Slowly emerging from blog-hibervacation

Alright everyone:

  1. Victor Galitski has an impassioned rant against out-of-control quantum computing hype, which I enjoyed and enthusiastically recommend, although I wished Galitski had engaged a bit more with the strongest arguments for optimism (e.g., the recent sampling-based supremacy experiments, the extrapolations that show gate fidelities crossing the fault-tolerance threshold within the next decade). Even if I’ve been saying similar things on this blog for 15 years, I clearly haven’t been doing so in a style that works for everyone. Quantum information needs as many people as possible who will tell the truth as best they see it, unencumbered by any competing interests, and has nothing legitimate to fear from that. The modern intersection of quantum theory and computer science has raised profound scientific questions that will be with us for decades to come. It’s a lily that need not be gilded with hype.
  2. Last month Limaye, Srinivasan, and Tavenas posted an exciting preprint to ECCC, which apparently proves the first (slightly) superpolynomial lower bound on the size of constant-depth arithmetic circuits, over fields of characteristic 0. Assuming it’s correct, this is another small victory in the generations-long war against the P vs. NP problem.
  3. I’m grateful to the Texas Democratic legislators who fled the state to prevent the legislature, a couple miles from my house, having a quorum to enact new voting restrictions, and who thereby drew national attention to the enormity of what’s at stake. It should go without saying that, if a minority gets to rule indefinitely by forcing through laws to suppress the votes of a majority that would otherwise unseat it, thereby giving itself the power to force through more such laws, etc., then we no longer live in a democracy but in a banana republic. And there’s no symmetry to the situation: no matter how terrified you (or I) might feel about wokeists and their denunciation campaigns, the Democrats have no comparable effort to suppress Republican votes. Alas, I don’t know of any solutions beyond the obvious one, of trying to deal the conspiracy-addled grievance party crushing defeats in 2022 and 2024.
  4. Added: Here’s the video of my recent Astral Codex Ten ask-me-anything session.

39 Responses to “Slowly emerging from blog-hibervacation”

  1. Matty Wacksen Says:

    > if a minority gets to rule indefinitely by forcing through laws to suppress the votes of a majority that would otherwise unseat it.

    Not a Texan (or even American), but could you confirm that you have actually read the proposed legislation and not just the news articles? Reporting on things like this is typically not particularly fair and balanced….

  2. Gerard Says:

    This will probably turn out to be a really stupid question but, regarding item 2, how would you even construct a constant product depth arithmetic circuit for iterated scalar multiplication ?

  3. Gerard Says:

    Well, I guess you would have to allow arithmetic operations of arbitrary arity, not just the more conventional 2-ary operators, otherwise I think the depth has be O(log N).

  4. LK2 Says:

    Hi Scott and welcome back,

    “the extrapolations that show gate fidelities crossing the fault-tolerance threshold within the next decade”:

    do you (or somebody else) have (has) a reference about this?

  5. murmur Says:

    Why are voter ID laws considered partisan? If I want to check in a hotel I’ll need to show my ID, most in-person job interviews require an ID and so on. Then what’s wrong with wanting to see an ID before voting? It’s necessary to prevent fraud. That’s why most countries have it. It’s telling that democrats oppose such an elementary election security measure.

  6. Gerard Says:

    Regarding my comments #2 and #3:

    It doesn’t seem quite right to use a model where gates can have arbitrary arity (ie. independent of N) because that allows you to hide an unlimited amount of “work” behind a single atomic gate/operation.

  7. Scott Says:

    murmur #5: For one thing, because the Republicans who design these laws consistently tailor the types of allowed ID to favor their voters (yes to gun permits, no to state university student IDs). If the US, like many other countries, had a national ID card that everyone had, then a voter ID law could make sense, but we don’t.

    Also, the only kind of fraud that could possibly be deterred by voter ID laws is a kind that’s non-scalable and completely statistically insignificant (as in, one or two cases out of millions if you search for them, and those usually honest mistakes about eligibility rules more than fraud).

    The stuff to pay attention to is the stuff that could actually change the outcome: stuff like selective closure of the other side’s polling places, or hackable voting machines with no paper trail, or partisan election boards that can simply toss out a result they don’t like.

  8. Scott Says:

    Gerard: Yes, with constant-depth circuits one typically allows arbitrary arity. This is actually an excellent model for what’s done in practice with neural nets (for that matter, the human brain has arity in the tens of thousands). And it still leads to very interesting questions: for example, a seminal result from the 80s says that even with arbitrary-arity AND and OR gates (plus NOT gates), you still can’t compute the parity or majority of n bits with subexponentially many gates and constant depth.

  9. Scott Says:

    Matty Wacksen #1: No, I hadn’t read the text of the legislation before your comment, but I’d certainly read summaries of the main provisions, which turned out to be accurate, and which in any case were never contested by Governor Abbott or the others trying to force through this legislation.

    I’m curious: what do you think I could’ve learned from the text that would’ve changed my view? Like, “oh, the law makes it a felony to send unsolicited mail ballots, and it bans 24-hour voting and drive-through voting and all sorts of other things that have zero security differences from other voting but all coincidentally happen to be heavily relied on by Democrat-heavy cities … but if you read it, that turns out to be completely reasonable because [XYZ].” What value of [XYZ] would make that sentence something I could plausibly utter?

  10. ETP Says:

    From an economic or investment perspective, ‘hype’ around an asset or industry is a double-edged sword. Much investment in startups, new technologies or even existing assets is based around hype. Venture capital may, for example, be driven by hype to invest in a range of technologies, only some of which pay off; yet those that do reap returns for investors and benefits for society at large. Quantum researchers naturally eschew hype because they tend to prefer rigor, but investment dynamics are not driven by the level of mathematical certainty or precision one expects in the academy. Thus it’s possible that quantum ‘hype’ may in fact be an advantage or necessity for widespread investment in the technology. It would be interesting to see research that attempts to quantify something like the relation between ‘hype’ (to the extent one can define it) and technological progress, investment or productivity within a field.

  11. Gadi Says:

    It saddens me to see you’re still deep inside the propaganda about elections. Sadly, the U.S. isn’t a democracy, and the U.S. elections aren’t democratic elections. I say this from Israel where we do have democratic elections and I will, once again try to convince you (even tho previous attempts failed).

    In Israel, elections are all done in-person. No mail in. No electronic voting. No machines. It all happens in a single day without mail-in voting. It requires showing an ID, and furthermore, every voter is restricted to only a single polling place where he lives (with the exception of double-envelope voting – which is heavily guarded). Observers are free to observe and yet there’s no sign of any “voter intimidation” bullshit happening. Furthermore, despite the “difficulty” of voting in Israel, turnout in Israel is one of the highest. The “voter suppression” boogeyman you have been fed in your media is nothing but a pathetic excuse to introduce means to rig the election, and I invite you to pay close attention to Israeli elections to see how it’s done right.

    The crux of democratic elections is to protect against the ability of the government to rig the result, as you said “if a minority gets to rule indefinitely by forcing through laws …”. The only thing you’re wrong about is how the rigging is done. It is completely trivial for the government to fake mail votes, as the only information protecting against it is information the government both has and is responsible to manufacture. The same goes for opaque processes like voting machines. Trivial for the government to rig.

    Israel elections, on the other hand, are order of magnitude harder for the government to rig. Every poll has 4 workers, randomly selected from the pool of workers, each responsible for a polling place location with no more than 800 votes. Even assuming the very worst, that each compromised location with 4 compromised workers has compromised all 800 votes, it will still take an enormous conspiracy of hundreds of workers to rig the result by even a single seat, and you can verify this with simple math division, so simple that in fact this is taught in civics classes in school.

    (The double envelopes are more problematic – and therefore there are much more observers looking at them).

    For these reasons, allegations of fraud do not even occur – as they require hundreds of distinct allegations to have even a slight chance of changing the result. This is the true meaning of a democratic election – a process where even the loser can be satisfied with the process. Whatever process you have in the U.S. is simply not democratic elections.

    You have been brainwashed to associate “conspiracy theory” with the notion of the government rigging its own election, despite the fact that you know that’s exactly what happens in places like Russia.

    I have seen enough evidence to know for certain that in the U.S, not only is the opaque process theoretically undemocratic, it was also practically rigged. I have sent you many anecdotes, which you always ignored, so I won’t send more, because what really matters is that you change the way you think about what democratic elections mean. If you finally change the way you view it, hopefully from the positive example that is Israel elections, maybe the rest will follow

    You should also understand that it is an absurd notion for the big and powerful government to demand evidence from the little guy about whether the government is committing fraud.

  12. Mathematician in a QC startup Says:

    To counteract Galitski’s rant, let me just mention that Dorit Aharonov has just confounded a QC startup in Israel.

  13. Sam Says:

    There are all kinds of election cheating algorithms and methods, and they can be complex or simple. Probably about the simplest was in the 2002 Iraqi presidential referendum where the official result was that out of 11,445,638 Iraqis registered to vote, exactly 11,445,638 of those turned out to vote, and of those, exactly 11,445,638 voted to support another seven year-term for President Saddam Hussein. One may wonder how it was done, but assuredly the algorithm was something like “This is the result because we declare it so. End of discussion.”

    The supposed Stalin quote (it probably has much earlier origin) “It’s not the people who vote that count, it’s the people who count the votes.” is very apt. In any election, you have to ask whether people have the motive and opportunity to change the results.

  14. Jonah Says:

    To Gadi

    You have missed the biggest reason these properties of Israeli elections hold. Israel has a national voting holiday, so of course everything can be done in person and turnout can be high (although it isn’t always).

    The absence of such a holiday in the US is a central reason mail in votes are so important.

    You get one guess which American political party has pushed for a national voting holiday.

    Fraud has next to nothing to do with it. As you said the evidence is anecdotal, precisely because it is such a vanishingly small occurrence with no statistical importance.

  15. JimV Says:

    In every state (two) I’ve lived in long enough to vote, and I believe in every USA state, you have to be registered to vote. In New York State, they find your name and signature in the Registration Book for your district and have you sign your name in the blank next to the recorded signature. Granted, somebody could murder a bunch of registered voters (or wait until they die naturally), practice their signatures, and vote in their places, but that is about the only way in-person or mail fraud could occur. That is, there can’t be more than one vote per registered voter. Registration requires a proof-of-address such as a rental agreement, and is checked by mailing a confirmation to the given address. (Can be spot-checked in other ways also, such as cross-referencing with other public data.)

    In Ohio, they required an ID the last time I voted there, and neither my NYS driver’s license nor my plant photo ID were acceptable. I had the postcard with my registration confirmation with me though and they reluctantly accepted that. It took the intervention of another nearby poll worker though. The one I started with was not going to let me vote.

    I’ve always voted around 6:30 AM because although my jobs have started at 8 AM I like to be at work at or before 7AM. Of course many people are already or still at work at 6:30 AM. I would trade some reasonable ID requirement for a national holiday to vote on, and a commitment not to close the polls when there are still people in line to vote, neither of which we currently have.

    I don’t think there were a high percentage of mail-in ballots except during the pandemic, but it seems more convenient than missing work in a long line at the polls. I have never mailed it in, especially not with Trump signalling that he would use it as a pretext to contest the election well in advance–despite the pandemic and no vaccines available then.

  16. LK2 Says:

    Gadi #11: the Israeli system you describe is very similar to many European countries where I have either lived or had experience. What you describe about US is simply scary. Also the UK-like majority voting system is poorly democratic.
    Anyway, who really belives that US is a real democracy? Besides the simply gigantic and hard-to-match expenses in weapons and research, the real advantage in US (from my personal experience) is still a diffuse sense of meritocracy, which is somewhat diluted in more “socialistic” countries like in Europe. But still…it is an oligarchy (since the bulk of the citizens is kept rather ignorant), not a real democracy. But still…I cannot deny I find US a really fascinating place to live in.

  17. Steve R. Says:

    Voter ID laws with disparate impact are small potatoes compared to bringing in tens of millions of foreign voters to disenfranchise the current electorate.

  18. Job Says:

    As imperfect as the US’s voting and election processes might be, we do at least have the rampant distrust to encourage checks and bounds.

    Would an uncontentious voting system really be as good?

    Who needs state IDs when you have two parties presuming fraud at every step of the process.
    Good job everyone.

  19. Gadi Says:

    Jonah #14: They aren’t small or anecdotal, maybe that was wrong phrasing. There’s enough evidence for hundreds of thousands of fake votes, and these are just those with evidence, and as I said, getting evidence against the government is inherently hard so you should assume the real problem is much worse.

    You can look at what’s going on in Arizona audit, but honestly I get the vibe that no matter how much evidence there is, you’re just going to dismiss it because it suits your narrative.

    As for the national holiday, yes that’s important for real democratic elections too. Only strengthens my point that you do not have a democratic election. Using something wrong as an excuse for something even worse isn’t an argument. (It should be noted that most retail businesses are actually open on election day, so don’t overestimate the importance of the holiday).

    You’re acting as if I’m some partisan idiot. I’m not. It’s pretty clear you’re getting screwed by both parties, and both parties use those same mechanisms to make sure voting makes no difference. I don’t care which undemocratic practice is supposedly blocked by which party, they both suck and whenever anyone actually suggests to turn your process a little bit more democratic is the party you should support at that moment. If you had talked with Trump supporters you might learn they are starting to see those same problems in their own party, and would love to get rid of corrupt people like Mitch, and they are even aware of him rigging his elections.

    There are plenty of other issues with your elections that statistically favor Republicans and are undemocratic too. Your regional / constituency based voting is bad too because of the power it gives government fraud – just a few fraudulent votes can completely nullify all the other votes. Compare it with Israel’s proportional list representation, where even high amounts of fraud can’t nullify the power held by legitimate votes. Gerrymandering is just the cherry on top. Very high polling places queues (such as in 2012) are also part of an undemocratic process, and they were designed to make sure your government counts the votes with as few workers as possible.

    Then there’s the lack of an option for third parties to rise, which is also incredibly undemocratic. It’s unlikely for a real opposition to the government to rise when your primaries run the way they do, and third parties have no chance. Compare it with political parties in Israel.

    I’m certain that what happens in your congress is orders of magnitudes worse than the presidential race, and your congressional approval rating reflects that, and your constitution gives your congress most of the power. You only need to look at what your congress is spending money on to realize your voting holds literally zero power.

    The U.S has never had democratic election, as these issue go as far back as to when women and blacks couldn’t vote (and then it wasn’t a democracy for this reason). The U.S. was just incredibly effective at spreading propaganda about being a democracy. It is the most successful and long running propaganda in the world.

    You should take this unique opportunity of people waking up to this reality to do something, because nobody knows if you’ll have another chance. Rise above the divisive propaganda designed to make sure you’ll be silent when your enemies lose unfairly, and join the other side for the long term future. Support whoever is suggesting steps towards democratic elections whether it helps or hurts your party. First you must become a democracy, only then you have the luxury of choosing between parties.

  20. Scott Says:

    Gadi: I’m leaving some lengthy additional comments from you in moderation, simply because there are Ackermann(1000) other places on the web to argue about election conspiracy theories and I’m not interested in doing it here. Thanks.

  21. Anonymous Says:

    I did look through the bill and I don’t understand the need to protest. There’s still plenty of time for early voting, no changes in acceptable ID used for voting except for voting by mail.

    Student IDs can’t be used now as it stands because they be easily faked (I actually knew someone who made a fake one that was pretty convincing), but a handgun license is because it is issued by the DPS. But most everyone going to vote will have a driver’s license, is this really the civil rights heroic level issue it’s being touted as or is someone fundraising? Tighter restrictions on voting by mail, including ID, make a lot of sense considering everything that can go wrong or be intercepted between point A and point B and not being able to identify the person by a human.

    This is a pretty good summary.

  22. Topologist Guy Says:


    I think you’re severely underestimating the danger the Left poses to our democracy. It’s not just woke idiots on college campuses. The White House is flagrantly and openly violating the first amendment—“pressuring” social media companies to stop the spread of “misinformation”—and the Hunter Biden laptop scandal shows that “misinformation” could be any negative news story about the President. And that’s not even the worst of it!—the White House says they are “working with” SMS to stop the spread of “misinformation” over text messages. So we have a scenario where a group of authoritarian politicians are *dictating truth* and imposing it through law. It’s straight out of 1984. I mean the analogy with Ingsoc is so close one can’t help but wonder if the DNC used George Orwell as a manual.

    We are plunging directly into Chinese-style authoritarianism Scott. I mean that’s not an exaggeration—this is exactly the rhetoric, the rationale and the mechanism the CCP uses to enforce social media censorship. And you seem to be more worried about a couple dozen unarmed protesters breaking into a government building, than the massive campaign of authoritarian censorship and surveillance enabled by that Reichstag moment? I implore you to expand your perspective from the partisan bickering and see what’s happening in this country.

  23. Udi Says:

    Gadi, you rightfully state that the US wasn’t democratic when blacks could not vote. Yet you claim that Israel is a democracy despite the fact that millions of Arabs in the westbank cannot vote. And don’t tell me that the westbank is not part of Israel. We just saw that when it comes to ice cream, the Israeli government insists that the westbank is inseparable from the rest of the country.

  24. Dan Says:

    The best voting system in the US is in Oregon. DMV or any other interaction with the state registers you to vote. Ballots are mailed, so you can just sit in your home and vote as you read the info pamphlet. Drop it in a box if you procrastinate to the point where you can’t mail it back on time. You can check on a website that it’s been counted. Identity is verified by signature and by random barcodes on the ballot.

    I do concede to Gadi that it’s important to ensure the people counting are honest. For that I’d like to see a published table linking the ballot serial numbers to vote choice. These serial numbers are anonymous, but you have this number on a receipt and could raise a stink if they tallied it wrong.

  25. Sandro Says:

    Then what’s wrong with wanting to see an ID before voting? It’s necessary to prevent fraud. That’s why most countries have it.

    There’s nothing wrong with requiring ID to vote in principle. The question is what is the path to ensuring all citizens can acquire a legitimate voter ID. It turns out in the US, many poor people and minorities wouldn’t have the kind of ID required, and acquiring the information you’d need to get an appropriate ID could cost up to $1500 in fees and attorneys to meet the standards set out in the legislation.

    I suspect that if a voter ID law grandfathered in all existing voters as they are, and then said starting next year, every graduating high school student and every citizen would get a voter ID, you wouldn’t have nearly as much pushback.

  26. fred Says:

    The claim that the US isn’t a democracy is interesting.

    Regardless of how shitty the US voting system appears to be, in practice, power in the US has somehow always been alternating between the two parties, almost like clockwork… and, in the end, isn’t it what really matters?

    Of course many will claim that alternating power isn’t good enough, that their own side is really the one that should have absolute monopoly on being in charge, because the other side is wrong/evil/extreme/anti-democratic…
    but, to a centrist, the real democratic mechanism (which gets expressed through elections) is that the general public opinion is always constantly oscillating between the opposites, in cycles, because there isn’t a singular answer to every problem, and every policy has pros and cons.

    I wonder whether a country where the same group and ideology is always in power, even through “legitimate elections”, is what a healthy democracy should be like.
    Isn’t it natural to expect the emergence of opposite views in a healthy democracy, where freedom of thought/expression and a solid dose of skepticism in the institutions (which always tend to become self-serving) are the core values?

    Of course another objection is to say that the two party system of the US is really an illusion, a scam on the American people, a corruption of the Constitution. The alternation in power is all an act, and the same elites (the corporations) are always in charge and gaining power regardless of who’s currently in the WH.

  27. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Anonymous #21:

    Any chance that possession of a Driver’s license is strongly correlated with ownership of a vehicle, which in turn might be strongly correlated with wealth? Asking for a friend.

  28. Gadi Says:

    Udi #23: The west bank isn’t a part of Israel because they are taxed by the Palestinian authority, and the Palestinian authority is the government of the Arabic villages in the west bank. Mine while, the settlers in the west bank pay taxes to Israel. The Palestinians could have voted for the Palestinian authority, and they did it when the Palestinian authority had elections. Except they voted for Hamas, and since then the Palestinian authority stopped conducting elections.

    The current situation is the middle ground before the two state solution. Would the Palestinians vote in Israel after the two state solution? No, that’d completely nullify the point of it. I’m all for the two state solution, and suggesting that we go backwards from there and take away the Palestinian’s self governance and instead let them vote in Israeli elections seems like a huge step backwards for everyone.

    By the way, my view of voter ID is that it is a distraction. The government has no problem falsifying IDs. The only real problem for the government is to find real human beings to cheat for it (and only when the number is high). It’s nearly always more effective for the government to corrupt an election worker than to send a person with many fake IDs traveling through the country voting. Voter ID is, in my opinion, yet another part of the election confusion propaganda, yet again confusing people about against whose cheating an election is supposed to protect. Sadly most Republicans are easily distracted by that.

    All you need to do is ban both mail and electronic voting, and create a law where every single election worker is entrusted with low amounts of votes.
    Dan, you’re wrong. Mail voting fraud by the government requires only a single person with the right access to the voters database, access the government has, by definition. It doesn’t even require corruption of election workers – when the fraudulent votes reach them, they are already indistinguishable from real votes. You don’t need to trust election workers, you just need to make sure your trust is distributed between as many of them as possible.

    The western world has completely forgotten what democratic elections mean when it managed to convince everyone with propaganda that the enemies in elections are your fellow voters trying to cheat, instead of your government trying to cheat. It’s an ideological fight between two competing ideas:

    – Democratic elections are meant to hold the government accountable to the people.
    – Democratic elections are supposed to “represent” the people.

    The first one is the true meaning of democracy. The second one is a cancerous confusing idea. It confuses people between purpose (accountable government) and the means of achieving that (representative elections). This cancer of an idea didn’t even skip over Israel. Even here we’re voting by “representation”, with Haredim voting for Haredim, Arabs voting for Arabs, Orthodox voting for Orthodox, etc.

    We finally managed to hold Bibi accountable after 5 elections, and the very root of his support stemmed from a flawed understanding that you should vote to be represented by the “right” instead of holding your prime minister accountable to his actions.

    It’s extremely powerful idea because it means that instead of the press having to do the hard work of looking at what the government is doing and criticizing them, and the opposition raising real alternative actions, and the citizens having to think critically and judge accordingly, we’re instead fighting over meaningless representation by corrupt politicians. It allows politicians to decouple their actions from consequences as their “representation” doesn’t change when they are corrupt.

  29. fred Says:

    Raoul #27

    Ownership of vehicle isn’t a prerequisite, anyone can get a “non-driver” driving license ID (e.g. me, since I’ve lived here), you don’t even need to be citizen. All you need are other proofs of id (birth record, passport, etc), and some time and patience to stand in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

  30. Scott Says:

    The debate about which countries are “really” democratic makes me wonder whether, a century from now, people will say that no countries were really democratic in 2021, because they all denied the vote to children and teenagers—even those who were better-informed about the issues than most adults.

    Maybe a better model is that “democracy” is continuous rather than Boolean—with ancient Athens, apartheid South Africa, the pre-Civil-War US, the Jim Crow US, the modern US, a hypothetical future society, etc. all different points along the continuum. “Democracy” increases as the franchise gets extended to more and more of those governed, and we should celebrate progress in that direction.

    As for the West Bank Palestinians, of course they do vote, for the leadership of the PA. That leadership, sadly, turned down several opportunities to found an independent democratic nation next to Israel, choosing intifada instead. Partly as a result, Israel has now lurched so far to the right that it’s unclear when it will offer the opportunity again—yet I continue to see no other viable option. But we’ve been over this before.

  31. fred Says:

    Scott #30

    For sure democracy has always been a messy business, even in ancient Greece, always in flux because it depends on institutions and organization of society which themselves are always in flux.
    It’s also clear that voters need to be informed, and we’re right in the middle of an information revolution that keeps accelerating, and all the institutions are lacking behind.

    Don’t forget the right for AGIs to vote!

  32. Gadi Says:

    Scott #30: I might agree that democracy is a continuum, but I think the metric is different. The metric of being democratic is how much is the government accountable to the people. It isn’t about who gets to vote – it’s about how the government is accountable and represents the will of the people. In those old cases where entire groups of black people couldn’t vote, the real problem wasn’t just that they couldn’t vote – it was that the government was not accountable to them and could ignore their wills.

    How accountable is the U.S government to its people? According to Princeton university study, and, it isn’t. So the U.S. is really low on the democracy spectrum according to this metric. It’s also enough to look at congress approval ratings to reach the same conclusion.

    The question is, why isn’t the U.S a democracy. I claim that the way the elections are designed in the U.S allows your government to rig its own elections, keeping itself in power without the will of the people. You can keep dismissing this as a conspiracy theory, or you can give me another different answer for why your government is statistically unaccountable. I think, given the evidence, that election rigging is the most simple explanation for that Princeton study.

  33. Udi Says:

    Gadi #28: Even if the Palestinian did vote for the Palestinian authority, it won’t make a difference. Many aspects of their lives, such as currency, water, electricity, travel (even domestic), trade are all controlled by the Israeli government. Saying that someday maybe there will be a two state solution does not change the fact that now there are millions of people who live in Israeli controlled territories without citizenship rights.

    Not to mention other deficiencies of the Israeli democracy, like not having a constitution, not having a term limit for the prime minister and most importantly, being able to officially discriminate against someone based on their religion.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are many positive aspects of the Israeli democracy. But it is way too broken to be viewed as the beacon of democracy.

  34. Yiftach Says:

    I don’t have the patient to read the long discussions. However, let me point out that Israel is (or at least used to be when I lived there) more democratic than any other place in the world because in Israel the dead are (were) allowed to vote. ????

  35. Anonymous Says:

    Raoul Ohio: yes, you can get a drivers license or other forms of ID without a car.

  36. Michael Ball Says:

    Very sadly, Steven Weinberg has died at age 88. Although I never met the man, I somehow feel an emotional connection to him through my appreciation of his discoveries in physics. A real loss.

  37. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Fred #29:

    Thanks. But you switched questions.

    The new crop of Republican voting laws don’t explicitly make it illegal for the poor or minorities to vote, they just make it a lot harder.

  38. botnet-client Says:


    A bit tongue-in-cheek, but I wonder when the folks at Bohemian Grove will finally decide which political party shall dominate the US.

    Anyway, clearly there is democracy in the US, it is just that in non-battleground states, elections get decided earlier, in the primaries, depending on how much pork is promised to local powerbrokers.

  39. Pete Says:

    Great post on remembering a legend of the field.

    I love the comparison to ancients like Aristarchus and Eratosthenes, and I especially appreciate that quick comment on “Whig interpretations” and the criticisms of historians. That follow-up comment about Steve bringing the ancients up to speed is so on point, but I just want to stick with that history of science question for a second.

    An understanding of science that doesn’t have baked within it some notion of progress (which is basically the definition of the “Whig interpretation”) makes zero sense. Apparently some sociologists and historians of science don’t seem to understand this, but it’s something that David Wootton harps on in his magnificent book “The Invention of Science.” It’s a must-read. Wootton takes you on a fascinating ride through all of the variables that led to the creation of modern science (his central thesis is that this synthesis occurs sometime between Brahe’s Nova and Newton’s publication of Opticks). It’s chock full of notes, densely researched, and touches on things from philosophy of science (Stathis Psillos’s book on Scientific Realism, or articles from Hasok Chang and Larry Laudan), to Wittgenstein and Relativism, to the Strong Programme within the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge and where that goes wrong. It becomes quickly obvious that Wootton has clearly done his homework.

    Despite him not subscribing to Scientific Realism, he absolutely gets that at minimum modern science is something that achieves extremely reliable results about the workings of the world around us, and that consequently there MUST BE a notion of progress, where better and better prediction, measurement, and explanation can be compared with past theories and explanations, allowing you to pinpoint the developments and chart the improvements over time.

    Unfortunately, as often seems to be the case, people latch onto an idea that has something going for it in one domain (let’s say the idea of “progress” on a societal level as not something that seems to track the historical record*) and tries applying it everywhere willy-nilly.

    Keep up the good work!

    * Although even here I believe the verdict is very far from certain, as other notions of progress in, say, political organization or moral thinking or prosocial behavior, don’t seem too farfetched.