Monday, February 28, 2005

So who exactly is out there blogging? Well, you've probably got a pretty fair idea of the demographics just from bopping around the blogosphere. But we're gonna be talking real numbers here.

My student, JS, downloaded over 100,000 blogs, all of which have blogger profiles. That's a pretty decent sample. We did all manner of fun experiment some of which I'll tell you about.

Here are the facts:
% male bloggers -- 54.3
% female bloggers -- 45.7

Age distribution:

15 and below 7.2%
16-20 20.6%
21-25 18.3%
26-30 9.4%
31-35 4.7%
36-40 2.2%
41-45 1.3%
46-50 0.8%
51-up 1.4%
unreported 34.1%

Yes, it's a kids game.

I've got the numbers on occupation, too, but they're tedious. It's mostly students, a bunch of techies and a little of everything else.

Now for the fun stuff. The game we were playing is to see if we could rig the computer to check frequencies of various words in a blog and then correctly guess the gender and age of a blogger. Suffice it to say it can be done. There is a measure known as "information gain" which tells you the extent to which the presence or absence of a feature tells you what you want to know. In this case, we want to measure the information gain of words for gender and age determination of bloggers.

The words with highest information gain for gender are the following:


Do I need to tell you which words indicate which gender? Without getting into gory details, each of the first five is used about three times as often by bloggerettes and the second five in about the same proportion reversed. Is this not embarrassing? Can one even post this list without being accused of something bad?

The words with highest information gain for age are:


Would you believe that for bloggers in their teens or early twenties, a random sample of 10,000 words will include an average of 30 appearances of the word "girl". For those above the age of thirty, that number drops to zero. Zilch.

Another interesting example is "bored", which in a random sample of 10,000 words is used 26 times by teens, 9 times by those in their twenties and zero times by those in their thirties. Do people have less and less time to be bored or are they just less inclined to tell the world about it? lol

Thursday, February 24, 2005

[This is an edited version of the original post.]

Yesterday a certain Knesset committee hosted a delegation of North American lawyers. They were invited by the committee chairman who figures that having some international involvement in a particular one of the committee's project will add prestige to the enterprise.

It was an opportunity for a variety of legislators and legal eagles to show off their poor command of English and their even poorer command of the American liberal mindset. Top prize for provincial posturing goes to the Shinui MK who assumed that, since the visitors were of liberal temperament and not overtly religious, they must share her fashionable contempt for all religious people. She announced that the only people who oppose the withdrawal from Azza are religious fanatics and that the upcoming civil war would in fact be a religious war. The visitors were very impressed.

One high point was when the first American speaker began by saying rather benignly "We'd like to know in what way we can assist you..." At that point the Israeli chairman and host launched into a lengthy clarification the key element of which was that "we don't need your assistance, we are offering you an opportunity to say what you want to say, that's all." One American woman pointed out that "in our country it is considered polite to give guests a sense of being included." Some of the Israelis looked genuinely puzzled.

I gave what is fast becoming a stump speech, arguing, inter alia, for reforming Israel's uniquely inequitable system of judicial appointments. The last remark brought the wrath of the Establishment down upon me. The head of the Israel Bar Association declared that I was the problem and a former Justice Minister announced that he respectfully disgrees with every word I said on the topic. Afterwards, he told me that he sincerely believes that judicial appointments can't be democratized because there are only two kinds of judges: those who believe in the absolute primacy of civil rights and those who don't, and all that matters is that we be protected from the latter variety. He is a friendly and charismatic fellow with very scary ideas about democracy.

Many of these people are elitist snobs who believe that democracy can't be entrusted to the great unwashed and the people they elect.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

You know that glassy-eyed feeling people get sometimes? I've been having it a lot lately and from a variety of directions.

It's deadline season for the summer conferences in my field which means -- aside from finishing my own papers -- refereeing other people's papers. Most of these papers are as boring to me as they'd be to my seven-year-old. And often just as incomprehensible. First of all, they are mostly written in the international language of science: very bad English. Moreover, very few people are familiar with all the literature in their field (even in the narrowest sense of the word "field") and I'm certainly not one of them. So when I have to pass judgement on whether a particular paper presents a novel approach, I secretly wish there was a choice labeled "how the hell should I know". (Oddly enough, the choices are restricted to 1 through 6 -- very confining.) After grading about ten of these, I start edging into a semi-catatonic state.

So I headed off to the very fine library of a very fine hesder yeshiva near My Little Town. (Yes, the fact that the only form of respite I can think of from sitting on my tuches reading is to go somewhere else to read something else on that very same tuches is sorry testimony to something or other.) I started catching up on some of the journals including Netuim and Torah uMadda. Yitzi Blau's review of Marc Shapiro's book on Rambam's principles of emunah grabbed my attention but, I'm sorry to say, left me more glassy-eyed than I already was. The last thing I feel like doing at the moment is to write another boilerplate review ("...offers an interesting solution to an important problem. Nevertheless, several flaws mar what would otherwise..."), so let me just say that the article did a perfectly good job of doing what it set out to do. YB is concerned that one could infer from MS's arguments against the universality of Rambam's list of principles, that no list of principles is binding. YB argues that such a conclusion would be unwarranted. A significant part of the review descends into what we might call the "accounting school of Jewish theology". If there are many lists of principles, shall we take as binding the intersection or the consensus or what? This whole business, as I've said, leaves me glassy-eyed. I mean do I really have an opinion on free will vs. determinism? Did any one of a million Gerrer hasidim in Poland have an opinion, let alone firm convictions, about this topic? Does anybody who doesn't write books for a living really think that emunah ought to be thought of in terms of a Topps' checklist? (Tito Fuentes -- got 'em; Chuck Hiller -- need 'em; creation ex nihilo -- umm, lemme get back to ya)

Serendipitously, it turned out that a leading American rosh yeshiva was giving a guest shiur in the yeshiva today. The shiur was brilliant as are all the shiurim by this particular RY. But its structure was something like this. Begin with topic 1, somewhere in the middle make reference to topic 2, start a riff on topic 2, somewhere in the middle make reference to topic 3, start a riff on topic 3, ..., start a riff on topic k, close topic k, close topic k-1, ..., close topic 1. Miraculously, the parentheses never got crossed; a flawless last-in first-out performance. I think k maxed out somewhere around 7 or 8. It was reasonably tolerable because the riffs were so loosely connected that one could simply unpack them and process them independently. This is nowhere near as bad as Poilish pilpul in which each riff builds on all the previous riffs in increasingly implausible fashion (the inevitable consequence of combining unlimited memory and capacity for complexity with finite tolerance for abstraction and systemization), but it left me once again ... glassy-eyed.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

I spent a very interesting evening with a group of influential rabbanim who identify with various branches of the haredi world. We were discussing the appropriate haredi response to the various initiatives to write a constitution.

At first, they were carrying on in the customary manner about the Shulchan Aruch being the only legitimate constitution yada yada yada. Eventually, I managed to engage them in discussion on specific issues and it was possible to get past the cliches. The idea they found appealing was that those who are opposed to secular Zionism should have no more interest in using the Israeli government to enforce religion than they have in using, say, the American government to enforce religion.

They still had many practical concerns, such as that the government not recognize fake conversions. I suggested that if the Law of Return simply be amended to permit immediate patriation of Jews as well as non-Jews satisfying given criteria, there would be no need for the government to involve itself in defining who is a Jew at all. This solution seemed perfectly acceptable to them. They even saw merit in ending the Rabbanut's monopoly on marriage, provided that it retain control of divorce for those who are halachically married. Saw merit isn't quite the same as agreed to, but they did agree to take it up with Rav Elyashiv et al.

I think in the end, it will be possible to reach an agreement on religion and state that everybody can live with. Of course, Agudah will shout and vote against it regardless but possibly with a wink. The Mafdalnikim who still believe that the state has religious significance and that, therefore, its agencies have religious obligations, will be harder to please. (In any case, the really hard issue is elsewhere: how to check the absurdly exaggerated power of the self-appointing Supreme Court.)

One side note: the meeting was held in the home of a young and charismatic Rebbe (Admo"r) who was raised in a modern Zionist home. In this respect he is a counterpart to the Kozhnitzer Rebbe and the Boyaner Rebbe both of whom come from a similar background. All of them have a special charm that is no doubt attributable to not having been brought up with Rebbishe gaivah. (And MOChassid's Rebbe has it too [the charm, not the gaivah], even though he doesn't have the name of an Eastern European town prepended to his name.)

Friday, February 04, 2005

I kind of like Israeli informality and directness but I'll never really master it.

Yesterday a few associates and I met with a particular government minister (PGM). On the agenda was the route of the security fence in our neck of the woods and the withdrawal plan. (My neighbors, My Obiter Dicta and Treppenwitz, might be amused/alarmed to hear that a fence will likely be snaking through their backyards, if not their living rooms, some time soon.) Anyway, things were breezing along in a "frank and candid" but civil way until YD piped up.

To set the stage I should mention that PGM is on record as opposing the withdrawal but voted for it under threat of dismissal by Sharon. YD is a woman who is raising her grandchildren because their parents were murdered by terrorists. And the people in the room were all people whose goodwill PGM is dependent on. PGM was in middle of doing a song and dance about how much he agrees with us but he had to vote the way he did to be more effective from within bla bla bla.

YD just looked at him and said the following: We know your heart is with us. We know your head is with us. But your voting finger is not with us. We don't respect people who don't have the courage of their convictions. If you're cowed, you're not leadership material. If you won't do what you know is right, we will see to it that you have no political future.

Just like that. PGM was reduced to sputtering. I was cringing. But you know what? YD knows how business is done here and I'm just an American-raised wuss. There were no hard feelings. We'll meet again next week.