Return of the False Messiah: The Blind Ambitions of Benjamin Netanyahu. (David Stromberg, 1/18/24, Hedgehog Review)

Understanding the extent of the threat posed by Bibi requires a broad historical perspective. Many people have noted that October 7, 2023, was the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust. But the evocation of the Holocaust, even when accurate, conceals part of the complexity of this Black Shabbat: namely, that it took place amid one of the greatest crises that has ever gripped Israel, all of it orchestrated and overseen by a single person with unmatched power. Many have noted that Bibi is not solely responsible for every mistake or miscalculation that led to this disaster. But there is no question that he failed to take steps to avoid the kind of division that tore Israel’s social fabric apart in the months leading up to this Black Shabbat and that he failed to establish any lasting unity among its peoples. If Bibi is Israel’s leader, he leads the nation straight into darkness. And while Israel’s citizenry has shown unparalleled heroism and leadership since the attack, putting the political echelon to shame, Israel’s politicians—led and enabled by Bibi—continue to reveal the depths of their cynicism.

We should consider these developments in relation not only to the relatively few years of modern Israel’s existence but to the millennia of Jewish history. Considered against the sweep of Jewish history since the destruction of Jerusalem, the disaster of October 7 actually pales in comparison to the violence of the Crusades, the Inquisition, or the Khmelnytsky massacres, and it certainly pales in comparison to the Holocaust. So what makes this event so singular in the minds and hearts of Jews across the world today? Certainly, it has to do with the sense that this Black Shabbat echoes the barbarity of these horrific events. But it also appears to substantiate one of the more ostensibly radical claims that certain Israeli writers, journalists, and scholars have been making for quite some time: that Bibi is the most dangerous Jewish leader to have emerged since the seventeenth-century false messiah Sabbatai Zevi.

Unlike the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, or the repeated expulsions from one corner of the world to another—all of which forced Jews to contend repeatedly with extreme violence as well as attempted annihilation—the influence of Sabbatai Zevi (1626–1676) could not be attributed to outside powers. As a cataclysmic event, it shaped Jewish history from within, precipitating the greatest internal crisis that is known to have taken place in centuries and leading to such internal upheavals across so many communities that scholars today consider him as ushering in the modern Jewish era across the globe—including the rise of the secular Zionist movement. Because, mysticism aside, what Sabbatai Zevi tried to bring about —in practical terms—was a mass return of Jews to Zion.

The movement that came to be known as Sabbateanism was not self-propagated. It is true that Sabbatai Zevi was banned from his hometown of Smyrna, modern-day Izmir in Turkey, after declaring himself the messiah at the age of twenty-two and spending the next two decades traveling through Turkey, Greece, Palestine, and Egypt. But it was not until he met a mystic and ascetic named Nathan of Gaza that he was proclaimed messiah by someone else. Nathan of Gaza, who claimed to be Sabbatai Zevi’s prophet, spread his prophecy to Jewish communities throughout the world with letters and pamphlets, some of which were fake texts attributed to ancient figures. Nathan of Gaza was able to establish a cult of personality that eventually led much of the Jewish world to believe that the messianic era had arrived and that a return to Zion was imminent. But in 1666, the year in which Nathan of Gaza declared that redemption would arrive, Sabbatai Zevi ended up converting to Islam, setting off a crisis that would reverberate across Jewish culture for hundreds of years.

We are now at the threshold of a crisis no less severe. Watching Bibi speak ever since October 7, one senses that, for far too long, he has been told that he is King Bibi—and that he truly believes in the prophetic claims of his role as Israel’s unrivaled and divinely installed leader. Even though Bibi is not religious, he presides over the most religiously extreme and messianic coalition in Israel’s history, a throwback to the kind of ideologically tainted mysticism invoked by Nathan of Gaza to elevate Sabbatai Zevi to the status of messiah—and to promise a new era to Jews across the world. Bibi’s promises at the 2023 United Nations General Assembly of “a new Middle East that will transform lands once ridden with conflict and chaos into fields of prosperity and peace”—just a few weeks before the Hamas massacre and the destruction of Gaza that ensued—smack of the kind of delusional dreams that seemed just as real to Sabbatai Zevi when he was brought before the Turkish Sultan Mehmed IV for sedition.


The white-collar class derided mass layoffs among the blue-collar workers. It’s about to feel their pain (Glenn H. Reynolds, Jan. 16th, 2024, NY Post)

[T]he worm has turned. Google is looking at laying off 30,000 people it expects to replace with artificial intelligence.

The Wall Street Journal reports that large corporations across the board are planning to lay off white-collar workers.

Investor Brian Wang notes ChatGPT is already causing white-collar job loss.

In fact, ChatGPT can even code.

Sometimes its code is quite good. Sometimes it’s not so good.

(Though God knows, the latter is true of much human-generated software code too.)

It can write press releases, ad copy, catalog descriptions, news stories and essays, speeches, encyclopedia entries, customer-inquiry responses and more.

It can generate art on demand that’s suitable for book covers, advertisements and magazine illustrations.

Again, sometimes these items are quite good, and sometimes they’re not, but there’s a lot of less-than-stellar human work in those categories too.

Learning to code is bad advice now.

And the kicker is, AI is getting better all the time.

ChatGPT-4 has demonstrated “human-level performance” on many benchmarks.

It can pass bar exams, diagnose disease and process images and text. The improvement since ChatGPT-3.5 is significant.

People, on the other hand, are staying pretty much the same.

The bad news for the symbolic analysts is they’re playing on AI’s turf.

When you deal with ideas and data and symbols, you’re working with bits, and AI is pretty good at working with bits.

People losing their jobs to AI is just the tip of the iceberg.

In the next decade, lots more people — possibly (gulp) including professors like me — will be facing potential replacement by machines.

It turns out that using your brain and not your hands isn’t as good a move as it may have once seemed.

…is a function of the fact that “we” are going to not have jobs, not just “them”.


Misunderstanding antisemitism in America (Musa al-Gharbi, 1/11/24, Slow Boring)

Contrary to widespread narratives, students do not internalize the views of their professors very often. Young people’s attitudes tend to be fairly stable throughout their college careers, and the limited change that occurs seems to be driven much more by peers than professors.

And far from pushing politics in the classroom, surveys suggest that more than 80 percent of scholars who work on Middle East issues self-censor on the topic of Israel and Palestine. Overwhelmingly, this self-censorship entails refraining from criticism of Israel, typically out of fear of retaliation by external stakeholders, university administrators or student mobs.

Moreover, rather than education pushing people to hold antisemitic or anti-Israel views, college attendance and completion are inversely correlated with antisemitism. The overwhelming majority of college graduates embrace one or fewer of the Anti Defamation League (ADL)’s fourteen antisemitic attitudes. And even people who just attended some college but didn’t graduate tend to be significantly less antisemitic than those who didn’t go to college at all:

Higher education also corresponds to greater knowledge about the Holocaust and lowered propensity to engage in Holocaust denial.

And although this question is importantly distinct from antisemitism per se, the more college Americans get, the more likely they become to express positive views of Israel (and the less likely they become to view Israel unfavorably).

Why are so many people convinced that the opposite is true?

In part, it’s because, as has chronically been the case in “campus culture war” discourse, narratives about colleges and universities after October 7 have been driven heavily by sensationalized events at a small number of elite schools whose culture, policies and students are deeply unrepresentative of higher ed writ large.

Exacerbating this problem, many inappropriately conflate trends among young people as a whole with trends among college students in particular and then inappropriately blame institutions of higher learning and “radical professors” for trends that are common among young people writ large, even those that did not attend college.

The widespread tendency to conflate opposition to Zionism, criticism of the Israeli government, or support for the Palestinian cause with antisemitism reinforces these misperceptions.

There’s nothing more American than the insistence on universal self-determination.


The Constitution’s Overlooked Road Map for an Accountable Bureaucracy (Alison Somin, 1/18/24, Discourse)

Today there are hundreds, if not thousands, of officials in the federal government who exercise expansive power who are not confirmed by the Senate, are not accountable to the president, or both. To fix this broken system, it’s necessary to revitalize the president’s powers to appoint and remove executive officials.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the progressive movement grew increasingly critical of the original constitutional design. The progressives wanted to move power away from the democratically elected president and direct appointees into the hands of supposedly impartial, nonpolitical experts.

Their moment came in the 1930s, when the crisis of the Great Depression led to demand for extraordinary measures. Congress created a slew of new executive agencies and made it impossible for the president to fire many of the officials who populated those agencies except for cause. And over the ensuing decades, as these agencies pushed the bounds of their own power, decision-making power accumulated with officials who were never constitutionally appointed.

Early progressives and contemporary defenders of the administrative state have defended removal protections for federal officials because they allow those officials to be “insulated from politics.” But put another way, this is ultimately an attempt to wrest the levers of government power away from the people. It’s incompatible with the Constitution’s promise of self-government, the beating heart of the American experiment. The people deserve the government they choose, whether it comports with the preferences of the “experts” or not.

There is value to having the executive branch staffed by experts with technical knowledge. But technical knowledge is only one part of the puzzle that is policymaking. Values also matter, and the ability to make tradeoffs among competing values is one of the most important parts of governing. Those tradeoffs must be made by the people’s representatives or, at the very least, officials who are directly accountable to them.

Unlike the intentional spread of removal protections, the plethora of federal officials who wield government power without being vetted by the Senate developed as much by default as by design. The New Deal and the Great Society vastly expanded the footprint of government interference in the lives of everyday Americans. All those rules and enforcement actions overwhelmed the capacity of officials who had been appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Rather than appointing more of these officials, the executive branch devolved lots of power to employees who were never appointed in an accountable manner.

Regulatory overreach by officials who are not constitutionally appointed appears to be all too common. One Pacific Legal Foundation study found that 71% of rules issued by the Department of Health and Human services were unconstitutional because the officer signing them was never appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.


Standardized Tests Don’t Deserve Our Hate (Aidan Muller, January 16, 2024, The Dartmouth)

Until recently, I advocated strongly for the permanent adoption of test-optional admissions and even went so far as to support test-blind admissions. However, empirical evidence does not always echo our feelings — especially about something like test-taking — and what we want is not always what’s good for us. The reality is that standardized tests are actually useful tools for admissions.

A recently published New York Times article by David Leonhardt — which draws on research from Dartmouth’s own Richard S. Braddock 1963 economics professor Bruce Sacerdote ’90 and associate sociology professor Michele Tine — highlights evidence that standardized test scores are better indicators of predicting college grades, chances of graduation and post-college success than high school grades and may also increase diversity on college campuses.


Most Supplements Don’t Work. But That’s Not the Worst Part. (Alex Hutchinson, Jan 16, 2024, Outside)

But it’s not just the opportunity cost: paradoxically, taking what seems like a shortcut to better performance can nudge you toward doing a worse job on the basics.

A 2011 study in Taiwan illustrates this. Researchers gave a group of volunteers an inert supplement, telling half of them that it was a multivitamin and the other half that it was a placebo. Both segments thought they were helping with consumer product research, providing feedback on the size, shape, and texture of the pill. Then they completed a series of bogus consumer tests while the researchers monitored their behavior. While testing a pedometer, for example, those who thought they’d taken a multivitamin didn’t walk as far as the placebo group; at lunch, they were more likely to overdo it at the buffet table than to select the healthy organic option. In a questionnaire, the vitamin group reported less desire to exercise and greater desire for “hedonic activities” like drinking and—strikingly—casual sex.

As improbable as these results seem, they fit within a larger body of research on a psychological phenomenon called licensing. We often pursue goals that are in conflict with one another, like having an active social life while still getting plenty of sleep. When we make progress toward one goal, we feel justified balancing things out in the opposite direction. Have an afternoon nap and you might think it’s OK to stay out that night for one more drink. When it comes to supplements, the calculus is almost always lopsided. We dramatically overestimate the benefit, and subsequent licensing leaves us worse off than we started.


Christian theology and identity politics (Martin Davie, 16 January 2024, Christianity Today)

[F]rom the standpoint of Christian theology the whole idea of dividing the world into good people and bad people has to be seen as completely mistaken. The reason this is the case is that the Christian faith, based on the teaching of the Bible, holds that every human being, with the sole exception of Jesus Christ, is a bad person in the sense that they are a sinner against God and their neighbour.

This basic Christian conviction is well expressed in To be a Christian, the catechism published by the Anglican Church in North America in 2020. The section on ‘Salvation’ in this new catechism declares:

“1.What is the human condition? Though created good and made for fellowship with our Creator, humanity has been cut off from God by self-centred rebellion against him, leading to lawless living, guilt, shame, death, and the fear of judgement. This is the state of sin. (Genesis 3:1–13; Psalm 14:1–3; Matthew 15:10–20; Romans 1:18–23; 3:9–23).”

The key point to note is that all human beings are sinners. In the words of Paul in Romans 3:23 ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ This applies to rich and poor alike, men and women alike, white, black and brown people alike, and heterosexual people and sexual minorities alike.

The consequence of this fact is that although we can (and must) distinguish between the deeds that people perform and say that some are good and some are bad, we cannot divide the world into good and bad people.

We cannot say that we are good while others are bad. As Jesus made clear, all we can ever say is ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’ (Luke 18:13). We also cannot say of other people that X is good, and Y is bad. Viewed against God’s standards, everyone is bad. Thus, the conflict in the Middle East is not between bad Israelis and good Palestinians (or conversely between bad Palestinians and good Israelis).

From what I have said thus far it might appear that Christianity takes a very pessimistic view of things since it says that we are all sinners and all we can look forward to is ‘darkness, misery and eternal condemnation.’ However, three further things need to be considered.

First, even if Christianity is pessimistic this does not mean that it is wrong. If we are honest about ourselves, we know that we do not live as we should and that therefore, to quote C S Lewis in his book Mere Christianity, if God exists and is absolutely good he ‘must hate most of what we do…. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves his enemies.’

Secondly, while insisting that we are all sinners, the Bible, and mainstream Christian theology following the Bible, has always insisted that because they have been created by God in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27) fallen women and men retain an awareness of the distinction between good and evil, and an ability, albeit limited, to perform morally good actions. It is because that is the case that it is realistic from a Christian point of view to seek to ask people to take action to at least mitigate the consequences of conflicts such as the current conflict in the Middle East. That is not asking for the impossible.

Thirdly, and most importantly, Christianity offers hope for everyone.


“Dirt-powered fuel cell” draws near-limitless energy from soil (Loz Blain, January 16, 2024, New Atlas)

Microbial fuel cells, as they’re called, have been around for more than 100 years. They work a little like a battery, with an anode, cathode and electrolyte – but rather than drawing electricity from chemical sources, they work with bacteria that naturally donate electrons to nearby conductors as they chow down on soil.

The issue thus far has been keeping them supplied with water and oxygen, while being buried in the dirt. “Although MFCs have existed as a concept for more than a century, their unreliable performance and low output power have stymied efforts to make practical use of them, especially in low-moisture conditions,” said UNW alumnus and project lead Bill Yen.

So, the team set about creating several new designs targeted at giving the cells continual access to oxygen and water – and found success with a design shaped like a cartridge sitting vertically on a horizontal disc. The disc-shaped carbon felt anode lies horizontally at the bottom of the device, buried deep in the soil where it can capture electrons as microbes digest dirt.

The conductive metal cathode, meanwhile, sits vertically on top of the anode. The bottom part thus sits deep enough to have access to moisture from the deep soil, while the top sits flush with the surface. A fresh air gap runs down the whole length of the electrode, and a protective cap on top stops dirt and debris from falling in and cutting off the cathode’s access to oxygen. Part of the cathode is also coated with a waterproofing material, so that when it floods, there’s still a hydrophobic section of the cathode in touch with oxygen to keep the fuel cell running.

In testing, this design performed consistently across different soil moisture levels, from completely underwater to “somewhat dry,” with just 41% water by volume in the soil. On average, it generated some 68 times more power than was required to operate its onboard moisture and touch detection systems, and transmit data via a tiny antenna to a nearby base station.


Biden faces growing internal dissent over supporting Israel’s war on Gaza (Brooke Anderson, 16 January, 2024, New Arab)

This initiative by federal workers follows at least two significant resignations from the Biden administration over his handling of the war. In October, Josh Paul, a State Department official, resigned, saying in a (now unavailable) LinkedIn post that he made the decision “due to a policy disagreement concerning our continued lethal assistance to Israel.”

Earlier this month, Tariq Habash, who served in the Department of Education, himself a Palestinian American, became the first Biden appointee to resign over the war. In his resignation letter, he wrote, “I cannot stay silent as this administration turns a blind eye to the atrocities committed against innocent Palestinian lives…”

Adding to the pressure on Biden is South Africa’s accusation of genocide by Israel in Gaza at the International Court of Justice.

“We unequivocally join world leaders and international human rights organizations in support of South Africa’s case before the International Court of Justice alleging Israel violated the Genocide Convention,” said the congresswomen in a joint statement on Thursday.

“There must be an end to the violence—and there must be accountability for the blatant human rights abuses and mass atrocities occurring in the region,” they continued.

The congresswomen noted the historical importance of South Africa as a post-apartheid state being the country to bring the case to court, and they vowed to continue advocating for a ceasefire.


In Taiwan’s high-stakes elections, China is the loser (Ellen Ioanes, Jan 14, 2024, Vox)

Taiwan under Tsai shored up its relationship with the United States, as well as creating closer ties with Japan and European nations; all three candidates emphasized the importance of the US-Taiwan relationship, with little daylight on their foreign policy.

Where Lai broke away from his competitors, and particularly Hou, was in his framing of Friday’s election as a choice “between democracy and autocracy,” as David Sacks, a fellow for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said in a panel discussion Wednesday.

All the candidates indicated that they would continue Taiwan’s defense partnership with the US and would increase the island’s defense budget, which currently stands at $19.1 billion, or 2.6 percent of GDP, indicating, as Sacks said, broad agreement that relying on dialogue with Beijing or Xi’s “goodwill” isn’t enough to keep China from trying to take the island by force. While Lai signaled that he’ll raise that percentage, it’s not yet clear by how much.