Return address

From a recent article in The Guardian about the rise of antisemitism in Europe.

A similar normalisation may be under way in Germany, according to a 2013 study by the Technical University of Berlin. In 14,000 hate-mail letters, emails and faxes sent over 10 years to the Israeli embassy in Berlin and the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Professor Monika Schwarz-Friesel found that 60% were written by educated, middle-class Germans, including professors, lawyers, priests and university and secondary school students. Most, too, were unafraid to give their names and addresses – something she felt few Germans would have done 20 or 30 years ago.

That sounds very convincing. “Unafraid to give their names” sounds like an impressive fact, showing how socially accepted antisemitic threats have become, in contrast to 20 years ago. But then it reminded me of an interview given by Ignatz Bubis, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, almost exactly 20 years ago (14 December 1992, to be precise):

SPIEGEL: Mr Bubis, have you received any antisemitic letters today?

BUBIS: Yes. They range from threats to ridiculous pamphlets explaining that Jews meddle in everything, to insults. A man wrote to me recently to say, he saw me on television, and was greatly impressed by what I said — until it occurred to him, that I belong to another race, and so everything I said was terrible.

SPIEGEL: What is new about this antisemitism?

BUBIS: The only thing that is new, is that the letters now come with name and return address. Antisemitism is now socially acceptable. It is once again permitted.

(original German below the break)

Perhaps it is just wishful thinking, to suppose that there must have been a brief shining moment when anti-Semites were ashamed to sign their names to their threatening letters.

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Bayesian Fables: The Trojan Horse

I was talking recently to a friend who said he saw the story of the Trojan horse as an object lesson in the failure of governance. “Wasn’t there anyone who could say, wait a minute, maybe it’s just not a good idea to bring that horse in here, even if the Greeks seem to have all left?”

I said it was a fable about the inaccessibility of Bayesian reasoning. Laocoön warned them that the prior probability for a net benefit from a Greek gift was low (timeō Danaōs et dōna ferentēs). But the Trojans placed more credence in new information, particularly private information that they hold exclusively, particularly when they seem to have won the information at great effort, by their own ingenuity, by torturing the captured Sinon. (This lesson was learned by the British spies in WWII who conceived Operation Mincemeat.) Laocoön was punished for insisting on his strong prior, being crushed to death by the clever serpents sent by the Goddess of Worldly Wisdom. And the Trojans celebrated their ingenious victory, until they were overrun by reality, in the form of well-muscled Achaean warriors who were not impressed by their highly significant rejection of the likelihood of a subterfuge.