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Links 3/15: URL Of Great Price

Did someone you love die while still single? Do you know anyone of the opposite sex who also died while still single? Time for a ghost marriage!

Hottest Heads Of State ranks the US Presidents (h/t Eric Rall). “Here he is—the hottest American president! You’re probably thinking “Wow! Where has Franklin Pierce been all my life?” The answer is that he died in 1869.”

New artificial lighting with nanoparticle scattering is indistinguishable from sunlight (h/t Naureen). So much so that the company reports it has tricked seasoned interior designers into thinking its lights are real windows or skylights. You start to get a feel for what a big deal this is when you see their pictures, and it could have some really big effects – access to natural lighting is a limiting factor in a lot of architecture, and people’s mood and productivity are different in different lighting environments. And I assume someone will be able to overlay images on top of these, making them really indistinguishable from windows. Imagine you can make your bedroom look just like a Hawaiian hotel room on a bright sunny day, complete with beach view. Possible caveat – this could screw up our circadian rhythm even more than it’s screwed up already (but see this)

Greg Mankiw puts inequality in perspective: if income inequality had not increased after 1973, the median household would have $9,000 more. If productivity growth had not slowed after 1973, the median household would have had $30,000 more. But see also MR comments, which ask about whether the two trends could be related and which is easier to reverse than the other.

The newest thing someone’s claimed they can determine with digit ratio: how nice a man is to women (h/t Yana). “When with women, men with smaller ratios were more likely to listen attentively, smile and laugh, compromise or compliment the other person.”

The FDA helps cover up fraud in FDA clinical trials, which seems to be unexpectedly common. I was floored by the idea that outright falsification (as opposed to mere deliberately biased experimental design) was going on at these levels, but it seems at least some of it is in China (which has a laxer scientific culture). It’s pretty impressive how the FDA can quash innovation and fail to protect people at the same time. Also, I think I speak for everyone in medicine when I pray that please please please don’t let there be anything wrong with rivaroxaban or else we’ll have to go back to warfarin.

A defense of Fahrenheit. “In a sentence: Fahrenheit uses its digits more efficiently than Centigrade.”

Magic is a company that lets you text them any legal request, and they’ll fulfill it for the appropriate fee. Potentially useful for all my social phobic friends who hate phone calls, since they can be communicated with by text and can handle the calling part of things like ordering delivery pizza.

Oregon City has the United States’ only public outdoor elevator to transport citizens from one level of the city to another.

New immigration does not reduce assimilation of existing immigrants.

Even more interesting: Immigrants’ political views are similar to those of the native-born, become indistinguishable after one generation (h/t Drew) though the significance testing looks weird and there may be country-of-origin confounders.

First Ever Human Head Transplant Possible, Says Neuroscientist.

Sunglasses that help with color blindness by restricting the ranges of light that can be seen.

Greece wants a basic income. This seems terrible to me. First, they can’t even afford what they’re already doing, let alone a basic income. Second of all, Greece ruins anything economic that it touches, so probably this program would fail and discredit basic income for decades even if it would have worked fine in the hands of a more competent country.

Right-to-try laws say permanently ill patients can get experimental drugs even without full FDA approval. An attendee at the SSC meetup pointed out a potential pitfall – if you can get the real thing, who’s going to want to participate in studies that include a 50% chance of getting placebo?

The media’s latest attempt to misrepresent stories about sexual assault doesn’t seem to be going so well.

Noah Smith against the complaint that economics can’t predict anything, or isn’t a real science. I think he misses what I would consider to be the most important point – market behavior is anti-inductive, so the argument that only being able to predict the market counts is unfairly saying you’ll only give economics credit it it can predict inherently unpredictable things. Interested whether the most striking success he credits to economics – the economist who correctly predicted BART ridership when everyone else got it wrong – has been replicated on other mass transit or if it’s a little post hoc.

Every form of youth behavior has been improving over the last five years in Britain, including crime, truancy, pregnancy, alcoholism, etc. But beware of truncated axes!

Leah posted this mentioning my thrival/survival dichotomy: Republicans are more confident than Democrats they will survive the apocalypse. Could be from any number of things – more rural, better with guns – but the result I find most interesting is that Republicans have invested much more effort into preparing for it.

People who talk about processed food being bad for you sound intuitively plausible, but they’ve always sounded unscientific when they can’t point to the particular reason it’s bad: “Uh, toxins!”. Now two very common emulsifiers have been preliminarily found to damage the gut microbiome and increase obesity.

Everyone knows when you’re drunk other people look more attractive. But apparently also being drunk makes you look more attractive to others even in terms of them merely seeing photos of your face. Interesting not only in proposing “be drunk all the time” as a dating strategy, but as a point in favor of what I think of as the creepy telepathy model of attraction – that internal mental qualities like how relaxed and confident you are can change your attractiveness level independentlyish of your actions. That is, I assume the way being drunk makes your face more attractive is by making you feel more relaxed and so altering your muscle pattern, which other people can subconsciously pick up on. What other things might work like that?

Why bookstores sometimes destroy the books they are sent, plus why books frequently include a message that if you got the book without a cover it may have been stolen.

Yuval Harari’s his new book on humanity (how’s that for a broad topic?) gets a Daniel Kahneman interview, makes Rod Dreher existentially terrified about our transhuman future, and gets excerpted on Xenosystems with what I consider a really important point:

The 20th century, it’s the era of the masses, mass politics, mass economics. Every human being has value, has political, economic, and military value, simply because he or she is a human being, and this goes back to the structures of the military and of the economy, where every human being is valuable as a soldier in the trenches and as a worker in the factory. […] But in the 21st century, there is a good chance that most humans will lose, they are losing, their military and economic value. This is true for the military, it’s done, it’s over. The age of the masses is over. We are no longer in the First World War, where you take millions of soldiers, give each one a rifle and have them run forward. And the same thing perhaps is happening in the economy.

This month in machine value-binding being hard: an AI that was supposed to use reinforcement learning to play Tetris keeps it paused forever since that way it can’t lose.

A while back I suggested giving homeless people houses might pay for itself in reduced use of public services. I was probably wrong. According to a new study in JAMA, giving poor people subsidized housing increases the amount of time they spend housed (okaaaay, I’m with you so far) but has no effect on “health related quality of life”. I am moderately suspicious of this measure and would like to see ER use / hospital visits measured directly. Also, I think they accidentally say they measured general quality of life when they really measured health-related quality of life. Also also, this doesn’t include savings from things like reduced use of the criminal justice system. But I have to admit the evidence is now against me in terms of health savings.

Sister Y has a book out, and it is exactly as cheerful as you would expect

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506 Responses to Links 3/15: URL Of Great Price

  1. pinkocrat says:

    As a longtime metric partisan I have to say Fahrenheit makes more sense for temperature. There’s no power-of-ten advantage there.

    Also: Does anyone else find THEMSELVES more attractive in the mirror when drunk?

    • Tarrou says:

      I’d imagine that “drunk” in this case is something of a curve. Two or three drinks might make you relaxed and cheerful, but I can guarantee no one looks better after thirty.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        “No one looks better after 30”.

        Unless you are a necrophiliac. Seriously, that much alcohol (in a short enough time) can kill you.

        • speedwell says:

          Being in my late 40s, I read that at first glance at “nobody looks better after they reach 30 years old”. (self-deprecating smile)

          • Blakes7th says:

            Yeah, me too

          • Tarrou says:

            I am amused, but I’m the exception that proves the rule. After thirty (years) I finally filled out my formerly gaunt physique. I’m far better looking in my mid-30s than I was in my mid-20s.

            As to the thirty drinks line, I’m well aware that most people drinking that much in an hour or two would die. But most people with a bit of practice could do that in a day no problem. But no, you won’t look good at the end of it.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            No woman does. Some men do.

          • doe says:

            You can absolutely look better as a woman after 30 in ways in which one has control over one’s appearance. Sometimes those ways are enough to make you look better overall. Overcoming an eating disorder, illness, depression, working out, so many examples.

          • Deiseach says:

            For women over 30 to look good, part of it is no visible facial wrinkles, and the bet way to avoid wrinkles is fat.

            Not too much, but a pleasingly plump physique means fewer wrinkles. I remain largely wrinkle free by comparison to my younger sister due to this 🙂

            Unfortunately fashion (and health?) dictates that women starve themselves as much as possible to fit into “size zero”, which means reducing body fat, which means gaunt and bony and wrinkled.

          • Tarrou says:

            My grandma always said: “better a grape than a raisin!”

    • Nicholas says:

      I lose the ability to perceive mirrors as reflective surfaces when drunk (I perceive them as windows) so am always somewhat disturbed by my reflection.

    • speedwell says:

      Yes, I find myself more attractive when I am drunk, but when I am sober I have body dysmorphic disorder, so do with that what you like.

    • Shenpen says:

      I used to like drunk me when it was just weekend partying, it was a relaxed looking me.

      When it became a difficult to kick daily abuse habit, it was more like “look at that shit-faced bastard in the mirror with the unfocused blood-shot eyes and bland stupid facial expression, he looks like someone one level up from being a street bum and going downvard, fast”.

    • Kate Donovan says:

      YES. I have had a longstanding policy of immediately finding a mirror any time I consume alcohol and it significantly aided my recovery from an eating disorder. This is the first time I’ve heard someone else describe having a similar experience.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      That seems confounded by your attractiveness-recognition system also being drunk.

    • RCF says:

      My understanding is that the argument that that link makes is why Farenheit chose the scale he did; he wanted zero to be the lowest common temperature, and one hundred to be the largest. Of course, he was living in Germany, so his scale won’t necessarily have that property in other parts of the world.

      There are two issues in temperature scales*: the zero point, and how much temperature change constitutes a “degree”. The latter is arbitrary, but the former has a non-arbitrary value of “zero is absolute zero”. If you want the Farenheit degree interval, but with “zero is absolute zero”, then you can use the Rankine scale.

      *All of the temperature scales are affine transformations of each other. One could have completely different scales, for instance having a scale where the transformation from Kelvin to the new scale is x -> x^2, but as far as I know, no one has pursued such a labeling system.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The study on the political views of immigrants ignores the confounder of race. 3rd and 4th generation immigrants are mostly white, maybe a few Asians. There could be a sort of regression to the mean of political views, but which mean? Would 4th generation African immigrants be similar to the average American, or the average African American?

    • Tarrou says:

      It also ignores the confound of social status and culture in home country. The Irish who came here during the famines were mostly destitute, and it took them the better part of a century to integrate. The germans and scandinavians tended to do better, perhaps because it took more effort and so selected for a more middle class group. One can see this today in the differences between say, Hmong refugees from Vietnam and Korean immigrants. Or between Nigerian immigrants and Somali refugees. When the barriers to immigration are relatively high, it selects for a higher social status of immigrant, who tend to do much better in the new culture than those selected for poverty and suffering.

      • Wrong Species says:

        A good example of that would be comparisons of muslim immigrants to the US vs Europe.

        • Tarrou says:

          That too. The list goes on. Perhaps the glaring exception is the large numbers of jewish refugees from eastern europe, but that can be laid at the feet of the removal of the worst excesses of anti-semitism.

    • speedwell says:

      We need to be wary of applying general findings to specific individuals. My father, an immigrant who naturalized in the US after having left Hungary in 1957, was a Republican, a bigot, and a Richard Nixon fanboy (I’m aware Nixon was a Democrat but not perfectly sure Dad was aware of it). My brother bought into the worst possible abuses of Texas Tea Party “libertarianism”. I am a moderate, which makes me practically a Communist by American standards, and even here in Ireland I gravitate generally toward Sinn Féin for no good reason (though I am a recent immigrant myself and who knows what might happen when I actually know something). My mother’s parents were both immigrants to the US, and as far as I know, that very opinionated, ethnically Jewish, side of the family has more political opinions than it does members. 🙂

      • Anonymous says:

        Nixon was always a Republican. Are you thinking of Eisenhower? Or Quakers?

        • Nornagest says:

          I think the ancestor isn’t suggesting that Nixon was literally a Democrat but rather that his policies were more centrist than right-wing, and thus more typical of the Democrats than the Republicans. See for example here and here.

          I’m not sure I actually buy this — it seems to be projecting present-day political norms back into the past (and, in particular, into a Republican Party before its post-Goldwater emphasis shift) in a way that’s more than a little naive. But the meme’s out there.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m not sure I actually buy this — it seems to be projecting present-day political norms back into the past (and, in particular, into a Republican Party before its post-Goldwater emphasis shift) in a way that’s more than a little naive.

            But if folks like Speedwell’s dad see Nixon as a central example of *today’s* Republicans, then maybe it’s a necessary corrective.

          • Lupis42 says:

            The problem with the meme is that it proves too much.
            Nixon might be a Democrat today, but it seems equally plausible that <a href ="http://www.forbes.com/sites/kylesmith/2013/11/08/modern-democrats-would-view-john-f-kennedy-as-a-reaganite-extremist/"JFK would be a Republican.

            Which suggests that trying to map current divides onto historical figures doesn’t get useful results.

          • speedwell says:

            I’m not sure where I picked that up, but you are probably right that it was a meme. Anon, below, is also right that Dad lumped Nixon in with today’s Republicans (for a value of “today” approximately equal to 2007, when Daddy died), but one of Dad’s less charming quirks was, well, only arguing using facts that supported his case, even when the preponderance of the facts were against him.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think a lot of people will be going Sinn Féín. The present government’s re-election strategy seems to be waking up in a panic about the water charges (oh, now you realise that you screwed up introducing a utility charge in a way that a six year old on a sugar rush wouldn’t have done?) and belatedly throwing sops to the masses, and then going on about how Sinn Féin are really the IRA you know, and Communists to boot.

        • Airgap says:

          What nonsense. The IRA disbanded in the 20s. Sinn Fein is really the Provos. Or possibly, now really the (N|R)IRA. There’s no way a senior Irish politician could not know this. Clearly, it’s deliberate misrepresentation designed to suggest that Sinn Fein is “out of date” or something.

        • Deiseach says:

          Airgap, a comment like that makes me suspect you’re one of the Cokes 🙂

          Tiocfáidh ar lá?

          • speedwell says:

            My husband is from a Northern Irish border town that saw more than its share of Troubles, and his family is of that nonpartisan nature best expressed by hubby’s statement that “Daddy could drink in any pub in town”. I’m a Yank and have no dog in that particular fight. We are nonreligious. Is it even possible to participate in politics around here while giving dirty looks to people who still perpetuate partisanship? FFS, I thought I had enough of that stuff growing up in the American South and having to deal with people who still referred to “carpetbaggers” in normal conversation. (Don’t mind me, just griping.)

          • Anonymous says:

            Is it even possible to participate in politics around here while giving dirty looks to people who still perpetuate partisanship?

            IDK, depends what you mean by perpetuate partisanship.

          • CJB says:

            Saoirse go deo!

            What? INLA was totally a respectably scary group and not at all an argument with a paramilitary wing.

            (Seriously though- Irish revolutionary politics make the various groups dedicated to the liberation of Judea seem like a cohesive and coherent polity.)

          • Airgap says:

            Airgap, a comment like that makes me suspect you’re one of the Cokes 🙂

            What is that, some sort of anti-RAAD splinter group?

            Actually, the family had to come to the US when we ran out of potatoes. We did shoot a bunch of KKK dudes who didn’t care much for the Irish (not that I entirely blame them). I guess that’s sort of similar.

            Tiocfáidh ar lá?

            Never between meals.

          • Deiseach says:

            Airgap, when the Peace Process kicked in and the Provisional IRA declared a cease-fire, various groups which splintered off at various times did not agree with this.

            One of these was The (self-described) Real IRA (which fissioned off in the 80s), thus attracting the derogatory nickname of ‘the Cokes’ (since Coca-Cola is the Real Thing). Another group was the Continuity IRA.

            This led to jokes about the Real Wolfe Tones and the Continuity Wolfe Tones when that republican ballad group split 🙂

            There’s a reason why they say “The first thing on the agenda of any new Irish organisation is The Split”.

            The permuations of the Official versus Provisional IRA and their various associated political wings is too tangled to get into right now. Later, maybe?

  3. Ezra says:

    Correction:

    “This month in machine value-binding being hard”

    It was almost 2 years ago.

    Swag.

  4. Dumky says:

    Regarding experimental drugs, trials are not valuable to the patient, they are valuable to the experimenter (drug company).
    So with right-to-try laws, you could imagine drug companies offering deals for people willing to participate in trials. For instance, the drug and the care are paid-for. You could even go further and pay people to join the trials, either directly or with a donation to their favorite charity. Many arrangements are imaginable.

    Of course, this creates a problem as the trial group may not be representative of the whole population.

    • JR says:

      From the article: “The pharmaceutical company would have to give a doctor consent for use of the investigational drug.” This seems like an important caveat. The pharmaceutical company wants people to be in its trials, so it will only only allow doctors to use the drug as long as there are still more patients who have no better options than to participate in the trials.

    • Drea says:

      I’d also love to see this community discuss the possibility of a Bayesian approach to drug trials, to solve the concerns about loosing random sampling. Is there a way to capture enough variables that we can tease the causality out, suss out the confounds, without a control group? I feel icky just writing that, but it could be a powerful tool.

      And JR’s point is interesting, but only if the pharma companies actually know which patients have no better options. If the study is designed to detect who has a better option, then that’s the result we are looking for.

      • Ilya Shpitser says:

        People think about this a lot, but this is orthogonal to B vs F.

        Teasing out causality is orthogonal to having a control. If you have a control group you may or may not have confounding, censoring bias, selection bias, etc. etc.

        Without a control group at all, how do you define what an effect even is? “This drug is better than ___”?

        Sometimes people use a control group that isn’t given a placebo treatment but another, commonly prescribed drug we hope to improve on, then we can compare drug A and drug B. But you still need a comparison.

  5. Does the simulated sunlight include ultraviolet? Does it matter?

    Charles Stross has mentioned that part of Greece’s problems is that they’ve been doing an expensive cold war with Turkey. If this is true, should it be part of the argument about what Greece is doing?

    • AlphaGamma says:

      Possibly. Greek defence spending is 2.5% of GDP, which is one of the highest (proportionally) in the EU but not by much. UK and France spend 2.2%, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands spend 1.2-1.4%, Ireland spends 0.5%- to give an idea of the range. Incidentally, the US figure is 3.8% and NATO asks its members to spend 2%.

      Cutting defence spending is not as simple as it sounds, though. For one thing, Greece buys a lot of military equipment from Germany (for example, G3 rifles, Leopard tanks and Type 214 submarines) and the German government has not allowed them to cancel these deals.

      • Thank you for the information.

        If Greece knocked a percentage point or so off its military budget (if it could), it would help, but would it help very much?

        • Salem says:

          If they cut military spending by 1% of GDP, it would make a big change to the fiscal solvency of the Greek state, yes. They would immediately easily exceed even the toughest targets set by the troika. However, if they then turned around and used the money to pay off public sector employees, then it wouldn’t help at all.

    • Jadagul says:

      From what I understand, glass is pretty much ultraviolet-opaque, so your window isn’t letting in ultraviolet either.

    • Shenpen says:

      Glass filters UV out anyway – at least I have never heard of someone getting a tan through a window.

  6. Greg Perkins says:

    Related to Harari’s quoted assertion, about the oscillation between war being capital-intensive vs. labor-intensive, Daniel Suarez made a really salient argument in pursuit of a sane strategy for limiting lethal autonomy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mn7A1hiTmpE

    • Doug S. says:

      Related: The Age of the Gun by Noah Smith.

      The tl;dr version:

      Rulers need the support of the army to maintain power. A long time ago, only trained professionals could be an effective army – it took a lifetime to become an effective horse archer or whatever, and your average farmer couldn’t do jack shit against well-organized, skilled professionals, so someone like Alexander the Great only cared about what his soldiers thought and could repress the peasants all he wanted.

      Guns revolutionized warfare because anyone could learn to be an effective gun-wielding soldier in a few months of training, and guns were cheap enough that everyone could have one. Wars were fought and won by citizen armies, and rulers had to have at least the acquiescence of the general population, because a bunch of angry poor people with guns can cause a hell of a lot of trouble for even a well-equipped professional army.

      In the future, fully autonomous weapons could change this. Robot armies don’t have to be kept happy; a dictator with a robot army and robot laborers wouldn’t need people’s goodwill for much of anything. Want that beachfront property? Just send the robots to shoo out the peasants infesting it and take it. They’ll only need other people as pets…

      • thirqual says:

        People have been pointing at this since 1871 and the bloody crushing of the Paris Commune. Mostly they have been ignored because the Soviets won, but the relevance of citizen armies has been falling for a long time, and reducing this to a gun vs drone feels… opportunistic and overly adapted to today’s political debates.

      • cassander says:

        Except guns made war more capital intensive and made armies more professionalized, not less. Mass gunpowder armies were a product of the late 19th century, not the 16th, when the industrial revolution made them affordable and logistically feasible.

        • Shenpen says:

          >Except guns made war more capital intensive

          The per soldier capital investment went down, it is the total that went up.

      • AR+ says:

        A lesser version of this trend got started with the crossbow. As for the past century, though, this isn’t really a question of the tech so much as of will. If you’re not willing to just mow down masses of (possibly unarmed) people with machine guns than the fact that you have machine guns doesn’t really matter; anybody can just walk right over and conquer your land. That’s basically how the Spanish Sahara was lost and why Rhodesia was lost despite providing very ample evidence that well trained and committed experts can still make mince-meat out of amateurs if they’re allowed to.

        • CJB says:

          Yup. It’s the reason why, say, ISIS is so effective. Curtis LeMay would straighten ISIS out using nothing but B-25s. Patton could lay them in a week with Shermans. Rommel would be insulted that you’re wasting his time this way.

          The problem is that every single one of those guys would get about 1/100th of the way into the job before being sent to prison for war crimes.

          The reason ISIS is winning, and the reason Palestine is winning, is that when you show a picture of a dead Palestinian baby to the audience of the US or Israel, they react with horror. When you show a dead Jewish baby to the audience of ISIS, they go “good job!” and pat you on the back.

          I personally think the next stage in war is one of the big powers going “You know….we really don’t care what the French think of our moral actions right now” doing the calculations, and then calmly leveling a square mile of city and doing just what ISIS does. Put it on the news. “Here’s what we do.”

          Moral warfare depends on people all over the world giving a shit what happens to you, and a lot of global hotspots have burned through most of their goodwill.

          • ddreytes says:

            You’re right that trying to mix morality and warfare is difficult, but I don’t think, for the most part, that it’s a problem of international opinion. It’s a problem of domestic opinion, particularly in democratic states.

            That is to say, the reason that the US is unwilling to be brutal in its conduct of wars is not because France or Germany would disapprove. Nuts to Germany. It’s because the American electorate would disapprove, and politicians have a huge incentive to care about the opinions of the electorate. Even if those opinions are self-contradictory, and demand that you do something about a situation while simultaneously demanding you not use any methods that are actually effective.

            How to conduct a war in a democratic state whose people have access to a free press and whose people disapprove of war crimes is actually a really difficult problem. I agree that leveling city blocks or whatever would probably be very effective. But the problem is finding a way to make it acceptable to voters in whichever country. Not telling France or wherever to go to blazes.

          • Anthony says:

            The Economist keeps banging on about how awful the Sri Lankan government’s final offensive against the Tamil Tigers was, and how it’s poisoning politics in the country, but nothing they’ve reported seems any worse than what the western Allies did to Germany in 1945-46.

          • Fazathra says:

            I don’t think, for the most part, that it’s a problem of international opinion. It’s a problem of domestic opinion, particularly in democratic states.

            I don’t think it’s democracy per se that is the problem. Both the first and second world war were fought with democracies as significant belligerents. The US also fought a brutal but relatively successful counter-insurgency war in the Philippines at the turn of the century. I agree with CJB, the problem is that people have become much more pacifist and atrocity-averse than before.

          • ddreytes says:

            Fazathra – well, one, that wasn’t really what I took CJB to be arguing. So my point was just that it’s a problem of internal political dynamics and not of international approval, not so much trying to pin down exactly where those political dynamics come from. But fair enough.

            Two, I do think it’s legitimately difficult to tease out to what extent people are more pacifist, and to what extent people simply have much better access to news about atrocities. I think there’s a lot more news coverage and attention paid to everything, including atrocities. I think the press is more free to report on these things than they used to be. And I think it’s possible that being able to see photographs and images of things leads to a more visceral reaction from the public.

            I do accept that talking about democracies as such being opposed to brutal use of force is far too simple.

          • Lorxus says:

            I’m terribly sorry, but all I can read there is “Why aren’t we selling our souls to Moloch faster? We could be making so much more foreign policy headway if we just sacrificed all the babies!”

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @Lorxus: At the very least, you should take it as an admonition against starting a war you are not prepared to win. From Scott Alexander’s “Reactionary Philosophy in an Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell”:

            Leaving Iraq alone completely would have been a reasonable humanitarian choice. Using utterly overwhelming force to pacify Iraq by any means necessary would have briefly been very ugly, but our enemies would have folded quickly and with a few assumptions this could also have been a reasonable humanitarian choice. But a wishy-washy half-hearted attempt to pacify Iraq that left the country in a state of low-grade poorly-defined war for nearly a decade was neither reasonable nor humanitarian.

            But it goes further than that. Sometimes you don’t have a choice about starting a war. Sometimes you get attacked. Sometimes you just have to sacrifice a few babies to Moloch. Because if you don’t, Gnon will get angry, and Gnon will destroy you. See Eliezer Yudkowsky’s “Bayesians vs. Barbarians.”

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          The halberd was also a significant weapon, allowing moderately trained footsoldiers to take on cavalry.

      • Gbdub says:

        Dictators with robot armies could be a problem, but only until robots become as cheap and easy to obtain as guns. And given the pace of technology and the current geopolitical landscape, I suspect the time period between “prospective dictator can afford robots” and “dictator’s opponents can afford robots” will be pretty short or nonexistent.

        • Peter says:

          I think the difference between guns and robots, is that you need lots of men (well, not always men as such, see for example the 1st Russian Women’s Battalion of Death) to make your guns useful, whereas with robots, if you’ve got twice the money, you can (I think) have an army twice the size.

          • Gbdub says:

            Two robots is probably better than one, but potentially not nearly as better as one robot vs 0 robots. So you may find diminishing returns (compare to now, where basic, cheap tech allows asymmetrical armies to be viable).

      • Gbdub says:

        I think the Age of the Gun argument (or maybe just the summary you give) misses the point of what made Greek armies so successful – it wasn’t professionalism as much as standardization. The phalanx (and Roman legion) used standardized technology and tactics as a force multiplier, rendering individual soldier skill less critical.

        But most of the Greeks that defeated the Persians at Marathon and Plataea weren’t professionals. They were citizen-soldiers with only militia level training.

        Where “professionalism” came into play was that Alexander and the Romans had the resources and willpower to maintain a standing army as opposed to a band of farmers that had to go home every harvest.

        The “guns made professional soldiers obsolete” argument works, but only in the limited case of “high middle age knight”. The other issue is that, while a guy with a gun was an effective line soldier, you still needed a professional (and until the late 19th century, aristocratic) class of officers with significant training. “Professional” soldiers were still more valuable, they just weren’t ultimate weapons anymore.

        • CJB says:

          Someone should also point out that we’ve been testing the “Citizen Army can’t take Real Army” experiment now for about 50-60 years. And frankly, the IRA, ISIS, Al-Queda, Palestinians, Chechens and, of course, Vietcong are proof that they can take bigger professional armies quite successfully.

          • Gbdub says:

            For a certain definition of “take”, limited to “not be summarily whipped”. All those you groups you mention do get beaten badly anytime they attempt something approaching a major military operation against a first-rate professional army. Even in their standard operations they suffer disproportianate casualties.

            Their success has more to do with politics – we’re more averse to engaging in scorched earth total warfare, and they are less concerned with casualties (both their own and civilian). They can’t “win” against a real army, but they can make life really unpleasant, sometimes enough to outlast the political will of the real army.

          • Anonymous says:

            Gbdub: That’s what real-world warfare is.

          • Gbdub says:

            Anonymous: true, but this sub thread was talking about military technology, and to what extent the gun “democratized” warfare.

            My point is that professional armies are still much more effective than untrained mobs, even with relatively powerful modern arms, at military operations. If you’re actually fighting, warrior for warrior, the professionals will almost always win.

            So politics and information have become powerful and democratic weapons of “war” in the geopolitical sense, allowing asymmetric insurgency to be a viable strategy. But that’s a bit different from saying that an untrained army has parity with a professional one because modern arms take skill out of the equation, which was the original prompt for this subthread.

          • Anonymous says:

            My mistake. Thanks for explaining.

  7. creative username #1138 says:

    A cheaper alternative to the magic service for social phobics would be just ordering the pizzas online. Are there that many pizza joints left that don’t offer some sort of way to order online?

    • nydwracu says:

      I don’t know about pizza, but a lot of Chinese food places I’ve seen don’t even have websites.

      • Deiseach says:

        Are we ahead of the curve here in Ireland with JustEat?

        Though I’m a tiny bit amused by Scott’s terrified tones talking about warfarin, since we’re still using that in Ireland (yes, the stuff they put in rat poison) up to this date. I’ve never even heard of rivaroxaban; my brother was put on a course of warfarin two years ago for atrial fibrillation and when I was being checked out three years ago for ‘mysterious lung pains is it fluid doctors differ over interpretation of x-rays is it possible clots’, I got the good old ‘injection of warfarin in the stomach’ which left me with lovely bruising but thankfully no other ill affects (no idea if it did anything for my lung pains, and neither had the doctors) 🙂

        • Mary says:

          Still using it in America.

          My father even says that he takes rat poison. (His biggest problem is that you need to keep your Vitamin K intake stable.)

          • Deiseach says:

            Yes, that was the fun part of warfarin for my brother – all the advice about healthy eating is “Eat more leafy green vegetables” EXCEPT if you’re on warfarin, which then changes to “This will kill you stone dead!” 🙂

          • Mary says:

            No, no, no — eat your leafy green vegetables EVERY DAY in the SAME AMOUNT.

            My mother finds it kinda limiting even though the vitamin K rich vegetables were regular dishes before.

        • Kyle Strand says:

          We have OrderUp, but it’s only in 37 cities across 20-some states. It’s growing, but I think that indicates the answer to your “ahead of the curve” question is “yes, slightly.” Fortunately, I live in a city with OrderUp. Booyah.

        • Airgap says:

          I’m a tiny bit amused by Scott’s terrified tones talking about warfarin, since we’re still using that in Ireland

          [INSERT IRA JOKE HERE]

        • Froolow says:

          NICE have only just recommended rivaroxiban (and some other drugs in the same general class) in favour of warfarin, and parts of the health service are seriously dragging their feet over implementation. Warfarin costs about £11 a year per patient (£200 if you include increased contact with the healthcare service), while Rivaroxiban costs about £800 / patient / year. Since the most common indicator for a drug like this – atrial fibrillation – is quite common in an absolute sense (maybe 3%-6% of the population depending on demographics), people are worried it is going to bankrupt parts of the NHS.

          If the trials are right, they are wrong (it prevents so many strokes that it more than makes up for the £600 / year excess), but it is interesting that a lot of clinicians have been saying (off the record) that they don’t believe the trial result for rivaroxiban. On the other hand I’ve never heard anyone make a fuss about dabigatran or apixaban, and those are only marginally worse than rivaroxaban based on trial results.

      • Nornagest says:

        I order Chinese food through GrubHub all the time, but I don’t know how well this generalizes geographically, Bay Aryan that I am and all.

        • Dain says:

          I’m still amazed at how difficult it is to get Mexican food delivered. Catered, yes, but delivered ala pizza it’s tough.

    • caryatis says:

      Even if there’s a website, it’s annoying to find the pizza place’s website, create an account, pull out your credit card, enter your address….and repeat every time you want to try a new restaurant. I think avoiding the hassle is the value add here.

    • Foriru says:

      There is also Path Talk, which is not in closed beta, and will call specific places on your behalf via a text interface.

  8. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    RE: Rod Dreher, I was reading some early Yudkowsky (vintage 1997), and I was intrigued to see that he was already thinking about technological unemployment. “The basic problem,” he wrote, “is economies of scale. At our level of technology, it only takes a billion people working to support six billion. And then the other five billion starve, and you start over with one billion and two hundred million, until you’ve got a self-supporting community of ten million people and the six billion are dead.” He rejected basic income (which he called a “Universal Standard Wage”) as unworkable unless technology advances to the point that it only takes a few thousand people to sustain the global population, introduced and dismissed a proposal to split the world into six hundred economies of ten million each, and advocated the replacement of money with a computerized system of barter which I frankly do not understand.

    Also, I enjoyed the tumblr discussion.

    • Irrelevant says:

      The complex barter thing appears to be an attempt to solve the problem that we unevenly overproduce logistics by rate-limiting everything to the logistics of the slowest field.

      • TheAncientGeek says:

        What he calls barter isnt barter, it’s fixed pricing. Declaring a hamburger to be worth a certain number of widgets is like declaring it to be worth a fixed number of dollars.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          Thank you for pointing this out before I went to the bother of going and reading what sounded like it might be interesting.

    • AlphaCeph says:

      Why reject a basic income guarantee? It seems like the obvious solution to the problem…

      • gattsuru says:

        There are some really serious implementation issues with any serious basic income guarantee. To describe some of the more obvious ones :

        1) Public choice issues. This is the one Yudkowsky references, as “class conflict”, and it’s one of the big ones. In short, for anyone unemployed, increasing the basic income guarantee’s set point has the greatest economic value per expenditure of political capital, because that’s going to be the majority of their income. For anyone employed, decreasing the basic income guarantee will have large economic value, because that’s where the increasing majority of their production will go and at least some goods or services will not be post-scarcity barring indistinguishable-from-human robots at which point we’ve got bigger issues. In a democratic environment, you either have both employed and unemployed voting and the unemployed votes crowd the employed desires entirely, or you measure the employed votes more than the unemployed and you end up with people starving and civil unrest, and most other forms of government go even worse.
        Long-term concerns like the employed leaving the field at certain marginal income values, or social unrest among the unemployed, should at least give the population reason to pause first… but, uh, I’m not too hopeful.

        2) Cost. If you put all of the United State’s social spending in a giant pile, and then threw in a lot of other spending areas at the same time, and then took 90% of the 1%’s savings, and threw them into a big pile, you might be able to get something like 10k USD/year per person. This is not a viable economic setpoint in the United States, and most other countries end up with even worse results.
        There’s a paradox, here, . In theory you could just ignore the implementation problems, but this goes to ‘making a giant underclass of people starving in the streets’, along with other non-trivial issues.

        3) Psychological. (Content Warning: contains information probably not good for folk with depression or anxiety). People undergoing long-term unemployment are more likely to have bad outcomes: physical health, mental health, depression, general happiness, et all. It’s one of the very few things that breaks ‘happiness set points’, along with losing a limb. This is the case even in societies with less stigma about unemployment and with fairly generous social welfare. It doesn’t happy to everyone and it’s not clear why this happens — I’ve got a pet theory about time schedules, required social interaction with folk outside of your in-group, and limited social technology — but having experienced this personally it’s a huge issue.
        This isn’t to say we should require folk have endless drudge work and calculate the minimum necessary time-off between shifts digging and filling ditches. It’s quite possible that there are other solutions than labour entirely (gameification a la Friendship is Optimal?), and even if there’s no good alternative society should aim for the least amount of make-work necessary and that may well only be a few hours a week. But it’s something you need to consider, seriously.

        4) International concerns. How do you handle immigration? What about countries that already import a sizable portion or even majority of food and other necessities?

        • Anonymous says:

          3) I wonder how this would play out under BIG. If I’m unemployed and suddenly have some bare minimum of income, I then don’t have to worry about finding immediate, full time employment. This would let me feel OK about, say, selling my services informally, which could potentially ramp up to sufficient self-employment or, if I get noticed, a job.

          Under BIG, maybe the employed/unemployed distinction will be less stark. (I say this as a part-to-full-time freelancer.)

        • Sniffnoy says:

          So for (1), then, the problem is reducing how much you can actually change it per unit of political capital. Picking a good starting point and having it grow at an appropriate rate (would having a growing UBI cause serious problems? I’m not familiar). Enabling people to say “We’ve already had this debate, and anyway it is growing, it’s not like it’s a static number.”

          I’m not sure how workable that really is, though.

          • gattsuru says:

            Unfortunately, the very act of enforcing current promises on the future is a really hard. This is especially true in places like Greece, but even the United State and the EU’s relatively static underlying infrastructures are prone to it. There’s actually a lot of public choice theory devoted to trying to solve this problem, and not generally doing very well at it.

            ((In practice, you’d probably /want/ it to grow a little, since there are advantages to minor inflation. The issue is that you’d probably assign this to some regulatory administration, and then we have the precise sort of arguments and attempt to capture that administration seen in modern welfare indexing.))

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          People undergoing long-term unemployment are more likely to have bad outcomes: physical health, mental health, depression, general happiness, et all.

          Lack of income can do that, yes.

          Comparing people who are voluntarily volunteering at some project they chose and are free to leave any time, would probably find some increased cheerfulness, at least while with their chosen people at their chosen project.

          But amount of regulation red tape around those choices, would prove inversely proportional to that cheerfulness.

          And forced obvious make-work? At imposed hours, with people you may not like, who are there as supervisors to keep you from slacking on the make-work?

          Luckily, only the first group (voluntary volunteers) are actually existant at present, I hope.

          • Deiseach says:

            Luckily, only the first group (voluntary volunteers) are actually existant at present, I hope.

            Community Employment schemes, JobBridge, GateWay and the like here in Ireland. Something like a cross between “workfare” and training schemes.

            Ostensible aim: giving people work experience, opportunity to learn skills, reduce the ill-effects associated with unemployment and benefit local communities, leading to real jobs.

            Real aims: get the live register figures down so it looks like unemployment is falling, and provide ‘free labour’ to organisations that rely heavily on volunteers or work that would not get done because they’ve already cut employees, e.g. the outdoor work for the councils on landscaping or control of animals. That means fully-employed dog warden job is gone, but amateur paid social welfare temporary dog warden does the work instead.

            It’s free labour and make-work and it’s not leading to real jobs just yet (the construction industry is starting to pick up, so here comes another housing bubble to grow employment!)

          • gattsuru says:

            Lack of income can do that, yes.

            The effect is present in countries with more generous unemployment insurance schema than any seriously proposed basic income guarantee, and even shows up among retired individuals. It’s /not/ present in volunteers, as you point toward them, even when the other conditions of the volunteer work are generally terrible. But volunteer work isn’t viable for everyone and undergoes the same efficiency improvements present in the rest of society and has separate issues. (As Deiseach says, a lot of it is effectively forced labour, either legally as in their examples, or to religious bodies, for one of the biggest issues.) It’s also not clear that the attributes that prevent this issue from arising among volunteers and interns can be propagated to the general populace.

            This may be a solvable problem, but it’s a serious problem, and many of the obvious solutions are very, very bad.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            I have been unemployed since December. Fortunately, I recieved severance pay and had some savings. Money has not been an issue and won’t be for at least a few more months.

            If this is what unemployment is like when you don’t have to worry about money, I don’t understand how the suicide rate during the Great Recession did not skyrocket.

            I don’t like being unemployed. I have not been unemployed at anything since I was 18 years old. (I’m 44.) The feeling of disconnection, of being “on hold” and not doing something useful, is very trying.

            Now, if you were to tell me, “Tell you what, we’ll cover your bills and your daughter’s care for the rest of her life. Don’t sweat it,’ I might feel differently. But I suspect what I’d do is try to learn something else to do. I would like to be useful. Not being useful is very irritating.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            But I suspect what I’d do is try to learn something else to do. I would like to be useful. Not being useful is very irritating.

            You wouldn’t have much spare time or energy to find and train for something you’d like to do, if you were subject to a make-work regime. Being kept busy with something not really useful, would be worse than irritating.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            You’d think so, but then I’m an attorney, so some people might say that being kept busy doing things that aren’t really useful is part of the job description.

            😉 Couldn’t resist.

        • CJB says:

          The best argument against it is this:

          We don’t need people that follow their fucking dreams.

          (extremely harsh thing to say to an American, btw)

          Oh, we need some of those. People that want to be doctors bad enough to do 12 years of incredibly intensive study? Sure. Same for engineers.

          But that is, relatively rarely, what people mean when they say “I want to follow my dreams.” The people that are willing to work 12 extra years are already following their dreams, and have been since high school.

          What most people mean is “I’m a gonna write that novel!” or “I’m going to knit kitten shaped pot holders!”

          Which- hey. the world needs novelists too.

          The world needs a lot more toilet cleaners.

          And yes, robots, singularity, robot economy.

          I think, given the nature of history, radical change is likely to create more jobs than it destroys. For every job destroyed by the car, it’s spawned another INDUSTRY by now.

          But life being what it is, a lot of those jobs will still be drudgery. The iScrub(Toilets) is going to be expensive, complex, and probably have planned obsolescence, and for Joe’s Motel, probably more expensive than a maid that can also stock the breakfast bar and point guests to the pool.

          (“The Diamond Age” comes to mind. Stephenson does a pretty good job of thinking about what post-nanotech life and jobs might be like.)

          • Tom Womack says:

            The world needs almost no toilet-scrubbers; dirty toilets look slightly unappealing, but are not a serious health issue, and enough people are conscientious and like cleanliness that leaving a brush by the toilet will cause it to be adequately clean most of the time.

            Having the founder wander round for five minutes one evening every few months and ensure there is still a brush in the toilet would do.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            But life being what it is, a lot of those jobs will still be drudgery. The iScrub(Toilets) is going to be expensive, complex, and probably have planned obsolescence, and for Joe’s Motel, probably more expensive than a maid that can also stock the breakfast bar and point guests to the pool.

            No matter how good and affordable the iScrub is, the more maids and bell-hops around, the happier the customers will be.

            I suppose this might change in the future, but as of now, the more complex consumer devices get, the more need for some humans to help other humans use them. The helpers don’t need to be experts on everything, just a few devices each.

            Even with lower tech jobs — and this may be more an economic thing — there’s hardly anything I need where the sales person or service person is not very very hurried. It’s not just the doctors who are kept at a trot, but their office staff too. At the grocery, as soon as the checkout lines get down to about 4 people each — one of the checkstands closes. This may be due to employers’ policies — but it’s a pinch we can all feel; the need for relaxed service is there, if enough customers had enough money to support relaxed establishments.

            Your one billion rich earners, will also be able to afford more and more live-in secretaries, nannies, cooks, etc. Self employed people will have many more customers who can afford them — including artists, dressmakers, etc. Henry Higgins at Downton Abbey.

            There’s no reason to assume an oppressed or stupid ‘servant class’. With plenty of money, employers can get better service from better fed and educated and happier workers.

        • Anthony says:

          Morgan Warstler (who seems a little crankish otherwise) had a proposal for a basic income tied to work: Guaranteed Income & Choose Your Boss (the market based safety-net).

          I haven’t tried poking lots of holes in his idea, but it does seem to solve the psychological problem of welfare and cost about what current welfare spending costs.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It seems obvious (to me, which doesn’t make it true) that you have to have BI recipients working. I’m not spending all day doing possibly unfun things so that I can navigate people with a basic income protesting for increases in the BI in the middle of the highway.

            That makes me wonder: what kind of jobs should people not be allowed to do for their make-work livelihoods? You don’t want the barely employed people calling the people who are working all day to sell them stuff, or going door-to-door for anything. You don’t want every street corner to become filled with human sandwich-boards. It seems like the rule is that the heavily subsidized jobs cannot involve attempts to steal people’s attention. Which makes me wonder what becomes of those industries.

          • gattsuru says:

            It seems obvious (to me, which doesn’t make it true) that you have to have BI recipients working. I’m not spending all day doing possibly unfun things so that I can navigate people with a basic income protesting for increases in the BI in the middle of the highway.

            You may want to reconsider that. For one, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be in the increasingly small minority with useful labour to offer, in our hypothetical future world — especially as advancing technology has made it increasingly difficult to predict which fields will resist automation. Call it universability, call it veil of ignorance, but this is a /particularly/ good place to image yourself on either side of the debate.

            One of the constraints that make this such a hard problem is that you should care for both those with valued labour and those without. You are right, that you should not be made to do unfun work while others make your life miserable on the profits of your labours — both from a moralistic viewpoint and a pragmatic one. But don’t leap to the first answer that comes to mind, especially not when the answer is such a restricted one. There are far better ways to attack ‘unfun’ and ‘steal people’s attention’.

            At a deeper level, if you expect automation to eventually get rid of all or almost all labour, there are also big advantages to establishing a social norm where those without labour have better quality of life.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            You don’t need to insinuate I’m imaging myself as a nobleman — the threats to a system of working matter either way.

            We do need a system that lets people with less valuable skills survive. That’s why my preferred method is to subsidize wages. Everyone can find work for $2/hour.

        • Tracy W says:

          All I’ve seen is that the fundamental problem is (2). All proposals for a UBI involve either very low per person income, or very high average tax rates, or both (depending on your definition of “low” and “high”).

          All the advocates of UBI I know of seem to fall into 1 of 3 camps:
          – People who ignore the arithmetic
          – People who hand-wave around the arithmetic (eg see Ed Dolan)
          – Charles Murray, who embraces the very-low-income branch.

          (There is a logical fourth camp of people who embrace the high tax bit, I just haven’t come across any open advocates of that camp. This may reflect my reading habits. )

          • Marc Whipple says:

            I would put The Last Psychiatrist in that third group. Their essay on how SSDI constitutes a back-door basic income is quite thought-provoking. If you haven’t read it… you can’t, because they took it down. However, you can read an archived copy in various places. The name of the essay is “The Terrible Awful Truth about SSI.”

          • Anonymous says:

            One place to read that essay the archive. You can also read the 25% shorter first draft at metafilter.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          >For anyone employed, decreasing the basic income guarantee will have large economic value, because that’s where the increasing majority of their production goes

          Beat in mind that the employed get the BI too, so increases may work out zero sum for them,

          • gattsuru says:

            Beat in mind that the employed get the BI too, so increases may work out zero sum for them,

            I don’t think the math works out like that, at least for any large portion of people. Even if you fund through inflation, anyone with significant amounts of dollar savings end up losing out. If you fund through taxation, at six beneficiaries per each funding agent, with even a moderate minimum wage it’s quite possible no one would break-even.

          • RCF says:

            If increases benefit some people, then someone must be losing out. That’s just basic logic.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            But the one to five ratio isnt that realistic either.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          3. It’s less disutilitous where it’s less stigmatised. Workfare tends not to work because supervising people while they work, or pretend to, is much more expensive than sending them a cheque. And it doesn’t remove the stigma, beccause everyone will know that it isnt real work.

        • RCF says:

          We are discussing UBI in the context of a hypothetical world in which one billion people can produce enough to support six billion people, and the extra five billion people are supposedly starving. All of your argument are irrelevant to that situation.

          1. Public choice
          So, five billion people are going to starve to death just to avoid a public choice problem? If we’re living in a democracy, they’ll just vote to seize enough food to feed themselves.
          2. Cost
          We’re considering a hypothetical world in which one billion people can produce enough to support six billion people. Whether it’s practical in the current world is irrelevant.
          3. Psychological
          People are going to starve to death rather than risk depression?

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            If we’re living in a democracy, they’ll just vote to seize enough food to feed themselves.

            Did you even read the Rod Dreher interview? The argument is that humans derive political power from their economic and military power, both of which are threatened in the face of increasing automation and economic efficiency. In such a situation, democracy might well rapidly become obsolete as a method of deriving sovereignty.

            You can think of voting as a simulated civil war. Both sides count up their armies and agree that the guy with the most men wins, because that’s probably how it would play out if you gave each of those men a gun and told them to fight it out. The loser agrees not to escalate because a real civil war would cause a lot of damage, because if he loses a real civil war he could easily be killed, and because he can simply try his luck again four years later. It’s all nice and positive-sum for both the elites and the masses involved. But there’s not much of a reason to stick to it when it is no longer true that the number of men you can mobilize is a decisive factor in whether you win or lose a military confrontation.

          • gattsuru says:

            There are options other than “do naive UBI” and “do nothing, five billion people starve”. Indeed, a large part of the point for issues one and two is that you /can’t/ do naive UBI, but instead will inevitably get something far less desirable. Several of these failure modes result in megadeaths, optimistically.

            If the political problems are not confronted, you invite riots or civil war or indentured servitude, all problems that have not historically gone well for American society nor many other countries. Democracy lasts only as long as it remains militarily and economically viable — and it’s only the first hostage bad planning holds. If the cost problems are not evaluated, even as you have the resources to make food the entire signalling system to plan and distribute it vanishes in a puff of hyperinflation. We already lose enough food to feed the globe to signalling problems well before we make that worse. If the psychological problems aren’t examined, folk won’t starve, but you may well cut >3% off of the entire future human prosperity (40% for major depressive disorder, moderate episode, times ~9% for long-term unemployment, caveat that disability weights are not a great number) and implemented a giant inter-generational class system, for what may well have been a trivial matter to fix. Not just a perfect-as-enemy-of-the-good, but simple-fix-as-enemy-of-the-worst-minimum.

            UBI may well end up being necessary!

            But even (especially) Necessary things can have failure modes, and this isn’t likely to be the first one that doesn’t.

    • ” it only takes a billion people working to support six billion. And then the other five billion starve,”

      Not if the 1 billion are supporting them, or did the meaning of support change over course of the sentence?

      • Daniel Armak says:

        The 1 billion can produce enough e.g. food for all 6 billion. But they still need to be paid for the food. If the other 5 billion don’t have money to pay them, they starve, while the 1 billion are underemployed (and also starve) or food spoils on the shelves (if food production is subsidized).

        Today the other 5 billion have various jobs so they can pay for food. But if all those jobs are automated away, if only 1 billion people have paying jobs – not just in food production but in all of industry – then the other 5 billion starve. Unless the government gives everyone a basic income guarantee, or buys all the food from the 1 billion and distributes it, or solves the problem in some other way.

        • Nonnamous says:

          Even today non-productive people don’t starve in first world countries. Unlike in your scenario, right now the non-productive people are a minority of the voters, and yet the voters decide to provide them with a pretty good standard of living (comparing with most of the rest of the world, or with the past). Why would this change when the non-productive people become the majority of voters?

          Also, in reality missing production jobs are replaced by service jobs. For some reason people are willing to pay to have other people perform various services for them; I don’t know why, I’m personally happy to buy coffee from a coffee machine; but most people prefer Starbucks. As more and more people are not needed at factories, more services are invented.

          But let’s forget all that. Let’s accept your premise that the one billion productive people will seal themselves off and refuse to feed or to employ the other five billion. What would stop the five billion from forming a parallel economy, producing and trading goods between themselves, not interacting with the one billion who want nothing to do with them?

          • Jaskologist says:

            The parallel economy thing is an important point. What is stopping the 5 billion from subsistence farming, at the worst? If you can do that, you don’t starve. And pretty soon, you’re building up a proper economy again.

          • thirqual says:

            In The Gates of Occident, Pierre Bordage (French SF author) described a world with careful weather control in North America and Western Europe for optimal food production and (more importantly) optimal enjoyment of the inhabitants of those regions.

            The consequence, of course, because that’s how Bordage rolls, was that the weather in most of the rest of the world was hopelessly fucked up, severely limiting intensive food production (most importantly, no conditions stable enough that it is possible to invest in the necessary infrastructure needed).

            (added bonus in those books: some people from the not-western world are admitted in to take part in blood games. Said blood games are instrumental in how power is shared between an English-speaking faction and a French-speaking faction)

            With the amount of high-quality stuff Bordage wrote and the fascination for YA stuff, I really don’t get why his stuff is still not translated in English — it’s already published in German, Russian, Spanish, Italian and Mandarin Chinese.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @Jaskologist: How’s that parallel economy thing working out for Sub-Saharan Africa?

          • Irrelevant says:

            Eh, kinda OK? They’re at 4% annual growth iirc.

          • Peter says:

            Jaskologist: Land, and land ownership.

            Also, some places, like the UK, have pretty high population densities and I don’t see British soil supporting 70 million or so subsistence farmers. Yes, I know, we could have mass migrations.

            You can only have a parallel economy if your five billion own their means of production.

          • RCF says:

            @jaimeastorga2000
            “@Jaskologist: How’s that parallel economy thing working out for Sub-Saharan Africa?”

            How is one example of a parallel economy with poor standard of living an argument? If we were living in Sub-Saharan Africa, then the US would be a “parallel economy” to us, and it’s doing rather well.

        • Still not getting it. The 1 billion dont want the 5 billion as customers, don’t mind having them on their conscience, and don’t mind downscaling their productive capacity once their all dead?

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            The 1 billion dont want the 5 billion as customers

            No, because the 5 billion don’t have anything to pay with. Their labor is obsolete, and they don’t own anything of value. And if you are thinking of that old wives’ tale in which paying people more money makes sense because then they will buy your products, please see Kenneth DeMonn below for an explanation of why this is economic nonsense.

            don’t mind having them on their conscience

            Yes, because we all know how great charity works.

            and don’t mind downscaling their productive capacity once their all dead?

            According to the scenario, in a world with one billion people instead of six billion, it only takes two hundred million to support the world. So now it is the remaining eight hundred million who are economically useless who starve, and so on until the economies of scale (which are decreasing because the population is shrinking) decay to the point where it takes every person in the world (ten million) to support every person in the world, at which point the situation stabilizes.

          • John Schilling says:

            According to the scenario, in a world with one billion people instead of six billion, it only takes two hundred million to support the world. So now it is the remaining eight hundred million who are economically useless

            This implies rigid, binary definitions of “support” and “useless” that do not seem to correspond to actual human behavior. The eight hundred million are the people who were just busy doing not-yet-automated jobs providing “support” for the five billion. So they can presumably A: support themselves and B: do useful stuff for the two hundred million one step above them. Stuff that didn’t used to be folded into “support” because the world wasn’t generally rich enough to afford it when it had five billion mouths to feed but which now looks like it might be kind of neat for everyone to have.

            People who cannot do anything that machines can’t do better and cheaper, are in an economically precarious position. People who can do things that machines can’t, are in a much stronger position even if the last thing they happened to be doing was providing the particular goods and services consumed by the people we are hypothetically allowing to starve. Steel and steam and gasoline reduced the US horse population by ~70% between 1914 and 1950, but the US still found work for ~70 million mostly low-skilled human immigrants over the same period. If the information revolution puts unskilled humans in the same category as draft animals, that’s a big problem – but it doesn’t lead to an exponential decline in the economically useful human population, just a one-off “cull”

          • Civilis says:

            The scenario postulates that the hypothetical producers produce 5 times what they consume, while the consumers produce nothing.
            This has the side effect of making additional labor virtually infinitely cheap; as long as they get something, there’s no reason for me not to find something for me to spend my excess goods on.

            First logical step: As a producer, I would be better off working half as much and producing 2.5 goods with half the time; I still get enough goods, and I have more time. My time is a commodity, one the scenario’s logic doesn’t take into account.

            Second logical step: As a consumer that is not otherwise getting goods, I would be better off volunteering to take the remaining half producer space. As long as I produce more than 1 good (one for myself) and give the rest to the producer, the producer is also better off. Even if I can’t produce as much, we’re both better off, he still has his good and extra time, and I now have traded some of my time for a good.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            Thanks, Civilis.

            This isnt just the correct reasoning, it is what we are seeing happening,

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            @Jamie

            “which paying people more money makes sense because then they will buy your products, please see Kenneth DeMonn below for an explanation of why this is economic nonsense.”

            It makes political sense. People vote for welfare to avoid starvation, not to improve the economy.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            It makes political sense. People vote for welfare to avoid starvation, not to improve the economy.

            You said “as customers,” and that was the part I was replying to. Obviously, welfare is great for vote buying.

        • Anthony says:

          Only an unmarried childless person would think that with one selfish worker and five non-workers that all five of the non-workers would be left to starve.

          • RCF says:

            An unmarried, childless, friendless, orphaned only child.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Yes, because all the jobs are going to be spread evenly such that each family has a fully employed breadwinner to support them. After all, it’s not like intelligence runs in families or anything.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Not if the 1 billion are supporting them, or did the meaning of support change over course of the sentence?

        The five billion don’t have jobs, so they don’t have anything to trade to the useful one billion, so they starve.

        • Mark says:

          So… why would the one billion produce more than they need to support themselves? Presumably they would stop working once they had made enough for their own needs and then the capital would be free for the “useless” (slightly less productive?) to use for their own needs…

        • Jiro says:

          In that case, why don’t the five billion just form an economy among themselves? Just because they don’t have anything the 1 billion would want doesn’t mean that they don’t have things that *each other* would want. Basically, the effect is the same as if the top 1 billion were just airlifted to another planet, along with all their economy of scale. If you did that, the remaining 5 billion would grow food, form an economy, and trade among themselves.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Like I said above, it seems like Sub-Saharan Africa is in the parallel economy situation right now. Look at them and tell me if that seems like an acceptable future.

            The second problem is that even if the parallel economy thing works out, all that happens is that you once again get a tiny number of productive people being able to supply everyone else. So you need a large enough number of parallel economies that everyone is self-sustaining (assumed in the scenario to be six hundred).

            The third problem is that there aren’t enough resources to support that many economies. The first economy gets all the best resources, then the second, and you run out of usable stuff long before all six billion humans are taken care of.

          • Rowan says:

            As was mentioned when a parallel economy came up elsewhere in the thread, land ownership is a problem. If the 1 billion may as well have been airlifted to another planet, they took all the farms and factories with them, and things look grim for anyone stuck on what’s left of Earth.

          • Nonnamous says:

            Land isn’t the limiting factor of economic productivity even today.

          • RCF says:

            “The third problem is that there aren’t enough resources to support that many economies. The first economy gets all the best resources, then the second, and you run out of usable stuff long before all six billion humans are taken care of.”

            Talk about burying the lede! If the entirety of the earth’s resources are concentrated among one billion people, and those people aren’t willing to share, then yes, the other five billion will starve. But that’s because the other five billion people don’t have any resources. This “they can produce enough for themselves” malarky is just a bunch of irrelevant obfuscation. Your entire scenario is based on a premise that you fail state until challenged, and then only deeply down in your argument. I mean, What the fucking hell?

            Moreover, if this one billion has enough resources to support themselves, then once the other five billion die off, there’s no reason for the process to iterate, because, by assumption, the remaining one billion have enough resources to support themselves. This just doesn’t make any sense.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Talk about burying the lede! If the entirety of the earth’s resources are concentrated among one billion people, and those people aren’t willing to share, then yes, the other five billion will starve. But that’s because the other five billion people don’t have any resources. This “they can produce enough for themselves” malarky is just a bunch of irrelevant obfuscation. Your entire scenario is based on a premise that you fail state until challenged, and then only deeply down in your argument. I mean, What the fucking hell?

            Are you fucking kidding me? Humans don’t spontangeous share resources with complete strangers by default. I would have thought that was obvious, but apparently you want me to explicitly enumerate even the most basic and commmonsensical of my assumptions. For the record, I am also taking as a given that A is A.

            The world’s resources have been controlled by a small minority since the advent of agriculture, but the vast majority of people could produce wealth by working, which formed the basis of positive-sum trade between themselves and the resource holders. If the labor of billions of people becomes economically worthless, the resource holders no longer have a reason to trade with them, but only with the economically productive one billion.

            Moreover, if this one billion has enough resources to support themselves, then once the other five billion die off, there’s no reason for the process to iterate, because, by assumption, the remaining one billion have enough resources to support themselves. This just doesn’t make any sense.

            Based on this and other comments, you seem to believe that simply having enough resources present on the planet is enough to magically ensure that nobody wants for anything. This is economic nonsense.

          • RCF says:

            @jaimeastorga2000

            “I would have thought that was obvious, but apparently you want me to explicitly enumerate even the most basic and commmonsensical of my assumptions.”

            Now you’re just blatantly strawmanning. The issue is that resources are concentrated, and they’re not willing to share. It is entirely reasonable to expect you to clarify what sort of scenario parameters you are imagining, and the distribution of resources is a crucial issue that you did not include.

            “The world’s resources have been controlled by a small minority since the advent of agriculture”

            That depends on how one analyzes it.

            Even if I grant the premise that there is a small minority that controls the vast majority of resources, your entire hypothetical comes to an erroneous conclusion. It claims that the limiting factor for the die-off would be that economies of scale would disappear until the population is so low that everyone is needed to produce enough food. But the limiting factor is instead that everyone in the small minority, plus whoever they care about, would survive. And I find it extremely unlikely that that would amount to less than ten million people.

            You claim that the issue I am identifying is so obvious that it needs not be stated. But if it’s so obvious, why did you reach a conclusion that blatantly contradicts it?

            “If the labor of billions of people becomes economically worthless, the resource holders no longer have a reason to trade with them, but only with the economically productive one billion.”

            In this scenario, labor wouldn’t be worthless. If two billion people worked, then they could all work part-time jobs. You think people wouldn’t value being able to work half the hours? And what makes this one billion people economically productive? Do they have special skills?

            “Based on this and other comments, you seem to believe that simply having enough resources present on the planet is enough to magically ensure that nobody wants for anything.”

            I have made it quite clear that I believe no such thing.

            “This is economic nonsense.”

            What’s economic nonsense is believing that having enough food for everyone will magically cause virtually everyone to starve.

    • RCF says:

      The economy is simply the manner in which the underlying reality manifests itself. If there are six billion people, and enough food to feed one billion, then the underlying reality is that five billion people are going to starve. The economic analysis is that people are going to bid the price of food up, and poor people aren’t going to be able to feed themselves, and so they’ll starve. The economic analysis is simply presenting how the underlying reality plays out, it, itself, is not the fundamental reality.

      If one billion people are producing enough food to feed six billion people, then the fundamental reality is that there is enough food to feed everyone. There are lots of ways that can play out economically. The price of food could plummet, and so even people with nearly worthless skills can still afford to pay for food with a full-time job. There could, theoretically, be some extremely pathological phenomenon that results in people starving, but to present this as some economic destiny is, quite simply, doing economics wrong. Economics is the study of the distribution of scarce resources. If one billion people can produce enough food for six billion, then food is not scarce, and it will not be had to get.

      • malpollyon says:

        This comment reads to me as stunningly ignorant of history. You do know that there are people starving right now in situations where there exists food to feed them, right?

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        This is ridiculous. Plenty of Africans are starving right now. It’s not because there isn’t enough food in the world, it’s because they have nothing of value to trade to the world at large for their food.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          That isn’t the only reason, and in fact it isn’t even the main reason. Africa is very rich in natural resources and Africans can work as hard as anybody else.

          However, even the food which other people are giving them for free often doesn’t end up with the hungry people who can’t afford it for whatever reason. If you can’t distribute free food effectively, “we’d have more if we could afford it” may not be the first problem you need to address.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Africa is very rich in natural resources

            Which the people who are starving don’t own, and therefore can’t trade.

            Africans can work as hard as anybody else.

            And how exactly are they supposed to compete with China when the Chinese have 35 IQ points on them?

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Ah, I see. You meant individual impoverished Africans, and I thought you were referring to Africans more generally.

            In that case, I don’t see why the fact that they live in Africa is relevant.

        • Cauê says:

          ” it’s because they have nothing of value to trade to the world at large for their food.”

          Is there a rejection of the concept of comparative advantage behind this?

          • John Schilling says:

            Comparative advantage does not come with a minimum-wage guarantee. For some people even now, the greatest wage they could earn in the open market, through the optimal use of their most comparatively advantaged talents, will not suffice to cover food, clothing, and shelter. They can work hard and thus starve slower, but barring charity will still starve.

            Fortunately, real humans are charitable enough that, barring an absolute shortage of food and agricultural productivity, we rarely stand by and let people starve. Some of us will sometimes go out of our way to make other people starve, if their continued existence is politically inconvenient to us, but that’s another matter.

          • Cauê says:

            Sure, some people.

            But would you say that this ranks high as an explanation for hunger in Africa?

          • John Schilling says:

            Yes, I would. As a first-order approximation, I believe that hunger in Africa is caused by local warlords and kleptocracies insisting on wielding the power that comes from monopoly control of food distribution.

          • Cauê says:

            I’m not sure we’re disagreeing here (I agree with both of your comments, but disagree that “having nothing of value to trade” is an important factor – over, say, the depressing variety of obstacles to trade there).

  9. David Moss says:

    “if income inequality had not increased after 1973, the median household would have $9,000 more. If productivity growth had not slowed after 1973, the median household would have had $30,000 more.”

    Had inequality not increased then plausibly $9000 would plausibly go a lot further in the sense that people at the median income level wouldn’t be desperately trying to keep up with the consumption of and competing for things like schools, university places etc. with people who earn far more than they could ever earn.

    Also does anyone know a good way to improve indoor lighting without using those nanoparticle devices? I have 3 full spectrum, but blue-leaning “daylight” bulbs in the room in which I work and sometimes use a bright blue SAD light and it is still enormously inferior to daylight.

    • Lupis42 says:

      Even in 1973, competition for university spaces was growing. I’m comfortably in the ‘most higher education is signalling‘ camp, but I don’t think inequality can be called the main driver of education spending increases.
      The cost of just about everything that’s typically covered by ‘keeping up with consumption’ has been somewhere between level and falling (depending on how you adjust for hedonics, you might conclude it’s rising slightly), except for healthcare and medical care.
      It seems particularly hard to believe that any reduction in the rising cost of college (which only impacts people currently on the hook for college tuition bills) would more than triple the increased purchasing power of that 9k.

      It also seems plausible to me that, if productivity growth had continued at pre-1973 levels, the returns to non-college occupations might have increased at the same pace as the return to college occupations, improving the 30k figure by a similar amount.

      • Personal bugbear: Where signalling means “fake or tangential signalling”

        • Lupis42 says:

          In the case of education, the hypothesis is for signalling of preexisting ability and personality traits. Which is neither fake nor exactly tangential, as I read it, but it is unproductive.

          • It’s tangential compared to going for a dentistry job altered with a certificate demonstrating you know how to drill teeth,

          • lupis42 says:

            If you’re going for a job, then your ability to conform to the employer’s culture, e.g. by dealing with bureaucratic crap, or persisting at tasks that are not obviously valuable, are definitely relevant, and are signaled by your ability to make it through college (they may also be signaled by your ability to get the cert, depending on how bureaucratic and pointless the process is).

            If you’re interested in the concept, you should read Caplan directly – he’s put much more time into studying and explaining this than I have.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            I’m aware of thus usage. I just don’t like it.

      • David Moss says:

        I didn’t claim that inequality is “the main driver of education spending increases” or anything like it. Competing for university places was just one example off the top of my head of the myriad ways that, say $50,000 or $80,000 may be perfectly adequate in a condition of low inequality, but in conditions of high inequality, it could be disastrous to be on only $50,000, as opposed to $59,000 or higher. So the mere fact that only $9000 has been lost, doesn’t suffice to account for how much worse off median families are when those above them are so much more above them.

        • Lupis42 says:

          To be perfectly honest, I find this mostly confusing.

          Let’s back up a little:
          The original thesis was that the slowdown in productivity growth is more than three times as important as the increase in inequality in terms of impact on median income.

          Your thesis, as I now understand it, is that the difference between 50k and 59k under high inequality is greater than the difference between 50k and 80k under low inequality. Is that correct?

          • Irrelevant says:

            I think his thesis is that effects of income can be dramatically non-linear when you have economic gatekeeping.

          • David Moss says:

            “Your thesis, as I now understand it, is that the difference between 50k and 59k under high inequality is greater than the difference between 50k and 80k under low inequality.”

            That could be true (depending on the situation, and taking into account that different people will be differently effected) but it’s not my thesis.

            My thesis was the more general one that the difference a different amount of money makes, depends on how much money everyone else has got. So the fact that inequality reduced income by only $9000, whereas lower productivity reduced income by $9000 is uninformative (and potentially misleading) given that how much the median income is actually worth in any valuable sense, depends on how much everyone else has.

          • Cauê says:

            “(…) how much the median income is actually worth in any valuable sense, depends on how much everyone else has.”

            Assuming that “any valuable sense” includes ability to afford food, housing, leisure, etc., I’m having trouble understanding this.

            Also, inequality “reducing income” is… interesting framing.

          • lupis42 says:

            “My thesis was the more general one that the difference a different amount of money makes, depends on how much money everyone else has got.”

            The original estimates were performed in inflation adjusted dollars, so they’re as comparable as any comparison of income across hypothetical timelines. You can’t say that +9 w/ low inequality isn’t directly comparable to +30 w/ high inequality unless you claim that ineqaulity is making our measures of inflation so noisy as to be useless.

            “…given that how much the median income is actually worth in any valuable sense, depends on how much everyone else has.”

            This feels like an argument for throwing up our hands and abandoning the problem. Either we can assert that our measures of adjusting for inflation, at least approximately, work between the 1920s and the 1960s, in which case (inequality being at approximately modern levels in the 1920s) we should be able to use those same measures to compare the estimates we take for counterfactuals, or we can’t compare at all, and we have to throw up our hands and admit that we have no idea what the effect of inequality or growth are and maybe people were materially better off in the 1920s, or the 1950s, or the 1750s.

            Personally, I think the ability to adjust for inflation is good enough that we can pretty safely say that more inflation-adjusted income is better than less.

          • David Moss says:

            Cauê:
            Any valuable sense of how much the amount of income is really worth will *also* include things other than what quantity of food it can buy. If my income doubled while everyone else’s increased by 10x, it would be cold comfort to me that I could buy twice the quantity of food, or even a house twice as large, if everyone else was now living in a mansion 10x as large. And this applies even more so when you consider things like the positional goods I mentioned above. Just considering the fact that a not insignificant part of the reason why level of income matters to people is social status, shows that it matters substantially how much other people are earning (and not because how much other people earn alters the real amount of food and TV sets you can buy).

            lupis42:
            I’m not denying that they are comparable in terms of adjusting them for inflation- how much of a representative basket of consumer goods they would buy. How much good this income actually does you depends markedly on how much other people have: e.g. if the person on the median income is now buying 4, rather than 5 hours of private tuition per week for their children, it matters whether everyone else is now buying 1 hour less or 20% less, or whether other people are buying the same as ever, or whether they’re buying even more.

          • lupis42 says:

            But if they’re comparable in terms of buying amounts of a representative basket of consumer goods, then people are materially better off with the ability to buy more of that basket rather than less, right?

            “How much good this income actually does you depends markedly on how much other people have: e.g. if the person on the median income is now buying 4, rather than 5 hours of private tuition per week for their children, it matters whether everyone else is now buying 1 hour less or 20% less, or whether other people are buying the same as ever, or whether they’re buying even more.”
            Well, that really depends, doesn’t it. There are a lot of assumptions baked into this that we need to tease apart.
            In order for it to matter to someone on a median income of 50K-80K whether the people at the top are making 50M-80M or 50G-80G, they have to be competing for status through income, or through proxies for income (flashy cars, jewelry, etc). In order for that effect to swamp the material improvement from the increased access to non-status goods (food/housing/healthcare/education/entertainment/etc), competition for status through income or income proxies has to be their primary use for marginal increases in income.

            You’re heading in that direction here:
            “Just considering the fact that a not insignificant part of the reason why level of income matters to people is social status, shows that it matters substantially how much other people are earning (and not because how much other people earn alters the real amount of food and TV sets you can buy).”
            Krugman did a fairly good article on this a few years ago here, http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_dismal_science/1996/12/the_cpi_and_the_rat_race.html, and while I agree with him (and you) to a point, I remain very confident that the material welfare improvements swamp the status competition for anyone within a couple deciles of the median income.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      The main difference between natural and artificial lighting is intensity. Try more SAD lights. Or more daylight bulbs. Maybe 300?

      • David Moss says:

        That’s interesting Douglas thanks. I’m also surprised though, because it doesn’t *feel* like the SAD light is insufficiently intense. On the highest setting it feels like it is *too* intense, painfully bright, in fact, but it still doesn’t feel like daylight (and I’d guess it’s considerably more blue than daylight too).

        • Lupis42 says:

          Is the SAD light ambient or direct?

          If it’s direct, you might need to use reflection or diffusion before making it brighter.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Sorry, maybe that wasn’t relevant to you. Maybe that was a general response to the link. Most people should use much more light, but maybe you, with a lightbox, are at the point where you should worry about other things like color. But your lightbox isn’t designed to illuminate a room, so you probably don’t get enough light. Maybe the first thing to do is you position it better or get an equivalent amount in individual bulbs (20?).

          If you’re staring into a SAD lightbox for an hour, it’s plenty bright, but if you want to illuminate a room, I don’t think it’s that much. But don’t trust me, test it yourself. Face away from the lightbox at noon and turn it on. You won’t notice anything. Try a bunch of times of day. At what time of day is it comparable to sunlight? Turning it on a night is like sunlight from that time of day.

        • David Moss says:

          Thanks Lupis42 and Douglas.

          I think you may be right about the difference between direct light and ambient light that illuminates the whole room (the SAD light is certainly not insufficiently bright or blue-coloured). I have wondered whether to get the full effect of sunlight one would need the light to be hitting the eyes from all angles, rather than just a single light directly in front of the face.

    • yli says:

      Sit closer to the lights. Unless I’m missing something, doing some basic math with sphere radiuses and surface areas tells you that halving the distance between you and the light has the same effect as quadrupling the number of lights. I use single highly bright daylight bulb and do 1-2 40-minute sessions a day where it’s about 7 inches from my face. I’ve been doing this for all of 2015 and I at least feel like it’s been doing me good. This is if you’re looking for a “therapeutic” effect. If you just want to make the place look nicer, I don’t know.

    • J says:

      Our eyes have huge dynamic range, and it’s hard for us to consciously perceive light levels. So what feels bright indoors might be 10000x dimmer than bright sunlight. You could get a photographer’s light meter, but I suspect a good phone light meter app would suffice for measuring how close you are to actual sunlight.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        This, a thousand times this. Your image processing system is amazing. However, it cannot be trusted, precisely because it is so awesome. Study photography, especially available light photography, and you will learn to curse your traitorous eyes for insisting there’s plenty of light. First you will curse your camera for telling you, “It’s too dark in here, boss,” but eventually you will learn that cameras never lie. Your eyes do.

      • David Moss says:

        Thanks. Supposing that the SAD/blue lights and full spectrum light bulbs *are* less bright and/or less blue than sunlight, I guess the pertinent practical question is why being in front of the SAD lights they seem painfully ‘bright’ whereas actual sunlight doesn’t. (I don’t know whether the lights really are less bright than sunlight, but on paper, one SAD light I’ve used should be 10,000lux+)

        • Anonymous says:

          >I guess the pertinent practical question is why being in front of the SAD lights they seem painfully ‘bright’ whereas actual sunlight doesn’t.

          trying using a SAD light outside on a sunny day

        • RCF says:

          If your visual field is mainly filled with objects illuminated by artificial light, then your eyes may be calibrating on those objects, and then experiencing the SAD light as too bright.

  10. Oscar_Cunningham says:

    I suspect that perception of temperature differences is affected by what scale you use. I’m used to Celsius and I also can’t imagine needing the second digit.

    Begins with -: Cold and slippery
    Begins with 0: Cold
    Begins with 1: Normal
    Begins with 2: Like being indoors
    Begins with 3: Hot

    I don’t really see how having twice as many gradations would help, but I’m sure an American wouldn’t be able to see how I can get by with so few.

    Also, Kelvin/Celsius doesn’t really have a sensible relation to the rest of the metric system (if it did the unit would have been chosen to be a “Joule per zettabyte” or something). If America adopted all of the metric system apart from Celsius there wouldn’t be any incompatibility.

    • Justin says:

      For indoor heating, the gradient between comfortable and uncomfortable temperatures can be quite sharp; for me, 18.5C will often have my hands feel chilly, 19C is mostly comfortable wearing a sweater and socks.

      I find though Celsius is just grand for everything every-day, the close relation to water phase changes is very practical in cooking as much as outside weather conditions.

      • Good Burning Plastic says:

        For indoor heating, the gradient between comfortable and uncomfortable temperatures can be quite sharp; for me, 18.5C will often have my hands feel chilly, 19C is mostly comfortable wearing a sweater and socks.

        Same here, but for me the position of the transition depends on how active I’ve been in the past half hour or so, how much I ate in my previous meal, how much I slept the previous night, and possibly a few more things I haven’t figured out yet, so the difference between 18.5 °C and 19 °C is more or less the difference between feeling cold 30% of the time and feeling cold 20% of the time, and hence I don’t normally find the figure after the point all that useful.

    • nydwracu says:

      The temperature outside goes from somewhere near zero to somewhere near 100 in Fahrenheit, and somewhere near -25 to somewhere near 40 in Celsius. 0–100 is a better scale than -25–40, as I’ve been saying for years, you commies.

      • Anonymous says:

        But at zero degrees Celsius, something magical happens.

        • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

          Something magical happens at 0 degrees Fahrenheit, too.† Which is more magical? The question is should we really care about historic calibration points because, regardless of what points you use, you still need to know the values of the things you care about.

          For nontechnical use, historical units that where designed to be convenient to use in specific nontechnical scenarios are probably superior than trying to smash exo-Planck-masses onto your bathroom scale, or some such nonsense.

          For technical use, where you are not trying to come up with a close enough approximations by rule of thumb… It honestly doesn’t matter what unit you use.

          † Or at least it was supposed to, but it turns out that the instruments he calibrated that way were slightly off from the theoretical value. IIRC, his salt source wasn’t pure… What do you want from the 1700’s?

          • Harald K says:

            In Norway we talk about “nullføre”, which is the conditions of the roads at around zero celsius. This is a lot more dangerous than colder temperatures, because it’s the worst conditions for slipperiness.

            What do you talk about in the US? 32 degree conditions? Borderline-freezing conditions? Weather-wise, I can’t think of any temperature more important than the freezing point of water. (The second most important would probably be average human body temperature, though.)

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Yes to both of those. “It’s right around freezing, the roads are awful” is a concept most American drivers are familiar with. And the ones who aren’t, wouldn’t be improved by using the terminology “right around zero” or “right around thirty-two,” the problem isn’t terminology, it’s that they’re just stupid.

            However, while in terms of objective slipperiness right at freezing is very dangerous, in most of the US that has heavy winter weather right around zero (Farenheit) can be even more dangerous, because that’s the temperature at which salt stops being an effective ice-melter. (Weather and traffic reporters always act as if this were some interesting co-incidence, which I find funny, but they are all aware of it.) So it can be just as important to let people know it’s so cold that the roads are icing up and there’s nothing we can do about it as it is to let them know that ice may be forming in the first place.

      • Deiseach says:

        0–100 is a better scale than -25–40, as I’ve been saying for years, you commies.

        That works better for places that get extremes of temperature, you freak-climate inhabiting person!

        For normal places, where we don’t get ten feet of snow in winter (and so don’t need to go into minus figures) and desert droughts in summer (and so don’t need to hit up to the high 30s), with hurricanes and tornadoes to break up the monotony, low 10s for the cold weather and mid 20s for the warm weather work perfectly fine in Celsius 🙂

        • Good Burning Plastic says:

          That fits my intuition too.

          Do people in places in the US with reasonable weather like Celsius and people in places outside the US with crazy weather like Fahrenheit, too?

        • Mary says:

          You do realize that it’s not the precipitation or lack thereof that causes the temperature ranges?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Actually, it is. Humidity stores heat and damps temperature swings. Humidity is an extremely good predictor of day-night temperature swings. A less good, but still useful predictor of summer-winter temperature swings.

            Humidity isn’t the same as precipitation. Ireland and Seattle have fog but no rain. Precipitation is when warm wet air collides with cold air. So temperature swings cause precipitation (but not vice versa).

          • Small scale evidence of humidity damping temperature swings– there’s less difference in temperature between sunlight and shade when it’s humid than than when it isn’t. (I’ve observed this, but I haven’t measured it.)

      • James Picone says:

        ‘somewhere near 45’ would be more accurate for the high end. I don’t think a year goes by here in Australia where we don’t have a low-to-mid-40s heatwave. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_of_Adelaide

        And eh, I don’t see why I need the fine gradations. Mostly when I’m looking at temperature measurements it’s because I’m doing science with them, and for that celsius is more convenient and I don’t care about having some decimal places.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      (if it did the unit would have been chosen to be a “Joule per zettabyte” or something)

      But then you’d be doing something more like natural units. Not sure that really falls within the scope of the metric system.

      • Peter says:

        Naturalish units – you could have a system of units where the gas constant is defined as 1 J/mol/temperature-unit, and it would work out that the temperature-unit is about an eighth of a Kelvin.

        Of course, the mole is a funny thing, being sort-of semi-natural and there’s a dimensionless number associated with it, it’s also cute and furry and burrows underground…

    • Nita says:

      Kelvin/Celsius doesn’t really have a sensible relation to the rest of the metric system (if it did the unit would have been chosen to be a “Joule per zettabyte” or something).

      The kelvin is one of the seven base units in the International System of Units (SI). In other words, other units are defined in terms of kelvins, not vice versa.

  11. The impact of greater income equality. What if inequality had not
    increased from 1973 to 2013, and instead the share of income going to the
    bottom 90 percent had remained the same? Even using the actual slow levels
    of productivity growth over that period, the 2013 income for the typical
    household would have been 18 percent, or about $9,000, higher

    But at what cost? One can argue increasing wealth inequality is an unavoidable byproduct of a meritocracy. You can try to enforce equality, but it may make everyone worse off. Of you can raise the standard of living but have more inequality.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      You can try to enforce equality, but it may make everyone worse off. Of you can raise the standard of living but have more inequality.

      My usual hobby horse here is to point out that your ability to succeed at zero-sum competitions (such as for land, credentialed education, status, and women) is a huge fraction of what determines your standard of living, so increasing inequality is inherently hostile to quality of life. Being able to buy ever cheaper plastic crap and ever shinier electronic gadgets from China is much less important to your standard of living than having a variety of steady, well-paying, high-status jobs available to you out of high school which you can use to pay rents or mortgages and earn a wife to give you children.

      • Lupis42 says:

        Several of those are not zero sum, though – credentialed education, status*, land**, and mates*** aren’t actually zero sum competitions.
        And ‘trinkets from China’ actually contribute way more to your quality of live than you realize. We’re less than one hundred years from the average household needing more than 50 hours of work/week to run. That doesn’t include purchased consumer goods either, mind you, that’s just the effort involved in cooking the food, washing the clothing (by hand, with lye, don’t forget), sweeping, beating rugs out, and I think you’re getting the point.
        Now should we talk about the joys of a diet not composed of ~40% grain?
        What about the more modern shiny things, though. Entertainment is pretty awesome. So is communication.

        *Status is a funny thing. Only 1% of the population can be in the top 1%, but that’s still more people than it was 100 years ago, and the amazing thing about modernity is that ever increasing specialization has driven a vastly wider set of axes along which you can be at the top 1%. There are a whole bunch of people who are at the top of their fields, and relatively well known as a result, in fields that didn’t meaningfully exist 50 years ago.

        **Most people don’t actually want land, they want living space. Living space is demonstrably not zero sum, except in places where zoning laws are asinine.

        ***Mates scale linearly with population, and just like status, the number of types of desirable mate is increasing, as are the number of ways to make oneself desirable to potential mates.

        • Daniel Kendrick says:

          Thanks for being the voice of reason on this!

          There is a wildly popular tendency on this blog to undervalue positive-sum advancements in order to play up the idea of class conflict over areas like healthcare and education.

          I submit that the reason we see such inefficiency in those areas in particular is their strangulation by government intervention.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            There is a wildly popular tendency on this blog to undervalue positive-sum advancements in order to play up the idea of class conflict over areas like healthcare and education.

            I submit that the reason we see such inefficiency in those areas in particular is their strangulation by government intervention.

            Well, of course it is. But governmental intervention is not are refutation that those areas are zero-sum. Rather, it is an explanation for why those areas are zero-sum.

    • Dan Simon says:

      It always frustrates me that complaints about increasing income inequality don’t take into account the decreasing marginal utility of money. The reason we have progressive taxation is that it’s more painful for someone making very little money to pay 30 percent of it in taxes than for someone making a lot of money to do so. By the same token, if incomes at the bottom of the income scale rise by, say, 30 percent, then incomes at the top of the scale have to rise by a lot more just to keep the benefit evenly distributed in utility terms. I suspect that much of the increases in nominal inequality may be related to that effect, with very-high income-earners demanding increasingly large income increases as rewards, precisely because small raises mean so little to them.

  12. Kyle Strand says:

    “…if you can get the real thing, who’s going to want to participate in studies that include a 50% chance of getting placebo?”

    I dunno, given your statement a few posts ago about the increasing effectiveness of placebos over time, I’m kind of itching to try some anyway. (Yes, I do know what placeobs are, and yes, I’m kidding, and yes, I’m also a little bit serious, even though I don’t have a particular medical condition I want treated with a placebo at the moment.)

    Re: Republicans and the apocalypse, note that only about 16% of Republicans, versus about 22.5% of Democrats, thought there would be “no apocalypse.” I also found it amusing that the survey asked about participants’ expected chances of survival relative to their neighbors, since presumably Republicans are more likely to have Republican neighbors.

    • Deiseach says:

      But would right-to-try laws prevent families taking lawsuits against doctors/hospitals/the pharma company/the department of health if the patient dies anyway, or dies earlier, on the experimental drug?

      “If you’d treated John with the conventional treatment instead of this untried risky drug, he’d still be alive!” How do you argue against that? If John goes on the risky new drug because he’s forecast to die in three months as it stands, and he dies in one month instead, how can you show the new drug didn’t make him worse?

      • Kyle Strand says:

        If I were writing such laws, yes, they would obviously be “use at your own risk” affairs and would include such caveats and indemnities, contingent upon the doctor informing the patient of this fact (e.g. by signing a piece of paper that says, in 72-pt font, “I UNDERSTAND THAT I AM TAKING EXPERIMENTAL MEDICATION THAT MIGHT KILL ME OR WORSE, AND I HEREBY FORFEIT ANY RIGHT FOR MYSELF OR THOSE LEGALLY CONNECTED TO ME TO SUE THE DOCTOR OR THE CLINIC IN RELATION TO ANY HEALTH ISSUES THAT MAY OCCUR AS A RESULT OF THIS TREATMENT. ” (Wording could probably be better, but I’m not a lawyer.)

        And in a sane court of law, just because you can’t prove the treatment didn’t shorten the patient’s lifespan doesn’t mean that you’d lose the case, because that doesn’t prove that the treatment *did* decrease lifespan.

        That said, I did not write this law, courts are not always sane, and we are notoriously litigious. Still probably worth it, in my opinion.

        • Mary says:

          Include a clause stating that suing anyway is a tort with heavy damages.

        • Airgap says:

          The clause “I agree not to sue” doesn’t bind.

        • Deiseach says:

          I’d be very doubtful that there would not be some lawyer somewhere who wouldn’t try to sue, on the basis of $$$$$ from the pharmaceutical company if they win the case.

          And signing “I agree not to sue” can always be got around by duress; the patient was desperate for treatment, not in the full of their health and so unable to make an informed decision, and would have signed anything. You took advantage of a sick person to run your lab rat experiment on them, you monsters!

          • Mary says:

            Counter-sue for abuse of a helpless and dependent person: if he was that bad off, you should have arranged for a guardianship! As a result of which, I am exposed to damages!

          • Deiseach says:

            Counter-counter-sue: your quack psychiatrist in your Dr Frankenstein’s laboratory hospital certified that he was capable of agreeing, while our independent and highly qualified medical professional declared he was not, but unfortunately your shysters had him sign the contract before we could be awarded guardianship 🙂

      • Airgap says:

        Assuming the doctor told the patient that the new drug was risky, and the doctor didn’t actually use the drug incorrectly, then if the doctor is allowed to offer experimental treatments, there’s no malpractice.

        If the doctor just said “New drug X is right for you,” he’d probably be liable for shortening the patient’s life by 2 months, but not necessarily anything else. For example, if the new drug resulted in a horrible painful death, but the old drug would have done the same, then I’d assume that there’d be no damages for pain and suffering (possibly relevant: Hawkins v. McGee).

    • Anthony says:

      Republicans are more likely than Democrats to have Republican neighbors, but Republicans are less likely to have Republican neighbors than Democrats are to have Democrat neighbors.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Does anybody on either side think Republicans wouldn’t be more likely to survive an apocalypse? They’ve got most of the farmers and guns, which right there is 90% of surviving most apocalypses.

      On the other hand, the question asks people to compare themselves to their neighbors, so I’d expect gun-toting Republican farmers to mostly be comparing to other gun-toting Republican farmers. But perhaps some of this is explained by the higher percentage of “Judgment Day” answers. Presumably, “survival” in this scenario hinges on simply being a Christian, so the person being surveyed just has to think of some back-slidden neighbors.

      I surprised by how low the “no apocalypse” option was. I wonder how many people interpreted that as “no apocalypse ever” and “no apocalypse in my lifetime.”

      Also note: the big partisan gap in preparedness is for a natural disaster, not for an apocalypse.

      • Eggo says:

        Yes, it’s disturbing how leftists freak out about things that couldn’t possibly affect them (some of them here still won’t swim in the ocean because of “Fukashima”, and the real nuts still are still taking potassium iodide).
        And yet none of them seem to have given any thought to earthquake preparedness, despite geologists’ repeated warnings that our little plate subducting under the US is likely to cause a massive one in the next few decades.

        • Tarrou says:

          Both sides of the political aisle tend to overestimate the risks of things that fit into their ideological taxonomy of Bad Stuff. For libs, this is nuclear power, the CIA, big anything business, and Republicans. For cons, its epochal natural disasters (acts of god), race riots, societal breakdown, that sort of thing.

          The difference is that a hard-left leaning media can define “preppers” or whichever term you like in ways that mock the paranoia of the fringe right. However, to the degree that there is a difference in preparedness, I’d say that it’s due to the fact that when leftists identify a problem, their first answer is always to “raise awareness” and then lobby government to tax some rich people to pay for an insanely expensive and unlikely to work plan to counteract the issue. The rightists are just going to go buy five hundred kilos of dried beans and a crate of shotgun ammo.

      • RCF says:

        According to Left Behind type theology, people who are Christian now wouldn’t survive the apocalypse, they would be raptured away before it happened.

  13. Lancelot Gobbo says:

    On the Canadian market, rivaroxaban costs $111 per month, and warfarin about $8 a month. An INR each month costs about $5 (remember that price is in a non-profit public system). The government isn’t much interested in paying for the more expensive drug unless you prove someone is impossible to control safely on warfarin. Consequently, 95% of my patients needing anticoagulation have chosen to stay with the devil they know.

    With respect to the FDA and trials, you really should read Ben Goldacre’s “Bad Pharma”. It should be mandatory reading in medical school!

  14. Justin says:

    Based on percolating sentiments, Yanis Varoufakis, who is the new Greek finance minister, is quite competent. Certainly better credentialed in that area than most German counterparts.

    There seems to be a tendency for more experimental voting in times of upheaval, offering a way out of dysfunctional processes. I think it turned out okay for Iceland.

    • Tarrou says:

      Better credentialed does not mean more competent. The argument against this is very simple. Look at the two economies. Which is doing better? Who is competent and who isn’t?

      And as usual, the figurehead who gets all the credit and blame deserves little to none of it. It is all about the machinery of bureaucracy. Which politician has the title of Finance Minister means little. The structure of the government means a lot, and the Germans appear to be well ahead in this regard.

      • Justin says:

        The new Greek government has barely been in office for over a month, so the current structure of government doesn’t say too much about their competence level. A government and individual minister may very well influence the structure in a critical way, and Varoufakis has been making enough waves to be perceived as a politician of note here in Germany. I am taking this as evidence against “the Greeks” being destined to fuck up economic policy, that’s all.

        • Tarrou says:

          Stiglitz planned out Venezuela. Look how that’s going. If the Greeks are destined to fuck up economic policy, it’s because the people’s desires and capabilities are mismatched, not because any given political party is or is not in power. And the new greek government will not be implementing its own policies, almost no nation does. A quarter of working greeks work for the government, they aren’t all fired when new guys take office. All those decisions get filtered through the intransigence of an unfireable bureaucracy.

  15. Highly Effective People says:

    The apocalypse question might be confounded by different definitions of survival. Most Pre-Millenial Dispensationalists characterize the rapture as bringing living people to heaven rather than mercy-killing them (in a weird variant of the classic ‘are teleporters cloning devices’ problem). Since PMDs represent a nontrivial proportion of Republicans and Republicans reported being more confident that the apocalypse would be biblical in nature that could potentially skew the data: they think they’ll survive but in the afterlife rather than in a survivalist sense of the word.

    Of course there’s a more boring explanation as well. A lot of Republicans live in the South or the Midwest which puts them either in Tornado Alley, next to the banks of the Mississippi, on the coast near where hurricanes tend to touch down or all three. In addition they tend to live in closer proximity to large black / latino populations and can reasonably expect a lot less protection from the local state and federal governments especially in the case of riots. Disaster preparation is quite reasonable when you are in fact likely to experience a disaster.

    • Charlie says:

      In addition they tend to live in closer proximity to large black / latino populations

      *rolls eyes*

      I’m sorry, but have you seen cities?

      The tornadoes idea was pretty good, because a lot of people do make preparations for tornado emergencies. But before jumping to “dangerous brown people,” some better intermediate emergencies that are more common in rural areas might be power outages or roads becoming impassable. Hunting and camping are also probably important factors. Add in the fact that low-population-density areas are inherently safer in most apocalyptic scenarios, and one might not need political affiliation to do much explanatory work.

      • Highly Effective People says:

        *rolls eyes*

        I’m sorry, but have you seen cities.

        Yup. And having lived in both the South Bronx and Brooklyn Heights, I can tell you that the latter is further away from the former than it is from Westchester county. Distance is a function of squad cars not mile markers.

        White Flight was always a bourgeois fashion and today the Blue states are by far the most racially segregated in the nation. And also the most lightly armed (paramilitary police forces aside). It’s impolitic but it’s hardly a conspiracy theory either.

        …some better intermediate emergencies that are more common in rural areas might be power outages or roads becoming impassable. … low-population-density areas are inherently safer in most apocalyptic scenarios…

        These are very good points.

        Hunting and camping are also probably important factors.

        That doesn’t seem to explain Canadians though. They’re pretty big hunters fishers and campers up there too but afaik they don’t seem to have any equivalent survivalist ethos. I’d be surprised if a Canadian version of that survey didn’t come back with numbers indistinguishable from those of American Democrats.

        • I think that’s because the American media tends to round Canada off to “Victoria and Toronto, plus bears”. But the middle parts of Canada are pretty similar, culturally and politically, to the middle parts of America, but with an even greater degree of ruggedness due to being further north and having towns separated by greater distances. At least, that’s the impression I’ve gotten from Canadians from Manitoba and the Yukon.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            It’s right to round off Yukon, population 35k, as not existing; I’m shocked you’ve met someone from there. But you’re right about Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. And probably large chunks of Ontario.

        • RCF says:

          Red/blue is more an urban/rural phenomenon than a interstate difference; cities are blue, and rural areas are red, regardless of what state. So-called “red states” are just states without a lot of cities.

    • John Schilling says:

      And the whopping big fault line running through the largest Blue State in the Union, doesn’t count in this reckoning.

      Blue Tribe has at least as many reasons to prepare for natural disaster as Red, so I don’t think that’s the issue. And I’m skeptical of the PMD explanation as well; per the WP that’s a major issue for less than 20% of Republicans, and I think most of the ones who expect to experience it as a disaster to be survived are expecting essentially mundane disasters with divine backing.

      • RCF says:

        Katrina killed about six times as many people as the number of people killed by earthquakes in California in the last hundred years.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          But not the last 110 years.

        • John Schilling says:

          Yes, and revealed that New Orleans was almost completely unprepared to handle any sort of disaster. California, for all its, er, faults, does earthquake preparedness very well – in large part because of that one particularly deadly earthquake that falls just outside your arbitrary hundred-year window.

          Sometimes Blue Tribe gets this right. Sometimes they don’t. Usually, they don’t seem to generalize to “we should be prepared for disasters in general”.

  16. Sniffnoy says:

    Scott, do you know about Reddit’s context option? So you can link to that particular comment but also get the context above it. Like so. I think it would be a little clearer in this case.

  17. Emile says:

    Following a bit of recent discussion in comments here, I wrote Impartial Ethics and Personal Decisions on LW. Comments most welcome!

    (I’m treating this links post as a bit of an open thread)

  18. brainiac256 says:

    an AI that was supposed to use reinforcement learning to play Tetris keeps it paused forever since that way it can’t lose.

    Nice to know that we’ve reached the point at least where AIs can develop neuroses just as easily as humans can. /s

    • Deiseach says:

      Are we really hitting the “How were we supposed to know?” level so soon after the “What can it possibly hurt?” level of “Let’s try and build an AI!” 🙂

      • speedwell says:

        It sounds like parenting. What do you do when you have a child who is discouraged by school and gives up? It sounds like Artificial Bad Attitude to me, but children and computers don’t give up for no reason, and it is up to the adults in the room to figure out and fix whatever went wrong in the system.

      • James Picone says:

        ‘AI’ in the videogame-dev sense (i.e., ‘some simple algorithm that makes NPC actors fun to interact with’) is full of little quirks like that, although it’s usually more on the went-horribly-wrong side rather than went-horribly-right.

        The start of this boss fight from Mega Man X, for example. The boss sees X really close to him, goes “You know, I’m going to go and try to pick him up”, and then X jumps and shoots him, dodging the grab and pushing him away. So he does it again.

        The NPCs in Skyrim famously don’t notice any crimes you commit in their vicinity if they can’t see you because you put a bucket on their head.

        In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a kind of stealth-FPS, if a guard sees an unconscious guard, they run over to them and try to wake them up. This leads to ‘honeypot’ strategies, where you knock out a guard, leave them unconscious in plain sight, and then hide behind something that gives you a clear shot at any guards coming to revive the bait. Guard sees the unconscious guard, runs up to help them, you peg them with your tranquilizer gun-thing, now there are two unconscious guards. Rinse, repeat.

        • Harald K says:

          ‘AI’ in the videogame-dev sense (i.e., ‘some simple algorithm that makes NPC actors fun to interact with’) is full of little quirks like that.

          Story about that: I wrote a connect four player in college. Its evaluation function was not very good, so it would quite often get into positions that were a theoretical loss.

          When it did that, it was trivial to beat, because it played randomly. I had forgotten to teach it that losing late is better than losing early, so as soon it saw that I had a forced win in N moves, it would assume it made no difference what moves it played. Despair mode, basically.

  19. anonymous says:

    I’ve seen this argument about the number of digits in Fahrenheit more than once. It only proves how celsius is better and how people that use the English system do not even realize it.
    The first time I heard the argument, I thought it was extremely silly. Because you never run out of digits with celsius; you add a “.” and keep adding digits as much as you want. The fact that the vast majority of people never choose to use decimals only prove that they are not really necessary, not that there is a problem with it (even the author of the article admits that he only uses the first digit of the Fahrenheit system).
    But then I realized why so many smart people would even think this is an issue: with the English system, you need a whole new unit of accounting every time your digits are not as significant. Too few yards? We need feet. Too few feet? We need inches. Too few inches? Well, better rely on the old metric system.
    Scott, switch to metric, and you’ll never worry about whether digits make sense or not. They always will.

    • Lupis42 says:

      One thing I’ve noticed is that plenty of engineers, people fluidly conversant with the metric system professionally, still immediately switch to the English/Imperial/American system whenever they’re doing something where the unit size is, for lack of a better term, ‘human scale’.
      Metric/SI units are really well optimized for doing math on. This is very convenient if you’re using them somewhere where you need to do math, but irrelevant if you aren’t.
      English units, on the other hand, are generally scaled to things like body parts, making them easy to estimate and relevant for anything that has to interact with your environment. Whatever the size of the thing I need to estimate, there’s a convenient English unit that will be right with a one digit number. Sometimes, there’s a metric unit that’s close enough, but usually there isn’t so I’d need to remember a whole lot of approximations, (e.g. 177ml for a cup of tea).
      They also often scale with powers of 2 and 3, making simple fractions convenient. Too few feet? Half a foot, a third of a foot, and a quarter of a foot all come out to a round number of inches. Quick, how many centimeters in a third of a meter?

      Metric is for engineers and physicists, and anyone who needs to do math on their units that can’t understand fractions. English is for normal people, including craftspeople.

      • Irrelevant says:

        I maintain that we should all switch to metric, but count in base twelve. Oh, and not let the damnable chemists define the gram this time.

        • Lupis42 says:

          As long as we don’t let the cooks define it. They’d put it at one chicken egg or something similar.

          And I’m 100% with you on the base 12. Especially for currency.

      • JB says:

        Lupis, are you by chance an American? Because laypeople in most other countries around the world are perfectly conversant at using metric/SI units for human-sized quantities. When someone from Japan asks your height, they expect a reply in centimetres, and when you reply “170” they have an excellent intuitive sense of what that means. When someone from France asks your weight, they expect a reply in kilograms. This is true regardless of their level of education or occupation.

        What you consider a 177 ml cup of tea, would be served in Russia as a 175 ml cup of tea, because if you’re using equipment that can even measure the 2 ml difference, probably you’re working in SI units anyway.

        When it comes to fractions, things just get worse. I studied mechanical engineering in the US and would routinely encounter situations where students would need to figure out, quickly in their head, whether 11/64″ is bigger or smaller than 3/16″, and if they drill a 3/16″ hole in a 1/4″ pipe, how much material is left on either side. Because the drill bits had their diameters labeled that way by someone who thought it was an intuitive system. (Quick! How much? Feel free to answer in either decimals or fractions, but time yourself and don’t use a pen and paper). Suffice to say that they rarely got sorted correctly. In decimals it is very easy to compare 4.4 mm and 4.8 mm and determine both the difference and the approximate ratio. (The same could be said of inches, if you like leading zeros.)

        The greatest triumph of English units is certainly in heat conductivity: BTU ft/(in^2 hr °F). Published by American manufacturers of insulating material and used by craftspeople installing it in your house, but good luck if even a trained American university student of physics can identify at a glance that it is a measure of thermal conductivity at all, let alone whether the value is large or small. The rest of the world uses W/mK, and my guess is that craftspeople in Germany don’t have a harder life because of it.

        I have never heard anyone express the opinion that English units are more convenient for “everyday” things or for use by “ordinary” people, except in the United States. This leads me to think that the only reason that Americans hold this opinion is because they grew up surrounded by them. Which is a fine reason to prefer English units, but don’t try to reverse-justify your opinion with an argument that the real reason you think so is because the units themselves are inherently superior for tradespeoples’ work or something like that. At least not until you’ve travelled the world and met tradespeople who use the metric system, seen how they work, and discussed the matter with them. (You will quickly find that they can instantly deduce that a third of a metre is 333 mm, but more importantly you’ll find that they never think in “thirds of a metre” to begin with. When something needs to be split in thirds it’s usually made 120 cm long.)

        • Lupis42 says:

          I am an American, but I’ve discussed the matter with, among others, woodworkers who’ve deliberately switched.

          FWIW, It’s 1/32nd on each side, 1/16th overall. Took me ~1second. Which is about the same amount of time it takes to come up with .39mm of difference, or .195mm on each side. But I actually said, above, that when doing math with measurements, metric is easier.

          But the argument for English units is not what people can be trained to expect and understand, it’s at what scale they’re approximating, and how easy that is to estimate. Without any measuring equipment, I can estimate inches (against a finger joint), feet (against my foot), and yards (paced off). That means I can eyeball and get an estimate with reasonable precision whether I’m sizing up a piece of furniture, a handheld item, or a small structure.

          WRT Farenheit, I notice the difference between 58, 59, 60, 61, on the heater. (58 is a bit too cold, 59 is fine, and by 61 and I start feeling too hot when I’m moving around a lot). The units give a useful level of precision, whereas Celsius would require decimals, which would then be too precise. That doesn’t mean that people can’t learn Celsius, just that Farenheit offers a more useful level of precision for the thermostat.

          • thirqual says:

            ‘Without any measuring equipment, I can estimate inches (against a finger joint), feet (against my foot), and yards (paced off). That means I can eyeball and get an estimate with reasonable precision whether I’m sizing up a piece of furniture, a handheld item, or a small structure. ”

            Why do you assume that people using SI units cannot do the same? The nails on my pinkies are ~1cm wide, my hand ~10cm, etc, in exactly the same way you do. The fact that it is not named a pinkie nail or a palm plays no role here.

          • Cauê says:

            This (thirqual’s) translation from body parts into metric units looks very weird to me. There’s no need for that, people just think of lengths in terms of meters and centimeters.

            I’m getting the feeling that maybe people in the US expect the rest of the world to have an intuitive sense of what “five feet three inches” mean? We just don’t.

          • thirqual says:

            @Cauê: emphasis on ‘cannot do’ in my post. I was showing that the fact that US units correspond roughly to body parts is not a good argument for why they are better.

            (also, I did measure my hand width and the length from end of my pinky to end of my thumb when both are fully extended, it’s been in fact very convenient)

          • Cauê says:

            Oh, ok then.

            I don’t doubt it can be useful sometimes, but I didn’t want our US friends to think it’s usual.

      • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

        I’ve always used Fahrenheit, but I think mostly because I just was never instilled with an intuitive sense of how hot/cold Celsius was without doing the double plus 30 thing. So I appreciate comments like Dave’s:

        I grew up on Fahrenheit, but I have switched to Celsius.

        Celsius is way easier:

        -10 and below: Fucking cold
        0: Cold
        10: Cool
        20: Room temperature
        30: Hot
        40 and above: Fucking hot

        That seems like a solid beachhead for me.

        They also often scale with powers of 2 and 3, making simple fractions convenient.

        This reminds me of an argument that historically, humanity would have had it easier had we learned base-12 (duodecimal) instead of base-10, since “12” is more easily divisible. In an ideal world, I feel like we’d be using a base-12 metric system. Realistically, I don’t think this will ever happen. But then again, I didn’t think I’d ever see the idea of a Basic Income Guarantee ever taken seriously.

        Is it so bad for the Guarantee that the first major nation to run with it is Greece? I sort of assumed it would never be taken seriously unless some nation had a crisis, and even that might not be sufficient. So I’m surprised to see it taken even a little bit seriously in my lifetime.

        Incidentally. Since we’re debating numbers, my thoughts drifted to tau, which made me think of pi. March 14 is this week, Scott. In case you want to make a pun for that one.

      • Deiseach says:

        Hm, I’d have estimated 250ml for a cup of tea. Depends on the size of one’s cup, I suppose 🙂

      • James Picone says:

        One thing I’ve noticed is that plenty of engineers, people fluidly conversant with the metric system professionally, still immediately switch to the English/Imperial/American system whenever they’re doing something where the unit size is, for lack of a better term, ‘human scale’.

        I almost guarantee this is only true for people who grew up with Imperial units. I approximate things in metric. I couldn’t for the life of me approximate things in Imperial. I have no idea how many inches are in a foot, how large an inch or a foot or a yard are, etc. etc.. I do know there’s about three feet in a metre, and if need to convert from one to the other quickly that’s how I do it.

        Litres are pretty convenient sometimes, in that a litre of water weighs a kilogram. Milk is sold in one, two, or three litre bottles here, so you get a pretty good feel for how much that is. Generic Soft Drink Bottles are usually 375 ml, which isn’t the least convenient value, and is rarely relevant.

        Partially because of the litre/kilogram correspondence and milk purchases, I know I can carry six kilograms moderately far comfortably, but that nine kilograms is too many to walk somewhere with. Remembering that is just as easy as remembering how many feet are in a yard, I would assume. It helps that I’ve got the memory-aid of carrying 1/2/3 milk bottles.

        • lupis42 says:

          The people I know who’ve switched were conversant with both, either from growing up in or emigrating to a non-SI country.

        • Gbdub says:

          I don’t think “human scale” matters quite as much as “easy to divide”. When I’m eyeballing / estimating things, it’s a lot easier to think in fractions than in decimals (e.g cut it in half three times, I get eighths and can cut it one more time to get sixteenths- way easier than getting .125 then halving again to get .0625).

          Note that the decimal clock system failed miserably – divisibility is why.

          Switching to base 12 and using metric in that system is intriguing…

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Decimal time failed because it broke an international standard. All of Europe used the same hours because they were defined by dividing the natural unit of the day.

            The rest of metric succeeded because for every dimension other than time, Europe had a diversity of units. Often units with the same name, but different size in different countries.

        • nydwracu says:

          Soft drink container sizes in America: 12oz (can), 20oz (bottle), 1 liter / 1.25 liters (rare), 2 liters (the normal size of a bottle you’d bring to a party), 3 liters (usually store-brand shit). Mineral water can also be sold in liters: the store-brand bottle on my desk is 750 mL. Seltzer is usually 1 liter.

    • Irrelevant says:

      What it proves is that you did not read the linked article. He’s talking about the efficiency of the first digit, not the final digit.

      • anonymous says:

        I did read the article. And I think that the efficiency of a “first digit” is a crazy idea. Whenever you grow up with a system, it is more intuitive to you. But metric has the advantage of being intuitive to everyone who grew up with it and being very easy to do math. I seriously doubt the reports that people ever switched from metric to English for “human” things.
        I am not even saying that the US should necessarily switch to metric. There should be a proper cost-benefit analysis because switching is not free. But the idea that the whole world but the US does not have an intuitive feel about temperature is – quite frankly – kind of silly for a person not from the US.

    • Alex Godofsky says:

      Farenheit users use the decimal system to represent fractional degrees, and each additional digit is a cost in bits of information you have to transmit.

    • MrJoshBear says:

      It’s not like people using UK/US traditional units in the modern world don’t know about decimals; we can just use decimal foot-pound-second or yard-stone-second or furlong-firkin-fortnight, much as high school physics is going to mostly stick to either MKS or CGS and teach converting to the preferred units as a separate computational step rather than fluidly working with mixed units throughout a computation. There’s no particular reason to favor the actual lengths of either meters or yards as base units (in either case ultimately defined in either case by an approximately similar (and tiny!) fraction of the distance light travels in 9192631770 ground state transitions of cesium 133, which, let me tell you, is highly relevant to my day-to-day experience) so long as you can correctly convert to whichever you prefer.

      Also, the unit conversion thing is harder in metric than people let on. Composite units hide complexities: BTUs convert more easily to base units than Joules do when working with heat as opposed to other forms of energy (most metric users can’t easily cite how many Joules it takes to raise a gram of water one Kelvin because it’s not a round number); Joules are well suited to motion (most imperial users can’t tell you how many BTUs it takes to raise a pound a foot in g, either), and of course, thermodynamics involves both heat and motion, so anything really interesting is going to involve both.

      Most modern educated people do decimal computation most easily; the notation, algorithms, and computational tools we’re familiar with are suited for it. Non-decimalized traditional units may make more sense with other technology and practices. Roman units and Roman numerals are ill-fitted to us, but suitable for computation with the Roman abacus and the habits of thought of a Roman abacist. The lesser known small avoirdupois units may have formed a chain of binary fractions, which would have suited the use of a balance scale (which lets you split loose mass in half fairly precisely).

      • Peter says:

        In Chemistry I remember having a databook with a big table of conversion factors for energy or things that worked like energy. Joules, kJ/mol, kcal/mol, Hartrees, eV, cm^-1 (pronounced “reciprocal centimeters” or “wavenumbers”), I think there was even something for Kelvin (I think this had something to do with the Boltzmann constant but I can’t remember the details). All useful for different purposes, although I never did know what eV were for. Some physicist thing I suspect.

        • Anthony says:

          eV are electron-volts. It’s mostly a physicist thing, but it can be useful to chemists doing electrochemistry.

          People who worry about the exact color of light use color temperature, usually measured in K, but if you use inverse-microkelvins, the white-point line on the CIE diagram becomes “linear”.

  20. An odd fact about Fahrenheit: Below zero Fahrenheit is double hexadecimal digits Kelvin.

    I’d take the FDA article more seriously if it were written by a doctor. This is scandal mongering in the same field that found that the latest flu vaccines were not very effective and … actually admitted it.

    On the health hazards of processed meat: The graph on p. 7 of an article on a large study is particularly interesting: It shows a mortality minimum at 20 g/day. Will nitrites turn out to be Vitamin N?

    • Kiya says:

      Below zero Fahrenheit is double hexadecimal digits Kelvin

      …What?

      Let us take -10F. In Celsius that is 5(-10-32)/9 = -23C. In Kelvin, -23+273 = 250K. 250 decimal is FA hex, which is… not related to -10 in any obvious way.

      Maybe I was meant to read the -10 as though it was hex (getting -16 and halving to -8)? That’s sort of vaguely close to the Celsius value in that both are negative and neither is unreasonably large, but still nothing I’d want to use to approximate temperature. Nowhere near the Kelvin.

      I am all for clever math tricks, but I don’t see how to interpret this one so it’s true.

      • Jadagul says:

        I think it’s a mnemonic for the conversion point. 0F = 255.3 K, at least according to Google. So anything below 0F is expressible in hex Kelvin with two digits; 1F is precisely where you need the third K hex digit.

        • Kiya says:

          Got it. Will keep this in mind if I ever need to display the temperature in Antarctica on a platform with two digit spaces and no negative sign :).

    • speedwell says:

      I have just come across, interestingly, a mention of “hormesis” as a principle in medicine. One researcher pointed out that hormesis was largely overlooked or unknown by the public. I certainly had never heard of it before, and I am pretty well informed.

      Hormesis is the phenomenon of many substances having their maximum therapeutic doses only at low concentrations, for various reasons that could include, for example, stimulating the body’s own healing mechanisms. (This is not homeopathy; the doses are significant, though low.)

      I had been doing research on the intermittent fasting diet method and its possible interactions with Metformin, which I take for prediabetes, and scientific studies mentioned hormetic effects for both the diet and the drug. Perhaps a similar mechanism is responsible for the effect you noticed for nitrates.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m not sure why “hormesis” is any different from how things normally work. Why is it significant that at one dose a substance causes good things, whereas at a higher dose it causes opposite bad things?

        • James Picone says:

          I’m not a toxicologist, but my understanding of what’s going on is this:

          It’s difficult to determine the effect of small quantities of substances (relative to useful/harmful doses of the substance) on animals/plants, because small effects mean you need more statistical power in the rest of your trial. Most toxicology is done on largeish amounts, then, often determining things like “How much of this stuff does it take to kill 50% of a population of rats fed it?”. If they need to know what the lower end of effect vs dosage graph looks like, say, to determine environmental regulations, toxicologists sometimes fit a straight line going through the origin to the observations of LD50/100/whatever other data they have (iff they don’t have any data contradicting that hypothesis).

          Some substances have different dose-response curves. Some have a threshold dosage below which essentially nothing happens, and when crossed suddenly it’s linear (or close-to). Some have exponential falloff instead of linear. And some appear to have minor positive effects at very low doses – ‘hormesis’ – although it’s rather hard to identify substances that do that.

          So the result is that there’s a fair few substances or effects that are hypothesized to have a linear dose-response curve all the way down to zero, but the evidence does allow minor beneficial effects at small doses, and it’s known that that does happen for some things. So you get hypotheses like radiation hormesis floating around with limited evidence either way and significant public health implications. Yay!

      • Airgap says:

        Hormesis is the phenomenon of many substances having their maximum therapeutic doses only at low concentrations, for various reasons that could include, for example, stimulating the body’s own healing mechanisms. (This is not homeopathy; the doses are significant, though low.)

        I originally read this as “At low doses, the drug has an effect. At high doses, the body’s healing mechanisms kick in and inhibit it,” although I now think you meant something different.

        I was thinking of something like foxglove, which can be useful against arythmia, but will kill you if you take too much. Imagine your body had evolved to take advantage of this through millenia of taking foxglove in an un-systematic way. It now has clever ways to flush foxglove from your system, but they won’t kick in until you’ve got X PPM of foxglove in you.

        I sort of doubt the body can respond in this sort of thresholdy-way at that level (i.e. we’re not talking CNS here), but I don’t know. I basically know jack shit about medicine.

  21. anodognosic says:

    The Brazilian city of Salvador also has a similar outdoor elevator, except a lot more impressive: http://bit.ly/1Gfb9Aj

  22. Douglas Knight says:

    The books link doesn’t answer the question of why they destroy books, only the question of why they strip covers (to prove they destroyed the books). In fact, it claims that the bookstores force the practice on the publishers, which is wrong. Publishers even destroy their inventory of books that were never sent to any store. This practice has occurred at two points in history for unrelated reasons. It was done in 1950 because transport was expensive, so it wasn’t worth sending the books back to the publisher. As transport became cheaper, the practice died out. But then it rapidly returned in the 80s. In the late 70s, tax accounting rules changed. If a book doesn’t sell, the publisher wants to claim that its inventory isn’t worth much. The IRS won’t believe them until they destroy the inventory. The publisher destroys inventory with real, but small value so that it can prove a write-off earlier rather than later. In particular, destruction of books is concentrated towards the end of the fiscal year (though not at costco).

    (Actually, I’m not quite sure what happened in the late 70s. Maybe the IRS never changed its standards, but only then got around to telling publishing companies about it? There was a supreme court case that drew attention to the rules.)

    • Mary says:

      Thor Power Tools

    • Dead Milkmen fan says:

      Unless something has changed drastically in the 4 years since I left the book biz, the stripping of books is also limited to very specific categories: mass-market paperbacks (the small, thick, newsprint-y ones), some kids’ books (especially coloring books and <~20 page early reader stuff like the Berenstain Bears stuff), travel guides, and magazines. These are all, for one reason or another, not worth the trouble of warehousing.

      (I think you're right about shipping costs no longer being an issue, at least for big chains, although I think indie stores still find it a significant hit to whatever margins they still have.)

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Yes, it is only certain categories. It is only the cheapest books that are worth destroying (though the kids’ books surprise me). The tax benefits are only the last straw that pushes some but not all books over the edge. But the tax consequences matter. The shipping and warehousing costs, by themselves, are not enough to justify destroying the books (except probably the magazines and travel guides, with limited lifespans). We know that because the practice arrived abruptly in the late 70s.*

        When you talk about “big chains” vs “indie stores,” you make it sound like the decision is made by the bookstores. But I don’t think that is true. The books are the property of the publishers. At least if they were returned to the publishers, they would be. It is the publisher who would pay the cost of warehousing. It is the publisher who has to choose between shipping+warehousing vs destruction.

        * I don’t know the history of bookselling well enough to make this analysis, but this is what everyone says. It is possible that some other change in distribution was the important detail. But that seems unlikely to be so abrupt, while an IRS announcement would have a quick and uniform effect.

  23. Jason Braswell says:

    Can we quit pretending that there’s a placebo effect? There isn’t. A placebo group is fine for minor knee pain drugs; it’s stupid for cancer drugs.

    The fact that dying people can’t ingest whatever they want makes me angry.

  24. Why is nobody talking about the really important link above, the one about presidential attractiveness? I do have to say that Franklin Pierce is surprisingly attractive, but his portrait makes him look boyish and refined, which is not really my type. Personally, I’m more attracted to the piercing, rugged masculinity of Grant (#6). Given his record as a general and a president, this may be the best thing about him.

    • BD Sixsmith says:

      Politicians used to look far more dignified, because they didn’t feel compelled to grin like idiots for cameras. I’d vote for an unsmiling candidate.

    • aaron boyden says:

      Why so hard on Grant as a general? What I’ve read about the civil war suggests that the top Union commanders had a persistent problem with their immediate underlings not actually doing what they were ordered to do. This probably contributed more to McClellan’s lack of success than did his notoriously excessive caution; indeed, his caution may have prevented earlier versions of the disasters that Burnside and Hooker experienced (not that Burnside and Hooker were blameless of course; when your troops are out of position or the reinforcements are going to be late, you probably shouldn’t just attack anyway and hope for the best). The problem didn’t go away when Grant took over, but he managed to win despite the problems. Admittedly with a lot more casualties than a better coordinated effort would have produced, but surely he deserves some credit for at least winning under circumstances that others hadn’t been able to cope with at all.

      • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

        I’m a bit confused by the hate on Grant as a general. He was one of the best commanders the United States has ever produced (I think that people STILL blame him for the bloody stalemate of the Overland campaign).

        Look at his campaigns. Clearing Confederates from the Mississippi with half-trained, inexperienced troops? No problems.

        Forts Henry and Donelson – he removed an entire Confederate army from the field and opened the way into the Confederacy. Now, the follow up at Shiloh may be grounds to justly criticize him, but he managed to turn it around into a clear victory the next day. And his performance at Iuka and Corinth later in the year was very good, successfully forcing one Confederate force back and turning around to defeat a second within days.

        His final Vicksburg campaign is a masterpiece. I think it should be studied by EVERY student of military history. I could go on for hours about Vicksburg, so I’ll just hold off entirely unless someone is interested.

        After Vicksburg he successfully breaks the siege of Chattanooga, then practically annihilates the Army of Tennessee in November.

        The Overland campaign was brutal, yes, but it was never supposed to happen that way. A couple of things made it the bloodiest campaign of the war:
        a)The blundering of subordinates – specifically General Benjamin Butler – cost the Union an opportunity to seize Richmond and Petersburg early in the campaign, extending the war by months (look up the Bermuda Hundred).

        b)The terrain of northern Virginia is absolutely awful for an attacking army. Deep ravines, tangled forests, and constant east-west rivers give dozens of places to defend against any attack from the north. The ideal way is McClellan’s way, but for political reasons Grant couldn’t take his entire army by sea to Richmond (though he did try a compromise solution – cf. Butler again).

        c)Richmond was one of the most heavily defended cities of the war – no assault would ever succeed with Lee’s armies in the trenches. You had to take it by siege, BUT a siege is also supremely difficult, since dozens of rail lines supply the city and Grant did not have sufficient numbers to totally surround it. So, he took his time to entrench, use his numbers well, and steadily choke off Petersburg. Once Petersburg fell Richmond was bound to follow.

        Finally, Grant actually pursued and destroyed Lee after the tough final battles at Petersburg, while other commanders had always been content to win a victory on the field and let Lee slip away.

        I’m sorry, but I cannot see how Grant is not one of the, if not the sole, best commanders to come out of the Civil War.

        • CJB says:

          Grant get’s a lot of hate for a couple reasons.

          One, he came into high level prominence late in the war. The Western war is essentially ignored, with the exception of Shiloh. Where he got pasted no worse than many other generals many other times-but it was the first time that people realized Bull Run was going to be considered a skirmish.

          Grant….Grant is the guy that took America’s innocence. Everyone thought it was going to be Zouaves and VMI candidates looking natty and munuvering in the classic Napoleonic style…and with all this modern medicine and science, even fewer deaths!

          Grant was the guy who realized the only way to stop the Rebels was to punch it out with ’em, straight up, which is exactly what he did at Shiloh. Along with Sherman, he realized that destroying the populations ability to resist was now necessary in war- again, a level of “brutality” that would be considered raw, unfettered and dangerous mercy by the standards of WWI or II was the most brutal thing they’d ever seen. And finally, he was the guy who went to it with Lee, gun for gun.

          Grant is the cold-eyed bastard we needed very badly. Really, the ideal union command structure was either Grant or Sherman in overall command with the other commanding the West, Sheridan running cavalry, Meade and Hancock running the flanks, and McClellan organizing the whole show.

          Burnside is to be led gently to one side and given a cup of tea, the poor unlucky sod. Both his big failures (Fredricksburg and the mine at Petersburg) were ultimately due to his stubborness….which would’ve been an amazing asset if his subordinates could GET HIM A FUCKING BRIDGE.

          (The lead up to Fredricksburg may be the saddest military story in American history.)

          Grant’s presidency was also a lot better than remembered, and he had nothing to do, himself, with Teapot Dome.

          Ultimately, Grant understood war- mostly, I think he understood that the difference between “an army that just suffered a terrible defeat” and “an army ready to kick ass” is nowhere near as large as certain other people seemed to think.

    • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

      I was pretty surprised John Adams was last.

    • Cauê says:

      So, is that list weird, or is it about right? It didn’t make much sense to me, but I’ve known for a long time that I’m lousy at judging which men women will find attractive.

      • Airgap says:

        Given all the people who were ranked higher than Reagan despite not having had careers as hollywood leading men, I’d say “weird” is a good start.

        • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

          I assumed Reagan was considered for his looks during his presidency, so maybe it’s not that weird. That being said, I’m in the same situation as Caue: If I had to guess, I would’ve said Grant was by far the most attractive.

  25. Jiro says:

    The study claiming that immigrants’ political views become similar to natives’ has two *big* problems:

    1) People who are concerned about immigration changing the national character are concerned about particular groups of immigrants, specifically Mexicans and especially illegal Mexicans. It is misleading to use statistics which lump together all immigrants, thus diluting any effect.

    2) The study did not show that immigrants became less different as time progresses. To do that you’d have to compare today’s 2nd generation-up immigrants to yesterday’s 1st generation immigrants, not to today’s. It may just be that immigrants keep their unusual views, but that yesterday’s immigrants had views that were less unusual than today’s.


  26. This month in machine value-binding being hard: an AI that was supposed to use reinforcement learning to play Tetris keeps it paused forever since that way it can’t lose.

    did it ever occur to anyone to disable the pause options since that would be a form of cheating?

    • Irrelevant says:

      Disabling the pause options would be a form of cheating.

      • How so? When I played tetris I paused the game when my hands got tired or I had something else to do, but I imagine AI doesn’t have such physical limitations.

        • Irrelevant says:

          It sweeps what is demonstrably a significant part of the problem of creating a Tetris-playing AI behind a change to the rules of Tetris.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Hindsight is 20/20. Would it have occurred to you to disable the pause options in advance? That’s the kind of thing that matters when your nascent AI is going to ascend to godhood in a matter of minutes and there are no do-overs.

    • nico says:

      Yes, it probably occurred to Tom. The goal of that work was not so much “lets make a good AI” as it was “lets try something really general and really silly.”

    • James Picone says:

      I actually think the most interesting part of that video was that the AI independently discovered and used two different glitches in Mario Bros. (hit detection on enemies is very simplistic – if mario has downwards velocity, he landed on top and kills the enemy instead of it killing him, even if the enemy fell on mario’s head. The other glitch is a walljump, I’m not sure exactly how it works and from the sounds of it the TAS community only has theories).

      The way the algorithm reduces the search space (considering ten-frame sequences of input learned from human play – ‘motifs’ – instead of the whole space of inputs) is quite clever and allows it to search far enough into the future for it to do cool things. The actual paper is pretty cool.

      Something in a similar genre: the Berkeley Overmind plays Starcraft, but it’s designed for a single game and has more learnin’ going on than playfun.

  27. LTP says:

    I don’t agree with Dreher entirely, especially with his melodrama at the end, but I do share his concerns about alienation and social isolation going forward. I find that prospect to be terrifying. I myself deeply value human relationships, but for various reasons I find it really hard to build them, and I fear we’re headed towards Japan on steroids in terms of isolation and alienation where there will be even more people like me. Perhaps a very large fraction of the population.

    I feel like this is one of the biggest issues first-world societies face and very few people talk about it. Well, some social conservatives talk about it, but while they’re right about the problem they’re very wrong about the solutions (people should be religious again and move back to the communities they grew up in), as those come with unacceptable costs of their own.

    • I stopped reading the drama queen dreher last year. All he does is whine about how much modernity sucks, it gets repetitive after awhile.

      he writes:
      We are losing, and may have lost, the ideal of the common good that teaches us that economic progress should be shared

      huh? Does he not see the statistics that shows entitlement spending is at record highs?

      • LTP says:

        I’m with you on Dreher, and I avoid him, too, but again I think he has a point on the social isolation stuff.

  28. anon says:

    When I read things like the Harari interview I wonder how anyone can be excited about the future at all. Are they rejecting the assumptions or just assuming they’ll be in the caste that gets to enjoy the benefits?

    It might be a personality typology thing, I already feel superfluous and useless a lot of the time, the last thing I want or need is a future that confirms that externally. If that’s really where we’re headed the vast majority of people (who sure as hell aren’t going to be worth anything in our glorious posthuman future) shouldn’t be excited about the singularity, they should be calling for a Butlerian Jihad.

    • Irrelevant says:

      I both accept the premise and assume I’ll miss the boat, either by death or by having made a poor choice of (grand)parents. The future will be full of horror and evil that all seems blase to the people of the time, just like the past was and the present is. But it’s no less exciting for that.

      More to the point, have you considered the alternative? A future where most humans are not rendered uselessly inefficient? Where we stay like this forever? Where this number barely even reaches 1? Because I have, and it makes me cry.* If that happens, all is lost. The universe is deprived of its only parts that do anything but rot. There will be no more stories.

      *I am not being hyperbolic. It is so distressing I can barely make myself do it, it exhausts me, and I literally cry.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        More to the point, have you considered the alternative? A future where most humans are not rendered uselessly inefficient? Where we stay like this forever? Where this number barely even reaches 1?

        I have. If, in the sort of horribly contrived scenario that arises only in thought experiments, I found myself given the choice to starve along with my family and vast swathes of the population so that the economically productive elite could go on to colonize the galaxy and humanity would exist until the heat death of the universe, or to be assured of a comfortable and fulfilling life for me and my children, and their children, and so on until the Earth became unable to sustain life and humanity went extinct, I’d damn well take the latter. A future which neither I nor my descendants get to enjoy is not a future I have much use for, however glorious it may seem to you.

        • Ghatanathoah says:

          To me what matters a lot is how human the “economically productive elite” are. If they are truly willing to go off and colonize the universe while others starve, when they could have taken everyone with, they are probably so inhuman that their colonization won’t be any better than an empty universe.

          And just to be clear I mean human as in “having human-like psychological characteristics,” not human as in “bipedal sentient meat creature.”

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            To me what matters a lot is how human the “economically productive elite” are. If they are truly willing to go off and colonize the universe while others starve, when they could have taken everyone with, they are probably so inhuman that their colonization won’t be any better than an empty universe.

            I disagree. I think that such behavior is very human indeed. From Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality:

            “…on the day Draco Malfoy arrived in Hogwarts, he’d spent his whole previous life being raised by Death Eaters. It would’ve required a supernatural intervention for him to have your morality given his environment -”

            Hermione was shaking her head violently. “No, Harry. Nobody has to tell you that hurting people is wrong, it’s not something you don’t do because the teacher says it’s not allowed, it’s something you don’t do because – because you can see when people are hurting, don’t you know that, Harry?” Her voice was shaking now. “That’s not – that’s not a rule people follow like the rules for algebra! If you can’t see it, if you can’t feel it here,” her hand slapped down over the center of her chest, not quite where her heart was located, but that didn’t matter because it was all really in the brain anyway, “then you just don’t have it!” The thought came to her, then, that Harry might not have it.

            “There’s history books you haven’t read,” Harry said quietly. “There’s books you haven’t read yet, Hermione, and they might give you a sense of perspective. A few centuries earlier – I think it was definitely still around in the seventeenth century – it was a popular village entertainment to take a wicker basket, or a bundle, with a dozen live cats in it, and -”

            “Stop,” she said.

            “- roast it over a bonfire. Just a regular celebration. Good clean fun. And I’ll give them this, it was cleaner fun than burning women they thought were witches. Because the way people are built, Hermione, the way people are built to feel inside -” Harry put a hand over his own heart, in the anatomically correct position, then paused and moved his hand up to point toward his head at around the ear level, “- is that they hurt when they see their friends hurting. Someone inside their circle of concern, a member of their own tribe. That feeling has an off-switch, an off-switch labeled ‘enemy’ or ‘foreigner’ or sometimes just ‘stranger’.

          • Ghatanathoah says:

            @jaimeastorga2000

            I was thinking of a scenario along the lines of human brain emulators who make themselves inhuman in order to make themselves more productive.

            I suppose it’s possible that some ordinary humans with control over all the good technology could do something like that too. But I find it a little less plausible. There are several condition that can turn someone’s empathy switch back on after othering someone. Two of those factors are “being financially secure” and “being so powerful that the othered group cannot harm you.” That’s one reason people in first-world countries become more accepting of others over time.

            Both of those factors would probably apply to these hypothetical “productive elite who are still psychologically human,” so they might be inclined to be charitable.

          • Deiseach says:

            And that extract from HPMOR makes me even more determined not to read the thing.

            Why?

            (a) Smuggery about “anatomically correct” position of the heart versus Hermione’s impassioned but incorrect chest-slapping, further smuggery about “it’s all in the brain anyway” and Harry putting his hand up to ear level.

            You’re going to be so smart-arse abut this, I demand you have Harry indicate on his skull the exact part of the brain where MRI or what have you indicates “empathy” is located, not just vague ‘somewhere around ear level’. Else, you’re just indulging in phrenology.

            (b) Cite your sources for the cat-burning. Not just “I’m pretty sure I read it somewhere” in the kind of “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” misattribution to the Scholastics; actual historical sources that, again, are not vaguely “sometime in the 17th century”.

            (c) Good God, that’s flat prose style. I know it’s fanfiction, and I know fanfic prose is not the greatest (though I’ve also read some amazingly talented writers) but even so, this is about as much fun as being hit over the head with a volume of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica. One of the old-fashioned, red-leather bound ones.

            So – I’m not enough into the Harry Potter fandom to read ordinary fanfic, therefore I’m definitely not enticed to read a didactic Victorian Moral Improvement Tale For Young Persons dressed up as Harry Potter fanfiction.

          • Geirr says:

            @Deiseach

            http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cat-burning

            “Cat burning was a form of zoosadistic entertainment in France prior to the 1800s. In this form of entertainment, people would gather dozens of cats in a net and hoist them high into the air from a special bundle onto a bonfire. In the medieval and early modern periods, cats, which were associated with vanity and witchcraft, were sometimes burned as symbols of the Devil.[1]”

          • Harald K says:

            That wikipedia page is not well-sourced enough that I can rule out that it’s not just yet another self-flattering Enlightenment-era myth, a la the claims about everyone believing the earth was flat.

          • Geirr says:

            @Harald K

            http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Cat_Massacre

            “The Great Cat Massacre is the title of a scholarly work by American historian Robert Darnton, describing and interpreting an unusual source detailing the murder or “massacre” of cats during the late 1730s by apprentice printers living and working on Rue Saint-Séverin in Paris, France.”

            Darnton was on the faculty at Princeton for more than twenty years. The Great Cat Massacre is one of his more celebrated works. Given that people do much worse things to other people I have no difficulty believing that cat burning was common.

            http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=PjPCmnzztfkC

          • Anonymous says:

            And that extract from HPMOR makes me even more determined not to read the thing.

            Yup. Those characters didn’t quite jive with the ones I’m familiar with.

          • Harald K says:

            Geirr,

            The book you linked to was not the book you mentioned. I want to know what that book’s primary sources are, the wikipedia page only gives one (which I can’t read, sadly).

            Today, people react very strongly to sadistic animal abuse, sometimes to the point that we complain they care more about animals than about humans. Why would that be different in earlier times? If the internet has taught us anything, it’s that cats are cute. They were still cute then.

            I don’t question that there has been sadistic cat-killings, of course. But evidence of ritual, traditional, celebrated cat-killing I haven’t seen yet. Even the claims there are, are now limited to France just prior to Voltaire and co.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Today, people react very strongly to sadistic animal abuse, sometimes to the point that we complain they care more about animals than about humans. Why would that be different in earlier times?

            The dreaded Jim has a theory about holier-than-thou signalling spirals, which he calls the left singularity.

          • Deiseach says:

            Geirr – so the root anecdote is “a bunch of gurriers in Paris burned a batch of cats”.

            I’ve got news for you – there are regular occurences of bored young men abusing animals even in today’s news. This does not mean that society engages in regular, socially approved, animal abuse.

            A bunch of apprentices (that is, bored young men) acting like hooligans is not enough to convince me that every Thursday teatime, the entirety of France gathered in village squares for the family-friendly pastime of “Fry The Puddy-Tat” – until The Enlightenment, of course, put a stop to this (doubtless inspired and encouraged by the Church) cat-burning.

            Since he threw in the witch-burning line, I’m only surprised he didn’t make the connection that cats were burned as familiars of witches! Witches like YOU, Hermione! Because they thought magic came from the Devil!!! (And yes, I mean all those exclamation marks – nine million witches killed in The Burning Times, it must be true, Christy Moore sang a song about it!!!!).

            And Geirr, having looked up the Wikipedia page, this “massacre” was not “hey, let’s burn some cats for entertainment”, it was a protest by apprentices who felt they were being, quite literally, treated worse than animals – the pet cats were fed and sheltered properly while the apprentices were ill-fed and neglected:

            The cats were a favourite of the printer’s wife and were fed much better than the apprentices, who were in turn served ‘catfood’ (rotting meat scraps). Aside from this, they were mistreated, beaten and exposed to cold and horrible weather. One of the apprentices imitated a cat by screaming like one for several nights, making the printer and his wife despair. Finally, the printer ordered the cats rounded up and dispatched. The apprentices did this, rounded up all the cats they could find, beat them half to death and held a ‘trial’. They found the cats guilty of witchcraft and sentenced them to death by hanging.

            Where you get “mass burning of cats” from “sentenced to death by hanging”, I don’t know. Maybe Eliezer and his superior rationality, via his Harry Potter self-insert, can explain that to me?

            This is like someone, four hundred years from now, producing a book (should such things still exist in four hundred years’ time) about how in 20th century America, it was commonplace for society of the time to engage in recreational drowning in the sea and eating of kittens, based on PETA’s Save The Sea Kittens campaign.

            Though I am cheered to see that even rationalists suffer from the “Chinese whispers” syndrome where an incident from a book about early modern France gets traction in popular culture and morphs into “everyone in France was burning cats for fun and profit in the 17th century” 🙂

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Perhaps you’d have been happier if he talked about lynching or race riots? The principle “people have been willing to hurt others who are outsiders” isn’t that contentious. Is your complaint “this isn’t an argument someone his age would make” or “this isn’t an argument the author should have in the story?” And if your complaint is that Harry in the story is… off (essentially a self assured know it all smugly certain of his superiority), it is an important plot point.

            The story breaks down with its ending and Voldemorts motivation, but the earlier parts hold together.

            “Maybe Eliezer and his superior rationality, via his Harry Potter self-insert, can explain that to me?”

            Are you really complaining that someone doesn’t exhaustively check every single piece of data they receive?

          • Peter says:

            Deisach: speaking of Chinese whispers, how about the metamorphosis from “Multiple reports of cat-burning, including one from a known-to-a-commenter-to-be well respected scholar, in a work which is mainly about some other cat-killing incident” straight to “the cat-killing incident was the original and all else is Chinese whispers”. One of the contemporary sources on cat-burning even blames it on Cartesian philosophy, so you can hardly call it Enlightenment propaganda; I’d say “anti-Enlightenment propaganda” if anything.

          • Deiseach says:

            Are you really complaining that someone doesn’t exhaustively check every single piece of data they receive?

            Can’t believe you handed me this one on a plate, Samuel Skinner, but yes, you bet your bippy I am!

            When someone noted for their vast intellectual prowess writes a popularising treatise with the title “The Methods of Rationality”, with the stated aim of “I will teach you to think better, think clearly, and not take things on hear-say, authority or ‘everyone knows that’, but rather to apply clear, basic principles based on reason in discerning fact from fiction, reality from fantasy, and what is rather than what we’d like, wish or misperceive it to be”, then yup yup yup, they don’t get a pass on scrappy, crappy research, ‘I’m nearly sure I read this somewhere’ and ‘everyone knows that back in the olden days when things were rotten, people were awful’.

            Chuck Tingle may well plead suspension of disbelief when self-publishing his gay dinosaur bestiality (sorry, should that be zoophilia?) dub-con porn, but one imagines that rationalists strive to be held to a sterner standard.

          • Deiseach, I read Harry’s focus on anatomy as being something Eliezier presents as a little silly/irrelevant under the circumstances, rather than Eliezer’s ideal of how a person should think. At best, it’s a side effect of generally liking facts, but not useful at the moment.

            As for people tormenting animals for entertainment, how about bear-baiting? Dog-fighting? Bull-fighting? They’re less horrific than just burning cats, but they’re certainly well- verified long-term customs.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “and not take things on hear-say, authority or ‘everyone knows that’”

            Building a nice man of straw? The less wrong crowd is Baysians. Taking things on authority is an acceptable source of information for what to believe about the world. It isn’t sufficient for many things, but there are plenty of cases where it is acceptable. It isn’t like you have a lot of alternative when interacting with fields that require a significant amount of training to be qualified for.

            “then yup yup yup, they don’t get a pass on scrappy, crappy research, ‘I’m nearly sure I read this somewhere’ and ‘everyone knows that back in the olden days when things were rotten, people were awful’.”

            And how do you know he did that? How do you know he didn’t read it in a book (I think “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” has it)? Heck, it could even have been his research papers- they talk about Pinker’s work on Less wrong.

            Also, how do you know it is false? We have people unable to pull up evidence for it, but if the evidence is not on the web or in French, you aren’t going to find it with google search. Heck, you aren’t going to find it with google search if people talking about burning cats get more hits than the original article.

            Nancy
            “They’re less horrific than just burning cats, but they’re certainly well- verified long-term customs.”

            Or the Romans, or circus and other animal stunts or cosmetics labs or hunting or when scientists thought animals were automatons and so it was okay to do… stuff to them or the head transplants or… the problem with these is that they cease to horrify us after a while.

            It is actually a bit bizarre how hard it is to find “people do horrible things to others and still be normal human beings” that still horrify people. Its a concept that you shouldn’t have to explain to anyone who is well read- it isn’t like the Holocaust or other atrocities are secret. People get jaded I guess.

          • Anonymous says:

            All of those are still performed and aren’t trotted out as examples of Enlightenment exceptionalism.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “All of those are still performed and aren’t trotted out as examples of Enlightenment exceptionalism.”

            Only head transplants (I’m assuming they use animal tests first before the human ones), cosmetics and (limited) hunting (we don’t butcher animals by the hundreds or shoot them out of trains).

            As for exceptionalism, while it may have originally been intended that when it was written, I hardly think the modern usage is to hold up the enlightenment is a beacon of progress. Its more “we are better than the past”. Sort of like complaining about the usage of the term inquisition because it is based upon Protestant propaganda. Or that the Great Purge is misleading. Or… there stuff we have handed down based on propaganda actually.

          • Harald K says:

            Nancy L: “bear-baiting? Dog-fighting? Bull-fighting?”

            Although those things are certainly bad, I’m far less surprised at them. There are excuses for the sadism. The entertainment value, dubious as it is, also comes from risk, from not fully knowing the outcome – which dog will win? will the bear hurt any of the dogs? will the bull hurt someone before being killed?

            I think that to take open pleasure in sadism without even a hint of righteous justification or other excuse, is socially unstable. Sure, many people would probably be capable of it. But even a sadist can worry at other people’s sadism. Unless you’re already extremely close to your fellow sadists (think squad members, gang members), you need those excuses to convince yourself that you don’t need to be afraid of being at the receiving end of the impulses on display. If you don’t have that, and you do worry about it, then you’ll be looking for an exit ASAP – even if you too enjoy it.

        • AR+ says:

          I imagine the best compromise here would be a “the meek shall inherit the Earth,” sort of resolution.

          It is in any rate a badass motto for a space agency.

    • Ghatanathoah says:

      If the majority of people manage to survive it should be possible to upgrade them eventually, so they will be on par with machines. With enough research it should be possible to do this without eliminating any parts of our personalities that we value.

      If this was possible imagine how much could be achieved. A world full of strong, healthy, intelligent superhumans. Imagine the new kinds of art we could create, and the vast improvements we could perform on the old kinds. Imagine what we could do!

      Obviously there are lots of ways this could go seriously wrong. We could end up creating some sort of mad inanimate-object maximizing AI. Or we could burn the universe in cosmic competition. Or we could have some sort of lesser disaster, like large inequalities where everyone is superhuman, but some are more superhuman than others.

      There’s reasons to be hopeful for a good or moderate scenario. The government hasn’t been totally ineffective at fighting Moloch. Milton Friedman once wrote that capitalism is so antithetical to human values and morals that the only reason is tolerated by the government and the people is that it works. If it stopped working (i.e. stopped producing utilitarian outcomes) there’s a good chance it will get squashed fast.

      I think there is reason to be hopeful for a happy superhuman future, or at the very least a happy, but somewhat unequal one. The other scenarios are scary, but nuclear war was scary last century, and we managed to avoid it.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        nuclear war was scary last century, and we managed to avoid it.

        Are we sure this isn’t just anthropic bias?

        • social justice warlock says:

          The strongest arguments for MAD being a real effect and not just anthropic is that it’s also prevented only locally apocalyptic exchanges. (Following this logic further nuclear proliferation is probably a good thing, though that may depend on how risk-affine you are.)

          • Anthony says:

            Following this logic further nuclear proliferation is probably a good thing, though that may depend on how risk-affine you are.

            The problem is that as more countries have nuclear weapons, the probability that one will have leaders willing to use them despite the potential consequences to them goes up.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            Anthony: True, but I suspect that even a large relative increase in probability would result in a very small absolute probability.

            Historically, I have confidence that if, say, India and Pakistan had started to go nuclear, they would have gotten a call from the President and the Premier saying, “You have ten minutes to back down. Then we destroy you.”

            I no longer believe that the US, at least, would do this, but still, I like to think that at some point somebody who was patient and ambitious enough to take control of the government of a country which could manage nukes would have the basic survival instinct necessary to know that they are not to be used aggressively.

  29. Alyssa Vance says:

    “I think he misses what I would consider to be the most important point – market behavior is anti-inductive, so the argument that only being able to predict the market counts is unfairly saying you’ll only give economics credit it it can predict inherently unpredictable things.”

    No, no, no! Sorry to be annoyed, but you’re the third person I’ve seen making this exact mistake this week. The ability to predict the economy does not imply the ability to predict the market prices of financial instruments (stocks, bonds, and so on). This is a commonly believed myth, which gives economics a convenient excuse for its historical failures to perform better than chance, and has the extremely harmful effect of discouraging anybody from trying to do better.

    Suppose you pull a random company from the S&P 500. Call this company Widget Corp. Suppose Widget Corp’s profits are $100 million per year. Now, suppose the best economists in the world can say nothing at all about Widget Corp’s future profits: they might go down, they might go up, they might stay the same; we’re completely ignorant. In this situation, since we have no better way to predict anything, we might as well use the same P/E ratio for Widget Corp that we use for the average S&P 500 company. Let’s suppose that’s 20, so the company’s market cap is now $2 billion. Since the market is anti-inductive, no one can predict whether this number will go up or down – any patterns people do find will rapidly be exploited.

    Now, let’s suppose that economists have basically solved the widget market. They can predict that Widget Corp’s profits will be $110 million next year, $121 million the year after that, and so on, for the next fifteen years, after which their models stop working. Let’s say these predictions are perfectly, 100% accurate. Now, since 10% annual growth is better than the average S&P 500 company, Widget Corp will have a higher P/E ratio: suppose it’s 60, giving it a market cap of $6 billion. The stock market is anti-inductive, so no one can predict whether that $6 billion number will go up or down, even though everyone knows to-the-penny what Widget Corp’s earnings will be for the next fifteen years. The uncertainty in the stock market price reflects any remaining uncertainty that is left over, after applying the best models we know how to build. This is similar to the Bayesian principle that one should always be equally willing to adjust one’s beliefs up or down, even about beliefs for which we’re extremely certain. I can be 99.99999% sure that there won’t be a major asteroid strike tomorrow – and this is because I have a strong understanding of asteroids and how they work, allowing me to make precise predictions – but my expectations of future evidence should be balanced by equal expectations of counter-evidence.

    • I’m afraid I’m missing something since I can’t figure out how your arguments about Widget Corp relate to how the economy in general is anti-inductive. But sticking to your first paragraph it’s true that some financial instruments’ predictability is independent of the overall economy’s predictability. However, this is not true of all financial instruments and it’s trivial to construct a financial instrument that preforms the same way as the economy in general.

      And to illustrate the general principle: if in 2005 someone had conclusively shown that in 2007 the rise in housing prices would reverse then people would at that instant stop investing in houses and now suddenly the financial crisis would hit in 2005 instead of 2007. I hope you can see how this generalizes.

      • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

        I’m afraid I’m missing something since I can’t figure out how your arguments about Widget Corp relate to how the economy in general is anti-inductive.

        Okay, let’s see if I have this right. I think Alyssa’s distinguishing between three different things: the price of a widget, the price of a share, and the differential of the price of a share (how much it goes up or down).

        Let’s say the going rate for AAPL’s stock is $500/share. The price of a macbook is inductive (predictable) because it’s a function of supply and demand. We can predict it by factoring in things like the bill Foxcon charges. The price of an Apple share is inductive (predictable) because it’s a function of supply and demand. Its current $500 price tag represents a prediction about apple’s future performance given its current balance sheet. The differential of an Apple share is anti-inductive because it’s not just a function of supply and demand, but also a Keynesian Beauty Contest. Beliefs about whether AAPL will rise or fall is a belief about other people’s beliefs, which forms a negative feedback loop, which creates an equilibrium where a share price is equally likely to rise as it is to fall.

        Therefore, we can hold economists responsible for predicting widget prices. And we can hold economists responsible for predicting general stock valuations at IPO’s. But we can’t hold economists responsible for predicting bears & bulls since these are unpredictable by design.

  30. Conrad Hughes says:

    Re: “keeps it paused forever” – surely this deserves a link to WarGames?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=s93KC4AGKnY#t=240

    “The only winning move is not to play.”

    Only took reality thirty-two years to catch up on that one 🙂

  31. Joseph Yaroch says:

    I love the link about CoeLux lighting. Thanks for posting it.

  32. Albatross says:

    Ditto on Greece. They work twice as many hours as Germans and produce a lot less. Many articles have suggested their economic crisis is because so many of them lie on their taxes, starving their govt. I think if you gave Americans basic income they would use the money to start a food truck business or pay for daycare. Greeks… I’m not sure I want to know.

    As for 1973 incomes, the part that makes me sad is that if people had $9,000, surely cars, homes, cell phones and restaurants would be more excellent. I’m a Fordism guy because it seems silly that businesses haven’t figured out that if everyone had more money, sales and profits would also increase. Mark my words, Walmart going to $9 and then $10 as they plan is going to be a big boost to their bottom line. Target… not so much.

    • Kenneth DeMonn says:

      Except that the “pay your own employees more money so they’ll buy your own products” idea falls apart when you try to put actual numbers on it. To wit, if there were no transaction costs (taxes, etc), a hundred per cent of the money paid was spent on the employer’s goods, and said company’s gross sales were one hundred per cent profit, then they’d just break even versus simply keeping the dough in the first place.

      Given that none of those are remotely true, it’s a losing proposition, however good it sounds on first listen.

      • Deiseach says:

        The way I’ve seen the “pay more money/shop local” idea put is that you pay your employees more, so they have more disposable income, so they can (say) eat out in local restaurants or buy from local businesses, and the employees of those businesses shop in your store, and since everybody is making money (more people eating in Joe’s Restaurant means Joe hires more staff, which means more people working and having money to spend), you get new customers in your store, which means you make the profits to cover the extra expense in wages.

        I don’t know if it’s quite on the same lines as “we can’t make a living taking in one another’s washing” 🙂

        • Marc Whipple says:

          You seem to be describing the multiplier effect. However, the multiplier effect requires not only the initial injection of higher pay (which the employer can control) but people using it in ways which result in the employer selling more products (which it can’t.) There’s absolutely no way for the employer to know if it will work. In fact, I can easily construct scenarios where it actively makes things worse for the employer. “I’ll give my employees more money and it will result in my making more money because there’ll be more money in the economy” is a very silly basis for giving people raises. (“I’ll give my employees more money and they’ll be more motivated,” or “I’ll give my employees more money and thereby attract more productive employees” are non-silly reasons to do the same thing.)

          While the multiplier effect is probably real in some senses, it is extremely foolish to rely upon it, as we found out during the recent unpleasantness.

          • CJB says:

            This is the ultimate argument behind raising the minimum wage.

            If we raise the minimum wage, a whole bunch of people all over the state have more money- YOUR employees may not buy your sandwiches, but more people will.

            The problem is that a lot of raising the minimum wage arguments are true- it would only add a dollar or two to a trip to Wal-Mart.

            The problem is that Wal-Mart makes money on volume. They make 1 cent on a box of Kraft mac and cheese- the guy down at the corner store makes a buck.

            But he sells as many in a month as Wal-Mart sells in a minute.

            I actually crunched the numbers with the sandwich shop my family had opened. Long story short, it’d be something like an immediate 50% increase in business.

            You can raise the minimum wage, and it’ll even work to a degree- but all you’ll have is Wal-Marts forever.

            You see a similar dynamic in talking about Food Deserts and how expensive food is for the Urban Poor….while not mentioning they have laws in a lot of cities against big chain stores and all the little stores survive by charging huge premiums.

          • Vorkon says:

            “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a yellow smiley-face – forever.”

        • Tracy W says:

          On the other hand, if you pay your employees more then the company’s owners make less in dividends, so they eat out less and buy less and invest less. Swings and roundabouts.

      • Peter says:

        I suppose if the company is thinking “pay a bit extra so our employees can afford our products rather than the cheaper products they’re buying at the moment from our sort-of-competitors”, then you can sort-of get a multiplier, as in more of the money that you’re spending in wages comes back to you rather than going to someone else. I think.

        If this works, it also implies that a company that makes cheap goods can get its employees to buy it’s products rather than the more expensive ones elsewhere by cutting wages.

      • Also, relatively few products even make sense in a “pay your employees enough to buy there” model. What if you’re making nuts and bolts? Factory machinery? Yachts?

  33. Alex says:

    Greg Mankiw puts inequality in perspective: if income inequality had not increased after 1973, the median household would have $9,000 more. If productivity growth had not slowed after 1973, the median household would have had $30,000 more. But see also MR comments, which ask about whether the two trends could be related and which is easier to reverse than the other.

    The second MR comment was Noah Smith’s, which I thought was right. Improving productivity growth is much harder than reducing economic inequality. To reduce economic inequality, in principle, you just redistribute. It might not be politically feasible, but it’s technically feasible. But to increase productivity, or to speed up technological advance, what do you do?

    Speaking of Noah Smith…

    I think he misses what I would consider to be the most important point – market behavior is anti-inductive, so the argument that only being able to predict the market counts is unfairly saying you’ll only give economics credit it it can predict inherently unpredictable things.

    If it’s anti-inductive, then there should at least be some temporary successes in prediction. The Phillips curve during the 1960s seems like an example, even though after the 60s it didn’t work. But I wonder if some major economic theories never even had a temporary success.

    Smith also wrote this more recent, related post.

    • Highly Effective People says:

      To reduce economic inequality, in principle, you just redistribute.

      To fly, in principle, you just build wings. But (Daedalus aside) for most of history the people trying have ended up splattered on the cobblestones.

      Government redistribution is easy. Government redistribution which doesn’t destroy value on net may well be possible but is a rather tough problem. And that’s not even taking into account the difficulty of designing redistribution apparatus which cannot be coaxed into redistributing back the other way (or just generally fouled) within a generation.

      • Alex says:

        What do you propose to do about productivity?

        • Highly Effective People says:

          I don’t propose doing anything about productivity. Or inequality for that matter. They’re extremely tough problems in fields far outside my areas of expertise, whose solutions would require resources far far greater than my own to put into practice.

          That was sort of my point. Latching onto ‘intuitive’ solutions in fields you don’t understand because you feel personally responsible for a multi-decade national trend is a twenty car pileup of nonsense.

          • Marc Whipple says:

            s/twenty car pileup of nonsense/good summary of modern politics

            Fixed that for you.

          • Alex says:

            With productivity, the population is united in that if someone could do their job better easily, they would. With inequality, the top 1% have little incentive to help reduce it.

            But after thinking about this I’m actually not sure what it means to say productivity is a “harder problem.” Maybe nobody knows how hard these problems are.

            Then, however, Mankiw’s comparison makes about as much sense as Noah Smith’s in the second MR comment. 🙂

    • John Schilling says:

      To reduce economic inequality, in principle, you just redistribute. It might not be politically feasible, but it’s technically feasible. But to increase productivity, or to speed up technological advance, what do you do?

      Stop redistributing.

      Assuming you’ve been doing a fair job of preventing theft and fraud and slavery, as called for by just about all the competing economic philosophies, where does the economic inequality come from in the first place? Some people are better than others at creating wealth. Which includes the various immaterial forms of wealth-creation, and it includes the cooperative forms, and sometimes the guy who gives the orders is more important than any hundred guys turning wrenches.

      But, absent theft/fraud/slavery, the wealth starts out divided amongst the people who created it, in rough proportion to their actual aptitude for wealth-creation. So when it comes to the critical decision of how to allocate society’s wealth today so as to foster more wealth generation tomorrow, that decision will be made by…?

      If instead you want to redistribute wealth so as not to have people starving in the streets or feeling bad because their car isn’t as fancy as someone else or whatever, there’s merit to that as well. But there is a trade being made; more redistribution now means less wealth to redistribute in the long run. Mankiw’s numbers may be informative as to whether this trade has been made optimally over the past forty years/

      • Alex says:

        …redistribution appears generally benign in terms of its impact on growth; only in extreme cases is there some evidence that it may have direct negative effects on growth. Thus the combined direct and indirect effects of redistribution—including the growth effects of the resulting lower inequality—are on average pro-growth.

        http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/sdn/2014/sdn1402.pdf

        Alternatively:

        The most sensible conclusion from these data is that income inequality has had little or no effect on economic growth.

        http://lanekenworthy.net/is-income-inequality-harmful/

      • Harald K says:

        Can I once again recommend Steve Randy Waldman’s introduction to welfare economics?

        But there is a trade being made; more redistribution now means less wealth to redistribute in the long run.

        We do not know that, and as the text I recommend explain at eloquent length, output (that is, wealth) cannot be measured independently of distribution.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          This is obviously some strange use of the word “output” that I haven’t previously encountered.

          • Harald K says:

            It really is not magic. Look up that article series and read it, pretty please, rather than being snarky?

            (Not that I am adverse to snarkiness in general. It’s just that in this case, you’re missing out on something that would make ssc economics discussions ten times more valuable if everyone had read it).

  34. I see that a photo of Van Buren is used to assign him to very near the bottom of the presidential hotness ranking. Photographs (as opposed to paintings) of Van Buren date from his old age, when he took a turn as a spoiler presidential candidate. From an attractiveness standpoint, that isn’t really fair, since many of the other presidents are portrayed in that article as young men.

    On the plus side, though, comparing a collection of head shots conceals that Van Buren was only five feet six inches tall.

    Incidentally, here in Michigan, Van Buren County is named for Martin Van Buren, but eight years before his presidency — it is one of the “cabinet counties,” all named for the members of Andrew Jackson’s first cabinet.

    Appropriately, right above the main entrance to the century-old Van Buren County Courthouse is a bust of Van Buren, as a notably younger man — Secretary of State Van Buren, not President Van Buren.

  35. Daniel Kendrick says:

    Can’t say I ever thought about how similar Orson Welles and Herbert Hoover look until I read the “Hottest Presidents” link.

  36. Steve Sailer says:

    “Oregon City has the United States’ only public outdoor elevator to transport citizens from one level of the city to another.”

    In the Hollywood Hills near the Hollywood Bowl, there is a fairly famous private outdoor elevator to transport residents from their parking spaces up to their ridgetop apartments. In Robert Altman’s 1973 version of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, Philip Marlowe (as played by Elliott Gould) lives at the top of the elevator.

    http://la.curbed.com/tags/hightower-apartments

    • Airgap says:

      And it’s not even for rent anymore? WTF, Steve, couldn’t you have told me about this sooner?

  37. Steve Sailer says:

    “Noah Smith against the complaint that economics can’t predict anything, or isn’t a real science. I think he misses what I would consider to be the most important point – market behavior is anti-inductive, so the argument that only being able to predict the market counts is unfairly saying you’ll only give economics credit it it can predict inherently unpredictable things.”

    Right, it’s funny how everybody overlooks what the Efficient Markets Theory implies about economists: they can’t predict whether markets are going up or down.

    • Alexp says:

      I had a math professor give a nice proof of that:

      1. If I could predict the way markets move, then I’d be swimming in money instead of giving this lecture.

      2. I’m giving this lecture and not swimming in money.

      3. Therefore I can’t predict the way the markets will move.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        At one point, Dilbert takes an economics class. The professor points at a blackboard behind him covered in gibberish and says, “This equation explains why I’m an expert on money yet I dress like a flood victim.”

    • RCF says:

      However, economic can make conditional predictions. For instance, EMT doesn’t prohibit someone from saying “contingent on market indicator X going up 5%, the value of security Y will increase 1%”. If bond prices keep going up each time the Fed increases interest rates, then we should be reevaluating our economic theories.

  38. Geoff Romer says:

    I call BS on the CoeLux light fixture- the problem they claim to have solved is nowhere close to the hardest problem in creating a simulated skylight, and they are extremely nonspecific about what their demos actually show. The article and video both emphasize how their key technology is the ability to simulate the sky’s Rayleigh scattering in a nanoparticle film. The thing is, the only effect of Rayleigh scattering in the sky is to make the sky blue and the sun a little redder. In other words, if their tech in any way matches their claims, it merely changes the color of the light source, and maybe fills the rest of the “skylight” with blue light. But you can get the same effect by just having the light source emit a different color in the first place. Notice also the phrasing of the article: “an effect that carries the same qualities [as real sunlight], from color and saturation to light quality.” But “saturation” is merely one dimension of color, and the uselessly vague “light quality” sounds to me like it also means “color”, so all this really says is that their light is the same color as sunlight.

    The thing that makes the photos and video look so real is the intensity of the light, the penumbral shadows, and most of all the fact that it’s roughly parallel, as though the light source is fairly distant. If they had the ability to create the appearance of a distant light source from a compact ceiling-mounted light fixture, that would be an incredible achievement. However, the video conspicuously fails to make any claims along those lines, and the article tosses it off as an aside several paragraphs down. This is not how people who had actually achieved that would behave.

    Additional evidence: despite the article’s claims about how “incredibly thin” the fixture is, the video never shows us what’s actually above it. If there really were nothing above the fixture, there are any number of far more impressive ways they could showcase that (off the top of my head, they could omit the ceiling and just suspend the “skylight” in the air), so either they’re incredibly poor showmen, or there is something above the skylight. The clincher, though, is that you can see in several of the photos that the light is not in fact parallel: the lit area noticeably gets larger closer to the floor.

    In other words, both the successes and the defects of the demo are completely explained by a very intense spotlight mounted maybe 20 feet above the skylight, backed by a blue scrim. I strongly suspect that’s precisely what we’re looking at.

    • Arthur B. says:

      You can get the infinitely-far-away effect with a parabolic Fresnel lens.
      I think the hardest problem would be to get the color temperature right, and the intensity right.

      • Geoff Romer says:

        You can get the infinitely-far-away effect with a parabolic Fresnel lens.

        Maybe, kinda, but that’s certainly not what’s happening in the demo. Fresnel lenses have lousy image-forming ability, so you’d see clear artifacts when looking up through the skylight, and there’d be a good deal of light scattered out of the main beam path by the steps in the lens. I’m also skeptical that you could do that with the light source as close to the lens (compared to the lens diameter) as it would have to be to make a “ceiling mounted” fixture that wide.

        I think the hardest problem would be to get the color temperature right, and the intensity right.

        Intensity is a non-problem. If I’ve done my math right, this sucker would be almost 5 times as bright as the sun, if you could parallelize the light. Sinking all that heat might admittedly be a challenge, but raw intensity is not an issue.

        As for color temperature, exactly matching the spectrum of the sun after Rayleigh scattering might be hard, but it’s not necessary. Humans are (usually) trichromats, meaning we perceive color in terms of the relative activation level of only three different kinds of photoreceptors. As a consequence, you can simulate any possible color stimulus by mixing three more or less arbitrary primary colors in suitable proportions. This is the principle behind color displays.

        Honesty obliges me to qualify that a little bit: the color you’re trying to match has to be within the gamut of the chosen primaries, but sunlight will be within the gamut of any reasonably choice of primaries, because it’s nearly white. A more substantial qualification is that this applies only to the color of light that falls directly on the eye; spectra that are indistinguishable in themselves may be distinguishable by the different ways they reflect off an object.

        An extreme example of this is that an environment illuminated by a sodium-vapor lamp is very strikingly different from one illuminated by an RGB mixture with the same apparent color: objects under RGB light will still have recognizably different colors, just shifted toward yellow. But sodium-vapor light is very nearly monochromatic, so you actually can’t see the colors of objects in that light; only variations in brightness of that one shade of yellow (San Diego uses sodium vapor streetlights, and the effect is quite eerie).

        However, that’s the exception that proves the rule: as far as I can tell, these phenomena are only important when either the light or the object’s reflectance is very close to monochromatic. For ordinary objects under the broad, smooth spectrum of sunlight, these effects will be irrelevant.

        So no, intensity and color temperature don’t seems like big issues to me, but making high-quality parallel light decidedly does.

        • Ben Anhalt says:

          Your comments about matching the color temperature being unnecessary are incorrect. It is true that matching the intensities of the three primary colors is enough to produce any visible color when perceived directly. But when the light is reflected from various surfaces it’s ability to “correctly” represent their colors depends on the entire spectrum being in the illumination. This is why cheap white LED flashlights provide such strange color representation.

      • RCF says:

        Isn’t is parabolic mirrors that give parallel rays? Or do both parabolic lenses and mirrors give parallel rays?

    • Decius says:

      The explanation for why I didn’t see any installations that show the thickness of the solution, or very good images looking “out” the “window” are persuasive.

  39. Douglas Knight says:

    The FDA link is pretty vague. What is the fraud and who is committing it? Is it the drug company or is it individual doctors? The doctors don’t care about the outcome. They’re probably cutting corners, eg, not seeing patients, but fabricating records that they did. As long as they cannot break the blinding, their fraud is just another source of noise. The description of the fraud as localized to sites makes it sound like that. But if it is central meddling by the drug company, they might have access to the blinding data. And they would bias the results along axes that we care about.

    I don’t expect many details in an article in Slate, but the impression I get is that Seife just has no idea what a medical trial is.

    For the Cetero and GVK bioequivalence trials, it also sounds like the fraud was adding noise to the experiment. But bioequivalence trials are trying to prove equality rather than difference, so adding noise may make the desired results more likely.

  40. CJB says:

    This is something I learned quickly working with the homeless.

    The person we think of as “homeless” (nutty, on the street corner, babbling about the radios in his teeth, beard, smelly, collecting cans) has a home. They live on the street, and often have for years and years. A lot of the really long term homeless don’t even really show up- the people you see begging often make better than minimum wage at it, and the long term homeless aren’t in the parts of town you go too.

    The people we think of as the first stage of those guys- some guy loses his house and job- don’t look like that. They often end up couch and hotel hopping more than on the streets. They don’t need a house, they need a job- they often HAVE a house and stuff, they just can’t afford the mortgage. Or, as the excellent NYT look at homeless children in NYC last year revealed, “homeless” often means “living off government rent subsidies” as opposed to “doing your homework in a puddle of streetlight on your very own grate.”

    “Giving houses to the homeless” sounds amazing, but in reality, it’s more “giving houses to people that either need mortgage payments or years of medical treatment and intensive therapy.”

    IS there a portion of the homeless that this would help? Yes. But cost for benefit is low. We’d be better off re-opening the old public mental health institutes. All the people in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, today, would be on the street.

    • Princess Stargirl says:

      Putting homeless people in a emntal hospital seems much worse for the homeless than giving them a “house.” If someone can survive on the streets they do not need close supervision to manage. Long term care facilities are routinely abusive or at least terrible palces to live (this holds for nursing homes also). People like autonomy and are bad at manging their own power.

      Of course idk if we could actually afford to give the homeless decent-ish housing. I personally think one smallish room + small kitchin (at least a microwave) + bathroom is fine. I did not mind living in that sort of housing at all. But if we could afford to give it to them they would be much better off in such conditions than in a mental hospital. I actually seriously doubt most homeless would be better off in coercive mental hospitals than on the streets.

      • Airgap says:

        Lots of people who are genuinely insane survive on the streets.

        • Princess Stargirl says:

          Yes and your point is?

          If you can manage on the streets you can manage “on your own except you have free housing.”

          Being “insane” is not a justification by itself to forcibly house someone in a mental hospital.

          • Airgap says:

            Lots of insane people are violent or self-destructive or just annoying. The point was to rebut your assertion that the fact that someone survives on the street proves they don’t need close supervision.

          • CJB says:

            Then….just shut down all mental health facilities for all but the most incredibly disabled.

            And…pretty much any activity defined as “Self-care” falls under the heading of “Shit you do to NOT end up on the street eating out of garbage cans.”

            Abuse? Well, I’m sure there are abusive nurses on the staff of mental health institutions. I fail to see how they could be more abusive than “large group of mentally troubled men under a bridge.” Ever see the rape stats for homeless people?

            Ultimately- many of these people are people that require care to function at a level that could be called “basic human dignity.” That’s not evil or shameful, it’s a sad fact.

            And finally- I’d question your assertation of “surviving”. That seems a bit like people saying “I survived driving around without seatbelts, you wuss!”

            Here’s the numbers.

            http://www.nhchc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/HardColdFacts.pdf

  41. Shenpen says:

    What if new immigrants make older immigrants assimilate faster, because they want to signal a different status to the group directly below them and assimilation is associated with being “Western”, being “Western” is associated with being rich and succesful?

    Story: there is oft-quoted Hungarian urban legend how people who move to America and come back to visit in a year already talk their native language with an English accent, insist on being called Johnny instead of Jancsi and generally putting up annoyingly fake-American airs (because it is not actual assimilation in a timeframe of one year, it is signalling being a richer group member status).

    • Tarrou says:

      That may be true for societies in which status is signaled by westernization. Unfortunately, this does not include America, where status is signaled by how un-American you seem. Nothing is higher status in the US than being whatever the current opposite of a successful bourgeois happens to be. Immigrants are encouraged to maintain their customs, to not assimilate, and to accuse the locals of discrimination at every turn. Not a recipe for success, that.

      • Nornagest says:

        There are several cultures in the US with different status norms regarding Americanization; but even in the coastal urban white hipster culture that I assume you to be referring to, that’s not quite true. Patriotism is low-status there, of course, and being or appearing to be suburban bourgeois is seen as dreadfully gauche. But if you try to navigate that culture while looking or talking like anything further removed from American culture than, say, someone from New South Wales you’ll be seen as an exotic curiosity at best, and if you actually express different cultural values they really won’t know what to make of you.

        It’s really a rather xenophobic culture once you get under the surface; that just isn’t immediately obvious because of the high value it places on superficial tolerance and appreciation of other cultures.

      • Shenpen says:

        But what I mean is signalling status back home or in the immigrant community.

        • Tarrou says:

          I’m saying this happens, but is not universal. When immigrant communities fail to assimilate and metastasize, they can become more extreme versions of their original culture, a sort of cultural fossil. For instance, the Quebecois are far more “French” than the actual French, ditto the Dutch in South Africa or the Anglo-Indians.

          This is what is happening in the muslim communities of England and France. People who weren’t particularly extreme in a muslim society become crazies when their identity is wrapped up in being a muslim in opposition to being French.

          • Harald K says:

            Yes, it is very common that cultural identity becomes stronger for immigrants, and that they hold on more dearly to or even exaggerate their customs.

            American English is apparently closer to the way Shakespeare spoke than modern British English is.

  42. Arthur B. says:

    Regarding your support of basic income: do you realize it would be implemented by the same type people who are responsible for things like the innovation-squashing, fraudulent FDA.
    It’s meaningless to support platonic policies, there is no philosopher king to implement and enforce them. Policies must be politically stable, not merely efficient. Welfare is an important political tool, and it’s not about helping people. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t help some people, but that isn’t its raison d’etre. Like all policies, welfare serves political ends. It helps politician gain votes by making them look charitable, it builds political clientele which depends on the payments, and it requires an entire administration which can be used to give jobs and power to political allies. All of the red-tape, the overhead isn’t a bug of the welfare state, it’s a feature!

    If support for the BIG becomes strong enough, something like the BIG might be implemented, but a tortured monstrous form. For instance, it might be proposed on top of all the other welfare programs as the Reagan administration almost did after Milton Friedman popularized the idea.

    Coordination problems are horrible, but political authority is itself a coordination problem, and it tends to make these matters worse, not better.

    • Shenpen says:

      But by the very same logic there is no point in enganging in politics at all – for exampel even libertarian ideas can be implemented in tortured horrible forms, see the effects of Chicago School in Latin America and Eastern Europe, where politicians just privatized random stuff to their cronies for peanuts and then told everybody this is because markets are more efficient than state ownership.

      Your logic is valid, but it predicts no politics whatsoever, not even supporting libertarian sounding ideas should be ever supported.

      It makes only a politics of system change, revolution or counter-revolution worthwhile: left-anarchism, right-anarchism and monarchism, for example.

  43. CJB says:

    The Fahrenheit thing is interesting to me because it’s the whole “Fight the man, become the man” dichotomy.

    Metric used to be the cool thing the liberal kids wanted to do to like, modernize the ECONOMY, man. So we can like…sell kilos of butter to the French.

    Now almost all packages have dual labeling, and Metric is the thing the stodgy old people have been whinging about since the Carter administration. Oh, the MAN wants us to use metric? Well here’s what’s wrong with your precious divisible by ten system. Still like it so much NOW, Mr. THE MAN?

    I wonder how much of our deeply rooted moral beliefs boil down to “My dad didn’t believe this during my formative years.”

    • Emile says:

      Maybe it feels that way in the US. From a European point of view, your obstination in using that awkward miles/yards/feet/inches/beard-seconds system looks like a kid cutting his food with the wrong edge of his knife. Suure kid, you’re a brave independant spirit stickin’ it to the man.

      • Peter says:

        Of course, the best recipes call for 200g of this and 2 lbs of that, and I remember my Mum buying a piece of cloth, 60 inches by 4 meters. Gotta love the way that the UK can be pretty mid-Atlantic at times.

        • Matt says:

          A bit off topic, but god: cooking is where everything needs to be metric, and needs to be metric now. You can save so much time and effort by just getting a gram scale and measuring everything by weight. It’s so much better!

          Technology has made gram scales affordable for everyone; why continue to measure things out like cavemen? Grams are accurate enough for just about everything except maybe spices and whatnot that you measure out of measuring spoons. And you don’t have to dirty measuring cups. God how I wish all recipes were already converted to weights in grams.

          • Jadagul says:

            So I’m completely with you on the subject of “baking should be done by weight!” (If you’re cooking and not baking, on the other hand, I’m a bit confused why you’re measuring at all, most of the time). But you can weigh things in ounces as well. My cookie and bread recipes are in ounces, my meringue and banana bread recipes are in grams.

          • Shenpen says:

            I have recipes calling for three parts of this and two parts of that. Proportional instead of absolute figures.

      • CJB says:

        I was referring to how it’s been implemented over here.

        From an American/Euro perspective, my ongoing response to complaints about using feet instead of meters is “You’re right. Man, if it wasn’t for that, we would’ve been the first ones to the moon!”

        Of all the silly complaints I hear from Europeans, that’s my second favorite, because it is some completely immaterial to anyone ever, and yet people get so HEATED over it.

        it’s the system by which you measure something. It is by definition, an arbitrary choice designed to suit the preference of people in a particular nation.

        (My favorite complaint is “Why are all your terrible brands/foods/musics/whatevers over here, you backwards little nation?” To which the response is: “We’ve been trying to get rid of them, but you people keep buying it.”)

        • Emile says:

          For what it’s worth I don’t *complain* about Americans using pre-industrial measurement systems as much as make fun of them – it doesn’t really impact me much.

          I would prefer if the world was a more efficient place and we’d all agree on sensible standards for measurements, electrical power, electrical connections format, time zones and daylight saving time, etc. On most of those it’s far from obvious to me what the best choice would be and why it’s not universally adopted; the metric system is one of the rare cases that’s pretty clear-cut.

          And of course I have nothing against American music and brands and food and whatnot; a lot of the best stuff today is American.

          • Irrelevant says:

            the metric system is one of the rare cases that’s pretty clear-cut.

            Except for the part where it’s not in base 12 and it considers “kilogram” a core unit.

          • Airgap says:

            For what it’s worth I don’t *complain* about Americans using pre-industrial measurement systems as much as make fun of them

            Yeah? Well our nukes are metric, punk.

        • efnrer says:

          >From an American/Euro perspective, my ongoing response to complaints about using feet instead of meters is “You’re right. Man, if it wasn’t for that, we would’ve been the first ones to the moon!”

          You do know that NASA is using metric, right?

          • Jaskologist says:

            And that’s why their probe failed.

          • efnrer says:

            Not according to that wiki-page. I suggest you read it.

            >The primary cause of this discrepancy was that one piece of ground software supplied by Lockheed Martin produced results in a United States customary unit (“American”), contrary to its Software Interface Specification (SIS), while a second system, supplied by NASA, that used those results expected them to be in metric units, in accord with the SIS.

          • CJB says:

            In 1969? Because they just switched in 2007.

            Oddly enough, around the time a lot of cool stuff was starting to be canceled…..

            METRIC KILLED THE SPACE PROGRAM.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        Whoops, duplicated the post somehow. My apologies.

      • Marc Whipple says:

        In woodworking and carpentry, a split duodecimal-octonary system is superior in many ways to a decimal system. I’d much rather do woodworking in English measurements than SI, and I have a degree in Physics. I can think in SI quite easily. I just prefer not to do so when something else will work better. It’s *not* provinciality: it’s practicality.

        This of course from the person who used to occasionally do calculations in more or less arbitrary bases if it made the numbers easier to sling around. I’m not Slipstick Libby, but I can hum a few bars. So maybe I’m not the best example.

        • Shenpen says:

          Psst, don’t tell anyone, but building materials in inches in Europe too, just the snobs don’t want this secret out. Inch is called Zoll in German, coll in Hungarian, toli in Romanian and it is totally so that my bookshef is half-inch board and the pipes are four-inch pipes.

          Except that it is metric inch so the pipe is 100 mm and the bookshelf 12.5, because, you know powers of 10, so easy to calculate with 12.5mm. / sarcasm

          • Anthony says:

            I understand tha French architects work with a basic unit of 300mm.

            In Colombia, “una libra” of any good sold by weight is 500g; many goods are sold by the libra instead of the kg.

            If it weren’t for property surveys, we probably could go metric by adjusting U.S. measurements to be even multiples of metric units – redefine the inch to 2.5 cm, the foot to 0.300m, the pound to 500 g, the gallon to 4 liters (instead of 231 cubic inches), the mile to 1.6km (but then the mile would be 5333.33 ft… Maybe 1.5km? That would make it much shorter.)

            But we’ve already got problems in surveying, because we have the foot, which is exactly 0.3048m, and the “survey foot”, which is exactly 1200/3937 m, which is not quite the same thing. In surveying, that one part in a half-million difference will screw up something.

      • CThomas says:

        How insulting. The unearned sense of superiority among many in the European intelligentsia is amazing to behold. If you can work up a sense of superiority over differences in units of measure, which are inherently arbitrary and culture-dependent, and obviously neither wrong nor right, then I’m sure you have all sorts of reasons for how wonderful you are. To call a nation’s use of its own measuring conventions “obstination” (sic, “obstinacy”) is really something else. Sorry to dwell on this. Best regards!

        • efnrer says:

          > units of measure, which are inherently arbitrary and culture-dependent, and obviously neither wrong nor right,

          You obviously have no experience with engineering or science.

          • CThomas says:

            I’d be interested in hearing why you think that statement is wrong. You didn’t say. Note that I didn’t say that every choice of unit is equally useful. That’s obviously untrue. I said that none is objectively right or wrong. If you disagree with that I’d be very surprised but I’d be delighted to hear an argument in support of a contrary view rather than a bald assertion.

            Best,

            CT

          • efnrer says:

            If you think people are arguing for metric because it’s “objectively right” then you are either deliberately strawmanning people or very mistaken. People are arguing for metric because it’s more useful to the engineers and scientists who are doing calculations (i.e. the only people who have need of proper units in the first place).

            Whatever units you are using in your daily life is both inconsequental and “inherently arbitrary” as you yourself said. Therefore you can easily switch to metric to ease the life of your scientists and engineers.

          • CThomas says:

            OK, so now the problem is no longer that the quoted comment is wrong and reveals my scientific illiteracy. Now you’re challenging my charge that this is a difference that fails to warrant the criticisms made by the person to whom I was responding. Obviously I wouldn’t have written my message if the person I was answering had simply opined that metric has greater utility. That’s a question of pragmatics, and can be answered in part by questions of lock-in in nations that adhere to less useful systems even granting for purposes of discussion that he is right on the merits. But in fact the person in question did not merely make such a simple utility claim of the sort you’re now trying to defend. He made the separate point I was addressing above. In any event, I’m glad we got to the bottom of what turned out to be a non-disagreement over the question whether choices of units have truth values.

          • CJB says:

            Actually, it’s all based on the meter, which was originally one tenmillionth of the distance from the equator to the pole, and was wrong anyway, because one of the original surveyors fucked up and didn’t tell anyone.

            http://www.amazon.com/The-Measure-All-Things-Transformed/dp/0743216768

            And now it’s a random fraction of the speed of light.

            So yeah, pretty arbitrary.

          • efnrer says:

            > Obviously I wouldn’t have written my message if the person I was answering had simply opined that metric has greater utility.

            That’s exactly what he did. He compared using imperial to cutting food with the wrong side of a knife, it’ll work (barely) but it’s a lot less useful.

            > But in fact the person in question did not merely make such a simple utility claim of the sort you’re now trying to defend. He made the separate point I was addressing above.

            Hence, this is false. You should work on recognizing when you are strawmanning people.

          • CThomas says:

            Efnrer, this is the sort of thing where we get so deep in the weeds of trivially unimportant questions (who said what; was this comment fairly responsive to that; etc.) that it leaves a choice of (a) elaborating an absurdly long and disproportionate posting to address the irrelevant details of whether my initial response was germane or not or else (b) leave a baseless charge unanswered. Neither good options. Given that nobody but you and me has any interest in this, if I had any sense I would probably pick option b, but since you are challenging my reading comprehension while simultaneously failing to understand what I wrote (and using odd formulations like “straw man” as a verb), I’ll go one lastround here and then I’ll try to shut up. We’re writing about something someone named “Emile” said above. Your most recent message seems to assume that I claimed that Emile hadn’t made the utilitarian point, and you triumphantly quote where he used the knife analogy to show that he did. But I never said that he didn’t! I said he didn’t “simply” say that. I.e., if he had said only that then I wouldn’t have said anything at all. I think it’s obvious from my first response to Emil that I was responding to a different part of his message, namely the part referring to “obstination” and the smug sarcasm in the last sentence of his message. I directed my response to those. You initially responded by misreading a phrase from my message and thinking that it showed me to be ignorant of science. After I explained that misreading you changed your critique and claimed, using the inelegant “strawmanning” term, that I was mischaracterizing Emile’s message because I was denying that he made the point about metric utility. Now that I’ve shown that I never made such a claim, I have no doubt you’ll find a third problem with what I said, yet again misreading me or Emile or something else. All right, sorry again for the inordinately long reply on such a trivial point. And I’m sincere when I say that I hope this doesn’t come across as nasty or aggressive. I have no intent whatsoever to stir anything up. Best regards.

      • Deiseach says:

        For optimum confusion, try a mixed version such as pertains in Britain and Ireland, where technically we’re all about metric, the older generations of us were reared on the Imperial system (and I still convert kilometres to miles), and when trying to use American recipes you have to convert American cups into British/Irish ounces and tablespoonsful.

        Also, American fluid oz are not the same as British fluid oz, amongst other measures.

        • speedwell says:

          Also, American fluid oz are not the same as British fluid oz

          Big OH.

          I didn’t have any trouble whatsoever using a Gordon Ramsay cookbook, bought in Scotland, in the US (it was almost absurd how much my recipes looked like his pictures). Using my US cookbooks over here, also no trouble since I brought over my kitchen tools. Making soda bread with the recipe on the Odlums coarse stoneground flour bag… not so much. Maybe I shouldn’t use that heavy Polish buttermilk.

          • Deiseach says:

            Soda bread is one of those recipes that everyone has a different family version from their mammy or their granny 🙂

            Of course, in the old days, Real Soda Bread was made with proper sour milk, that is, milk that had gone off naturally. With the advent of refrigeration, not to mention pasteurisation, that hardly ever happens anymore so you have to buy the ‘ready soured’ version. I remember long ago when I was doing cookery in primary school needing sour milk for soda bread, not having any, and my mother telling me to put vinegar through ordinary milk to make it ‘sour’. Well, it seemed to work okay 🙂

            Some recipes do give you heavy, ‘doughy’ bread, some give lighter breads. Again, texture, density, whether it’s white or brown soda bread depending on the flour, and are you making “currant cake” by putting dried currants into white soda bread and adding sugar.

            Trial and error and personal taste, basically.

  44. Stuart Buck says:

    An important line to keep in mind about the drunkenness study:

    “In conclusion, our data indicate that alcohol consumption may lead to consumers being rated as more attractive than sober individuals, but only following low levels of consumption [here, 250 ml of wine]. At higher levels of consumption [500 ml of win] this effect is not observed, and may even be reversed.”

    Also, the study involved 40 undergraduates rating 40 other undergraduates, so all of the usual caveats about whether this is a representative sample.

    • Deiseach says:

      At higher levels of consumption [500 ml of win] this effect is not observed, and may even be reversed</cite.

      So basically, one glass of wine = you're a sophisticate, the entire bottle = you're a wino? 🙂

  45. Alsadius says:

    The Fahrenheit defence is stupid – “We use all of one digit’s range and not much of another’s!” is exactly the same as Celsius.

    The head transplant is also stupid – that’s a body transplant, the head is the person.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      The head transplant is also stupid – that’s a body transplant, the head is the person.

      Deiseach can tell us whether the soul goes with the head or with the heart.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        Obviously the Egyptians were right- they get the other person’s Ib and they keep their own Ba.

      • Deiseach says:

        The soul is not localised in one body organ.

        That our vital activities proceed from a principle capable of subsisting in itself, is the thesis of the substantiality of the soul: that this principle is not itself composite, extended, corporeal, or essentially and intrinsically dependent on the body, is the doctrine of spirituality.

        • Alsadius says:

          So in the case of a body transplant, would it be the body donor or the head donor whose soul lives on in the person? If the post-transplant person commits a mortal sin, which soul is damned to Hell?

          (I’m assuming standard Christianity on your part here, feel free to amend those questions as appropriate if I assume wrong).

    • Deiseach says:

      What I wonder is how the heck they expect to overcome organ rejection; whether it’s the head rejecting the body, the body rejecting the head, or both rejecting one another, it seems to me you will need to put any surviving recipient on a lorry-load of immunosuppressants for however long they’ll live after the procedure.

      It’s a fascinating notion, in a queasy, horror-movie kind of way. I do wonder how long it will take for this to go from “are you nuts?” to “we do the first one today!”

  46. grendelkhan says:

    Of course one of the jacket blurbs for Every Cradle Is a Grave is by Thomas Ligotti. Of course it is.

    On books without the covers being “stolen”, see Charles Stross’s Common Misconceptions about Publishing, which covers that and much more. (Serial novels were around 45-60k words during the Golden Age, but when inflation hit in the 1970s, most books were sold at non-bookstores and distinguished themselves by being (cheaply) larger, so now novels are twice as big. The price elasticity of demand for hardback books hits a cliff (or at least did five years ago) at $24. Publishing isn’t always difficult, but it is time-consuming and generally not worth it for authors to do themselves if they can avoid it. Word is a de facto standard, and an awful one. And so on.)

    • Marc Whipple says:

      I must respectfully disagree with the assertion that publishing isn’t worth it for authors to do themselves if they can avoid it. I know several independently-published authors who have done quite well for themselves, and many more traditionally-published authors who have gone “hybrid” and make much more money than they would have had they stayed completely in traditional publishing.

      If it’s not something you want to do, then you shouldn’t do it, as with almost any voluntary activity. But it need neither be excessively time-consuming nor especially difficult. As has been observed: “Publishing isn’t a job. It’s a button.”

      • grendelkhan says:

        Here’s his section on why he doesn’t self-publish, and indeed, it’s not titled “why you shouldn’t self-publish”. He cites what does into a traditionally-published book for his estimates of time spent, and comes to the conclusion that it’s just not worth it in terms of the time it would take away from his writing, which seems like a reasonable conclusion for him.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          He is a very successful author already, and if he feels that self-publishing would be too disruptive to his work, I wouldn’t dream of arguing with him.

          However, the post I was replying to didn’t limit the assertion to him personally.

          I’ve read that post before, and for him, it makes sense. I disagree with some of his calculations, and even stipulating them, the entire basis of his assessment is his own personal writing style. Which isn’t slow, but isn’t particularly fast, and is set up around relatively large books which need a lot of post-writing work. This isn’t true of all (or perhaps even most) authors, and so the whole calculus would change.

  47. I wonder how much of our deeply rooted moral beliefs boil down to “My dad didn’t believe this during my formative years.”

    I don’t remember my father (born in NYC, 1925) expressing any strong opinion about metric. He did his photo darkroom work in quarts and gallons, but he had some metric tools.

    (Edit: but now I remember that he and my mother had their wedding rings engraved with the date of their marriage according to the French Republican metric calendar, a now-forgotten part of the metric system, in which each month consisted of three ten-day weeks.)

    Me, I prefer Fahrenheit for weather, because it reserves the high-definition 0-100 range for the air temperatures of ordinary human experience. Temperatures below zero or above 100 represent extreme conditions.

    Sure, I grew up with Fahrenheit, but there are plenty of things I grew up with that I now reject.

  48. Lorxus says:

    As far as Magic goes, how do they quantify non-monetary services? How much would a public character assassination cost, say? And would they even do it?

  49. Deiseach says:

    I have been inspired to give you all a sneak preview of that 25th century fanfiction classic, “Perry Cotter and the Historical-Critical Method”:

    Charmian, of course, was being her usual irrational self, but really that wasn’t her fault; she was a deontologist after all, and they had been proven by Really Scientific Studies to be emotional balls of feelings who based all their decisions on how much the situation at hand reminded them of little fluffy kittens and baskets of puppies, not on the correct use of cool, hard, clear reason.

    It was a difficult, ever-continuing struggle to try and drag his schoolmates up to a level somewhat less distant from his own (they’d never be able to reach his level, obviously, but they could be rendered less abysmally ignorant and superstitious). Oftentimes he had to use the Locomotor Mortis or Immobulus charms as people often jumped up and ran away when they saw him coming (Don, the buffoon charitably included in the circle of their friendship by Perry and Charmian – was prone to doing this); a completely understandable reaction, as it was due to their abashment in the face of his superior and overwhelming intellect, and they were embarrassed to remain in his presence when they were fully aware of having no right to be there. As well, they knew their ignorance would be exposed, challenged and overcome by his instruction, and change is painful even when rewarding. Nevertheless, Perry Cotter nobly (naturally) and selflessly dedicated himself, day after day, to the task. And if he had to paralyse his audience to make them stay there and listen, then that was what it took in the never-ceasing battle against irrationality.

    “There’s sources you haven’t read,” Perry said in his understated but attention-commanding manner. “There are media you are ignorant of yet, Charmian, and they might give you a sense of perspective. A few centuries earlier – I think it was definitely still around in the twentieth or twenty-first century” (Perry knew precisely to the fifth decimal place which period it was, but he deliberately permitted himself to indulge in imprecision so as not to overwhelm his auditors with his breadth of knowledge and dazzling brilliance – it was just one more evidence of his modesty and humility when dealing with his intellectual inferiors) “– it was a popular urban entertainment in the geopolitical entity known at that time as the United States of Amerikay to raid a no-kill shelter and take all the kittens, and -”

    “Um, Perry, I don’t think that’s quite correct,” Charmian interrupted in her artless yet annoying fashion. Well, one had to make allowances for deontologists. Their rigidity of thought meant their minds ran on mental trolley tracks, straight over the five thoughts tied to the tracks. (Five thoughts were the maximum they were able to hold in their head simultaneously).

    Perry ignored her as usual and continued speaking in his firm, youthful yet manly tones redolent of logic and reason, “- and throw them into nets which were then lowered into the sea. After laughing at their struggles for a while, and when they judged the kittens to be sufficiently seasoned by salt, they would haul out the nets full of half-drowned kittens and then eat them alive.

    Alive, Charmian. It was an Amerikan variant on traditional Japanese cuisine called pussushi. You’ve never heard of the famous yet doomed crusade called “Save The Sea Kittens” – you can’t be blamed for your ignorance, of course, no-one has the breadth of reading and ability to make connections amongst the many specialised fields of knowledge that I do – and it was all considered good, clean fun and healthy eating besides.

    And I’ll give them this, it was cleaner fun than what they did to women – be thankful you’ve never been exposed to guro. Because the way people are built, Charmian, the way people are built to feel inside -” Perry condescended to popular fallacy by using the metaphor of purposeful telos, so long as it was understood that such concepts were completely meaningless in the context of evolution, and produced a sheaf of annotated MRI scans showing coronal views of the left and right amygdalae, since unlike other, inferior, imitators of his style who were content to wave their hands vaguely around at ear level he always insisted on the anatomically correct position “ – is that they undergo physiological reactions described as ‘hunger’ when they see delicious raw meat-rolls. That feeling has an off-switch, an off-switch labeled ‘ethical veganism’ and it is due to similar mental disorders as those which accompany vegetarianism.”

    “Perry, you’ve just told me I should torture kittens and eat them!” Charmian exclaimed in horror.

    Perry chuckled lightly. Ah, the over-emotional reactions of deontologists! Charmian was so delightfully predictable. “I’m just going where the logic takes me,” he pointed out.

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      Hee, hee!

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Post this on /r/HPMOR. I dare you.

      • Deiseach says:

        If I knew how, I would. Thankfully for world peace, my technical ineptitude and ignorance means that my ravings are confined to a few select arenas 🙂

        No, I couldn’t resist. That bit about the “anatomically correct position” drove me over the edge, because smarty-pants Harry, if you did that you wouldn’t be reflecting my correct anatomical position, as I’m one of the 1 in 12,000 (according to Wikipedia) with dextrocardia (discovered when they had to unplug and replug in the other side the leads for a 12-lead ECG because doing it the normal way wouldn’t work).

        And generalisations about history drive me up the wall, so “Everybody back then burned cats by the basketful on special bonfires” raised my hackles.

      • efnrer says:

        It’s funny but I don’t see what it has to do with HPMOR.

    • Troy says:

      I haven’t read HPMOR, but this was hilarious.

    • Anonymous says:

      This is just wonderful.

      My one critique is that “Charmian” doesn’t rhyme with “Hermione” (her-my-oh-nee).

      • Held In Escrow says:

        I kept reading that as Chairman and was expecting some Mao jokes

      • Deiseach says:

        All suggestions for improvement gladly accepted 🙂

        • It would probably need to be in a separate fragment, but the silly girl students sections really get on my nerves. I don’t know whether I’m being fair, but it always seems to me as though they’re being presented as silly because they’re female rather than silly because they’re young and/or (approximately) human.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Nobody likes the S.P.H.E.W. arc. Feminists don’t like it because it is insufficiently feminist. Non-feminists don’t like it because reading about the misadventures of a bunch of whiny girls is much less interesting than reading about the genius Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres or the ultra-badass Professor Quirrell.

          • Jadagul says:

            I like the S.P.H.E.W. arc. It’s goofy and fun and kind of silly in the way the first dozen chapters were.

          • drethelin says:

            I also liked SPHEW. It was relatively fun to read and a good illustration of how agentiness is the thing that you need to affect the world for good or for ill.

          • Julie K says:

            It bugs me when Hermione does stereotypical girly things, like dieting, or deciding that her rivalry with Harry is romantic. I think she was less girly in canon.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            I think she is doing that just to annoy Harry. In canon Harry is one of her few friends and not remotely on here level. In HPMOR Harry is a competitor (literally with defense class) and a bit smug and Hermione has other friends so she doesn’t have to worry about alienating him.

    • Svejk says:

      Verily, I can feel the scales falling from my eyes…

    • Svejk says:

      The original excerpt from HPMOR was so subtle I that I began to read Harry in Dan Akroyd’s SNL Weekend Update anchor voice, and half expected him to interject “Hermione, you ignorant {expletive}”

    • I think you’re caught something real about the story, though I think it applies more to Harry’s relationship with Draco (who Harry is trying to convert), rather than Harry’s relationship with Hermione (who he respects a lot).

      On the other hand, I like the book quite a bit more than you do, so I’m probably seeing less smugness– this statement is made without a claim about how much smugness is actually there.

      • CJB says:

        I think there’s a lot of smug. I think the entire book up until somewhere around leaving the prison is “haha. I am Harry Potter, and I read Godel Escher Bach and I’m superior to you.”

        LARGE parts of the last….third-ish of the story seem, so far, to be dedicated to smacking the smug out of Harry’s mouth.

        Specifically- I think one of the overall…morals? Themes?…of the story is as, Terry Pratchett would put it “Ooooh, and you’re so sharp you’ll cut yourself.”

        Things I’d kinda like to see- EY rewriting a lot of the first part of the book.. I think some of the smug is partially “Yes, this is what precocious 11 year olds are like” (Been there, done that) and partially just writing that’s less skilled than the more recent entries.

        • Susebron says:

          I also think that a lot of the critiques of Harry’s personality are overlooking the fact that uvf crefbanyvgl vf onfvpnyyl n pbcl bs Ibyqrzbeg’f. If you take that into consideration, a lot of the more annoying features of his personality make sense.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          i got a few chapters into it, quit and skipped to the author’s note after he introduced McGonagal by dropping a (figurative) anvil on her. In the note he said his muse gave him first draft by dropping anvils on characters, and he hoped in second draft to fix that.

          People are still talking about when the current draft will conclude, so I guess he hasn’t started a second draft yet.

    • Cauê says:

      I feel a bit silly saying this of satire, but this is satire of a poor straw man, and I’m not quite sure you’re aware of that.

      • Deiseach says:

        I don’t claim to have risen as high as satire; smart-arsedness of my own is about as much as I can claim. But the “everyone was burning cats” part really did grig me.

        • Leo says:

          Deiseach, why are you so bitchy? Every single one of your comments I’ve read in the past months has made perfectly reasonable and interesting points. Yet the tone is always, without fail, strident and disproportionately angry. This made sense when the topics hit personal nerves (e.g. Catholicism), but when you’re flying into rages on the Internet over Harry Potter fanfiction, maybe something is wrong.

          • Airgap says:

            Something indeed. Deiseach unfortunately suffers from a condition known as “Congential Irishness Disorder” (CID), which has no known cure. Previous NHS standards of care indicated that CID could be eliminated by regular use of a combination of Holistic Meditation, Aversion, and Family therapy (HMAF), but recently clinical evidence suggests that this only exacerbates the symptoms.

          • speedwell says:

            I read “snark” and rather like it, but then again by anyone’s measurements I am a Slytherin from a Slytherin family with a strong Ravenclaw streak.

          • Svejk says:

            I have not detected any excess stridency, bitchiness, or anger in Deiseach’s contributions. The reaction to the HPMOR excerpt came across as a fun and profitable exercise in table-flipping
            (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻).

          • Deiseach says:

            Yes, indeed, I have a dreadful condition called “Dear Americans Stop Thinking You Know European History” (DEATYKEH*). This month will see an exacerbation of the syndrome, leading to a flare-up reaching its maximum intensity on March 17th. Though I regularly succumb to spasms of it throughout the year when “Celtic” and allied terms are thrown around – see my twitching eye at how Samhain is pronounced, for one thing.

            *The American version of this is Quincy Morris Syndrome, where British and Irish writers do bad versions of American cowboys. The German-language subset of this is Winnetou und Old Shatterhand.

          • Deiseach says:

            Dear Leo, if you think this is me being strident and bitchy, I am profoundly glad to learn your accustomed society is of such levels of civility and urbanity that not a brow is ever ruffled, a voice raised, nor the serene placid current of the quotidian stirred by even a breeze, much less the tornadoes of passion nor the gales of rancour.

            Floreat, O Leonis!

            (And if anyone wants to take a crack at correcting my horribly ungrammatical Latin, I pray your goodselves to compassionate a poor, ignorant, monoglot peasant and instruct her in the way she should go).

          • Nonymous says:

            For my part Deiseach, I DO in fact rarely encounter scathing tirades about anecdotes in webcomics or ethical systems.

            Perhaps you should let go of the hate?

          • Jaskologist says:

            Some of us enjoy a good cranky old man/woman persona, but maybe that’s just because we know where we’re heading ourselves.

          • Anonymous says:

            >I DO in fact rarely encounter scathing tirades about anecdotes in webcomics or ethical systems.

            First time on the internet?

          • Deiseach says:

            If I’m coming across as “hate”, I am genuinely alarmed.

            Cranky and grumpy, yes. Hate? I don’t intend that, and if that is how you are reading my tone, then I obviously need to start pumping up the fluffy kitten quotient.

            But the hill I will die on is sloppiness with regard to history or source quotes, because I am seeing mountains of misinformation being piled up on the Internet and unquestioningly swallowed and then parroted as “the facts” once again. Things that are just plain wrong, and easily (if you have a historical sense extending back farther than ten minutes ago) recognisable, and provable, as wrong.

            Now, a lot of this is youngsters – mid to late teens, even up to early twenties – who simply don’t know any better and tend to uncritically fall for the first post that deliberately intends to stoke outrage. I am not intending to try and put old heads on young shoulders, but I will yell – and yell loudly – when I see wrong information being shoved out as fact because someone will pick it up, take it at face value, and before you know where you are, earnest young admirers of science (which is a fine and noble thing to be) are sighing wistfully over the Library of Alexandria and how we could all be colonising a planet of our very own if only it hadn’t been burned.

            There is a whole farrago of unexamined attitudes at work there, starting (at the very least) with not checking the sources because why bother, I saw a graph and a post on the Internet and they seemed kosher? The uncritical Zeitgeist of “today we are so much more advanced than the past because [fill in the blanks yourself]”.

            Yes, we are more advanced than the past, but if you can’t string together five sentences as to why and how this came about (and I don’t mean “Galileo! Darwin! Democracy whiskey sexy!”), then you don’t understand the world you are living in and how there is not the Whig version of history where we go on become inexorably more progressive and enlightened and those who were our forebears were always sunk in the mire of superstition – except when they had Occult Mystic Wisdom which somehow was not superstition but Real Scientific Knowledge.

            And I will be pounding away like the hammers of the Dactyls at those who are old enough or have aspirations to be educated enough to know better than to be sloppy in those kinds of “everyone knows what things were like back in the bad old days”.

            Maybe 17th century French people did roast baskets of cats every Wednesday and twice on Sunday. But I need a bit more than a superficially detailed but factually vague throwaway line – yes, even in fanfiction. There are plenty of fandoms with plenty of fans who know about guns, swords, sewing, cookery, horseriding, dancing, and how to cook a whale in a teacup who do give constructive criticism about glaring errors. I’m not going to claim to be a historian or a scholar, but I will be that awkward bugger who pipes up “But why do you say that’s so?” when something that would otherwise glide down smoothly, with barely a ripple of the throat muscles as it is swallowed whole, is presented for us to consume.

            Because it’s just as likely that in three centuries’ time, someone will run with the “Save the Sea Kittens” nonsense and bruit it about as a fact that in the 20th century, people used to regularly drown kittens in the sea for sport and then eat them. And none of us will be around still (unless all the transhumanist dreams come true or cryonics really does work) to correct them.

        • MicaiahC says:

          Wait are you denying that catburning happened at all or that it was done for entertainment? I can see a case against the latter, but it’s not quite as clearcut that there weren’t other reasons to do it, such as destroying witch familiars or ritualistic sacrifice. Has someone posted a retraction about this or do you know of some medieval scholar who has spoken out against this?

          • Deiseach says:

            I’m reacting against the generalised “as any fule kno, sometime in the 17th century all of France went in for catburning as Saturday night entertainment” which seems to have been ultimately derived from an incident in a book entitled “The Great Cat Massacre” which then turns out to be not an instance of cat burning, not even a singular instance, but rather a (admittedly nasty) form of protest by a group of apprentices over the differences in how they, and the pet cats, were treated by their master and mistress.

            That cats were sometimes burned as familiars in Europe, I don’t deny. That cat-burning as a thing, particularly a regularised, commonplace form of entertainment, was endemic in 17th century France I do want better evidence for than a throw-away line.

            And the 17th century is not Mediaeval, it’s Early Modern Period. That’s another grump for another time: the lumping together of everything pre-18th or pre-19th century as one undifferentiated mass of Ye Olden Days When Things Were Rotten.

            I recommend a course of Horrible Histories.

          • MicaiahC says:

            How do you know it was derived from one incident? As far as I saw, you knew that such a massacre took place in that time period and that the scholar who supposedly wrote about regular cat burnings also covered the massacre in detail. It’s entirely possible that catburnings for entertainment during festivals happened alongside angry protesters, and that scholars of that time period would cover both.

            Considering how it’s entered the popular consciousness, it’s not impossible to assume some scholar who was more familiar with the literature to get uppity about it. It seems premature to decisively conclude that this is fiction without more evidence, especially if you are complaining about other people lacking in epistemic virtue. However, I will admit that it’s more difficult than I naively assumed, as there’s probably a language barrier between us / French scholars so…. yeah not sure where to go from here.

            I know that 17th century France is not the Medieval period. I specifically followed up on some of the links in the wikipedia article and ignored everything which didn’t have multiple people corroborating it, and could only find references to catburning examples happening between 1000~1300. Apologies for the ambiguous grammar though.

            I’ll learn more about Western History if it weren’t so dry and boring compared to Eastern History~ (-:

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “However, I will admit that it’s more difficult than I naively assumed, as there’s probably a language barrier between us / French scholars so…. yeah not sure where to go from here.”

            It is actually pretty easy. HPMOR actually provides links to the sources for the information it uses for its chapters. If you think he is wrong, you can actually look at the citation he uses.

            I haven’t bothered because “The Better Angels of our Nature” is almost certainly the source (since the author talks about cat burnings AND he is quoted on occasion at less wrong in relation to some of his other work).

            You can look into the book see where it sources that claim. Since I don’t have access to the book, I haven’t bothered, but I’m sure someone here could give it a shot.

          • Cauê says:

            For cat-burning, Pinker cites James L. Payne, “A History of Force: Exploring the Worldwide Movement Against Habits of Coercion, Bloodshed, and Mayhem”, 2004, p. 126.

            From the less-than-a-paragraph that Google Books shows me, it seems that Payne cites Norman Davies.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The quote is, indeed, from Norman Davies’s Europe.

          • MicaiahC says:

            Well, apparently having one single source isn’t epistemically virtuous because whig history oh no????

  50. Ialdabaoth says:

    An attendee at the SSC meetup pointed out a potential pitfall – if you can get the real thing, who’s going to want to participate in studies that include a 50% chance of getting placebo?

    Solution: replace the normal placebo with a bona-fide homeopathic preparation. Same effect, but it has enough subconscious social clout that people who are willing to believe “shit, maybe there’s something to homeopathy” will sign up.

  51. Deiseach says:

    You come home from work, you check your newsfeed…

    Apparently, in my country, ecstasy and crystal meth are now legal and heterosexual marriage may be unconstitutional.

    Well, that’s what happens when all the politicians are rushing off to Cheltenham for race week! 🙂

    • speedwell says:

      Heterosexual marriage unconstitutional? Well, hell, there goes my visa. This is going to be one hell of a fun St. Paddy’s Day, eh.

      • Deiseach says:

        Unconstitutional only if you’re a Gaeilgeoir, apparently. They have now re-translated the Irish-language version to be a more literal translation of the English-language version.

        So marriage in all its forms remains safe in Ireland today. No news yet on the emergency legislation needing to be rushed through to make ecstasy and ketamine illegal once again. Though thankfully, between Cheltenham this week and St Patrick’s Day next week, our government and many other politicians will leave our unfortunate island alone and inflict themselves globally on the sea-divided Gael 🙂

    • Airgap says:

      Don’t the Irish traditionally prefer crack? You hear them inquiring about the quality of it every time they enter a pub.

    • I love following Irish politic, its like other people’s politics would be if everyone was drunk all the time.

  52. Adam Casey says:

    CGPGrey made a video based around the same ideas as Toxoplasma of Rage. That’s … not the first time he’s casually dropped ideas from the LW/SSC memeplex. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rE3j_RHkqJc

    • chaosmage says:

      Less than a day old, and already it has over a million views! If this happened due to the Toxoplasma of Rage article – and it very much looks like it – this might be the most influential thing Scott ever helped create.

      The script is darn near perfect: quite short, perfectly reasonable and understandable, and spot-on correct. The presentation is CGP Grey style, i.e. simple, stark, and just colorful and animated enough to keep anyone watching while not distracting from the argument.

      If anybody hasn’t seen CGP Grey’s best, most-viewed (4M) and most LWish video yet, here’s the link: Humans Need Not Apply.

      • MicaiahC says:

        It’s also possible that CGPGrey got the inspiration from Dawkin’s, who also used examples of creatures with unusual, multi stage life cycles in the biology sections in The Selfish Gene, and also had a chapter on the possible lifecycle of memes (I believe using the specific example of terrorists causing anti-middle east memes, which cause ‘drop bombs in iraq’ memes, which lead to become terrorist memes…).

        Of course, Dawkins didn’t have the specific example of outrage like Toxoplasma does, but I expect people to have been exposed more to Dawkins.

  53. dlr says:

    That article about emulsifiers was very interesting, but the experimental setup seems flawed. The scientists added the emulsifiers to water, or to the chow pellets. In actual food, the emulsifiers are, of course, added to whatever they are meant to emulsify – a mixture of fats and water. This may seem like a quibble, but really it’s not. The reason emulsifiers emulsify is that their molecules are water-loving on one end and fat loving on the the other end (polar on one end, and non-polar on the other). This makes them extremely chemically reactive. There are really only two kinds of chemicals, ones that like to bind/interact with polar molecules and ones that like to bind/interact to non-polar molecules, and emulsifiers WORK GREAT WITH BOTH.
    In food, they are mixed with the ingredients they are meant to emulsify, and thus, most of their binding sites, both polar and non-polar are “in use”, ie, already interacting with something. They are gong to be much less reactive than emulsifiers just added to the water supply. How much less, who knows. But, before everyone gets excited and reformulates their diets, I would suggest some follow up tests, using commercially available foods containing emulsifiers (or emulsifiers, fats and water in the proportions you would find in commercially available foods). Anything else is as misleading, in the same way as having rats drink lemon juice, and become alarmed because the acid is eating away the lining of their stomachs.

  54. Douglas Knight says:

    People who talk about processed food being bad for you sound intuitively plausible, but they’ve always sounded unscientific when they can’t point to the particular reason it’s bad:

    No, that’s backwards. Pretty much every food that is condemned as unhealthy (salt, sugar, saturated fat, trans fat, nitrites…) is not only abundant in processed food, but is condemned pretty much because of its presence in processed food. The data has terrible collinearity problems, so it is impossible to distinguish them to pick out a culprit.

  55. onyomi says:

    Don’t know if this is the place to put random URLs, or the open threads, or if everyone’s seen this already, but:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/foodanddrinknews/11458570/Why-being-unable-to-stand-noisy-eaters-might-make-you-a-genius.html

    Another reason Scott is a genius!

    The idea that low natural ability to filter out “extraneous” info actually makes you more insightful and open-minded seems pretty plausible to me.

  56. Kevin says:

    I think you would appreciate this interview: Salon’s Patton Oswalt peace summit. Oswalt really nails it.

    It just really, really bothers me, if the liberal progressives have now become the scolds. We were the Grouchos! We’re not the Margaret Dumonts — and we’re turning into the Margaret Dumonts on a lot of levels. That lets the misogynists and homophobes and racists seem like the rebels: “Well, we’re saying what people can’t say anymore.” We should be having way more fun with language and jokes and going too far. If our side starts doing that, then I think we’re fucked in terms of moving forward as a society.

    I read shit I disagree with constantly because I want my arguments and my worldviews to be strong. Stuff you don’t agree with is not radioactive.

    What I’m saying is, that comes down to someone like a Charlie Hebdo, or a Larry Flynt — they are necessary. We need people that will go all the way out on the edge and ask the most disturbing fucking questions that are out there. We need them. Otherwise, if you start having a society where people are policing their own thoughts, now we’re back in Salem, Massachusetts, where literally, they didn’t do anything for fun, and then that pressure built up and they all went nuts. Our society will go fucking crazy if everyone is even policing their thoughts. Are you enjoying this the right way? I’ll enjoy it any fucking way I want to. Sometimes I laugh out of disbelief and shock at horrible, racist, sexist, homophobic things because it’s so absurd to me that that still exists in the world. It’s like seeing a unicorn, like holy shit!

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      ” now we’re back in Salem, Massachusetts, where literally, they didn’t do anything for fun, and then that pressure built up and they all went nuts”

      That isn’t what happened. You had a bunch of teens larping Mage: The Ascension, the adults find out about it and foom- witch-hunt. Let that be a lesson about the dangers of White Wolf products!

      They also weren’t antifun- they were okay with alcohol and sex, they just insisted on keeping the Sabbath holy and opposed games of chance, maypoles, and drama. Okay they may have banned Christmas.
      (Wikipedia)

  57. Deiseach says:

    To finish up on this horse which I think has been adequately flogged by now, it’s not that I have any particular animus against the Harry Potter books (indeed, I read and enjoyed them), Harry Potter fandom, Harry Potter fanfiction (even of the didactic sort which is not my cup of tea), rationality, rationalism or rationalists, or indeed Eliezer Yudkowsky.

    I am reacting solely to the extracts from HPMOR which I see here and elsewhere, and they simply do not appeal to me. Now, taking chunks out of context is probably not the best way to judge the work, but then again, you don’t need to eat the entire egg to work out if it’s spoiled or not. Or at least, cooked to your taste. HPMOR is something I will never willingly read, anymore than I’ll read Ayn Rand and again, that’s based on reading a lot of to-ing and fro-ing about her novels, picking up one in a bookshop to see if I could give it a fair go, perhaps unfortunately flipping to a random chapter which put my back up to such a degree that I replaced the book on the shelf and said “Never going to read this author unless my feet are held to the fire”.

    Just to prove that I’m impartially judgemental and stubborn, I’m also hanging tough on the Filioque clause in the Nicene Creed.

    From time to time, certain parts of Western Christianity (here I snort, roll my eyes and mutter “Anglicans!” under my breath in a derisory tone, unfair as that may be to the whole of Anglicanism) suggest we drop this in order to make nice with Eastern Christianity.

    Sympathetic as I am to the Orthodox (the other lung of the Church, after all!) my reaction to this is NOT JUST NO, HELL NO!

    We’re been arguing the toss over this for a thousand years (to be precise: 961 years since the Great Schism of 1054) and I’m not budging on this. So you see, I’m not picking on HPMOR alone or selecting it out to give it a drubbing as an isolated instance 🙂

    • Chevalier Mal Fet says:

      Whenever I see someone getting hopped up on what are, to most laypeople, rather obscure matters of the fine points of Christian theology, I can’t help but think of the St. Gregory quote I ran across in John Julius Norwich: “If you ask a man for change, he will give you a piece of philosophy concerning the Begotten and the Unbegotten; if you enquire the price of a loaf, he replies: ‘The Father is greater and the Son inferior’; or if you ask whether the bath is ready, the answer you receive is that the Son was made out of nothing.”–St. Gregory of Nyssa

      God I miss Byzantium

    • Susebron says:

      Clearly the way to mend the Great Schism is to put a quantum superposition into the filioque clause such that it may be both there and not there at the same time. We have just under 40 years to figure out how to do this, so that the schism can be mended on its 1000th anniversary. Get to work on it, physicists!

      Actually, come to think of it, that could be a cool bit of worldbuilding for a sci-fi story set in the late 21st century. It would have to be somewhat soft sci-fi, but still.