The students and the TAs are one hand

Last night, the MIT Egyptian Club hosted a “What’s Going On In Egypt?” event, which included a lecture, a Q&A session with Egyptian students, Egyptian music, and free falafel and baklava.  I went, not least because of the falafel.

The announcement that Mubarak was leaving came just a few hours before the event, which was planned as a somber discussion but hastily reconfigured as a celebration.  As you’d imagine, the mood was ecstatic: some people came draped in Egyptian flags, and there was shouting, embracing, and even blowing of vuvuzelas.  Building E51 wasn’t quite Tahrir Square, but it was as close as I was going to get.

About 300 people showed up.  I’d expected an even bigger turnout—but then again, this was MIT, where the democratic awakening of the Arab world might have to wait if there’s a pset due next week.  Many of the people who came were speaking Arabic, greeting each other with “salaam aleykum.”  But only a minority were Egyptians: I met jubilant Syrians and Saudi Arabians, and pan-Arab pride was a major theme of the evening.

At one point, I overheard two guys speaking something that sounded like Arabic but wasn’t: “yesh khasa?  eyn?”  It was Hebrew, which I’m proud to say I now speak at almost the level of a 3-year-old.  The Israelis were debating whether there was lettuce in the falafel (there wasn’t).  Joining their conversation, I confirmed that we had come for basically the same reasons: first, to “witness” (insofar as one could without leaving campus) one of the great revolutions of our time; secondly, the falafel.

Two socialist organizations were selling newspapers, with headlines trumpeting the events in Egypt as the dawn of a long-awaited global workers’ revolt against capitalism.  Buying a $1 newspaper (and politely turning down a subscription), I thought to myself that one has to admire these folks’ persistence, if not their powers of analysis.

Finally the main event started.  An Egyptian student from Harvard presented a slideshow, which summarized both the events of the last three weeks and the outrages of the last 30 years that led to them (poverty, torture, suppression of opposition parties, indefinite detention without charges, arrests for things like having long hair).  He said that this uprising wasn’t anything like Iran’s 30 years ago, that it was non-Islamic and led by the pro-democracy Facebook generation.  Then there was half an hour for Q&A.

Someone asked about the protesters’ economic goals.  One student panelist started to answer, but then another interjected: “Look, the people in Tahrir Square just overthrew the government.  I don’t think they’ve had much time yet to think through their economic plan.”

Someone else asked about the role of the US.  A student answered that it was “complicated, to say the least,” and that the Obama administration seemed internally divided.

Perhaps the most interesting question was whether the students themselves planned to return to Egypt, to help build the new democratic society.  After a long silence, two students said yes.

No one asked about the future of Egypt/Israel relations, and the subject never came up.  But it seemed obvious that, if the students I saw were running Egypt, they’d be too busy modernizing their country’s economy to spend much time denouncing Zionist iniquities.

In general, I agree with Natan Sharansky that, for the US and Israel, it would be incredibly shortsighted to see only danger and “instability” in the Great Egyptian Twitter Revolt of 2011.  The variance is enormous, which makes it almost impossible to estimate the expectation, but there’s certainly large support on the positive half of the spectrum.

So, to my Egyptian readers: congratulations, best wishes, mazel tov, and mabrouk from the entire executive staff of Shtetl-Optimized.  May your revolution be remembered with those of 1776 and 1989 and not with those of 1917 and 1979.

81 Responses to “The students and the TAs are one hand”

  1. Israeli grad student Says:

    It should be said that the Israelis would be much less stressed-out about the whole thing if they would have taken the whole world’s suggestion for the last, what, 30 years, and straightened out the whole Palestinian issue, coming to a compromise and bearing the cost in time. It’s as painful, but necessary, as doing your homework before the deadline, or pulling that tooth before you need a root canal, or whatever metaphor you want to choose. Since they haven’t dealt with it in time, now the headless-chicken dance begins.

    Congratulations to the Engyptians, and behatzlaha to the Israelis!

    Plus,. you didn’t say if the falafel was any good. I find it very hard to find good falafel outside the middle east.

  2. John Sidles Says:

    My wife has an abiding love for the Egyptian people and culture (she has a degree in Egyptology), and moreover she has communicated that love to me, and so yesterday was a day of joy and cheerfulness for us personally, and for millions of people around the globe.

    Upon reading Scott’s essay I wondered whether the concluding sentence “May your revolution be remembered with those of 1776 and 1989” was intended to read “1776 and 1789” But this led me to reflect, somberly, that those revolutions all were violent, and in particular, the revolutions of 1789 (France) and 1989 (Romania) ended in the outright execution of the deposed rulers … executions that lacked even the pretense of any meaningful justice procedure.

    With regard for revolutions that respect principles of justice, the Wikipedia page “Peaceful Revolutions” is commended to all, and may the people of Egypt be so fortunate as to have their revolution join that noble list! The Egyptian people have made a good start, and many hearts around the world are glad of that.

    From an informatic point of view, what we see in Egypt shows us that that the Internet is ill-suited to serve as an agent of violence and death, and only marginally suited to serve as an agent of economic oppression, but very fortunately for the people of Egypt, the internet is serving nobly as an agent of a potent variety of revolution: revolutions of hearts, of minds, and of ideas. We may all hope that revolution will continue peacefully, around the globe.

  3. Bubba Ho Tep Says:

    Hi Scott. Was Noam Chomsky at the party? Seeing as how you are politically engaged (and apparently left-leaning) I wonder whether you ever grab lunch with him (Chomsky is part of the same institution, after all; he also shows up on your CS timeline). Chomsky has some insightful opinions about Egypt that I think you’d enjoy hearing first hand. I know you’re both busy and often on the road but given his age you might want to go see him sooner rather than later if you are not doing so already. To me, it would be criminal to miss out on a chance to gab with a man of his stature (and I say that fully cognizant of your own brilliance and that of your friends and colleagues in TCS).

  4. Scott Says:

    Bubba: No, I thought Chomsky might show up, but I didn’t see him there! I do see him around the Stata Center, e.g. in line for coffee at the Forbes Family Cafe, but I’ve never talked with him.

    Sure, I’m “left-leaning,” but Chomsky is left-toppling-over—so much so that he winds up all the way on the other end of the political spectrum, writing laudatory prefaces for books by Holocaust deniers.

    Usually, I initiate conversations with super-famous people only if I feel like I have something worthwhile to say to them. In this case, the chasm between my and Chomsky’s worldviews is so large that I don’t know if either of us would gain much from talking.

  5. Nick M Says:

    Somehow it’s hard to foresee a meeting of the minds there. Noam might say that a genuinely modern Egypt is the Israeli right’s worst nightmare and at the moment Israel and the Israeli right are pretty much one hand.

  6. Jay Gischer Says:

    I don’t think of the US born students of MIT as being entirely representative of the US citizenry as a whole, and the same concern holds for Egypt. Still, this is good.

  7. John Sidles Says:

    Thank you, Bubba Ho Tep, for a post to which Sasha Razborov’s joke can be read as Scott’s good-humored prophylaxis! 🙂

    Your post-name is titular to a terrifically good-hearted, Egyptian-themed movie that stars Bruce Campbell as Elvis Presley, and Ozzie Davis as President JFK:

    As he lies near the river dying [after defeating a soul-eating ghoul], Elvis gets confirmation that his soul is prepared to move on as he looks up into the stars and sees the message “ALL IS WELL” spelled out in Egyptian hieroglyphs; his final words are classic Elvis: “Thank you, thank you very much.”

    Thus Bubba Ho Tep is a story to gratify every Egypt-lover (my wife and I have watched it multiple times).

    Perhaps the lesson of Bubba Ho Tep is that we may similarly hope, for young people all around the world, and for the young people of Egypt especially, that “all is well” … after similarly many struggles … and so please let me repeat to you, Bubba Ho Tep, the final words of Elvis: “Thank you, thank you very much.” 🙂

  8. wolfgang Says:

    >> Chomsky is left-toppling-over
    I would really like to understand why left and anti-Israel (if not antisemitic) is so highly correlated.

  9. John Sidles Says:

    The more simplistic and rigorously ideological the value system, the smaller the set of factions that can logically be supported … this principle spans far-left, far-right, far-religious, far-libertarian, far-marketplace, far-Randian, far-Scientological, far-Freudian, far-Ecotopian, and even far-Kaczynskian belief systems (and innumerable others). To belief-system insiders, their community’s truths always are “incredibly obvious, Mandrake” … all other factions are suspect.

    It is clear that particularly for young people, internet access acts to soften and even dissolve the rigid boundaries of belief systems … and this softening (arguably) is a great gift of computer science to the 21st century.

  10. Scott Says:

    Noam might say that a genuinely modern Egypt is the Israeli right’s worst nightmare and at the moment Israel and the Israeli right are pretty much one hand.

    Chomsky has long favored subsuming Israel into a “secular binational state”—see here for an interview in which he discusses the two-state solution as just a “stage” toward his binational-state goal, and here for Dershowitz’s recollections. Since that “solution” would entail dismantling Israel (along with Jews’ capacity for self-defense), and since similar “solutions” in Lebanon, Sudan, Rwanda, Yugoslavia… led to terrible massacres and genocides, this is not a solution that’s ever been advocated even by the long-out-of-power Israeli left. (Except, of course, for the loony … well, the Chomskyan fringe!)

  11. Scott Says:


    I would really like to understand why left and anti-Israel (if not antisemitic) is so highly correlated.

    That’s an excellent question, and as you can imagine, one I’ve thought about a great deal! It’s ironic when you consider that Israel was founded largely by socialists and by Holocaust survivors.

    Most anti-Israel leftists will tell you that the main issue for them is the West Bank occupation. That’s part of the answer to your question, but it doesn’t work for the many leftists who were against Israel even before 1967, nor for those (like Chomsky) for whom not even a unilateral return to the 1967 borders would suffice.

    For those leftists, the best one-sentence answer I can give is that, once you get far enough to the left, anything that looks like success becomes automatically suspect—for how is it possible to succeed more than your neighbors, without exploiting and conspiring against them? The mentality is similar to that of the teacher who, after the class nerd is attacked by a gang of bullies, punishes the nerd because he should’ve known better than to make the bullies jealous of him.

  12. Aglaya Says:

    Chomsky has been prescient on so many issues; Vietnam, Iraq, health care, Obama. He knows his material. He never gets the facts wrong. I bet he could address your fears about genocide and a binational state.

  13. Scott Says:

    Aglaya: I have no doubt whatsoever that Chomsky could address my fears (i.e., of what would happen were Israel to be dismantled)! The only thing I’m worried about is whether Hamas, Hizbollah, Syria, and Iran would agree to be bound by Chomsky’s arguments.

  14. Scott Says:

    Wolfgang: Actually, there’s another answer to your question of why left and anti-Israel are correlated. Leftists (almost by definition) have an aversion to anything that resembles a tribal/ethnic/religious boundary—which is why many are uncomfortable with the entire concept of a “Jewish state.”

    To my mind, however, what distinguishes the “loonbat” (or “Chomskyan”) leftist is that this perfectly-understandable aversion becomes so strong that it overrides empirical realities, e.g.,

      If ethnic group X is placed under the control of ethnic group Y, then the probable outcome is that X will be massacred, as already happened many times in the past, and as leaders of Y publicly state is their intention. For this reason, a boundary between X and Y might be advisable.
  15. John Sidles Says:

    As a graduate student, for two years I rented an upstairs room from a Holocaust orphan whose ingenious and thought-provoking one-word strategy for genocide prevention was simply … intermarriage.

    This strategy had worked well for him—his wife and he had beautiful children—and with a twinkle in his eye, he was always prepared to argue that cross-cultural intermarriage should be globally compulsory, or at a minimum, subsidized in every nation through tax-breaks.

    The internet in general, and FaceBook particularly, are doing much to make this vision a reality.

    I remember this wise survivor and his loving family fondly, and I think of them whenever peace-plans that are well-informed and closely reasoned, yet coercive in essence, are set before me.

  16. Scott Says:

    John, one problem with your friend’s solution is that it notably didn’t work to prevent the original Holocaust. Intermarriage was extremely common in Germany and Austria in the 30s, and presented an administrative headache for Heydrich and Eichmann (though not an insuperable barrier) when they organized their extermination program.

    (Also, wouldn’t compulsory cross-cultural intermarriage be “coercive in essence” if anything is??)

  17. Lerkind Says:

    In fact, it is quite probable that cross marriages were a significant contributing factor to the occurrence of the Holocaust.

    A group of animals that is not overcome by murderous impulses at the site of a different clan impregnating their women en mass, will be overwhelmingly negatively selected by evolution. And we are a species that considers itself the latest and greatest in evolutionary development. So when considering the massive (true or imagined) cross breeding between Jewish men and Arian women, understanding the Holocaust becomes almost as easy as one two three.

  18. John Sidles Says:

    Scott, your (reasonable) objections are why my landlord advocated intermarriage “with a twinkle in his eye.” He emphasized that the benefits of intermarriage require *two* generations to manifest themselves, because the doting of grandparents upon mixed-heritage grandchildren exerts a vital, leavening transgenerational influence.

    Perhaps the implicit point of this wise man’s argument—as I now appreciate, years later—is that any effective mitigation of our inborn genocidal tendencies, is more likely to appeal to our robust “better angels” of humor, tolerance, and affection, than to our more fragile appreciation of reason and justice.

  19. Milk Dud Says:

    For which Holocaust denier’s book did Chomsky write a laudatory preface? Was the book any good, regardless of the author’s character?

  20. Scott Says:

    Lerkind: Except that, uh, there were presumably just as many “Aryan” men impregnating Jewish women as the reverse…

    Still, Adolf H. indeed devotes a paragraph to his concerns about intermarriage in Mein Kampf:

    With satanic joy in his face, the black-haired Jewish youth lurks in wait for the unsuspecting girl whom he defiles with his blood, thus stealing her from her people. With every means he tries to destroy the racial foundations of the people he has set out to subjugate. Just as he himself systematically ruins women and girls, he does not shrink back from pulling down the blood barriers for others, even on a large scale. It was and it is Jews who bring the Negroes into the Rhineland, always with the same secret thought and clear aim of ruining the hated white race by the necessarily resulting bastardization, throwing it down from its cultural and political height, and himself rising to be its master.

  21. Scott Says:

    John: I should work on developing a twinkle in my eye! It sounds like the one unanswerable argument. 😉

  22. Scott Says:

    Milk Dud:

    For which Holocaust denier’s book did Chomsky write a laudatory preface? Was the book any good, regardless of the author’s character?

    Memoire et defense by Robert Faurisson.

    The book denied the existence of the Nazi gas chambers; I wouldn’t be able to tell you whether it’s “any good” within the class of books that does so!

    See here for more details of what’s now known as the “Faurisson affair.”

    Basically, it started with Chomsky signing the following petition, which was organized by a group of Holocaust deniers:

    Dr. Robert Faurisson has served as a respected professor of twentieth-century French literature and document criticism for over four years at the University of Lyon-2 in France. Since 1974 he has been conducting extensive historical research into the “Holocaust” question.

    Since he began making his findings public, Professor Faurisson has been subject to a vicious campaign of harassment, intimidation, slander and physical violence in a crude attempt to silence him. Fearful officials have even tried to stop him from further research by denying him access to public libraries and archives.

    We strongly protest these efforts to deprive Professor Faurisson of his freedom of speech and expression, and we condemn the shameful campaign to silence him.

    We strongly support Professor Faurisson’s just right of academic freedom and we demand that university and government officials do everything possible to ensure his safety and the free exercise of his legal rights.

    The issue, of course, is that the text of this petition goes way beyond supporting a Holocaust denier’s abstract right to free speech—for example, with the scare quotes around the word Holocaust.

    Later, Chomsky wrote an essay in defense of Faurisson, which was reprinted as the preface to Faurisson’s book (Chomsky said without his knowledge or permission, though he later said things suggesting that he would’ve given such permission if asked). Once again, this essay went well beyond affirming Faurisson’s abstract right to free speech—in this case, denying that Faurisson’s Holocaust denial made him “anti-Semitic”:

    [I]s it true that Faurisson is an anti-Semite or a neo-Nazi? As noted earlier, I do not know his work very well. But from what I have read — largely as a result of the nature of the attacks on him — I find no evidence to support either conclusion. Nor do I find credible evidence in the material that I have read concerning him, either in the public record or in private correspondence. As far as I can determine, he is a relatively apolitical liberal of some sort.

    Later, Chomsky was even more explicit:

    I see no anti-Semitic implications in denial of the existence of gas chambers or even denial of the Holocaust. Nor would there be anti-Semitic implications, per se, in the claim that the Holocaust (whether one believes it took place or not) is being exploited, viciously so, by apologists for Israeli repression and violence. I see no hint of anti-Semitic implications in Faurisson’s work.

    As many people have pointed out, it seems a small step from Chomsky’s amazing logic here to the conclusion that the Holocaust itself wasn’t anti-Semitic—indeed, that nothing is or can be. (Which reminds me of how Adolf Eichmann explained at his trial in Jerusalem that he felt no personal ill will toward the Jews—organizing the murder of 6 million of them was just a job he had to do!)

    Personally, I think Chomsky’s behavior in this episode is enough to utterly discredit him on any matter involving politics or history.

    (But it’s far from the only incident one could pick for that purpose. There’s also his book minimizing Pol Pot’s massacres and lots of other great choices…)

  23. John Sidles Says:

    For me, the last straw was Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky’s two-part Commentary in McSweeney’s … thinking persons will appreciate that the methods of analysis that lead to Zinn and Chomsky’s conclusions are scarcely credible.

  24. Raoul Ohio Says:


    Is one to assume that you agree with Chomsky about Vietnam, Iraq, health care, Obama?

  25. Raoul Ohio Says:

    John, #14, excellent point.

    If you could get a snapshot of what racial and cultural issues were considered a huge deal in the US 25, 50, 75, and 100 years ago, that have now reached the status of “who cares”, it would be an impressive list.

    For example, a fond memory is hitchhiking to the west coast about 1970. My friend and I both had about two feet of hair, and were brushing it so we would look cool on the highway. Around nightfall a young woman picked us up, and told us she wished we could stay the night at her parents house, but they would have a cow about a guy with long hair. She said that they were actually pretty cool, but just having trouble keeping up with the times, and in fact they were the first example in their town of a Presbyterian marrying a Methodist, and both family’s disinherited them.

  26. Raoul Ohio Says:

    A stable democracy in Egypt would be a great thing for the world, and I sure hope it turns out that way. The generals in charge right now have a two basic choices:

    1. In standard third world style, make themselves the new dictators, steal tons of money, and stash it in Switzerland.

    2. Work with major stakeholders to set up a “fairly fair” system that can work and last.

    I.e, they can become insanely rich — and despised — or they can be honored forever like George Washington in the US. I hope it is number 2.

    BTW, anyone can sign up for the free, or the paid, versions of Stratfor,

    the “personal CIA” run by George Friedman. The paying customers get email updates. On Thursday afternoon, Stratfor sent everyone an email predicting Friday’s events, although his projected timeline was a couple hours early.

  27. Woett Says:

    “As many people have pointed out, it seems a small step from Chomsky’s amazing logic here to the conclusion that the Holocaust itself wasn’t anti-Semitic—indeed, that nothing is or can be.”

    I don’t really get this, to be honest. Not the best analogy, but are young-earthers per se anti-dinosaur?

  28. Scott Says:

    Woett: Indeed, by way of explaining his remarks, Chomsky asked people to imagine a hypothetical goodwilled visitor from another planet who was told about the Holocaust, and refused to believe that anyone could be so evil. Such a visitor would be a “Holocaust denier,” but not an anti-Semite.

    Personally, I think Chomsky’s example is willfully dishonest (it would only admit an innocent explanation if Chomsky were stupid).

    First of all, his hypothetical alien is more an ignoramus than a denier—after taking the alien to the camps, introducing him to survivors, etc. etc., the alien would have to agree that, yes, I suppose people were that evil, since the alternative—that it was a huge, planet-wide, 70-year hoax—also requires assuming an incredible amount of evil while being astronomically less likely.

    More to the point, on Planet Earth (as opposed to Planet Chomsky), there are probably zero examples of people who believe the Holocaust didn’t happen, who don’t also believe that Jews are treacherous and evil and control the media (and that making up the Holocaust was an example of their treachery and control). Indeed, the deniers’ belief that Jews are evil is the reason for their belief that the Holocaust didn’t happen: they think that victims are good, so if Jews were victims, then it would contradict their starting axiom that Jews are evil.

    In other words: while it’s not a priori necessary, it’s empirically true that those who think the Holocaust didn’t happen also think that it should have happened.

  29. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Who knows what Chomsky was/is thinking. Trying to figure out what crazy people are thinking is usually not rewarding.

    There are plenty of brilliant people who bizarre beliefs, for example, the prominent mathematician R.L. Moore, of “Moore Method” fame. (Personally, I think the Moore Method is inappropriate for 99.9% of students). Moore’s family had moved to the South in the Civil war. He was a math prof at U Virginia when UV was integrated. He responded to the outrage by resigning and going to U Texas, where things were still to his liking. When UT was integrated, and at math conferences, he would walk out if a black entered the room, and he managed to fight off retirement until he was 90 or so.

    The good news is that none of his many students are known to be racists. Several have been president of the AMS.

  30. Scott Says:

    To answer Woett’s comment another way: I think the main epistemic difference between creationists and Holocaust deniers is that, to be a Holocaust denier, you must believe that everything you see in books, museums, documents, eyewitness testimonies, etc. etc. is filtered through an evil, world-controlling human conspiracy of staggering scale and perfection—whereas for a creationist, the belief in such a conspiracy is merely optional (you can also believe that all the world’s scientists are deluded about what happened before recorded history—and of course, you can also invoke God as your world-controlling conspirator).

  31. paulia Says:

    This is certainly amazing development. Congratulations!

  32. anon Says:


    So how was the falafel?

  33. Scott Says:

    anon: Delicious (and so was the baklava). My anti-Mubarak sentiments strengthened after eating them.

  34. Raoul Ohio Says:

    A link to the Statfor summary of where things stand in Egypt:

  35. Milk Dud Says:

    Still, Scott, if your primary criticism of Chomsky is one thirty-year old interview–your objection to which, as has been pointed out, is plausibly undercut by Chomsky’s own explanation (which you decided not to include your initial quotation)–then I feel maybe you should read some of his major works, see if his arguments and observations are in fact consistent with your own. After all, Chomsky has long been a proponent of civil rights, the working class, the voiceless, etc. The idea that such a man would support Holocaust deniers is, on its face, and even given the quotations you found, less plausible than your contention that he does.

  36. Scott Says:

    Milk Dud: I have read as much of Chomsky’s stuff as I could take. Whenever he writes about anything remotely political, I find his style hateful, condescending, and sophistic, even when he has a point (which being intelligent, of course he sometimes does). In other words, I find his entire political oeuvre to be perfectly consistent with his behavior in the Faurisson affair (which, BTW, is not some obscure incident I dredged up, but the thing that destroyed his reputation in large parts of the intellectual world, and which he’s continually refused to apologize for over the last 30 years).

    To pick a random example: Chomsky once wrote that the fact that US presidential election results are usually fairly balanced (i.e., close to 50% Democratic and 50% Republican) proves that American democracy is a sham: people know the two parties are essentially identical, therefore they vote randomly. For why else would the outcomes be so close?

    This is prototypical Chomsky: to an acolyte already sold on the premise that 99.9% of the world is “sheeple,” it might sound profound, yet a moment’s thought reveals the argument’s idiocy. The real explanation for why election outcomes are close to balanced is game-theoretic: basically, if Democrats were only getting 30% of the vote, they’d move to the right until they got close to 50%; if they were getting 70%, they’d move left until they had just enough votes to win. Welcome to reality—full of good and bad agents with competing interests, not some master puppeteer orchestrating a planetary charade! 🙂

    The view of Chomsky that I formed from his writings is also consistent with what I later learned from the people at MIT who knew him in the 60s. They said that, on the one hand, he and Marvin Minsky were considered the two smartest people around; on the other, Chomsky (unlike Minsky) was an intellectual bully—someone who relished verbally destroying grad students, and would happily do so even when he knew he was wrong.

    I don’t believe for a minute that Chomsky is motivated by what you call “civil rights, the working class, the voiceless, etc,” even if his agenda and the “voiceless’s” have inner product bounded away from 0. Rather, I think he’s motivated by hate (of “elites,” America, Israel, Jews other than himself…), and uses other people’s compassion for the downtrodden as the best available tool with which to attack his enemies. In other words, I think he has the psychology of a Lenin, not of a Martin Luther King.

  37. John Sidles Says:

    Goebbels, Gödel, or Goodall … when it comes to understanding human social behaviors, isn’t number three the clear best choice? Can any system of thought be trusted, whose conception of human history is restricted to recorded human history? Do Chomsky and his ideological opponents willfully embrace an evolutionary “aspect blindness” (as Wittgenstein called it)?

  38. CS guy Says:

    Scott, I like your analysis of Chomsky. The man is certainly a hate monger and a bully. I think one of his most ludicrous “mistakes” was his apologizing for Khmer-Rouge and Pol Pot. (I now see that he embraces the Hezbollah militant group and their leader Hassan Nasrallah.)

  39. John Sidles Says:

    My recent house-guests have been ISAF members who are tasked with creating justice systems in areas torn by violence and faction and ideology. Their hard task is to unite the abstract principles of justice with the transparent daily reality of justice. The stories these young people tell are harrowing … but ofttimes funny too.

    Here is a ISAF practical essay on the subject of justice … note the essay’s scrupulous care to avoid ideology-driven rationalizations and ad hominem attacks.

    Talking with these young people has helped me to a better appreciation of why our ordinary human senses of humor, compassion, and justice—what Maimonides called “loving-kindness” and wrote upon at length—are extraordinarily well-developed … and why agents of repression generically seek to repress these human capabilities (unsuccessfully, in the main and in the long run).

    May the revolution in Egypt yield, among its other fruits, an environment in which our human capabilities for humor, compassion, justice, and loving-kindness all flourish! 🙂

  40. John Sidles Says:

    In the event that the above link misfires, a Google search will find the essay “COIN Common Sense: Insurgent Justice”, Volume 1, Issue 3, COIN Common Sense, July 2010, written by jurist Troy Anderson.

    Mr. Anderson’s essay is informed by three vital elements that are strikingly absent from the writings of Chomsky and his critics: (1) formal training in justice, (2) practical experience in administrating it, and (3) commitment to approximating justice in the near term, as contrasted with perfecting it in some utopian future.

    The essay largely reflects a practical judicial philosophy that was famously articulated by Judge Learned Hand:

    Justice is the tolerable accommodation of the conflicting interests of society, and I don’t believe there is any royal road to attain such accommodation concretely.

    The endless bitter wrangling between Chomsky and his critics, it seems to me, is mainly a reflection of their shared unwillingness and/or outright incapacity to perceive wisdom in Judge Hand’s remark.

  41. Milk Dud Says:

    You make some good points, Scott. Chomsky isn’t God. Maybe he’s wrong about a few things. I’m going to take another look at his major works keeping your criticisms in mind. Never realized how passionate you were about the man and his work!

  42. Jon Sneyers Says:

    The sophisticated radical left has a much more interesting position on Israel/Palestine than just “anti-Israel”. See e.g.

  43. John Sidles Says:

    Hmmmm … a search of the maavik site for the terms “compromise” and “humor” shows that the former is uniformly condemned and the latter is utterly lacking.

    Along same lines as Scott’s post Ten Signs a Claimed Mathematical Breakthrough is Wrong, aren’t these Two Signs a Claimed Moral Stance is Ideology-Driven Rationalization? 🙂

  44. Scott Says:

    Milk Dud: Awesome! It’s not that I think nothing Chomsky writes has value (for example, I completely agreed with his attack on postmodernism in the 1990s). But I do wish he’d apologize after he says things (or lends his support to people) that no civilized person could defend. I too have said things I regretted in the heat of the moment, but I generally back down from them later. By contrast, it’s hard to think of a single instance in the last 50 years when Chomsky the polemicist ever backed down from anything! 🙂

  45. John Sidles Says:

    In tribute to this fine thread, please let join Scott in saying something good about Noam Chomsky.

    In the 2010 movie The Town, the elderly gangster Fergie is played by the now-deceased character actor Pete Postlethwaite (“the finest actor in the world” according to Steven Spielberg, and moreover, Terry Pratchett’s model for Discworld’s arch tough-cop Sam Vimes).

    Postlethwaite’s elderly character gives voice to his passion for crime with these words:

    “I can see your daddies’ face in all of yahs. Reminds me, I’m still in the ring. Still takin’ the punches. Still ahead on points!”

    At age 82, Noam Chomsky is “still in the ring and still takin’ the punches” … for which deserves our sincere respect.

  46. Raoul Ohio Says:


    I ain’t buying that logic. If Stalin was still “in the ring and taking punches” at age 133, would you respect that?

    This thread has caused me to read up on Chomsky. It turns out he fancies himself an anarchist. Perhaps he can join some libertarians and tea party members for a balmy two week vacation in Mogadishu, so they can enjoy some anarchy and obtain some valuable “hands on experience” in dealing with 12 year olds with AK-47s and stoned on khat.

    Having never been to MIT, I wonder how such a flaming wacko wound up there. Wasn’t there an even more bizarre MIT prof, a top rank postmodernest (or some other brand of dingbatism) who died a couple years ago? I think he was French. I recall reading the obituary and wondering how this clown got hired at MIT. Who next, Ward Churchill?

  47. John Sidles Says:

    Raoul, all notions of “free speech” that are intolerant of flaming wackos scarcely deserve the name.

    I recently served on a jury in which the defendant qualified as a “flaming wacko” by almost any reasonable standard. To the great credit of America’s justice system, we the jury were specifically instructed *not* to attempt that determination.

    History establishes clearly that judging who is a “flaming wacko”, and who isn’t, is not a task that is associated with any coherent notion of justice. As Judge Learned Hand famously wrote:

    The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right.

    Nonetheless, it is recognized by all that this judgment process is a social necessity. On MathOverflow this process is formalized as upvoting and downvoting, for example … and all of peer review broadly works this way. 🙂

    Here on Shtetl Optimized some of Chomsky’s writings have been “downvoted” … in effect his reputation has suffered (if only in O(ε^2)!). Will this shut Chomsky up? Will he “step out of the ring and stop taking punches”? We can all devoutly hope not.

  48. Philip Says:

    John, surely there’s a difference between accepting the constitutional right of wackos such as Chomsky to express their views, and actually appreciating this expression. Do you seriously believe Chomsky to be a positive influence on society, and do you really want him to continue espousing his nutty beliefs? While I agree that he should have the right to say what he wants, I don’t think I actually *appreciate* his decision to “stay in the ring,” as you put it. I also believe (for example) that right-wing hate groups *should* have the right to say what they want in public…but I don’t “devoutly hope” that they will do so.

  49. John Sidles Says:

    You make severl good points, Philip … but it is true also that it is not necessary, feasible, or desirable that everyone think alike. And so, there are always going to be an extreme cases (whose rights as you say, must be protected). A lot of authors whom I admire—Shakespeare, Twain, Faulkner, Proulx—cherish those extreme cases, and the circumstances that create them. I wouldn’t care to live in a world without those authors, or the people they write about. “Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner” (Stendahl and innumerable other authors).

  50. Faibsz Says:

    “Chomsky is pernicious not only for his allegiances but also for his practices: he is deceitful. Nothing that he says can be taken on trust” – Oliver Kamm.
    Numerous examples on:

  51. Scott Says:

    Faibsz: Thanks for the link! The examples there paint an even worse picture of Chomsky than I knew about.

  52. John Sidles Says:

    Faibsz, it made me smile that your links included editorials in Commentary. Recently, Benjamin Balint’s in-depth history Running Commentary: The Contentious Magazine that Transformed the Jewish Left into the Neoconservative Right has done much clarify the intellectual and political processes of the world that Chomsky and his critics share.

    Balint has himself been a writer for Commentary, and in writing his history he enjoyed full access to that journal’s archives. His writings illuminate a world of thought and criticism that is immensely richer than black-and-white, right-versus-wrong world of polemicism; his writings consequently have received respectful reviews from journals that span a broad political spectrum.

    I have to confess, however, to one potential conflict of interest: Balint is my nephew. Our family reposes great pride in his scholarship, which (in our view) is of a quality considerably higher than either Chomsky or his critics aspire to.

    The point is that understanding polemical essays is greatly assisted by an accompanying appreciation of the institutions that foster polemicism and support polemicists.

  53. John Sidles Says:

    LOL … stimulated by Faibsz’ comment, I have searched the Commentary website for any mention of their former assistant editor Benjamin Balint.

    No trace remains … all book reviews by Balint have been expunged … there is no acknowledgement of his book Running Commentary … the very name “Balint” has been erased from Commentary archives … “Balint” has been made a non-person.

    For example, where is Balint’s review of Uncertain certitudes (Essential Essays on Judaism) Commentary 115.1 (Jan 2003): p59(4)? Its very existence has been erased … except from dusty paper archives in libraries.

    This erasure is occasioning plenty of smiles among our sons … they are proud that their cousin has been deemed worthy of Soviet-style non-personhood. 🙂

    Hmmm … perhaps willful ignorance of history, driven by ideology, is not a characteristic confined to Chomsky?

  54. Steve E Says:

    Scott #11:

    I’m not sure what to think of your idea that some circumpolitical left-wingers are critical of Israel because they are suspicious of anything that smells like success. The underlying idea may be right- I don’t know- but it seems to suggest that Israel’s position today constitutes success. It’s true that Israel has enjoyed wonderful economic, intellectual, and military success, but one of my main concerns is that Israel’s position today (isolated internationally, the object of scorn for billions of people) doesn’t constitute true success. Israel’s policies may be creating security risks that could lead to Israel’s destruction.

    Also, you say you are perplexed by why anti-Israel sentiment seems to be so highly correlated with left-wing politics. This is a topic that I’ve thought about as well, but what perplexes me much more is why reflexive pro-Israel sentiment seems to be so highly correlated with right-wing politics. Does this bother you, too?

    To using the word circumpolitical!

  55. Scott Says:

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks so much for reviving “circumpolitical”—I’d forgotten about that!

    I completely agree with you that Israel’s long-term success is very much an open question. When I wrote “anything that looks like success,” I had in mind something extremely fragile—something that history shows comes at a heavy price, and is often prevented from becoming “actual” success.

    As an example, in 1930, the Jews of Europe looked pretty successful, but fifteen years later two-thirds of them had been murdered. On paper, the class nerd looks like a successful student, yet he ekes out a miserable existence on the bottom of the social hierarchy, attacked by bullies as the cheerleaders those bullies are dating watch and giggle.

    Similarly, judging by its GDP per capita, scientific output, etc., Israel looks extremely successful by Middle-Eastern standards, but there’s a non-negligible chance that we’ll live to see it destroyed in a nuclear holocaust.

    (Incidentally, in each of the above cases, I’d readily agree that the calamity in question had / has / will have something to do with the victim’s own choices and actions. I’d still prefer that the calamity didn’t happen, though…)

    what perplexes me much more is why reflexive pro-Israel sentiment seems to be so highly correlated with right-wing politics. Does this bother you, too?

    It bothers me a great deal. Of course, this is very much an Israeli and Anglosphere phenomenon: the right-wing in Iran hasn’t been known for its reflexive pro-Israel sentiment! 🙂

    Even within the US, I think (someone correct me if I’m wrong) that it’s only in the last 20-30 years that any significant number of people have come to see Israel as a “right-wing” cause. Before then, the Republicans weren’t seen as great friends of Israel (as, say, Ron Paul or Pat Buchanan aren’t today), and certainly not as better friends than the Democrats.

    If I had to explain the shift, here are the first four theories that pop into my head:

    (1) The growing influence of the Evangelicals, who for well-known religious reasons, support Israel in general and current Israeli policies in particular much more than most Jews do.

    (2) Israel’s own lurch to the right—the decline of the kibbutzniks and the rise of the venture capitalists and settlers.

    (3) The left’s anti-Israel flirtation, and the right’s corresponding realization that here was one issue where they could plausibly claim a moral high ground.

    (4) Geopolitical shifts (many of Israel’s longtime enemies becoming America’s enemies as well, and sponsoring or cheering on anti-US terrorism).

  56. John Sidles Says:

    “Circumpolitical” is indeed a classic Shtetl Optimized neologism. But perhaps it is not needed in this case to explain the hatred, the willful ignorance, and self-censorship that are so ubiquitous on the far-left, the far-right, the far-religious, the far-market, the far-libertarian … the far-<any narrow dogma fits here>

    Here is a saddening post that I read on an ignorance-and-ideology driven website this morning:

    Two days ago I was waiting in my wife’s toyota when two Muslims pulled up into the parking lot ahead of us and got out to walk into the CVS drugstore. The woman was not covered but did have on a scarf. The man had not shaved in at lease two or three days. I got out of my wife’s car as fast as I could and took my Swiss Army Knife from the glove compartment and stuck it into the drivers side tires. Took all but three seconds. I know it was childish but it felt so good.

    Why did no-one call-out this yahoo? Simple: the site on which they post bans all who politically dissent.

    Now, one might think “We are academics — we are trained in history and logic — we are highly intelligent — we are immune to the seductive lure of prejudice and hatred!”

    Sadly, history shows that this heuristic fails … humans are more nearly “rationalizing” than “rational”.

    Both the support and the opposition of ideological factions are tainted by this rationalization … and that is why the support of ideologues, especially, is pernicious and should be rejected.

  57. Philip White Says:

    Of the four explanations, I think #3 is closest to the truth. The “new conservative thing” seems to be: when out of ideas, claim to represent positions traditionally taken by liberals in a way that is somehow supposed to be better. E.g., Sarah Palin is now a feminist, and Glenn Beck has decided he will lead the effort to “reclaim the civil rights movement.” It’s not that surprising that given an actual opportunity to represent a reasonable position that liberals haven’t already covered, conservatives seize it.

  58. John Sidles Says:

    On his web site, Oded Goldreich hosts the text of an article by Eva Illouz, titled Neutrality is Political, that provides a concise science-grounded summary of many of the points that have been made on this thread.

  59. Steve E Says:

    Scott #55:

    I see why you suspect those four phenomena might be responsible for right-wing support for Israel in America. I can think of other possibilities, of course, as I’m sure you can. The thought that occurred to me after I read your list is: “Maybe right-wing support for Israel is just kind of a historical aberration, something that will eventually lose steam because it’s not fueled by any one clear thing. Maybe we’re having difficulty thinking of reasons for the support because there is no good reason for the support.”

    It was a difficult thought. Much as I dislike the spirit of the American right’s support for Israel, and much as I dislike some of the Israeli policies which are made possible by that support, I have to confess that it’s not easy for me to say that an end to this support would be a good thing. You’d think it would be easy for me to conclude this, but it’s not.


  60. Scott Says:

    John Sidles #58: I read the essay you linked to, and took objection to the following:

    Our theories [in sociology] are scientific, but because they contest established interpretations of the world, they have political implications.

    It seems to me that the first part of this sentence assumes the very point that’s in question.

    And indeed, the two examples of “scientific theories in sociology” that the author chooses to list—namely, “Marx’s analysis of capitalism” and “the notion of ‘patriarchy’ “—make my case vastly better than I could. 😉

  61. John Sidles Says:

    Hmm … aren’t you cherry-picking your arguments, Scott? … just as Oded Goldreich cherry-picked Eva Illouz’ essay to host … and just as the climate-change denialists cherry-pick their datasets too! 🙂

    Sure, sociologists (especially older ones) *do* struggle to assimilate cognitive biology and evolutionary history (for example) …. but heck, doesn’t complexity theory similarly struggle to appreciate P in relation to both logic and physics?

    When we take a broader view, we recognize the truth in what Prof. Illouz says: “Science and reason have always thought against sacredness” … because isn’t that what Galileo and Gödel and Goodall all thought against too?

    So perhaps it’s best not to blame either sociologists or complexity theorists for their respective disciplines’ slow progress, but rather, to hope for more rapid progress for all?

  62. Scott Says:

    John, no one ever makes any argument without “cherry-picking” it from the set of all possible arguments they could have made. In that (banal) sense, we’re all cherry-pickers, including you! 🙂

    More to the point: even if I accepted your premise that complexity theory is making “slow progress” (slow compared to what?), that would still be a completely different thing from making negative progress, of which Marxism and the “theory of patriarchy” both seem to me to be perfect exemplars in the social sciences.

  63. John Sidles Says:

    Scott, most definitely systems engineers are among the cherry-pickers! Indeed, the cherry-picking process associated to systems engineering is somewhat formalized, per Si Ramo’s The Development of Systems Engineering (1984):

    Systems Engineering is the design of the whole as distinguished from the design of the parts. The systems engineer harmonizes optimally an ensemble of subsystems and components—machines, communications networks, humans, space—all related by channeled flows of information, mass, and energy. Of course, the designer of a chair, a watch, or even a necktie deals in the end with the whole; so, in a sense, every designer is partially a systems engineer. But where the whole has many components and many complicated interactions occur when they are connected, real systems engineering is required. Then systems engineering becomes a demanding intellectual discipline.

    With respect to “slow progress”, I make a practice of collecting roadmap documents (STEM and otherwise) and the adjective “slow” generically describes actual progress relative to envisioned progress. This observation will surprise no one, and in particular, peace processes in the Middle East are amply illustrate this rule.

    Of course, we *could* abandon roadmaps altogether … saying in effect “progress will come when it comes” … just as the devout sometimes say “the messiah will come when he comes.” But this alternative is worse, for a common-sense reason that is widely appreciated: “Plans are useless, but planning is essential” (as Eisenhower put it).

  64. Scott Says:

    I make a practice of collecting roadmap documents (STEM and otherwise) and the adjective “slow” generically describes actual progress relative to envisioned progress.

    John, setting aside the question of what a “roadmap for sociology” would look like … has any serious person ever written a “roadmap for complexity theory,” saying we expect to prove P=BPP by this year and P≠NP by that year? If not, then what are you talking about? How can you assert that progress in complexity theory has been slow, if complexity theorists (wisely, in my opinion) never even tried to predict its speed?

  65. John Sidles Says:

    Scott, anticipation of your objection is why I put in the concluding paragraph about “progress will come when it comes.”

    If we keep in mind that a roadmap is much more than a timetable, then Russell Impagliazzo’s A personal view of average-case complexity (1995) immediately comes to mind as an outstanding complexity theory roadmap (and this much-cited article figures prominently in my database of STEM roadmaps).

    Obviously, it is now 16 years later and we still haven’t eliminated any of Impagliazzo’s “Five Possible Worlds of Complexity Theory.” Does this lack of progress imply that Impagliazzo’s 1995 roadmap “failed” in any reasonable sense? Heck no!

    In Eisenhower’s sense—and by the coarse-grained measure of citation—Impagliazzo’s 1995 roadmap has served as one of the most influential documents in the history of complexity theory.

    The lesson is that the global STEM enterprise needs broadly is more and better roadmaps like Impagliazzo’s … not fewer … recognizing that timetables per se often are the least important (indeed optional) aspect of a roadmap.

  66. John Sidles Says:

    Scott posts: “setting aside the question of what a ‘roadmap for sociology’ would look like …”

    Gee, Scott, there’s no need to set that question aside … concise roadmaps are available in the literature,. For example, sociology may be regarded as the study of processes and obstructions associated to the Enlightenment, with “enlightenment” summarized by IAS historian Jonathan Israel as the following traditional package of concepts and values:

    “Enlightenment conceived as a package of basic concepts and values may be summarized in eight cardinal points:

    (1) adoption of philosophical (mathematical-historical) reason as the only and exclusive criterion of what is true;

    (2) rejection of all supernatural agency, magic, disembodied spirits, and divine providence;

    (3) equality of all mankind (racial and sexual);

    (4) secular ‘universalism’ in ethics anchored in equality and chiefly stressing equity, justice, and charity;

    (5) comprehensive toleration and freedom of thought based on independent critical thinking;

    (6) personal liberty of lifestyle and sexual conduct between consenting adults;

    (7) freedom of expression, political criticism, and the press, in the public sphere.

    (8) democratic republicanism as the most legitimate form of politics”.

    Hmmm … haven’t all of these cardinal points have been espoused here on Shtetl Optimized in one post or another? … so perhaps sociologists are natural allies?

  67. John Sidles Says:

    Hmm … interestingly, I have just now encountered—in writing-up a different result—a lengthy, carefully-conceived, complexity-theory roadmap in Andrej Bogdanov and Luca Trevisan’s 106-page review Average-Case Complexity (arXiv:cs/0606037) … and have added it to my database of roadmaps.

    In fact, Bogdanov and Trevisan title the first chapter of their review simply “Roadmap” … so it appears that at least some complexity theorists find this concept to be useful.

  68. Scott Says:

    By “roadmap,” Bogdanov and Trevisan clearly mean an overview of their paper, not a timeline for the future of the field!!

    John, I’m sorry to say that that was a final straw for me. I’m banning you from this blog, with the ban to be lifted in 6 months if, in the interim, you prove yourself capable of responding to what someone else said without altering the subject beyond recognition.

  69. Philip White Says:

    I’m pretty new to reading the comments on your blog, but isn’t that a little harsh? I’m sure conversations of this nature can be frustrating, but from reading John’s comments on this and other blogs, I really doubt he means any harm.

  70. Scott Says:

    Philip: I agree that it seems harsh if you only look at one thread! But he’s doing the same thing on every thread, and doing it for the past five years.

    Indeed, the only reason I didn’t ban him earlier is exactly the reason you said: namely, he was obviously good-natured and didn’t mean any harm—even as he repeatedly ignored and misconstrued what other people said, tried to change every single discussion to one about Kahler manifolds and quantum systems engineering (!), and inserted manifestly-irrelevant quotations, all while insinuating that these actions reflected a deep wisdom beyond the ken of petty mortals like ourselves.

    The present thread—in which John managed in the space of a few comments to

    (1) imply that Marxist and postmodernist pseudoscience are no worse than complexity theorists’ failure to prove P≠NP,
    (2) conflate academic sociology with the Enlightenment,
    (3) imply that complexity theory is progressing too slowly relative to experts’ “projections,” but when challenged to cite those projections, dodge the question in a breathtakingly blithe way, and then
    (4) confuse the outline of a paper with a “roadmap” for the future of a field

    –was, as I said, just the final straw.

  71. Philip White Says:

    Scott, I’ve seen his comments all over your blog and elsewhere, and I understand your predicament. It looks like he certainly writes quite a bit.

    Just as a possible alternative: Maybe you could have a brief talk with him via email or something, and limit him to one comment per blog post, with a maximum of (maybe) 1000 characters per post. Violation of that rule could lead to the ban you mention. Of course, you wouldn’t want to have to start policing your blog too extensively, but that should be pretty easy to enforce without much effort.

    Obviously, it’s your blog, but I wouldn’t want to speculate on how this would make an obviously huge fan of your blog feel, regardless of any misconceptions about basic logic and internet etiquette he might have.

    By the way, I think this link:

    …might be a useful one for John to read, in the event that he doesn’t understand. I get the sense from his cheerful demeanor that he may not realize that he could be seen as a little over-loquacious.

  72. Scott Says:

    Philip: Thanks—you make an excellent case!

    I agree that I got annoyed and overreacted. However, instead of the exact compromise you propose, I have an alternative that I like even better.

    John: If you’re reading this (and I’ll assume you are…), your sentence has been commuted. For the next 6 months, any comments from you will go into the moderation queue, and will appear whenever I consider them sufficiently responsive to what came before them.

  73. Raoul Ohio Says:

    John might turn out to be right that “Kahler manifolds and quantum systems engineering” is the key to everything.

    Probably not!

    He has caused me to read up on KM, and wish I had time to look further.

    It would appear that John “slid off” into “rant mode” on this thread; that occasionally happens to most of us. (Over the decades, I have gotten a lot better at recognizing the onset, and (usually!) opting out.)

    This event is a lot different than the “P vs NP bet” event a few months ago, when an army of crazies and dumbbells were haranguing Scott. John is a smart guy with an interesting angle on everything (even if it is only 1% “on task”!). In the RO world, that qualifies him for extra slack.

    Finally, in John’s case, not being allowed to post for 6 hours is harsh!

  74. John Sidles Says:

    Scott, one point cannot be negotiated … you must *never* apologize for the epithet “breathtakingly blithe” … which I am very pleased to bear.

    One of Gil Kalai’s many wonderful services to the mathematics community is his MathOverflow community wiki devoted to A Book You Would Like to Write. Quite a few people’s personal research roadmaps can be read out (in Tim Gowers’ useful phrase) from this wiki; both Gil’s and mine are among them.

    It’s obvious, Scott, that your roadmap and mine differ pretty substantially. Which is good, given that strict uniformity of roadmaps is neither necessary, nor feasible, nor desirable … as Gil’s community wiki demonstrates.

    The various roadmaps of complexity theory play key roles in my own (mainly medical) roadmap on Gil’s wiki, and I cherish the expectation that someday the healing provided by physicians will repay the creativity that has been so abundantly provided by mathematicians. May Hashem speed that day! 🙂

  75. Philip White Says:

    Scott, your idea sounds quite reasonable. Additionally, it doesn’t seem that John’s feelings are particularly hurt.

    John, at the very least, you are quite funny in your way. Someday, I think someone should hold–on a different blog, of course–a good-natured “John Sidles blog comment impersonation” contest, if only to see if your unique style of commenting can be imitated.

  76. Philip White Says:

    Wha…what have I done? Now *my* comments are going into the moderation queue, too! Nooooo…

  77. Scott Says:

    Philip, the only reason your comment went into the queue is that it mentioned John Sidles! 🙂

  78. John Sidles Says:

    Philip White Says: John, at the very least, you are quite funny in your way.

    Philip, that humor reflects conscious intent … because taking the blogosphere entirely seriously leads inexorably to Oded Goldreich’s policy of silence.

    Sadly, it seems to me that Oded’s policy is becoming widespread and that too many of humanity’s best voices are falling silent because of it.

    For many folks, writing funny posts requires a considerable effort … but luckily for me, my serious essays (mathematical and otherwise) often are mistaken for humor and vice versa … and I believe Scott too has considerable personal experience of this curious phenomenon. 🙂

  79. Raoul Ohio Says:

    I think most people relax rigidly held viewpoints when humor is involved.

    Of course, humor is hard (which is why experts make a lot of money with it).

    For example, if you want to make a somewhat controversial point on a blog, you can write it in about one minute. It takes a lot of work to craft your point into a slightly funny format. But this is worthwhile, because more people will give it some thought, as opposed to just thinking you are an idiot.

  80. Peter Drubetskoy Says:

    Scott, I found your comments regarding bi-natonal or one-state “solution” really badly informed. Israel+the West Bank (and Gaza to some extent, since Israel controls its borders) now is a de-facto one state with about half of its population deprived of most basic human rights. A “solution” is kind of a misnomer. It is not about “dismantling Israel” (whatever that stands for) but rather about how to go on and transform the reality into a more equitable one, where Israel+Palestine indeed become a democratic state, confederation or whatever term you prefer. It is about human rights and not about stripping anybody of their right to self defense. And it is not about loony left at all. When Meron Benvinisti talked about it back in 2003, he said:

    What I have to say is seemingly not new, because at the beginning of the 1980s I already maintained that partition was no longer a viable option, that the establishment of the settlements and the takeover of land had created an irreversible situation here.[…]
    In fact, even today we are living in a binational reality, and it is a permanent given. It cannot be ignored and it cannot be denied. What we have to do is adapt our thinking and our concepts to this reality. We have to look for a new model that will fit this reality. And the right questions have to be asked, even if they give the impression of a betrayal of Zionism; even if they give the feeling that one is abandoning the dream of establishing a Jewish nation-state in the Land of Israel.

    The situation only worsened since 2003 and right now there are a number of people on the Israeli right and far-right such as Moshe Arens talking about binational state, although of course without equal rights for the Arabs, at least in the short to medium terms. See some analysis of their positions here, for example.
    May I suggest you expand your horizons a little bit? You could start with the Magnes Zionist’s ”Zionism without a Jewish Ethnic State” and move into his other top posts. I could give you some Hebrew links I know of none for 3-year olds 🙂

  81. John Sidles Says:

    This entire 81-post thread has been broadly about roadmaps … roadmaps that are intended to serve (variously) the Egyptian, Israeli, and Palestinian citizenry … roadmaps that are written (variously) by mathematicians, scientists, engineers, and politicians … roadmaps that are regarded (variously) as sensible, foolish, good, evil, and even blithe.

    For me, one of the best roadmaps ever written is Bill Thurston’s On Proof and Process in Mathematics(1994) … provided that one takes the trouble to read-out Thurston’s essay (in Tim Gowers’ phrase) as a gold-standard of roadmap construction.

    Thurston’s essay (to my mind) seminally anticipates (by 17 years!) our still-evolving modern understanding of what roadmaps are, how they work, and what they can accomplish. Accordingly, I’ve posted these considerations on MathOverflow as an answer to the question Good papers/books/essays about the thought process behind mathematical research

    That MathOverflow post was written with serious intent, and itself can be read-out as a roadmap. As for whether that particular post/roadmap is realistic, foolish, or merely “incredibly blithe” … well, *that* is not up to me … but rather, is up to readers of MathOverflow and TCS StackExchange … fortunately! 🙂