After long days in pasture, Jacob summons the strength to father eleven sons and twelve daughters, and keep two sisters and their handmaidens happy. The four fight among themselves to have him in their beds. His fathering twenty three children foreshadows the baby boomers of jacob’s family in Egypt. 

Tribes apart

Divided by contempt for liberty

Class struggle, in the mind of Karl Marx, mobilised history. Mostly he was wrong. Today he’d be completely right, except for getting the contenders wrong. Labour is not struggling against Capital. Non-elites are in a struggle with elites.

In October of our Covid year the Economist came up with a catchy headline. Can too many brainy people be a dangerous thing? They can, said the article, and they are. Forget the irony that it took a brainy scientist to see that brainy people pose a threat. Ten years ago at the University of Connecticut a Peter Turchin in Nature magazine predicted that ‘The next decade is likely to be a period of instability in the United States and Europe.”

More than for prescience he got a name for picking the unlikely cause: an “overproduction of  graduates with advanced degrees.” By that Turchin meant too few prestigious jobs for too many educated people. Today some 30% of British graduates are overeducated for the jobs they are in. Every year America produces 25,000 surplus lawyers. 

Going back to ancient Rome and Imperial China, he, Turchin traced a 50-year cycle of instability blamed on – here Karl Marx can take a bow – class struggle. “The lurches from calm to chaos are most likely when the rewards of being at the top are lucrative in terms of earning power and political power.” Those who miss out feel the loss keenly. Ever more hopeful elites, as entry to college gets easier, vie for prestigious jobs – a recipe for political chaos. Ambitious, scrambling for the bucks and prime time, they make trouble. The end of it is, order breaks down.

Here, I suggest, the prophet of Connecticut and the Economist of London grow coy. They are leftists, as are the trouble making elite. How to call them out? They simply can’t. The Economist reverts to near anonymity. It populates the block of elites who have a score to settle with a single movement: BLM. Do all discontents stop at bending the knee and toppling statues? What of the burners and looters and killers? Where does Antifa fit into the struggle of elite against non-elite?

Surely there are brainy people more dangerous than BLM or the Antifa rabble, threats to  democracy, to life as we know it. Turchin the prophet, God bless his brain, seems to end with non-disclosure.  

But where ought he start? Surely at the pinnacle not the cesspool. In Silicon Valley the elite are not fighting for lucrative jobs. They’re in them. In Silicon earnings and political power are more than a brainy person could abuse in five lifetimes. Yet they are liberty-snatchers on a Kremlin scale. It’s the Silicon types, and the deep Washington swamp, that threaten life as we know it.

In Twitter and Facebook aggressive elites work at doing that, sorting out content they find ‘objectionable’ or ‘dangerous’; policing political speech; cracking down on ‘misinformation’ about election rigging and lockdown orders. Google’s James Damore exposed the search giant as an “ideological echo chamber” . Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey added warning notices to Trump tweets about Covid. Facebook deleted Trump’s opinions. YouTube squashed his campaign ads. And Twitter again. It landed hard on a story in one of America’s oldest papers. Close to the 2020 election young Jack took it on himself to lock accounts posting links to the New York Post story on Biden’s crime family, the biggest in Washington. That bit of censorship was not election rigging?

Yet the elites who take all of this and more on themselves are kids in terms of life skills, knowledge and wisdom. The arbiters of what is not fit for our sight and hearing are baby faced and freckled. And our post-modern minds, bombarded silly by the media and distracted like babies by smart phones, think nothing of it. Leave it to elites. Allow CNN and the New York Times and the rest, allow even madcap professors, to do our thinking.

How many took off minutes to think it through? Which had the greater chance? That the elections were rigged or that they were clean? Which of the two is more probable? So consider. In violation of longstanding norms, Democrats refused to accept Donald Trump’s 2016 election as a legitimate one. They took to calling themselves “the Resistance,” as if the Trump administration was equivalent to the pro-Hitler Vichy regime in France. Repeatedly Democrat leaders Hillary Clinton, Jerrold Nadler, Joe Biden and Jimmy Carter called Trump an “illegitimate” president. For three years Democrats, to nail the ‘imposter’ stuck with Russian collusion, a hoax proven by their own Mueller report.  

Then consider: if Trump was illegitimate and Democrats were resistance fighters, fighting to overturn his 2016 election, they’d allow a clean election? They’d give Trump a fair chance of winning a second term? The logic is beyond ridiculous. Yet we the incapacitated, the dumb struck, accept that Biden won the 2020 contest fair and square.    

And from Washington and the deep swamp; from scientists and governors and mayors in the cult who tell grownups to do what they’re told, go forth dictats: who shall stay in business and keep their jobs, and who shall become dependent on government handout. House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi Let Millions Suffer To Win An Election.

Nothing divides the elite from the non-elite more than the big Cs, Covid and Climate. Question Covid protocols dictated by unelected public health experts, mayors and governors makes you a ‘Science Denier’.  You’re a cancelled kook to ask for hard evidence that the world will come to an end in 2030 or 2050 unless we go green. Elites don’t debate. They defer to ‘’Science’ or to ‘Experts’. Their catch phrase, ‘follow the science’ means follow the prognoses of scientists that coincide with what elites want to get us to do. Warlike lockdowns and dehumanizing mask wear are the elite’s levers for suppression. And for winning back the White House. The Biden campaign revolved on beating Trump with the stick of Covid denial.

Did one elite channel or paper cover the Great Barrington Declaration, signed by 795 public health scientists from Harvard, Stanford and Oxford, and by some 23,000 medical practitioners? What percent of the non-elite mass know of their prognosis, that lockdowns cause irreparable harm? And did the elite censor machine let out that WHO reversed its position and declared that lockdowns had achieved nothing but poverty and misery?

The license to abuse non-elites is limitless. It allows elites to interbreed science with ideology and give birth to a hybrid: a pandemic named racism. It gives elite rabble rousers the license to not mask up when they mass on the streets. Catholic mass goers are not so lucky. Worshipping the wrong god condemns you to the nether world of the non-elite, a world where Covid protocols are forced down your throat. Ask the Jewish bearded in black of New York. To a fault the religious cannot make the grade for elite status.  

Somewhere, in all of this, is found the ugly record of the pollsters, why, twice over, pollsters did not see Trump in the reckoning. The ‘coy’ voter factor they call it. Coy is the elite’s soft-pedaling for ‘too scared to lose family, friends, business and job to disclose an intention to vote for Trump. Consider the irony. The cancel cult was too effective. It hobbled its polling arm for doing a proper job. Pollsters weren’t able to warn elites that Trump was breathing down Clinton’s or Biden’s back.

Truth holds the key. Elite power stands or falls on being in charge of it. Lenin, Stalin and the Kremlin crowd were sharp wits. They grasped that whoever defines Truth defines power. The Soviet organ Pravda meant Truth. America’s formulators and keepers of truth go to work on molding soft minds, from kindergarten to college. Whites are systemically racist; blacks are systemically victims; gender is systemically fluid; the Founding Fathers were systemically slavers; police systemically mean to kill blacks; men systemically tread on women; Trump is systemically the devil; Trump supporters (half the electorate) are systemically deplorable; the law is systemically biased.             

A professor at Stanford coined the term ‘Poetic truth.’ Poetic because elites need certain things to be true. It confers power. Political strength and cash go with poetic truth like a horse  and carriage. Systemic racism gets BLM blanket prime time. According to The New York Times, one online petition alone brought in $5 million, more than BLM spent in one entire year. The Southern Poverty Law Centre exploited poetic truth well enough to invest $30m in ‘voter registration and mobilization efforts’. Cut through the Orwellian speak, it means paying for the fraudulent mail-in ballots that helped Biden leapfrog Trump..   

Life as we know it hangs on this unknown: do non-elites have the will to struggle on to the finish?

A bargain groom

Jacob begins to work for his uncle

The young walk round and round the plaza taking the night air, boys one way girls the other. No word is spoken. In the northern sky the lightning flaps. They had come out in their best – it could be a pagan rite. Now and then older folk slip into the procession, bringing a touch of gaiety; it could be they know how it was before the Flood when that generation had no inhibitions. This one has gone the other way. Harmless plays, holding hands, chatting, are taboo. The elderly sitting on the stone steps have nothing to say and too many clothes on. From all sides torches flood the plaza with light.

This is how market day culminates. Caravans with baskets of limes and peppercorns, cloves and nutmeg, braces of guinea fowl and breeds of cockerel, also a rarity: four slaves, though decrepit and manackled neck to neck, had converged on Charan Alleyways in the souk were clogged with traffic so that two mules could not pass without altercation between the drivers.

The night social had been the idea of Laban’s father who reveled in public displays. A tatty King Nimrod, Besuel liked to sit and survey the parade, to pick out a fresh young woman for a privileged word with him. Laban kept the event going. Tonight he had brought his nephew along. Jacob must see what marrying into the dynasty meant. They recline on deep cushions set before the dais from which the bust of the late ruler casts blank eye sockets on the merrymaking. Time cannot touch the dead, but it can alter their monuments, snub-nosed and pocked from vandalism and the attrition of weather.

‘I’m thinking,’ he says to Jacob, ‘to outlaw kissing in public places.’     

‘Sir, I don’t know what came into me.’

‘Nephew. Jacob. It did not set a good example. Rachel may be a cousin, but my people don’t think that way. A communal well is no spot for hanky panky.’ He is careful to be an example after the goings-on of the lecher parent he poisoned. Folk to this day feel rancor over Besuel’s depraved decree. They gossip over how he spoiled their daughters’ wedding nights. But the flesh is frail, and the son forgiven.   

While Laban picks him out, Jacob fingers a gold-looking ring. It was not seemly, his uncle thought for a relative to go without adornment, be it of light copper. A destitute nephew on the run living under his roof would not do. Laban thinks that the way Jacob plays with the ring, turning it this way and that, is a mark of his guilt. Had he not blackened the legacy of his grandfather Abraham? A servant puts a low table before them; another sets down a tray with a silver jug, cups and bowls of dates and nuts.

‘A little brandy?’ Jacob takes the cup gingerly. ‘Come now. If my daughter’s good enough for you why not my liquor? No pagan hand came near.’ Then quickly: ‘A joke! Family can make fun of serious matters. I profoundly respect the rules taught in your academy of Seth, son of Noah.’ 

Jacob blushes from the neck up. Predicaments grow by the day – by the hour. But his uncle makes a good point. ‘Away from home, Sir,’ he says, ‘ rules can be difficult to keep.’

Laban rubs his nose. ‘I can imagine. Fleeing the nest will make life quite difficult. But who am I to judge. I would take comfort in a kindly pretty cousin.’

‘I never thought of it that way.’

‘Of course you didn’t. You have problems enough. Robbed of everything by…Who was it?’        

“A nephew. Eliphaz son of Esau. I count my blessings. He had orders to kill me.’  

Laban breathes. ‘I suppose, after what you and your mother did to him…Anyway you have nothing to fear. I will turn my household upside down to protect you. You eat my bread and do the minimum. I don’t care. Nothing wrong. Blood runs thick. I give you my daughter’s hand. You are a grandson of my great uncle Abraham. Who must look after you if not me? Royal treatment even. You won’t hear me complain.’

A bat sweeps across the table. Jacob gazes at the lunatic counter rotation on the plaza. Man and Woman He created. How long could the royal treatment last? He thought of the academy:  scholars cross-legged, learning on Mount Moriah, where Abraham meant to sacrifice Isaac, to be his father. From scholar to castaway: a transition, to him, more difficult than living off a scurrilous uncle. The academy had not prepared him for disgrace. Mouthing a guilty blessing over the wine, the captive drains his cup to the dregs.  

‘And what?’ says Laban at the quick replacement of the cup as though his fingers got burnt. At mental warfare no one beats him. He has already drawn the lines for a battle of wills involving a groom of seventy, a bride of five and a father-in-law more cunning than a bat eared fox.

You are not a masochist or a saint,’ he tells Jacob on the walk back by moonlight. ‘You want to be of use. I can put you to use. God forbid that I give you some menial job for the sake of paying me back. You want to earn your keep and your beloved. I respect that. You don’t want all the sumptuous meals you swallow at our table to turn to ash in your mouth.’ He claps him on the back. ‘Hey. Quite the lady your cousin will be by the time you’re ready to marry.’ He gives Jacob a playful shove that propels him forward. ‘The years will go like days.’ You see if your uncle is not right.’  

Jacob longs to ask, ‘Right about what?’ But he has been taught that it is wiser to placate a ruler than to pick him out. ‘It is better, uncle,” he says, ‘for a man to serve idols than to rely on charity. So I was taught. You won’t find a stronger worker of seventy.’

Laban inhales. ‘You are, aren’t you ….’

They come to the stables where Jacob beds down. He bends to kiss the hand that feeds him. ‘Idols and charity,’ he, Laban, remarks caustically. ‘I think both will be hard to find in my domain.’ The peal of laughter sounds long after the night swallows up the ruler of Charan. 

            The morning finds Jacob in a room under the rafters. ‘Come in, come in. Meetings by the hour. Put this one to bed.’ Genial, he takes his arm and leads him to a cupboard. Throwing open the door, he stands back. Jacob sees a row of stout shepherd rods held by wooden rings fixed to the back of the cupboard. ‘I’m a collector,’ Laban says. ‘The four on the left go back to my father’s time. Whenever a new shepherd started we had a rod made for him. I kicked the latest out on his ear, oh, not long before you arrived. Sleeping on the job. And a matter of stock gone missing. He blamed it on wolves. So I put young Rachel on the job until I find a replacement. You think my two daughters are weak, but put them in the saddle and I assure you, nephew, they are tougher than you. I never troubled my girls with any academy. But our obligations: yours to me and mine to you.’  

The words recur that Jacob heard in his dream on Mount Moriah on the flight from murderous Esau: ‘Devise a plan but it will be thwarted; state a proposal but it will not stand.’ Angels were alerting him that he was going to work for a supremely tricky person. Laban pushes a paper across the table. The terms of employment are clear enough.

Contract for Jacob, son of Isaac   

10th day of Adar

  1. Shepherding: half the going weekly wage
  2. Quarters: Out in pastures a hut. In on Sabbath, the homestead of Laban.
  3. Deductibles: shepherd rod and any loss of livestock, however caused.
  4. Incentive: For every ten births one day extra wage.
  5. Compliance: certified on the last day of the year when a new rod will be issued.
  6. Wedding: all expenses paid at the end of month eighty four.

‘Well?’ Laban kneads hairy knuckles. ‘You can be quite sure of encountering only generosity and integrity from me.’   

‘Uncle, he says, ‘I had no doubt of it.’ Perched on the edge of the table Laban hums as he pins a blue ribbon to the document. ‘There. The bother you landed in is gone and forgotten. The difficult aspects never happened.’

‘Aspects?’ He thinks his uncle will explain. But all he does is touch a finger to his lips and nod at the contract.

Alone he turns to the dispatches. Plague in the province…Laban is always very fearful of infection. Letters from a foreign ruler. Is it true that Charan will fight alongside an expeditionary force against Moab? Certainly not, he writes, Charan never fought in a war. Besides, what an insulting notion! Meanwhile his thoughts are running ahead, eighty four months ahead. He wants a trick that Rebecca’s fugitive could never anticipate.    

Ketura gives it to him at the first Sabbath supper for Jacob. She made two dishes. One was a lentil stew, to confront Jacob with what he paid for Esau’s birthright. The other dish was a gazelle stew, as a reminder how he got the blessing Isaac meant for Esau. By getting Jacob’s goat, Ketura gave Laban a piping hot plan.

It is not difficult to put himself in the place of God. What punishment would be stored up for Rebecca and Jacob? For deceiving blind Isaac on his deathbed, what punishment would the heavenly court mete out? Laban had some lore passed down to him. He knew the basics of Abraham’s beliefs. For instance, forgiveness was not divine.  Punishment was. Measure for measure was heaven’s way of dispensing justice. And it gave the crook the terms for Jacob’s marriage contract.

Esau, he considered, labored long and devoutly to serve up tasty game meat for a dearly beloved father. He hunted gazelle for three days; skinned and hung the carcass on the fourth; trekked home on the fifth; prepared the meal on the sixth; and waited upon Isaac on the seventh. Seven days to serve his old parent the last supper…Which the brother and doting mother took a quick hour to upend. The two nipped Esau, poor fellow, at the post, and cooked up a hasty meal for Isaac. Even that was not the end of it. Isaac lived on for seven hellish days before being gathered to his people. Seven days of confronting the deception practiced on him, and on the son he loved. For every day of Esau’s thwarted labor, and for every day of Isaac’s hell, God, to Laban’s mind, would sentence Jacob to a year of hard labor. A fourteen year sentence!

The first part of the sentence went by, for Jacob, as Laban foretold. The years of shepherding passed like days. Meantime the drought had given way to plenty. Water courses and wells overflowed. Animals fattened and foaled. Laban was ecstatic. And on the 10th of Adar, seven years to the day of making the contract, a wedding is held beneath a canopy erected on the property.         

‘Well well,’ Laban says to him before the big night, “At last you get to marry your cousin. Upon my word you make me proud.’

Jacob, flattered, says if only his mother was here to see it. A pause; Laban bends his head.  ‘When our caravan arrives and mother meets the beautiful bride, that’s when my happiness will be complete.’     

‘Indeed,’ Laban says ruefully, ‘you are marrying a girl of infinite worth. I know a dozen suitors – men of wealth – who’d beat a path to my door to press claims. Better I give her to you than to a man with money who would take my daughter away. I would never set eyes again on my Rachel, never see the grandchildren she will give me.’ Jacob hears, but he is entranced and fails to listen.

The arrangements, in splendor and gaiety, are overwhelming. Every side of Charam life is there: the court circle and military chiefs; Baal priesthood and landed gentry; farmers and tradesmen; a full complement of relatives and retainers. The men are in stately robes, frogged tunics, white jackets, sheepskin coats. Women of different complexions wear silken gowns, glittering headgear and lumpy ornaments of gold and silver. The players strike up. Dancing begins. Turbans and tiaras bob on the floor.

The bridal party is due to make an entry when the guests have had their fill. A canopy for the nuptials has been erected between the tables. This is a magnificent affair, surrounded by potted palms, with brocaded staves, uprights encased in velvet, and an embroidered top dripping golden bells and tassels.

The plan has worked well; so well that all of it cost Laban not one zuz. Better still, Jacob with his miraculous shepherding is locked in for another seven bountiful years.

One good swindle deserves another

Rebecca’s brother Laban considers her deception of husband and son

Family misdeeds in Beer Sheba are in the hands of God; of God, a wife and her warring twin boys.  Laban takes a pause to be shocked, then he forecloses on a property for bills owed. In bad times he conducts business in a skirmishing, cutting way. A scant handful of deals turn sour. For the most part he takes contracting parties to the cleaners. Half the Principality would kill Laban as readily as he killed his father to head up the dynasty.

He waits for the evening meal to gloat over his sister Rebecca’s scandal. 

‘Wife, it is something to learn by.’

‘Learn, sir?’ the wife says, and twitches a plump nose. ‘What can the House of Laban learn from your rotten family?’  

They sit down to a bloodless piece of mutton. ‘What I mean is,’ he says consolingly, ‘when duty and obedience give way …’ He needs a new tack, with her look, more aghast than before. ‘If you met Rebecca you’d never think she had it in her.’

‘Sir, I can’t think any wife and mother would make a fool of a dying husband. I won’t even talk of a mother who’d defraud a twin from her womb.’

‘For the love of God I can’t believe it. So much for all the prohibitive rules they keep over there. And all the praying they do, morning, noon and night; to the God of Abraham mind you. I can see him walking out the cave where the sons sunk him in clay next to their mother. That choice wife the servant brought back for Isaac won’t allow Abraham to rest in peace. Make no mistake, wife, I’m telling you now: Rebecca’s tricks will come back to haunt not just my uncle.’

With her penchant for turning the short-bladed knife in a metaphorical wound, Ketura speculates what Rebecca would gain from the treachery. That wreck of a body, held together by lacing and stays, encloses a voice you can hear from one end of Charan to the other.

She stands on her status, and the windows are rattled from Babylon to Beer Sheba.

‘What a woman,’ Laban remarks, to who or in reference to who, cannot be guessed. He says to Ketura, one cannot tell, but knowing Rebecca she tricked blind Isaac to keep in God’s  good books. ‘From the little I learnt about how God works, big punishments will be coming that way.’

‘And her spoilt twin? Jacob’s trick on Esau was as wicked as Rebecca’s on Isaac. One swindle on the back of another.’

‘Wife, like mother like son. Wicked-minded minds, eh.’

Laban wipes a barbered goatee on the back of his hand. Havoc stimulates him. Rebecca took twenty years to produce an heir for Isaac. It took her the same amount of time to defraud the heir of dying Isaac’s blessing. The hunting twin had a right to kill the scholarly pious twin.  But the story, he was afraid, was much bigger than they understood it. 

Laban, Prince of Charan Naharayim, had soon divined what it could mean for him – as he divined the importance of killing his father, when he got cold feet over consent for Rebecca’s tie with Isaac. Wealth loomed larger than a father’s right to live. Today the killer’s divination those forty years ago was being enacted. Laban was certain that Rebecca would implore him to protect her precious Jacob. He expected the refugee any day.

Only with pleasure. The nephew would bind the family to the blessed house of Abraham, one more time. And who could tell; he might get a cunning son-in-law into the bargain. A man who could outwit his twin back to back – once for the birthright, twice for Isaac’s blessing – would be a prized asset to the House of Laban. His nephew began to seem heroic. Even with the help of Rebecca, Jacob’s feat was not to be sneezed at; a swindler indeed after Laban’s own heart. Mother and son, cut from the same cloth, would be a credit to the dynasty. Peering from the rooftop into the starlit sky, Laban utters a supplication. ‘Dear father, the talents you passed to your son shall be put to good purpose.’          

In truth he has more cunning in one finger than his father had in every bone. He never stoops to unbecoming theft. Deception’s his game – as apparently it’s the game of his sister and nephew. Laban improvises intricate schemes. He makes things happen even the wary never see coming. Imaginative, unrepentant, and with artistic flair, he’s in a league apart. Where the clever swindler does it for the money, Laban does it out of pure malice. Where an artist stands back to evaluate a work in progress, he stands back to reflect on a client heading for the knackers’ yard. Cunning feeds the malice; nothing gives Laban a bigger kick than to load a deal with hazards. It is coming to the point where he will entice two lovely daughters, pure Rachel and Leah, to enter a trap of their father’s making.

He keeps a regiment of spies and lookouts. No business deal in town eludes Laban’s clutches.  In years of plenty the deals came regular as the rain. When the water table rose and wells brimmed over, his livestock staggered under their fat on green hills, coats glowing with health. In good times his avarice cooled, his methods turned desultory. Like a fat spider smug in its web, Laban could wait for prey to be careless. Without too much cleverness he could fleece contractors.  

But this year has been lean. The winter rains have failed and barren hills can’t support  the flocks. Cattle with rickety shanks stray from the pastures, and herdsmen come to blows over the brackish dregs of watering holes. There are no fat cows, according to the dream Joseph would have, for emaciated cows to swallow. In this bad time the troubled crook has to ransack his brain for ideas. So when he gets reports that the fugitive nephew is at the city well, he sends word to young Rachel: leave the flocks with the herd boy. Get to the well as fast as your bandy legs will take you.

He then settles down to the morning routine: bath at nine followed by a dish of lamb kidneys and kasha for breaking fast. The valet has put his inflated pig’s bladder in the tub. Sitting in tepid water he’s engrossed. He plunges the ball under the water and lets it boil to the surface; he bobs it to make waves; he sits on the ball and lets it barrel up between his fat thighs. He likes diversions before getting down to the business of the day.

SA with fatal building blocks, unravels

Why it’s unravelling like a cotton spinner

Not for the squeamish or politically correct

B A        Govt and Politics

M   Com      Economics

Where experts see the evidence, I see through it

Local government level

OUTA https://www.outa.co.za/ has highlighted the commencement of a rates and tax revolt.  Councils were collecting but providing no services. More and more residents having reached the end of their tether, are withholding payment.

The local councils in turn have to meet the shortfalls to afford bloated payrolls of overpaid, under-qualified workers. To collect the money they raise their rates, so adding to the residents who won’t or can’t pay.

It’s called a death spiral.

The spiral has no other end but a headlong collapse of cities and towns. The collapse will disrupt or halt essential services (lights, water, refuse…)

National government level

Law and order has been hanging on by a thread for too long. A flurry of excitement over the arrest of a top ANC criminal is misguided. Ace Mag remains entrenched with the other top criminals.

The problem is, between arrest and being attired in orange convict togs, is a yawning and interminable interval. Retired President Zuma sets the tone. His example brings mighty comfort to the crooks in power.

The lower echelon take comfort in that interval, which gives them no motive to fear or mend their ways.  

When Zuma was allowed to retire with his plunder the game was all but over. The culture of impunity persists. Echelons in the party continue accumulating their ‘toys for boys.’ Meanwhile the luxury car dealerships smack their lips and bank the dirty money.  

President Ramaphosa was and remains part of the problem. The role he played as Zuma’s deputy is not so different to the role he plays to this day. The President enables the rot by appointing criminals to the highest positions of government. Dlamini Zuma, head of Covid Command could be the preeminent example. Who are not crooks are dunces. Look at Minister of Public Enterprises, chemist Pravin Ghordan in that regard.

A state in the failing

The failed state is not so far away. Said a prominent judge, “We are on the point of becoming another Cuba or Venezuela or, God forbid, Zimbabwe.”

The nub of the unravelling?

Tossing merit out the window. Economic signals headed to hell in a basket when merit became the last consideration for filling jobs. A merit-free country and a doomed country are wedded closer than a horse and carriage. http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/24775  

The solution?

A colour blind economy and society.

The nub of the nub of the unravelling?

Look to corrupt, poverty-torn, chaotic Africa

Why the foreskin?

Man is born uncircumcised, and lives none the worse for it. The prepuce or, to give it the crude name, foreskin, may not be the handiest or handsomest part of the body; but disabling? Are normal functions and appetites made difficult because the tip of the member is encased? Surely not.   

Then of what help or hindrance is it for the organ’s good working order? That is the big question. Can the peewee sheath help a man urinate or propagate better? Is it health-giving? Can living without the head cocoon lead to untimely death?

It would seem not: the circumcised are quite hale and wholesome without the wrinkled masthead. Who’d give a serpent’s tooth for that man’s grasp of reality who won’t agree that if the prepuce had some practical use he’d know about it.

Hence the problem: if it makes life neither easy nor difficult, what did the Creator have in mind encumbering man with a spare part? The keenest brains in medical science struggle mightily with it. Why the unhelpful, unsightly cover?

It could be heretical to pester God with so many whys and wherefores. For sanity sake it can’t be good to be absorbed with the covered mushroom head. Yet ramifications do follow.

The first man – who by the by grew a prepuce late in life after eating from the forbidden tree – was born circumcised. Adam, galling to admit, was punished with a prepuce. That is what it was. Retributive justice. The Creator had modeled and fashioned Adam to perfection: no appendage. When Eve abused the Tree of Life, and got her mate to share the blame, Adam’s organ got sheathed, and the harmony between Maker and man was sundered.

The slick model was a false start. The cumbersome item marked a new beginning, branded with a wrinkled arrowhead. The genuine item had to be earned. Whichever way you look at it, since Adam was born perfect, all born thereafter must be second-raters.

But what’s to envy? The orlah (to give it the Hebrew name) is a dispensable apparatus. So what if men folk go without the clean model that works no better than the one they get by on. What is so terrible?  

In truth the purposeless part could be more decisive than the other protruding organs. Man has two bodies. One exists within the limits of his physical being: the ears, the legs, the nose and other parts. The second body is the spiritual double: untethered, free, weightless, able to be in more than one place at a time. Man may hunt while contemplating the infinite. He may fight while praying for peace. He can savor a pomegranate while wreathed in the mystery of his being.

The foreskin cuts a man adrift from his floating double. He foregoes benefits compared to which priceless keepsakes are a tin pot bargain. When Esau bartered a birthright for red lentil soup cooked by a wily twin, he bartered his spiritual double.

A bit of skin! Surely not. Then witness Abraham telling his major-domo to take an oath. On what? Not on some sacred screed kept in the closet. Not on the holy name. Not on (heaven forbid) some idol figure sold by Abraham’s quaint father, Terach. None of the above was good enough.

No object for swearing an oath had more sanctity than a trimmed down organ. “Put your hand there,” Abraham tells the servant. “Swear that you, Eliezer, will do what you’re told.”And that is what unprotesting Eliezer, did: grabbed his master’s member by the naked head. If it seems a little bizarre, recall the wild disgrace of the nephew Lot. To rise above and beyond his making babies with daughters, the price was making a painful vow.

… As indeed Lot’s uncle Abraham made. Reflect. At the age of 90 he cuts it off. He puts an idolistic upbringing behind him. Didn’t the Lord love him for it! Snip it off, God eggs on the dutiful servant. ‘Uncircumcised you are imperfect. Perform bris-mila and you will go to a higher holiness elevated above nature.” In case Abraham did not feel up to the task, a small voice speaks: “Refuse to do it and I shall return my world to nothing.”

We cannot exaggerate the loss from keeping the tip covered – the universe collapses to nothing. What a bit of skin can do.

…But what it cannot do, as long as it remains. The foreskin can’t win battles. Take the army under Joshua at the walls of Jericho. Bivouacked on Foreskin Hill they are not happy campers. Down the lines is heard a gnashing of teeth and a groaning of distress. There’d been, on orders from on High, a circumcision en masse. Discarded foreskins, piles upon stinky piles, make an unsightly hillock. The Commander in Chief comforts the maimed before battle. “I have rolled away the disgrace of Egypt upon you,” says the Lord. Disgrace. To go around with some skin you don’t need: a disgrace in the sight of Almighty God.

Yet Abraham had been hesitant. The model of faith and obedience must consult three friends first. Questioned the Almighty’s wisdom. Kept the King of Kings waiting. It could hardly be more irreverent. Many would call such behavior downright irreverent. What happened to the Abrahamic devotion? God tells him to get circumcised, and he tells God to wait. Here was Abraham’s ninth and, by the looks of it, not the most intractaable of trials. He’d already plunged into eight without a murmur. 

What was problematic about this one – a snip and a cut – that Abraham had to ask friends before he’d do the deed? Here was a superman. He’d burnt the mighty Nimrod’s idols in front of the royal throne. He’d argued with a king who thought nothing of putting a quarter of a million baby boys to death in case they grew up to be Abraham. He allowed Nimrod’s bodyguards to throw him into the furnace at Ur Kasdim. He left home and travelled into the great unknown. He endured a famine and trusted his wife, next to whom every woman was ugly, with Pharaoh. Whatever God told Abraham to do he did, eight times over. And what human fighter would arm himself with mudpies, muster eighteen puny disciples, and rout the armies of four great kings?

Abraham, one would think, had proved himself. And now – a fuss when told to remove some surplus skin? Delay the deed while he mulls over it with friends. Can it be?

It can, if the orlah is the holy divide, the fatal phalanx. The uncircumcised are spiritual pigmies next to the circumcised elite. Abraham had only to do as told to rectify Adam’s false start. What are days of pain when you can put Creator and creation back in touch? It wasn’t like Abraham at all.

He had an excuse, one the Lord listened to and loved. More than Abraham aspired to be close to God, he feared to lose the common touch. The short back and sides would put him on the other side, an Ivri in more than just name. So he lays his anxieties at heaven’s door. “Lord, when I was uncircumcised travelers came to me, but after I do it they’ll stop coming.”

The plea did not fall on deaf ears. After consulting with a prepuce encumbered camp, Abraham took up a steely blade. The hand of God steadying his own ninety year hand, he cut and trimmed until the orlah fell.

The brit mila was sealed. From then on the patriarch and his circumcised camp were marked men.

Isaac married into a poisonous family

Rebecca’s father goes out to look for her carer, in the blazing Charan sun and the bleaching dust. A few storks observe him from the gutter with sloppy indifference: they are heavy from picking at carrion. He cuts at a bird with an ivory- topped cane. From boyhood Besuel had an impulse to kill any living creature, as though he alone had the right to a natural death. The truth is – and he’s not liked more for it – the idea of killing is solely in his mind. In fact the ruler of the principality takes fright at creatures big and small. The stork rears up and flaps across the town, over the uneven plaza with the ruler’s weather eaten bust; over the souk dotted with flamingo and mango trees; over the graves of Charan notables who went down with blackwater or cholera; over a barren belt dotted with family altars and temples; onto the winding murky Tigris.

A bearer, propped against a wall, dozes in a bit of shade. Besuel gathers his bile and spits. Under heavy eyelids the youth begrudges his master for the night a sister had to spend with Besuel before her wedding. The ruler gratifies a taste for virgins by this unpopular decree.

‘The devil take her’, he says. ‘What’s become of the nursemaid? I need my daughter.’

The boy gets up in no hurry. ‘They, my lord, are at the well with everyone.’  

‘What are you telling me boy – Rebecca at the well? I haven’t enough servants. My three-year old needs go and draw water. Fetch them back if you don’t want your kidneys grilled for dinner.’

The bearer is not unhappy. Gossip of a caravan, of gold and precious trinkets, swept through Charan faster than a plague. Folk have flocked to the main well. Open miracles involving water and human strength have a multitude in raptures. The lad can hardly believe the sight. He stands on tiptoe to peek over the crowd. The well has turned into a gushing spring. Where a depression had been was now a lake. Farmhands and tradeswomen lifting their skirts wade ankle deep.  

But the main attraction is the energized mite. Rebecca paddles back and forth with her jug to fill a trough on the high ground where ten camels slake their thirst. The crowd is aghast at the ruler’s daughter exerting herself for a camel owner, tall and robust with biceps like the trunks of a tree, standing idly by. Rebecca is not only watering camels; the giant glugs water from her proffered jug.

“Look you,” a toothless hag points, “the brute is too lazy to pitch water and drink. He stoops so the girl can pour it through that big maw. Have you ever?”  

What makes the commoners incredulous, casts a cloud on the brother. Laban was bathing when his valet told of a caravan at the well. He skimmed Rebecca’s carved sea serpent across the sudsy bath water, stepped out the tub, threw on a loose garment, and hurried down to kill and to rob. The son of Besuel had to alter the plan when he saw the bulk of his prey. ‘The brute,’ he thinks, ‘will have to be done away with by other means.’ He pushes through the idle and the curious to hail his baby sister.

“Rebecca, what do you think you’re doing… His eyes have fixed on heavy bangles on the little arms.

The girl catches her breath. Then rattles off names: Eliezer from Canaan. Uncle Abraham. Cousin Isaac. ‘So you know him by name already.’ Deeply ashamed she confesses her invitation: the whole caravan will be quartered at the palace. Laban’s sniggering laugh.

‘Ten camels, the drivers and a replica of Og. Am I allowed to know who and what your Eliezer may be?’

Bright with her mistake Rebecca adjusts her adornments. ‘Our uncle’s head servant has come on a great errand.’ Laban with a slow smile: ‘Has he now. Abraham, eh. I wonder how you got mixed up with the servant. He comes with a missive I suppose?’ Then he bursts out,  ‘Look at you, girl! It’s beyond everything – a grown man slipping costly gifts on a child he happens upon at a public well.’ Roughly he fingers the bangles the way a money lender weighs up security. Eliezer observes the bullying, and hurries up. For a moment anything looks possible.

‘A sister, your honor?’ Courtesy catches the bully off guard. A pause for Laban to snub him, then: ‘Rebecca, dear sir, happens to be a granddaughter of your master’s brother. I, have the honor to be the grandson.’

‘Nahor?’ Eliezer towers over him.

‘Unless Abraham has another brother.’ They weigh each another. ‘What menace the man does breath,’ Eliezer thinks.  

‘Your master sent a note? Look – I am not abrupt for nothing. You see gifting young girls we happen upon is not the way menfolk behave. Not in our parts.’

Eliezer with all the coolness in the world: ‘If, young sir, you’ll allow me, I will fetch my pouch of documents.’

While he is gone Laban warns her. ‘I don’t trust him much. Old Abraham, I’m told, gives his household free rein. There’s talk of him being decrepit and imbecilic. Anyhow, wait to see what the slave comes up with.’  

The deed is worth reading aloud. Laban reads it with a relish that forms bubbles at the corners of a small mouth petulant from the moment it bawled out the womb. ‘Eliezer is my head servant. He took a vow on my circumcised organ to find a wife for Isaac, heir to my physical and spiritual estate. She must come from immediate family. Failing this (Laban looks up at his sibling) I shall look for a wife among the daughters of my older son Ishmael.”

‘There.’ Eliezer points a finger at the end to the seal of Abraham; but Laban is fawning.  ‘You, sir, are blessed to serve a man as great as our uncle.’ He turns the invitation into an order. Eliezer is not quick to acceept. Laban for all his youth and idleness, is quick of mind. ‘Every trace of idolatry, sir, Rebecca our little angel shall witness it, will be exorcised.’     

So the gay party wound its way to the family seat where Laban takes over arrangements to receive the entourage. Eliezer won’t let the camels be unmuzzled until the inner gates. From the time when nephew Lot and Abraham farmed together, he had learnt to muzzle on the move, to stop their animals grazing on land own by others. Indeed, he has been taught to regard quadrupeds – and all that are warm-blooded – as creatures with souls, good or bad. Beasts of the field or ships of the desert, he’s learnt, are not the blameless habitual browsers as commonly thought.

A tale of a pious man, a travelling Israelite, and his donkey instructed the servant of Abraham.  When some innkeeper brought barley for the donkey it refused to eat. He carefully sifted it, still the beast was steadfast. Mystified how it could be so finicky, the innkeeper asked the owner who asked him back, ‘Did you tithe your barley?’ The other laughed, but to humor the guest he separated a tenth. Only then the donkey ate everything set before it.

Or take another donkey stolen by thieves. They kept it in their cave for three days, and not a nibble would it take of the feed they gave it. Thieves, the animal sensed, could not be trusted to tithe, and further, could have stolen the feed, and one is forbidden to benefit from stolen goods. ‘The stupid thing will die and stink up our cave,’ said the felons. ‘Since we can’t get use from it, let it go.’ The donkey returned to the owner and brayed at the door. He put it in the stall, and ordered the stable lad to feed it. Still the starving animal would eat not a grain. ‘Did you tithe this?’ the owner asked the boy. ‘Of course,’ he replied. He had a thought.  ‘From where was the grain acquired?’ Bought from peasants. ‘Ah, says the owner, ‘they probably neglected to separate. I know my donkey – very strict on itself.’ 

For those who insist that the animal kingdom is ruled by habit, they must ask: Why did the Divine flood-bringer punish animals along with Man? Would a God of Justice let habit-ruled beasts perish for doing what comes naturally? Yet He decreed they share the fate of man. The animal kingdom had acquired the same perverted habits. In Noah’s time sexual license knew no boundaries. The four-legged were as bad as the two legged; they crossed the line between species. Lion mated with giraffe, monkey with zebra, crocodile with hippo. So wild animals went to the same watery fate as wild humans …Explaining why Eliezer, who knew the stupefying ways of God, took every precaution to keep his camels idol-free in that den of Abraham’s kith and kin.

That evening the family and guests assembled in the banqueting room. The chandeliers were ablaze. A row of colored tapers shone a welcome above the main doorway, from which a length of carpeting formed a walkway to the long table festooned with the blue, white and emerald colors of the Principality of Charan Naharayim. At everyone’s place a handsome menu card was propped.

‘It is so like the grand house of Abraham, don’t you think?” Besuel gloats. Eliezer casts an eye down the menu:

Imperial banquet to welcome the Bargaining Council for Abraham

10th of Sivan   

Menu of Foods

Potage from lentils

Spiced turkey

Roasted young goose

Hot sheep and onions

Sweet baked puddings

Imperious at the head, Besuel treats the guest of honor royally. There is a thrill of expectation. If little Rebecca was worth heavy gold bangles, what will Abraham’s agent fetch out of the five bags for her father, mother and brother? The ruler dribbles into his beard.  Rebecca, after her epic feats at the well, sits with composure. Impatient to come to the gifts, Besuel tells the guest, who has dressed in a robe fit for royalty, that he has no problem with the match.

“Look at my little one squirming in her seat – eh, Rebecca? Tell father you are not floating like a swan at becoming a daughter of Abraham.” 

‘You must think yourself lucky,’ the cocky brother tells her. Meanwhile Besuel is nagged by a problem. If he fails to exercise his privilege of bedding a bride before the husband, his subjects will object to a double standard. ‘See how it is – one rule for us and another for Besuel. He must have his daughter for the night, exactly as he does with our daughters.’ His subjects would say that.

Laban, blessed with wiles beyond his years, had foreseen the problem – explaining what made him add poison to his father’s food. No one must stop Rebecca, even at the age of three, from wedding Abraham’s boy, who turned forty that year.

To pile melodrama upon tragedy, before Besuel slumped dead onto his food, Eliezer disappointed the family. To ratify the engagement he sent an attendant to fetch his bags and to hand the gifts around. For Rebecca a trousseau of magnificent garments and priceless keepsakes. For her mother, father and brother, fine fruits from Hebron. Laban, grinding pearly teeth, wished he had poisoned another’s food.

The mourning period began the next day. The caravan with Rebecca with Eliezer on the lead camel, sets off at first light. Before it did, Laban gave his sibling the first ever tainted blessing. Her womb, he prays, must be fruitful and her offspring gladden the heart of Abraham. Thanks to the blessing Rebecca went barren for twenty years. The jealous God of Abraham would not allow people to claim that she bore children on account of a wicked brother’s blessing. From it came a proverb. “The blessing of the wicked is a curse.” A generation later, another proverb would, thanks to a cousin named Balaam, take a sicker turn. “The curse of the wicked is a blessing.”