Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

June 15, 2006

SHOCK: Bill Gates to Leave Microsoft

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:36 pm

Matt Drudge is headlining this Reuters story:

Microsoft’s Gates says to reduce role

Thu Jun 15, 2006 4:54pm ET

SEATTLE (Reuters) – Microsoft Corp. said on Thursday that chairman Bill Gates will stop taking a day-to-day role in the software giant he founded in order to do more work with his charitable foundation.

Gates said that by July 2008 he will work full-time for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation he started to promote health and education projects around the world.

“Obviously, this decision was a very hard one for me to make,” Gates told a news conference. “The change we’re seeing today is not a retirement, it’s a reordering of my priorities.”

In July 2008, Bill Gates will be 52 years old.

That sounds like a retirement to me. By my definition, retirement doesn’t mean you do nothing, it means you collect the benefits of years of working — and philanthropy counts as that, since he’ll be spending the money he spend the previous 30 years earning.

By the way, I’d like to be a philanthropist, too. So far, I’m still stuck on step 1: “Make a lot of money.” :-(

Before Hitler, There Were…

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:00 pm

The Crusades, and Chmielnicki. Rabbi Yonason Goldson writes in “This Week in Jewish History”:

In 1096, a mere three months into the First Crusade, the ragtag army of Urban II obliterated Jewish communities up and down Germany’s Rhine River, communities guilty of nothing other than lying in the path of Crusaders who sought distraction from the tedium of the road. Two centuries of Crusading, undertaken to free the Holy Land from heretical Moslems, inflicted a steady fallout of collateral damage upon Jews from Paris to Jerusalem.

In the 14th Century, the Black Plague that wiped out over a third of Europe struck Jews less than half as often as gentiles, ostensibly because of Jewish dietary standards and hygiene. Knowing nothing of germ theory, however, superstitious Europeans assumed that the Jews had poisoned or cursed their well water and responded, predictably, with violence. Blood libels, pogroms, and expulsions left tens of thousands of Jews dead, with the survivors emotionally and spiritually traumatized.

In 1648, a leader rose up among the Cossacks in the person of Bogdan Chmielnicki, who unified a band of former serfs, robbers, and escaped criminals into a devastating military force. Assuming the title of Hetman, or Captain, Chmielnicki allied himself with his former adversaries, the Tartars, then launched a revolt against the Polish nobility, routing 8000 soldiers of the Polish army.

A wave of massacres broke across Poland as the Cossacks drove the uprising from town to town and subjected their victims to almost unimaginable brutality. The historian Nathan Nata Hanover in Yeven Metzula records: “Some were skinned alive and their flesh thrown to the dogs. The hands and feet of others were chopped off and their bodies flung into he roadway where wagons ran them over and they were trampled by horses… Children were slaughtered at their mothers’ breasts, and they were sliced open like fish… no form of unnatural death in the world was not inflicted upon them.” And although Jews were the primary target of violence, the rebels ravaged and beheaded Roman Catholic clergy, while churches were pillaged and set aflame.

In what has become known as the Gezeiras Tach V’Tat (the evil decree of the Jewish years 5408 — 5409, but which continued for an additional three years), an estimated hundred thousand Jews lost their lives, and hundreds of communities disappeared. But amidst the long travail of savagery, one day stands outs beyond all the rest.

On the twentieth day of the month of Sivan, 1649, the rebels fell upon the Polish town of Nemirov. In a single day, Chmielnicki’s Cossacks slaughtered 6000 Jews until the Bug River turned red with Jewish blood. The following year, the Council of the Four Lands, an autonomous Jewish governmental body over Eastern Europe, established the date as a day of fasting and lamentation. In some communities, the mournful Selichos prayers are still recited in commemoration of the massacres.

And Chmielnicki is, to this day, considered a national hero of the Ukraine. There is a memorial with a big statute of him in Kiev.

Population and the “Mommy Wars”

Filed under: — Different River @ 10:00 am

I don’t have time to pull out quotes at the moment, but here are several angles on the dual debates of (1) whether we are headed for overpopulation or underpopulation, and (2) whether motherhood is beneficial/good/enlightened or oppressive/evil/neanderthal.

OK, I’ll pull one quote. Emily Yoffe cites the main benefit claimed for the “childfree lifestyle” and why it’s bogus:

As one woman wrote: “My husband and I are childless by choice and I heartily encourage all younger friends to consider it. It is the most wonderful lifestyle, free of whining and sniveling and mini-vans.”

What is going on when there is so much scorn for parenthood—the way a society perpetuates itself? Fertility rates are much in the news these days. The United States is rare among developed nations in that it is still producing children at a replacement rate. But many countries collectively agree with the people who wrote to me—that children are a tantrum wrapped in a diaper and not worth the trouble. So, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Spain, among others, are going down the demographic tubes, with shrinking pools of young workers to support growing masses of seemingly immortal retirees.

I noticed something else in the letters from nonparents that I had experienced myself: They have an unrealistic sense of the passage of time—or at least the passage of parental time. They seem stuck on the notion that being a parent means forever climbing a Mt. Everest of diapers (and what happens to these punctilious couples if a spouse ends up needing diapers?). Diapers pass in a snap. It all goes so fast. When our daughter turned 6, my husband and I realized with a pang that we were already one-third of the way through the time she would live with us. And I worry that the writers have an unrealistic sense of their own passage through time—believing they’ll forever feel that nothing is more important than building their career or taking that next trip.

I’ll go you one better. Before we had kids, Different Wife was hoping she’d have triplets or quadruplets — an entire family, without having to go through pregnancy more than once! Apparently, she thought pregnancy was the hard part. I tried, based on my “experience” as the oldest of five children, to explain that pregnancy was the least of it both in time and impact, but what did I know, I was male, how should be be so arrogant…. Pregnancy is, mainly, the only part of parenting that doesn’t have many benefits offsetting the costs, but that’s not what she meant…

How Hated Are You?

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:32 am

Clayton Cramer, and one of his readers, together have what makes a fascinating analysis of the FBI Hate Crimes data.

The report says, for example:

Law enforcement agencies reported 4,863 offenses within single-bias incidents that were motivated by the offender’s racial bias. Among those offenses, 67.5 percent resulted from an anti-black bias, and 20.5 percent were due to an anti-white bias.

Clayton analyzes:

At first glance, the high number of crimes that “resulted from an anti-black bias” suggests that racism against blacks is a bigger problem than racism against whites. But spend a little time thinking about these numbers. In 2004, blacks were 12.8% of the population; whites were 80.4% of the population. Unless some of these hate crimes against blacks were being done by blacks (which seems rather unlikely), this means that the hate criminals came from the 87.2% of the population that are non-black, and these hate criminals committed the 67.5% of the racially based bias crimes that were designated as anti-black.

Similarly, the white haters must have come from the 19.6% of the population that are non-white Americans, and these criminals committed the 20.5% of the anti-white racial bias crimes.

Non-whites are thus more likely to commit anti-white crimes than non-blacks are to likely to commit anti-black crimes. This suggests that anti-white hate crimes are disproportionately present. Not quite what you were expecting, is it?

Let’s define a ratio of “potential sources of hate crimes” to “percentages of hate crimes” and you get what I call the “How Hated Are You?” Ratio. Divide 67.5% by 87.2%, and you discover that blacks are the victims of racial bias crimes only 77.4% of the amount that you would expect if racial hate crimes was evenly distributed. On the other hand, 20.5% divided by 19.6% gives 105%–whites are slightly more likely to be victims of a racially based hate crime than you would expect for their numbers.

In short, the HHAY percentage, if it is below 100, indicates that you are victims of a hate crime less than you might expect, relative to the percentage of the population that isn’t a member of your group. If your group’s HHAY percentage is above 100, then your group is receiving more hate crimes than you would expect.

Clayton reports that a(n unnamed) reader looked at the problem from the other direction — the percentage of each group that becomes a victim of hate crime, rather than the percentage that commits a hate crime:

It seems to me your “How hated are you” statistic does a poor job of measuring the actual problems caused by hate crimes for different groups. For example, using the figures you give, 67.5% of 4863, or 2164 crimes were motivated by anti black prejudice and only 20.5%, or 997 were motivated by anti-white prejudice. But 12.8% of the population (let’s call the US population 250 million, though that’s a bit out of date) is black, or 32 million people, while 80.4 %, or 200 million, is white. So a black person has a probability of 2164/32000000=0.000068 of being a hate crime victim in a given year — 17 times the odds of 0.000004 that a white person does. It seems to me reasonable to say that hate crimes are 17 times as significant a problem for black people as for white people.

What your HHAY statistic measures is the probability that a randomly chosen person of a different race will have committed a hate crime against someone of your nationality. It seems to me that, if I were given a chance to choose my race, this would matter much less to me than the odds that I would be a hate crime victim. (Or, for that matter, a crime victim of any sort.)

It is strange that black people are both more likely to commit and to be the victims of hate crimes than white people are, but I guess that’s just a nice example of how statistics don’t always do what you’d expect.

Actually, I’m not sure that we shouldn’t expect precisely that results. Blacks make up about one-eight o the U.S. population, which means there are about 7 non-Blacks for every Black. That means that even if a much lower percentage of non-Blacks commit hate crimes, there can still be a lot of anti-Black hate crimes simply because there is a much larger pool of non-Blacks. In fact, non-Blacks will commit more hate crimes (in absolute numbers, not percentages) as long as their rate is greater than one-seventh of the Black hate crime rate. Furthermore, since there are far fewer Blacks “available” to become targets of each hate crime, then for any given number of hate crimes, the probability of any one individual Black becoming a victim is much higher.

To take an extreme example, imagine for a moment that Blacks and non-Blacks each committed, as a group, precisely the same number (not percentage) of hate crimes. In that case, each Black individual would be both seven time more likely to be victim of hate crime — and seven times more likely to commit one. Even if the rates are closer together, as long as the percentages of non-Blacks commiting hate crimes is lower than that of Blacks, we will see something like this outcome.

So the figures that Clayton and his reader found are in fact precisely how you should expect the statistics to come out.

Reconstructing Maimonides

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:40 am

… As literally as possible. A reader alerts me to this story:

British university to reassemble crumbled works of medieval Jewish scholar

Tue Jun 13, 01:02 PM EST

LONDON (AP) – Scientists at a British university hope to use digital technology in reassembling some 300,000 tiny fragments of an 800-year-old Jewish philosopher’s oeuvre.

The University of Manchester’s Centre for Jewish Studies is reassembling the life works of Moses Maimonides, a scholar and writer whose findings were hugely influential on modern Judaic thought.

Maimonides worked as a physician, lawyer and scientist in the Middle Ages, project leader Philip Alexander said. His writings were obtained from a medieval document storeroom – called a “genizah” – discovered in a Cairo synagogue.

Documents gleaned from the Cairo genizah, both by Maimonides and other Jewish scholars, are in repositories all over the world, said Stella Butler, head of special collections at Manchester’s John Rylands University Library. More than 10,000 pieces from the ancient manuscripts are in the Manchester library.

“Internet technology means we can collaborate with colleagues around the world to solve some of the puzzles contained in the genizah collections,” Butler said.

“We hope to link together fragments from our collections with those held in other libraries, and so achieve greater understanding of the genizah as a whole,” she said.

The grant money will enable the centre to buy a special camera to take digital images of the fragments.

“Until we got image technology, it was very difficult for people across the world, if they’ve got one bit of a document, to know if another fits,” Butler said.

I can’t help but imagine that Maimonides (often known among Jews by the Hebrew acronym for his name, which is pronounced “Rambam”) would have really loved the internet. He corresponded with people all over the world, which took quite a lot of doing 800 years ago. (He would have loved weather satellites even more, since his brother died when his ship went down in a storm — taking the family fortune with it.)

By the way, this story is also a reminder of the bad new for people who shred their confidential documents. If computers can scan the decayed fragments of an 800-year-old handwritten document and reconstruct it, imagine what they can do with a document that’s printed in a stable font and “shredded” into pieces with nice, straight-line edges. Someone who is willing to spend the money can get the document reconstructed.

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