How to stop immigrants from competing for our jobs…

don’t let them go to school.

When the UK political establishment goes through one of its periods when everyone is competing to prove that they hate immigrants the most, it must be hard to be the putative anti-immigrant party trying to hold on to your market share. You need to do something outrageous to prove that you really really hate the immigrants more than anyone else. That’s the only way I can explain this proposal by the head of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) Nigel Farage to ban immigrant children from state schools for five years. Not illegal immigrants, mind you. Legal immigrants. His idea seems to be that the hedge-fund managers will pay to send their child to Eton, and people like me will either stay away or move here without my family. We can provide the British people with services that they’re not willing to do themselves, or not willing to pay to train their own people to do, and pay taxes, but not receive any government services in return.

I’m not sure whether the core UKIP voters are going to be thrilled about them shifting the immigrant population to mainly unattached young men.

Zionism and antisemitism

What is the connection between Zionism and antisemitism? The question is rarely posed, since those who are interested in these themes are usually concerned with the converse link, between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. That link clearly exists. Those who hate the Jewish state usually end up helping themselves to the stockpile of ideological weapons of antisemitism, honed over centuries; and it’s hard to miss the historical continuity between traditional left-wing antisemitism in Europe and modern anti-Zionism. (The crassest form, unsurprisingly, was in Germany, as recounted in Hans Kundnani’s book Utopia or Auschwitz, about the German ’68 generation, who simultaneously attacked their parents for their war crimes, and demonstrated their antifascist opposition by helping the PLO to kill more Jews — or by planting bombs themselves in German synagogues.)

And yet, the link in the other direction is also impossible to ignore. It’s hardly novel to point out that Binyamin Netanyahu is committed to fulfilling Hitler’s dream of removing all Jews from Europe. (It’s true that the ultimate methods of the Nazis were exterminatory, but that was not an inevitable part of their programme. Many ferocious antisemites were happy to have the Jews be genuinely expelled. For example, to Palestine.) And now I have just discovered, reading Hannah Arendt, that one of the 20th century’s most famous antisemites was also a committed Zionist: Continue reading “Zionism and antisemitism”

Correct me, Lord, but in moderation…

Jeremiah 10:24.

Accounts of error-correcting codes always start with the (3,1)-repetition code — transmit three copies of each bit, and let them vote, choosing the best two out of three when there is disagreement. Apparently this code has been in use for longer than anyone had realised, to judge by this passage from the Jerusalem Talmud:

Three scrolls [of the Torah] did they find in the Temple courtyard. In one of these scrolls they found it written “The eternal God is your dwelling place (maon)“. And in two of the scrolls it was written, “The eternal God is your dwelling place (meonah)”. They confirmed the reading found in the two and abrogated the other.

In one of them they found written “They sent the little ones of the people of Israel”. And in the two it was written, “They sent young men…”. They confirmed the two and abrogated the other.

In one of them they found written “he” [written in the feminine spelling] nine times, and in two they found it written that way eleven times. They confirmed the reading found in the two and abrogated the other. (tractate Ta’anit 4:2, trans. Jacob Neusner)

(h/t Masorti Rabbi Jeremy Gordon, who alluded to this passage in an inter-demominational panel discussion yesterday at the OCHJS. He was making a different point, which for some reason had very little to do with information theory.)

Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding

US Republican-libertarian senator and unofficial presidential candidate Rand Paul has been castigated by true-blue Zionists for insufficient vigour in applauding Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent address to Congress. “I gave the prime minister 50 standing ovations,” Paul said, and that should really settle the matter.

I was reminded of this passage from The Gulag Archipelago:

A district Party conference was under way in Moscow Province… It was presided over by a new secretary of the District Party Committee, replacing one recently arrested. At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name). The small hall echoed with “stormy applause, rising to an ovation.” For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the “stormy applause, rising to an ovation,” continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin. However, who would dare be the first to stop?… After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who quit first! And in that ob- scure, small hall, unknown to the Leader, the applause went on six, seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They couldn’t stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks! … Nine minutes! Ten! . . . Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved!…

That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed Form 206, the final document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him: “Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding!” (And just what are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to stop?)

Operetta diplomacy

I was somewhere between amused and frightened in skimming Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress, finding this passage:

We’re an ancient people. In our nearly 4,000 years of history, many have tried repeatedly to destroy the Jewish people. Tomorrow night, on the Jewish holiday of Purim, we’ll read the Book of Esther. We’ll read of a powerful Persian viceroy named Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jewish people some 2,500 years ago. But a courageous Jewish woman, Queen Esther, exposed the plot and gave for the Jewish people the right to defend themselves against their enemies.

The plot was foiled. Our people were saved.


Today the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian potentate to destroy us.

SPOILER ALERT! How are you going to get people to come to hear the whole megillah in synagogue if you just give away the ending? I love the fact that everyone applauded “The plot was foiled.” And what’s with this “Persian potentate” stuff? I thought the Iranians were supposed to be Islamo-fascists.

Seriously, though, if you’re an Israeli prime minister with a reputation for telling tall tales about your neighbours’ military plans and capacities, and you’re trying to make the case that this time it’s really really serious, maybe you don’t want to reveal right up front that your diplomatic calculations are heavily influenced by a 2500 year old fairy tale with as much inherent plausibility as the plot of HMS Pinafore.

Is Netanyahu auditioning for a bigger role?

Many people are wondering why Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has decided to wreck Israel’s relationship with its superpower patron, a relationship that has been almost absurdly favourable to Israel, uniquely bipartisan and almost unchallenged within the US political establishment. For years he has appeared to be going out of his way to break this bipartisan link, working to undermine US foreign policy, embarrass the president, and show himself and his government to be allied not with the United States, but with the Republican Party. Why? Is it psychopathology or an ingenious scheme? Or both?

Most people who try to explain it (including those who write articles with titles like The real reason Netanyahu is willing to risk Israel’s relationship with the U.S.) tend to posit that the reason has something to do with Israel: Either he is doing it either out of a genuine belief that Obama’s negotiations with Iran threaten Israel’s survival, so demand desperate measures; or that it is a cynical short-term political calculation, intended to shore up his position with the Israeli electorate, particularly now, two weeks ahead of an election. But what if it has nothing to do with Israel’s future, or Netanyahu’s position in Israel, but with Netanyahu’s position outside of Israel?

My thinking here is inspired by a very insightful comment on Greek politics by Matthew Yglesias:

Normally you would think that a national prime minister’s best option is to try to do the stuff that’s likely to get him re-elected. No matter how bleak the outlook, this is your dominant strategy. But in the era of globalization and EU-ification, I think the leaders of small countries are actually in a somewhat different situation. If you leave office held in high esteem by the Davos set, there are any number of European Commission or IMF or whatnot gigs that you might be eligible for even if you’re absolutely despised by your fellow countrymen. Indeed, in some ways being absolutely despised would be a plus. The ultimate demonstration of solidarity to the “international community” would be to do what the international community wants even in the face of massive resistance from your domestic political constituency.

One constant of Netanyahu’s career has been his (for an Israeli politician) exceptional venality. Of course, Netanyahu (or any Israeli leader) has no future in Europe, or major international bodies; but the US is another very big world, and making himself the pet anti-terrorist Jew of the Republican Party could be a highly remunerative post, far more valuable in Shekels than anything that his home country can offer. And if he ends up destroying Israel in the process, he’s all set up to blame left-wing anti-Semitism allied with Islamo-fascism. It will be brilliant for business.

The first statistician

I like to share with beginning statistics students the aphorism of C. R. Rao

Uncertain knowledge + knowledge about the extent of uncertainty in it = Useable knowledge

And it just occurred to me that the extreme limit of this dictum is that if you are infinitely uncertain, if nothing is knowable, the knowledge of that fact in itself is highly useable. The realisation of which would seem to make Socrates the first statistician:

Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is – for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know. In this latter particular, then, I seem to have slightly the advantage of him. (Apology, translated Benjamin Jowett)