Because they could

Why did 64 members of Israel’s Knesset just vote to change how the Israeli government operates, to give the Prime Minister and his cabinet nearly unchecked power as in autocratic regimes—even as the entire opposition walked out of the chamber rather than legitimize the vote, even as the largest protests in Israel’s history virtually shut down the country, even as thousands of fighter pilots and reservists of elite units like 8200 and Sayeret Matkal and others central to Israel’s security say that they’ll no longer report for duty?

On the other side of the world, why did California just vote to approve the “California Math Framework,” which (though thankfully watered down from its original version) will discourage middle schools from offering algebra or any “advanced” math at all, on the argument that offering serious math leads to “inequitable outcomes”? Why did they do this, even as the University of California system had recently rescinded its approval of the CMF’s fluffy “data science” alternative to the algebra/geometry/calculus pathway, and even as Jelani Nelson and other STEM experts testified about what a disaster the CMF would be, especially for the underprivileged and minority students who are its supposed beneficiaries?

In both cases, it seems to me that the answer is simply: Because they could. Because they had the votes.

For someone like me, who lives and dies by reasons and arguments, it’s endlessly frustrating that in both cases, we seem past the point of persuasion. If persuasion were possible, it would’ve happened already. For those who agree with me about the overwhelmingly lopsided verdict of reason on these matters, the only response seems to be: get the votes. Win the next round.

68 Responses to “Because they could”

  1. David Karger Says:

    It’s not surprising to me that you put “reason” on a pedestal, but that far too often we scientists equate “reason” with “what we think is right”. I’m sure that both the Knesset leadership and the CMF authors have some very skilled reasoners among them (for all Netanyahu’s faults, he’s clearly very smart). The divergence here is on *axioms*, which no amount of reasoning is going to change.

  2. Mayer Landau Says:

    I think your reasoning may be flawed. First, in Israel’s case, the government voted that way because they felt compelled to do so by what they perceived as an overreaching judiciary, not just because they could. Second, I did not see very much intellectual discussion (or as you put it, reason and arguments) in the media about the reasonableness law. Mostly I saw hysterics and hyperbole that, as you state, the prime minister and his cabinet would become a dictatorship. Personally, I don’t know of a single case of a pure parliamentary democracy becoming a dictatorship. The closest thing I can think of is Robespierre and the French Legislative Assembly during the French revolution. But this complaint about parliaments having unchecked power is not new. it was the British who coined the term “elective dictatorship” in reference to their own parliament. Regardless, prime minister’s are much weaker political creatures of government then presidents in a presidential system. It is fun to blame PM Netanyahu for this or that, but it is precisely because he is so politically weak that the reasonableness clause passed. Hardly the seeds for a dictatorship. At any rate, maybe it makes sense in Israel, but to American ears, a reasonableness judicial doctrine applied to the administrative state sounds ridiculous. It would be like the US Supreme Court telling the Senate who is allowed to be Senate pro tempore. Mitch McConnell would blow his top at such judicial interference. It is also well established in American jurisprudence that Congress can remove jurisdiction from the courts, including the US Supreme Court (see some fascinating cases during reconstruction).
    In California’s case, the math framework is a recommendation only. It’s not as though someone is going to want to take Algebra II or Calculus and be told by the school administration, “no.” Second, the whole math framework is 1000 pages long, and it is not clear if anyone is going to read it or care about it. Third, from what I’ve read, the California State Board of Education did listen to the complaints and data science is no longer in the recommended math “pathway.” Instead there are some vague notions of teaching data science. Probably much ado about nothing.

  3. Mike Guerzhoy Says:

    David Karger
    > The divergence here is on *axioms*, which no amount of reasoning is going to change.

    I don’t think that’s right, either. There is certainly a divergence in values, but it’s not the case that in either case there is close reasoning from axioms to policy implications. It’s not (usually) the case that people have axioms which they are firm on that they then use to derive policy. As often as not, the process goes the other way. (The recent flip in the political valence of the importance of deference to judicial precedent in the US comes to mind.)

    What’s going on IMO is more just people coming into power and implementing their/their group’s preferred policies, which I think is close to what Scott is saying.

  4. Danylo Yakymenko Says:

    unchecked power structures ∧ technological progress ⊢ social class segregation ⊢ death of democracy ⊢ rise of authoritarianism ⊢ wars, suffering, death ⊢ social revolutions ⊢ new power structures ⊢ power consolidation ⊢ repeat

  5. David Roman Says:

    This is how democracy has always worked. That’s why nobody liked it for two millennia between Pericles & 1776

  6. Shecky R Says:

    You’re right, but the deeper question is, WHY can they do it; WHY has it come to this??? I’m ashamed of my boomer generation for what they have wrought in mass education and critical thinking… it seems that every century autocracy/fascism/theocracy etc. is re-enamored by so many until the same old lessons are learned yet again.

  7. Mateus Araújo Says:

    Mayer Landau #2: Hungary was a parliamentary democracy, and now it’s more than halfway towards dictatorship. Poland is not in such a bad situation as Hungary, but it’s also going in the wrong direction. Russia became a democracy for a short while, and now it’s a dictatorship.

    And this is just to stay on current governments, if you care for historical examples the list of parliamentary democracies that became dictatorships is very long indeed: Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, Portugal…

  8. Ernest Prabhakar Says:

    “Because they can” feels like a lazy answer.
    Might I suggest, “Because they are afraid” instead?

    That raises the question of what they might be afraid of that we do not see.
    Which opens the door to constructive dialogue rather than zero-sum conflict.

    Isn’t that what we want most?
    Or is empathy for your enemies what -you- fear most?

  9. Jocko Says:

    Scott wrote: “get the votes. Win the next round.”

    Sometimes there is no next round. Nazi Germany is the classic example. Hitler turned Germany from a democracy to a tyranny in 6 months, dissolved the parliament, enabled the “Reichstag Fire Decree”

    Let me know if you find a cure for such things.

  10. Geza Says:

    Mayer Landau (#2) Says: ” Personally, I don’t know of a single case of a pure parliamentary democracy becoming a dictatorship.”

    The prime example is Hitler in 1933: the German parliament gave him unlimited power (the infamous “Enabling Law”) and he took it from there. You may quibble whether it was a parliamentary or presidential democracy, but none of the presidential powers were used, the law passed with a clear majority in the Reichtag (and even if all arrested and absent representatives had been there, it would have passed). Present-day Hungary or Turkey may turn into example, too (though there may be some hope that the tide can be turned).

  11. Mayer Landau Says:

    Mateus Araujo #7: You are right, although I might quibble with your examples. Poland (according to Wiki has a semi-presidential system) and Hungary are still democracies, however flawed. Russia had/has a presidential system. Turkey was changed from parliamentary to presidential. In the case of Germany in 1933, there was a clause in the German constitution – Article 48 – that allowed rule without the parliament. Spain was by hostile takeover (Spanish Civil War). Probably the Fascist takeover of Italy in 1924 is your best example. The Fascist Party won 66% of the vote and took over parliament, and from there, dictatorship.

  12. Christopher Says:

    Well I mean, it’s not that these facts are unreasonable, it’s that one step of your reasoning was wrong; you assumed “ought-is” (not to be confused with is-ought). Simply because a system could select a moral outcome doesn’t imply that the system will select a moral outcome. In fact, the less human a system is, the less likely this it to be the case. Even a system *composed of* humans is sufficiently inhuman for “ought-is” to fail.

    The answer is not “Because they could” though. There are many options that could have been chosen. I don’t know why they choose what they did, but there is a scientific explanation for it, even if we have to reduce to the atomic level.

  13. James Cross Says:

    Having the votes is part of an explanation.

    But, unfortunately, the stuff in Israel seems like part of a trend towards authoritarianism that is more serious. The real question is why is this trend infecting Western liberal democracies now after defeating Hitler and outlasting Russian communism. Climate change might be a huge problem for the future but fundamentally we have never been better off economically.

  14. Craig Says:

    I go with Star Trek’s prime directive. Let Israel determine its own fate politically speaking and everyone will be happier. Demographically speaking, the old guard of Israel is dying off because they are not having enough children to compete with families who voted for the current government having seven children on average. No matter how many protests there are, demography always wins in the end in a democracy.

  15. Michael Vassar Says:

    And what does one do if they stop counting the votes?
    Or more relevant perhaps, given your interests, if people ‘who can’ refuse to secure the voting process?

  16. Tom Marshall Says:

    I’m completely with you on your observations, but I do want to discuss your specific self-assessment as someone who “lives and dies by reasons and arguments”.

    I’m a physicist who’s spent a lot of time studying human decision making, including at the neurological and neuropsychological level, so I’d like to observe that you, much like me, emotionally bind to reasons and rational consequences. We like to think that we’re being rational and our adversaries are not, but we’re all pursuing our emotional wants, using (or avoiding) our cognitive skills as our emotions guide us.

    I make this observation not to be pedantic, and certainly not to contradict you or otherwise be contrarian. Rather, it is my firm, considered, academic belief that, by truly understanding the motivations and decisions of those whose actions we oppose, we stand a better (perhaps only slightly, but still better) chance of mounting an effective opposition and effecting (some of) the changes that we want.

    I’m not claiming that this perspective is a silver bullet to change the world, but even small changes, applied consistently and in large numbers, can indeed produce measurable effects.

  17. manorba Says:

    yes they are doing what they’re doing because they can. But to me it is also a part of a larger and longer “agenda”, that embraces all the western countries and is going on at least since the 1980s.
    or, if you wanna look at it with a more historical approach, it’s the struggle between the ruling, wealthy classes and democracy. we’ve had 2 world wars in the last century (that were meant to be the last, both of them) and after the second they had to unwillingly accept a lot of compromises expecially with education and distribution of wealth. after the social chaos of the 1970s they decided enough was enough, and started to create a social and political environment that could allow them to slowly cut back on all the progressive advancements of the past decades. it took them a lot of time, but now it’s working (with a little help from their friends): trump in the USofA, brexit, the actual italian clown government, the recednt alliance between conservatives and far right in germany (this is fucking scary to be honest), orban, erdogan, the bibi in question.

    what i still can’t wrap my head around is that if they succeed, they’ll be kings of a wasteland. they cant do anything useful and totally depend on the same people they are trying to eradicate.

  18. Scott Says:

    Mayer Landau #2: The whole analogy between Israel and the US is marred by the fact that Israel (alas) doesn’t have a constitution. In the absence of one, Israel’s Supreme Court tried to provide the sorts of checks on unbridled government power that a constitution is meant to provide, whether by the “reasonableness” doctrine or by treating the Basic Laws as a de-facto constitution. That’s what the Netanyahu government is now eviscerating; the predictable result will be (at best) a Hungary- or Turkey-style backslid democracy.

    If it were just some anti-Zionist agitators in Berkeley claiming this, that would be one thing. But Israel’s entire mainstream security, business, and legal establishments have been saying the same thing. Most of the Israelis I know have been out in the streets. Thus, any counterargument would need to overcome an astronomical burden, of convincing me not only that my own instincts are completely wrong, but also that 99% of the people who know the situation better and who I’ve ever had any reason to trust are wrong along with me.

    As for the California Math Framework—well, I certainly hope school districts will choose to ignore it! But Cambridge, MA public schools recently did something similar, banning algebra before 9th grade for reasons of “equity.” The fear is that, as has often happened, what started in California will become a national trend.

  19. Michel Says:

    As I see it, we have a common denominator of religious fanatics. In Poland and Hungary it is catholic fanatics, in Israel it is the Jewish fanatics, and then we had/have non-believers like Trump / The GOP riding on a ‘semi-protestant-fanatic’ wave, Putin on a Russian Orthodox wave, and in Iran and Afghanistan, and partly in Pakistan the Muslim fanatics, that also try to wreak havoc in Africa, etc etc (Pick your own favourite names). All new crusades, writing the name of the Holy One above your own hatred.

    As one of our writers defined a fanatic: Someone who has given up his faith for a certainty.

  20. Raghu Parthasarathy Says:

    Mayer Landau #2: “It’s not as though someone is going to want to take Algebra II or Calculus and be told by the school administration, ‘no.'” That’s not the way it works. Instead, the middle school simply doesn’t offer Algebra II, or a path that leads to Calculus, or anything “advanced.” We’re already seeing this in my local school district (Eugene, OR), where different middle school math tracks have been eliminated — now all kids in the same grade are in the same math class — and schools are discouraged from allowing kids to move ahead a grade. (Moving ahead helped alleviate some soul-crushing boredom for my kids, who have just barely escaped these changes.) All this is, of course, done in the name of equity, though it will most hurt those who can’t otherwise get intellectual stimulation.

  21. Moshe Says:

    “In both cases, it seems to me that the answer is simply: Because they could. Because they had the votes.”

    This is exactly how democratic system should operate. The majority will decide how and what are the rules.

    On the other hand, giving one person who has never been elected by the people, have the last word and the power to dictate his opinion on how he interprets the intention of the law and the people needs, sounds frighteningly far from a democratic system.

    Let me paraphrase the saying: “Let my people…decided what best for them!”

    Regarding the minority groups that you mention… I am still waiting for the opinions of the plummer association and the rooftops union, I dont think that pilots’ opinions should be more important than bus drivers.
    ohh the democratic system is so outrages, right?

  22. JimV Says:

    I don’t know enough about either case to comment usefully, but the usual suspects I round up are competition vs. cooperation. Competition is the typical evolutionary strategy. Occasionally cooperation is tried, and works well until competition arises again and hinders the cooperation.

    For example, math classes (and other classes) are often seen as competition for grades, which leads to discouragement of the losers. I wish there were good ways to make it cooperative, so that good students would help other students with the objective that everyone in the class succeeded or failed as a group, at the goal of learning a set of basic concepts–at least those concepts that we think middle and high school students ought to learn. Maybe that could be done in half the school year and then some of the class could go on to more advanced topics in math, while others took other electives.

    I could have used help in wood shop and team sports, and wouldn’t have minded helping people in math. Some of that went on, but the main goal was making the Honor Roll, not functioning as part of a learning team.

  23. bystander Says:

    Educated and industrious people make progress. It was a big part of both USA and Israel. And it disappears from both countries, devastating them in several decades. Democracy does not prevent it: the rule of majority gets evil when the majority is a mob.
    USA turn to preventing education from those who are not rich enough to afford private schools. And that is due to fanatics of the ultra-left religion that worships equality of outcomes (but not e.g. at sports). Are you finally going to vote republicans to try to stop it?
    Regarding Israel, expecting that the prevailing demography will not be able to do any progress, eventually destroying the land; that is once the rational population will vote by legs. Are you going to split Israel into two countries to allow one of them to flourish?

  24. maline Says:

    As an Israeli protest participant, I want to emphasize that the fight is far from over, and that the government does not currently have “nearly unchecked power”. If they had gotten their way back in March – blocking the Court from invalidating legislation and giving themselves full control over judicial appointments – then that description would be not too far from the truth. But the victory they had on Monday was smaller by at least an order of magnitude: they blocked the Court from disqualifying executive actions that it deems “unreasonable”. This will probably encourage self-dealing and nepotism but on its own is not a fatal blow to the system.

    We are treating this as a fight for survival because the government is still openly planning to take much more control, and they have 3.5 years to work on that until the next scheduled election (Usually governments around here collapse long before their full term, but this one unfortunately seems very stable – precisely because they would be crushed if new elections were to be held any time soon). So we can’t allow them to make their changes a bit at a time, and refrain from “overreacting” to each one – every such fight is part of the ongoing emergency.

  25. Max Says:

    Is data science so bad? Coming out of high school knowing how to program in Python and SQL—and maybe having some knowledge of building neural nets in PyTorch/Tensorflow and commonly used data structures/algorithms—would be an enormously economically useful skill, far more than knowledge of calculus. Knowing how to program in an object-oriented language also teaches you logical thinking and abstract reasoning, probably more so than learning how to do calculations in elementary algebra or calculus.

  26. Craig Says:

    There is no comparison between Israel and Hungary. See and

    The problem the protesters in Israel face is that in 20 years most children at the bottom of the population tree will be voting righty while the ones at the top of the tree voting lefty today will be gone.

    In Hungary, the big problem is how many Hungarians will be left in 20 years. Maybe just half or two thirds of the country unless they get immigration, which they don’t want.

  27. HasH Says:

    Mayer Landau #2 “Personally, I don’t know of a single case of a pure parliamentary democracy becoming a dictatorship.”

    Hey Brother,

    Erdogan has turned parliamentary democracy into a one-man dictatorship in 20 years. If you are Kurdish, if you are an opposition journalist, politician or LGBT activist, if you are a Leftist, if you are even a islamist cult that no longer supports them; Erdogan on national television; he calls them as traitors, American or European collaborators, most importantly, all of them as terrorists or supporters of terrorism (Almost everyday).

    There are many accusations against Erdogan BUT there is no judicial mechanism that can make the accusation. Members of the judiciary are appointed or dismissed with Erdogan’s signature. If you are a terrorist (opposition), he can cancel your university degrees as well as your dismissal. I would like to note that the 575,000 website (2022) Erdogan has been blocked within the scope of the “law on combating disinformation”, among which the nationalist right-wing newspaper OdaTv, which has 1 million daily readers, has been closed for 4 years without any explanation from government or trial.

  28. myst_05 Says:

    Re: judicial reform. I was entirely convinced by the following piece that the reform is generally a good idea:

    If we’re purely dealing in logic and facts rather than emotion… Scott, would you be open to reading it and providing a reasoned counter-argument? All I see so far on both side of the debate is a lot of yelling and little reasoning, which is discouraging.

  29. Scott Says:

    Max #25:

      Is data science so bad?

    Absolutely not! Teaching data literacy in K-12 would be awesome. Here are the problems with the CMF proposal:

    (1) They fundamentally want data science to substitute for traditional math like algebra, rather than complementing it. And they’ve been dishonest in pursuing that goal, e.g. claiming that data science courses cover algebra content that they plainly don’t.

    (2) It’s not just that algebra and calculus are indispensable for STEM in general … it’s that they’re specifically indispensable for careers in data science itself! As the UC’s recent decision dramatically reaffirms, the CMF’s data science pathway wouldn’t even prepare students to study statistics and data science in college.

    (3) Yes, it’s possible to design a K-12 data science course with real substance (AP Statistics being a good example that’s existed for years). Alas, this particular group of people has shown that it can’t be trusted to design such a course, being actively hostile to input from the vast majority of STEM professionals and researchers (even data scientists).

    (4) If they wanted an accelerated STEM track with algebra and calculus, and then a track for math-phobes that replaced traditional math by “data in the real world” and making graphs in Excel—well, as long as the second track wasn’t misleadingly advertised as STEM preparation, I’d actually be 100% fine to that! But that’s precisely what they don’t want, because it would be “inequitable.” In pursuit of equity, their whole goal has been to keep all students on the same track for as long as they can. In practice, that means denying advanced students the ability to advance through algebra, geometry, and calculus when they’re ready for it.

  30. Scott Says:

    myst_05 #28: In light of recent events, the subtitle of that piece is almost comical:

      Reform will help, as long as it doesn’t cause the other half to do the same [lose faith in government].

    What would you say, has “the other half” adequately demonstrated its loss of faith in the current government yet? 😀

    I’m totally happy with the idea of reforming Israel’s judicial system—indeed, I might’ve gone even further, by trying to create a constitution! But I’ll never trust any “judicial reform” being pushed through by a government whose ministers kept portraits of Baruch Goldstein in their living rooms—a government that’s all but told the world that it wants the “reform” entirely because it wants to do corrupt and monstrous things with no one being able to stop it.

    Again, if the reforms had buy-in from a clear majority of Israelis, that would be one thing. But these are “reforms” that engendered the largest protests in Israel’s history, and that elite IDF fighters will resign en masse rather than go along with. Do you think those fighters are all deluded about what the reforms mean, or why they’re being passed? Do you think a post-“reform” Israel will be able to maintain its economic and military strength, or do you think most of the educated professionals and their tech startups, etc. will move to the US or elsewhere if they can?

    I don’t know how to put the point any plainer.

  31. myst_05 Says:

    Scott, surely there must be better arguments than “A lot of Israelis seem to strongly believe this reform is bad”? There are countless examples of perfectly reasonable reforms that would get millions of Americans out into the streets with pitchforks:

    1) Deregulating and speeding up the construction of nuclear power plants
    2) Instituting congestion pricing on all roads and dynamic pricing on all public parking spots
    3) Legalizing multi family homes on every single block of every single city
    4) Allowing citizens of every developed nation to live and work in the US without a visa

    But surely in those cases you wouldn’t be satisfying by me pointing at a protest and saying “see, this is a horrible idea – and many people are even threatening to move out to Canada!”.

    Is the judicial reform as crucial as building nuclear power plants? No, not at all. But I’m also highly skeptical of the judgement of the crowds in Tel Aviv – just how I’m highly skeptical of their capability of evaluating the safety of a nuclear power plant.

  32. Mitchell Porter Says:

    When democracies turn into dictatorships, is the reason always, to oppose some left-wing movement? I can’t think of a counterexample.

  33. Boaz Barak Says:

    For people who want to know more about the Israeli judicial “reform”, of which the law that passed was the just the first plank, there is a detailed analysis by Netta Barak-Corren here (full disclosure: Netta is my sister in law).

  34. Scott Says:

    Mitchell Porter #32: Russia was very briefly a democracy before the Bolsheviks took over, and the Bolsheviks were the far-left fringe (or part of it).

  35. Scott Says:

    myst_05 #31: I grant your contention that there are excellent reforms that would send millions of Americans out into the streets with pitchforks. Even for the “best” reforms, though, if a government were ramming them through in the teeth of massive opposition, I could at most offer qualified, equivocal support, because I’d be terrified of the ferocious counterreaction.

    But that ignores : essentially by definition, the most informed Americans wouldn’t be out in the streets protesting good reforms. By contrast, at least ~90% of the most informed Israelis I know—scientists, startup founders, former IDF commanders—agree that the judicial reforms are terrible. The heuristic of taking seriously any overwhelming consensus among the most informed, accomplished, and hardheaded people, simpleminded though it sounds, has never failed me yet.

  36. Daniel Shaver Says:

    I’m certainly not a fan of either the judicial reform or the California math framework, and share your negative sentiment toward both. I think the judicial reform is not as bad as you think; the court could always find another excuse or could just strike down the reasonableness clause itself. But Scott, what do you think about this? We might as well protest the use of the word “vanilla” to mean bland because it’s anti-white.

  37. Adam Treat Says:

    Scott #35,

    “The heuristic of taking seriously any overwhelming consensus among the most informed, accomplished, and hardheaded people, simpleminded though it sounds, has never failed me yet.”

    Does it scale though? For instance, I’m employing that same heuristic while listening to you on this subject. But you’re listening to others. Doesn’t this break down much like a game of telephone?

  38. myst_05 Says:

    Scott, the very top of your blog says “ Also, next pandemic, let’s approve the vaccines faster!”. How many of the “scientists, startup founders, former IDF commanders” agreed with that statement around May 2020? How many were willing to say it publicly? I’m not saying they’re necessarily wrong, I just want to hear a clear, logical explanation of why they consider the reform to be so bad. I’ve seen some comments suggesting that Netanyahu might be able to evade prosecution after the reform – but this seems like a nothingburger in the grand scheme of things.

    What *exactly* are the awful things that would happen if the judicial reform passes? Would elections in Israel be cancelled or manipulated? If not, the citizens would get a chance to elect a brand new government in the very next election. And so far I haven’t seen any hints that Netanyahu is planning to manipulate or subvert the elections.

    I’ve read the Wiki article and the news coverage of the judicial reforms. I don’t live in Israel and have no opinion of Netanyahu. If anything, I imagine I’d be opposed to his current government if I was living in Israel as his coalition includes religious parties. But to me the entire event seems like a protest for the sake of protest, not a reasonable act of defiance of undemocratic policies.

  39. manorba Says:

    Adam Treat #37 Says:

    “Does it scale though? For instance, I’m employing that same heuristic while listening to you on this subject. But you’re listening to others. Doesn’t this break down much like a game of telephone?”

    if Scott does like i do, and i think like you and many others, he’ll make up his own mind about every subject after having received all the different ideas and positions and having given it a lot of thought. Of course some opinions matter more than others, even Bayes would agree 🙂

  40. fred Says:

    Reminds me of how Belgium in the 70s/80s decided to revamp the teaching of mathematics in primary and secondary schools from a traditional “mechanistic” approach to calculation skills (memorization, hand computations, etc) to “modern” abstract mathematics, e.g. with a focus on sets, relations, algebraic structures, etc from the ground up, which left almost all the parents baffled and unable to help their kids with their homework. This was later deemed a bad idea and scaled back considerably.

  41. Boaz Barak Says:

    You do not need sophisticated heuristics to see that Israel is following the path that was taken before by Turkey, Hungary, and Poland. In none of these countries, this was about a single law, and neither is it in Israel. Rather it’s an erosion of the independent judiciary and freedom of press, increased government control of television and media, restriction of non-governmental organizations, and more.

  42. Max Says:

    So what exactly is “data literacy?” I’m an industry data scientist, and most of my job actually involves machine learning algorithms rather than statistics. I was imagining that “data science” in high school would be roughly equivalent to an undergraduate course in machine learning, and whatever knowledge of CS and algorithms is needed to reach that point. Something like: intro to object-oriented programming in Python in ninth grade, data structures / algorithms in tenth grade, machine learning in eleventh/twelfth grade as a possible track.

  43. Scott Says:

    Max #42:

      I was imagining that “data science” in high school would be roughly equivalent to an undergraduate course in machine learning, and whatever knowledge of CS and algorithms is needed to reach that point.

    Hahahaha you must be new to the K-12 math education wars! Others could provide much more detail, but my understanding is that the courses looked more like “basic use of Excel to enter and plot data, with social justice themes.”

  44. Amanda Says:

    Advanced math classes typically require a foundational understanding of certain math concepts, which is contingent on the quality of elementary and middle school education. Students from underprivileged backgrounds might not have had the same level of exposure or tutoring in these prerequisite skills, inadvertently creating an inequitable system where only the socio-economically privileged can excel.

    Moreover, there’s an underlying assumption that students who are not in advanced math classes are either less intelligent or less hardworking. This perception can be detrimental to the self-esteem and motivation of those students, leading to an unjustified sense of inferiority. In reality, intelligence and work ethic are multi-faceted constructs that can’t be accurately measured by a student’s ability to excel in advanced math.

    This isn’t to say that there should be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to math education. We certainly should challenge and stimulate students who display an inclination towards mathematics. However, I’m advocating for a system where all students are provided with the same opportunities to learn and grow.

    Instead of segregating students based on their ability to grasp advanced mathematical concepts, what if we create an inclusive curriculum that caters to different levels of understanding? This could involve offering differentiated instruction within the same classroom where teachers can tailor their teaching strategies to meet the needs of all students. Such a system could maintain high standards for everyone, challenge high achievers, and simultaneously provide necessary support for those who struggle.

    In this way, we can ensure that we are not unjustly privileging a subset of students, but rather providing a platform for all students to build their mathematical skills. It’s worth noting that this systemic change wouldn’t just be ‘equitable’ in the sense of fairness, but it could also be a more effective approach to developing a society that’s numerically literate and can engage meaningfully with the mathematical aspects of the world around us.

  45. Michel Says:

    Amanda #44:
    “Moreover, there’s an underlying assumption that students who are not in advanced math classes are either less intelligent or less hardworking.” Whose assumption? By cultural misfit educators?

    “we can ensure that we are not unjustly privileging” : That seems to me a sneer towards educators.

    Anyway, the proposed format is already old: Maria Montessori started some of this.

    But the prose seems to be mostly AI generated. It has that ‘constantly citing’ feel.

  46. Mateus Araújo Says:

    Just a heads up, Scott: this Amanda #44 is obviously a troll, and the comment was obviously generated by ChatGPT.

  47. David Karger Says:

    Manorba #17, your analysis doesn’t work for Israel. The party in power is primarily representing the poor (and the ultrareligious, many of whom are also poor). The also represent “democracy” since they won the last election. The “wealthy classes” who in other countries tend to to vote right are in Israel leading the protests from the left. And they are fighting to *constitutionally limit* democracy (because pure democracy leads to a tyranny by the majority). Some of this is because israel has deep socialist roots, so the rich people are not as obscenely rich as in the US (with the exception of a few expat Russian oligarchs) and vote more like the upper middle class here—ie, left.

  48. JimV Says:

    I personally didn’t see anything to disagree with in Amanda #44, except maybe a bit of the tone. If it was done by ChatGPT, I would say ChatGPT did a reasonable job presenting that side of the argument.

    Several of the kids in my small, rural high school dropped out to join the army, and learn some marketable skills that way (e.g., truck driving). I managed to get one kid who was flunking English for the second time a passing grade on the final, otherwise he would have dropped out rather than returning for a fifth year. School could be a lot more useful. (Maybe it is, now.)

  49. Boaz Barak Says:

    David Karger #47: This is not completely accurate. The right wing won the elections, though the platform was more of traditional right wing policies (hard line against Palestinians), as well as for Netanyahu personally than anything having to do with the judicial reform. This was not a major issue in the general elections and Yariv Levin and Simcha Rothman were not household names by any means. All polls show that these reforms are rather unpopular and there is a reason the government is not suggesting a referendum. However, as you say, even if there was a majority for these reforms, I would still oppose them since they remove checks on the power of government.

    I would agree that the right wing “base” is indeed on average poorer than the left wing, especially since ultra orthodox men don’t work. But Israeli elections are never about economic policies and almost all the political spectrum is economically located somewhere in the Sanders-Warren wing of the US Democratic Party. I don’t know a lot about Orban and Erdogan but my impression is that, like the Israeli right wing, they also are illiberal socially but favor strong social nets (at least for their base) and so can be said to be representing the poor. (Israel’s right wing definitely does not represent Israeli Arabs or refugees, which are even poorer.)

  50. Mayer Landau Says:

    Scott #18: The resonableness doctrine become precedent in Israel in 1993 when the Israeli supreme court ruled that it was unreasonable for two ministers to serve in the cabinet after being indicted. As Israel went without a reasonableness standard for the previous 45 years, history would strongly indicate that the end of this doctrine is not the end of Israeli democracy. As to your comment, “Most of the Israelis I know have been out in the streets.” This reminds me of the misquote of Pauline Kael, “I can’t believe Nixon won. I don’t know anyone who voted for him.”
    As for Cambridge school district not offering Algebra I in 8th grade because of DEI,
    that indeed is pathetic. The citizens of that school district should vote out the school board.

  51. Semiconductors? Says:

    Thoughts on room temperature semiconductors?

  52. Mayer Landau Says:

    HasH #27: I said a pure parliamentary democracy. Turkey is presidential, so not analogous.

  53. Mayer Landau Says:

    maline 24: Straight negative opposition is often ineffective without a positive counter-proposal. Why does the protest movement not campaign to have judges directly elected? Or, in the alternative, have the Israeli president directly elected and give him/her a veto over legislation?

  54. manorba Says:

    David Karger #47 Says:
    “Your analysis doesn’t work for Israel. The party in power is primarily representing the poor”

    Well, it’s not just an Israeli thing. Right wing parties have been brought to power by the less wealthy classes all over the western countries, more often than not riding religious bigotry and hatred of everything that’s not alligned with their values. And that’s exactly what i was trying to say. there’s been a slow but steady cultural campaign that has finally succeded in reversing most of the political and social concepts we’ve grown up with (and studied).
    by the way, when i talk about wealthy class i mean the rich who feed this system. Everywhere upper middle class is typically left wing now, but, you know, it’s middle class who created this form of democracy. it’s their playground.

    i think that if you look at things from a wider perspective, what Bibi is doing is not that different from what Trump was doing (and prolly will be doing again), or Bojo, or Erdogan et al. The judicial reform he is putting on has been Berlusconi’s lifelong mission here in italy, in spirit and consequences. He didn’t personally succeed, but his dreams are becoming reality now thanks to our actual government, with the Nordio reform. while technically different from the Netanyahu one, it serves the same purpose: taking the power to control them away form the hands of justice.

    look, to me it’s kind of a boys club and they do the same things. As trump didn’t have any issues opening america’s doors to Putin, Bibi is triking deals with the iranian leaders like they’re longtime pals.

    I can’t deny that Israel’s situation is very peculiar and should be viewed with better glasses, but i also believe that we live in a world where things are so much more interconnected and globalized than before. Seeing Netanyahu’s doing as simply an Israeli thing is missing a big chunk of the problem imho.

  55. Scott Says:

    Semiconductors? #51: We have room-temperature semiconductors, including the billions that you used to leave your comment. 😀 Did you mean room-temperature superconductors? I’d be astonished if the new result stands; experts I asked were suspicious, and the finding that the material continues to superconduct at every temperature they tested (!) seems too good to be true, and there’s no “smoking gun” like the Meissner effect. But I’m very far from an expert myself.

  56. Boaz Barak Says:

    Meyer Landau, your comments show a lack of understanding of Israel. The changes that are currently on the table amount in Israel to a wholesale constitutional change, and this is not something you do just because you won one election, especially when that wasn’t even the focus of the election.

    Imagine that the Democrats were lucky to have a Manchin+Sinema proof majority and then used that to increase the Supreme Court to 13 and appoint 4 new liberal justices. The “reforms” in Israel (of which judge selection is part of it) are significantly more profound than this change. And they have been pushed forward without much deliberation also adjusting on the fly – eg when election results for the Israeli bar didn’t suit them, they proposed removing the bar representatives from the process.

    If Israel wanted to write a constitution then I think that would be a good idea. It should be however part of a long and deliberative process. Netta Barak-Corren, whom I mentioned before, is part of an effort proposing just that

  57. ZS Says:

    Hi Scott,
    Sorry that my question is off the topic of this thread, but as a lay person, I’m really curious:
    what are the implications for quantum computers if room-temperature superconductors (maybe also ambient pressure and cheap!) can actually be made?
    Would the impact be huge, or would it be helpful but not an earth-shattering game-changer?

  58. fred Says:

    Isn’t there always a catch with those “room temperature” superconductors?
    Like, the pressure has to be 10,000 times the standard atmosphere?

  59. Scott Says:

    ZS #57: It’s certainly conceivable that cheap, room-temperature, ambient-pressure superconductors could help with quantum computing, but it’s not a given—the key question would be how well they could be made to behave as controllable qubits. In any case, as I said in #55, it seems very unlikely to me that cheap, room-temperature, ambient-pressure superconductors have been made.

  60. Prasanna Says:

    The question that really should get prominence is : How do we prioritize global challenges vs getting stuck in local minima of California/Israel reforms etc. The biggest challenge today is the impunity with which large autocratic regimes are getting their way through. Paying attention to local issues in democracies, where there is a near certainty of regime change at the slightest public disapproval is a near miracle of human achievement. Shouldn’t the the fight now must be focused on parts of the globe where this is not true, before those forces engulf the squabbling democracies ?

  61. Mayer Landau Says:

    Boaz Barak #56: I might quibble with your contention that the changes in Israel are more profound then stacking the US Supreme Court. I would say that the Israeli political system is very similar to Britain’s (example – neither has a constitution, both are parliamentary democracies) and that the current system in Israel of picking judges by a Judicial Selection Committee that consists of three Supreme Court Justices (including the President of the Supreme Court), two cabinet ministers (one of whom is the Minister of Justice), two Knesset members, and two representatives of the Israeli Bar Association is oddly similar, to a first order approximation, to that of the UK. Changing the current Israeli system appears to me to be an attempt to make the judicial system less British and more American, but of course that is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, because the American political system is VERY different.

  62. Rhenium Says:

    Scott #58
    Paper for those out of the field.
    Material scientist here. The community (and most scientists!) would love for this new result to be true, but (IMHO) it’s probably unlikely. I gave it 20% odds of being correct on Wednesday, 10% today (Friday). The positive side is that we will know one way or another by next week.

  63. Scott Says:

    fred #58: Yes, recent high-Tc superconductors typically required ungodly pressures. People got so excited about this latest claim because it’s supposedly high-Tc and ambient pressure and trivial to make. Again, though, smart money is that anything that incredible will fail to replicate. Either way, we’ll know very soon.

  64. HasH Says:

    Mayer Landau #52;

    I said a pure parliamentary democracy. Turkey is presidential, so not analogous.

    Hey Brother,
    Turkey was once a full parliamentary democracy. However, since Erdogan came to power in 2003, it has gradually transformed into a ONE-MAN regime, following the principles of “political Islam.”

    In the 2017 referendum, Turkey switched to the presidential system through a coalition of all extremist, far-right, and political Islamist parties. Erdogan quickly rendered all democratic control mechanisms dysfunctional by appointing or dismissing judges wherever he pleased.

    Erdogan and his family are accused of committing numerous crimes, including corruption, unjust enrichment, money laundering, and human rights abuses. Strangely, no prosecutor seems able to open an investigation against him.

    Not only does Erdogan reject the authority of an independent judiciary, but he also refuses to comply with the definite instructions and warnings of the European Court of Human Rights, despite Turkey being a signatory to the agreement long ago, which declared ECHR laws above all domestic laws. Even the highest judiciary in the country cannot assert that Erdogan’s actions are illegal.

    I’m sorry, but it seems like days like this may await Israel as well.

  65. David Karger Says:

    Conservatives have come to the same conclusion.

    “now, they must not only win control of government, but also extend its power into nearly every sphere of American life. They have abandoned completely the notion they can roll back left-wing excess through persuasion — the very thing that appears to be happening now, under a moderate Democratic president — and instead convinced themselves it can and must be accomplished through coercion.”

  66. Xirtam Esrevni Says:

    Scott, you mentioned (if I recall correctly) during your appointment at OpenAI you are working on watermarking approaches for AI-generated media/content. A few days ago MIT Tech Review had this article,, regarding the use of C2PA. Are you familiar with this approach? Can you provide any insight on its feasibility and or limitations/challenges?

  67. Scott Says:

    Xirtam #66: Yes, digitally signed metadata proposals like C2PA can help, but those are entirely voluntary and also they’re harder to do for text! That’s why I feel like there remains a role for watermarking.

  68. Edan Maor Says:

    myst_05 #38:

    Firstly, you write:

    > But to me the entire event seems like a protest for the sake of protest, not a reasonable act of defiance of undemocratic policies.

    You’ve said this and similar things in other comments. But I think this is just a misreading of the current situation. The current protests are *far* larger than any other protests. I’ve never taken part in protests before because I also don’t like protesting very much – I do take part in these protests because the situation is that dire.

    The current protests *hurt*. They hurt our economy because companies are going on strike. People have been going out every weekend and in the middle of the week for months now – the protests steal time we’d otherwise spend doing something we enjoy. People are still going out to protest in droves.

    I’m not saying that this proves the protesters are right – of course that by itself doesn’t mean that. But you can’t just dismiss this as “protesting for the sake of protesting”.

    Why do you think these protests didn’t happen last time Bibi was in power? There were protests, and people disliked the government a whole lot, but there was nothing close to what we’re seeing today. The situation really is different.

    You write:
    > What *exactly* are the awful things that would happen if the judicial reform passes?

    That’s easy to answer. If the judicial reforms are passed in full, the religious parties will be able to pass a whole host of laws that they want to pass and are *saying* that they’ll pass. These are various laws making the country more explicitly religious, and redistributing even more wealth towards religious Jews who are receiving money from the government without providing anything back to the country (from my POV of course).

    E.g. laws against LGBT people, laws limiting ability to do things on Saturdays, laws making Israel even more explicitly Jewish (by e.g. taking rights away from non-Jewish citizens).

    Yo have to understand, currently the *only* check against the government are the Courts, and elections. Unlike in other systems where there are usually 3 different branches of government (Judicial, Legislative and Executive), in Israel the Executive and Legislative branch are effectively the same. Which means that whoever is elected has complete power – except for the courts standing in their way.

    And none of this is conspiracy theories, some of the religious parties talk openly about the reason they want religious reforms! Also, why do *you* think they are trying to ram through these reforms despite their incredible unpopularity? Clearly this is costing them politically, so why is it still worth it for them?

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