What does it mean?

June 01, 2005

Send Celestial Blue to Israel!

Celestial Blue is trying to finance a study trip to Israel. And she is selling beautiful blue bracelets, which gives you the chance to help her out. So go for it!

I might add that I'm familiar with the program she wants to go on, and I highly approve.

Her bracelets say: `am yisra'el hay (עם ישראל חי) - "the people of Israel live", or more colloquially: "Long live the people of Israel!".

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 09:15 AM  Permalink | Comments (0)
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June 02, 2005

Education for life

I'm very busy a the moment (for a hint at what I'm doing you can look here), but I'd like to take some time out for some quick comments on Amritas's latest post. He makes the radical statement that higher education isn't for everyone, and points to an article by John Ray called Down With Education! I basically agree with them, but I would like to briefly mention some things that I think the education system could do, but doesn't.

As John points out, there are two major goals of education: to teach skills that will be useful in life, and to create good citizens. I would like to add to this a third: to expose students to life's possibilities. Most people graduate from the educational system (whether at the High School or University level) with very little idea about their options. If you ask students about their career goals, for example (to pick just one aspect of life), your answers will be something like this:

  • Teacher
  • Movie Star
  • Sports player
  • Rock star
  • Doctor
  • Lawyer
  • Scientist
  • Father's/Mother's profession

This is, to put it mildly, a very unrepresentative picture of the true nature of the possibilities, both in terms of scope and proportion. These are simply the possibilities that are visible to the average student. But there is a big world out there, it would be nice to know something about it before you get there.

I think that this can be addressed. I think that every year (at least the four years of High School) students should take a course which is devoted to simply describing the workings of different industries - I can't think of a good name for it at the moment, any suggestions are welcome. The way it would work would be to take an industry - say food production - and describe all its components, e.g. what the farmers do - who they buy from, sell to, what are the factors which influence their decisionmaking, what are the different jobs in the industry, what are the skills that are required for the different jobs - then do the same for the people they sell to or buy from. Industries should be chosen based on their prominence in the economy, and diversity (i.e. their inner working are different from each other). I even think that government agencies should be covered - after all they really are potential career choices! Four years of this, and you can cover a lot of ground, and people would come out of it understanding a lot more about how the world works, and what their possibilities really are.

It seems to me that most students would consider this a fun course - it doesn't involve mathematics, and doesn't require good writing skills. Fun and useful, what could be better?

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 09:52 AM  Permalink | Comments (8)
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Trackback from joannejacobs.com, College for all:
All public high school students in Los Angeles Unified would have to take the college-prep sequence required by California's public universities, under a proposal before the school board. Teachers and counselors at Hollywood High told the LA Times that...


I wonder if it would be even more beneficial to actually work in various careers for at least a few hours a week. Learn and do is probably the best way to really understand anything.

Posted by: Rachel Ann at June 2, 2005 08:46 PM Permalink

Hello David:

I have written this small post on Disengagement plan (in English). Probably we don¬īt agree, but I am very interested in your opinion:


Posted by: Kantor at June 3, 2005 11:58 PM Permalink

It would be nice if there were teachers who were bright enough to incorporate some kind of blogging curriculum into the classroom. The students could find bloggers in industries that interested them and comment and ask questions. I am sure that folks would be happy to respond and honestly tell the students what it is really about. The kids are going to be doing this kind of thing anyway, unguided, so imagine how productive it could be if there were assignments, and a little guidance, etc. I suppose smart parents might already be doing this kind of thing. shalom.

Posted by: koa at June 4, 2005 09:29 AM Permalink

University, just because, rather than to prepare for one's future is a waste of time and money. In Israel the kids first go to the army or National Service. and then they sometimes travel. So by the time they study, they have an idea, and acceptance to university is to a major, and it's a three year program.

Posted by: muse at June 4, 2005 08:27 PM Permalink

Muse is right; by the time Israeli children have reached college age, they have gone through the army, have perhaps held leadership positions, no what it is to work with little free time, do something for someone else. THey come not only older, but more prepared to do work.

Posted by: Rachel Ann at June 4, 2005 08:42 PM Permalink

When your hobby is also your career, then going to work might be a pleasure. A professional sports person or recognised artist, for example.

I always fancied glass blowing, or this http://www.outline-uk.com/Neon.htm

How about swordsmithing? http://www.thearma.org/


Posted by: Pericles at June 5, 2005 12:55 PM Permalink

This is very interesting, actually I'm having the same thought since I left school (which was 10 years ago). I live in Germany and although kids have the opportunities to take internships and visit companies I always thought it might be necessary to change the way of becoming a teacher. I mean here you leave school, you study at the university, you go back to school to be a teacher. Its a closed cycle somehow and although there are teachers that are very committed, curious and interested in miscellaneous things also a lot of them aren't. How can those people be able to draw a picture of the world out there and to give hints about the vast opportunities?? Difficult I'd say.

Posted by: heike at June 6, 2005 01:55 PM Permalink

My career goal when I was in high school was race car construction, which got me looked down upon both because it was considered blue collar and because I was a total dweeb about it. I let myself be pushed into college for mechanical engineering, which would have been useful in that field, but I'd have been far better off with a metalworking apprenticeship.

Of course if I had told people back in the '60s that I wanted my current line of work, using laptop computers and GPS mapping to optimise GSM wireless telephone networks, they really would have thought I was nuts.

Posted by: triticale at June 23, 2005 04:43 AM Permalink

June 05, 2005

Barukh Dayan Emet

I wish to extend condolences to Maria of Hatshepsut, on the death of her grandmother. 

The traditional Jewish response on hearing of a death is:

ברוך דין אמת

Barukh Dayan Emet

Blessed is the True Judge

The only thing that can be done in the presence of the ultimate tragedy is to accept the truth. And the only consolation is the thought that, somehow, it is part of God's plan.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 12:46 PM  Permalink | Comments (1)
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Thanks David, that was thoughtful of you.

Posted by: Maria at June 7, 2005 10:37 PM Permalink

Reality Catches Up

Reality Check (via Instapundit):

This is part of the fun of following politics: the relation to reality is generally delayed, but is always there in the end. Unreal schemes often appear and even dominate for a time - fascism, Communism, the League of Nations are examples. But the truth eventually finds them out. I am sure that the "ever-closer Union" on which the European Union has been built from the beginning is one of these unreal schemes, since it believes in two falsities - uniformity where in fact there is diversity, and the primacy of government over people. The two main instruments by which truth reaches politics are votes and markets, which is why political Utopians instinctively dislike both.
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June 06, 2005

Rest In Peace, Bunker

It's hard for me to express my sadness and shock at the news of Bunker's death. It was past midnight last night when I visited his blog and found out. I wanted to respond immediately, but was too confused and overcome with emotion to do so. Never have I felt more strongly the adage that you don't know what you have till it's gone.

I visited Bunker's blog almost every day for more than a year, and he visited mine. We almost never communicated directly, even by email or comment. Yet we linked to each other, and inspired each other - at least he me. Though I know from my statistics that I have quite a few readers, I don't get feedback from many, and on certain topics that I consider some of the most important, I get even less. Bunker was one of the few who seemed to get the message.

For all that, the medium of the Internet is so incorporeal that my cyber-relationships have a dreamlike quality to them. I don't fully believe that they are real. Last night, when I learned of Bunker's death, I was reminded that they are. I will miss him.

Michael James Reed
"Bunker Mulligan"

Rest In Peace

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 10:38 AM  Permalink | Comments (2)
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I find the relationships that are created online to be incredibly interesting. They are unique and so very different than what you find in the "real world."

Not a value judgement, but an observation.

Posted by: J at June 6, 2005 11:06 PM Permalink

Thank you David.

Fortunately, his family was able to post the sad news on his blog so that all his blog friends would know. The death of a blogger is a new phenomenon which I discuss at http://www.estatevaults.com/lm/archives/001596.html

Posted by: Jill Fallon at June 11, 2005 03:02 PM Permalink

June 07, 2005

Why smart people defend bad ideas

Essential reading for smart people (via John Hawks):

Majoring in logic is not the kind of thing that makes people want to talk to you at parties, or read your essays. But one thing I did learn after years of studying advanced logic theory is that proficiency in argument can easily be used to overpower others, even when you are dead wrong. If you learn a few tricks of logic and debate, you can refute the obvious, and defend the ridiculous. If the people you’re arguing with aren’t as comfortable in the tactics of argument, or aren’t as arrogant as you are, they may even give in and agree with you. The problem with smart people is that they like to be right and sometimes will defend ideas to the death rather than admit they’re wrong. This is bad. Worse, if they got away with it when they were young (say, because they were smarter than their parents, their friends, and their parent’s friends) they’ve probably built an ego around being right, and will therefore defend their perfect record of invented righteousness to the death. Smart people often fall into the trap of preferring to be right even if it’s based in delusion, or results in them, or their loved ones, becoming miserable.
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Just dropped in after GNXP -- and thanks for a brilliant citation. The article itself by Scott Berkun is the greatest essay I myself never wrote (not smart enough), but that has always been somewhere in my head.

Posted by: Cathal Copeland at June 20, 2005 02:05 PM Permalink

A lot of this applies to dumb people as well, who often power their arguments through despite their obvious deficiciencies. Often smart people are inclined to give in because the idiot is convinced he is right and he wouldn't understand your counter-arguments anyway, so why bother.

Posted by: om_shalom at June 20, 2005 05:59 PM Permalink

Absolutley have seen this in action! Great way of explaining it!

Posted by: Hannah at June 21, 2005 01:21 AM Permalink

We have been talking about this all week in my advanced logic class. Sometimes the only way to tell the truth from the rest of the garbage is to keep tossing it out one piece at a time. Eventually, under all the waste, you'll find something resembling the truth.

Posted by: Joan at June 24, 2005 09:41 PM Permalink

Misery -- OK, but death, especially when repeated twice, is just too strong. Unless this is an essay about religious zealots / terrorists rather than people like us.

Posted by: Dina Q at June 30, 2005 04:17 PM Permalink

June 09, 2005

Khoisan Clicks

Amritas mentions the Khoisan languages in his latest post. The Khoisan languages are famous for having clicks as regular phonemes. I have always been curious about how these sounds are integrated into the language, so I did some searching and found a clip from The Click Song, by Miriam Makeba. (You can buy the whole song here.) I would be interested in longer (free) samples of Khoisan languages. If anyone can direct me to them, I would be most thankful.

Also check out !Xóõ - no, that's not a comic-book curse, !Xóõ is a Khoisan language. If I understand correctly, the exclamation point is a post-dental click and the X is a velar fricative (like kh in my Hebrew transcription).

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 09:44 AM  Permalink | Comments (2)
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How can I learn to make clicks? Any mail-order !Xoo courses out there?

Posted by: Dina Q at June 30, 2005 05:21 PM Permalink

ur page really sucks

Posted by: hye-min at August 1, 2005 08:40 AM Permalink

June 12, 2005


Tonight is the holiday of Shavu`ot (שבועות). Shavu`ot, in Hebrew, means 'weeks', referring to the following passage:

 וּסְפַרְתֶּם לָכֶם מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת
 מִיּוֹם הֲבִיאֲכֶם אֶת עֹמֶר הַתְּנוּפָה
  שֶׁבַע שַׁבָּתוֹת תְּמִימֹת תִּהְיֶינָה
עַד מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת הַשְּׁבִיעִת
תִּסְפְּרוּ חֲמִשִּׁים יוֹם
 וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם מִנְחָה חֲדָשָׁה לַה'

Usfartem lakhem mimahorat hashabat
Miyom havi'akhem et `omer hat'nufa
Sheva` shabatot t'mimot tihyeyna
`Ad mimahorat hashabat hashvi`it
Tisp'ru hamishim yom
V'hiqravtem minha hadasha laH'

And you will count to yourselves from the day after the [Passover] holiday
From the day of your bringing the sheaf-waving [offering]
Seven complete weeks there will be
Until the day after the seventh week
You will count fifty days
And you will offer a new meal-offering to the Lord

Leviticus 23:15-16

In other words, from the day after Passover, you count seven weeks (49 days) and on the 50th day you make a holiday (חג) - hag. That is the holiday of Shavu'ot - Weeks. It is often called Pentecost in English, from the Greek word for 50.

Like most Jewish holidays, Shavu`ot is multifaceted. It celebrates the wheat harvest, the bringing of the first-fruits, and the giving of the Tora. There is a custom of eating milk products on this day, and Tiqun Leyl Shavu`ot (תיקון ליל שבועות) - The Fixing of the Night of Shavu`ot, in which you stay up all night and study Tora.

On Shavu`ot the Book of Ruth is read. Ruth is the paradigmatic convert to Judaism (not just in the literary sense, a lot of the laws of conversion are derived from the Book of Ruth). A convert to Judaism, like the Jews at Mount Sinai, is one who explicitly receives the Tora. It is something that Jews are supposed to do every day, but especially on Shavu`ot.

More about Shavu`ot here.

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June 21, 2005

Cochran, Hardy, Harpending, and me

I haven't posted anything to my blog in over a week, being very busy lately, and with the Shavu`ot holiday taking up a couple of days in the middle. There is also another reason: this paper (pdf), which was reported on by the New York Times, and The Economist, to name a few, and picked up on across the blogosphere. Gene Expression, which has been talking about this subject for a while, has a series of posts up on the subject:

Natural history of Ashkenazi I.Q.
The Urban Sink
Bad science?
The history of the Jews...a very special people...sort of
Medieval Jewish achievement
Metzenberg on Jews

Briefly, for those who have not yet heard about it, the paper (Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence, by Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy, and Henry Harpending) claims that the average IQ of Ashkenazis is around 115, about one standard deviation above the general average of 100, and that this is the result of natural selection acting on an Ashkanazi population which for centuries specialized in intellectually demanding tasks like commerce and banking. 

One of the consequences of this selection pressure, they claim, is the spread among the Ashkenazi population of genetic diseases which have the a effect of raising intelligence. They hypothesize that common Ashkenazi genetic diseases such as Tay-Sachs and Dysautonomia are among them.

As one of the specimens under the microscope, I have been following the Ashkenazi selection debate with keenly-felt trepidation and intense curiosity. Curiosity, because, well, they're talking about me. Trepidation, because it puts the Jews under a dangerous spotlight - those who claim that such fears are out of date need only look at the generation that experienced the Holocaust: they thought the same thing - and the rising anti-Semitism among the Left and around the world.

Which doesn't mean that I think it should be suppressed. While a case can be made that this piece of knowledge or that does more harm than good in the world (nuclear bombs, for example) the only way to suppress knowledge is totalitarianism, and that bears a far higher price. You can't get away from the problem: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes, who will decide which knowledge is permissible and which not? The only way forward is to seek the truth, and deal with it. The proper response to truth is more truth. Just don't forget your morals along the way, or the possibility that you might be wrong.

Overall, I find the paper's thesis extremely plausible (I feel no need to actually make a judgment: its conclusions are testable, though the precise historical mechanism isn't - we will soon find out). Natural selection is everywhere, you can't get away from it. Every population is selected for its habitat, including our own at this time. In that vein, I would like to add some observations. First of all, intellectually demanding occupations were not the only characteristic of the Ashkenazi environment. For example: Ashkenazis have been living in an urban environment for over 1000 years, I would expect some adaptations to reflect that. Another thing: Judaism. For example, Judaism prohibits sex during menstruation (but for a minimum of 5 days), plus 7 days thereafter, so women with short cycles or long periods can have trouble conceiving. Do Jewish woman have more regular cycles as a result?

And what about the other way around? The paper implicitly denys or minimizes the role of Judaism in Ashkenazi intellectual success. The tradition of sending sons to school at age 3, Talmudic study, and the intellectual character of Judaism in general, would be a correlated side-effect rather than causal factor, according to this story. But perhaps it has a different role, perhaps Judaism is an evolved response to the Jewish habitat? Hygiene, for example: Jews are required to wash their hands after urinating or defecating, and before eating. 

But that is of little relevance in this day and age. More relevant: it is striking to me how much the historical habitat of the Jews resembles today's habitat for everyone. IQ is correlated with economic success in today's world like never before. Agriculture occupys a tiny fraction of the population. The vast majority are urban. And fertility today is below replacement rate in every modern society - as has been historically true for urban populations in general. Moreover, the tendency of high-IQ individuals having low fertility seems to an ancient pattern. How many children did Aristote or Plato have? The founding fathers of the US? The professors of Oxford and Cambridge? The Jewish population, urban, intellectual, fit this pattern: it was in decline for many centuries (10% of the Roman Empire was once Jewish, that would correspond to hundreds of millions today). Perhaps after centuries in their challenging habitat, Jewish culture evolved mechanisms for its survival? Observant Jews, with a birthrate of 4.5 children per woman, are likely the US's most fertile native-born urban population. In contrast, non-observant Jews are one of the least fertile sectors of the US population (way below replacement rate).

What can these mechanisms be? Well, for one thing, as I indicated above, Judaism strongly encourages sex on the 14th day of a woman's cycle (the first day that it is permitted, usually the night of the 13th day by non-Jewish reckoning, since the day begins at sundown) - just when she is most likely to be ovulating, and in general the religion encourages sex between husband and wife. But more important than that, I think, Judaism has strong cultural institutions for maintaining society against the background of urban life. 

(I have frequently talked about this subject in the past, for example hereherehere.)

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 10:57 AM  Permalink | Comments (7)
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Trackback from Hatshepsut, Stupid is who stupid does.. and vice versa:
Rishon Rishon's David is currently very occupied with this discussion on Jew's and their abnormally high IQ's. I personally do not like the strong faith people appear to have in intelligence tests. It is far too often that I've heard...


Almost all incidents of Tay Sachs occur among non-Jews these days, since people believe it to be an all-ashkenazic disease, so Jews take precautions while non-jews don't. The truth of the matter is that it isn't, it is just more common for ashkenazim to be carriers (1/50 as opposed to 1/300, or something like that.

The reasons you named for why askenazy Jews have a higher average IQ than most others is just one theory. I personally think it is just one of those things we can't explain. I also don't think that this discussion should have to harm Jews. People just need to get over this obsession with "measuring intelligence". IQ tests are only reliable to an extent (and not a great one), and only in certain societies. I know many Jews who are very or even exceptionally intelligent, but I've certainly known some incredibly stupid jews. The most intelligent person I've ever known, my father, was not Jewish.
I think it's a pity that people are so fixated on numbers.

Posted by: Maria at June 22, 2005 08:06 PM Permalink

I certainly don't think that genius = high IQ! Note, I was careful to say IQ and not intelligence. IQ is nothing more than the score you get on an IQ test. It measures what it measures. However, whatever that is is one factor in success in many areas.

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at June 22, 2005 10:26 PM Permalink

The post is fascinating.But I disagree with the evolutionary hipothesis. The commonly accepted intuition is that evolutions is very slow, and one thousand years is a compratively short period. Survivance patterns and genetical mix make the reproductive process very random, and to separate "noise" from signal you really need lots of iterations.

Posted by: Kantor at June 22, 2005 10:28 PM Permalink

Kantor: Read the paper, they specifically deal with your objection.

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at June 22, 2005 10:34 PM Permalink

"Almost all incidents of Tay Sachs occur among non-Jews these days, since people believe it to be an all-ashkenazic disease, so Jews take precautions while non-jews don't. The truth of the matter is that it isn't, it is just more common for ashkenazim to be carriers (1/50 as opposed to 1/300, or something like that."

duh...There's a huge difference between being a carrier and actually having it. Did you even read the study? What Cochran et al are sepculating is that certain genes for these diseases increase intelligence as heterozygous alleles. Sheesh.

"IQ tests are only reliable to an extent (and not a great one), and only in certain societies. I know many Jews who are very or even exceptionally intelligent, but I've certainly known some incredibly stupid jews."

Aren't you contradicting yourself? First you imply that IQ tests are subjective, then you talk about dumb and intelligent Jews you've met. Sorry, but an IQ score holds more weight than your personal opinion.

Seriously, just read the freaking paper or quit yapping.

Posted by: A Reminder at June 23, 2005 10:45 AM Permalink

"A reminder":
No I didn't read the study. I have, on the other hand, studied genetics, so you don't need to lecture me.

"Aren't you contradicting yourself?"

No I wasn't. You just didn't understand what I was saying.

"Sorry, but an IQ score holds more weight than your personal opinion."

I don't quite understand why you think I'd care about your opinion.

Posted by: Maria at June 26, 2005 04:05 AM Permalink

This is so very good. Even Henry and Greg should remember that the mechanisms of inheritance are infintely subtle and infinitely complex. The crude tools of statistics that we employ are woefully inadequate to section and assign individual causality to parameters.
Judaism is an error correcting code that has evolved to be extremely robust and flexible, even in the modern world.
I am waiting anxiously for your IQ post. ;)

Posted by: jinnderella at June 27, 2005 02:16 PM Permalink

June 23, 2005

June 24, 2005

I Guess I'm Jewish after all

According to Belief-O-Matic I'm (via Grumbles):

1. Orthodox Judaism (100%)
2. Reform Judaism (98%)
3. Islam (94%)
4. Sikhism (93%)
5. Bah�'� Faith (87%)
6. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (63%)
7. Jainism (62%)
8. Liberal Quakers (62%)
9. Unitarian Universalism (55%)
10. Jehovah's Witness (53%)
11. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (52%)
12. Neo-Pagan (51%)
13. Mahayana Buddhism (51%)
14. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (48%)
15. Hinduism (48%)
16. Orthodox Quaker (46%)
17. Eastern Orthodox (45%)
18. Roman Catholic (45%)
19. Seventh Day Adventist (43%)
20. Theravada Buddhism (39%)
21. New Age (38%)
22. Scientology (34%)
23. New Thought (29%)
24. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (24%)
25. Secular Humanism (16%)
26. Taoism (12%)
27. Nontheist (10%)

How about you?

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 06:03 PM  Permalink | Comments (7)
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I consider myself a Christian, admittedly more a cultural than a dogmatic one, but still a Christian. This test scored Christianity first on the eleventh place.... (And I'm certainly not a Muslim (4th place.)

So I don't give much for Belief-o-matic ;-).

1. Reform Judaism (100%)
2. Bahá'í Faith (91%)
3. Mahayana Buddhism (90%)
4. Islam (89%)
5. Orthodox Judaism (89%)
6. Sikhism (89%)
7. Liberal Quakers (88%)
8. Neo-Pagan (87%)
9. Unitarian Universalism (86%)
10. New Thought (83%)
11. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (83%)

Posted by: Jo at June 25, 2005 07:37 PM Permalink

Well, it pretty closely hit the nail on the head for me with #1 (but what the heck is Sikhism?):

1. Reform Judaism (100%)
2. Sikhism (90%)
3. Liberal Quakers (88%)
4. Unitarian Universalism (81%)
5. Bahá'í Faith (74%)
6. Orthodox Judaism (73%)
7. Neo-Pagan (71%)
8. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (70%)
9. Islam (69%)
10. Jainism (68%)
11. New Age (63%)
12. Mahayana Buddhism (60%)
13. Secular Humanism (59%)
14. Orthodox Quaker (56%)
15. Taoism (48%)
16. Hinduism (48%)
17. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (47%)
18. Theravada Buddhism (47%)
19. New Thought (39%)
20. Scientology (37%)
21. Jehovah's Witness (35%)
22. Nontheist (31%)
23. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (27%)
24. Eastern Orthodox (26%)
25. Roman Catholic (26%)
26. Seventh Day Adventist (26%)
27. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (25%)

Posted by: Katie-Yael at June 26, 2005 02:58 AM Permalink

You're Jewish after all? Huh, I could have told you.

Posted by: Maria at June 26, 2005 04:05 AM Permalink

And I turned to be a 100% Unitarian Universalist. I haven't even heard of it before!

Posted by: Orly at June 26, 2005 10:33 AM Permalink

Our Top 5 are identical :

1. Orthodox Judaism (100%)
2. Reform Judaism (100%)
3. Islam (95%)
4. Sikhism (86%)
5. Bahá'í Faith (83%)

Posted by: Melnorme at June 26, 2005 01:06 PM Permalink

Well that was time consuming! I don't think my results are very 'accurate'. I thought I answered like a skeptic?

1. Orthodox Judaism (100%)
2. Islam (88%)
3. Sikhism (88%)
4. Reform Judaism (83%)
5. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (83%)
6. Bahá'í Faith (76%)
7. Jehovah's Witness (73%)
8. Orthodox Quaker (72%)
9. Jainism (66%)
10. Eastern Orthodox (65%)
11. Roman Catholic (65%)
12. Liberal Quakers (64%)
13. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (64%)
14. Seventh Day Adventist (62%)
15. Hinduism (59%)
16. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (55%)
17. Unitarian Universalism (52%)
18. Mahayana Buddhism (51%)
19. Neo-Pagan (48%)
20. Theravada Buddhism (41%)
21. New Age (35%)
22. New Thought (28%)
23. Scientology (27%)
24. Secular Humanism (25%)
25. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (21%)
26. Taoism (20%)
27. Nontheist (17%)

Posted by: Maria at June 27, 2005 03:18 PM Permalink

I don't think my results are very 'accurate'.

As inaccurate as they are, there seems to be a lot of information in it.

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at June 27, 2005 05:54 PM Permalink

June 27, 2005

Mandarin Syllables

Cool chart of Mandarin syllables. There are 22 initials and 35 finals. Add the four tones, and you get a theoretical maximum of 3080 possible syllables. But, as you can see from the chart, only about two-thirds of the possibilities are actually used, which means that Mandarin uses only around 2000 syllables (I didn't count). For those 2000 syllables, it has tens of thousands of characters!

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 10:57 AM  Permalink | Comments (0)
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IQ Plague

It seems (from private correspondence) that many people missed the main point of my Cochran, Hardy, Harpending post. (Amritas got it.) So I'll try again.

A while back I speculated about the possibility of a meme plague: that because we decide on our course in life through our reason and emotions, rather than automatically going with "what worked" in the past, cultural transmission can resemble more an infection than an inheritance, and when it does it results not in steadily increasing fitness but in random fitness change, which may well be negative. In fact, all things being equal, since we have been evolving for fitness for so long it is almost inevitable that major changes will result in decreasing fitness. (All things are not equal: our reason/emotions seem pretty at guiding us to survival, but they're not so good at fertility.) As a result, the most insulated from the meme plague, who cleave most tightly to their traditional cultures will almost inevitably have an evolutionary advantage. Those who are in the forefront of western culture like to style themselves as being more "intelligent" than the rest of us. I have a feeling that this is true, and as a result they have lower fertility. Is there an intrinsic connection between high IQ and lower fertility? I think that this too is true. In other words, not only are high-IQ people more suseptable to meme plagues in general, they have a specific bias toward low fertility.

The Cochran, Hardy, Harpending paper (pdf) makes a big assumption: that in an intellectually challenging environment, higher IQ will necessarily result in higher fertility. Why? Because, as they have succinctly put it, with more money you can buy more food. Here's my problem with that argument: It is hard for me to think of any profession or lifestyle in which higher IQ doesn't help you out. Life is full of problems, and IQ helps you to solve them. Therefore, as Cochran, Hardy, and Harpending reason in another context, IQ must have fitness costs as well as benefits, otherwise all populations would have rising IQs. How many really smart people also had large families? Darwin was one, but I can't think of many others. Newton? Einstein? Washington? Jefferson? Tesla? Ford? All these people lived in a time and place when most people had large families, but they didn't.

I have a hunch as to what that is, too. Human beings look for a reason to live. Most of us find that reason in our friends and family, and especially in our children. People with high IQ are apt to find it in their ideas. 

Which is all well and good as far as I'm concerned, but it does mean that high-IQ people tend to be less fit, from an evolutionary perspective, than people with lower IQ (up to a point, of course). But what would happen if you put a group of people in an environment so intellectually challenging, that you needed that high IQ merely to survive? Well, the first thing that would happen would be a big die-off. The low-IQ people would have difficulty with survival, while the high-IQ people will have have difficulty with fertility. But, given enough time and diversity, some people will inevitably be somehow able to combine the virtues of both, and evolution guarantees that these people will will increase in number and become the modal type.

Cochran, Hardy, and Harpending seem to assume that given an IQ-challenging environment, high-IQ will inevitably lead to higher fertility. It seems to me that more than that is needed to overcome the problem. One obvious possibility is that Ashkenazis have genetically evolved not only for IQ, but also for some other thing - let's call it the IQ antidote. This is clearly not true: Ashkenazis now, in general, have one of the world's lowest fertility rates. Their genes haven't changed in the last 2-3 generations (in which they have experienced plummeting birthrates). But something has happened. They have stopped practicing Judaism. I think that what Cochran, Hardy, and Harpending have observed is the evolution of a gene-meme symbiosis: the genes provied the IQ, and the memes provided the IQ-antidote which protected them from infertility. In other words, the key factor in producing the high-IQ Ashkenazi profile (along with the other phenomena that Cochran, Hardy, and Harpending point out) may not have been the economic sector in which they specialized: it may have been but Judaism itself.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 09:01 PM  Permalink | Comments (5)
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Fertility went up with social class everywhere in premodern Europe - indeed, almost everywhere anyone has ever looked. But not nowadays.

If you want to understand what we assume, read the paper carefully. It's not complicated. We say that a bit of extra IQ boosts income a lot more in a merchant than it does for a peasant farmer (true) and that in premodern euorpe, increased income increased family size - also true.

Ideology and worldview and religion may matter, but high income increased fitness all over the place, from England to China - in the past.

Posted by: gcochran at June 29, 2005 08:05 AM Permalink

Greg: I am not arguing with you, I am adding my own two bits. Surely you must agree that high IQ must have fitness costs as well as benefits, otherwise it would be high in all populations. The fact that it boosts income more for merchants than for farmers doesn't matter in the long run unless this is true. You yourself have made similar arguments in other contexts.

Of course, this is merely an hypothesis, which I'm not in a position to test, but the high-intelligence, low-fertility stereotype has been around for millennia, so there might be some truth to it.

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at June 29, 2005 10:17 AM Permalink

Now I readed the paper: Perhaps you remember that given the amount of noise in genetical process, I considered that the filter had to be aplied lots of times to separate noise from signal.

Well, the paper proofs that IQ is highly inheritable, so the signal is clear, but still I have some doubts about the filtering process: that is, that higher IQ people are more sucessfull to such extent in Askhenazim population.

Anyway, I would say that the most important force driving the genetical heritage of Askhenzim population is the rate of defection towards mainstream population.

The people leaving judaism could be genetically sucessful outside, but not inside. I mean, Jewish popluation in highly self-selected.

If less-inteligent Jews used to leave Judaism, that could be the piece you need.

Anyway, I disagree about the demographic weakness of Jewish population. You are forgeting the constant flow of Jews into the mainstream population.

Who knows how much Jewish blood we have in Europe (specially here, in Spain).

Posted by: Kantor at June 29, 2005 09:10 PM Permalink

which I'm not in a position to test, but the high-intelligence, low-fertility stereotype has been around for millennia, so there might be some truth to it.

Probably it is tru for the highest quantuile, but I don¬īt think it is the case in general.

Probably IQ is positively correlated with fertility, but not very high IQ.

Anyway, all monotheisms encourage fertility. That is not Jewish specific.

Posted by: Kantor at June 29, 2005 10:27 PM Permalink

In fact, all succesful religous memes are usually very pro-fertility. They depend on their hosts to replicate themselves. In the long run, religion depends more on family transmision than in conversion. So alive religions encourage fertility. Otherwise they would not fluorish.

Posted by: Kantor at June 29, 2005 10:30 PM Permalink

What do female martyrs get?

From the Telegraph (Via Solomonia):

One of the inmates, Ayat Allah Kamil, 20, from Kabatya, told me why she had wanted to become a martyr: "Because of my religion. I'm very religious. For the holy war [jihad] there's no difference between men and women shahid [martyrs]."

According to the Koran, male martyrs are welcomed to Paradise by 72 beautiful virgins. Ayat, as with many of the women she is incarcerated with, believes that a woman martyr "will be the chief of the 72 virgins, the fairest of the fair".

I always wondered about that.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 11:03 PM  Permalink | Comments (2)
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That makes sense :p

Posted by: Maria at June 28, 2005 04:17 AM Permalink

It can't be what you would have thought it would be (72 men) because that's what they get on earth.

Posted by: Attila (Pillage Idiot) at June 29, 2005 06:41 PM Permalink

June 28, 2005

The Rebirth of Hebrew

I have at times been critical of the usual story of the rebirth of Hebrew as a spoken language (last time here). Usually they focus on the fact that the ancient Hebrew language lacked vocabulary for many aspects of modern life, and on the heroic story of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, who discovered and invented many of the missing terms, and raised the first Hebrew-speaking child in 2000 years. My instinctive criticism has been based on a single observation: it is extremely difficult for an adult to learn a foreign language, and it almost never happens that a person will feel completely comfortable speaking a language acquired in adulthood. And yet, millions of Jews did exactly that. For no practical reason, they abandoned their mother tongues for Hebrew - a language, at the time, spoken by nobody. 

This is the real story of the rebirth of Hebrew: that millions of people were persuaded to do this highly unnatural act. It is indeed a miracle (at least, if you will, in the sense of a seemingly highly unlikely event) that millions of Jews suddenly began speaking a "dead" language. It is an event unique in human history, and it is very surprising to me that it has been so little studied with any seriousness.

Before I get into what I contend is the real story, let me review the usual one (all of which is true, by the way, just not as interesting). It goes like this: Hebrew was kept alive for thousands of years after it ceased to be spoken, as a language of scholarship and ritual, through the love of the Jewish people. Toward the end of the 19th century, Jews began to leave their ghettos and participate in modern life. This was accompanied by a flourishing of the Hebrew language, such as hadn't been seen since the Golden Era of Spain, in which Jews wrote in Hebrew about all aspects of life. Eliezer Ben Yehuda moved to the Land of Israel, then ruled by the Turks (the region was not yet called Palestine - that name would be be applied by the British only after World War I) and endeavored to bring about the rebirth of Hebrew as a spoken language. To this end, he compiled a dictionary of 500,000 items, rediscovering Hebrew's lost vocabulary, and inventing hundreds of new terms. He also raised the first Hebrew-speaking family. Others followed his lead, and spoken Hebrew was reborn.

While very nice, no part of this story is unique, except the part that is left unexplained. There are many, many unspoken languages that have been kept alive over long periods of time as literary or ritual languages, among them: Latin, Ancient Greek, Coptic, Ge'ez, Sanskrit, Avestan, Classical Arabic (as different from modern dialects as Latin is to Italian), and Classical Chinese - none of them have been revived as a spoken language. On the other hand, many unwritten dialects have been elevated to written languages: At the time of the rebirth of Hebrew, ethnic minorities around the world were rediscovering their identities, and many spoke languages that lacked vocabulary for modern life. Ben Yehuda's work was certainly important for the revival of Hebrew, and he is justifiably celebrated, but similar things happened in Czech, Modern Greek, Finnish, and many other languages. Unexplained: How were millions of ordinary Jews convinced to abandon their mother tongues?

I have finally discovered the answer, the missing link to the story. On the recommendation of Amritas, I ordered a copy of Language In Time of Revolution by Benjamin Harshav. It is not an easy read. It's written in a dry and academic style, so for lack of time and energy I read only the second of its three parts, which deals directly with the rebirth of Hebrew. (The first part deals with the historical background, and the third with Harshav's translations of primary sources.)

In the last decades of Turkish rule of what would become Israel (at the time there was no one name that referred to the whole area), the language of government was Turkish, the peasants spoke the local dialect of Arabic (which even to this day is not written), the Jews spoke various languages, especially Arabic and Yiddish, and education, such as it was, was mostly conducted in French and German. It was in this milieu that small groups of highly motivated Jews founded new communities of like-minded people with the specific purpose of creating a Jewish community that would embody their ideals, one of which was to speak Hebrew. The new communities included the city of Tel Aviv, numerous small kibbutzim, and other agricultural communities. It is important to understand that these were small self-selected groups: they did something that the vast majority are unwilling, or unable, to do.

It was within this small, self-selected population that Hebrew was reborn as a spoken language. 

But it is not the end of the story: So a small group of isolated, highly motivated, energetic people managed to revitalize Hebrew. How, then, did their numbers grow to the millions that they are today? 

After World War I, Turkey was defeated, and its empire divided between France and Britain. The League of Nations crafted the British Mandate to, among other things, "secure the establishment of the Jewish national home" in Palestine, and Jews began to organize themselves into the polity which was to become Israel. (Actually, even in Turkish times the various religious groups had a certain degree of autonomy, in what was called the millet system, which was preserved under the British Mandate, and persists in Israel to this day.) The Palestinian Jews were heterogeneous - religiously, politically, and linguistically. The dominant languages among them were Arabic and Yiddish, neither of which were used for intellectual purposes. Indeed, the intellectual languages had been French and German, but were about to be superseded by English. This state of diversity and flux was probably a contributing factor to the success of Hebrew, but was not, in my opinion, the main one, especially considering the fact that almost all Hebrew speakers at the time were native speakers of Yiddish, which could easily have followed the path of development of languages such as Czech. The reason Hebrew succeeded: The same, self-selected, group that pioneered the revitalization of Hebrew also became the leaders of the Jewish community in Palestine.

And from then on, we are back to ordinary sociolinguistic processes. It has happened many, many times that a language spoken by a small but important group of people has supplanted a much more widely-spoken language. To name just a few instances from historical times (many more can be reconstructed from linguistic evidence): Latin in the western Mediterranean, Greek in the eastern Mediterranean, Arabic in Mesopotamia, the Levant, and North Africa, Hungarian in Hungary, English in Ireland. In Palestine, at the beginning of the 20th century, that language was Hebrew.


ADDENDUM: At the end of book 2, Harshav examines the question of whether modern Hebrew is really a "European" language. While he doesn't go quite so far as to say that it is, he seems to think that it has been heavily Europeanized. I take issue with this claim. First of all, a speaker of modern Hebrew can understand the language of the Bible about as easily as a speaker of modern English can understand its King James translation, and Mishnaic (Talmudic) Hebrew is about as close to modern Hebrew as 17th or 18th-century English is to the modern language. That's pretty close, I would say. Harshav quotes a typical paragraph from a newspaper, and has this to say about it:

1. International words: kilometer, television, Antarctica, July, cabinet, Africa, NBC.

2. New Hebrew words for international terms: race, [television] networks, missile, launched, report, nuclear weapons, Minister of Trade and Industry, area (in the sense of geographical area), the United States.

3. Phrases that represent Euro-American concepts: "has broadcast information stating that," "a certain place," "standard version," "denied reports," "nuclear weapons," "fifth of July," "Israel will not be the first," "confined himself to stating the standard version"

4. The microsyntax, concerning contiguous words, or immediate constituents, is essentially Hebrew: the coordination of verb and noun; the use of the definite article, prepositions, and connectives; the genitive phrases. Yet, the macrosyntax is European: the sentence in the first paragraph accumulates five stages of states of affairs, which could not be done in the syntax of traditional texts.

I find points 1-3 very odd. How can you talk about things that go on in the modern world without having words for them? Are those words intrinsically Euro-American because the objects and concepts they refer to were mostly invented by Euro-Americans? He even admits in the next paragraph that: "the roots of most of the words are Hebrew or quasi-Hebrew"! Point 4 is more interesting, it is the point I was addressing in the link above. It seems to me that the major transformation in the (written) language was not from Semitic to European, but from a language meant to be spoken to a language meant to be read. The Mishnaic texts were transmitted orally before they were written down, and their "macrosyntax" reflects that. A similar observation can be made in English when comparing the works of Chaucer (which were meant to be read aloud) to modern texts. For that matter, even today a well-written speech will have simplified sentence structure. Would you say that the language of Chaucer and Reagan is really Semitic? It should be pointed out that all this European macrosyntax is achieved in Hebrew with the ancient set of particles, in other words the difference is one of degree not kind: no new kind of sentence structure has been invented. Indeed, the Hebrew of Maimonides (1135-1204), who was a native Arabic (Semitic language) speaker, has a macrosyntax not far from the modern idiom. Is complex sentence structure a European characteristic or simply a modern one? Put another way, does a reading (as opposed to listening) audience inevitably lead to more complex sentence structure? I would be interested in data from other languages.

(Cross-posted at Gene Expression.)

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 10:04 AM  Permalink | Comments (5)
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Thanks for mentioning Classical Chinese in your list of ancient languages that continued to be used in writing long after they ceased to be spoken languages. I spent 6 years studying Chinese. I concentrated more on written Chinese than on the spoken language. I followed your link to Wikipedia's entry about Classical Chinese. It is very well written. One thing the entry didn't mention is how much Classical Chinese survives in modern written colloquial Chinese. In Communist China they repudiated ancient Chinese culture as an obstacle to modernisation. They rejected the classical language as well, so their written Chinese is closer to modern spoken standard Mandarin. In Taiwan, some scholarly books and journals, particularly those on topics related to ancient China, are still published in Classical Chinese. Many Taiwan and overseas Chinese newspapers are written in a form of Chinese which is practically a separate dialect, a mixture of Classical Chinese and modern Mandarin. I'm sure the cultural prestige of Classical Chinese is part of the reason. There is a practical reason as well. Modern Mandarin words are mostly polysyllabic. Compound words of two syllables (=two characters) are most common. Classical Chinese is mostly monosyllabic. Classical Chinese grammar is simpler and more compact than modern Mandarin. Using Classical Chinese in newspapers allows them to squeeze more articles and advertisements into less space. They also mix the direction of writing. The traditional practice was to write top to bottom, in columns from right to left. Under the influence of European languages, they adopted horizontal writing. Left to right as in English is most common, though they also use right to left, particularly in ads. Some of the Taiwan newspapers I looked at frequently used all three writing directions on a single page.

Posted by: Bryan Ashcroft at July 3, 2005 04:27 AM Permalink

Thank you, Bryan. I wonder how much Chinese speakers think of Classical Chinese as a different language, as opposed to a literary style.

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at July 3, 2005 09:31 AM Permalink

I'd guess literate native speakers of Chinese don't make a distinction about separate language or stylistic variant, unless they specialize in Chinese linguistics. It might be difficult even for Chinese linguists to decide about language vs style, because ancient and modern Chinese are so thoroughly intermixed in the modern written language. I knew a few university educated Chinese immigrants and asked them for help when I was studying Chinese. Though they weren't specialists in Classical Chinese they could easily identify whether any word was modern or classical and could translate words and short phrases from one form to the other. They couldn't do sustained writing in Classical Chinese or translate long passages of modern writing into Classical Chinese.
The only clear criterion I can think of is intelligibility when read aloud. Classical Chinese must be a separate language because it is not intelligible when read aloud with Mandarin pronunciation.
Here's a situation to help you compare and contrast. How many native speakers of Hebrew know which Hebrew words and grammatical forms are biblical, mishnaic or modern neologisms? Can they tell the difference between native Hebrew words and loan words from other Semitic languages?

Posted by: Bryan Ashcroft at July 4, 2005 05:49 PM Permalink

Here's a situation to help you compare and contrast. How many native speakers of Hebrew know which Hebrew words and grammatical forms are biblical, mishnaic or modern neologisms? Can they tell the difference between native Hebrew words and loan words from other Semitic languages?

If the word is in everyday use, they probably won't know where it's from, but if it's a "literary" word, it is likely that they will. For example the biblical word for tree is `es, which is also the modern word. The Mishnaic word for tree is ilan, which is not in everyday use, but is recognized by all Hebrew speakers as being a "nice" or "poetic" synonym.

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at July 5, 2005 03:00 PM Permalink

Hindi used to also be listed as a revived language along with Hebrew and Irish, because of the revival of Sanskrit vocabulary to replace Persian-Arabic.

Near-universal fluency in Yiddish may be an overestimate. Palestine had a fair number of Sephardic and Arab Jews, while in Europe some Jews had switched from Yiddish to the local national language.

Hebrew-speakers were certainly leaders of the Yishuv, but once Hebrew was established as the common language, immigrants had to learn Hebrew, and it was constant immigration and assimilation which took the Hebrew speaking community from thousands to millions. Unlike your other examples of language change by elite dominance, Hebrew speakers were a majority at any one time through the whole process after the beginning.

Hebrew certainly looks Europeanized compared to Arabic, both in phonology and some vocabulary. And both Biblical Hebrew and Classical Chinese tend towards parataxis, while the modern languages use more European-style sentence structure with dependent clauses.

Posted by: caffeind at July 29, 2005 10:06 AM Permalink

How many lives have you saved?

David Bogner has saved 82:

Life # 1: One day during the summer between 1st & 2nd grade I was at the local swimming pool with my family. A friend and I were sitting on the edge of the pool talking when we saw a toddler wander away from his parents and fall into the deep end of the pool a few yards away. We looked at each other in horror because we realized that we were the only ones who had seen the little boy fall into the pool. My friend only knew how to swim on top of the water and I only knew how to swim underwater (long story for another day). I dove down to the bottom of the pool and started dragging the squirming boy towards the surface. Once I broke the surface my friend was waiting there for me to help drag the flailing kid towards the edge of the pool. By now the lifeguard had realized something was wrong and he helped pull the toddler from the pool. I can still remember the tearful thank you I got from the kid's parents (they were a Lebanese couple that my parents knew), and the pizza dinner my parents bought me as a hero's reward.

Life # 2: I was standing on the corner of a busy street in Olongapo, Philippines when one of my shipmates stumbled drunkenly past me intent on crossing the street. He lunged into the roadway just as a Jeepnee ( a brightly painted open taxicab) came speeding towards him. I grabbed him by the back of his collar and pulled him back onto the sidewalk just as the Jeepnee zoomed past. In his drunken state my shipmate never even saw the jipnee that had almost killed him and simply assumed someone was trying to mug him. He turned around to face me and knocked me nearly unconscious with a drunken round-house punch that landed solidly just above my left ear. The next day when he had sobered up, several witnesses explained to him how close he had come to being run down and how he owed me not only an apology, but probably his life. To his credit, I never paid for a beer in his presence for the rest of the time we were shipmates.

Life # 3: Once while I was in Paris with my High School Jazz band I happened to be standing with a small crowd waiting to cross the street. A British tourist standing next to me followed his instincts and looked the wrong way before stepping boldly off the curb into the path of an oncoming bus. I was one of two sets of hands that pulled him out of the street just as the bus passed the spot where we were standing. Even with two sets of hands pulling this guy backwards the bus still managed to hit him very hard with the bottom of one of its mirrors... hard enough to upon a very messy cut on the side of his head. I am pretty sure that just one set of hands would not have been fast or strong enough to pull him (mostly) out of harm's way.

Life #4: On one of many trips to the Grand Canyon I hiked down the Bright Angel trail towards the bottom. About a third of the way down at one of the numerous switch-backs that the trail takes, I happened to be passing a young woman who was standing off the trail trying to take a picture of the canyon. Apparently she was so caught up in trying to frame her shot just so that she didn't realize she had backed onto a patch of loose sand and gravel at the edge of a steep drop-off. As I passed her I watched her start to flair her arms in a losing battle with balance and gravity and start to topple over the embankment at the turn in the switch-back. I made an off-balance grab for her and luckily managed to get hold of one of the straps on her knapsack. I managed to stop most of her outward momentum, but I quickly started to loose ground as well and felt my feet starting to slip. A hiker just behind me managed to both anchor himself and grab my belt before we both tumbled over the cliff. I almost threw up from the adrenaline rushing through my system.

And the other 78 (with pictures!): 

When our ship reached the boat we confirmed that it was full of Vietnamese refugees and that their boat was severely overloaded and in danger of being swamped by even the gentle swells that broke over the gunwales.  We immediately began organizing a rescue party.  I was one of the people who volunteered to go over the side and help bring them aboard.

In all there were 78 people stuffed into that tiny wooden boat; 34 men, 26 women and 18 children.  They had left Vietnam more than two weeks earlier with enough fuel and supplies for a week, but after their fuel had run out they had drifted out of the shipping lanes and into an area where they were not likely to be found.   Many of the elderly were suffering from dehydration and heat stroke, and several of the parents were semi-conscious from malnutrition and dehydration because they had been giving their meager rations to their children.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 09:02 PM  Permalink | Comments (3)
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Yikes, this made me want to run and hide! You left out an important word: 'helped'. I helped to save these lives. I honestly feel that there are countless lives that each of us prolong and shorten every day by our actions and inaction. Most we will never really know. I posted about these 82 not to brag, but to point out what a deep and lasting effect these events have had on my own life.

Posted by: David at June 28, 2005 09:52 PM Permalink

Well, the events speak for themselves.

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at June 29, 2005 12:19 AM Permalink

Hello David,

I have included a few comments on your IQ Plage post.

I also wrote an extra post (in English) on disengagement.


Posted by: Kantor at June 29, 2005 10:32 PM Permalink

June 30, 2005

The Rebirth of Hebrew: The Sexual Politics of Hebrew and Yiddish

I just stumbled across the book, A Marriage Made in Heaven: The Sexual Politics of Hebrew and Yiddish. It gave me a laugh, I guess some women see sex everywhere. Did you know that the rebirth of Hebrew was yet another victory for male hegemony?

With remarkably original formulations, Naomi Seidman examines the ways that Hebrew, the Holy Tongue, and Yiddish, the vernacular language of Ashkenazic Jews, came to represent the masculine and feminine faces, respectively, of Ashkenazic Jewish culture. Her sophisticated history is the first book-length exploration of the sexual politics underlying the "marriage" of Hebrew and Yiddish, and it has profound implications for understanding the centrality of language choices and ideologies in the construction of modern Jewish identity. Seidman particularly examines this sexual-linguistic system as it shaped the work of two bilingual authors, S.Y. Abramovitsh, the "grand-father" of modern Hebrew and Yiddish literature; and Dvora Baron, the first modern woman writer in Hebrew (and a writer in Yiddish as well). She also provides an analysis of the roles that Hebrew "masculinity" and Yiddish "femininity" played in the Hebrew- Yiddish language wars, the divorce that ultimately ended the marriage between the languages. Theorists have long debated the role of mother and father in the child's relationship to language. Seidman presents the Ashkenazic case as an illuminating example of a society in which "mother tongue" and "father tongue" are clearly differentiated. Her work speaks to important issues in contemporary scholarship, including the psychoanalysis of language acquisition, the feminist critique of Zionism, and the nexus of women's studies and Yiddish literary history.

Well, I haven't read the book, but I will guess that Hebrew is "male" because until recently only boys were given formal schooling, where they learned Hebrew, so that would make it a "male" language. And of course, by default, Yiddish would be "female". Also, Yiddish speakers usually referred to their language not as "Yiddish" (which just means "Jewish" in Yiddish) but as "Mama Loshen" - Mother Tongue.

UPDATE: I just want to explicitly point out the intellectual trick that is being pulled here. It goes like this: First you say that X represents Y, then you get all hot and bothered, or all caught up with yourself talking about X as if it embodied Y. I don't have any problem with making a poetic comparison of Hebrew to male and Yiddish to female, if you want to do that, but to then go and claim that something that happens to X (e.g. Yiddish) really happened to Y (e.g. females), or that something that X (e.g. Hebrew) did was really done by Y (males) is simply an unconscionable abuse of intellect for the purpose of deception (perhaps of yourself).

Posted by David Boxenhorn at 12:41 PM  Permalink | Comments (4)
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"I guess some women see sex everywhere."

Men too, if they want to spice up their scholarship. :)

Having not read the book, I'm guessing the author had some ideas about the relationship between Hebrew and Yiddish and it later occurred to her that a sexual metaphor could make her points, well, sexier. I hope that's the case, because the reverse would be to devise the metaphor first and fit the facts into it. In either case, I suspect that the author takes the metaphor way too far. I wonder how the author psychoanalyzes bilinguals. Speaking of which ...

"psychoanalysis of language acquisition" - Sigmund, meet Noam?

Posted by: Amritas at June 30, 2005 03:54 PM Permalink


I hope nobody thinks I'm picking on women. That statement was my attempt at humor, a twist of the common idea that men see sex everywhere (which they do).

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at July 1, 2005 11:25 AM Permalink

only boys were given formal schooling, where they learned Hebrew, so that would make it a "male" language

Yeah, and religious literature that was written in Yiddish, like 'Tsena Urena', were usually written for women.

My initial reaction was like yours, that this is some kind of an anti/post-zionist cheap shot. But I wouldn't dismiss her thesis too easily. Think how often one hears the expression that something or other is 'so gay', even though that thing may have nothing at all to do with homosexuality. Similarly, if one finds representations that Yiddish was portrayed as effeminate or inherintly sentimental or something (I haven't got a clue about this), then that's pretty significant.

Posted by: Danny at July 3, 2005 09:56 PM Permalink

I see sex everywhere!
You know i do, (((david)))....

Posted by: nellodee at August 11, 2005 04:32 AM Permalink