Wonderful world

I was saddened about the results of the Israeli election. The Beresheet lander, which lost its engine and crashed onto the moon as I was writing this, seems like a fitting symbol for where the country is now headed. Whatever he was at the start of his career, Netanyahu has become the Israeli Trump—a breathtakingly corrupt strongman who appeals to voters’ basest impulses, sacrifices his country’s future and standing in the world for short-term electoral gain, considers himself unbound by laws, recklessly incites hatred of minorities, and (despite zero personal piety) cynically panders to religious fundamentalists who help keep him in power. Just like with Trump, it’s probably futile to hope that lawyers will swoop in and free the nation from the demagogue’s grip: legal systems simply aren’t designed for assaults of this magnitude.

(If, for example, you were designing the US Constitution, how would you guard against a presidential candidate who openly supported and was supported by a hostile foreign power, and won anyway? Would it even occur to you to include such possibilities in your definitions of concepts like “treason” or “collusion”?)

The original Zionist project—the secular, democratic vision of Herzl and Ben-Gurion and Weizmann and Einstein, which the Nazis turned from a dream to a necessity—matters more to me than most things in this world, and that was true even before I’d spent time in Israel and before I had a wife and kids who are Israeli citizens. It would be depressing if, after a century of wildly improbable victories against external threats, Herzl’s project were finally to eat itself from the inside. Of course I have analogous worries (scaled up by two orders of magnitude) for the US—not to mention the UK, India, Brazil, Poland, Hungary, the Philippines … the world is now engaged in a massive test of whether Enlightenment liberalism can long endure, or whether it’s just a metastable state between one Dark Age and the next. (And to think that people have accused me of uncritical agreement with Steven Pinker, the world’s foremost optimist!)

In times like this, one takes one’s happiness where one can find it.

So, yeah: I’m happy that there’s now an “image of a black hole” (or rather, of radio waves being bent around a black hole’s silhouette). If you really want to understand what the now-ubiquitous image is showing, I strongly recommend this guide by Matt Strassler.

I’m happy that integer multiplication can apparently now be done in O(n log n), capping a decades-long quest (see also here).

I’m happy that there’s now apparently a spectacular fossil record of the first minutes after the asteroid impact that ended the Cretaceous period. Even better will be if this finally proves that, yes, some non-avian dinosaurs were still alive on impact day, and had not gone extinct due to unrelated climate changes slightly earlier. (Last week, my 6-year-old daughter sang a song in a school play about how “no one knows what killed the dinosaurs”—the verses ran through the asteroid and several other possibilities. I wonder if they’ll retire that song next year.) If you haven’t yet read it, the New Yorker piece on this is a must.

I’m happy that my good friend Zach Weinersmith (legendary author of SMBC Comics), as well as the GMU economist Bryan Caplan (rabblerousing author of The Case Against Education, which I reviewed here), have a new book out: a graphic novel that makes a moral and practical case for open borders (!). Their book is now available for pre-order, and at least at some point cracked Amazon’s top 10. Just last week I met Bryan for the first time, when he visited UT Austin to give a talk based on the book. He said that meeting me (having known me only from the blog) was like meeting a fictional character; I said the feeling was mutual. And as for Bryan’s talk? It felt great to spend an hour visiting a fantasyland where the world’s economies are run by humane rationalist technocrats, and where walls are going down rather than up.

I’m happy that, according to this Vanity Fair article, Facebook will still ban you for writing that “men are scum” or that “women are scum”—having ultimately rejected the demands of social-justice activists that it ban only the latter sentence, not the former. According to the article, everyone on Facebook’s Community Standards committee agreed with the activists that this was the right result: dehumanizing comments about women have no place on the platform, while (superficially) dehumanizing comments about men are an important part of feminist consciousness-raising that require protection. The problem was simply that the committee couldn’t come up with any general principle that would yield that desired result, without also yielding bad results in other cases.

I’m happy that the 737 Max jets are grounded and will hopefully be fixed, with no thanks to the FAA. Strangely, while this was still the top news story, I gave a short talk about quantum computing to a group of Boeing executives who were visiting UT Austin on a previously scheduled trip. The title of the session they put me in? “Disruptive Computation.”

I’m happy that Greta Thunberg, the 15-year-old Swedish climate activist, has attracted a worldwide following and might win the Nobel Peace Prize. I hope she does—and more importantly, I hope her personal story will help galvanize the world into accepting things that it already knows are true, as with the example of Anne Frank (or for that matter, Gandhi or MLK). Confession: back when I was an adolescent, I often daydreamed about doing exactly what Thunberg is doing right now, leading a worldwide children’s climate movement. I didn’t, of course. In my defense, I wouldn’t have had the charisma for it anyway—and also, I got sidetracked by even more pressing problems, like working out the quantum query complexity of recursive Fourier sampling. But fate seems to have made an excellent choice in Thunberg. She’s not the prop of any adult—just a nerdy girl with Asperger’s who formed the idea to sit in front of Parliament every day to protest the destruction of the world, because she couldn’t understand why everyone else wasn’t.

I’m happy that the college admissions scandal has finally forced Americans to confront the farcical injustice of our current system—a system where elite colleges pretend to peer into applicants’ souls (or the souls of the essay consultants hired by the applicants’ parents?), and where they preen about the moral virtue of their “holistic, multidimensional” admissions criteria, which amount in practice to shutting out brilliant working-class Asian kids in favor of legacies and rich badminton players. Not to horn-toot, but Steven Pinker and I tried to raise the alarm about this travesty five years ago (see for example this post), and were both severely criticized for it. I do worry, though, that people will draw precisely the wrong lessons from the scandal. If, for example, a few rich parents resorted to outright cheating on the SAT—all their other forms of gaming and fraud apparently being insufficient—then the SAT itself must be to blame so we should get rid of it. In reality, the SAT (whatever its flaws) is almost the only bulwark we have against the complete collapse of college admissions offices into nightclub bouncers. This Quillette article says it much better than I can.

I’m happy that there will a symposium from May 6-9 at the University of Toronto, to honor Stephen Cook and the (approximate) 50th anniversary of the discovery of NP-completeness. I’m happy that I’ll be attending and speaking there. If you’re interested, there’s still time to register!

Finally, I’m happy about the following “Sierpinskitaschen” baked by CS grad student and friend-of-the-blog Jess Sorrell, and included with her permission (Jess says she got the idea from Debs Gardner).

Image may contain: food

99 Responses to “Wonderful world”

  1. Phil Miller Says:

    I think you mean integer multiplication, not matrix multiplication?!

  2. Scott Says:

    Phil #1: <Bangs forehead 20 times> Thanks, fixed!! Matrix multiplication is of course still ~n2.373.

  3. Sniffnoy Says:

    (If, for example, you were designing the US Constitution, how would you guard against a presidential candidate who openly supported and was supported by a hostile foreign power, and won anyway? Would it even occur to you to include such possibilities in your definitions of concepts like “treason” or “collusion”?)

    This bit strikes me as kind of confused. The founders deliberately made the definition of “treason” narrow because of how easily the charge is abused. And… “collusion”? What? Do you mean “conspiracy”? That’s not in the constitution, that’s just ordinary law! (And would campaign support from foreign powers even be illegal back then, anyway? No doubt that would’ve caused quite a scandal, pretty sure early America would be (on the whole) very much not a fan of that sort of thing, but I’m doubtful it was technically illegal at the time. That said, I’m very much not an expert here.)

    In any case, the founders did include a guard against this scenario: impeachment. What they failed to account for was party politics, the result of which is that much of Congress does not want to exercise oversight of the other branches, so long as the people in those other branches are of the same party. Maybe if the use of better voting systems (such as approval voting) had been mandated from the start (and no, it is far from chronologically impossible that they could have known about such things, they were already being studied), we wouldn’t have such a powerful party duopoly where the parties don’t really want to rein in their own members.

    But I would hardly say, oh, the founders should’ve defined “treason” more broadly! Not at all! That seems a recipe for kangaroo proceedings.

    That said, I do think you’re right that they sort of, um, overestimated the populace. Much of the population of the US really is quite authoritarian, it seems. Look at juries — I gather the right to a jury trial was meant to be something of a protection against the government, but actual juries often seem to be even more authoritarian than the law. Handling this problem seems more difficult (while still staying within the bounds of liberalism).

    But yeah, I’d say I’m broadly pro-impeachment. I don’t mean pro-impeachment of Trump, although of course he should be impeached; I mean, fricking impeach every goddamn president until they learn to stop breaking the law! These days we tend to require a very high bar before even considering impeachment, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t intended that way, and I expect we’d be better off if it the threat of it were used more routinely. (…Then again, considering how parties control the legislature, maybe not.)

    OK, I’m really being too harsh on the Democrats here — they actually do police their own members to a fair degree — but, well, they’re ultimately still a political party; we’re lucky that they’re not as far gone as the Republicans, and we should encourage any movement away from the pure tribalism and obedience the Republicans have fallen into, but it is worth remembering that they are still a political party, and you can in fact see their politicking in action fairly often, even if they’re not as bad about it.

    I’m happy that the college admissions scandal has finally forced Americans to confront the farcical injustice of our current system—a system where elite colleges pretend to peer into applicants’ souls (or the souls of the essay consultants hired by the applicants’ parents?), and where they preen about the moral virtue of their “holistic, multidimensional” admissions criteria, which amount in practice to shutting out brilliant working-class Asian kids in favor of legacies and rich badminton players.

    As you yourself said, it unfortunately hasn’t really forced any such thing. :-/ Everyone knows there are problems, the question is what the problems are (and therefore what should be done about them), and, as you point out, most people seem to just be concluding this is more evidence for the point of view they already held.

    (…to the extent that this is significant at all, really. Honestly I expect this to mostly just blow over and have no long-term effect.)

    I’m happy that integer multiplication can apparently now be done in O(n log n), capping a decades-long quest (see also here).

    This at least is unequivocal good news. 🙂 Although, a discussion on Reddit got me wondering — this time, right, is in the multitape Turing machine model, which is after all the standard model used in the study of algorithms. But Reddit commenter orangejake pointed out to me that the multitape model violates locality, in that the heads have to be able to communicate with each other in constant time no matter how far away from one another they are.

    This makes me wonder if perhaps the single-tape model is actually the “right” model after all, and the only reason it looks to us as if, say, palindromes can be detected in linear time rather than quadratic is because we’re not used to thinking about inputs the size of a star system… I used to think adding additional dimensions to the tape would help, would be similar to adding additional tapes, but now I suspect I was wrong about that.

    (Well, I wrote more about this over on my own blog, so I won’t repeat it all here.)

  4. Scott Says:

    Sniffnoy #3: I’m aware that collusion is not a constitutional concept. But hey, but in my thought experiment, you’re the one writing the constitution… 🙂

  5. Ahmed Addiqt Says:

    I have an ethical conundrum for you that I hope you can answer with compassion and appropriate consideration of the background. Tel Aviv University annually hosts the Sackler Distinguished Lectures to honor great mathematicians and theoretical computer scientists, including Shor, Razborov, and Wigderson in past years. In you were honored with this prize would you accept the invitation to travel to Israel and give the lecture, even though some of your readers might interpret this to be legitimizing and whitewashing criminality.

  6. Sniffnoy Says:

    Scott #4: Yeah, I’m wary of falling into the politician’s syllogism here. Not everything needs another special case tacked on to handle it.

  7. Scott Says:

    Ahmed #5: I’m thinking that I might say no, but not for reasons having to do with Israel, a country that I visit every year, where my wife’s family is, where I just spent a yearlong sabbatical, and that can no more be reduced to its current (bad) government than can the US. Rather, I might say no because I regard the Sackler family as complicit in the deaths of probably at least 100,000 people through its deceptive marketing of OxyContin.

  8. Scott Says:

    Sniffnoy #6: In this case, though, quasi-fascist strongmen have taken over 6 or 7 countries within the space of a few years. It seems to me that one of the biggest questions of political science for the rest of this century is going to be how political systems could be designed so as to prevent such a massive failure from recurring.

  9. "Ahmed Addiqt" (i.e., a med addict) Says:

    Scott #7: Very impressive, you were not fooled at all by my ethical conundrum!

  10. Sleed Says:

    I worry a good deal about the extent to which this is just concern that we (academics) are not being given as much power anymore (via technocracy), and hoping that we can design a system over the next century where we’ll be more immune from losing power.

    It seems obvious to me (in hindsight, alas!) that we screwed over a large proportion of the population and didn’t much care, which (a) calls into question how great we actually are at running things, and (b) calls into question whether this is a *failure* of democracy or a correction/message — the system working largely as designed.

    Time will tell. You win (er…. I guess not really) if we end up with actual fascism. But I don’t think it’s clear so far that there’s an actual long-term failure here of the American system.

  11. Scott Says:

    “Ahmed Addiqt” #9: Hooray, I passed your devious test! More importantly, if you’re indeed “addiqted” to pain meds, then I wish you the best in getting clean.

  12. Scott Says:

    Sleed #10: My first reaction is, speak for yourself! 🙂 I didn’t screw over a large proportion of the population … at least, I don’t think I did. I’ve favored policies that I thought (and still think) would help ordinary Americans and prevent others from screwing them over.

    On the other hand, I also make no secret of the fact that I’d like more power to be in the hands of people who are actual experts in policy (a set that doesn’t include me).

  13. Sniffnoy Says:

    Scott #8: OK, but what that’s got to do with “collusion”? Is that a general feature of these cases, or specific to Donald Trump? I don’t really think that has much to do with the more general phenomenon you mention.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    You and Dana should move to Israel, vote for Meretz, have at least 3 more kids, and raise all your kids to be Meretz supporters.

  15. asdf Says:

    Do they have Fox News (or the equivalent) in Israel? It helps explain the US but I don’t know if it generalizes.


  16. Andreas Says:

    > She’s not the prop of any adult

    Greta is the daughter of a famous Swedish opera singer and both her parents are climate activist which have used their PR/media connections and large amounts of money to put her in the spotlight.

    I think what she accomplishes is very good, but this part is often overlooked when buying her innocent and “you can achieve anything” character.

  17. Jasper Says:

    Sorry, the paper kind of flies over my head right now, but to be sure:
    The result on integer multiplication only has consequences for computations in the Turing machine model, not the RAM (constant wordsize) model, right?
    In the RAM model — as far as I understand it — we can already do integer multiplication using FFT by viewing the digits as coefficients of a polynomial and then multiplying them. Assuming, of course, that we can somehow compute, store and multiply “good enough” representations of roots of unity, which in and of itself I am not sure about.

  18. Peter Gerdes Says:

    As much as I dislike Trump being openly supportive of a government *some* people in the country view as hostile (a conclusion I agree with) and openly approving of their attempt to influence the election by providing negative information about your opponents is EXACTLY the kind of thing a well written constitution ALLOWS.

    I mean Germany joined NATO a mere 10 years after fighting a devastating war with us. We became strong allies with the UK after fighting 2 wars with them and their near support of the confederacy.

    Ultimately, the reason we aren’t enemies any longer is because the people do (and should) have the right to decide to elect leaders holding out an olive branch to a previously hostile state. The people should also have the right to decide when an attempt to influence US politics is merely insulting/distasteful or so unacceptable as to require a strong response.

    Besides, for all Trump’s idiocy and statements of admiration for Putin he’s hardly treated them as allies or even removed the sanctions he can. What’s unacceptable is the way he prioritizes making himself look good but if it wasn’t Trump one could make a sane policy argument for the overall level of openness/hawkishness toward Russia he exhibits.

    It’s just that we know he doesn’t have any such argument in mind.

    Good constitutions limit the harm of bad leaders they don’t stop the people from electing them.

  19. Tamás V Says:

    I’m wondering if it’s a necessity that any political system will sooner or later find its own boundaries or paradoxes that the founders, or experts for that matter, did not foresee (e.g. influencing voters by fake news or other psychological tricks was not really the core idea of a well-functioning democracy), from where there is no way back any soon, the system will eat itself from the inside. If I think of a hypothetical system based on tolerance for example, it could work great until a leader says “we don’t tolerate intolerance”, which would mark the beginning of the end, as the core idea is likely to become more and more relaxed from that point on I think.

  20. Vick Says:

    Hooray, shoutout to Matt Strassler, whose physics blog was my favorite site on the internet circa 2012-2013

    Boo to everything else

  21. Bob Strauss Says:

    At times like this, you have to be happy with the things that make you happy. I’m happy that my eight-year-old son spent 45 minutes yesterday lecturing me about the big bang, the dimensionality of space, and whether or not god can be truly omniscient. He even tried to draw a tesseract. You always have to place your hope in the next generation if this one can’t get the job done.

  22. Scott Says:

    Andreas #16: I have no doubt that her parents and their connections are helping her (and the fact that she’s related to Arrhenius is an interesting quirk of fate). But unless the accounts I read were fabricated, she’s the one who drove her parents to become climate activists rather than the reverse.

  23. Scott Says:

    asdf #15:

      Do they have Fox News (or the equivalent) in Israel? It helps explain the US but I don’t know if it generalizes.

    There’s the tabloid Israel HaYom (funded by Sheldon Adelson). Not sure about TV though.

  24. JimV Says:

    There is a comment section over at Brad DeLong’s “Grasping Reality” that proposes several changes to our (USA) government that would improve things, including a way to eliminate gerrymandering and a way to reduce gridlock between the two houses of Congress which leaves a power vacuum for the executive to fill (spoiler for the latter: by having only one house that produces laws). Very interesting reading, but historical contingencies seem to have us stuck in an evolutionary dead end. Well that, and the fact that our elementary education system tends to teach us that the USA has the greatest system ever.

  25. Pierre Says:

    Why are SATs the only bulwark against the collapse of meritocracy?

    I’ve always found both the SATs and the self-indulgent “personal essay” to be absurd selection mechanisms and terrible commentaries on the level of US high school education. (Though I suspect a Jordan Peterson would see in the personal essay an exemplar of the tradition of “Anglo-American individualism” as opposed to the evil collectivists on the European continent…)

    I don’t expect American kids to be able to write dialectical compositions on subjects such as “Can virtue be taught?” or “What’s a number?”, but perhaps educators might contemplate moving the needle a little closer to the French or International Baccalaureate nonetheless. One can dream.

  26. Esq. Says:

    Are we forgetting the English and Alexander Hamilton love affair? Also, we literally raised funds from France to defeat a rightful (at the time) monarch.

    Foreign intervention is an American pastime. And why are we worried about FI? There is enough Corporate money to wash the whole of Russia in red, white, and blue ink.

    Regardless, I think the states should elect the senators. The constitution wanted the states to be the testing grounds for governance.

  27. Will Says:

    Hi Scott,

    I’m curious if you can define a point at which you would ‘abandon’ Israel. As in perhaps upholding a personal boycott against Israel or maybe supporting government sanctions against them. Understanding that for your wife this might mean a self-imposed exile from her own country. An extreme measure, but surely there must be some point at which it becomes thinkable. What is that point?

    I’m asking partially because I struggle with a similar question myself, but also perhaps it would be helpful for you to define a red line to prevent a frog-in-boiling-water type issue where you gradually get used to things your previous self wouldn’t tolerate.

    I recently read Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, a really interesting book that deals with some related issues, and discusses why loyalty to a corrupted institution is often valuable.. but only up to a point.

  28. Sniffnoy Says:

    Pierre #25: I feel like it’s worth pointing out here that you’re making exactly the sort of mistake that Scott warns about, by grouping together the SATs with the infamous “personal essays”!

  29. Dana Says:

    For context: Netanyahu’s party (Likud) won 36/120 parliament seats, whereas the party that was formed to defeat Netanyahu (Blue and White) won 35/120 parliament seats.
    Netanyahu gets to be prime minister again because the right coalition secured 65/120 parliament seats (of them, 15 are of the ultra-orthodox parties).
    There are four corruption cases against Netanyahu for which the Israeli police recommended indictment. It remains to be seen how those evolve.

  30. Pierre Says:

    Sniffnoy #28:

    I’m only grouping them together to the extent I think they’re both bad. The personal essay for the obvious reasons Scott outlines (self-indulgent introspection full of Oprah-level platitudes, easily outsourced), the SATs for all the reasons IQ tests are insufficient (mainly that that they have no bearing on discursive thinking and expression).

  31. Boaz Barak Says:

    Hi Scott,

    Very happy about integer multiplication, black hole, the discoveries from the KT event (thanks for the tip on the New Yorker article!), Greta Thunberg, and of course the Sierpinskitaschen 🙂

    I don’t agree with you regarding college admissions. First of all, any system can be gamed if you are willing to invest enough resources in it, so I am not sure we can draw any conclusions from the recent scandal, except perhaps getting some estimates to how much it costs to cheat your admission into USC (about $500K, it turns out).

    Second, I don’t think the admission is “broken”, at least not at my university (Harvard). I admit I am not involved in the process and don’t really know all the details, but I think the end result of it is sufficiently good to say that it is not completely broken.

    By “end result” I mean I am very happy with the quality of students I see (which is not a small fraction of the whole student body, given how popular CS is). They are all excellent among a number of different dimensions. I do not think that this would be better if we used standardized tests (and I do have some experience with such systems, since as you know this is how things work in Israel).

    When you are necessarily very selective, if you make your decisions based on standardized tests, the end result is that you make your choices based on whether someone sat for 4 hours in a room and got 297 questions correct out of 300 or 299 questions. Standardized tests would mean that you would prefer someone that does well on all parts of the exam to someone that is so off the charts in one area that they cannot be measured. For example, you would reject someone that got medals on math olympiads etc.. if they didn’t get a perfect score on the SAT verbal.

    This is of course just my perspective as one professor in one university. It doesn’t mean that everyone here agrees with me (in particular apparently Pinker doesn’t), nor does it mean that if this system works for Harvard it should be adapted in all other colleges and universities. But these are my 2 cents.


  32. Scott Says:

    Pierre #25: I agree that it wouldn’t be hard to improve on the SAT. For one thing, the ceiling is too low—if nearly everyone with a serious shot at getting in to Harvard, MIT, etc. on merit has 1600-O(ε), then it’s no longer a useful differentiator. Also, yes, a writing component would be good.

    But I maintain that, given the current realities in the US, getting rid of the SAT without a different entrance exam to replace it would certainly make things much, much worse. Right now, the SAT functions as the one component in the entire system (other than sports performance…) that rich, well-connected people can’t easily game—which is exactly why some of the parents charged by the FBI resorted to outright cheating. For those who believe that a high SAT score can be bought purely by expensive coaching, think about it: if it were so easy to do, then why didn’t these multimillionaire parents do it?

    As often, The Simpsons got there first. In one of the greatest clips in its history, Mr. Burns is trying to get his doofus son (voiced by Rodney Dangerfield) accepted to Yale. The Yale admissions officer takes out a booklet that matches the applicant’s SAT score to the size of the donation needed, and tells Mr. Burns that unfortunately, in his son’s case, he would need to buy Yale a new international airport. Can you even imagine Mr. Burns getting priced out of the market by grades or personal essays?

  33. Scott Says:

    Boaz #31: Given the level of demand to go to Harvard, I daresay that the admissions process could be almost arbitrarily broken and you’d still be blown away by the quality of the students who show up. (And incidentally, if I didn’t think that getting to go to Harvard and learn from the likes of Boaz Barak was an enormous good, then I wouldn’t care about this issue… 🙂 )

    As I said above, I share your concern about the meaninglessness of differentiating 297/300 from 299/300, but that could be fixed by simply making the test harder. And as I said in the discussion here five years ago (which I think you also participated in?), my ideal admissions regime would reduce or eliminate dependence on grades, extracurriculars, etc. and use an entrance exam as the primary criterion, but it would also set aside a minority of slots for students who actually had extraordinary achievements or overcame unusual adversity (or were from historically disadvantaged and underrepresented groups).

  34. Scott Says:

    Will #27: In terms of my personal “red line” for voicing criticism, despair about Israel’s future, etc.—obviously that’s already been crossed.

    In terms of a red line for no longer calling myself a Zionist, I don’t see why that would ever be necessary. I’d still agree with the values of Herzl and Ben-Gurion, even if the Israeli government itself no longer agreed with them.

    Finally, in terms of boycotting Israel, refusing to travel there, etc., I’d say that my red line is similar to my red line for doing the analogous things with the US. I.e., it’s extremely high, higher than many people (including me) might like. But at least I’m consistent here: I think that blanket boycotts of entire countries are almost never a good idea, even in cases where on their face they’d be more justified than in the case of Israel. To take one example, I hope someday to visit Iran … as soon as my Iranian friends tell me it’s safe, and as soon as Iran will let me in with all the Israeli stamps on my passport. 🙂

  35. Boaz Barak Says:

    Scott #33, first of all thanks 🙂

    I am *definitely* not saying that the current admission system is the best of all possible systems, but generally predicting the future potential of 17 year olds is not an easy problem, and I am not sure why one would give up on all signals from a candidate’s life and just focus on standardized tests. I confess that Harvard’s admissions is a bit of a black box to me, but most students are not very rich (most are on some kind of financial aid) and so it seems that it’s not trivial to game it with money.

    That said, while I don’t think I participated in the last discussion, if you do ever become a president of a university and institute your admissions policy, I would be very curious to see how the end results differ, and definitely encourage my kids to apply there 🙂

  36. Pierre Says:

    The SATs are revealing of lack of ability if one doesn’t nail them, and that’s about it. It’s rather terrifying that the majority of the discursive side of the evaluation process is taken up by the “personal essay.”

    I agree that there really ought to be competitive entrance exams. But that clearly won’t happen as long as the US remains the world’s foremost plutocracy.

  37. Nick Nolan Says:

    Netanyahu is just a symptom, just like Trump is a symptom. Italy was again the first country to present new type of leader (Silvio Berlusconi became the PM in 1994 for the first time). None of these leaders could not do what they doe without others playing along. The playing field where these shady characters can prosper has been developing for decades.

    Zionism of the early 1900’s had similar approach to the ‘Jewish problem’ as National Socialists had. Jews can’t mix with others, every ethnic group needs their own country. As far as I know Einstein was directly against Jewish nation state in his writings. He was cultural Zionist, never a Zionist in the same sense as others. Jews would have lived in the Jordan as one ethnicity among others.

    It seems that Zionists, Nazis and nationalists were right all along. Liberal citizen state is surprisingly fragile. Nation states are still the norm. Only large cosmopolitan cities seem to be immune. The Zion for those who don’t belong is major city like NY, London, Amsterdam or Berlin. Stay within city limits.

  38. Scott Says:

    Nick #37: As a “radical centrist,” I insist that there exists a range of intermediate positions between “ethnicities can’t mix so we need to forcibly segregate humanity by race,” vs. “there’s no need for any nation-states at all; Hungarians have exactly the same right to live in Japan as Japanese do.” For example: there’s some value to preserving the world’s diversity of cultures, which means in particular that (depending on their history and other factors) countries could have a legitimate interest in setting immigration policy in a way that prevents their demographics and culture from changing too rapidly. But subject to that constraint, open is better than closed, and if outsiders who come in search of economic opportunity are being demonized, then something has gone horribly wrong.

  39. James Gallagher Says:

    There are many positive things going on in the world and it’s a shame the media is obsessed with the depressing things, nice job highlighting some of the good stuff. I did feel sorry for the Beresheet lander crash though, it brought back the sad memories of the apparent loss of Beagle 2 on Mars, Christmas Day 2003, and poor Professor Colin Pillinger died 8 months before it was finally discovered intact on the surface of Mars (Solar panels failed to deploy). I hope the UK and Israel will have better success in the future, they certainly should not give up on this type of project.

    BTW I can do integer multiplication in at least O(log n) in my head, problem is I get at least O(log n) error, however, if one of the numbers is a power of 10, I can get the exact answer – I like to think of this as the uncertainty principle of integer multiplication.

    That New Yorker article on the “Day the Dinosaurs died” is a great read, thanks for posting the link, but they missed out the possibility that the asteroid was deliberately directed towards Earth by a, frankly, fed-up higher Alien race who had watched the dinosaurs do nothing particularly interesting for over 100 million years and decided a reboot of evolution was in order!

    Have a good weekend Scott, there are many things to be happy about amongst all the negativeness in the world!

  40. Michael Says:

    @Peter Gerdes#18, Esq.#23- The difference with Trump is twofold. First, he urged Russia to hack his rival’s campaign while simultaneously suggesting they might not be doing the hacking (!) That’s different from a generic “Let’s be friends with Russia” campaign. Secondly, he tried to make a business deal with Russia worth hundreds of millions of dollars and hid it from the electorate while during the primaries he was talking about the need to improve relations with Russia. The voters had a right to know about any influences Russia might have on Trump and the fact that he hid it gave Russia leverage on him.

  41. Radford Neal Says:

    Michael wrote: “he urged Russia to hack his rival’s campaign”

    No. First, his comment was pretty obviously a joke. But even if you were to take it seriously, Trump wasn’t asking the Russians to hack Clinton’s server. Her server had already been taken off line. She had also deleted 30,000 emails that had been on the server, perhaps illegally. The joke was based on the assumption that since her server was terribly insecure, the Russians had probably already hacked it, and had her emails. So Trump was asking the Russians to help out the FBI by providing them with the deleted emails that they hadn’t been able to recover.

    Now that you know the actual facts, what do you make of the constant repetition of this story in certain quarters?

  42. Shmi Says:

    Scott #34:

    > I hope someday to visit Iran … as soon as my Iranian friends tell me it’s safe, and as soon as Iran will let me in with all the Israeli stamps on my passport.

    Universalizing this a bit might be more consistent, since, as a high-profile scientist, you may get an exception from the general rules. How about “as soon as Iran will start letting people in despite Israeli stamps in their passport”?

  43. Scott Says:

    Shmi #42: I’ve had problems with travel visas several times, and not once did my ‘scientific profile’ (such as it is) make any difference at all. I mean, if Adi Shamir couldn’t get a visa to come to the US for the RSA conference, despite him being the “S” in RSA and Israel being one of the US’s closest allies, what are the chances that Iran would roll out a red carpet for me? (It wouldn’t help that I’ve often harshly criticized Iran’s government on this blog, even while praising Iran’s people.)

  44. Michael Says:

    @Radford Neal#41- No, Trump said “”Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 (Clinton) emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” OUR PRESS.
    It was later that day, after criticism, that he said he wanted anyone who had Hillary’s emails to turn them over to the FBI.
    And to confirm, here’s a link to Fox News, which is pro-Trump:
    And amazingly, the day he said it, Russia made fresh attempts to hack Clinton’s emails:

  45. Radford Neal Says:


    I’ve no idea why you think the “rewarded mightily by our press” part is so significant. Given that the press were largely anti-Trump, it sounds to me like sarcasm – he’s saying the press would actually prefer for the emails to remain undisclosed.

    Again, by this time, Clinton’s server had been decomissioned. There was no possibility of the Russians hacking it. It’s conceivable that Clinton had saved the emails somewhere else, which might be hackable, but I’ve never heard of any indication that this is actually so. Your second link refers to (Russian?) phishing attempts. It says they targeted 300 individuals, starting before Trump’s comment. It’s hardly surprising that they made a phishing attempt the day after his comment. There’s no reason whatever to think the people targeted had copies of the 30,000 emails.

    But I suppose you also think that Trump gets his jollies from watching women urinate on a bed once used by the Obamas – something that I guess must seem plausible to some Russians, who maybe still think in terms of tsars and lese majeste. Of course it’s utterly ridiculous to anyone with North American sensibilities – and without a desire to believe anything, anything at all, if it feeds their political fervor.

  46. Nick Nolan Says:

    Scott #38 In some cases there is no stable and pragmatic middle point. Nation state versus citizen state in multi-ethnic country is one of those cases.

    I think that “preserving the world’s diversity of cultures” might work without hurting others when the nation is highly mono-ethnic and wants to stay culturally or racially pure. In those cases by all means reduce the immigration or select people culturally to maintain the purity of “our way”.

    But when the nation is already reasonably multi-ethnic, this does not work ethically. The US may want more Irish and less Latino to maintain it’s culture and language, but that means that Latinos already in the US are considered “the other” and second rate culturally. Same applies to Israel importing only Jews and refusing to accept Arab immigrants. Either you have multi-ethnic nation where the laws and the policy is color and culture blind and all citizens are equal, or you are “bigot-light” at minimum.

    Side note: As someone who considers himself a radical centrist, I think the sentiment expressed in “I insist that there exists a range of intermediate positions … ” does not represent radical centrism very well. Maybe I read too much to the words you chose, but insisting that positions must be in between (averaging) sounds very traditional centrism. Insisting the freedom to take solutions from the whole range of ideas and fitting (not averaging) them together sounds more radical centrism to me.

  47. Intrastellar Says:

    Thanks for including a link to Matt Strassler’s writeup – it is worth reading just for the note that “A singularity in a formula implies a mystery in nature — not a singularity in nature.”

    I wish this would have been addressed more explicitly in actual physics courses as well as popularizations.

  48. Scott Says:

    Intrastellar #47: I could’ve told you that too 🙂 — the general view is that a singularity is GR telling you that you now need quantum gravity, GR itself having broken down — but yes, I really like the way Matt put it.

  49. Intrastellar Says:

    Scott 48, that much has been clear to me for a while yet I’m still running into people with advanced degrees insisting that there is a physical spacetime singularity behind the event horizon while none of them would probably say that the breakdown of Ohm’s law at superconductivity implies infinite current.
    OTOH if this notion is well accepted – doesn’t it render the “cosmic censorship principle” essentially tautological ?

  50. Scott Says:

    Intrastellar #49: Yes, it’s generally accepted. No, it does not render cosmic censorship tautological. Cosmic censorship is a statement about classical GR, about where you could observe the places in which GR breaks down (whatever new theory takes over in the real world in those places).

  51. Mateus Araújo Says:

    Intrastellar #47: I’m afraid I might be being pedantic, but I think the way Strassler put it is a bit misleading: there is no “mystery in Nature”, the mystery is in our minds. Nature just does whatever it does, it couldn’t care less about whether we understand it or not.

  52. Intrastellar Says:

    Mateus Araújo #51 I don’t think there’s anything misleading about Strassler’s formulation here – that’s just what the semantics of the word ‘mystery’ are – ‘mystery in Nature’ means our lack of information about Nature, just like ‘The mystery of Jack the Ripper’ means we don’t know who Jack the Ripper was not that he himself did not know that.

    Although in the case of a black hole there is in fact a fundamental mystery in nature about that particular region of itself everywhere else outside of that region !

  53. murmur Says:

    Scott, why do you think the two state solution will do anything to solve the conflict between Israel and Palestine? Consider the example of India and Pakistan. Indian Muslims said they can’t live in a state with Hindus, so they got their own country. But that did nothing to solve the problems between them. Israel’s experience is unlikely to be different. Gaza got self rule in 2005 but that still didn’t stop terror attacks from Hamas. Why do you think Palestinians will stop attacking Israel if it retreats to the pre-1967 border?

  54. murmur Says:

    While going through the New Yorker article about the KT boundary I was constantly thinking that the situation seems uncomfortably similar to various instances of scientific hype or fraud. A 37 year old PhD student discovering the finding of the century with little institutional backing, the secretive nature of DePalma, his history of making inflated and inaccurate claims – all of these seemed red flags to me. Also when their initial hypothesis didn’t pan out they had to resort to even more implausible claims – this must have happened within one hour of the impact, not even one day. What’s the likelihood that all these claims are true?

    After a little Google search I found that I’m not alone in my doubts. Many leading specialists have expressed skepticism; in fact the paper got rejected from the first journal the authors submitted it to.

  55. Rahul Says:


    Do you think the undergrad admissions process would improve if academics and departments are more involved in admissions than leave it to a dedicated “admissions office” whose only job it is to select?

    e.g. Grad school admissions seem a better process.

  56. JimV Says:

    Murmur, I too think a two-state situation would be an improvement, although not a cure-all. I expect many if not most of the people in the new state, e.g. Pakistan, would be satisfied to live their lives without further strife and without continually feeling like second-class citizens. So the happiness quotient of humanity would improve. Plus it seems an improvement in fairness (in the sense that monkeys demonstrate feelings of in experiments). In this world, all that one can hope for is to leave things a little better than one found them.

  57. Scott Says:

    Rahul #55: I absolutely think that! Indeed, that was a main thesis of my post on this subject five years ago.

  58. Scott Says:

    murmur #53: I absolutely don’t think Palestinian terror attacks would cease under a two-state solution. But terror attacks, appalling as they are, are not and have never been an existential threat—in that respect (and that respect only), I agree with the right-wing idea that “the conflict can be managed.” By contrast, annexing the West Bank (as Netanyahu is now threatening to do) would lead to a genuinely unsustainable situation, since the Palestinians will eventually need to be given Israeli citizenship, and then Israel as a Jewish state will cease to exist.

  59. Mitchell Porter Says:

    When I heard about Caplan and Weinersmith’s book a few days ago, I was filled with fury. Mass immigration, and more specifically the fact that the majority opposite it and the elite support it, is the number one reason for the populist revolt occurring in western societies. Open borders is a nation-wrecking ideology which will only breed civil conflict and, in this case, antisemitism. I wrote to them and basically said that I now support the abolition of Israel. I am very unsatisfied with that response, but you can take its extremity as a measure of how I feel about the issue.

  60. ThePrussian Says:

    [edited for better tone & politeness. Link included because the argument is far too long to reproduce here]

    I’m happy that my good friend Zach Weinersmith (legendary author of SMBC Comics), as well as the GMU economist Bryan Caplan (rabblerousing author of The Case Against Education, which I reviewed here), have a new book out: a graphic novel that makes a moral and practical case for open borders (!)

    Okay, how about Open Borders For Israel? Everyone knows why that is a bad idea – it would lead to every last jew and infidel in Israel getting slaughtered within about two weeks.

    On twitter I said that Zach could very easily convince me of the value of open borders by doing one simple thing: he should run a series of cartoons making as much fun of Mohammed as he routinely makes fun of Christ.

    And, of course, answer came their none. And that is the small problem with open borders.

    So I find it ironic that Scott includes this in a post fretting about a new Dark Ages. If you want a policy that would send humanity back to the Dark Ages on an express train, open borders is hard to beat.

    Also, you read the whole post fretting about Trump, Netanyahu, Orban etc. etc., you can ponder all of Scott’s concerns about the populist backlash, without seeing the slightest hint of an acknowledgement that that backlash is there because western left-wing elites have spent the last 18 years making excuses for the most reactionary, the most backward, the most anti-enlightenment force on the planet.

    Sorry to be Mr Uncomfortable Truthersaurus here, but: Trump, Netanyahu etc. are actually the most liberal you are likely to get. The alternative isn’t hand-holding and singing kumbaya, the alternative to them is so awful it doesn’t bear thinking about. Reasons why outlined here:


    But the summary is that all other opposition has been knocked out so effectively that what would likely replace Trump etc. isn’t the left, but actual fascists and killers.

    And, for the record, I loathe Trump, and could make a better case against him than most. I take no pleasure in this. But reality is not what we want it to be.

  61. Tamás V Says:

    Scott #58: Is there also a holistic characterstic of the United States that you‘d like to sustain (or restore even)?

  62. ThePrussian Says:

    What I am consistently baffled by is how people with such devotion to the scientific method as Scott and Zach can so consistently fail to apply it in their political and ethical pronouncements. That is, to check them against reality. For, if you look even slightly at the situation in Europe, it is obvious that open borders are the number one thing that is destroying Enlightenment liberalism, across the board. When it comes to:

    – replacing free speech with blasphemy law, including mob-administered death penalty for blasphemy
    – erasing women’s rights and slowly decriminalizing blasphemy
    – skyrocketing antisemitism
    – the most violent anti-gay hatred
    – the attack on religious minorities
    – etc.

    well, when it comes to those, if you examine them, you find Europe’s insane immigration policies have lead to them. So we are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

  63. LK2 Says:

    I’m not happy, because you are happy about X-rays from a blackhole. That’s because they were actually radio-waves 😉 .

  64. fred Says:

    Well, at least you didn’t mention global warming!

    The impact of global warming will multiply all the things we worry about.

    And the root of it all is overpopulation.
    As Cousteau put it decades ago:
    “What should we do to eliminate suffering and disease? It’s a wonderful idea but perhaps not altogether a beneficial one in the long run. If we try to implement it we may jeopardize the future of our species…It’s terrible to have to say this. World population must be stabilized and to do that we must eliminate 350,000 people per day. This is so horrible to contemplate that we shouldn’t even say it. But the general situation in which we are involved is lamentable”
    There’s really no scenario where 10+ billion people can live in a pristine and sustainable earth.
    And guess what? If we don’t solve this, mother nature will do it for us, through Global Warming… the sad irony is that Global Warming can be seen as a solution as much as a problem.
    And apparently it’s already too late to do anything about it. I even suspect that the powers in charge are aware of this reality, and acting accordingly, like stop funding long-term infrastructure overhauls in area that will be flooded.
    With the rapid advances in AI and automation, it’s easy to imagine how the billionaire elite will eventually isolate themselves from the masses, leaving them to their fate – yeah, yeah, that’s exactly the story of John Boorman’s goofy and prophetic “Zardoz”.

  65. fred Says:

    Scott #48

    Matt Strassle also writes:
    “First, there probably is no singularity in the first place. It drives me nuts when people say there’s a singularity inside a black hole; that’s just wrong.”

    How can he be so sure given that we don’t even fully understand the nature of sub-atomic particles. Aren’t they “singularities”?

  66. Tamás V Says:

    fred #65: I agree, God must have the power to divide by zero.

  67. Scott Says:

    Mitchell Porter #59, ThePrussian: I’m in what’s surely an unusual position—namely, I actually want to read Bryan and Zach’s book before I fully form an opinion about its subject matter. It’s possible (if unsatisfying) to feel confident that certain extreme positions are wrong, without being confident of which more complicated position is right; and it’s also possible to believe simultaneously that a borderless world is the ultimate ideal (Bryan presented data in his talk to show that dismantling borders, with no other changes, would literally double the world’s GWP), but also that agitating for open borders in the world as it currently exists is dangerous or counterproductive for this or that reason. But I’m not sure yet!

  68. fred Says:

    Worrying about the “fragility” of Enlightenment while at the same time recommending open borders policy seems contradictory.

    Open borders is a utopian solution to the problem of being born lucky vs unlucky and trying to make things more fairer for everyone, right now!

    From a purely evolutionary point of view, life has always been a careful balance between building order/complexity in closed systems vs the outside world, i.e. entropy gets reversed with controlled exchanges of energy between a system and its environment:
    the cell, the multi-cellular body, the social group, etc… all those systems “need” borders to have a chance to become stable – those borders can’t be too porous or too impermeable, but they need to be there.

  69. ThePrussian Says:

    Scott, one doesn’t need to read every book on creationism or why Real Communism Hasn’t Been Tried to be deeply suspicious of the next one. Not least because you can go to both Zach & Caplan’s sites, read all the stuff they’ve put up, and find nothing much more than the argument that’s not much better than the standard dorm-room bull session: “Borders are totally arbitrary. Just because someone’s born on the other side of a line doesn’t make them not human”.

    Again, one doesn’t need sophisticated models – you can just go look. You can actually look at the disaster enveloping Europe to see how well this has worked. I’m also not impressed, because Caplan seems to do highly superficial research and not check up on his own bets & predictions. For example:


    in which he makes a bet about Westernization which he says he’ll lose if none of the countries that currently criminalise apostasy fail to repeal those laws & one European country criminalizes it. Well, none of those countries have repealed apostasy law, and these days apostates in Europe stand a very real risk of being murdered, and how do you think these delightful facts are trending? Has he paid up yet? Ditto his silly post “Western civilization is a hardy weed” – one can read that and find not a word of acknowledgement of the points I raised previously, about how those Enlightenment liberal values are vanishing.

    (I know you don’t like long links, so I’ll just end by saying that, if you want a thorough response to this, feel free to go to my blog, go to the “Islam in Practice” post, and scroll to section 1.12. )

    So, yes, I feel comfortable saying that this is ridiculous. Not least because, in practice, Zach the irreverent is very careful to observe the de factor blasphemy law in place throughout the West.

    I really, really, really wish people could be bothered to address any of this.

  70. ThePrussian Says:

    If I sound a little testy on this subject, it is because for me it is a deadly reality. I see these effects for real. Caplan can make this a fun bet, but the real stakes of that bet aren’t a few hundred dollars, it’s the future of where I live.

    I often think that Americans, despite their hysterical political culture (or do I mean ‘because of?’) don’t seem to understand just how bad things can get.

  71. Scott Says:

    LK2 #63: Duhhhh, thanks!! Fixed.

  72. Scott Says:

    murmur #53: I also don’t know for sure if the Tanis discovery will stand. And I was also uncomfortable with the tone of the New Yorker piece—the way it seemed to present nearly every paleontologist besides DePalma as either moronic or mendacious. But

    (1) the convergence of a half-dozen or so lines of evidence really did seem impressive me (have you read the PNAS paper?)—including the spherules in the organisms’ mouths that were carbon-dated to exactly the right time, the iridium layer capping the whole deposit, etc.

    (2) Walter Alvarez, who co-proposed the original impact hypothesis with his father, is not only fully on board but is a coauthor on the paper, and a lot of other experts seem on board as well.

    (3) Even before this announcement, it really did seem to me like there was intense opposition to the impact hypothesis that probably exceeded what was scientifically reasonable. Like, we know that the dinosaurs suddenly (and otherwise mysteriously) disappeared, we discover that this unimaginable cataclysm shook the earth and blotted out the sun at precisely the same time, and now you’re asking me to accept that the two had little to do with each other? What should be my Bayesian prior for such a thing? 🙂

    So, it will be interesting to see how this plays out…

  73. GA Says:

    You say how deeply you care about Israel, and how much you despise trump. You should at least take comfort in the fact that Trump is probably the best US president from Israel point of view.

    The trump / netanyahu trend is so baffling to left liberals is the reason they are leading. The left still holds the overly optimistic view that all people are the same and have good intention, and sadly reality has shattered that illusion countless times. Sadly, just like the idea that God punishes evil, this is just wishful thinking, and right voters will never vote for anyone who shares in this delusion.

    Reality is that some people have no moral conscience and will do whatever they can to get their goals. Reality is that if, when faced against a predator (like a wolf), you decided to turn your back, he will exploit that and attack you. Reality means you have to expect the worse from people or they will exploit you.

    You can keep blaming the people for their choices, but at some point its worth asking yourself, how come so many people – many of them are probably just as smart as me – have such a different view of the world. How differently would they predict other people’s behavior? Does their pessimistic, egoistic, cynical way of thinking predict reality better than mine?

  74. Scott Says:

    GA #73: The thing is, I don’t think that Trump is great for Israel. Like, honesty compels me to give him credit for trying to be super-duper-pro-Israel, even when doing so angers his white nationalist base. But alas, I fear the effect of his policies is simply to encourage the current Israeli government into a terrifying cul-de-sac, in which Israel will either have to rule over the Palestinians as South Africa did over its black population (thereby finally making true what for decades was just a slander), or else give them Israeli citizenship. Either way, there will no longer exist a Jewish, democratic state on earth. So with “friends” like Trump (and leaders like Bibi), who needs enemies?

    And do you see why many of us still favor a two-state solution—something that the parties were mere inches away from at least twice in my lifetime, and which only failed because of freak horriblenesses of history (Rabin’s assassination, Arafat’s last-minute intransigence)? We don’t favor it because we’re pie-in-the-sky dreamers who don’t understand realpolitik, but just the reverse.

    Speaking of which, I do understand the basics of game theory, thanks very much. 🙂 My moral code is not big on embracing the hand that would stab me. And given what I’ve endured on this blog, hopefully I’ll never again need to convince anyone of my willingness to part ways with the far left when I think they’ve gone too, well, far.

    But here’s the irony: actually conducting realpolitik (as opposed to just talking about it)—i.e., figuring out when to declare war, when it’s better to wait and see, how to calibrate your words, which leaders to trust, etc.—all these things take enormous curiosity and deliberation and willingness to listen to expert advice and openness to being proven wrong. I.e., it takes precisely the qualities that a centrist technocrat like Obama has and that a radical populist like Trump lacks.

  75. ThePrussian Says:

    it takes precisely the qualities that a centrist technocrat like Obama has and that a radical populist like Trump lacks.

    Again, I come back to this thing of checking rationalizations against reality. In fact, and in reality the previous administration left us with a devastated Libya and the return of the slave market. Now, I think this is more because Obama was ineffective politically, and let an utterly corrupt party machine run amok, but those are the facts. So are you, as it were, willing to be proved wrong there?

    Again, I loathe Trump. He’s ghastly – but since he’s been there, at least one of those damn slave markets has been shut down. Am I prepared to swallow my personal revulsion for the cause of anti-slavery? Yes.

    FWIW, I agree with you about the two-state solution, but if you think that giving violent Islamic sectarians will bring peace, well, go ask India how that’s worked out.

  76. Shlomi Moshkovits Says:

    Hi Scott,

    Just wanted to say that I and many of my friends, who volunteer in SpaceIL education team, see Beresheet’s failed landing as a great example of how science works and if you want to look at it as a symbol of the elections, I would see it as not giving up on Israel. We failed to convenience others that Israel can and should insist on pushing forward towards peace with the Palestinians, but we don’t give up on our people. We’ll work for the next four years and retry.

    Our goal via Beresheet’s journey is to educate the next generation of kids, our future adults, to see the world in brighter colors. To judge what happens around them in more scientific eyes, with less fear and more confident in our abilities as a nation.

    Like Beresheet, the unsuccessful landing and the elections results are just a temporary setback.
    We’re going to try again.

    And hopefully in 2-3 years we’ll have an Israeli flag on the moon (in one piece).

  77. TheOtterBeckons Says:

    Scott, how do you balance the openness which you value with the desire of some(maybe even most) people to live among their own kind? You state that maintaining a Jewish majority in Israel is vital to the continuation of the Zionist dream, which is why you so vehemently oppose the annexation of the West Bank/Judea and Samaria. As far as I understand, Israel also maintains an immigration policy whose aim is to achieve the goal of an eternal Jewish majority in Israel. In comment #60 ThePrussian claims that open borders would result in the genocide of Israeli Jews. I don’t think he/she correct. Even if Israel only opened its doors to people coming from cultures with no meaningful history of anti-Semitism, it could still permit immigration from east Asia, much of southeast Asia, Indian Sikhs, Hindus and Jains, plus sub-Saharan African Christians. That’s several billion potential immigrants to Israel right there.

    In fairly short order this sort of open-borders approach by the Israeli government would result in Jews becoming a minority in Israel. Such immigration wouldn’t present the threat of physical violence to Israeli Jews that a mass influx from the Arab/Muslim world would, but somehow I doubt Herzl and ben Gurion would look upon such a development favorably if they were alive today.

    Imagine that you open your newspaper tomorrow morning and learn that Jews form a minority of the populations of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa(Israel’s three largest cities). How would you feel? Even if the non-Jewish majorities were composed of friendly Thais, Angolans, and Tuvans, would that strike you as being in keeping with the Zionist vision? Be honest, especially if their Israeli citizenship and full voting rights rendered Jews a minority voting bloc in Israeli elections. Any Israeli readers of this blog and non-Israeli Zionists(Jewish or otherwise) should feel free to chime in as well.

    The hypothetical three cities situation I described above has already happened to the indigenous Dutch in the Netherlands. The same will soon happen to the English in their ancestral homeland. Look at your own neighborhood. How many Native Americans do you encounter in your daily life?

    You might argue that the history of persecution in the diaspora renders Jews and Zionism a special case, but if anything it reinforces the case for national homelands with Israeli-style immigration policies. Not having a nation-state to call their own was disastrous for Old World Jews in the first half of the 20th century. It was also disastrous for the Ukrainians and Armenians, among others. This isn’t to say that having an ethnic/cultural homeland is a surefire way to guard against external aggressors. Having their own homeland didn’t do the Poles, Czechs, Slovaks or Balts any good in 1938-39.

    Critics of the idea that you can be anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic often point out that people who take this view are denying Jews the right to have a nation-state that serves as a homeland, which other groups of people have traditionally enjoyed(at least until recently). The thing about rights is that they’re not generally viewed as something you have to earn. They’re generally only taken away from individuals after a profound transgression of society’s norms. The right to a homeland is a right of groups rather than individuals, so if such a right indeed exists, I have no idea how it could be stripped from a group(except for ISIS and the like).

    There’s also the matter of people’s natural preferences and inclinations. It could be that whatever the economic benefits of increased immigration, a majority of people simply don’t want to feel like strangers in their own country and they’d be willing to swallow the economic opportunity costs. I think it’s noteworthy that a lot of minority populations tend to geographically segregate themselves, even in countries where open racism is virtually non-existent. If you care to spend the day driving around the Greater Toronto Area when you’re in town next month, you’ll see that. But these aren’t the immigrant ghettos of old. Often the poorest parts of Toronto are quite diverse(in the traditional sense of the word), but once minority members save some money all too often they move into a suburb whose ethnic profile matches their own, and this persists even among people born in Canada. Basically, the ethnic geography of the Greater Toronto Area couldn’t possibly look the way it does if large proportions of minority groups didn’t desire to live with people like them. And this includes Jews, most of whose ancestors arrived in Canada in the 1930’s at the latest.

    Any desire to maintain ethnic/cultural diversity planet-wide would necessitate some closed-off areas where each group can form a majority and run its own affairs without harassment from outsiders. Which isn’t to say that cultural and ethnic mixing doesn’t produce novel and even desirable results. It clearly does(like my cousins for example). To use an analogy from cooking, everyone knows that cinnamon and nutmeg are great together. But when I get home from the grocery store I don’t dump all my newly-purchased cinnamon and nutmeg into the same container and stir.

    The worrying thing about ethnicity/religion is that it can not matter for years or even decades, but all of a sudden in a power vacuum or severe economic crisis it can be a matter of life and death. I sincerely hope that the future of multi-ethnic/faith countries is a nationwide version of the St. Lawrence and Kensington Markets(which you should visit when you’re in Toronto if you have the time) rather than Beirut or Belfast circa 1982.

    It might surprise those readers who’ve made it this far to know that I’m the offspring of immigrants myself. But my parents found spouses and friends outside of their own particular ethnic/religious group. They didn’t try to recreate the old country.

  78. Scott Says:

    Shlomi #76: I wish everyone on the team the best of luck with the next mission! Independently of whatever happens or doesn’t happen in the political realm.

  79. fred Says:

    The Jewish people is one of the most tribal group on earth (aka a “big family”)… but the progressive left is pushing really hard the anti-tribe agenda.

    Japan is also struggling with this while trying to reform their work policies to admit more foreigner workers on a temporary basis (while trying to maintain the Japanese identity as pure as possible).

  80. Anon85 Says:

    It’s good to remember, when discussing Israel and its immigration policy, that Israel is effectively keeping the West Bank residents prisoner – forbidding them free access to Israel, but also forbidding them from (say) building their own airport and setting their own trade policies with other countries. Israel says this is for security purposes – and surely there’s a legitimate security concern on Israel’s part – but the current approach strikes me as saying “the beatings will continue until morale improves”.

    If Israel were to fully open its borders, would that lead Israel ceasing to exist as a Jewish state? Maybe. I’m not sure. It depends on whether the open borders comes with immediate voting rights (it’s wiser to allow a 10-year grace period before enfranchising immigrants), and it depends on whether Israel allows the West Bank some foreign policy autonomy. I can’t imagine West Bank residents want to live with Israeli Jews any more than the Jews want to live with the Palestinians, so if there was any reasonable alternative (one with, say, clean water access), I’d guess the West Bankers would choose not to immigrate.

    But here’s the thing: even if such a move *does* lead to Israel ceasing to exist as a Jewish state, this might still be a net good for humanity due to the improvement in the livelihoods of the West Bank residents. I mean, if it leads to genocide that would obviously be a catastrophe, but I don’t think West Bankers want to exterminate Jews – not most of them, anyway, and not if you give them access to a reasonable standard of living. Also, even if some of them wanted genocide, there’s still police around to stop it – we’re talking about opening borders, not eliminating police or legalizing violence.

    I speak myself as a Jew living in a country where Jews are a minority. It’s not so bad, really. I can still celebrate Jewish holidays with other Jews. I see no particular need for Israel to exist *as a Jewish state* – it suffices for Israel to exist as a multicultural state.

    (Would opening the West Bank border lead to more terrorism? Plausibly. But it would also lead to fewer Israeli bombings of the West Bank, which, remember, kills many more civilians than all the terrorism. If we count Palestinian lives as equally valuable to Jewish lives, such a scenario may end up being a net good.)

  81. GA Says:

    “But here’s the irony: actually conducting realpolitik (as opposed to just talking about it)—i.e., figuring out when to declare war, when it’s better to wait and see, how to calibrate your words, which leaders to trust, etc.—all these things take enormous curiosity and deliberation and willingness to listen to expert advice and openness to being proven wrong. I.e., it takes precisely the qualities that a centrist technocrat like Obama has and that a radical populist like Trump lacks.”

    I’m going to have to disagree strongly. Obama was nothing short of a disaster in terms of foreign policy. He lacked the qualities required to negotiate and set limits and red lines. He was too predictable, he couldn’t bluff and therefore nobody took his ultimatums seriously. In terms of foreign (hostile) policy, you want a seemingly mad man appearance on the outside, that will actually make the correct decisions behind closed doors. Being predictable is the worst thing that can happen when you have to negotiate with enemies.

    Look at Obama: he has made the horrible Iran deal. He has invited Russia into Syria to help a murderous dictator. If Obama had not permitted Russia to enter Syria to “deal” with the chemical weapons (that killed ‘only’ thousands in a war that killed way more people), Assad would have been defeated. It’s such an embarassing blunder, a murderous dictator was given foreign help as a result of him murdering his civilians with chemical weapons. Thousands of people have died for nothing fighting him, just because Obama could neither deal with the press of “chemical weapons being used” nor with the press of “US attacking an Arabic country again”.

    Obama was playing poker with Pinocchio’s nose, and he was manipulated like a puppet. The best foreign policy is to pretend to be a madman that can suddenly start a war in a blink of an eye. Because only then, will other nations be careful to not cross the red lines you draw. Trump is playing this game brilliantly. Predictability of the US clumsy government system has long been it’s greatest weakness. Playing poker and only ever raising when you have a good hand, the other players will realize that quickly and you will lose. It might seem like the best poker player is a statistician that always chooses his moves according to his chances of winning – But in fact he will lose to most average players which will abuse his predictability.

    Foreign nations have long relied on the fact that the US bureaucratic system is always very slow, they would peck at the US, cross the boundary a countless times, because they always know they can turn back and ‘apologize’ or ‘pretend to negotiate’ to throw back the US clumsy system back from the decision making progress before any real damage is done to them.

    The fact that many people from the US think Trump is dangerous can show you just how brilliantly he’s playing his role. If you really want to know if he’s as mad as he tries to appear, look at his actions.

  82. Scott Says:

    TheOtterBeckons #77 (and Anon85 #80): These questions are complicated. I’m happy to see debate about them that’s not racist or xenophobic but that’s also far outside the Overton window, which is one reason why I’m excited about Zach and Bryan’s book (besides just that Zach is an amazing cartoonist… 🙂 ). But that doesn’t mean I fully subscribe to the book’s thesis—as I said, I’d like to read the damn thing before deciding which parts I agree with and which not.

    In Israel’s case, the point is not just to maintain Jewish cultural hegemony at some spot on earth, with the streets empty on Yom Kippur (save for kids riding bicycles) and so forth. Rather the point is that the Holocaust, and the millennia of persecutions leading up to it, demonstrated that Jewish survival is precarious everywhere on the planet, even in the places where it seemed the safest just moments ago, so there’d better be at least one country that has accepting all Jewish refugees as part of its fundamental mission. That country need not coincide with the Jews’ historic homeland—Herzl considered other possibilities, including in South America—but Israel was a pretty natural Schelling point (and of course, now that it exists, the discussion no longer takes place in a theoretical vacuum). Possibly the country could be majority Thai or Indian or whatever—it would depend on details—but for the foreseeable future it could not be majority Palestinian. Maybe the best thing to say is that I hope for a future world in which nothing like Israel is necessary.

    The case of the US is different, because the country’s whole self-image goes back to its founding as a melting pot of immigrants from many places who were seeking better lives. There’s also the matter of the US’s ‘original sin’: if the original white settlers took the land from the natives, often under horrific circumstances, and without having themselves had any historical connection to it, then what standing do we have today to say that others can’t settle here as well? (And indeed, “anyone can come” was pretty close to our immigration policy until the 1920s, with a few sad exceptions like the Chinese Exclusion Act.) None of this is to say that the US should have open borders: what happened centuries ago is far from the sole determinant of what should happen today, and (as many commenters above pointed out, and as the world has been vividly reminded) uncontrolled immigration risks a populist backlash. Rather, it’s just to explain why the contours of the immigration debate will look different in the US than they would in China, or Japan, or Israel, or Europe.

    With Europe there’s again a different set of issues. If a liberal democracy is going to accept a huge number of migrants from relatively closed, patriarchal societies, it does seem reasonable to screen the migrants closely to make sure that they’re willing to play by the ground rules of modernity (like respecting women’s autonomy, tolerating gays and lesbians, and accepting the authority of secular courts). And if one has already accepted the migrants without having done that, one then faces the challenge of how to integrate them.

    Let me close by saying that I have sympathy for Scott Alexander’s “archipelago” vision. In a worldwide utopia, maybe there ought to be microstates catering to almost every imaginable preference—with the most fundamental right being the right to move between microstates. In such a world, there would indeed be places you could go if you wanted to be surrounded by only blacks, or only whites, or only Chinese, or only Jews. On the other hand, my guess is that those places would be so wildly outcompeted economically by the more cosmopolitan places, that only the most hardened ideologues would want to live in them.

  83. jonathan Says:

    In my view the debate about open borders mostly boils down to how one answers a simple thought experiment.

    Suppose that a relatively poor person from a poor country were transported to the US. Assuming they managed to establish themselves sufficiently well, they would presumably find a job at which they would earn a good deal more than they had in their original country, say doing some kind of manual labor.

    From this one can reasonably conclude that this person is much more productive in the US than they were in their original country. Moreover, it’s not clear that their increased productivity has come at any cost to the current residents of the US.

    But now suppose that instead of one person, we suppose that 1 billion people were transported to the US. What happens then?

    One view is that you basically just multiply the result of the first thought experiment by 1 billion. Under this view American institutions really just are that good; the more the merrier — give us your huddled masses.

    Another view is that the US would become a third-world country.

    If you take the latter view (and I think it’s at least reasonable), then you have to ask why the simple model failed, and (assuming you’re still confident it’s right about 1 migrant) where exactly between 1 and 1 billion it breaks down.

    My suspicion is that the “open borders doubles WGDP” view basically assumes the first view.

  84. Anon85 Says:

    Scott, I don’t think the holocaust demonstrated that Jews are unsafe. I think they demonstrated all racial minorities are unsafe. There’s nothing specific about Jews, and if anything the experience of the holocaust made the world pay fairly close attention to antisemitism. I can’t imagine a holocaust in Europe today – it’s much easier to imagine a genocide of the demonized muslim immigrants (though even that’s a stretch).

    You mention wanting a country where the roads are empty on Yom Kippur. Well, did you know that Israel is over 20% Arab (counting only *citizens*, not the West Bank)? There are more muslims in Israel than there are blacks in the United States. Israel is already very far from being homogeneous, and that doesn’t stop Yom Kippur from having no cars in the Jewish areas. I don’t see why that needs to change if that 20% increased to 50%.

    You speak of the original sin of the United States, but it’s not like Israel is free of such sins! Much of the land currently in Israel had Palestinian residents before the Jews immigrated, and many are still there (and are Israeli citizens). They have just as much of a claim to the place as the Jews do. Like it or not, Israel is *already* not a purely Jewish state – the US is closer to being a white country than Israel is to being a Jewish state. The Arabs have civil rights too – we should not forget them just because the holocaust was terrible.

    As a final note, I think the archipelago vision dismisses all the difficulty of setting policy, as if I said “well if we changed the rules of chess so that the Queen could teleport and eat the King, there’d be a mate in 1 for white”. A core part of the difficulty is that sometimes people move for economic reasons (and when they move from the third world to the first, they increase their fortunes significantly). Another core part of the difficulty of politics is that we do have an interest in controlling the lives of others. You say that immigrants should be screened to ensure that they do not abuse women. Tell me, is it OK that they abuse women in Saudi Arabia? Is it *better* that the abuse happens there than here? Did the world get *worse* by virtue of the fact that the same abuses are in a place where you now have a chance to stop them?

    We have a moral duty to protect people *everywhere*, which is why the archipelago approach is a non-starter. No, I do not agree to not interfere with other countries. If they commit genocide, we have a moral duty to interfere. We have a moral duty to provide education to their children, even. And while I can imagine some archipelago approach working in the very narrow sense of harmless differences in culture, I don’t think it should stand in the way of lifting millions of people out of poverty, as open borders promises to do.

  85. Michael Says:

    @ThePrussian #75- What “slave market” did Obama cause to reopen and Trump cause to shut down?

  86. ThePrussian Says:

    Michael the slave markets in Libya and the Islamic State. No scare quotes necessary; those are literally markets where you can buy slaves. Scroll up and follow my link to my post “The Death of Atheism”.

    Scott, an olive branch if you’ll accept it. Since we’re discussing Zach here, I assure you, all of this does feel like a much worse version of Math Goblins.


    Being committed to anti-slavery requires me to be okay with… President Trump? A man disbarred from the pornographers’ association for being too sleazy? Huh? This makes no sense at all.

    But it is where logic and evidence takes me. So, yeah, I totally get, as I said in my post on the Death of Atheism, why people don’t like this or even really believe this is where we are; I have trouble with it myself. The world isn’t what we want it to be.

    I’m glad to see we’re on the same page:

    If a liberal democracy is going to accept a huge number of migrants from relatively closed, patriarchal societies, it does seem reasonable to screen the migrants closely to make sure that they’re willing to play by the ground rules of modernity (like respecting women’s autonomy, tolerating gays and lesbians, and accepting the authority of secular courts).

    Yes it makes sense. It also commits you to a very restrictive immigration policy, one far more restrictive than we have in Europe today (and certainly tosses away any nonsense about ‘open borders’). In fact, if you were to say that out loud in much of Europe you’d find yourself likely fired and possibly jailed for racist hate speech.

  87. Anon85 Says:

    The concern over immigrants being unwilling to play by the ground rules of modernity sounds like a fear that those “ground rules” would lose in the marketplace of ideas. See, me personally, I’m quite confident that refugees will assimilate quickly, because Western society is just so obviously superior. ThePrussian and (to a lesser extent) Scott seem to take the more fearful stance that enlightenment can only survive not on its merits, but by shielding it from all opposing stances as if it were a defenseless child. No, liberal values will win over the world with their obvious superiority.

    As a matter of fact, a common concern from immigrants I know myself is that their children assimilate *too quickly*. Here’s a NYT article about Syrian refugees in Canada whose daughter started going to sleepovers and playing hockey less than a year in:


    It’s hard to look at such immigrants and conclude that we must shut them out for the sake of civilization. What is it that you fear about such a family? You would deny them entry like the US did the Jews in WWII, merely because they come from a patriarchal society (something, I might add, that was not in their control)?

    ThePrussian says “this is where logic and evidence takes me”. What logic and evidence? The evidence suggests that immigrants increase productivity; that they improve their own fortunes manyfold; that they give more to the poor (mostly to their families left behind) than natives do; and that they assimilate quickly, speaking the local language fluently and holding political views indistinguishable from natives by the second generation.

    Denying someone the ability to immigrate in many cases means condemning them to a life of poverty. Your “logic and evidence” better be damn well foolproof; to me it looks like you’re condemning children to malnutrition by the million based on a hunch. But if I’m wrong, if you have strong evidence that the entire liberal order hinges on refusing impoverished immigrants the right to work, I would still appreciate it if you took the appropriate tone – one that reflects the mind-boggling scale of the tragedy at hand, rather than one of glee. In Caplan’s words, there’s a “missing mood” here:


  88. Tamás V Says:

    ThePrussian #86:

    […] In fact, if you were to say that out loud in much of Europe you’d find yourself likely fired and possibly jailed for racist hate speech.

    I was thinking about something similar all along. If Orbán said just a fraction of what I read in this thread (adjusted for Hungarian context wherever needed), the U.N. Security Council would hold a meeting immediately. If Merkel did the same, she would be arrested on the spot.

  89. Nick Nolan Says:

    Scott #82

    Rather the point is that the Holocaust, and the millennia of persecutions leading up to it, demonstrated that Jewish survival is precarious everywhere on the planet

    Unless you think Jews are somehow magically special, I don’t think anyone can accept this kind of reasoning. “Jews can’t be never safe anywhere but Israel.” is very core of Zionism but I don’t see how it holds the scrutiny.

  90. Anon85 Says:

    Tamas V, it is breathtaking for me to watch you and ThePrussian play the victimhood card for the brave act of demonizing the global poor.

    And I’m not sure what it is you’ve read in this thread that is worse than Orbán, who has repeatedly railed against immigrants, warning that they would create “mixed-race nations,” that they are terrorists, that they abuse women, etc.

  91. ThePrussian Says:


    See, me personally, I’m quite confident that refugees will assimilate quickly, because Western society is just so obviously superior.

    May I please suggest that you check your confidence against reality? Please click my name, go to the post marked “Islam in Practice”, specifically the first section. This point of view has already been disproved.

    The concern over immigrants being unwilling to play by the ground rules of modernity sounds like a fear that those “ground rules” would lose in the marketplace of ideas

    They wouldn’t lose in the marketplace of ideas, which is completely irrelevant, since this isn’t a marketplace. You have a marketplace in America. Evangelicals say, “Homosexuals are sinful deviants”, and you say “No, they’re human beings”, and gay marriage becomes the law of the land.

    In Europe, our religious right plays a different game. You say “Gays are human beings!” – and they flat out murder you. And if you care to speak up about, hey, maybe gays shouldn’t be murdered, well, say hello to hate speech laws and a stiff jail sentence, and firing and blacklisting and maybe murder as well.

    That’s not a marketplace. That’s a battleground, and those have some very different rules.

    And as to your blithe assumption that you’re the nice person helping refugees and I’m the mean ol’ nasty one who isn’t – well, sunshine, I’ve done a great deal of spadework defending the rights of real refugees, of middle Eastern Yazidi and Christians etc. and guess what? The recurrent refrain is that they still face persecution in Europe by, guess who? Exactly the people you say we should let in. To the extent that a former slave can run into her former slave owner on the streets of Germany Her name is Ashwaq Haji Hamid, go look her up.

    ThePrussian says “this is where logic and evidence takes me”. What logic and evidence?

    Those you cannot be bothered to look at. As to your facile equivalence with the Jewish refugees in WWII, who do you think is now driving the Jews from Europe?

    So, you may flatter yourself as being moved by a purity of compassion, but all I see is self-regard that abandons the real victims of horror and persecution, those to whom we owe our true solidarity.

    Tamás V

    Ain’t it the truth. I’m a philosemitic, gay lovin’, cosmopolitan atheist liberal – and Orban has me in his corner. That’s how bad things are.

  92. ThePrussian Says:


    There is a very, very easy way for you to experimentally test what I am saying. We both agree on a major European city. I will host a “Lampoon Jesus” cartoon contest there. You do one for Islam’s prophet. Sound fair?

    Funnily enough, no one I’ve ever challenged to this has agreed to that little test.

  93. Scott Says:

    OK, thanks everyone, but this has gotten to the point where it’s shedding more heat than light. Post any final comments; then I’ll close the thread later today.

  94. fred Says:

    GA #81

    you can also add to your list how Obama was unable to get any traction on China.
    Worse, China was snubbing/humiliating him at every occasion, and Obama acted like there was nothing he could do about it.

  95. Tamás V Says:

    Scott #93: Damn, I thought it was only the warm-up until now 😉

  96. TheOtterBeckons Says:

    Sorry Scott #82, but I was mainly thinking about countries in Europe that have a pretty clearly identifiable ethnic group which is indigenous to that land by any reasonable standard(like the Irish in Ireland).

    It may very well be that Israel could function as a safe haven for persecuted Jews while having a Jewish minority and Hindu majority, but how many Israelis, or even Jews want to take that risk? Not many of the former based on the recent election results. Once a non-indigenous group reaches a majority then any Jewish democracy risks being re-purposed into a home for the world, as many Europeans countries have become, whether the indigenous population wanted it or not. It would also put Israeli Jews at a huge disadvantage should sectarian/ethnic violence break out. I may not have a dog in this fight, but I for one do not believe for a second that Israel could fulfill its historic political mission without a solid Jewish majority.

    Your seem to claim(and many do) that Israel and the Jews are a special case due to history. A corollary of this is that at some point Jewish history became sufficiently tragic that Jews deserve a kind of homeland that some other groups don’t. When did that happen? The First Roman-Jewish War? The Bar-Kokhba Revolt? Spanish Inquisition? The Khmelnytsky Uprising? The Holocaust? Also, as far as I know, Israel’s immigration policy doesn’t award extra points for tragedy. You can be a refugee from Iran or a billionaire from the UK-what matters is that you’re Jewish.

    Do any other groups deserve a similar kind of arrangement? The Roma? The Poles? Historians estimate that upwards of 15 million Chinese people died as a result of Japanese aggression from 1937-45.

    If you say that the right to a homeland where a group can run its own affairs and decide its fate as a people is something that has to be earned through accumulated past suffering, then everyone ends up arguing with one another in an effort to reach some arbitrary goal line on the scale of victimhood that no one will ever be able to agree on anyway. It requires everyone to think and act like leftist SJW’s, whether they want to or not.

    If you start out with your first principle being that the right to an Israel-like homeland(however small) as a sort of safety valve against the vicissitudes of history exists and should be pursued wherever it’s workable, then you avoid all that. In places like Central and Eastern Europe, such states are very workable.

  97. TheOtterBeckons Says:

    And why should ethnic homogeneity cause certain areas to lag economically? Tel Aviv is 92% Jewish. Shanghai is 98% Han. Both are pretty dynamic places from what I hear. Do immigrants from other parts of the world actually make a place more innovative/productive or are they attracted to the greater number of job opportunities that such places create? My guess is that it works both ways. I’m sure Bryan’s book will have something to say on the matter.

    If I seem particularly fixated on the Israel/Jewish example, it’s not because I’m some covert member of the alt-right here to sow discord(they wouldn’t have me). It’s more that I’ve thought of this issue a lot in relation to democracy and most of the people who write about it tend to have some sort of blind-spot where they believe in group rights for some groups but not others(see modern day SJW’s). Israel seems to be such a blind spot for a very large number of very bright people. I tend to think in terms of taxonomic categories. If someone created a definition of Felidae that included lions, pumas, jaguars, and house-cats, but not tigers, it wouldn’t be a very good definition. I think of rights, be they individual or group in the same way, which is perhaps my blind spot.

    Anyway kudos to you Scott for letting me pontificate on your blog despite it not being related to your life’s work! I’ll look up Scott Alexander’s Archipelago model. Perhaps it’s like the world Neal Stephenson envisioned in his pioneering cyberpunk novel Snow Crash. And no hard feelings if this doesn’t appear because I’ve missed the cutoff!

  98. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Anonymous #14:

    It’s not so easy to raise your kids to support what you want. I have a friend who is such a left winger he named his son Che, after Che Guevara. Che went on to join a fraternity and be president of the College Republicans. HaHa!

  99. Scott Says:

    Rahul #98: That seems like a good note on which to close this thread. 🙂 Thanks everyone for participating!