"Talks a good game about freedom when out of power, but once he’s in – bam! Everyone's enslaved in the human-flourishing mines."

Links 12/15: Link-Manuel Miranda

[New link disclaimer: I’ve read or skimmed these articles, but not necessarily researched them exhaustively, and can’t 100% vouch for their accuracy. If you notice an issue, point it out to me and I’ll edit it into the post.]

Latin Wikipedia makes you feel like you’re in a world where Rome never fell. Here’s Civitates Foederatae Americae.

Zompist on Jane Jacobs on cities.

Past versions of Notepad had a weird bug that would manifest only for text files with a few very specific phrases, including “Bush hid the facts”.

Replication effort criticizes study showing that national wealth is related to “genetic distance” from the US, both failed replication author and original authors show up in the comments to defend themselves, ends up being a pretty interesting opportunity to watch an academic debate in real time.

Articles on places that have or haven’t kept health care costs down may just be falling for accounting sleight-of-hand.

Aviary Attorney describes itself as “potentially the hottest bird lawyering game to come out of 1840s France”

Jacobin on the role of governments in blue-sky research.

Oberlin students accuse dining services of cultural appropriation and cultural insensitivity for serving insufficiently authentic foreign food. This is your regular reminder that Vox thinks you should make your browser auto-change “political correctness” to “treating people with respect”.

Speaking of which, did you know that 68% of Americans (including 62% of Democrats and 61% of nonwhites) believe political correctness is a big problem? Unfortunately, I bet this just means that everyone defines “political correctness” as “the forms of political correctness that I don’t like”, not that there’s any broad consensus against any particular thing. Still, next time someone says there’s no such thing as political correctness, tell them 61% of minorities think they’re wrong.

Did Indian illiteracy almost double after the introduction of a law preventing schools from failing students?

The new three-digit Internet error code (think 404 error) for pages inaccessible because of censorship is 451 error, after Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

“Skulls for the skull throne!” doesn’t look as cool as it sounds.

Are US corporations spending less on research and development? Why?

SpaceX’s powered rocket landing was a success, potentially paving the way for an order-of-magnitude reduction in the price of getting things to orbit.

SSC sponsor Beeminder gets profiled in a Discover article on the biology of procrastination.

When a dysfunctional economy and shortage of raw materials prevented the local Pepsi factory from making soda, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro sprung into action: by arresting Pepsi workers for makinb Venezuela’s economy look bad.

The complexities of the British Commonwealth mean that every so often, British monarchs are legally at war with themselves.

Study finds women’s products priced higher than comparable men’s products. Robin Hanson and Tyler Cowen try to figure out why.

Put A Number On It rips into 538’s interpretation of affirmative action data.

Bay Area Regional Planner: The Board Game

Another discussion of whether the FDA is too conservative or too aggressive, this time concluding that it depends on the disease.

Enrico Fermi knew pretty much all the great physicists of the 1930s, and he said the greatest mind of them all was a young man named Ettore Majorana, whom he ranked alongside Galileo or Newton. At age 32, Majorana disappeared on a boat trip and was never seen again.

So, you’re Greece. You have an unmanagable amount of debt, your public and private sectors are both economic disasters, and the EU keeps breathing down your neck. Do you A) implement strict austerity, B) seek further bailouts and debt relief, or C) announce plans to rebuild the Colossus of Rhodes, four times bigger than the original?

Clickhole: Heartwarming – How American And ISIS Forces Came Together To Celebrate Christmas.

Dave Barry’s traditional year in review.

Pew: The American middle class is losing ground. FEE: No, that’s a really misleading way to frame it, the American middle class is shrinking mostly because people are getting richer. Reddit: [100 comments’ worth of interesting debate on this point].

Neat riddle spotted in one of Scott Aaronson’s students’ papers: Suppose you have a biased coin but you don’t know what the bias is and don’t want to rely on potentially-faulty induction to find out. How do you use it to simulate a fair coin?

From here: “Flaming Lips frontman/professional eccentric Wayne Coyne discusses how during his childhood, his mother used to talk about this really weird Christmas movie set in outer space. The preposterous-sounding film obsessed Coyne as a boy to such an extent that he eventually figured out it didn’t exist in the form she imagined. She’d created it in her mind by falling asleep in front of the TV, then combining the unrelated films onscreen into one crazy, literally unbelievable movie mega-mix through confusion, imagination, and dream logic. Coyne eventually set out to make the movie his mother had talked about, which became his directorial debut, Christmas On Mars. ”

I definitely can’t endorse this without looking into it further, but it presented a point of view I hadn’t seeen before so I’m opening it up to see if anyone wants to comment. Anatoly Karlin on 10 ways Russia and Putin get a bad rap, backed up with citations below. 3, 4, and 8 were the ones that surprised me, especially the part about Russia’s income inequality being less than the US’.

Vox has some good, if spoiler-laden, commentary on Star Wars VII: What’s the relationship between the Republic and the Resistance?, How Episode VII is trying to place Star Wars in the comic books genre, and Why it was so like the thing that it was so like.

Tyler Cowen in NYT on how assortative mating increases income inequality. But I think the study he’s citing might be the one that later got corrected to say that there was a statistical mistake and assortative mating doesn’t increase income inequality much at all. [EDIT: Cowan’s response]

The highest-earning athlete of all time, adjusted for inflation, etc, may have been Roman charioteer Gaius Appuleius Diocles.

A slightly point-missing profile of the Seattle effective altruist community including interviews with confirmed-awesome-people John Salvatier and Elizabeth van Nostrand.

We’ve been interpreting decreasing age of menarche as indicative of some kind of social pathology, but it might just be reversion to the evolutionary mean after a few thousand years of poor living conditions. But then why would poor women in broken families have earlier menarche than others?

The Atlantic proposes that Obama has precipitated a vast leftward shift in American culture as epochal as the vast rightward shift under Reagan. Counterpoint: Americans Are More Conservative Than They Have Been In Decades. Why do I have to keep reading these kinds of articles every few months? This question really shouldn’t be this hard to settle!

More on the greater male variability hypothesis; I don’t really understand this one.

Not only did the Sedan nuclear test irradiate lots of people, but somebody misrecorded it as the Sudan nuclear test and caused an international incident because Sudan thought we were nuking them.

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581 Responses to Links 12/15: Link-Manuel Miranda

  1. DrBeat says:

    “Zompist on Jane Jacobs on cities” is a dead link.

  2. Wrong Species says:

    Can we admit that the new Star wars wasn’t very good? As that Vox article pointed out, it was just the A New Hope but it had less tension and less compelling characters.

    Also, what do people think about the possibility of Star Wars breaking Avatars record? I want to go on the record to say I don’t think it will happen.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Yeah, we can admit that.

      I look forward to my children being able to watch Episode 10, which will be exactly the same as Episodes 4 and 7, except that the evil battle station will be called the Stellardoom and be the size of a solar system.

      • Montfort says:

        I refuse to seriously consider someone’s opinions on fight choreography who claims the Phantom Menace and ROTS “raised light-saber duels above any other movie fight.” Perhaps he wanted another duel decided by the ability of the protagonist to jump really high and do a flip?

        • onyomi says:

          “Lightsaber duels” is a pretty restrictive genre.

          • Montfort says:

            Even if the intended claim was as narrow as “ROTS had the best lightsaber duels in an official Star Wars movie” I would seriously question the reviewer’s taste in fight choreography.

            But this claim at least strongly implies he found ROTS’s lightsaber duel to be one of the best movie fight scenes of all time!

          • onyomi says:

            Well, I am sort of kidding. The claim that the prequels raised movie fight scenes to a new level would be absurd. The claim that they raised lightsaber fight scenes to a new level is almost uncontroversial, but uninteresting, since only three other movies, all of them at least 15 years old at the time, feature them.

          • Adam says:

            I feel like The Matrix kind of ruined action movie fight scenes for at least a while after it came out. The Phantom Menace scenes weren’t bad. It was just the first Star Wars movie to use a villain actually trained in martial arts who knew how to fight. It was episodes II and III with flipping Yoda bouncing off the walls and Anakin versus Obi-Wan fighting while surfing a lava flow that got ridiculous. Matrix at least had a believable explanation in it was literally happening in their heads and not bound by any laws of physics. The prequels just broke continuity and raised the question of why on earth Luke, Obi-Wan, and Vader in the originals couldn’t do anything like that.

          • Hadlowe says:

            @Adam:

            Of note, the original Matrix only came out two months before Star Wars Episode 1. All of the Star Wars CGI and fight choreography had been finished for some time by that point.

          • Adam says:

            For episode I, which I just said I didn’t think had bad fight choreography. They hadn’t even cast Hayden Christensen yet, let alone filmed all of his fight scenes in 1999.

      • Jaskologist says:

        That review referred to the prequels favorably way too many times. Those movies were really bad.

        On the upside, this lets me link Mr. Plinkett’s definitive take-down of the prequels. Just allot half a day to watching that.

        • onyomi says:

          Those reviews are pretty hilarious and incisive. They also confirm to my mind that the prequels are the thing that always bothers me most: great potential squandered. The sad thing is that characters like Queen Amidala are very well-designed (and costumed!), but the writing and directing is so bad as to squander most of that potential.

          I will say that I disagree with almost everyone in not hating Jar-Jar. People think his childishness detracts from the gravitas of the prequels, but the original trilogy had 3po and r2. It’s the cluelessness of the child Anakin and the wooden acting of the adult Anakin (and the “NOOOOO”) which make the prequels unserious, not the presence of a bumbling Caribbean water lizard sidekick (who, I think, is modeled on folkloresque fool and trickster characters in interesting ways).

          http://www.telegraph.co.uk/film/star-wars-episode-i–the-phantom-menace/why-we-hate-jar-jar-binks/

          I think Jar Jar is mostly a scapegoat for everything else wrong with the prequels; ironic considering one of the criticisms leveled against him was that the character was racist (ironic because the black-identified character played by a black person gets an unfair share of blame for ruining movies which were clearly ruined by boring white characters).

          • stillnotking says:

            It honestly annoys me that so much prequel hate centers around Jar-Jar. He was the very least of the problems with those movies.

            Hmm, perhaps there’s a general rule here: Comic relief characters are perceived as especially bad when the dramatic tone of the film is bad, and especially good when it’s good. C-3PO’s lines and mannerisms are just as cringe-worthy as Jar-Jar’s, considered in a vacuum.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            It’s worth noting that the Plinkett reviews that savage the prequels barely bring up Jar Jar, except for how he’s weird juxtaposed against the more serious things.

            I could fix the movies while still having a lot of Jar Jar in them.

          • onyomi says:

            Yeah, I liked that aspect of it as well.

            At the end, he also hits on something which I think is the downfall of a lot of big successes: once George Lucas becomes a legend and therefore treated with great reverence all the time, he goes from a talented but still highly fallible member of a great team to the all-knowing guru whose ideas must not be questioned.

            I have read about similar problems with many music stars: their early stuff is often better precisely because they don’t get to call all the shots. They have to seriously consider the input of a team of experienced professionals. Once they make it big people treat them reverence and they can also afford to fire people who don’t treat them with reverence; hence, the end product ends up being worse.

            I think basically kicking Lucas out of the new films was probably the right thing to do, but not because he would have had nothing good to contribute, but because he still cast too long a shadow and would have caused others to defer too much to his judgment.

          • Anthony says:

            Lots of best-selling authors reach a point where their publishers don’t dare edit them properly, too.

          • Careless says:

            I’m sorry, but Jar-Jar is the worst character in any movie I’ve ever seen. He’s that bad. He didn’t ruin the movies, but he was the worst part of TPM.

          • onyomi says:

            Have you seen Gigli?

          • onyomi says:

            @Mary

            I liked that, and agree that Lucas’s problem was that he rushed and stopped seeking the help of others when it came to the prequels, but one question:

            If Darth Vader wasn’t already meant to be Luke’s father at the time of the filming of New Hope, then why is name, basically, “Darth Father” (only one letter off in German…and with a little more flexibility sounds an awful lot like “Dark Father”…)?

          • Publius Varinius says:

            @onyomi: Why is Darth Vader’s name, basically, “Darth Father”?

            First of all, correlation is not causation, and this could very well have happened in the other direction – a drunk George Lucas mispronouncing Vader, and then going with it.

            In the prequels, Lucas sticks to the naming pattern ”Darth + Negative-Word”. Vader probably stands for Invader.

          • onyomi says:

            “First of all, correlation is not causation, and this could very well have happened in the other direction – a drunk George Lucas mispronouncing Vader, and then going with it.

            In the prequels, Lucas sticks to the naming pattern ”Darth + Negative-Word”. Vader probably stands for Invader.”

            First of all, I don’t see the necessity for lecturing me on correlation and causation. You could have just said “it could just be a coincidence.”

            Second, if Lucas thought up the name “Darth Vader” and genuinely had no intention of making him Luke’s father till after the filming of New Hope, then it’s just a very fortuitous coincidence. I can believe that, but it’s surprising.

            Re. the “Darth something-something” names: I don’t think there were any other “Darths” in the original trilogy, were there? The emperor was simply “Emperor Palpatine,” or, more often, “The Emperor” (I’m pretty sure no one ever says “Darth Sidious” in the originals). I think it was deciding that all dark side users would have a “Darth something-something” name which Lucas probably invented after the original series and before the sequels.

            The “invader” etymology is certainly also plausible, though I think the degree to which it sounds like “Dark Father” is truly fortuitous if it was unintended.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            In Episode IV, it seems that “Darth” is his actual first name, rather than a title. (Cf. Obi-Wan’s “A young Jedi knight called Darth Vader”, and later on, “Only a master of evil, Darth,” which loses a fair bit of power if “Darth” is a formal title.) When the Imperial people address him, it’s generally as “Lord Vader”.

            Though that creative discomfort post Mary linked to says that the decision to make Vader into Luke’s father only happened part-way through writing the script for Episode V, so the “Darth Vader = Dark Father” thing is probably just a coincidence.

          • onyomi says:

            Yeah, makes sense. If “Darth” had originally been intended as a title, then his underlings would have called him “Darth Vader” rather than “Lord Vader” and Obi-wan would have called him “Vader” or “Anakin.”

          • Publius Varinius says:

            @onyomi: Correlation is not causation was meant purely as a joke. I am sorry it did not work.

            Anyway, my point is not “mere coincidence”, but that it might have plausibly happened the other way around – Lucas noticing the correspondence, giving him the idea to turn Vader into Luke’s father.

          • onyomi says:

            The “Jar-Jar Binks as Sith Lord” theory is clever, but not plausible, imo. First of all, it gives Lucas way too much credit: Jar-Jar was invented to be a fun, slapstick character for the kids. He wouldn’t ruin the Happy Meal sales by later turning him into a villain even if fans had loved him–especially if fans had loved him.

            Second, all the supporting evidence is easily explained more simply: Jar-Jar can jump really high? Gungans are just an alien species with a really strong jumping ability. Jar-Jar has a lot of dumb luck? Of course he does. He’s supposed to be a splapstick character of the sort who hilariously bumbles his way to victory. Jar-Jar is later seen hanging out with Senator Palpatine and other important political figures? He was chosen to take Padme’s place as a representative of Naboo in the 2nd and 3rd prequels in order to give him some minor continued visibility without further annoying fans with his bumbling antics, which didn’t go over nearly as well as had been hoped. The senate acts implausibly stupid unless Jar-Jar is using mind control on them? The senate is always implausibly stupid in the prequels:

            https://youtu.be/ABcXyZn9xjg?list=PLZJ2yOBfQ1hr3wacUOgHhY_ZFZ2ujxAEo&t=2378

          • Agronomous says:

            @Publius Varinius:

            Darth [In]Vader
            Darth [In]Sidious

            So if we follow the Sith naming convention, Kylo Ren will become one of:

            Darth Competent
            Darth Fantille
            Darth Effectual
            Darth Ept
            Darth Censed
            Darth Decisive
            Darth Troverted
            Darth Ane
            Darth Creasinglyannoying

          • onyomi says:

            Just watched TFA again last night and have to say I really don’t get the Kylo Ren hate. He’s not incompetent or weak or stupid. He is emotional and immature, but remember he’s supposed to be the same age as Rey and Finn, and also that it’s supposed to be lack of emotional equanimity which leads to the Dark Side in the first place.

            To those who think he’s weak or ineffectual, consider some of the things he can do:

            Cause a beam gun bolt (which I guess would move at light speed, though they certainly don’t appear to in the films?) to freeze in midair

            Not only choke people at a distance but make them fly through the air to him; also can cause people to become physically unable to move and cause Rey to lose consciousness with a wave of his hand

            Read and probe minds

            Okay, so he has some force abilities. But he’s still wimpy and ineffectual and fancy tricks do not a great dark side user or villain make, you say. First of all, he’s not the big bad at this point; he’s the big bad’s immature apprentice. Second, what, exactly, are his big mistakes? He’s on a mission to find this map thing and takes pretty much whatever logical steps one would take to find it. His underlings repeatedly fail him, but he also gets involved directly. He interrogates a witness successfully before an unexpected traitor runs off with his prisoner. He tracks down the map in the mind of a girl before an enemy force compels him to leave the planet. He could not have known she would be a powerful enough force user to escape guards with mind tricks, etc. etc.

            Vader is clearly more “badass,” but that’s like saying “your country’s geographic territory is not as large as Russia,” and we are explicitly told that he admires and fears he can’t live up to his example. And Vader makes mistakes and fails in the original trilogy all the time; so if your metric is “doesn’t win,” then Vader fails there as well.

            And he was certainly a way more interesting character than Darth Maul, Tryannus, et al., so, as far as “Darths” go, he’s not doing too bad.

          • John Schilling says:

            First of all, he’s not the big bad at this point; he’s the big bad’s immature apprentice.

            But that just offloads more of the demand onto the Big Bad, by which I assume you mean “Snoke”, if that’s the right spelling. And Snookie is a bigger joke than Ren. Literally, he’d bigger. And he’s uglier. And that’s all he’s got. He does nothing, except command Ren, which means Ren’s failings become his failings. He frightens no one. He does not confront, confound, or threaten the protagonists – again, except ineffectually through Ren. He just sits there on his holothrone and is the object of statements to the effect that Here Lies The Big Bad. Whee.

            That’s all we got of the Emperor in the original trilogy, but Vader didn’t need a Bigger Bad to be sufficiently threatening to drive a plot.

            And in the prequel trilogy, we got Darth Maul, etc. Clearly not in Vader’s league; Maul in particular was little more than a glorified bounty hunter. But at least he didn’t have any embarassing on-screen temper tantrums. And more importantly, he had Palpatine actively sharing the screen and the plot with him. If there’s half of a good movie in TPM, it’s the one centered on Palpatine’s all-paths-lead-to-victory planning where even the notional heroes and their lesser victories are pawns in the titular Phantom Menace’s plot to promote himself from Senator to Emperor.

            Kylar Ren is no Darth Vader, but in a few more years he might grow up to be a passable Darth Maul. Supreme Leader Snoke, from what little we have actually seen, is not fit to be in the same franchise as Emperor Palpatine. And if you want to imagine that Abrams and/or Disney have some great plan to turn him into an imposing villain in the future, that still leaves this film critically underequipped in the “villain” department.

          • onyomi says:

            You’re not really making any arguments about what, specifically, makes Ren so lame and unthreatening, other than the fact that he has a couple of temper tantrums. He’s already 10x the character Darth Maul ever was, at least insofar as he existed in the actual movies as opposed to cartoons, extended universe, etc.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            His main problem is his face to be honest. He looks like a dork who would get stuffed into lockers, and his behavior only reinforces that impression. He does not command respect so much as invite ridicule.

            I like the concept of Kylo Ren: a villain struggling against his temptation towards goodness is something you don’t see often, and his relationship with Han and Leia had potential. But that concept wasn’t executed so much as shot in the back of the head by poor casting and extraordinarily poor writing / directing. His character represents a tragic waste of a cool idea.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I think Kylo’s being set up as a kind of reverse-Anakin, who starts off on the Dark Side of the Force and then comes over to the Light. Unfortunately, I think his character has the same fault as Anakin’s, namely the lack of the necessary gravitas to pull off the role. People will care about an Othello or a Pentheus getting corrupted; nobody cares about a whiny teenage brat with an entitlement complex.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ The Original Mr. X
            I think Kylo’s being set up as a kind of reverse-Anakin, who starts off on the Dark Side of the Force and then comes over to the Light.

            Interesting! Then how would the sequels shape up? Kylo semi-allied with the good guys, against some other Big Bad? Gravitas lacking, though. Solo had … other charm from the first.

            nobody cares about a whinny teenage brat with an entitlement complex

            Some people liked Rebooted-Kirk.

          • John Schilling says:

            Public temper tantrums are pretty much a dealbreaker for anyone who needs to be feared and respected. Or even just feared, beyond the immediately physical.

            Beyond that, his bearing when he was wearing the armor, and his face when he wasn’t. His voice. His age, and the absence of anything to suggest he has maturity beyond his years. His goofy tricked-out lightsaber. The fact that his character design and dramatic role openly invites a comparison with Prowse/Jonse’s Vader and he comes up short in every dimension that doesn’t involve breaking things. His reaction to the people around him and their reaction to him. The bit with the two stormtroopers comically backing away from yet another of the boss’s tantrums, and breaking the mood of the scene. Are we now expected to believe he can lead, or command, a legion of stormtroopers into battle against people who can actually shoot back?

            I get that he is a realistic and almost three-dimensional portrayal of what a son of Han and Leia gone bad might look like, and I see that you enjoy being able to figure out the puzzle of Kylo Ren. But the absolute number-one thing of what a realistic son of Han and Leia gone bad at age twenty-something is, is this: A guy who is not capable of filling the Dark Lord role in a high fantasy epic.

            [Edit: Looking at Adam Driver in a few places as Not Kylo Ren, yes, he was probably miscast, but after that it took real work to make him look that much like a whiny emo teenager. This was a deliberate decision on someone’s part.]

          • Held in Escrow says:

            He’s a great “I wanted to be dark side but my Mom won’t let me” edgy manchild character. It’s just that his part of the film called for someone with some sense of gravitas and he completely undermined the dramatic tension.

          • onyomi says:

            “Dark Lord role in a high fantasy epic.”

            I think this is your problem. You’re expecting him to play a role that he doesn’t. And this is what is frustrating me about all the complaints about TFA: they simultaneously demand that it be more like and yet less like the original trilogy (though admittedly not always the same people, or, at least, not in the same sentence).

            He’s not a Dark Lord character; he’s a kind of reverse Anakin, as Mr. X pointed out: a character who starts out fallen who we know will be saved. We already did the “think he’s all bad but turns out to be some good left in him” thing with Vader.

            They probably intend for Snoke to ultimately fill the “Dark Lord” role, of course, and how well he does that will depend on the upcoming films. In this film, as in A New Hope, the real villain wasn’t Ren or Vader, but an army of space nazis led by a shadowy leader with shadowy motives.

            I mean, yes, I think the movie could have been improved if the motives and history of the First Order had been put into greater perspective. This might also have allowed Snokes or his representatives to seem more genuinely threatening. Maybe they could have introduced another, more irredeemable bad guy to fill the role Vader sort of did in New Hope, but that would have run the risk of being convoluted and “villain of the month”ish as with the prequels. Maybe if the other commander guy had had more gravitas and less Hitler Youth vibe, like Tarkin. As it is, he seemed too green to occupy the position and genuinely pretty one-dimensional. If there’s a “villain failure” in the film, I’d point more at him.

            I do think it was an error to have another Death Star and assault on Death Star. We knew what was going to happen as soon as it showed up (actually kind of wondered if they’d go in a different direction for a moment, but they didn’t, of course).

            But that has nothing to do with Ren not fulfilling a stereotypical “dark lord” villain role.

            Re. his face–I think we WERE supposed to be unintimidated when he took off his mask. I think Rey and the audience are both supposed to be thinking at that moment–“hey wait, he’s just a punk! Just my age!” Letdown IS the intended effect. We’re supposed to see this would-be “dark lord” as actually a vulnerable, damaged person, and I think that’s what makes him interesting.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Kylo strikes me as what Luke would have been like if he had gone off with Bigs to the academy and somehow been recruited to the dark side there. Whiny, sulky, sick of being unsure of his competence.

            Whereas Rey actually seems setup as someone who could plausibly “return balance to the force”. (Ridley displayed much better acting chops than either Hamill or Christensen.) And someone who can do that should be a bit of Mary-Sue.

          • John Schilling says:

            At this point, I think making a movie with the “Star Wars” label that isn’t High Fantasy (In Spaaace!!!) would qualify as false advertising.

            But if that’s not what TFA was supposed to be, then what was it? Kylo Ren’s Amazing Voyage of Self-Discovery (Part I), was only about ten percent of the story. The Search for Luke Skywalker, maybe another ten percent. Mostly, this was the story of Ren, Finn, Han, Chewie, and BB8, fighting for the fate of the Republic, against…

            …and there really, really, needs to be a credible adversary there. Snoke isn’t it – I’m skeptical about the plans you think they may have for him in future movies, but he was barely in this one. Likewise the “New Order” as a political force. Captain Phasma could intimidate Stormtroopers but folded the first time someone pointed a gun at her. General Screaming Nazi Dude, I’m not even going to dignify him by looking up his name. Finn’s presence gave them a chance to make the Stormtroopers themselves a credible adversary in a way they never were before, but they didn’t. And Lucas, for all his faults, knew how to use maybe ten minutes of screen time to make the audience care about the bundle of special effects that was the Death Star. Abrams and company, as you note, botched that one.

            That reduces the story to Omnipotent Rey and her sidekicks running an obstacle course, shooting at paper targets, and collecting plot coupons. Except for the guy wearing the black robes, armor, and helmet that scream to anyone with a passing familiarity with anything “Star Wars” that here is the credible adversary that will provide dramatic balance to the story and make us care what happens to these people. That here is the Dark Lord.

            I don’t think it is unreasonable to judge Ren by his performance in that role. And if that’s not the role, then what’s the story for the 90% of the movie that isn’t Kylo Ren’s Incredible Voyage of Self-Discovery (Part I, in which I kill my father because issues)?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I would have been bored if Ren were like Darth Vader or Darth Maul.

            Faceless badass trying to mess with you? Seen it.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          The prequels were bad, but they did have a vision. That’s more than can be said for Force Awakens, which is simply a rehash.

        • Galle says:

          Warning: The Plinkett reviews feature both an obnoxious reviewer persona and a reviewer who doesn’t actually understand Star Wars.

          The prequels are bad movies, but for mundane reasons like bad acting and directing. You really can’t get a half-hour’s worth of material out of their legitimate flaws.

          Furthermore, the Plinkett attitude is responsible for the flaws in the NEW movie.

          • Muga Sofer says:

            >the Plinkett attitude is responsible for the flaws in the NEW movie.

            This is definitely the case – for example, the incomprehensible political background.

          • Muga Sofer says:

            >the Plinkett attitude is responsible for the flaws in the NEW movie.

            This is definitely the case – for example, the incomprehensible political background, which is obviously a reaction to complaints that there was too much political exposition in the prequels.

            Well, probably. To be fair, it’s more or less in line with Abrams’ previous work.

          • switchnode says:

            No. Most video review personae are awful; Plinkett is a stroke of genius. He allows a reviewer clearly committed to filmmaking in general and Star Wars in particular to discuss the flaws of the memetically-loathed prequels at length, without immediately being pegged and dismissed as a butthurt fanboy—or, for that matter, an arm’s-length hipster.

            (For what it’s worth, you can certainly get a half-hour’s worth of material out of mundanely bad directing, although I’m not sure about acting; often it is illuminating in ways that good film cannot be. I have often wondered why arts courses in general do not teach at least one mediocre or actively bad work.)

          • onyomi says:

            I don’t really care for all the scenes showing him abusing women, though the voice and “pizza roll” psychosis things were pretty funny.

            The analysis itself was tremendous. I never liked the prequels much but also thought maybe people were overreacting due to nostalgia for the originals. He shows very clearly why this is not the case and basically just takes them apart, piece-by-piece. In so doing he clearly articulates exactly why I and many others failed to be moved by the prequels as we were by the originals: it’s not because we were kids when we saw the originals, it’s because the originals had heart and believable human emotion and… made sense!

            He’s not objecting to political exposition per se, but to confusing, pointless, ill-timed political exposition, which fills the prequels. The politics of the prequels makes no sense and to the extent it does, usually feels irrelevant. Also, it almost always fails in the realm of “show, don’t tell.” That is Plinkett’s very legitimate complaint.

            As for TFA, I think the problem stemmed more from assuming too much due it basically being a reboot/remake: do we really gotta explain the First Order to you when we basically just want you to think of them as the successors to the Empire? Do we really gotta explain the importance of destroying a Death Star? Han even kind of alluded to this by saying “oh yeah, you can blow those up.” It’s definitely a problem, but I don’t think it was caused by complaints of too much politics in the prequels.

            I liked TFA, but to the extent it had serious problems, they mostly stemmed from the filmmakers trying too hard to signal to the audience “THIS IS LIKE THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY, NOT LIKE THE PREQUELS.”

      • onyomi says:

        I actually find the inter-cutting in the original trilogy to be really annoying. I know it builds tension, but it also dissipates it. Luke takes one swing at Vader-cut to Ewoks-Luke takes another swing at Vader-cut to spaceships…

    • Linch says:

      I never watched the original trilogy and enjoyed the new movie.

      • Carinthium says:

        The problem was that the new movie was such a total ripoff of the original. So it makes sense you’d enjoy it, having not seen the original.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          I don’t think that’s accurate. If we regard copying the original as neutral, the movie still has a bunch of real problems that the original doesn’t. The copying the original is mostly a problem when it does it in a way that doesn’t properly integrate with the rest of the plot or is done sloppily compared to the original. In some cases (especially given that it was copying the original already) it would have been made better by copying the original more closely. (General Hux, for instance, is a poor substitute for Governor Tarkin.)

          I think the review Luke G. linked to above is pretty good, as is Scott’s third link. I mentioned some of my problems with the movie also on my own blog, but let me repeat them here more briefly:

          1. The unclear political situation that everyone comments on, so that you have to look up separately what was actually going on. Yes, it was unclear in the original too — but the key parts you needed to understand were clear. Here, they weren’t.

          2. The brushing over of gur qrfgehpgvba bs gur Ubfavna flfgrz. For such a big event, surprisingly little of a big deal was made of it. Contrast how the original treats gur qrfgehpgvba bs Nyqrenna — na hacerprqragrq ngebpvgl. It’s not brushed over and it’s integrated into the rest of the plot. This should be a much bigger event, but the movie just kind of brushes it over.

          3. Why do we care about finding Luke? Because the movie says so, apparently.

          • Urstoff says:

            (2) was definitely poorly executed (the fact that there was a new superweapon at all was the major fault with the film; not the callbacks which worked for the most part, unlike Star Trek Into Darkness).

    • God Damn John Jay says:

      Haven’t seen it but want to go on the record as saying that it will pass Avatar.

      • NL says:

        Domestic, yes; Worldwide, no. It’s almost 50/50 domestic/overseas (Avatar was 27/73), and Star Wars isn’t going to do as well in China as Avatar did.

        It might beat Titanic, but it won’t beat Avatar Worldwide.

        • God Damn John Jay says:

          I didn’t consider the domestic foreign split, but I assume it will do reasonably well in China (Disney pushing the advertising as well as curiosity as to what the bid deal is).

          I am still going to say that it will beat Avatar.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      “Can we admit that the new Star wars wasn’t very good?”

      [bemused] Nobody’s stopping you, if that’s how you feel about it. Go nuts.

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      I’m half convinced that it’s deliberately similar in order to introduce some massive curveball in the sequel.

      • Winfried says:

        That would be clever and it could easily neuter any complaints about Mary Sues, but we’ll have to wait to see if it happens.

        I like big plot twists but hate when they only make sense on the surface.

        • John Schilling says:

          I like big plot twists when they A: make sense and B: actually happen in the movie that I’m watching. Big plot twists that I have to fanwank into the backstory or the sequel are much less satisfying.

          And this isn’t the first time that I’ve heard the theory that TFA is a bad movie but that’s OK because it sets up the sequel to be extra-specially awesome. What the hell? Disney and Abrams blew a couple hundred million dollars and three hours of my life on a bad movie because they couldn’t figure out a good way to set up an awesome sequel? Granted, the Star Wars franchise is one of the few places they could get away with that, on account of the audience will be back for it regardless, but other moviemakers pretty consistently manage to precede their awesome sequels with movies that are at least good.

          • Adam says:

            Most of the people who watched it seemed to think it was good and that was all they had to accomplish. They didn’t have to make a great movie. They just had to make something on par with the 30 comic book franchises coming out every year that makes $300 million+ each, and stamp the name ‘Star Wars’ on it to multiply that number.

            Frankly, I don’t think it’s setting up anything. The next two will have twists, but they won’t be great movies, either. They’ll be somewhere in the middle two quartiles of the Marvel universe collection, just like this one was. To ensure they make $2-$3 billion each, all they need to do is that and additionally make sure each installment adequately leaves a cliffhanger for the next, which was the major money-losing mistake of the prequels, the fact each was fairly self-contained and had a huge multi-year gap before the next.

          • vV_Vv says:

            If I had to fanwank plot twists into the backstory I’d go for the theory of Jar Jar being a Sith Lord and Chewbacca and R2D2 being senior officers of the Rebel Alliance. 🙂

        • vV_Vv says:

          V ernyyl ubcr gurl’yy chyy n Qnegu Erina va gur arkg rcvfbqr. Hasbeghangryl, vg’f zber yvxryl gung gurl’yy chyy n “V nz lbhe oebgure/pbhfva”, ng juvpu cbvag V’z tbvat gb jnyx bhg bs gur gurngre.

          • rubberduck says:

            S vsuon ryg droi wkno sd mvokb bsqrd kgki gry Box sc bovkdon dy, cy S nyeld ro’vv lo dro yxo nysxq dro bofokv, kxn Cxyuo nyocx’d vyyu vsuo kxiyxo go uxyg. S qeocc Boi wsqrd lo Veuo’c nkeqrdob led drkd coowc kvwycd dyy ylfsyec dy lo k qyyn dgscd. Zobcyxkvvi, S ryzo Uivy pkvvc noozob sxdy dro nkbu csno kxn xofob bonoowc rswcovp led drkd coowc k vsddvo nkbu pyb k Nscxoi wyfso.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Why are you using ROT-16 instead of ROT-13? 🙂

          • rubberduck says:

            Aw, now I feel silly. What is ROT-16? I just recognized the Cesarean cipher and thought it was cool.

          • James Picone says:

            @rubberduck:
            This /particular/ Caesar cipher – ‘rotate by 13 places’ – is a ‘standard’ way of obfuscating spoilers on the interwobs.

            ‘rot16’ would be ‘rotate by 16 places’ by analogy to rot13.

      • Urstoff says:

        I think it’s similar in order to revive the franchise. A safe but well-executed film will do much better by the franchise (profit-wise) than another spectacular failure like the prequels.

        • Careless says:

          Yes, they clearly wanted to get back to the successful Star Wars formula and wash away the bad taste of the prequels. It meant it couldn’t be a great movie, but I can’t really blame them for going that way.

    • onyomi says:

      http://www.vox.com/2015/12/26/10664834/star-force-awakens-derivative

      I think this Vox article has the most balanced and fair take on it. I liked it a little more than the reviewer, but agree with most of his criticisms and hopes.

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      I was left with the feeling that it was a lot like A New Hope, and not just in the obvious “it paid a lot of homage to ANH” way. This was a fun action movie with nuanced characters that felt like they have a lot of promise, but with them being characters in an action movie, there was only time for them to acquire a limited amount of depth. Kylo Ren’s character was particularly fascinating.

      Time will tell whether we’ll get the equivalent of an Empire Strikes Back.

      • John Schilling says:

        Would you mind elaborating on what fascinated you about Kylo Ren? All I saw was a short-tempered whiny emo kid who hated his parents, doing a third-rate Darth Vader impersonation. Aside from the Vader impression, I see enough of that outside the movies that it no longer fascinates but puts the perpetrator solidly in Eight Deadly Words territory.

        But really, what the centerpiece villain of an action movie needs is not to be fascinating, but to be imposing. Impressive. Threatening. Was anyone here at all impressed by Ren? Did anyone think of him as someone who would be actually frightening to encounter? Because the movie seemed to present him a someone you just have to comically back away from when he’s about to have another of his predictable lightsaber-tantrums. With the obvious comparison to Prowse/Jones’s original Darth Vader, this was a major disappointment.

        And without a solid villain, the rest of the movie falls apart. The protagonists are in large part measured and defined by the adversary they defeat. Omnipotent Rey and her pointless sidekicks trouncing Pathetic Emo Vader, that also invokes the eight deadly words.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          Kylo Ren has flaws, conflict, and arc.

          I agree he failed as a villain and this detracted from the movie. THIS movie. Specifically. The lack of an imposing villain killed the vibe of the entire film, IMO, particularly when he got his butt whooped by an untrained novice.

          BUT:
          He has a lot of room to grow and that story line improves has potential for FUTURE movies. His CHARACTER is also more interesting, even if it failed to live up to its role. I have more questions and wonder more about Kylo and his relationship with Luke than I do about Rey or Finn, who effectively have finished story-lines and finished character development.

          Maybe Rey can challenge Bella Swan for Edward Cullen’s heart in the Mary Sue Olympics. Just put this whole space opera thing on ice.

          • onyomi says:

            See, here’s where I don’t think people are giving TFA enough credit: I totally agree they should have nixed the assault-on-mega-deathstar climax, but the main characters, while clearly being parallel to some New Hope characters, nevertheless remix them in ways interesting enough to justify the new film’s existence: clearly Rey is kind of the Luke of the new film, but is different in important ways beyond just being female. Kylo is kind of the Darth Vader of the film whose killing of Han is analogous to Vader’s killing of Obi Wan, but obviously the relationship is different and draws parallels to the Luke-Vader relationship. And I’m not sure Finn is perfectly analogous to anyone, but I think he certainly adds something to it, though it will depend on how he develops of course.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I agree with you on Kylo and to some extent on Finn, but Rey just isn’t compelling because wish-fulfillment.

            This really becomes apparent once they get off Jakku and her only noticeable character flaw is running away from her destiny because she misses her parents…like was previously said, she is a Mary Sue who is only disliked by mean people and only has a character flaw of transcending victimhood.

            And only the sterilized version of victim-hood, not the actual annoying version of demanding different food in your cafeteria because of micro-aggressions or the actually dangerous victim-blaming that turns people into learned helplessness or angry radicals.

            Her only character flaw is the sanitized “believe in yourself! if only you would BELIEVE in yourself!” mantra that belongs in…well, I was going to say Eat, Pray, Love, but even the authoress in that book admitted her egregious flaws.

          • Anthony says:

            Finn is the good version of Boba Fett.

          • onyomi says:

            See, I thought Brienne of Darth was the Boba Fett equivalent. Other than the fact that he wore armor, how is Finn at all like Boba Fett?

            And speaking of her, I do hope she gets more to do in the sequels than just meekly lower the shields in response to a fairly wimpy threat.

          • Muga Sofer says:

            Finn is the Han Solo, who hails from a slightly different criminal background. Comic relief, the b-string action hero without superpowers, and from a plot perspective he’s the guy who threatens to betray the team but then comes back.

        • Kaj Sotala says:

          To copy my comment about Ren from elsewhere:


          I really liked Kylo Ren, too. In particular, it would have been so easy for them to introduce another quiet, bad-ass, competent Dark Jedi as This Trilogy’s Vader Figure… but that would have raised the question, where the heck do all of these keep coming from, especially now that the Emperor and Vader are gone?

          Instead, we get a character who shows that the Dark Side has also lost skills and competence when the Empire got wiped out, the same way that the Light Side lost most of their accumulated knowledge when the Jedi Order got wiped out. Disney didn’t just copy the template of the previous movies, they did things differently, and that difference wasn’t just something random but rather the natural consequence of what happened in the Original Trilogy.

          In a lot of works, the main characters level up and get stronger, so to keep things balanced, the creators somehow upgrade the bad guys too, no matter how contrived that gets. Here we had the opposite – the balance is maintained by making everyone weaker, rather than making everyone stronger. That feels really refreshing for a work in this genre.

          • John Schilling says:

            Here we had the opposite – the balance is maintained by making everyone weaker

            Explain to me how Rey was weaker than, well, anyone in the original trilogy? Is it the fact that it takes her two tries to Jedi-mind-trick a stormtrooper, when Alec Guinness’s Obi-Wan could do it on the first take? Yeah, what a disadvantage for the Republic, Resistance, whatever they have had to endure, losing all that trained experience and having to do with completely untrained force-newbies. And while we’re on the subject, Cameron Poe is basically James Bond if James Bond were also an ace fighter pilot, better than anyone who was involved in the attack on the first Death Star.

            Improving on a classic tale by making a version where everyone is weaker than the original, is an interesting idea with great potential but difficult to do well. One way to not do it well, is to make the villains weaker but everybody else stronger – and making a token nod to their weakness by having them fumble a first effort but then recover to supercompetence by the end of the scene, doesn’t fix that. If your story is Mary Sue vs. the bumbling incompetent villains, you’d better hope your marketing department knows to sell it as a comedy.

            As for “raised the question of where the heck do [Darth Vader’s replacements] keep coming from”, when did it become necessary to address that question? This is something I wish Hollywood really hadn’t borrowed so wholeheartedly from comic-book traditions, the idea that every story needs to start as an Origin Story.

            We didn’t get an origin story for Connery-era bond, and only the faintest outline of one for any of his foes, but those movies are still classics. There wasn’t an origin story for Kirk, Spock, and McCoy until J.J. Abrams decided to give us Star Trek Babies(tm). No origin story for Indiana Jones until maybe the beginning of his third film. And for that matter, the original Star Wars gave us an origin story for Luke but not for Han or Leia, and not really for Obi-Wan or Vader.

            Origin stories are another neat idea that are sometimes hard to do well and often inappropriate. In particular, trying to shoehorn more than one or two origin stories into a single movie is usually a mistake.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            The only thing Poe did other than piloting was resisting torture, I’m not sure where you’re getting Bond vives from.

          • Kaj Sotala says:

            Explain to me how Rey was weaker than, well, anyone in the original trilogy?

            They good guys were made weaker in that the Light Side had no trained Force-users, and the Dark Side also had someone whose training was incomplete. Luke’s efforts of training a new group of Jedi had failed and he was no longer around, nor were the likes of Obi-Wan or Yoda who’d been around in the Original Trilogy even when Luke wasn’t yet trained.

            I’ll grant you that Rey did start picking up Force powers a little implausibly quickly after she’d been captured, but her successes in the Force were still mostly portrayed as beginner’s luck rather than something that could be consistently relied on.

            As for “raised the question of where the heck do [Darth Vader’s replacements] keep coming from”, when did it become necessary to address that question?

            I didn’t mean “would have needed an origin story to explain it”. I meant that the original trilogy very strongly implied that Palpatine and Vader were the only Dark Jedi around (or at least worth mentioning), and by the end of the original trilogy, they were dead.

            In the prequels, sure, you could have as many Darth Mauls and other sidekicks showing up, because for all we knew, maybe the galaxy was teeming with them before the events of the prequels. Nothing had been established that’d contradict that possibility. But by the original trilogy era, it was clearly established that the *only* remains of the whole Jedi order and tradition were Palpatine, Vader, Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Luke: and only Luke survived to the end of RotJ.

            If your previous works have clearly established that the only remaining skilled Force-user in the *whole galaxy* is Luke, and then in the next trilogy suddenly a new Vader-calibre baddie shows up… it would have gone against everything in the previous trilogies. It would’ve felt like the writers aren’t really thinking about the in-universe logic at all, they’re just blindly copying everything the formula of the previous movies. But they didn’t, they actually put some thought into it, and that was refreshing.

            (Granted, you could argue that Darth Snookie’s existence ruins this, but OTOH they never established quite how strong he is, either. He might not be particularly strong in the Force either, though he sure has an incentive in making Kylo believe otherwise.)

          • John Schilling says:

            If you A: say that the New Republic has no trained force-users and then B: show that an untrained New Republic force-user is roughly as capable as Qui-Gon Jinn at everything once she’s had her one inconsequential flub, the net result is not that you have made the New Republic weaker. You have merely made its strength less credible.

            And if you show that an untrained New Republic force-user is roughly as capable as Qui-Gon Jinn, etc, then you wouldn’t need an explanation for a Vader-class baddie coming out of nowhere. You need an explanation as to why the bad guy, who has genuine Skywalker-grade midichlorians and professional training and years of both light-side and dark-side experience, isn’t far more awesomely powerful than newbie Rey.

            Everything else you are offering would be reasonable and consistent if Rey didn’t exist or were about as powerful and competent as Luke was before meeting Obi-Wan. But in this movie, she does exist, she is nigh-omnipotent, and that’s sufficiently central to the story that this is more than just an inconsequential detail to weaken your analysis. She and Ren are the only guide the audience has to what the Force means in this new era, and they aren’t even internally consistent, never mind prequel-trilogy continuity.

            Also, I’m pretty certain that Disney and Abrams weren’t really that concerned with matching prequel continuity for the sake of avoiding geekish nitpickery anyway.

          • vV_Vv says:

            I think that Ren’s problem wasn’t that he was not a competent fighter and force user.

            In fact, he was actually quite competent. Ok, in the climatic battle ur gnxrf n objpnfgre uvg sebz Purjvr (ohg ur jnf qvfgenpgrq ol gur npgvba gung ur unq whfg qbar), gura ur gnxrf n yvtugfnore fynfu sebz Svaa (ohg ur jnf vawherq) naq svanyyl trgf uvf nff xvpxrq ol Erl (ohg ur jnf qbhoyl vawherq naq fur jnf gur Pubfra Bar Znel Fhr). Ohg hc gb gung pyvznk ur jnfa’g fb onq ng svtugvat.

            The problem with Ren is that he was weak-minded. He takes shit from Hux, from Snoke, and even from captive Rey. He talks to his grandpa’s skull trying to find motivation. He throws lightsaber temper tantrums so pathetic that even his minions clearly think he is an idiot. He lives in the shadow of his dead grandpa, lacking any discernible motivation on his own.

            I wouldn’t have minded a physically weaker villain, maybe one that even ran away from fights, but had a strong will and fit the “magnificent bastard” archetype. Ren instead comes across as an emo teen with an anger management problem who has been left to play with a loaded lightsaber by irresponsible adults. Maybe dangerous as a wild animal, but not as menacing as someone who is systematically plotting to screw you.

          • onyomi says:

            “Ren instead comes across as an emo teen with an anger management problem who has been left to play with a loaded lightsaber by irresponsible adults.”

            In other words, he’s what Anakin was supposed to be in the prequels but failed to be due to wooden acting and/or bad writing/directing.

            He’s not supposed to be at the same level of training/maturity as Darth Vader was in a New Hope. He’s supposed to be on roughly the same level as Finn and Rey, both of whom have had some training before (with Rey it isn’t explicit, but I’m pretty sure they will reveal she was trained by her father, Luke, as a child, but then had her memory altered or something due to the trauma of Ren’s rebellion), but are very green. As you say, it isn’t surprising he would lose to Rey after being twice wounded, but also because she probably got her early training from the same guy (Luke).

            Dear Leader even states at the end that Ren’s training is incomplete. That is not the stage we found Vader in at the beginning of New Hope. At that point he was mature and Palpatine already had his feelers out looking for a new apprentice, lest Vader replace him.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ onyomi
            with Rey it isn’t explicit, but I’m pretty sure they will reveal she was trained by her father, Luke, as a child, but then had her memory altered or something due to the trauma

            Nostalgia for D&D in 1977 and ff: imagining Lucas as a Dungeon Master tweaking the sequel one week ahead of the audience.

            Hamil: I may not work in the sequel, Empire Strikes whatever.

            Lucas: Hey, is Fisher re-contracted? — Good, we’ve still got Leia. Okay, scriptwriters, have Knobe or someone say “There is another”.

            Now maybe it will be:

            Press Agent: We’re getting complaints that Rey learned too fast.

            Abrams: I guess we shouldn’t have cut Rey’s training montage. Writers, come up with some explanation and we’ll use it for a trailer to the sequel. Mysterious event in mysterious childhood is always good.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I got the impression that Rey was actually rooting around in Kylo’s mind (both when he first tried to interrogate her, and during the fight when he offered to train her). So she wasn’t exactly untrained; she stole the training from Kylo.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Onyomi: He’s not supposed to be at the same level of training/maturity as Darth Vader was in a New Hope.

            What do you mean by “supposed to” in this context? We all understand that this was a deliberate decision by the filmmakers. We are asserting that it was a bad deliberate decision because it denied the movie a dramatic conflict between competent (or at least comparable) adversaries, and an action-adventure movie with “Star Wars” in the title needs that far more than it needs an insightful look at a dysfunctional adolescent.

          • onyomi says:

            She was obviously trained by her father and this wasn’t just retconned at the last minute since Luke being her father and her being left by her family on a desert planet for mysterious reasons are integral to the plot.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            So she wasn’t exactly untrained; she stole the training from Kylo.

            This is more-or-less that I got from the scene. But I’ve encountered at least twice in pop fiction the “mind powers get (re-)activated when you get attacked with mind powers,” so I was used to it.

            If Ren hadn’t tried to mind-probe her, which opened himself to her as much as it open her to him, she wouldn’t have awakened.

            Come to think of it, did this scene happen before or after the scene with Snoke saying “there has been a great awakening in the force”?

          • onyomi says:

            “it denied the movie a dramatic conflict between competent (or at least comparable) adversaries, and an action-adventure movie with “Star Wars” in the title needs that far more than it needs an insightful look at a dysfunctional adolescent.”

            They were comparable. As I said, Rey clearly has some training and Ren was twice wounded. As for competent, how competent was Luke in New Hope?

          • onyomi says:

            “If Ren hadn’t tried to mind-probe her, which opened himself to her as much as it open her to him, she wouldn’t have awakened.

            Come to think of it, did this scene happen before or after the scene with Snoke saying “there has been a great awakening in the force”?”

            This is an interesting and plausible theory. I don’t think she “stole training” from Kylo, but it is clear that the scene when he was probing her mind was the first time she realized she herself had mind probing powers. Perhaps whatever barriers to using them Luke had constructed got broken down when Kylo attacked her mind.

          • John Schilling says:

            They were comparable. As I said, Rey clearly has some training and Ren was twice wounded. As for competent, how competent was Luke in New Hope?

            ANH was not “Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader”. ANH was Luke, plus two expert pilot/outlaws, plus a Jedi master, plus an expert leader/diplomat, plus extras, vs. Darth Vader, several competently impressive Imperial officers, squadrons of well-flown TIE fighters, and stormtroopers. Remember, Vader was taking orders from Governor(?) Tarkin, and the movie wouldn’t have been a bad one if it had just been the rebels vs. the Vader-free competent Space Nazis. Luke, for his part, was competent enough at the one thing he needed to do for his part, and he didn’t need to do it all.

            As for Ren being twice-wounded, I think you misunderstand. My complaint is not with the final lightsaber duel. I rarely pay much attention to the Final Fatal Fistfight, even if they do have license to upgrade from fists to cool pyrotechnics, and by that point in this movie I had pretty much checked out. Between the failed force-mindprobe scene, the lightsaber-tantrums, the stormtroopers comically backing away from the lightsaber-tantrums, Ren had lost me as a credible adversary long before that.

            I don’t demand that my villains be able to meet the heroes in single combat. In fact, I generally prefer when they do not. But they have to bring something to the table, even if it’s just effectively commanding competent subordinates or inspiring awe with their presence, and Ren has nothing to offer. Nor, unfortunately, does he have much in the way of competent subordinates, allies, or commanders.

    • Deiseach says:

      It’s directed by J.J. Abrams, what did you expect?

      (Why no, I’m not at all a Trekkie bitter about what he did with the reboot, including “Star Trek Beyond Grammar Remake The Wrath Of Khan, Only Dumbed-Down Into Darkness”)

      • nil says:

        Yep. I think Disney knows what they are doing. Bring in J.J. to craft a safe/unoriginal, but well-made, movie to signal to everyone that this won’t be the prequels all over again, and then bring in the guy who made Brick to do a more interesting thing within the old form.

      • onyomi says:

        A friend recently posted this poem on Facebook:

        What the Prophesy Really Meant

        At long last, J. J. Abrams
        brought balance to the Force
        by making Star Wars better
        and making Star Trek worce.

    • John Schilling says:

      I think it might be reasonable to at least try to say something good about the movie, so here’s mine.

      Harrison Ford can still channel Han Solo in spite of the years/mileage, and the movie gives him a chance to do so convincingly. His presence did not seem contrived, as I had feared it might, nor were the obligatory bits of Rey-worship too demeaning. All told, I liked just about every scene he was in.

      And Chewbacca had I think more character on display in this movie than in the entire original trilogy. Possibly my baseline is skewed by his suffering the least from the absence of memorable dialogue in TFA, but the walking carpet came through for me.

      Finally, for all the ultimately justified Rey-hate, I liked her introduction as a scavenger on (mumble-planet-that-isn’t-Tattoine). Not yet omnicompetent, potentially quite interesting as sort of a fusion of early Luke and early Leia. She stopped being interesting about the time she got the Millenium Falcon into space, but that was about the time Solo and Chewbacca showed up, so a net increase in the watchable-character count at that point.

      • onyomi says:

        I really liked Rey and Finn both, which is why, for all the excessive similarity to a New Hope, I have to like this new film a lot more than the prequels. As pointed out in the video review, the Phantom Menace characters (other than, ironically, Jar Jar) have no personalities to speak of. Finn, especially, feels very much like a real individual (from the moment the blood smear on his helmet marks him as not like the other storm troopers) with feelings and a personality. Rey maybe a little less so, but she still has a discernible personality, as does Kylo Ren, who, while he gets a lot less intimidating once he takes off his mask to reveal what feels like a mopey teenager, is still nevertheless light years ahead of the parade of interchangeable sidekicks (Maul, Dooku, Grievous) which marred the prequels (I still think one of the easiest things they could have done to fix the prequels would have been to collapse those three characters into one).

        • John Schilling says:

          Quite agree with you on the trio of sub-villains from the prequels, though Maul and Dooku were at least partially salvaged by the performers. But more importantly, all three of them had Palpatine. Who did have a personality to speak of, and was imposing and impressive and really quite threatening(*). Ren had, well, not sure what exactly “Snoke” was supposed to be, but I wasn’t impressed.

          I also saw an interesting personality in Qi-Gon, and also in Obi-Wan and Padme through the first movie. And that’s it for the prequel trilogy. One-half of a good movie, roughly everything in Episode I that didn’t have an “Anakin Skywalker” on the screen, and we’re done. So if we can find one-half of a good movie in TFA, and your defense is that TFA is way better than Episodes II and III therefore we are on track for some really good sequels, I’m not seeing your cause for optimism.

          For the record, my half of a good movie in TFA: Poe’s introduction to his “death”, after which he might as well be Wedge Antilles. Finn when he’s not partnered with Poe or Rey, at which point he becomes Goofy Sidekick Guy and implausibly well-adjusted to the recently traumatic realignment in his priorities. Rey, as mentioned, until she gets off not-Tattoine and is promoted to Mary Sue. Solo and Chewbacca when they are on center stage.

          * I’ll take your “can win lightsaber battles and force-choke my staff” and raise you “can silver-tonguedly persuade almost everybody on your good-guy side that I’m the supreme good guy and they should all be taking orders from me”.

      • Adam says:

        I’d just say I really, really enjoyed the first hour or so, before they escaped Jakku. I thought the Poe, Rey, and Finn introductions were all strong and they were all likable characters and the action at that point was still pretty fresh and believable. Once Han was introduced, he was himself a strong point, but the movie became pure reverence and ripoff until it ended. I feel like a really good movie was hiding in there if they just cut the entire Starkiller plot and moved directly from Rey and Finn escaping Jakku to the quest to find Luke. Introduce Han, Chewie, and Leia in a plausible way, say BB-8 knows his map is incomplete and R2D2 has the rest, so finding him is the next step, and he’s with the resistance. I’m not a writer, so someone who is pick it up from there, but no Maz Kanata, no Rathtars, no emo Ren, and no Deathstar III. It was a mistake having Rey get captured, too. Not only did it provide the ridiculous mind-trick moment, but no one is ever going to reasonably fear for her safety again.

    • The Anonymouse says:

      The Star Wars franchise has always struck me as fair-to-middling popular entertainment that an earlier generation demands I revere. See also, the Beatles.

      Dare I say generational colonialism? What’s the young-person equivalent of “get off my lawn”?

      • Anonymous says:

        You are supposed to make your own great art that is so good no one except the old care about the stuff from their youth.

        Unfortunately millennial art mostly sucks so far. Maybe whatever they are calling the next generation.

    • Totient says:

      I’m still trying to figure out the economics of building Starkiller Base. It makes sense that empire in the original trilogy could do it, since they have a full galaxy worth of resources to draw on. But somehow, a remnant of the Imperial forces build an even better superweapon an order of magnitude larger than the original.

      I’d like to imagine some New Republic accountant looking over shipping manifests asking his boss “Shouldn’t you be worried about all this equipment being sent to this obscure planet in the First Order’s territory? No? Just me, huh?”

      • Kaj Sotala says:

        I took Starkiller Base to be just a big cannon that happened to be built into a planet. For all we know, the actual weaponry could have been an order of magnitude smaller than any of the Death Stars. Sure, the planet that they’d chosen for it was, well, planet-sized, but that doesn’t mean that the stuff that they actually had to build would have been particularly large.

        • nil says:

          Just going off the parts that were clearly artificial, though, it had to at least be a Death Star-scale engineering project.

          That said, this is the space opera franchise that has magic, so I think trying to apply any kind of remotely hard-SF analysis is kind of missing the point.

      • Muga Sofer says:

        I’ve long believed that, in the Star Wars universe, building a megastructure is simply a matter of dropping a shipful of self-replicating droids off and waiting a few years. So this movie simply confirmed my theory.

        I’m glad we’re no longer in the era of Wars vs Trek, though. Can you imagine the fan-calcs for sucking up and compressing a star?

    • Some Troll's Legitimate Discussion Alt says:

      I though it was everything it needed to be.

      Firstly, it need to be a decent film to reassure the audience that they aren’t just fucking everything all up again. They did this in basically the safest way possible, that is, they found a film they already knew was decent, and shamelessly stole it.

      Secondly, they needed to introduce some solid characters so that the trilogy has something to actually build upon. I liked the new cast a lot, and most people who’s opinions I value agree, so I’ll call this a success too, even though it’s subjective, I guess.

      In particular, I liked the New Order as the crazy radical remnants of the Empire. Compare the emperor, who subverted the system and then kept the Senate around for 20 years after he was already in charge until he was confident it was unnessecary, where these guys just nuked the capital and everything nearby at first oppertunity.

      And I don’t credit the “Mary Sue” accusations. Luke blew up the deathstar flying blind after about a minute and a half of blast helmet training. The force is all about just going with your gut, not practiced technique.

      • bluto says:

        Luke had been bull’s eyeing womp rats in his T-16 and flying through Beggar’s Canyon for apparently years, which is nearly ideal training for that specific mission.

        • Adam says:

          I took Luke to be somewhat of the confederate fantasy of an ordinary person who can become an elite soldier overnight thanks to all their country-boy experience.

          Rey kind of reminded me of the Fremen, perfect soldiers just because of growing up living such a tough life. The level of force ability is tough to swallow, but at this point I’m holding out hope the next movie will explain it, like she’s the true chosen one and Qui-Gon was wrong about Anakin, or Luke trained her as a toddler,then she survived the Knights of Ren purge and had her mind wiped, but can still do things through muscle memory, sort of how Jason Bourne couldn’t explain at first how he was able to do everything he could do. Or someone figured out Darth Plagueis’ ability to create life, created Rey, and then incarnated some existing Jedi who’d become one with the force into her body.

          Slim hope, though. It seems just as likely the next writer won’t think there is anything worth explaining.

          Edit: Of course, even a future explanation doesn’t absolve the implausibility of the film in isolation. The idea worked in Bourne because they explained it in the same movie.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            My favorite wacky theory (not sure if I was the first to go there) is that Ren *is* Plaugeis. He set up an auto-reincarnate to fire in the event of his death, and either this went less than perfectly, or he was also trying to get out from under the thumb of the dark side in the process, cribbing from Revan’s playbook. Thus, newbee with the reflexes of centuries of being a master force practitioner.

          • Muga Sofer says:

            Oh man, that would be amazing.

      • John Schilling says:

        I seem to recall that getting various Skywalkers properly trained in the force, the costs of doing it right and the consequences of getting it wrong, were critical to several major plot arcs in the first two trilogies. So I’m not convinced by your theory that untrained gut instinct is adequate.

        And as mentioned the last time this came up, Luke blew up the Death Star after probably a few hours of training by a retired Jedi Master – and a lifetime of practice at flying that left him a world-class expert whom everyone assumed could plausibly make the shot without supernatural assistance.

        This being his only demonstration of great skill or competence in the original movie. When Obi-Wan waved his hand and said “These aren’t the Droids you’re looking for”, Luke looked more likely to have joined the troopers in their brainwashed repetition than to master the Mind Trick routine on the spot.

        • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

          And as mentioned the last time this came up, Luke blew up the Death Star after probably a few hours of training by a retired Jedi Master – and a lifetime of practice at flying that left him a world-class expert whom everyone assumed could plausibly make the shot without supernatural assistance.

          Not only that, I’m not sure the T-60 even had a targeting computer–most civilian accessible trainers wouldn’t–so Luke probably had plenty of experience making the shot “blind.” It is very important to remember that an experienced person being able to do something better than a computer is a very plausible thing to believe in the 1970’s. The only reason an experienced fighter pilot thought it was an impossible shot is that he was used to relying on the computer in his fighter (which is probably a good call most of the time), and was aware of its limitations. An experienced trainer pilot, on the other hand, would be able to do it because his experience is at firing “blind” which does not have the same limitation. Because computers in the 1970’s (and, consequently, the original trilogy) sucked.

          What Obi Wan was telling him was that, “Hey you idiot, did you not listen to the experience of that pilot in the briefing? You’ve never used a targeting computer before, but he has. Listen to him: the computer can’t make the shot! But you can if you do it like you always have before. Which for the sake of brevity in the middle of battle I am going to collapse down into ‘use the force’ because that way you’ll do it out of your trust of me instead of having to convince you through extensive logical discourse.”

          Because it is important, I am going to repeat: an experienced person being able to do something better than a computer is a very plausible thing to believe in the 1970’s.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Who wouldn’t want to be Anonymous
            What Obi Wan was telling him was that, “Hey you idiot, did you not listen to the experience of that pilot in the briefing? You’ve never used a targeting computer before, but he has. Listen to him: the computer can’t make the shot! But you can if you do it like you always have before. Which for the sake of brevity in the middle of battle I am going to collapse down into ‘use the force’ because that way you’ll do it out of your trust of me instead of having to convince you through extensive logical discourse.”

            That would be rather odd artistically, considering the importance of the Force as the theme of the movie.

      • shemtealeaf says:

        Luke has some decent success blocking a couple of remote shots with coaching from Obi-Wan, and then uses the force as a meditative aid to help him make a shot that is already established as something he could do. Three years later, he can sort of do a little telekinesis (in the Wampa cave on Hoth). He doesn’t get anywhere near ‘full Jedi abilities’ until after training with Yoda.

        He doesn’t display any sort of mind-altering abilities until Return of the Jedi, where they are clearly used as an indication that he’s ‘leveled up’ to being a legitimate Jedi.

        • TheNybbler says:

          One of my thoughts on Rey’s ability to mess with the Stormtrooper’s mind is she was “taught” by Kylo’s attempts to drain her mind. That is, for the Force-aware, having some techniques used on you might well provide some insight into how they work and how similar techniques (that she’s at least heard about) might be accomplished. Especially if the person using them is crude and unsubtle. Seems like a very Dark Side way of learning; a shortcut.

    • TheNybbler says:

      Yeah, I thought it was mostly ANH, with a less compelling villain. (heck, the hero even told the villain he was less than Vader and knew it).

      I imagine we get the Yoda training sequence next time, with Luke playing the Yoda part and Rey doing Luke’s old part.

      • suntzuanime says:

        I found the villain more compelling precisely because he was less than Vader. Vader, considering ANH in isolation, was just this mysterious implacable badass. Ren was a relatable human being, a child frustrated and terrified at his inability to live up to his idealized/mythologized role model and lashing out as a consequence.

        The character of Kylo Ren was the high point of the movie for me.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          Isn’t his role model essentially Space Hitler? I’m not seeing how Vader is exactly someone to look up to.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Villains in fiction sometimes hold ideals that the audience is not expected to agree with.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            And in universe the same thing holds true. Why would you want to be like Vader? It is like Goring’s grandkids wanting to be like him because he was a good pilot and had an awesome uniform.

          • Montfort says:

            Samuel, to add some context to your analogy, it’s as if Rommel’s grandchild grew up in a world which still contained unapologetic Nazi states and wanted to be like Rommel because he wore a cool uniform and got respect and had a lot of power. Just because you assume you wouldn’t harbor such an aspiration doesn’t make it an utterly alien thing to the human experience.

            Plenty of people today want to be like Rommel even without being related to him or being exposed to much pro-nazi literature. Or if you prefer another political boogeyman, how many teenagers did/do you know who would be delighted to be like Lenin, for all he is reviled in the west? Che?

          • suntzuanime says:

            I don’t understand how you can argue with Kylo Ren wanting to be Space Hitler but give a pass to Space Hitler for being Space Hitler. Surely Darth Vader should just apologize to Princess Leia for being mean and then go force choke malaria mosquitos in Africa?

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Darth Vader isn’t Rommel. He orders people tortured, kills children, murders his subordinates… there aren’t going to be admiring vids of him. He is a figure of fear and terror, not nostalgia.

            “Just because you assume you wouldn’t harbor such an aspiration doesn’t make it an utterly alien thing to the human experience.”

            We actually have the grandchildren of famous Nazis around. Unlike say Mussolini’s descendants they don’t seem to take after the forefathers. Something about having their relatives be the definition of evil and reason for all the suffering in the recent past.

            “how many teenagers did/do you know who would be delighted to be like Lenin, for all he is reviled in the west? Che?”

            If the first step was ‘murder all your schoolmates for being capitalist oppressors’? Zero.

            “I don’t understand how you can argue with Kylo Ren wanting to be Space Hitler but give a pass to Space Hitler for being Space Hitler. ”

            Because I try to pretend the prequels aren’t there?

            “Surely Darth Vader should just apologize to Princess Leia for being mean and then go force choke malaria mosquitos in Africa?”

            I don’t ask evil people be good; I do ask that their motivations for evil actually be comprehensible. “I want to be like the man who tortured my mom, murdered countless people, summarily executed subordinates and is synonymous with tyranny” is not a good one. “I want to be like him because he was powerful, unlike my Uncle who defeated him and is training me right now”… is also not very good.

          • TheNybbler says:

            The lure of the dark side is easy power. Vader had power, and not just personal power. He could command anyone or anything in the empire subject only to one other will. And, if you view it from one perspective, if Luke had not betrayed him, Vader would have become the Galactic Emperor himself.

            Compare this to Han and Luke, desperately training Jedi to continue a rebellion against the Order, a still-powerful remnant of the old Empire. Yes, they won, they defeated the empire. But even in victory they never held the kind of power Vader did. It’s easy to see the draw of Vader’s way.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            ?

            –“Luke Skywalker has vanished. In his absence, the sinister FIRST ORDER has risen from the ashes of the Empire and will not rest until Skywalker, the last Jedi, has been destroyed.

            With the support of the REPUBLIC, General Leia Organa leads a brave RESISTANCE. She is desperate to find her brother Luke and gain his help in restoring peace and justice to the galaxy.

            That doesn’t match your description of the situation.

            “He could command anyone or anything in the empire subject only to one other will.”

            And Tarkin. And all the other Grand Moffs and Grand Admirals. And…

            “And, if you view it from one perspective, if Luke had not betrayed him, Vader would have become the Galactic Emperor himself.”

            Why? Murdering the Emperor doesn’t make you Emperor. There is zero indication Vader was in line to succeed the Emperor- he was a henchmen so disposable the Emperor was considering replacing him with Luke.

          • onyomi says:

            “Why? Murdering the Emperor doesn’t make you Emperor. There is zero indication Vader was in line to succeed the Emperor”

            Except that when Vader was trying to lure Luke to the Dark Side he said “join me and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son,” heavily implying that Luke would take his place and he would take the emperor’s place.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Vader was willing to murder the Emperor to insure Luke lived. He would do quite a lot to for his son; promising him literally the galaxy (even if it is a lie) isn’t out of character.

          • TheNybbler says:

            I take the view that Vader was telling the truth; he’d help Luke destroy Palpatine, they’d crush the rebels, and rule the galaxy as father and son.

            After that… well, in the natural course of things Luke would train his own apprentice. Maybe Vader would train another as well. Most likely Luke (or his apprentice) would take a shot at Vader for the big prize. Or Vader would have his new apprentice pre-empt that attempt by going after Luke and/or his apprentice. The Sith would understand the Game of Thrones motto “You win or you die”. Perhaps Vader would step aside and allow himself to die when he felt Luke was ready, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

        • John Schilling says:

          I can see how someone might find the story of Kylar Ren interesting. But in that case, I’m not seeing how it is improved (or even remains tolerably watchable) if most of the story is about some vastly more powerful stranger who shows up to effortlessly beat the crap out of the poor relatable Ren-child and send him running away crying. And then we’re told that we are really supposed to sympathize with the bully because she’s the designated good guy (and she misses her parents really bad).

          There’s a decent movie to be made about Bambi, and a decent movie to be made about Godzilla. Bambi vs. Godzilla is a one-shot joke no matter which one we designate as the hero and which as the villain.

          • TheNybbler says:

            Maybe we’ll see parallel training sequences in VIII, so Ren and Rey end up better matched. The Dark Side equivalent of Jedi training could be interesting, though likely hard on mooks used as training dummies.

        • Peffern says:

          This was my thought as well. People frequently attack Ren’s character as being an emotionally unstable, somewhat stereotypical angsty teen.

          I thought that was the point.

          • John Schilling says:

            We all understand that. Our point is that such a character does not fit in this sort of movie, or at least this sort of role in this sort of movie.

            Woody Allen has played some interesting characters, but if you make him the Big Bad in a James Bond movie, it had better be a farcical comedy.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I’m amazed that TFA gets attacked both for being too derivative and also for not following the Star Wars formula closely enough, sometimes by the same people.

            It was a relief for me that the movie came right out and said that there was going to be a redemption quest for Ren, instead of pretending not to know something the audience took as obvious.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m amazed that TFA gets attacked both for being too derivative and also for not following the Star Wars formula closely enough, sometimes by the same people.

            What is the name of a single person who is doing that here, and where can I see examples of their contradictory criticisms as you describe them?

          • Mary says:

            “I’m amazed that TFA gets attacked both for being too derivative and also for not following the Star Wars formula closely enough, sometimes by the same people.”

            What’s amazing about that? It’s like a murder mystery which sticks in novelties that don’t fit the genre well enough to appeal to fans, and otherwise perpetrate all the cliches.

    • vV_Vv says:

      If J.J. Abrams did a straight reboot like he did with Star Trek, maybe using the same framing device (instead of a time-traveling Spock, something like a time-traveling force ghost of Palpatine, who ties to retroactively save his ass), I might have liked it more. This would have enabled to recreate the look and feel of the original trilogy while allowing to explore interesting what-if scenarios (e.g. Leia, rather than Luke, becoming a Jedi).

      Instead, we got Gur Rkcraqnoyrf: Fgne Jnef Rqvgvba. N abfgnytvn cbea fgneevat 73-lrnef byq Una Fbyb naq Purjonppn (nyfb cynlrq ol gur bevtvany npgbe) yrnqvat gur npgvba juvyr gur trarengvba Krebk xvqf fghzoyr hapbaivapvatyl bire gur frg, va n pbagevirq naq habevtvany cybg gung enprf guebhtu pbvapvqraprf naq qrhf rkrf gb penz nf znal ersreraprf nf cbffvoyr.

    • Held in Escrow says:

      I think it was good but not great. The fact that people are seeing it multiple times is kind of weirding me out; I think I enjoyed seeing the Hateful Eight’s opening showing the night before and it’s 70mm meant not commercials or previews before the film!

      I really hate how most places you really can’t comment on the main character of the damn film as it’s been entirely absorbed by The Discourse. If you liked her at all half the web will rail at you for Rey being a Mary Sue. If you had issues with her you’re an evil Neanderthal for not seeing Rey as the One True Jedi on the other half.

      But yeah, TR-8R’s little fight was the best scene in the film.

    • Calo Cola says:

      Well, so many people were young when they first saw it its basically one of those “IMpossible to live up to the original” movies.

  3. Sniffnoy says:

    Jane Jacobs link is broken due to the “l” in “.html” having been cut off.

  4. AnonymousCoward says:

    I came across the coin riddle in a book of Aaronson’s. I always thought the stated solution (flip it twice in a row repeatedly until you get one head and one tail and use the order they come up in as your 50:50 random variable) was unnecessarily complex.

    If you don’t know how it’s biased, then just use it like a normal coin flip! The result is 50:50 for you, because you don’t know anything about the coin :p.

    Only works once though.

    • Ian says:

      Doesn’t even work once if you have to convince someone else to go along with whatever you were deciding by coin flip 🙂

    • Chrysophylax says:

      TL;DR: if von Neumann thought a problem was interesting and you think it’s trivial, you should be pretty sure you’re missing something.

      Doesn’t work at all. My knowledge of the coin’s bias has no effect on the coin’s bias. As soon as I’ve specified which actions go with which outcomes (e.g. “I’ll turn left if it’s heads, and turn right if it’s tails”), my actions will occur unequally often. If the distribution of baises is symmetrical, I won’t be able to predict which outcome is more likely, but that doesn’t change the result.

      If this isn’t obvious, consider a degenerate coin which always returns heads. As soon as I specify which action I take when I see heads, the action I end up taking is fixed. My continued ignorance of the coin’s bias doesn’t change anything.

      You might be getting confused because I can permute my choice of actions to turn any p-coin into a (1-p)-coin, but that relies on my assignment of actions to outcomes being unbiased – in other words, it’s equivalent to saying “you can get an unbiased result from a biased coin by flipping a fair coin and ignoring the biased one”.

      • DrBeat says:

        But if you A: only use the coin once, and B: do not know the coin’s bias, then you do get the same effect of the random distribution. It’s 50/50 whether you assigned an option to the secretly-guaranteed-successful one or not.

        I mean, do you see any problem with flipping the coin, catching it on the back of your hand without looking, and then saying “Okay, if this coin is heads, I’ll X, and if it’s tails, I’ll Y.”? The coin is already flipped, the odds of it being what it are are 100%. Your words won’t cause it to flip over under your hand. But it’s still a random choice because you don’t know what it landed at.

        • Julie K says:

          But the question should really be phrased as, “describe a series of coin flips that have a 50% chance of happening.” The alternate solution has you relying on a different event that has a 50% chance of happening, i.e. if you really make up your mind at random, you have a 50% chance of deciding that if it’s heads, do X.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      The result is 50:50 for you, because you don’t know anything about the coin :p.

      It is customary to distinguish between subjective probabilities (credences), which express our confidence in a proposition, and objective chances, which are probabilities built into the fabric of the world. The puzzle concerns objective chances, and it’s no good to conflate the two.

      The thesis that if you have no evidence concerning a chance event you should assign an equal credence to each outcome is known as the indifference principle. Most people find it naively compelling, but because it leads to seemingly insoluble paradoxes, it’s widely rejected. Consider:

      The following example (adapted from van Fraassen 1989) nicely illustrates how Bertrand-style paradoxes work. A factory produces cubes with side-length between 0 and 1 foot; what is the probability that a randomly chosen cube has side-length between 0 and 1/2 a foot? The tempting answer is 1/2, as we imagine a process of production that is uniformly distributed over side-length. But the question could have been given an equivalent restatement: A factory produces cubes with face-area between 0 and 1 square-feet; what is the probability that a randomly chosen cube has face-area between 0 and 1/4 square-feet? Now the tempting answer is 1/4, as we imagine a process of production that is uniformly distributed over face-area. This is already disastrous, as we cannot allow the same event to have two different probabilities (especially if this interpretation is to be admissible!). But there is worse to come, for the problem could have been restated equivalently again: A factory produces cubes with volume between 0 and 1 cubic feet; what is the probability that a randomly chosen cube has volume between 0 and 1/8 cubic-feet? Now the tempting answer is 1/8, as we imagine a process of production that is uniformly distributed over volume. And so on for all of the infinitely many equivalent reformulations of the problem (in terms of the fourth, fifth, … power of the length, and indeed in terms of every non-zero real-valued exponent of the length). What, then, is the probability of the event in question?

      The problem is that there are always too many ways of carving up the space of possible outcomes, which means that the indifference principle invariably ends up licensing inconsistent probability assignments.

      • Nonnamous says:

        I haven’t really read the (highly respected on LessWrong) “Probability Theory: The Logic of Science” by E. T. Jaynes, but aren’t such philosophical questions half of what it is about? Has a section on an unknown-biased coin. The correct way to model the “completely unknown” bias is to use the 1/(x(1-x)) density function for it, which is not even a real probability density because it diverges at both ends, but somehow it still makes sense when you plug it into the formulas, or something.

      • AnonymousCoward says:

        Hm, well that response gives me some pause, and I would definitely not want to assign probabilities to outcomes on continuous variables when I don’t know the probability distribution, for the reasons you gave.

        But my intuition says that for a discrete variable, or at the very least a binary choice like a coin flip, it’s probably all good to use the indifference principle in this way. So if I ever encounter an unknown-bias coin, I will happily bet at > 2:1 odds for either outcome.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          Take care you are not smuggling in background knowledge of numismatics or human behavior. If you find yourself on an alien planet, and you have the opportunity to thworp a zeedle, where all you know about zeedles is that thworping them makes them zoog or yoog, are you still 33% sure that the zeedle will zoog?

          A popular alternative is to assign interval-valued credences in cases of low information: the probability that a coin with an unknown bias will land heads is (0,1). This makes the connection to betting behavior more obscure, however.

      • anon says:

        Unless you’re using quantum things to randomize your process, you probably aren’t relying on “objective chances which are probabilities built into the fabric of the world”.

        It’s fine for the indifference principle to assign inconsistent probability assignments, as long as all betters agree on the odds they’re betting on. If the coin always turns up heads, but we all believe it’s fair, then that’s still 50% chance one of us will lose. The problem is if there is asymmetry of information, if I know the coin turns up heads or I know the actual chance for a cube with 1/2 side length to be produced or I’m at least smart enough to move my knowledge of the odds closer to truth than the other guys. Randomness is not a property of the coin, it is a property of the observer – we use it to describe the observer’s uncertainty about what will happen.

        • Earthly Knight says:

          Unless you’re using quantum things to randomize your process, you probably aren’t relying on “objective chances which are probabilities built into the fabric of the world”.

          This is a fancy way of saying that objective chances are mind-independent: a fair coin has a 50% chance of coming up heads regardless of what anyone knows about it, indeed, even if the universe were devoid of sentient life.

          If the coin always turns up heads, but we all believe it’s fair, then that’s still 50% chance one of us will lose.

          No, there’s a 100% chance that whoever selected tails will lose, either in virtue of the fact that the hypothetical long-run relative frequency of the coin coming up heads is 1, or in virtue of the fact that its microphysical constitution guarantees that it will always come up heads. This is just what is meant by “objective chance”. People may assign the coin toss the same subjective probability, but that’s a different matter.

          • anon says:

            Your definition of objective chances fails to produce any useful ways of creating randomness, unless you widen it to also include things that aren’t “truly” random but nobody has knowledge of, in which case you’ve made it subjective again. And what’s the point of all this purity anyway?

            >No, there’s a 100% chance that whoever selected tails will lose

            Only in retrospect. Which is the entire point of the indifference principle.

          • Earthly Knight says:

            And what’s the point of all this purity anyway?

            Because we want statements like the following to come out true:

            1. The biased coin had a 90% chance of landing heads, but came up tails anyway.
            2. Tyrannosaurs with shorter arms were fitter* than Tyrannosaurs with longer arms in the last moments before the asteroid struck.

            If you require either (a) indeterminacy or (b) ignorance for your chances, these sentences will be incoherent or false by definition. But plainly, they are not. The role of objective chances in evolutionary biology, in particular, does not seem dispensable.

            *Where fitness is the product of the chance of survival and the average number of offspring.

          • Adam says:

            What you’re doing will work, if I understand you correctly, that you are equally likely to select ‘H’ or ‘T’ on each flip as the side you’re betting on, in which case, your expected outcome and your opponent’s expected outcome are both 0.5 * p + 0.5 * (1-p), making it a fair game, since a weighted average of 0.5 with 0.5 is always 0.5 regardless of the weight. You’ll win half the time and lose half the time.

            That’s cheating, though, because you introduced a second random variable (what you’re going to bet on), then used that instead of the biased coin to guarantee a fair game. That doesn’t solve the problem as presented, which is to find equiprobable events within the distribution of repeated flips of a coin of unknown bias. You found equiprobable events over the joint distribution of the biased coin flips and flips of a second, unbiased coin you brought to the game. As Nybbler says below, you can do the same more easily by using only the unbiased coin you just created. People can bet on whether you’re going to select heads or tails instead.

          • anon says:

            I understand your position now, thanks. I’ve not yet fully turned on the practical merits of making the distinction, but it no longer sounds like meaningless arguing over nothings.

    • Aris Katsaris says:

      > If you don’t know how it’s biased, then just use it like a normal coin flip! The result is 50:50 for you, because you don’t know anything about the coin :p.

      That doesn’t work because you may need to use the same coin to determine 5 variables that ought be independent of each other. If the coin is 90% biased, you’ll get an unwanted dependency in the results.

      My thought-of solution was the same as the one indicated but I expressed it as “flip twice, reverse the meaning of the second flip, repeat process if you get a non-matching result” I think remembering to reverse the meaning of the second flip is simpler to remember as a tactic.

      • TheNybbler says:

        Also it only works if you have an unbiased means of selecting “Heads” or “Tails” in the first place. If you have that, you don’t need to bother with the coin flip.

      • JG29A says:

        That seems identical to my first reaction, which was: put your choices onto “teams”; flip once for each team; if they’re not all identical, eliminate those that got tails; repeat until one choice survives.

    • yarbel says:

      Here’s a complementary solution, because your proposal only works once.
      In the case we want to use the coin N times (N>1), it should be easy to do the following: on odd flips, heads is heads, tails is tails. On even flips, we reverse the interpretation of the sides, so that heads now means tails and vice versa.

      • Muga Sofer says:

        Depending on the strength of the bias, this could be more like always picking 1s on odd numbers and 0s on evens.

  5. Samuel Skinner says:

    The top 10 facts about Russia is from 2008; as such it includes
    “7

    MYTH: Russia is an aggressive state which is hated by its neighbors.

    REALITY: Unlike some superpowers, the Russia Federation has yet to invade another country. Most of its neighbors view Russia favorably and a majority of Ukrainians would be happy to join it.”

    Heh.

    “Zompist on Jane Jacobs on cities.”

    … it is like looking at a train wreak. It starts bad
    “Jacobs arrives at this conclusion by considering the stagflation of the 1970s– simultaneous high unemployment and high inflation, something that was not supposed to be possible under either left-wing (Keynesian) or right-wing (monetarist) economics. They were supposed to trade off. She points out that this condition– high prices and not enough work– is normal for backward regions; ”

    High prices is not what inflation means. Inflation is when the value of money is decreasing.

    Gets worse
    “But don’t cities arise from and depend on agriculture? No: all economic progress originates in cities, Jacobs tells us; and cheekily adds that all agricultural progress originates in cities. Great advances, such as mechanical reapers and electricity, were invented and adopted in or near cities before being applied to agricultural regions farther out. Productivity improvements in agriculture always begin near the cities and spread out. ”

    Yeah. Unless you are defining a city as all centralized settlements, this isn’t going to be remotely true for the preindustrial era.

    And just keeps going
    “The missing process– the engine Jacobs finds for all economic life– is import replacement. ”

    Technological advancement apparently not existing. Or for that matter export driven growth like sweatshops.

    • E. Harding says:

      Yup. Jacobs was totally wrong about cities existing before agriculture:

      https://www.academia.edu/6786362/_Jane_Jacobs_Cities_First_Model_and_Archaeological_Reality_2014_

      “They were supposed to trade off.”

      -As Scott Sumner says, there’s no reason for unemployment to be correlated with inflation. There is some reason for unemployment to be correlated with nominal wage growth and nominal gross domestic product growth. A hurricane, say, or a commodities supply shock could easily cause both higher inflation and higher unemployment. The mother of all inflationary depressions was the 1990s former Soviet Union, when massive disallocation of old and unprofitable industries occurred.

    • I haven’t read Jacobs, but one of the reasons why the monetarist position became much more widely accepted was that it did predict stagflation and the Keynesian did not.

    • The article on Russia also has this sleight of hand: it counters the claim that there is a lot of xenophobia in Russia with the claim that there are less *antisemitic* incidents in Russia than in western Europe.

      The point about media is also a sleight of hand: most criticism of Putin is found in newspapers, but most Russians don’t read newspapers; they watch tv channels, which are much more controlled. Putin’s approval rating in general is an illusion: the Russian concensus is that Putin’s government is corrupt and inefficient, but than anyone else would be even worse.

      Generally, a fair examination of Russia on various objective criteria reveals a country that isn’t the worst in the world, but that is certainly not up to the same standards of living and rule of law as western countries. There are several specific areas where Russia is doing not just worse than Europe or the US, but worse than Turkey, India or China (such as prevalence of corruption, homicide rate and DALYs).

    • Brandon Berg says:

      High prices is not what inflation means. Inflation is when the value of money is decreasing.

      Aren’t those equivalent? How do you measure the value of money, if not relative to goods and services? There’s no platonic unit of value against which you can compare the value of money.

      I guess you could say it’s decreasing relative to other currencies, but then by that definition if all currencies are undergoing inflation at the same rare, none are.

      • Sole says:

        A $50 Big Mac introduces one set of problems. A $50 Big Mac that will cost $100 next month introduces those problems and then some.

    • Anthony says:

      Zompist’s distillation of Jacobs seems fairly accurate to me, based on my memory of reading Jacobs’ books.

    • Timothy Coish says:

      It really is disappointing how few people understand that economic growth is driven by an increase in capital goods. People have some very vague ideas about what makes economies “good”, knowing that imports, exports, employment/unemployment, wages, taxes, inflation/deflation, aggregate demand, and a million other things are somehow involved. Lots of people know a lot of stuff about economics without having a clear image of anything in their head.

  6. W.T. Dore says:

    Fidem meam obligo vexillo …

  7. E. Harding says:

    A. Karlin is a way better blogger now, on all the subjects I like. Look at his most recent posts (popularity of Putin around the world, the Hungarian Death, explaining Ancient Greek achievement):

    http://www.unz.com/akarlin/

    On #s 7, 6, and partly 4, he turned out to be badly wrong. But that was written in March 2008, before the Russia-Georgia and Russia-Ukraine wars.

    BTW, Karlin’s point was that actual Russian oil production (as measured in barrels) grew slower than the rest of the Russian economy between 2003 and 2008.

    And wealth inequality is not income inequality: Russia is a country very unequal in wealth, but more equal in income than the U.S. Ukraine has absolutely massive wealth inequality, but has about the same income inequality as Sweden (probably because the oligarchs are leaking money).

    #3 should not have been surprising were Scott even remotely informed about Russia, which he obviously wasn’t.

    • Broggly says:

      I’m not sure #2 is anything to brag about. “Only 17 journalists killed, almost a 50% decline from the last administration!”

    • Anthony says:

      Sweden’s wealth inequality is pretty high, too. Low income inequality will slow the erosion of wealth inequality.

    • Viliam says:

      To put #7 in proper context — don’t forget there was half a century of brainwashing in Eastern Europe. Today’s adults were taught at school that Russia (okay, it was Soviet Union back then) is the best country in the world, and America is source of all evil. Every negative information about Soviet Union was suppressed… even when Chernobyl exploded, the information was suppressed for the few weeks; it exploded on April 26th, and a week later on May 1st people were marching in the streets celebrating the Labor Day and happily breathing all the falling radioactive dust; only later the news became official… and every negative information about the West was exaggerated: for example, we were told (truthfully) that there are unemployed people in Western Europe; but we weren’t told that their unemployment benefits still exceeded the salaries we had.

      Even after the fall of communism, Russian influence never stopped. Our current oligarchs have studied in Moscow. I suspect a few of our politicians and church leaders to be Russian agents. There are websites and newspapers containing the most crude propaganda (throw everything against the wall and see what sticks: moon landing was a hoax; vaccination produced by American big pharma causes autism; there were never Russian soldiers in Ukraine, it was actually American and German fascists attempting a genocide of Russian minority and trying to start a WW3), and while mostly stupid people fall for it, in democracy a stupid person’s vote is just as good as Einstein’s.

      So the fact that “most of its neighbors view Russia favorably”, which means “81% of Ukrainians, 78% of Bulgars, 59% of Slovaks; admittedly the same cannot be said for Poles and the Czechs” — well, in context of all this pressure, I’d say that counts as a strong argument against Russia that almost half of the Eastern Europe has resisted anyway.

      Also, about #1 “there aren’t billions of orcs beneath the Ural Mountains preparing the final phase of their assault on the West.” Sure. Firstly, they are not orcs (I suspect this part was merely a straw man). Secondly, I guess their number one priority would be the former members of Soviet Union, starting with the places with Russian speaking minorities; the number two priority would be the countries of the former Warsaw Pact where Russia still has big influence… and that’s probably enough work for the following few decades. It would be a weird strategy to attack the West before the East is reconquered.

      • Tibor says:

        Well, the Czech republic shares a border with Germany, Austria, Poland and Slovakia but not with Russia 🙂 Thank god for that. I am surprised by the super high approval rates of Russia in Slovakia (if they are true) though. Even though there are undoubtedly some cultural differences between Czechs and Slovaks and while there has now been 23 years (since January 1st 1993 when the Czecho-Slovak federation was split) of separate history, it seems strange that in this question, it would be so different. Although I do not like Putin and even the stereotypical Russian attitude to, well, almost anything, I would say that the current Czech sentiment is “Russia is world’s biggest threat” (which I partly agree with) and “Russians are all evil uneducated idiots”. True, the typical Russian tourist you might meet in Prague does not improve this image while wearing Addidas sweatpants and a golden watch or (if female) exaggerated make-up and flashy brand clothes that scream “I am trying to look rich” while demanding that people speak to them in Russian (which few people under 40 speak at all now and those who still had to learn it at school – it was mandatory in the whole Eastern Bloc – have mostly forgotten it…maybe Russians don’t know that). But there are also people like Gary Kasparov. People with his mindset are admittedly a minority in Russia and the above mentioned buffoons are more typical, but since they are a minority, they have it even harder if they are looked down upon just for being Russians too. I think that this image is even less true of Russians who decide to leave Russia for good and start their life again somewhere in Europe. This “all that Russia does is automatically bad” attitude also prevents people from seeing things such as the Ukraine conflict (where I personally do not see “good guys” and “bad guys”…rather a bunch of factions at a varying degree of bad). Seeing things in black and white is not an exclusively Czech problem though (not just about Russia).

        In any case, I think the difference between Eastern and Central European (within the former Eastern bloc) attitude to Russia might have a few relatively simple explanations:

        1. Geography. If you are a Russian neighbour, the Russian influence on your country will be both actively and passively higher. Baltic countries, Finland and Poland are an exception, but this gets me to next point.

        2. History. Poland has a bitter history of fighting Russia and even though they look to me closer culturally and linguistically to Russia than Slovaks are, Russia simply is seen as the devil in Poland (not entirely unreasonably though) and has been for generations. Baltic countries were annexed by the Russians/Soviets during WW2 (when the Soviet Union and the third Reich were still friends). Since for geopolitical reasons, Russians ended up being the “allies”, they never had to give that back (and got some more). That is not good PR. Finland even used to be a Russian “colony” back in the 19th (I think) century but they managed to repel the Russian WW2 invasion (and possibly were also lucky Hitler attacked Stalin soon enough and made him divert the soldiers elsewhere) and retain their independence of Russia/Soviet Union while constantly seeing it as a threat. More or less the same story as that of Poland. And of course, Baltic languages and Finnish (which is close to Estonian) differ from Russian quite a lot (more than any Slavic language).

        3. Development. Czechoslovakia, especially Bohemia (the Czech part) was one of the most developed countries in the pre-WW2 world. After the Nazi occupation and the communist coup d’etat, the country was suddenly ruled by a 3rd world country (and everything was done the same way as there). It is not a perfect comparison, but it would be similar to Mao taking over modern day Hong Kong and imposing the same (or almost the same) rules in HK as in the rest of China. That obviously creates a lot of ressentiment. On the other hand, countries like Bulgaria or Ukraine have always been roughly on the Russian level of development.

        However, there obviously have been some fruits of the 40 years of brainwashing and in some strata of the society, even in the Czech republic or in the former DDR (East Germany), one can see the exact opinions which you mentioned and which are more or less conspiracy theories, and quite a high support of Putin’s Russia. But unlike (apparently) in Bulgaria or Ukraine (although I would expect Ukraine to be very divided in this question today), these make up some maybe 10% of the population (who consist largely of the voter base of the Czech communists or Die Linke in Germany). I don’t have any proper data, but my impression is that a typical person with those opinions is either an over 50 years old manual worker (and the age is increasing with time) or below 25 years old communist or nationalist radical, for different reasons (but mostly the first group of over 50 workers).

    • Sergey Kishchenko says:

      Small correction – Karlin _seems to be_ a better blogger now. There are several possible explanations for this from
      a) He went through a painful calibration and now produces a higher quality content
      to
      z) He is just as biased as before but his recent posts were not yet proven wrong

      I may be biased towards z myself but I’d recommend treating all his posts as unfair coin flips with some unknown bias.

  8. Jeremy Jaffe says:

    flip it twice.
    If the first is heads and the second is tails – rule that as a heads
    If the first is tails and the second is heads – rule that as tails
    – if both heads or both tails – do that again.

    Because no matter what the bias of the coin is – head followed by tails will be equally likely as tails followed by head

  9. Phillip says:

    > Enrico Fermi knew pretty much all the great physicists of the 1930s, and he said the greatest mind of them all was a young man named Ettore Majorana, whom he ranked alongside Galileo or Newton. At age 32, Majorana disappeared on a boat trip and was never seen again.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ettore_Majorana http://paulfchristiano.com/ ???

  10. Douglas Knight says:

    QE2 has never been at war with herself. The footnote mentions the invasion of Grenada, but the Governor General, the Queen’s proxy, invited the invasion. The footnote mentions other Commonwealth countries that objected to the invasion, but they were not belligerents.

    G6 was the king of both India and Pakistan when they fought their first war in 1947, but they became republics before fighting again. (Elizabeth was Queen of Pakistan for a few years, but never India.)

    I did not know that independent Ireland was not immediately a republic, but kept the British King for a decade or three.

  11. J says:

    Statistics on people who punch walls. Spoiler: predominantly young males. “15-YEAR-OLD MALE WAS UPSET, PUNCHED WALL WITH FIST. UPSET W/ MOM WHO SAYS ROOM WAS NOT CLEAN ENOUGH”

  12. Yakimi says:

    >The Atlantic proposes that Obama has precipitated a vast leftward shift in American culture as epochal as the vast rightward shift under Reagan. Counterpoint: Americans Are More Conservative Than They Have Been In Decades. Why do I have to keep reading these kinds of articles every few months? This question really shouldn’t be this hard to settle!

    The two statements are compatible. It is possible that more Americans feel like conservatives because America is becoming increasingly progressive.

    The conservative of 2015 is much less conservative than the conservative of 1952, maybe even less conservative than the liberal of 1952. The conservative of 2015 has much less to conserve. None of Donald Trump’s proposals would have evoked the slightest controversy in 1952. Now he is considered far-right, if not outright fascist, even by the conservative establishment.

    It might be true that more Americans feel conservative than ever before, but the standard for what is considered conservative (e.g. David Brooks) has fallen. As progressivism accelerates leftwards, conservatism is dragged behind it. The shifting of the Overton Window produces no new leftists, but many people who would formerly be considered centrists or moderates would find their position becoming the new conservativism, adding to the ranks of those who are already conservative.

    • Wency says:

      Indeed, I’d suspect that the self-identification of teenagers as “bad” increased around the time of Michael Jackson’s album by that title, without any corresponding increase in juvenile delinquency.

      The meanings and associations of “liberal” and “conservative” continue to evolve, just as the word “Communist” no longer has the meaning in 2015 China that it did in 1949 China.

      But when the unthinkable can become the unquestionable in such a short span of time, the Overton Window is clearly the story. It has rarely been so starkly visible.

      • James Vonder Haar says:

        Speaking of the rapidly shifting Overton Window, I still feel like I can’t get my head wrapped around just how quickly things turned around on gay rights. I was a queer kid in a Catholic school in Texas – I remember the 2004 election when Republicans drove turnout in dozens of states by putting anti-gay marriage initiatives on the ballot. It’s just unreal to me how the world has changed in the intervening decade. I remember reading some Nate Silver projections, I think around 2010, that predicted Mississippi would be the last state to legalize gay marriage sometime in the early 2020s and I laughed. I thought I might see marriage nationwide in my senescence, have a nice comfy ceremony with my partner after a long life together. The fact that it happened before I could even find a life partner just bowls me over. I keep wondering if I’m dreaming.

        • Sastan says:

          Try not to contemplate that the shift can reverse just as fast.

          • FJ says:

            Is there any precedent for that? The Overton Window swinging sharply in one direction for a decade or so, then sharply back, all within living memory?

          • nil says:

            I doubt it. There’s a big difference between convincing people to support SSM when they currently don’t because they never thought about it and it seems weird now that they do, or because they support civil unions but have a basically-semantic preference for marriage to only refer to opposite sex couples vs. convincing people to ban gay marriage when they previously supported it as the civil rights cause of our era. Plus, the existence of currently gay-married couples is both a difficult practical problem for and an extremely motivated opposition to any effort to re-ban it.

          • John Schilling says:

            Prohibition of alcohol is I think a relevant precedent. Chronic drunkenness has always been considered a Bad Thing, but the idea that it could and should be dealt with via prohibition was I think outside the Overton window for all but half a century or so. Hmm, Anti-Saloon League founded in 1893, prohibition repealed 1933, so forty years.

            However, the circumstances were fairly unique. On the up side, women’s suffrage greatly changed the perception of what was politically achievable, and temperance was the big gender-politics issue of the day. On the down side, the failures of Prohibition were substantial, immediately obvious, and not plausibly linkable to any other cause. Neither of these applies to gay marriage.

          • James Vonder Haar says:

            No joke. Cthulhu swims left and all that, but I can’t shake the feeling that I’m in Weimar Berlin. The future is unknown territory. But it’s probably just me being paranoid

          • Viliam says:

            Alternatively, if Cthulhu will swim left fast enough, you could see the Overton Window swoosh above your head and leave you far behind. For example:

            Gay marriage could be banned, because all marriage will be banned. The next generation will consider the idea of marriage just as horrible as slavery (or even worse).

            Progressives may throw gays under the bus because, after all, they are men, and supporting any kind of men’s rights would be misogynist. Mentioning gay rights online will mostly get you an ironic “yeah, what about teh poor oppressed menz” and a ban. Gay rights websites will be classified as hate speech and will be illegal. Gays will be described in media as men who hate women so much that they even refuse to have sex with them.

            Yeah, today both of these examples seem silly, but that’s the point.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Progressives may throw gays under the bus because, after all, they are men, and supporting any kind of men’s rights would be misogynist.

            Pretty sure the National Union of Students here in the UK has accused gays of benefiting from male privilege. Or, as one senior member put it, “Fuck privileged gays”.

          • Loyle says:

            @Viliam

            I’m gonna go ahead and be “that guy” and point out that when people say “gay rights” they are referring to “homosexual rights”. Like when people say “mankind” they are referring to both men and women and all of humanity.

            Both men and women can be gay. It’s just that gay women get to be called lesbians and there’s not a real male equivalent of the word.

          • BBA says:

            “Gays will be described in media as men who hate women so much that they even refuse to have sex with them.”

            You joke, but I’ve heard Andrew Sullivan described as so deeply misogynistic he became gay by default.

          • Adam says:

            Hating women so much you prefer not just the company of men, but even sex with them, only begrudgingly screwing women because it’s required to create new people, sounds like a parody of classical Athens.

          • E. Harding says:

            @FJ

            -Yes. Leninist Russia v. Stalinist Russia on homosexuality.

          • suntzuanime says:

            All marriage is banned, they just kept the hollowed out rituals around so people wouldn’t get upset.

            I wonder if we could have done something like that to take care of slavery without needing a bloody civil war.

          • Nonnamous says:

            @suntzuanime You mean, because divorce exists?

          • Creutzer says:

            Because no-fault divorce exists, anyway. Marriage as an effective commitment device for both partners has, in consequence, indeed ceased to exist. I don’t think there’s much of a question about that – the question is just whether it’s a bad thing because having such a device is worth the costs, or not.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            @Nonnamous: See Sister Y’s “The Right to Marry”:

            Even if you’re the straightest, whitest, most Christian couple in the entire state of Louisiana, you don’t have the legal right to marry. Not really.

            It’s not that you lack the right to conduct a government-approved ceremony and obtain the legal status of a married couple; you can do that. You can even file your federal tax returns as a married couple, as long as you don’t have matching genitals. But nowhere in the United States do you have the right to credibly contract for a lifetime marital partnership.

            Every state currently allows some form of “no fault” divorce – divorce not based on any wrongdoing of a party, but simply because the parties claim they don’t want to be married anymore. Even though the couple may “vow” to remain together until one of them dies, everyone knows these vows have no legal or real-world effect. The marital “contract” is not a contract at all.

            Marriage once did have a legal effect – once married, parties could not divorce without a really good reason (physical cruelty, desertion, or adultery). Not coincidentally, marriages were much more likely to be reliable lifetime partnerships. In addition to the legal strictures surrounding marriage, social groups essentially forced couples to stay together or risk social death.

            With the nationwide adoption of no-fault divorce and the elimination of the social stigma of divorce, the nature of marriage changed from a genuine contract to an illusory contract. Marriage stopped being the reliable, socially enforced lifetime partnership it had been for generations.

            Poly people might be tempted to think of the destruction of socially enforced monogamy as a good thing. Indeed, many people who did not really want to marry were no doubt forced to do so, and forced to stay married, because attractive options did not exist.

            However, even poly people must on reflection realize that an important right has been lost: the right to reliably, credibly commit oneself for life. Even those who think polyamory is the best choice for them rarely want to force their lifestyle on others; indeed, they are often some of the most vocal supporters of expanding the right to marry to gay people. Sadly, however, in allowing anyone the right to divorce at will, we have deprived everyone of the right to truly marry.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ jaimeastorga2000 quoting Sister Y
            Even though the couple may “vow” to remain together until one of them dies, everyone knows these vows have no legal or real-world effect. The marital “contract” is not a contract at all.

            That was GKC’s take, which seemed to me extremely … odd. I’d say, a vow that after a point relies on the state to enforce it, is no longer a vow. Sir Gawain got points for voluntarily returning to meet the Green Knight, ie for voluntarily keeping the vow. If Gawain had, upon making the vow, immediately been shackled in the GK’s castle to prevent him skipping out, that would have been … a different story.

          • Creutzer says:

            It’s true that “vow” is not a word that is usually employed for commitments that are enforced by the legal system, but breaking a vow is still associated with at least social punishment, no? It’s just that the whole concept is outdated and the social institutions necessary for making an actual vow of any sort are no longer in place. Hence the scare quotes around “vow” in the context of marriage.

          • anonymous says:

            You are free to join a subculture that social enforces marriage. If you can’t find one maybe that should tell you something.

            Also, I should add re: this entire subthread that this half paranoia / half whining argument style isn’t very convincing to the uninitiated. Unless the point is to circle jerk I don’t see why the alt right keeps coming back to to.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            That was GKC’s take, which seemed to me extremely … odd. I’d say, a vow that after a point relies on the state to enforce it, is no longer a vow. Sir Gawain got points for voluntarily returning to meet the Green Knight, ie for voluntarily keeping the vow. If Gawain had, upon making the vow, immediately been shackled in the GK’s castle to prevent him skipping out, that would have been … a different story.

            ?

            Sure, it’s better to voluntarily keep a vow than to do so because of compulsion, but what’s that got to do with the price of fish? It’s better to voluntarily refrain from stealing than to refrain due to fear of being punished, so should we therefore stop enforcing the laws against theft?

          • Creutzer says:

            I just realised that there is an awful typo in my post above: I meant to say that he word “vow” is usually used for things that are not enforced by the legal system. (Because those that are are called contracts.)

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Creutzer

            SY’s statement (per J’s comment above) used the word vow twice but only put it in quote marks once:

            Even though the couple may “vow” to remain together until one of them dies, everyone knows these vows have no legal or real-world effect. The marital “contract” is not a contract at all.

            She does seem to be conflating the ideas of wedding vow (does the word even occur in the ceremony?) with legal contract. The legal contract as enforced (joint liability for debts, default inheritance, etc) remains in effect until legally dissolved, so it is a contract.

            My acquaintance and quarrel on this is with GKC; I don’t know if SY equates a change made by the government / a change in custom / a legal contract as closely with spontaneous romantic truuue luuuurvers’ vows as GKC did. But remember he was arguing* not against no-fault divorce but against any divorce at all, and Lewis in mid-century was looking at the same concern in relation to an issue before Parliament iirc.

            * Where his aunts, who are not married,
            Demand to be divorced.

          • Creutzer says:

            I doubt she means very much by this whole vow business beyond the fact that it’s not as binding of a commitment as the word “vow” makes it sound. I agree completely, by the way, that GKC’s view is odd if he thinks that marriage as an effective commitment device requires the impossibility of divorce for any reason. I must say I haven’t read him, though.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ anonymous

            If you mean, why does the camp of people who say ssm, poly, etc will destroy marriage, then go on to say that marriage was already destroyed decades ago with no-fault divorce — then you have a good point. Do they hope to consequentially get no-fault outlawed, or at least tightened up? That seems an unlikely prospect. The more immediate consequence of their arguing so, is to get their similar anti-ssm and anti-poly dismissed as unrealistic; why focus on trying to save something that’s been dead for decades anyway, and most current voters scarcely remember?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Creutzer
            “GKC’s view is odd if he thinks that marriage as an effective commitment device requires the impossibility of divorce for any reason. I must say I haven’t read him, though.”

            Yes, mea culpa, over simplifying (so did GKCs dig). But Deiseach and Mary will be along with the detials.

          • Creutzer says:

            I wish people wouldn’t short-circuit like anonymous above.

            It’s quite possible to diagnose the situation as it is and judge that there shouldn’t be such a commitment device because that would do too much damage.

            It is also entirely possible to think that we should have such a commitment device and that people of all genders and sexual orientations should have equal access to it.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Cruetzer:
            Is it reasonable, though?

            There aren’t any other commitment devices like that. Even a 100 year lease can be broken by declaring bankruptcy.

            And from a traditional perspective, the idea that your parents could irrevocably tie you to someone for your entire life as early as when you were born is a very unique idea.

          • Creutzer says:

            You can’t just declare bankruptcy any time you want in order to get out of a lease. You can dissolve a marriage through no-fault divorce any time you want. It makes marriage akin to, I don’t know, the customer/tenant side of a cable or rental contract.

            And parents being able to commit you to something is another thing entirely. Nobody was talking about that.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Creutzer:
            Doesn’t a no-fault divorce require both sides to agree to the divorce?

            Edit:
            Perhaps a more accurate statement is that before no-fault, mutual agreement to dissolve the marriage was not allowed. That was substantially different than other contracts. Is there any other contract like this?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Cruetzer:
            As to the parents being able to commit one to marriage, isn’t the argument for the desirability of the vow essentially one from tradition? I don’t see any actual arguments being made for why the ability to tie oneself irrevocably for all time is good in the abstract.

          • Creutzer says:

            Doesn’t a no-fault divorce require both sides to agree to the divorce?

            Oh, now I understand your puzzlement! No, no-fault divorce is unilateral.

            Prior to it, there was no explicit provision for dissolution with mutual agreement, but there were various ways to achieve it in practice, usually through the pretense of adultery. Some places also allowed a marriage to be dissolved on the basis of “irreconcilable differences” and prolonged spacial separation.

            As to the parents being able to commit one to marriage, isn’t the argument for the desirability of the vow essentially one from tradition?

            Well, for one thing, the Western world doesn’t actually have a tradition of parents committing their children to a marriage at birth. So even if one makes the argument which you refer to, which I understand as “it’s been a tradition for a long time and kind of worked – don’t tear it down because unpredictable terrible things may happen”, that doesn’t yield arranged marriage. That strikes me as a very weak argument, though.

            I think those who say that the consequences of the abolition of marriage are observable and they’re negative in terms of social stability and individual well-being have a stronger case.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Creutzer:
            Yeah, I had a ninja-edit where I corrected myself on no-fault divorce. But I still think the idea that a marriage should not be disolvable via mutual agreement, which was the primary reason for the introduction of no-fault divorce, is a unique ask in terms of contract law.

            I’m not seeing anyone make the positive case for this requirement. So that is why I am asking whether we can assume it is reasonable.

          • Creutzer says:

            If the primary reason for the introduction of no-fault divorce was that a marriage should be dissolvable by mutual agreement, then why the hell did they make it unilateral?!

            I don’t think there are nearly as strong arguments against dissolution by mutual agreement as there are against unilateral no-fault divorce. I haven’t even seen anyone explicitly say that this possibility shouldn’t exist – all the fuss is about the unilateral version, no?

          • anonymous says:

            @Creutzer
            You seem to have a romanticized view of how the fault divorce system worked. New York was the last state to abolish it in 2010, and I had already graduated law school at that point. It certainly wasn’t the case that if one party wanted to remain married there was no way to get divorced, it just made the litigation that much more prolonged and expensive. The biggest difference between then and now is that back then divorce by consent took a year and agreement on every point of the financial settlement. Although you could always get divorced in another jurisdiction.

            In a larger sense your complaint is unreasonable because it is asking the government to do something it has no business doing. The government can’t force people to stay de facto married, even if it could force them to stay de jure married. And it never could. Social pressure could, did, and still does in some places. But the cultures in the US that were able to do so no longer have a hold on any but a tiny fraction of the population and even they risk defection if their demands are too unreasonable. That’s not the governments’ fault and a legal change won’t turn back the clock.

            As I suggested, maybe you should contemplate why those cultures are dead and buried.

          • Creutzer says:

            @anonymous: Can we maybe stop aggressively attributing views to other people that those don’t hold? Thanks.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            In a larger sense your complaint is unreasonable because it is asking the government to do something it has no business doing. The government can’t force people to stay de facto married, even if it could force them to stay de jure married.

            No, but it can/could give people a means of redress when their spouse unilaterally decides to walk out on them.

          • BBA says:

            My inner feminist tells me that the Married Women’s Property Acts did more to undermine “traditional marriage” than no-fault divorce did.

          • “And from a traditional perspective, the idea that your parents could irrevocably tie you to someone for your entire life as early as when you were born is a very unique idea.”

            I don’t know what traditional system you are thinking of. The one whose rules I probably know best is traditional Jewish law (arguably the best documented legal system in the history of the world).

            Once the parties were adult (12.5 plus evidence of puberty for female, 13.5 plus for male, I think) marriage depended only on their consent–parents could neither refuse nor compel, although there were attempts to modify communal law to give parents some ability to prevent. A girl below adulthood could be married off by her father, but then had the option of canceling the marriage when she became adult.

            My not very well informed impression of traditional European rules was that the consent of the parties was required for the marriage to actually happen, although marriage contracts could be made earlier than that. I don’t know what happened if the contract was made when a party was two years old and, when he or she became adult, disavowed by the party.

            On the more general issue, it seems to me that people are trying to treat it as a binary classification–either an irrevocable contract (marriage) or not. But there are obviously degrees. Even medieval Catholic marriage had an out in annulment, although it might require some imaginative justification.

            The modern no fault system is “less marriage” than the system a century earlier, since there is less ability to commit. That may be a good or bad thing. But even in that system marriage has some legal consequences.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Doesn’t a no-fault divorce require both sides to agree to the divorce?

            In effect, yes. (Or at least to be out-lawyered.) The divorce decree is not awarded till both parties sign an agreement about disposition of property, spousal support, child custody, etc. An objecting partner can make so many demands that the other may as well stay married (at least de jure).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Creutzer:
            Before no-fault divorce, one partner or the other had to accuse the other of somehow failing to honor the marriage. Adultery, for instance. This was the “fault” required before no-fault was introduced.

            People in this thread seem to be complaining precisely that marriages can be dissolved at all, rather than both parties being held to their vow. Mutual agreement would seem to be out in that case.

          • James Vonder Haar says:

            @Viliam, way upthread:

            Fair point about the left deciding to turn on groups they previously viewed as oppressed. Things are kinda chill right now, but there are some ominous signs that gender non-conforming, non-trans gay men may be in the crosshairs; stuff like banning crossdressing from Halloween because man in a dress jokes are offensive to trans people (nevermind half of them first wore women’s clothes in public on Halloween because it gave them social cover), or banning drag queens from a pride parade (though to be fair that particular one was kinda a side-event to the main pride and the idea was to fix a competing access problem rather than hating drag queens as such).

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Before no-fault divorce, one partner or the other had to accuse the other of somehow failing to honor the marriage. Adultery, for instance.

            At one time (at least in England), the judge would not grant the divorce if there was evidence that both parties wanted it.*

            * So says my memory from a novel, probably by Rose Macaulay.

          • @FJ the great precedent is WWI Europe. Source: Stefan Zweig: The World Of Yesterday. European culture moved from highly cosmopolitan to very aggressively nationalist very, very quickly.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Did you consider having a ceremony that was not legally recognized?

    • stillnotking says:

      None of Donald Trump’s proposals would have evoked the slightest controversy in 1952.

      Did you intend to choose the year Truman vetoed the Immigration and Nationality Act? Seems to me that undercuts your point a little, since it was very controversial.

      • Yakimi says:

        Controversial, sure, in the sense that reasonable people could disagree. Neither side would accuse the other of saying the unthinkable. Causing the entire establishment to issue a chorus of denunciation is another level of contention entirely. (The Trump of 1952 was McCarthy.)

        The restrictionist position was basically hegemonic at the time. The really controversial proposal would not have been in the direction of further restriction but of liberalization. Even the 1965 act had to be sold on the promise that it would not upset the “ethnic balance”. Can Trump pronounce “ethnic balance”?

        • E. Harding says:

          “The really controversial proposal would not have been in the direction of further restriction but of liberalization.”

          -Not true. Racial restrictions on immigration were repealed in 1953.

          • Yakimi says:

            Do you mean 1952? McCarran–Walter abolished racial qualifications for naturalization. Still, the act was more restrictionist than it was liberalizing.

    • CalmCanary says:

      The article is claiming Americans are more conservative on the basis of policy preferences, not self-identification, so this shouldn’t make a difference.

      On the other hand, the article says in particular that Americans’ policy preferences were more conservative than any time since 1952 in 2012, and any metric making that claim is probably too removed from actual voting behavior to be relevant.

    • Adam says:

      The only Trump proposal that has caused controversy is the banning all Muslims proposal. All the rest of the Trump controversy is people not liking him because he’s running his campaign exactly the way you would expect a reality TV star famous for being a dick to people. His actual positions are mostly mainstream positions, not far-right at all. I’m not even convinced his average supporter knows his platform. Voters don’t care about policy. They like him for pissing off mass media and being rudely anti-PC and generally louder and madder than the other candidates. His detractors probably don’t know his platform, either, and hate him for the same reasons.

      • TrivialGravitas says:

        mass deportations of hispanics without checking to see if they’re legal first and declaring them illegal even if they were born here are pretty controversial.

        Though, you’re half right, people were saying the same shit about him when the only thing he’d said about immigration was to secure the border.

        • Adam says:

          Honestly, I don’t actually pay that much attention to election cycle coverage because I don’t vote and don’t care, so maybe I spoke too early. I had no idea that was a policy proposal of his. It seems a bit impractical. Who counts as Hispanic in this? Is he going to deport Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz? Jeb Bush’s kids?

          • John Schilling says:

            As with banning “pornography”, I think this is an “I’ll know it when I see it” sort of problem, where we’re supposed to not worry about the guy in charge burning the wrong books or deporting the wrong people because hey, it’s obvious which ones are the Right Sort and which ones are the Wrong Sort and our man is only going to go after the Wrong Sort. This, of course, usually ends badly.

        • sabril says:

          “mass deportations of hispanics without checking to see if they’re legal first and declaring them illegal even if they were born here are pretty controversial.”

          Are you saying Trump proposed these things?

  13. multiheaded says:

    I feel like even the official Russian govt propaganda has evolved and got more sophisticated since that silly list was first written.

    Obvious howlers aside, women living longer lives than men is perfectly compartible with being treated as more fragile, less business-like and less independent than men.

    • E. Harding says:

      A. Karlin has gotten way more sophisticated since he wrote that list (and that’s a good thing!). Though he still has that horrendously thick accent.

    • Creutzer says:

      Women living longer also seems to be the human default and is supported by them not being forced to serve in the Russian military.

      I’m genuinely wondering, though, about the extent of workplace sexism in Russia. My very superficial impression is that it’s at least less than one would a priori expect of such a gendered culture. But I’ve gained a glimpse only into a tiny segment of Russian society.

      • multiheaded says:

        This comment explains how, during the Soviet times, there used to be *very* little discrimination in STEM fields (despite lots of sexism in everything else). Most of my female relatives used to be STEM workers back then btw.

        Nowdays… I’d say there’s more of it due to capitalism, the destroyed welfare infrastructure, etc – but yes, less (overt) sexism in the workplace than in other spheres of life.

        • ivvenalis says:

          How the heck does capitalism or lack of a welfare state cause workplace sexism? Serious question.

          • Anthony says:

            Perhaps women really are less productive than men, or mixed-gender workplaces really are less productive than single-gender workplaces.

          • Julie K says:

            I can think of various factors that might produce a higher rate of women in STEM fields:
            – If women’s lower participation in STEM is mainly due to their own choices, a system that does not leave people free to choose can potentially increase female participation.
            – The welfare state may include free childcare.
            – Capitalism produces wealthy capitalists whose wives can afford not to work.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Julie K

            – Capitalism produces wealthy capitalists whose wives can afford not to work.

            I find the concept of the wives of wealthy men ‘affording not to work’ interesting, when considering it in light of feminism and women wanting to enter the workplace. My guess would be that, as a society becomes richer and a given amount of labor can buy more, people become relatively more interested in “things money can’t buy”. When all you want is goods and services bought with money in a literal marketplace, your husband’s income will do fine. When you want something intangible that you can’t buy with money such as “the satisfaction of having a career” or “financial independence”, the benefit of being the wife of a wealthy husband and getting to spend his income without having paid employment yourself diminishes relative to the alternative.

            Although, it’s easy to push this idea too far and come to conclusions like “a person’s wealth is determined entirely by their income; therefore, a stay-at-home mother married to a billionaire is desperately poor”, which is obviously wrong.

          • Viliam says:

            The intangible goods may include things like “having a career” and “financial independence”, but they may also include things like “having more free time” and “not having a boss”.

            Speaking for myself, if I were a woman, I’d rather be at home — partially taking care of my children, partially doing my own projects — assuming I would have a loving husband with a sufficient income. Financial independence is only a priority if the husband is abusive. If you desire fame, working for corporation is not your only option; you can blog, contribute to open-source software, write novels, etc.; with some luck, this can also bring you some money. Unfortunately, as a man I was never offered this option.

            I am not sure if average women really ever wanted the careers so much, or if it was mostly a rationalization when they were forced to enter the workforce by the economical pressures.

            (Data point: Before we had a baby, my wife was talking a lot about how she wants to return to her work as soon as possible. We even planned to buy a flat across the street from her job, to make her part-time return easier, so we would just have to hire a babysitter for 4 hours a day. After spending a few months without the job, she realized she actually doesn’t miss it at all, and now we imagine our future as her staying at home and possibly homeschooling the children, if the budget will allow. My conclusion is that “career” sounds great in far mode, and the people who never experienced an alternative may be unable to imagine it, but “freedom from boss” actually feels better, if you can afford it.)

          • Financial independence isn’t exactly an intangible– a husband can leave or die or become disabled.

          • Adam says:

            I don’t even think having a career is intangible. If you are eventually forced to work even if you’d prefer not to, it’s a lot easier to do so starting out entry-level in your 20s than in your 60s. Once you’ve been married long enough and had enough kids to guarantee adequate spousal support if you divorce, or you’ve vested enough in savings/insurance to cover yourself if your husband becomes disabled, not working is equally viable, but before that, it only is if you have adequate family support outside of your husband.

          • anonymous says:

            Speaking for myself, if I were a woman, I’d rather be at home — partially taking care of my children, partially doing my own projects — assuming I would have a loving husband with a sufficient income.

            This sentence makes no sense. You are either not speaking for yourself or the “if I were a woman” is superfluous.

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

            It makes perfect sense if you assume that being a woman is a necessary prerequisite for staying at home.

            My personal experience is that the discrimination against stay at home men is incredibly strong. To such an extent that it is almost impossible for a man to experience a net positive utility from the lifestyle choice. This does not appear to be the case for women; empirical evidence suggests that they do not experience nearly as much discrimination and are able to achieve a net positive utility in a significant fraction of cases.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Who wouldn’t want to be anonymous

            This comment highlights the problem I have with the concept of ‘discrimination’ as it is commonly used. Assume you’re right, and women overwhelmingly have a preference not to be working while their husband stays at home. So what? Is this a bad thing that we should get upset about? Why? What makes some preferences permitted, and others not? If I prefer to browse the internet than watch sports on TV, am I discriminating against sports broadcasters?

          • anonymous says:

            @WWWtBA

            If that’s Viliam was going for it seems a little rich to enforce a norm while at the same time complaining about it. Which leads to a larger point that your personal experience comes from only one particular culture, and even that culture is mutable over time. We aren’t talking about a law of the universe.

          • Nomeans says:

            @Anonymous:

            I think “Who would want to be Anonymous”‘s post did not imply that women were discrimnated against because they tend to choose staying at home more often than men do, but rather that men are being treated differently than women by society if they decide to remain at home rather than fulfill the traditional role of the provider.

            I agree with this assertion. It seems to me that the only way a guy could be a stay at home dad without being looked down upon or ridiculed was to pretend to have an internet business or something that he manages from home.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Who wouldn’t want to be anonymous
            It makes perfect sense if you assume that being a woman is a necessary prerequisite for staying at home.
            My personal experience is that the discrimination against stay at home men is incredibly strong. To such an extent that it is almost impossible for a man to experience a net positive utility from the lifestyle choice.

            If so … then I guess Marlo Thomas and I need to work on that some more. By their plan, my house-husband-in-law raised the baby, did the cooking, made and sold art from home, while his wife ran the press dept for the state university. He had a weekly coffeeklatch with other house-husbands.

            She liked doing that kind of work; he liked cooking and art.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Nomeans

            that men are being treated differently than women by society if they decide to remain at home rather than fulfill the traditional role of the provider.

            That’s what I was talking about too. I don’t see why this is something to be concerned about. If women don’t want to be working while their husband is at home with the kids, why shouldn’t they be able to hold and act on that preference? How is that any more ‘discrimination’ than anyone preferring anything?

          • Creutzer says:

            Anonymous, the point is that even if you have a wife who is fine with the arrangement, the rest of society will view you negatively. That’s what’s being, correctly, referred to as discrimination.

          • John Schilling says:

            My brother, in fact, has a wife who is fine with that arrangement, and two delightful children. It does not appear that any relevant part of society views him negatively or that he is adversely affected by societal attitudes over this.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            I haven’t heard Red Tribers criticize Todd Palin for this, either.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Lack of state intervention in a couple of specific corners of the economy making it obnoxiously difficult to accommodate childcare and pregnancy and a career at the same time. This very frequently just crashes the birth rate, tough. SEE: Italy and Japan.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            @Thomas,

            If that’s true, why is German / Nordic fertility so awful? These are countries with some of the strongest and most comprehensive welfare states in the world yet they’re doing, if anything, much worse than we are.

            The groups in the first world with greatly above replacement fertility seem to be ethno-religious enclaves, including many literal religious communes. Strong social supports are certainly part of that lifestyle but I doubt that’s all there is to it. It has yet to be established that a government can reverse falling fertility much less provide robust population growth.

          • Thomas Jørgensen says:

            Nordic fertility is, in fact, fine. German fertility sucks because it isn’t the comprehensive welfare state that matters for this, it is specifically guarantees of the availability of decent childcare, and laws that prevent becoming pregnant from being career suicide.
            – as a side note, the US isn’t an outlier here. The provision of child care is more free market, but it is reliably there, and firing someone for being pregnant gets you sued. –
            Germany has a cultural bias against being a working mother, which means these specific provision of the welfare state were only implemented very recently. The cultural bias still exists, of course, and is a separate problem on top of this.
            If you have both ample employment opportunities for women and a cultural expectation that a mother should stop working and become a housewife, the primary actual effect on your society will be that women just avoid becoming pregnant full stop in vast numbers.
            This happens pretty darn consistently.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Norway, the highest fertility Nordic country, has below replacement fertility. And those figures are inflated, as the official numbers include non-Norwegian immigrants.

            That is not an impressive result.

          • Tibor says:

            @Thomas Jørgensen: Can you support your thesis that Germany has a bias against being a working mother? I think that this might be true of Bavaria to some small extent, but not the protestant north and not the post-communist east.

            And in fact, doesn’t it cut both ways? Having a bias against being a working mother means being more accepting of stay-at-home mothers, which makes that more attractive, which should lead to a higher fertility rates and it is not clear whether that is outweighed by the fertility loss of women who want to have kids but really don’t want to stay at home and would feel uncomfortable about that, or not.

            Some numbers: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demografie_Deutschlands#/media/File:Fertilit%C3%A4t_Deutschland.png

            At a first glance, it looks like the Catholic south has a lower fertility rate than the protestant north. There also seems to be a higher fertility in the former DDR, which is still quite a bit poorer, than in the west. Saxony and Thuringia are particularly fertile for some reason. Possibly the lower wealth could actually be a cause, since poorer countries generally have higher fertility rates, but I doubt that this is a good explanation when the differences in wealth are relatively small and differences in education or healthcare nonexistent. It would explain the south/north difference in Germany as well, though, since the south is not only catholic but also richer.

            But none of the “trends” seem strong enough to tell something clear.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Thomas Jørgensen
            obnoxiously difficult to accommodate childcare and pregnancy and a career at the same time

            Above a certain level, this may not be such a problem. Governor Sarah Palin kept her baby right by the same desk the buck stopped on.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Creutzer

            For one thing, I don’t think that is likely to be the important factor. It seems to me that, in considering what determines a man’s ability to make certain arrangements in his relationship, the most important factor is far more likely to be the willingness of the woman he’s in a relationship with, not the opinions of lots of strangers.

            For another thing, I’m still not sure why this is obviously deserving of the label ‘discrimination’. Is it people having and acting on opinions about other people that justifies it? If so, why isn’t my example, of my opinion that watching sports on TV isn’t entertaining, and consequently my avoidance of doing so, discrimination? I’m making the lives of sports broadcasters a little harder, and in a more substantial way – actually denying them my business – compared to, say, someone who acts a little more coldly to a man pushing a buggy in the street.

          • Creutzer says:

            Well, it’s difficult to give a clear definition of discrimination. It seems like one of those things where you can give clear instances and clear non-instances (your example of denying someone your business because you’re not interested in their product being one), but not precisely circumscribed description. But I think if we accept that societal discrimination is a coherent concept that applies to some things, people having negative views about, and behaving negatively towards, stay-at-home husbands fits it just as well as analogous race-, gender- or sexual orientation-based behaviours.

            In light of the comments above, however, I do not think anymore that it is really so clear that this form of discrimination is widely found to the extent I would have thought. Actually, I myself know one house-husband who doesn’t seem to face any negative consequences for it, but I attributed this to his particular social bubble. Let’s also keep in mind that Viliam’s perspective is Eastern European, where traditional gender roles are more of a thing than in Western Europe and probably the US.

          • Jiro says:

            Not being able to give a clear definition of something is often a sign that the person unable to give the definition is making unprincipled exceptions and can’t come up with a definition that doesn’t conyain unprincipled exceptions.

          • Creutzer says:

            Not nearly as often as you would think. Lots of very useful concepts, perhaps almost all of them outside of the sciences, have clear cases and clear non-cases and some grey area in between. This is fine as long as you have a sensible measure of closeness and know which dimensions are relevant.

            I think there is a case to be made that it’s not useful to speak of society as a whole discriminating (in the negative sense) against a group – that only particular agents (including businesses and bureaucratic entities) can discriminate. But I think if you allow talk of society discriminating against a group, then if society treats house-husbands negatively, that’s going to be pretty close to a central case. The only difference between that and the absolute central cases of homosexuality and race seems to be the voluntariness of the condition.

          • sabril says:

            In the suburbs, it’s very common for the moms to socialize with each other while their respective children socialize.

            From what I understand, stay-at-home dads have a tendency to get shut out from this type of fraternization (no pun intended). Probably either because the moms feel more comfortable with other women or because their husbands don’t like them hanging out with some other dude.

            I’m not sure if it’s right or wrong, but if you take the view that peoples’ individual preferences are morally entitled to a great deal of deference, I would hope that you apply such a view consistently.

        • “If that’s true, why is German / Nordic fertility so awful?”

          Have we established that declining populations are an unconditional bad?

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Is it better to sink or to swim?

            In your stateroom, that’s an unanswerable philosophical question. In your lifeboat, it’s absurdly obvious. We’re still closer to the former than the latter, but the rate at which we’re accelerating in that direction should be concerning.

          • anonymous says:

            There’s an awful lot of unstated premises in that mess of an analogy.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Women live longer than men almost everywhere, but the difference in Russia is huge. It dates from the fall of communism. It is probably due to alcohol consumption.

        Russian life expectancy of both sexes fell from 1960 to 1985 because of increasing alcohol consumption. Not the standard example of a “disease of wealth,” despite being the most dramatic. Gorbachev imposed many barriers to alcohol, decreasing consumption by both sexes and increasing life expectancy. But after the fall of communism male but not female alcohol consumption rebounded, and life expectancy diverged.

        • Creutzer says:

          Appreciate the information and explanation!

        • Tibor says:

          I heard a story about a typical day in 1980s Russia (dunno how accurate it is or if it is, how typical it is today). You could see guys waiting for another guy in the street, not someone in particular, just someone who would drink a bottle of vodka with him (in the middle of the day). When he found someone, they would go buy the bottle and then just drink it without talking and go their own way. Again, I don’t know how true it is, but it sounds horrible and horribly depressing 🙂

          On the other hand, I heard from friends who would visit Scandinavia (actually only Sweden and Norway) about the way students drink there. Either they do not drink at all (and there are some strong nigh-prohibition laws there) or they drink so much and so quickly that they pass out. So they buy a bottle of vodka and pass it around until it is empty, the goal being not to have a party with some casual drinking but to get smashed ASAP. I don’t know what it is about the countries in the north (although I have never heard anything similar about Canada) that drinking is such a big problem there. I guess it might have to do something with the lack of light outside half of the year (I find the central European winter with the sunset at 16:30-17:00 quite depressing already). I’ve also never understood how people can drink all night and not pass out or make long pauses in drinking in countries where the cultural drink is not beer or wine but hard liquor. But it seems that they actually do pass out 🙂

          • Muga Sofer says:

            >You could see guys waiting for another guy in the street, not someone in particular, just someone who would drink a bottle of vodka with him (in the middle of the day). When he found someone, they would go buy the bottle and then just drink it without talking and go their own way.

            Why not simply buy one bottle and drink it over the course of two days?

          • Timothy Coish says:

            With respect to Canada, my country, I feel that younger people do fall into the binge-drink-or-abstain attitude much more so than older people. People in their mid 20’s or later tend to drink exactly as much as they want to, which varies pretty smoothly from not-noticeable, to passed out.

            I would love to see a breakdown of:
            1) Amount of alcohol consumed per week, broken down by age, broken down by country
            2) Average amount of alcohol consumed per “sitting”, broken down by age, broken down by country

            Honestly without that it’s quite difficult to say whether or not Canada has a binge-drinking culture, but I suspect less so than elsewhere.

          • Vox Imperatoris says:

            @ Muga Sofer:

            1) Maybe he only has the cash to get drunk now, on half a bottle.

            2) From what I understand (after having studied there a few months), the social stigma against drinking alone is much worse in Russia. It’s just shameful, and it “proves” that the drinker is an alcoholic. If he gets drunk with a stranger, he can still tell himself he’s a “social drinker”.

      • E. Harding says:

        Here are the full-time employment gender gaps for Russia, Belarus, and other countries:

        http://www.gallup.com/poll/183566/worldwide-gender-divide-remains-full-time-employment.aspx

    • Jacobian says:

      That’s almost the stupidest point on that list. Russian women live longer because Russian men drink themselves to an early grave.

  14. pk says:

    Ah, just how much *would* you vouch for these articles? I have an instinct to treat link posts as epistemic oil spills.

  15. Dave says:

    Tyler Cowen did publish a response to the publication of that corrective to the paper he’d cited on assortative mating.

  16. Adam says:

    That biased coin question is a fairly standard question, I think. It was asked on my algorithms final back in school. Anyway, p * (1-p) = (1-p) * p for any p. Hence, the solution.

  17. Deterioration of the living conditions AND population growth?

    My theory, for what it’s worth, is that childhood diseases increase the age of puberty. Before Early Modern Times, people got measles, etc. as adults. During Early Modern Times, people got measles, etc. as children. Population growth made it possible for many diseases to become endemic. Currently, people rarely get measles.

    Question: Did the increase in the age of puberty cause Puritanism?

    Question: Will the children of anti-vaccine loons be the most socially conservative people of 2050?

  18. multiheaded says:

    On corruption in Russia: Kremlin doesn’t blink an eye when confronted with direct association between current Prosecutor General (+family +cronies) and infamous major gang, the official response has been “nothing to see here lol”.

    I feel like corruption here has become more systematic and integral to the political system since the destruction of a competitive political process. It’s not a criminal activity, it’s the *entire game*.

    • E. Harding says:

      “I feel like corruption here has become more systematic and integral to the political system since the destruction of a competitive political process.”

      -BWAHAHAHAHAHAHALOL. Nothing more to say.

      For further background: Russian corruption increased from Hrooschov onward, accelerating in the late 1980s and skyrocketing in the early 1990s culminating during and the years after the 1996 re-election of Yeltsin. Putin saw that game and made it manageable. Maybe corruption today is more systematic, but it’s certainly not as integral to the political system as in the late 1990s.

      • multiheaded says:

        I feel like we’re working off two different interpretations of “corruption” here.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Corruption is often defined as a discrepancy between nominal and actual power. If different people disagree about nominal power, they might disagree about whether the system is corrupt.

          If everyone agrees that Russia is Putin’s personal property, then it is less corrupt than when he was first elected and people disagreed. And as in the parable of the roving vs stationary bandit, that can be an improvement.

          But I can’t make sense of “more systematic but less integral to the political system.”

          • Winfried says:

            So, if you have to bribe the police a variable amount to get them to help you, it’s corrupt, but if you have to pay them a known amount and they call it a fee it is not corrupt.

            That seems pretty reasonable.

  19. ivvenalis says:

    Russia: Some of his “myths” are strawmen: how many e.g. Americans believe anything even approximating “Russians are uncultured illiterates whose barbarous Sauronic state climbed out of the brooding forest with Ivan the Terrible in 1500?”

    There are anti-Russian propaganda/media narratives in the West, but there are also pro-Russia campaigns. Whether “Russia is an aggressive state which is hated by its neighbors” is a pretty subjective question. Many powerful groups in the West have an interest in playing this up. Russia has an interest in playing this down. “Hate” might be too strong a word, but if you’re e.g. an Estonian you’re retarded if you aren’t at least suspicious of Russian intentions. I also have a really hard time believing that the average Ukrainian has no problem with Russia blatantly running a proxy war inside their country, but what do I know? Karlin has a poll that says otherwise.

    Regarding WW2: Yes, the Soviet contribution to the war was intentionally played down in the West for various reasons. Whether the Soviets would have been able to wrest an unconditional surrender out of Germany or even manage to drive them back to Kursk if the other Allies had sat on their hands is an unanswerable question. Stalingrad really could have gone either way, just as the most obvious example.

    I didn’t dig into his sources, but I will point out that lumping MIA/desertions into loss totals is a bit sketchy (if unavoidable!). No one with a clue thinks that the Russians just threw soldiers at the Germans, at least after 1942, but the body-counting is quite contentious. Similar numbers I have seen in the past claiming low casualty ratios have included “operationally destroyed” German formations as casualties. You see, the Russians concentrated towards Berlin (a sound strategy), but there were many German forces that held the line elsewhere right up to the end. When Germany capitulated after the fall of Berlin, these formations surrendered to the nearest Allied unit and are sometimes counted as “destroyed”. Adding these to the German totals makes their losses seem even more grievous than they were.

    Also, I don’t know a single person who knows anything, including the mere existence, of the Chechen Wars who thinks the Chechens were in any way nice guys. Those conflicts have become a byword in the military establishment for the worst-case scenario of modern “small wars”. I’m sure Karlin found some edgy teenager somewhere who thinks it’s awesome that the Chechens stuck it to the Russians, but come on.

    Karlin’s slumming it here (vodka? I kid). He wrote a recent article specifically countering claims about killings of journalists in Russia that went into much more detail. This is like a rejected Return of Kings post.

    • E. Harding says:

      More likely some edgy State Dept. or CIA official or Human Rights Watch guy. All of them are friends of militant Islam in some form or other.

      http://www.moonofalabama.org/2015/12/the-islamic-state-is-shrinking-and-other-news.html

      And Petraeus has suggested allying with AQ. Fitting.

      Also,
      “The supreme irony of Putin’s PR strategy is that most Chechens share the democratic values of a Western civilization that completely disregards, and misunderstands, their struggle.”
      http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/04/what-you-should-know-about-chechnya-as-the-boston-story-unfolds/275156/
      From some lying or clueless Norwegian.

    • alexp says:

      Stalingrad could have gone either way, but Western Lend Lease to Russia was negligible at that point would start to pick up until later in 1943.

      • ivvenalis says:

        Sure, but Anglo-American activity in the Mediterranean required the Germans to garrison more forces in Southern Europe than they otherwise likely would have. Likewise with a cross-Channel invasion (for which the apparently retarded Dieppe invasion might have been a probe, German intelligence sucked) and Western Europe. The Battle of Britain (and the Mediterranean campaigns) also destroyed a lot of combat aircraft which otherwise could have gone to the Eastern Front. Stalin certainly believed this; he repeatedly urged the Western Allies to basically repeat Dieppe (“Sledgehammer”) to increase German troop commitments away from the East as much as possible.

        Lend-Lease might not have done much in Stalingrad, but it helped the Red Army mitigate a classic military problem as they went back on the offensive: as you drive the enemy back, his supply lines get shorter and yours lengthen.

        • E. Harding says:

          This was mitigated by the terrain: as you go from Berlin to Moscow, the terrain only gets worse and worse. As you go from Moscow to Berlin, the terrain only gets better and better.

        • Oliver Cromwell says:

          The Western allies also consumed a lot of Germany’s industrial resources, principally building the Atlantic Wall, U-boats, and air defences. This combined was about comparable to their industrial effort on the Eastern Front. It inflicted far fewer direct casualties than the Eastern Front, but each of those also represented a much larger industrial and logistical tail that could otherwise have been sent East.

          I suspect that with no Western allies in the war we would have seen a slow but inexorable German advance after the first two years, more similar to what happened in WWI..

    • God Damn John Jay says:

      Some of his “myths” are strawmen: how many e.g. Americans believe anything even approximating “Russians are uncultured illiterates whose barbarous Sauronic state climbed out of the brooding forest with Ivan the Terrible in 1500?”

      I personally knew they were tribal pagans as of 1066 which made them prime candidates to Deus Vult.

    • ivvenalis says:

      I just realized after reading another comment that article was written in 2008. That explains a lot.

    • phantasmoon says:

      The Ukraine poll is from 1997. I’m willing to believe that in the twilight years of Yeltsin’s presidency, when democracy had led to corrupt regimes and organized crime in ex-Soviet republics, more than 50% of Ukrainians would have seen integration with Russia as a good thing. I have no recent poll data, but I would expect current opinions to be rather different.

      On another note, I thought that Putin’s combination of ambition, political acumen, ruthlessness and dangerous competence was plain to see even back in 2007. Am I the only one who wasn’t especially surprised by his invasion of Georgia and Ukraine?

    • Tibor says:

      Russia: Some of his “myths” are strawmen: how many e.g. Americans believe anything even approximating “Russians are uncultured illiterates whose barbarous Sauronic state climbed out of the brooding forest with Ivan the Terrible in 1500?”

      I dunno about Americans, but this is quite a typical (above 50% of the population I would say) Czech view of Russia.

  20. Elizabeth says:

    I could build a much better skull throne.

  21. alexp says:

    That Oberlin cafeteria cultural sensitivity thing’s been discussed ad nauseum over the past few weeks, but I would like to say that it seems to me it’s just a bunch of college kids complaining about cafeteria food. I wish I had thought of using cultural sensitivity, like, “this Chicken Parm is an insult to my New Jersey heritage.”

    There was a part of me that sort of sympathizes though. I’d be pretty pissed if I bought a Bahn Mi, and it turned out to be a soggy pulled pork sandwich with cole slaw. It’s kind of like that line from Goodfellas where you expect spaghetti and get egg noodles with ketchup instead.

    • ivvenalis says:

      I’ve seen claims (I think most recently on Volokh, but I can’t dig it up) that the the legal environment drives the exact content of many petty claims. If I hate the lacrosse team throwing after-game parties across the street and want the administration to intervene on my behalf against them, claiming that they’re noisy and dumb is going to get me a lot less traction than claiming that they make me feel “unsafe” and create a “hostile environment” because of the way laws are written.

      Likewise, claiming that you don’t like the cafeteria food because it tastes bad isn’t going to get you as far as claiming that it’s racist, since the university’s regulations (if not American law) take accusations of racism much more seriously than they take accusations of tasting bad.

      • grendelkhan says:

        I think you nailed it.

        If you tell people that, for example, speech cannot be restricted except in matters of safety, then speech that people don’t like will be declared as “unsafe”. It becomes just another set of magic words to incant to get the desired outcome.

        • Murphy says:

          Hence everyone leaping to classify any speech they don’t like as violence since exceptions were included for incitement to immediate violence.

    • For the record, as of when I was at Oberlin, their idea of vindaloo (which is supposed to be sufficiently spicy to make people who like spicy hesitate) was so bland you could barely tell it was supposed to be curry at all. Unless they’ve improved since, “the Oberlin cafeteria absolutely cannot do ethnic food with very few rare exceptions” is absolutely true and a fair complaint. Though I’d hoped they’d gotten better. I did try to explain raita to them.

      … that said I would not have put it in terms of cultural insensitivity. It’s an american college dining hall trying to do a wide variety of stuff with no relevant expertise, what do you expect? It’s not as if the town itself has a terribly wide variety of ethnic restaurants/grocery stores (I wish), either, so not a lot of available examples for how to do it right.

      • vV_Vv says:

        … that said I would not have put it in terms of cultural insensitivity. It’s an american college dining hall trying to do a wide variety of stuff with no relevant expertise, what do you expect?

        If they had only “white” food (big mac and coca cola?) then the SJWs would complain about the lack of diversity and the erasure of minorities, different perspectives and stuff.

        You can’t appease the SJWs by pandering to them. They will interpret it as a weakness.

      • Deiseach says:

        their idea of vindaloo (which is supposed to be sufficiently spicy to make people who like spicy hesitate) was so bland you could barely tell it was supposed to be curry at all

        Like the sketch Going for an English from the late 90s comedy show “Goodness Gracious Me”: “What’s the blandest thing on the menu?”

      • TheNybbler says:

        They’re a school cafeteria. They probably can’t even get toast right. (I know snopes says “Grade D” is an urban legend. I saw the boxes. “Grade D Institutional Use Only”, as I recall.)

        • Oh, they can get toast right. As right as buying bread from a grocery store (not bakery) and having a toaster ever gets it, anyway. They can also do quite good fries, vaguely OK burgers and kinda meh hot dogs, but the fries are quite good…! And they have nice sugary cereal…! And a pretty good cappuccino machine. Also the pizza wasn’t bad, and they actually did get breakfast pastries from a bakery in town, which was quite good.

          Anything at all in any remote degree healthy, that was their problem.

          (They’re a very upscale school cafeteria. Just… still. School cafeteria.)

    • grendelkhan says:

      I can’t find the tweet now (darn it), but someone posted something along the lines of “your social justice movement: kids paying fifty grand a year for private college hassling twelve-dollar-an-hour food service workers”. Pithy.

      (Having known some Obies back when I was that age, this seems like precisely the sort of thing they’d do.)

      • Sastan says:

        Pretty much. The vagaries of SJW become clear and simple once you hit upon the framework that it’s just a bunch of lies created to allow rich kids the ability to subvert racial social rules for their own benefit.

        So, the filthy rich Rahm Emmanual intern, student body president and homecoming king becomes an oppressed minority so lashed by the terrible racism of once being yelled at from a passing pickup truck, that all college officials must resign for him to have any chance of sleeping at night.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I think that was Freddie deBoer.

        • grendelkhan says:

          Ah, thank you! (I thought it was Matt Yglesias for some reason.) “an undergrad at a $50K/year liberal arts college berating cafe workers making $12/hour in the name of social justice on a human face forever” Much cleverer than the way I remembered it.

          • Pasolini had made a similar quip about rich students beating up poor proletarian policemen… back in 1968.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pier_Paolo_Pasolini#1968_protests

          • Tibor says:

            @Machine Interface:

            Interesting point, actually. I always found the 1968 funny. There were people in the Eastern Bloc, specifically the Prague Spring, who were fighting hard for the freedom of speech (and who were quite successful until the Russian tanks put a stop to that) and at the same time, college kids in the Western bloc protesting against the establishment and wishing for exactly the kind of communist regime their peers in the Eastern Bloc were fighting against. Now, it is true that they had no idea of what Realkommunismus was actually like, but that was also mostly because they trusted Soviet propaganda more than Western media, which is naivety bordering stupidity. I never though about it in the way Pasolini puts it and although I would probably disagree with him on most things (since he was a communist), this seems like a good point and actually makes it look even more ridiculous.

          • Tatu Ahponen says:

            Tibor:

            No they didnt. Many Western protestors actually felt an immediate affinity to the protesting Czechs, which is why the Chicago DNC protestors started calling the city “Czechago” and copying the methods of the Prague Spring: Mark Kurlansky talks about this, and other affinities between Western and Eastern protestors, in ‘1968’). The Prague Spring slogan of ‘socialism with a human face’ would of course have rang true also for many Western protestors.

            Even the more radical Western protestors would not have expressed support for the Eastern Bloc, as they were rebelling in many cases as much against their local ossified and established Communist Parties (at least in France and Italy) as their governments. When French students occupied Sorbonne, one of the acts they did was send telegrams to Moscow and Beijing telling the Soviets and the PRC pretty much to go fuck themselves: http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/May68docs.htm

            Interesting note: In Finland, the only major party to condemn the Soviet invasion of Prague was the Communist Party of Finland, which had recently gone Eurocommunist.

      • brad says:

        It’s a funny way to put it, but in reality it isn’t the $12 workers who are being attacked. I’m sure they get the same old complaints that service workers have always gotten from snotty college kids, but they aren’t the target of the “cultural appropriation” gambit. Rather, that’s some associate dean of student life who is in charge of the contract with Aramark (or similar). The deanling is making six figures because of course he is, and Aramark has millions to sooth its wounded pride.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Yeah, my school cafeteria put out sushi made with canned cooked tuna fish, which was interestingly awful. I don’t think people have a problem with complaining about cafeteria food being shitty, they have a problem with using the language of racial grievance to do it. From a leftist point of view, it’s trivializing a serious problem, from an anti-leftist point of view it’s the crowning absurdity in a long line of absurdities.

      • Sastan says:

        Actually I’m in favor of it! The sooner we can delegitimize the accusation of “Racism”, the better!

        What, you mean racist like cafeteria food? Bloody brilliant. I couldn’t have written satire that outrageous, it would have been shouted down as a strawman!

  22. Richard says:

    The Seattle Effective Altruist link should be here. Scott, if you add a “http://” at the start it’ll work.

    The Scott Aaronson link is a bit weirdly split: the first few words of it point at the reddit thread instead. Scott, you’ve got a closing /b tag instead of a /a on the reddit link before it.

    I hope this is more helpful than annoying, but if it is annoying I’ll stop.

  23. Wency says:

    On corporate R&D:
    That’s an interesting topic (at least to me), but the Fortune article doesn’t really do it justice. And the real issue is basic science R&D, as published in research journals, not R&D in general.

    Questions:
    1. Was basic science R&D ever a good idea for corporations?
    2. If it was a good idea:
    — Has science has changed in a way that makes it no longer a good idea (e.g. less low-hanging fruit, scientific stagnation)?
    — Has the corporate economy has changed in a way that made it no longer a good idea (e.g. in era of lifelong employment, investing in image of innovation was more valuable for securing the brightest people)?
    — Or is it still a good idea?

    3. Are there externalities to corporate basic science research that are not available to publicly-funded basic science research?

    • FJ says:

      I think a lot of the fantasy of corporate basic science research springs from nostalgia from Bell Labs. Which was very cool! But Ma Bell was quasi-governmental: it had a government-issued monopoly over telecommunication. Bell Labs could plausibly expect to capture the externalities of blue-sky research in a way that is unlikely for corporations that are subject to anti-trust laws.

      I don’t really buy the notion that corporations couldn’t do blue-sky research if they had an incentive to do so. The Large Hadron Collider took ten years and about $4.4 billion to build; Samsung spent $12.6 billion on R&D in 2014 alone. If you could patent and sell Higgs bosons, funding supercolliders would be easy.

      • bartlebyshop says:

        You aren’t comparing like things here, are you? Samsung’s R&D budget includes salary for people who work in their R&D division, but building the LHC doesn’t include the money you have to spend to employ the thousands of scientists who work on it. Does the 4.4 billion also include the LHC computing grid building and maintenance? Most of those people are currently supported by external grants from NSF or NSERC or the equivalent European agencies, but if you’re Samsung you would have to bear that cost yourself, wouldn’t you?

      • PDV says:

        There’s a long history of private basic research being exclusively the province of monopolies.

    • I heard a talk by Terence Kealey, who has written about the economics of research, where he argued that firms benefited indirectly by having employees involved in basic research. People doing such research talk with other people doing such research, so having a few employees who were involved gave you a window on what was going on, which could be very valuable information. A little like the analysis of why it pays a firm to hire a programmer who is involved in an open source project.

      He had data suggesting that increases of government funding for research had little or no effect on the rate of progress in the field funded, using natural experiments where for some reason funding of a field sharply increased.

      It was an interesting talk. I haven’t read his book, but expect it too would be interesting:

      _The Economic Laws of Scientific Research_

  24. “Von Neumann’s trick” (the way you use a coin with unknown bias to simulate a fair coin) is an oldie but goodie. Do SSC readers want something crazier? Here’s a puzzle that I learned from Oded Regev:

    Given a coin that lands heads with some unknown probability p (which stays the same from one flip to the next), use it to simulate a flip of a coin that lands heads with probability sqrt(p). I promise, it’s possible. (And yes, it has to be exactly sqrt(p), not some approximation.)

    • I was thinking there’s probably some complicated solution that would work for any continuous function f that maps [0,1] to [0,1] and (0,1) to (0,1). The student paper references something along those lines in the second paragraph. I presume that there’s a more clever solution in this case.

      • Not for ANY continuous function, but for a very wide range of them, yes. But you can start to get the idea just by constructing tailor-made solutions for particular cases like sqrt(p).

        • Anatoly says:

          Not sure it’s the right direction, but here’s an attempt:

          Hfvat Gnlybe frevrf sbe fdeg(c), 1-fdeg(c) pbzrf bhg nf fbzrguvat yvxr
          (bar bire gjb)d + (bar bire rvtug)d-gb-gur-cbjre-bs-gjb + (bar bire fvkgrra)d-va-guveq + (svir bire bar-uhaqerq-naq-gjragl-rvtug)d-va-sbhegu + … jurer d = 1-c vf gur cebonovyvgl bs gnvyf.

          V guebj gur pbva bapr, gura gjb gvzrf, guerr gvzrf rgp. vaqrcraqragyl. Vs V frr nyy gnvyf ba fbzr fhpu nggrzcg, V hfr gur pbva gb fvzhyngr n snve pbva naq hfr gur snve pbva gb trarengr na rirag jvgu gur qrfverq cebonovyvgl n/2^o. Vs V trg gur rirag, V fgbc naq qrpyner gnvyf, vs abg, V pbagvahr jvgu gur bevtvany frevrf.

          • Charlie says:

            That was my first thought too, but it means that with large probability you never stop flipping the coin. Is there some way to fix that?

      • Alphaceph says:

        > would work for any continuous function f that maps [0,1] to [0,1] and (0,1) to (0,1).

        Impossible, the cardinality of that set of functions is uncountable, but the set of possible recipes (algorithms in a fixed language) is countable.

        • If you require that the action to be taken after a finite number of coin flips is algorithmically computable in terms of the results of those coin flips, then indeed for only a countable set of functions it is possible to make these probability transformations. However, since it appears as though the primary difficulty of the problem is information-theoretical, not computational, and since Aaronson didn’t explicitly state a computational restriction, I assumed the strategy can be of an arbitrary difficult computational complexity, as long as it is deterministic.

          Also, it’s likely that the functions that have a computable strategy for them are exactly those that have an arbitrary strategy for them and are also computable functions, and that this would be provable using exactly the same method.

          • Alphaceph says:

            If the actions you take are not algorithmically computable, how are you going to tell us what they are?!

          • Anatoly says:

            The solution to the question originally asked, about a fixed-p biased coin with an unknown real p, works equally well for an uncountable number of possible p’s. Therefore it’s at least conceivable that there might be another strategy that works for all continuous f simultaneously. I don’t know that there is one, but a cardinality argument does not forbid it.

    • Obviously you have to flip the coin half a time.

      Just how to do that I leave to the experimentalists–I’m a theorist.

    • arjan de lumens says:

      I think I have a solution. Nice puzzle btw.

      Svefg, jr abgr gung gur Iba Arhznaa gevpx pna or hfrq gb trarengr nal cebonovyvgl ba gur sbez N/(2^O); whfg ercrng gur gevpx O gvzrf, naq hfr gur urnqf/gnvyf erfhygf sebz gung nf n onfr-2 ahzore; pbzcner vg gb N. Vs yrff guna, qrpyner urnqf, ryfr qrpyner gnvyf. Guvf O-qvtvg gevpx jvyy or hfrshy yngre.

      Arkg, jr abgr gung tvira n cebonovyvgl c bs trggvat urnqf, jr trg n cebonovyvgl d=1-c bs gnvyf. Guvf nyybjf hf gb rkcerff gur qrfverq cebonovyvgl nf fdeg(1-d), juvpu znxrf guvatf n ovg zber pbairavrag.

      Abj, gur znva cneg bs gur fbyhgvba: guebj gur pbva bire naq bire hagvy lbh trg urnqf, juvyr pbhagvat gur ahzore bs gnvyf lbh trg. Guvf erfhygf va bar bs n frdhrapr bs cbffvoyr bhgpbzrf:

      U: cebonovyvgl 1-d
      GU: cebonovyvgl d*(1-d)
      GGU: cebonovyvgl d^2*(1-d)
      GGGU: cebonovyvgl d^3*(1-d)
      rgp.
      Qrcraqvat ba ubj znal gnvyf lbh tbg, cvpx n cnve bs ahzoref (N,O) naq cresbez gur O-qvtvg gevpx. Guvf, bs pbhefr, yrnirf gur dhrfgvba bs ubj gb cvpx N naq O.

      Gur cebonovyvgl jr jnag gb npuvrir vf fdeg(1-d), juvpu pna or rkcerffrq nf n Gnlybe frevrf. Ubjrire, gur cebonovyvgvrf yvfgrq nobir qba’g ybbx yvxr Gnlybe frevrf grezf; nyy bs gurz pbagnva na 1-d grez. Jr pna pnapry bhg guvf grez ol, vafgrnq bs hfvat gur Gnlybe frevrf sbe fdeg(1-d), hfr gur Gnlybe frevrf sbe s(d) = fdeg(1-d)/(1-d), juvpu rinyhngrf whfg svar naq orpbzrf fbzrguvat yvxr 1+(1/2)*d+(3/8)*(d^2)+(5/16)*(d^3)+…; abgr gung nyy gur grezf unir gur fnzr fvta naq ner ba gur sbez N/(2^O)

      Vs jr tbg gur frdhrapr U, gura jr cvpx (N,O) gb zngpu gur pbafgnag va gur svefg grez, tvivat N=1,O=0; vs jr trg gur frdhrapr GU, gura jr cvpx (N,O) gb zngpu gur pbafgnag va gur frpbaq grez, tvivat N=1, O=1; vs jr trg gur frdhrapr GGU, gura jr cvpx (N,O) gb zngpu gur pbafgnag va gur guveq grez, tvivat N=3, O=3; vs jr trg gur frdhrapr GGGU, gura jr cvpx (N,O) gb zngpu gur pbafgnag va gur sbhegu grez, tvivat N=5, O=4, naq fb ba; va trareny, vs jr tbg A gnvyf, jr cvpx N naq O gb zngpu gur A+1’gu pbafgnag va gur frevrf.

      Gur cebonovyvgl bs trggvat n qrpynerq urnqf jvgu guvf cebprqher gura orpbzrf:
      cebo(qrpynerq_U)
      = cebo(U)*1 + cebo(GU)*(1/2) + cebo(GGU)*(3/8) + ….
      = (1-d) + (1-d) * d * (1/2) + (1-d) * d^2 * (3/8) + …
      = (1-d) * (1+ 1/2*d + 3/8*d^2 + …)
      = (1-d) * fdeg(1-d) / (1-d)
      = fdeg(1-d)
      = fdeg(c)
      juvpu vf gur qrfverq cebonovyvgl.

    • Alphaceph says:

      I think I have it. Scott Aaronson I both love you and hate you, this has really bugged me for like 2 hours.

      You escape from the world of probabilities that are polynomial in p using the geometric distribution; toss your biased coin until the first head, giving you a parameter x, the number of tosses required.

      Then, depending on what x is, you perform some other procedure whose probability of success is a carefully chosen rational number which depends on p. Modulo some algebra it’s like p/(1-p) * 1/2 C x.

      When you sum over x to work out the probability of this event succeeding, it magically turns into the power series for the square root function, expanded in powers of 1-p.

      It remains to be shown that we can construct an event, given the geometric parameter x, with the right probability. I need to sort the details out but anything that doesn’t involve p is trivial – just express it as a rational number, embed it inside a space of size 2^n from tossing the coin n times. The bit involving p looks like it’s p/(1-p) in this case due to some cancellations but I need to check the algebra.

      Damn that’s devious.

    • Calo Cola says:

      Is it really “Von Neumann’s trick”

      It really does not seem more complex then what is put in normal textbooks. Or typical exam problems. Its a very very simple look at what happens in the cases where a coin with probability P for heads is flipped twice.

      PP HH
      P(1-P) HT
      (1-P)P TH
      (1-P)(1-P) TT

      By symmetry, the HT and TH cases are the same.

      It just makes me wonder what simple common tricks are associated with hyper-high status individuals when they probably should not be.

  25. When I first read about the “female version of products cost” more links, I thought the reason is that women happily buy men’s products, while the opposite doesn’t happen (at least as often). So, it’s women have both cheap and expensive versions of products, while men have cheap ones

    On the week-end, though, I was at the supermarket and decided to check it out and, at least here (I’m in Luxembourg), pink versions of products were consistently *cheaper* than male ones. At least when it was clear it was the exact same thing except for branding, the pink versions would be a few cents cheaper.

    I wonder whether this is a US-vs-Europe difference or whether some of the data is skewed by comparing _not exactly the same product_ and women having more complex products: pink lip gloss at first seemed an exception as it was more expensive than non-pink one, but I then noticed it was flavored (so not exactly the same).

    • nope says:

      If women happily bought men’s products, they wouldn’t upcharge them on their “own” products. It’s exactly *because* women don’t buy men’s products that women’s products cost more. And no, it’s not a Europe vs America thing, because in Denmark the pink razor always costs more than the manly man blue one, even though they’re exactly the same (I know! I’ve bought both!) and Denmark is pretty damn feminist.

      • vV_Vv says:

        Isn’t it just a textbook example of price self-discrimination? Women are, on average, willing to pay more for essentially the same product, therefore vendors capture this as an extra profit by coding the product as female just by making it pink.

        • Anonymous says:

          Possibly relevant: it seems to me a very clear mistake to interpret average male income and average female income to mean how much money men and women each, on average, have. The mistake comes from assuming that the money a person makes in paid employment constitutes the entirety of their source of wealth, which of course it doesn’t – the relevant alternative here being that people in a long-term relationship, especially married couples, tend to pool their incomes together, to a considerable extent if not entirely.

        • I assume that part of what’s going on is that most women don’t realize they can get a better deal by buying male products.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Seriously most women don’t realize that the only differences between the pink razor and the blue razor are the color and the price?

          • Adam says:

            My wife gets replacement blades from dollar shave club, which I believe is marketed to men but not explicitly gendered (that is, they only offer a single product).

          • Deiseach says:

            Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t; I bought “men’s shampoo” because I thought “what the hell is the difference, it’s all for washing hair” and I did find (after a couple of trials, so this is not just ‘tried it once’) that it made my hair smell as if it had been burned (that is, as if I had the hairdryer on too hot and dried my hair like that).

            So one definite difference between the men’s and women’s products, unless I just have idiosyncratic hair 🙂

          • Nicholas says:

            I think he means most women assume men’s products are equally expensive.

      • If women are willing to buy men’s products at minor inconvenience, but not the other way around; then it makes sense to have women’s products cost more. Any woman who cares about the price will just grab it from the other aisle, while a hurried woman who isn’t so price sensitive will just grab the pink one by default (maybe because it’s placed next to another item she needs). It’s like the model for coupons.

        Razors was the product where I noticed the biggest difference in favor of women, by the way: pink was much cheaper here, by full euros not just cents. Luxembourg is pretty damn conservative in gender roles (way more than the US or the Nordic countries) and women’s products cost less. So maybe it’s feminism that makes women’s products cost more? Because women who work are less price sensitive than the stay-at-home moms who shop at leisure. [This last few sentences should be read tongue-in-cheek]

        • Dain says:

          Do women by those 3-in-1 shampoo/conditioner/body wash bottles? I do. Do women by frozen pizzas for 4 bucks? I do.

          Buying three items in the former case and the ingredients for the latter case suggest superior taste (positive spin). Buying the same two (!) items but paying MORE for them suggests being ripped off (negative spin).

      • Calo Cola says:

        *cough*

        as a guy who has bought guys and gals materials, like shaving cream, body wash, ect…

        The chicks stuff is way better. Its smoother on the skin. It doesn’t pretend that putting something on your body that smells like sweat and cars is what you want to put on when taking a bath or a shower.
        I would bet the pink razor would be a bit more likely to have something at the end that reduces the chance of a nick or a cut.

        There is the stupid herbal crap. But even without that, chicks stuff on theset things are still way better. Guys keep playing the hardass masculine bullshit game with each other when it comes to grooming, so everything we have is terrible.

        edit—and even the comment below mine by a guy has to start it off that hes getting his girrrly things made by masculine car WW2 starting germany

    • Someone from the other side says:

      I happily buy female body lotion, shower cream, shampoo and facial cream (if the scent is not too overpowerlingly sweet). Of course mostly I get the deeply discounted German stuff (think Lidl/Aldi) which is like 90% of the premium stuff but costs 1/6 of it.

      Most of the male cosmetic stuff sucks beyond belief (or is way overpriced). I will admit to buying regular Gillette blades because the copies just scrape away the skin instead of actually shaving and their gel is pretty useable, too.

      I would also argue that there are fairly distinct differences between male and female blades in the premium segment (which you would expect, the use case is kinda different).

    • sabril says:

      One interesting thing about the discrepancy is that it apparently exists even for clothing made for very young children. For such products, it’s normally a woman making the buying decisions regardless of whether its boys clothing or girls clothing.

      So my hypothesis is that there is a general societal belief that females of the species should — generally speaking — have nicer stuff than males. This is very apparent with clothing but also grooming and beauty products. It’s considered unmasculine for a man to spend female levels of energy, money, or time on these types of things. Is there any male equivalent to Victoria’s Secret? Not as far as I know, and if there were, it would be mainly gay men who shopped there. What about trendy clothing stores for young people? Again, it’s female-oriented stores which dominate.

      The economic result of this may very well be greater demand and willingness-to-pay for female products, so it’s plausible that some merchants and manufacturers would be able to take advantage of the difference.

  26. anon says:

    I have always suspected that Majorana staged his own disappearance in order to join Nazi research without breaking the heart of his Jewish university mentor. In Majorana’s personal letters there was praise for Nazi Germany; his very heartfelt friendship with Heisenberg is also known. The rumors/evidence of Majorana’s postwar presence in Argentina only add probability to this idea.

  27. Bedouin bitless bridles may be much better for horses and for riding than the usual bridle with a bit. This can be read either as evidence that there’s plenty more to invent and/or that we should be paying more attention to other cultures.

    Academic sloppiness about checking references, in particular, why people were mistaken about the history of the belief that spinach is an especially good source of iron. Admittedly, I haven’t checked the references in this article.

    • Sastan says:

      Improved bridles! Just what was holding our economy back! Now we can compete with the chinese, now that we have the secret of better bridles!

      • Deiseach says:

        Now we can compete with the Elves, since according to Tolkien they don’t use bits or bridles for their horses 🙂

        From “Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien”:

        Rhona Beare wrote, asking a number of questions, so that she could pass on Tolkien’s answers to a meeting of fellow-enthusiasts for The Lord of the Rings. …Miss Beare then asked a series of numbered questions. ‘Question 1’: Why (in the first edition, I. 221) is Glorfindel’s horse described as having a ‘bridle and bit’ when Elves ride without bit, bridle or saddle?

        Question 1. I could, I suppose, answer: ‘a trick-cyclist can ride a bicycle with handle-bars!’ But actually bridle was casually and carelessly used for what I suppose should have been called headstall. Or rather, since bit was added long ago (Chapter 112 was written very early) I had not considered the natural ways of elves with animals. Glorfindel’s horse would have an ornamental headstall, carrying a plume, and with the straps studded with jewels and small bells; but Glor. would certainly not use a bit. I will change bridle and bit to headstall.

    • nil says:

      Looks like a hackamore, which has a long history of use in the west.

  28. Noah Stephens-Davidowitz says:

    “Neat riddle spotted in one of Scott Aaronson’s students’ papers: Suppose you have a biased coin but you don’t know what the bias is and don’t want to rely on potentially-faulty induction to find out. How do you use it to simulate a fair coin?”

    For what it’s worth, this idea definitely predates this student’s project. It’s usually credited to Von Neumann.

  29. Eoin says:

    I love the nebulousness of the Gaius Appuleius Diocles article, he earned somewhere between $100-$800 million per year. Inflation over thousands of years seems like a ludicrous idea to me anyway, particularly when you’re talking about civilisations built on the backs of slavery, but why such a big difference?

    Latin Wikipedia is my new favourite thing!

    • Anonymous says:

      Every so often, someone will r/AskHistorians, “Who was the richest X in history?” Pretty much every time, someone comes along to explain, “That’s really an impossible question to answer in any coherent manner.”

    • Adam says:

      Yeah, I don’t see any reasonable way to compare Roman money to contemporary money. You could have all the wealth in the world back then, but there was hardly anything to purchase with it. Huge engineering projects and you could potentially pay your own private army, I guess. But the very fact that you might have needed to do that seems wealth eroding. LeBron doesn’t need to build himself roads and buy himself an army because he lives in a country that already has those things. A pretty large amount of wealth is baked into just being an American.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        I believe the usual thing for the Roman super-rich was to buy loads of ginormous villas throughout the Italian countryside. Or, if you really didn’t know what to do with your cash, build artificial islands just off the coast and put your villas there. Buying elections was another common pastime, as was worrying that the Emperor would frame you for treason so he could get his hands on your wealth.

      • anon says:

        What do people do with huge amounts of money TODAY that they couldn’t do back then?

  30. Nuño says:

    Regarding the coin toss riddle:

    If my sister and me have a coin of unknown distribution and want to decide who gets the last pizza slice, why can’t I just ask her to pick heads or tails? If the distribution is unknown, the decision will be random and thus the result will be too, as the probability that she picks the favorable side is equal to the probability she will pick the unfavorable side.

    • Montfort says:

      As Ian suggests above, the trick here would be convincing your sister that you don’t know the distribution either if it’s your coin, or trusting her word when she claims she doesn’t know the distribution of hers. With real life siblings, ymmv as to whether such trust exists, but you can see how that wouldn’t generalize to strangers.

      Additionally, any subsequent toss with the same coin would get a lot more complicated.

      • In the real world, there isn’t any convenient source of dubiously balanced coins– I’m guessing that specially made dubious coins from magic shops would run up against counterfeiting laws.

        So, let’s have a world where there are vending machines offering dubiously balanced coins, though my world-building ability isn’t up to figuring out why those machines would exist.

      • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

        Would it matter as long as the person that doesn’t know is the one calling it?

        • Montfort says:

          I suppose it wouldn’t for the first throw, no. But it imposes a burden on the caller to attempt to select their call randomly – for a fair coin you can call arbitrarily, but here the caller wants to resist the coin-selector’s potential prediction of their call.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Obviously, the answer is to throw an unbiased coin to in order determine which side to call.

      • Julie K says:

        You could write “heads” and “tails” on two pieces of paper, and each pick one before the coin toss. Then it wouldn’t matter if the coin is heads 100% of the time.
        Or you could just write “pizza” on one paper and dispense with the coin entirely. 🙂 The recommended solution seems like an awfully cumbersome way to get a 50-50 random result.

    • Calo Cola says:

      Ok. I like these types of fun questions.

      That is in fact the case. If your sister has a 50% chance of picking heads or tails, then yes. But with anything but that, multiplying probabilities out gives different results.

  31. eponymous says:

    > Did Indian illiteracy almost double after the introduction of a law preventing schools from failing students?

    Um, this is the literacy of 3rd graders.

    Simple explanation: there are as many illiterate 8-year olds as ever, but now they make it to 3rd grade.

  32. eponymous says:

    “Suppose you have a biased coin but you don’t know what the bias is and don’t want to rely on potentially-faulty induction to find out. How do you use it to simulate a fair coin?”

    Flip it twice. If it’s HH or TT discard and start over. If it’s HT call the result “H” and if it’s TH call the result “T”.

  33. rictic says:

    The link to the Seattle Times effective altruist article is missing the “http:” prefix.

  34. Brandon Berg says:

    Obesity predicts earlier age at menarche. It’s possible that it’s mostly a matter of energy intake. There’s an obvious evolutionary advantage for accelerating sexual maturity in a high-energy environment, and I believe that animal studies bear this out. This is also the theory behind the life-extending properties of calorie restriction, which has been pretty extensively researched.

    Children from poor families may be worse off than children from well-off families in many ways, but they do have higher energy intake.

  35. The Clickhole story, “Heartwarming: American And ISIS Forces Came Together To Celebrate Christmas,” was either a fraud or a satire, not a true news story.

    I vote for satire, since several of the “facts” in the story are so obviously false. Not to mention the hilarious kumbaya photo.

    But it fooled my husband, who thought it might well have been true, and he asked me to go down the rabbit hole to check.

    The clearest evidence that the Clickhole story is wishful thinking and satire is this quote from the story:

    “It was the same scene all across ISIS-held territory in Syria and Iraq: Deep into the night and then into the morning, eyes shone with joyful tears as the fighters sang, fraternized, and even started games of pickup soccer with the very same young men and women who only hours before they would have publicly beheaded, hurled from a seven-story building, or shot with a sniper rifle from hundreds of yards away.”

    If this had been happening all over ISIS territory, in multiple countries, we’d have lots of better-validated main-stream coverage of it, with actual quotes from actual named soldiers, not just one hilarious Clickhole story.

    As far as I can learn, there were no “American troops” on the streets of Raqqa around Christmas time 2015.

    Here’s a Reuters story about U.S.-BACKED Syrian Kurds and Arab rebel troops trying to re-take Raqqa in the past week:

    Dec 24, 2015
    U.S.-backed alliance pushes toward Islamic State-held dam in northern Syria
    BEIRUT | BY SULEIMAN AL-KHALIDI
    http://reut.rs/1Pmp79l

    And here’s a story about British forces bombing areas around Raqqa on Christmas day:

    Dec 29 2015
    British air strikes ‘kill first Isis militants in Syria’ as checkpoint near Raqqa blown up on Christmas Day
    http://ind.pn/1IDNLCX

    Anyway, I’ve always felt of (at least) two minds in my reaction to the well-validated story of German and Allied troops singing “Silent Night” during World War Two. But that’s an analysis for another day.

  36. Jack V says:

    “This is your regular reminder that Vox thinks you should make your browser auto-change “political correctness” to “treating people with respect”.”

    Although that might be helpful in cases where it’s not true as much as in cases where it is true, because it makes it obvious when sentences are stupid and should be ignored. (Whether or not such uses of “politically correct” are the majority or a minority.)

  37. onyomi says:

    Female cosmetics are way more expensive than their function or constituent ingredients warrant, because, like name-brand handbags, they aren’t so much selling a functional thing as selling a lifestyle, an image, an aspirational ideal (and, in the case of cosmetics, false hope that the extract of some rare Amazonian plant will somehow stop you getting wrinkles any better than plain ol glycerin). For those few bits of fashion and appearance which men value more than women (the watch, for example), the men’s version is more expensive.

    • Sastan says:

      Don’t forget that despite all the horseshit about income, women spend more money than men. They account for over 70% of consumer spending. So no matter who makes the money, it’s mostly women who spend it.

    • onyomi says:

      Related to this: if feminists want to complain about something re. female cosmetics, I think they should complain not that the prices are higher, but that they subtly perpetuate the myth that female bodies and their needs are very different from male bodies: “ph-balanced for a woman,” for example: why would the female armpit be a different ph than the male armpit?

      The problem is, I think women are just as, if not more responsible for the perpetuation of the myth of female specialness because the feeling of being special sells (to men and women). Think about how Starbucks differs from your old-fashioned coffee: old coffee: 50 cents, free refills, no bells and whistles, just a regular coffee and they call out your order number. At Starbucks they write your name (or your special Starbucks nom-de-plum!) on the cup, and you get a grande caramel machiatto with hazelnut flavor shot, etc. etc. Of course, there are no free refills as each order is special and invidualized. Result: they can charge you 4.50 for ingredients that cost them 50 cents or less because they made you feel special.

      • Creutzer says:

        Really, Starbucks works by making its customers feel special?! To my European ears, this sounds utterly bizarre. I mean, we have people who actually bother to bring your coffee to your table – fancy that! Starbucks is the most non-special mass-processing coffee experience ever, short of a train station vending machine – and they insist on making fun of you at that, by mislabeling their products in a way that violates basic rules about the use of gradable adjectives.

        • bluto says:

          Just because short isn’t listed on the menu doesn’t mean it isn’t a size they offer. What’s wrong with short, tall, and grande (later adding venti and trenta following their customers waistlines)?

        • onyomi says:

          I think some of the most successful American businesses in recent decades involve finding ways to make the customer feel special even as you provide what is basically a mass-produced product. I think Chipotle, for example, is basically to Mexican food what Starbucks is to coffee, and I say this as a huge fan of Chipotle.

          The key is delivering something approximating the fancy experience (higher quality, personalized product served by someone who knows and cares about your personal taste) at something closer to fast food prices and time commitment.

          And, of course, everything about the internet, Netflix, etc. is all about your recommended titles, targeted advertising, etc.

          • Anthony says:

            So why did Burger King not take over the world, with their supposedly higher quality (flame-grilled instead of fried on sheet-metal) and catering to your personal taste? Or do they count as “successful like Starbucks or Chipotle”?

          • onyomi says:

            I don’t think Burger King was appreciably different enough from other hamburger chains at the time to make a big difference. They may have talked all the time about flame-grilled and “have it your way,” but I don’t actually recall the burgers tasting different (as Chipotle tastes much better than Taco Bell) or being presented with a lot of interesting options (as one is at Chipotle).

            I’m not saying the actual quality of the food and service doesn’t matter: Chipotle is actually good, and Starbucks coffee is a cut above your average diner coffee. I’m just saying that I think making it about the customer may be part of their extreme success relative to other chains.

        • Adam says:

          This could just be my bias from the fact I haven’t even been to a Starbucks since I used to study for finals in them back in the day, so I’m not the target market, but it seemed to me the value proposition wasn’t to make you feel special. They were trying to emulate community coffeeshops that became neighborhood hangouts, like dive bars for non-drunks, where you go to the same place everyday, know everyone, hang out there, and also get coffee, like that place in Friends. Those were real places and pre-dated Starbucks. Somewhere along the line, that stopped working, and they moved on to the drive-thru, short-order model where people stop by on their way to work without having to wade through the bums in front of 7-11 asking you for cash. At this point, the value proposition just seems to be ‘all the convenience of 7-11, but doesn’t make you feel seedy.’

          Only ever going to Starbucks and never 7-11 is how you get Scott’s world of not knowing that creationists and poor people exist. That’s what they’re selling you, a fully-gentrified, blue-tribe only world.

          • The Anonymouse says:

            As a side note, 7-11 (as well as Maverik, if you’re in that part of the country) has surprisingly decent coffee, and you don’t have to pretend at speaking faux Italian to pour yourself a cup.

          • onyomi says:

            Yes, but why is their particular model so successful at creating this? I doubt just any business which provided a bunch of tables and wifi for its customers would have been as successful as Starbucks. Remember Starbucks is not only on every corner in every American city, it’s everywhere in the world now. Is it providing a gentrified, blue-tribe only world to the citizens of Beijing and Mumbai?

            (It may, in fact, be providing something equivalent to them, and I can say from experience that it, and many other foreign brands are viewed as much more “luxury” in places like China than they are here, but again, my point is that just being an American coffee shop or a place which provides space for customers to sit and get wifi is not enough to explain Starbucks’ wild success–and nor, imo, is the quality of the coffee)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            Do you know the difference between robusto and arabica beans? The difference between real cream and non-dairy creamer? Coffee that is made fresh in a clean pot and clean grounds holder and coffee that has sat on a warming plate for 30 minutes or longer?

            The world of gas-station coffee before the ubiquity of Starbucks is a world of lots of very bad coffee with only nicer restaurants serving even half way decent coffee. People thought the Dunkin Donuts coffee was great. Their were commercial for Folger’s and Sanka for god’s sake.

            This is a little like asking why Sam Adams managed to become popular given how great craft brews are.

            And the latte market is about adding a gargantuan amount of sugar to things and getting young people to over pay for it, which is what Coke and Pepsi have been doing for a long time.

          • onyomi says:

            @Heelbearcub,

            You’re actually kind of echoing what I’m saying: Starbucks provided something approximating a luxury experience at something closer to gas station prices and time commitments. Perhaps I overestimate the importance of the trappings: the writing of the name instead of a number, the personalization, the weird Italian words, but I also think those sorts of trappings can explain why one brand really takes off while many other similar brands do not.

          • Tibor says:

            Another European here. First, I hope this does not come across as arrogant. But is Starbucks really “gentrified”? From a European perspective, it is a coffee version of McDonald’s. A place you’d maybe go to if you wanted a coffee to go but that’s about that…or a place women sometimes go to after shopping because there usually are no proper cafés in shopping malls. But what Europeans would recognize as a café looks entirely different and for starters, it is not a chain. That is not to say that I have anything against Starbucks (or McDonald’s or any other chain) but in Europe, if your restaurant is a chain, it is quite surely going to be seen as something “cheap” (not necessarily in price) or at best “mediocre” just by the virtue of being a chain. If you invited your date to a chain restaurant/café (even a nicer place like TGI Friday’s…which, if I get it right, is sort of a nicer chain, they are not very common in Europe, at least the parts I know, so I haven’t actually been there), you’d not score many points by that.

          • onyomi says:

            “in Europe, if your restaurant is a chain, it is quite surely going to be seen as something “cheap” (not necessarily in price) or at best “mediocre” just by the virtue of being a chain.”

            It varies a lot by location, which makes the widespread success of places like McDonalds and Starbucks all the more impressive. In China, eating at a foreign chain like McDonalds or Starbucks is more expensive than eating at a local, family run joint, for example, and therefore seen as, if not actually chic, then at least as something of a special treat. In most of America McDonalds is certainly viewed as cheap food, though Starbucks, like Chipotle, I think, is viewed as a cut above, say, Dunkin Donuts or Taco Bell–wouldn’t impress your date, exactly, but you can feel kind of upper-middle classish going there.

            Europeans, I think, look down on chains simply for being chains more than either the US or China. I think this might have something to do with the geography, especially of the US. Most European towns have been continually inhabited for many hundreds if not thousands of years. Many American towns are basically truck stops with little unique culture to speak of. When Olive Garden comes to town it’s a big deal, because there’s no other way these remote, relatively new habitations are going to have any interesting culture or cuisine.

            I think it also depends on whether or not your culture already has the thing in question: in France if you try to open a chain cafe it will be viewed as inferior because there’s already a big culture of nice cafes. In much of the US there is not that culture so expectations are lower.

            Conversely, in the US, places selling burgers or pizza are held to a higher standard because these things are American(ish) and we eat them a lot. People certainly eat McDonalds and Pizza Hut, but these are generally viewed as being inferior to non-chain burger and pizza joints. In China, by contrast, there are no non-chain burger and pizza joints, so McDonalds and Pizza Hut seem “special.”

          • Adam says:

            Gentrified doesn’t mean it’s viewed as super upscale or high-quality coffee. No actual coffee snobs like it. I just mean you can go there and be reasonably assured of no riff-raff. It’s like the difference between Denny’s and this place. The food is nearly identical. The prices aren’t even that different. But you won’t find the same people in them.

          • Tibor says:

            @onyomi It is true that when I first went to a real burger place (until I was some 16 or 17 I basically equated burgers with McDonald’s) I was surprised how well a burger can taste and that it is not necessarily on the same level with baguettes you get at a gas station (although I do occasionally even go to McDonald’s, I have a BigMac craving from time to time). I actually enjoy this one burger place in my hometown quite a lot and I miss it when I am in my university town in Germany where there is no such restaurant (they have burgers in some places there, but they are rubbish). Still, most people around, I think, see burgers as something rather “low”, because they associate them mostly with McDonald’s and other fast food chains. So I think that you might be right with burgers. I am less sure about pizza. In Italy it goes without saying, other than that I think that Europeans recognize that there is fast food pizza and there is a pizzeria pizza more than they recognize the same difference in burgers.

            Also, in Europe, almost all chain-type restaurants are fast-food restaurants, so people associate chain with low quality and that is why they look down upon chains. But only in restaurants. People still mostly go to IKEA or KIKA or something for their furniture for example and go grocery shopping to chain grocery stores. It is also harder to make a Europe-wide chain when the typical cuisine differs every 100-300 kilometers.

            I remember than when I was very little (I was born 1989), McDonald’s was seen as something rather nice in the Czech republic, because it was a new shiny thing from the west, but that lasted maybe till the end of the 90s. Perhaps it will be similar in China (with more inertia, it is a 1000 times more populous and a much less developed country).

            @Adam: I don’t know Denny’s, but I guess that Blue Plate Diner is the fancier restaurant. It looks like what a non-fast-food burger place would look like in Europe (sort of “make it look American but not like Mcdonald’s and kind of nice at the same time”), at least from the inside.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            Starbucks did a few big things to the US coffee market. One, they proved that there WAS a market for arabica beans, that customers would pay more for a coffee that was not robusto.

            Two, as they expanded, they increased the size of the arabica coffee market. Customers who had never been exposed to the difference in quality before now decided that the increase in quality was worth the extra price.

            Three, with a larger arabica market, and a smaller robusto market, new arabica vendors were induced to enter and robusto vendors exited the market or switched to arabica.

            Four, as the market matured, Starbucks stopped having a quality edge and therefore stopped competing on quality. Witness the absence of single-origin beans in their stores anymore. Now they have one default blend and they are selling a far more commodified product. Ditto K-cups, Gevalia, and any number of single brew, pre-packaged products.

          • The Anonymouse says:

            @HBC

            Do you know the difference between robusto and arabica beans? The difference between real cream and non-dairy creamer? Coffee that is made fresh in a clean pot and clean grounds holder and coffee that has sat on a warming plate for 30 minutes or longer?

            HBC, I love you for attempting to bring some civility to the commentariat here. But he who fights blue-tribe stereotypes should beware, lest a blue-tribe stereotype he become. 🙂

          • brad says:

            @HBC
            I don’t know if the experiment is limited to the NYC area but lately I’ve seen single origin bean coffee pushed as a premium offering in some but not all starbucks around here.

            I don’t like their brewed coffee because of how they roast their beans. At least I think that’s why, I’m not enough of a connoisseur to know for sure. But they are a fine option for a quick cappuccino, just ask for a short one so you don’t end up with a latte masquerading as a cappuccino. There are lots of places that do a better job, but you have to be in the right neighborhood to find one of them.

            @The Anonymouse
            7/11 coffee isn’t terrible, but it isn’t worth seeking out over a bodega coffee either. I imagine gas station coffee is about the same as bodega coffee though I haven’t lived in gas station land for more than a decade.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @TheAnonymouse:
            Should we talk about the advantages of center-fire over rim-fire instead?
            ;-D

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @brad:
            Starbucks in NYC are practically competing even with themselves, so that isn’t necessarily surprising. But 20 years ago, single origin beans were the default. Every Starbucks had two different drip coffees on “tap” (a light roast and a dark roast) and they changed daily. Now they always have “Pike Place” as their light roast, which is a blend that I think tastes like warmed over ashes.

            And Starbuck’s light roasts are still very dark. It’s the Pacific West coast roasting style, I believe. That may be one reason you don’t like them. But if you buy Peet’s coffee, it’s the same roasting style, but much better coffee.

          • The Anonymouse says:

            @brad

            A good rule of thumb is that it comes out of a machine, the coffee will be (unsurprisingly) bad. For drip/warming plate coffee, my experience is that 7-11 is the best of the lot, and not bad at all.

            @HBC

            More interestingly, how about why .22LR is still so hard to come by. It’s been years of empty shelves now (thanks Obama, I want to say :)), and the market has failed to meet the demand. More seriously, if the blue tribe wants to discuss the various failures of capitalism with us red folks, y’all should start with the example of why on God’s green earth I can’t find a 550ct box of .22 on any shelf anywhere!

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @TheAnonymouse:
            According to this article rimfire ammo manufacturing capacity is constrained. People are reluctant to create new plants because there is explosion risk inherent in creating rimfire ammo.

            To me, that sounds like the capital market doesn’t think that the ammo demand increase will last past Obama’s presidency.

        • Maware says:

          You have to understand in America, we don’t have cafes. Not in the european sense. There wasn’t a “coffee culture” or the idea of a small faux-progressive coffee bar in much of the USA. It seems novel and unusual to us, therefore it got popular.

    • Tibor says:

      I think that something along the lines of the 80/20 rule works here as well. If you have something mediocre and pay twice as much, you get something almost twice as good. If you have something good and pay twice as much, you get something maybe 25% better and if you have something in the 90% in terms of the quality of the best and pay 5 times as much, you get the best. Very few men care about cosmetics so much that they would be willing to go above good, mostly even above mediocre so what you get is cheaper and lower quality men’s products since men would by and large not buy the better and more expensive ones. With women it is a different story. I think that the really expensive cosmetics really is a bit better than the merely good and relatively cheap but you have to value the 10% increase of quality so much that you are willing to pay many times more. Status probably plays a much larger role with handbags but not so much with cosmetics. People usually keep their cosmetics at home where nobody can see it.

      • onyomi says:

        I think you’re right in that at the top of the price range there are no male equivalents for the most expensive female-targeted products, by which I mean stuff like this:
        http://www.neimanmarcus.com/Designers/LaMer/cat000377/c.cat?ecid=NMS___XX0854&gclid=CjwKEAiAwZO0BRDvxs_1w-qFnhkSJABo10ggQbxu6TLxJXTozvfjWJ0-fOo8KJ2KWdhuseJu2YCkWhoCp-Hw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds

        But I think what people are complaining about is that at the low and middle ranges, the female-targeted products cost more, even though they are no different, other than in choice of packaging design, coloring, and fragrance.

        • Tibor says:

          That firm seems to be so exclusive that they do not ship to Germany and the Czech republic 🙂 But when I switched to a US version of their website, I saw a vial of 1 oz (about 30 ml? ) of an “age-transcending serum essence” for some 600 USD…I have never seen anything like that before 😀 I don’t even think that they make “age-transcending serum essences” for men at all. As far as I know, the pinnacle of men’s cosmetics are moisturizing cremes.

          But that other point is interesting. I will check out the grocery prices next time I go shopping. From the top of my head, I know that at least Billa in the Czech republic and Tegut in Germany (where I usually go shopping) price the “for men” shower gels like Axe slightly higher than generic-looking gels like Fa or Radox (dunno if these brands mean anything overseas…on the other hand Fa looks kinda more marketed at women but not explicitly) but it could be just a difference between these brands. Not that I could not afford paying 15 eurocents more for an Axe product, but I hate being a sucker for marketing, so I actually spend time thinking about which shower gel to buy 🙂 I dunno about razors, I find Gillette too expensive given that even their razors become uncomfortable after about three uses (and others are even worse…maybe I do something wrong with them or maybe I am a wuss) so I just use an electric razor instead and never buy any razors. I am not 100% sure men’s and women’s razors are the same. Women’s razors are mainly for shaving legs and men’s for shaving faces. I dunno how much of a difference that makes though.

          As far as fragrance goes, does it all cost the same? Women reputedly have a better sense of smell than men, maybe one has to put more effort into making a deodorant they would like, which translates into higher costs. I would not bet my money on this explanation though.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            If you find razors uncomfortable, try this “one trick”.

            Before applying your shaving gel, put a coating of Noxzema or other cold-cream on your face. Seriously, it works.

          • Tibor says:

            @HeelBearCub (I tend to read HellBearCub which is much cooler by the way :)) ) : Thanks, but I think I am fine with using the electric razor only. It does not shave you as smoothly as the regular razor but I think it is sufficient and I would only want to shave my neck that smooth anyway.

        • Calo Cola says:

          “even though they are no different, other than in choice of packaging design, coloring, and fragrance.”

          I hope that type of description is well..intended to get the point across?

  38. Edward Scizorhands says:

    Why do the sidebar links for “recent posts” sometimes be http:// and other times https:// ?

    Is it something I’m doing wrong?

    Because it really really messes with the “read new posts” story.

  39. gattsuru says:

    Are US corporations spending less on research and development? Why?

    It’s probably worth specifying terms. The article claims that the Aroray, Belenzonz, and Patacconix paper is discussing a decrease in “publicly traded companies publishing research in scientific journals”, while the paper itself (pdf warning) points to metrics like “percentage of non-federally-funded R&D” (from firms with more than 10k employees) and “number of publications in scientific journals per publicly traded company”. It’s also worth pointing out that the Aroray et al paper explicitly states that “large American firms are reducing their investment in science whereas their investments in R&D more broadly have not decreased”, so the headline is exactly wrong.

    Now, the paper’s metrics aren’t wrong, but they’re oddly chosen, and in many cases, the original source contradicts the paper’s conclusions.

    Most obviously, the “non-federally-funded R&D” (from 10k+ employee firms) number cites National Science Foundation surveys that were discussing an increase in R&D spending from small companies, and indeed the NSF claims that non-federal corporate spending on R&D has always exceeded real growth in the economy for the sample period. (There are reasons to be skeptical of this number that are beyond the scope of this complaint.) This seems proof that expenditure from smaller companies, states, and the federal government has increased, rather than anything going “less” except proportionally.

    “Number of publications in scientific journals per publicly traded company” less overtly bad, but it’s still odd. For one, the denominator is wonky : there were huge changes in the number of publicly traded companies throughout the sample period, and the characteristics of non-publicly trade companies has changed dramatically in the middle of the sample period. It’s not entirely unreasonable — publicly traded companies have to disclose a lot of data that’d be useful for this sort of analysis, they did a further filter that might have removed some of the effect — but it’s still streetlight-effect prone. And, again, this is an analysis of publications in journals, not of research and development generally.

  40. Jacob says:

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned in any of the commentary about the gendered goods study was that it applied to toys as much as adult goods. The reason I bring it up is that people make purchasing decisions for themselves when it comes to razors/shampoo/clothes, but I’m guessing toys are mostly bought by parents for their children. So it may be more about the intended recipient of the good rather than the buyer. Just a thought.

  41. grendelkhan says:

    Also from Zompist, an oldie but goodie: Hou tu pranownse Inglish. Worth it for the ‘spelling reform by regularization’ section, and the bit about the (awful!) etymology of ginkgo.

    Also, the culture tests; the American one feels remarkably accurate, so I assume the non-American ones are as well.

    • Zompist’s website has a lot of great stuff on it. I like his illustration of how the Chinese writing system works. It also has the best online guide to conlanging; Mark Rosenfelder’s conworld, Almea, is the most well-described one that I know of. And it has a forum, which I can recommend as a good place to hang out at for people interested in linguistics. (It’s where I learnt a good deal of what I know about the subject, and I probably wouldn’t have gone on to study it at university if I hadn’t found Zompist’s website.)

    • Berna says:

      The Dutch one certainly is, though maybe it should be updated in a few places.

    • Linch says:

      Huh. The cultural one made me a little sad about being a transplant. *shrugs* Relatively small cost in the grand scheme of things, I guess.

      Two of the lines for China seems very wrong, or at least not true in the North.

      “World War II was eight years long for the Chinese, and we fought with Japan the whole time. It was a miserable period for the Chinese, but since then there has been no major tragedy in China.”
      I don’t know i the authors were exaggerating to make a political point, but I feel like most of the people I knew in China were at least familiar with the Cultural Revolution and the Szechuan earthquake(s).

      “You’re likely to believe in Buddha. If not, you probably believe you will be reborn in the future, and the species of your reincarnation will depend on your behavior in your current life.”
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_China#Statistics

      The issue seems somewhat complicated, but I will not say more than half of Chinese people are Buddhist, and I also get the impression that the number will be far lower if you look at English-speakers (since religious belief seems pretty low-status in China).

    • James Picone says:

      The Australian one has some bugs; it feels like it’s aiming at middle-aged people.

      The weirdest part was the section on privatisation – some of the industries it describes as ‘perfectly natural’ to be private are, in fact, still publicly owned! (Australia Post, for example). Several of them were only privatised in the last ~12 years!

  42. Hadlowe says:

    Oddly enough, the Christmas movie in space may actually exist. From the wikipedia link, in the 1959 film, space Santa does battle with a demon sent to earth by Lucifer to kill Santa and make children evil. Red Letter Media did a review of the film as part of their Best of the Worst series.

  43. Ilya Shpitser says:

    re: biased coin riddle: this is very old and related to giving people intuition about what universal source coding does.

    1. Represent biased coin flips as bits, put them in a file.
    2. Compress the resulting file using any compression utility using universal source coding.
    3. Resulting bits are fair (more precisely there is an asymptotic statement that you get this for a sufficiently long set of bit flips).

    Unlike Von Neumann’s trick you get more fair bits this way.

  44. Eli says:

    Let’s get the obvious out of the way:

    “Skulls for the skull throne!” doesn’t look as cool as it sounds.

    THIS IS HERESY!

    The Atlantic proposes that Obama has precipitated a vast leftward shift in American culture as epochal as the vast rightward shift under Reagan. Counterpoint: Americans Are More Conservative Than They Have Been In Decades. Why do I have to keep reading these kinds of articles every few months? This question really shouldn’t be this hard to settle!

    I’m betting that they’re using different definitions of “conservative”, one of which is dominated by the economic dimension and the other by the social dimension. The two dimensions of views have largely diverged from each-other, so that the broad American consensus could be called, “social democracy, but labeled as something more Americana-y, with an argument over the precise degree of social liberalism (or at least, social liberalism compared to the 1950s) desired.”

    • Dain says:

      I didn’t see any specific issues cited in the WaPo piece.

      I think of stuff like acceptance of interracial marriage, acceptance of not making homosexulaity illegal (operationalized: raiding and shutting down gay bars), and the rise in cultural disdain for old-fashioned circuses as reasons to think we’ve all become less conservative. Then again compared to Americans of the 1950s, there is less current support for gun control, which is a shift rightward:

      http://www.gallup.com/poll/150341/record-low-favor-handgun-ban.aspx

      • I think there is much less support for the old anti-market viewpoint–very few people now believe that the USSR had a successful model of economic development that poor countries would benefit by imitating. But to a significant degree, environmentalism has replaced socialism as an argument against laissez faire.

        Intellectually speaking that’s an improvement, since it’s a better argument—externalities really do raise problems for the efficiency of market outcomes. But given how easy it is for people to convince themselves with confidence of very speculative external costs, I’m not sure how much of an improvement it is in the effect on policy. And a lot of it seems to involve using the newer arguments to get results driven by the same gut level instincts.

        Beyond that, there is the obvious question of whether to interpret shifts in a libertarian direction as conservative or liberal.

        • onyomi says:

          “And a lot of it seems to involve using the newer arguments to get results driven by the same gut level instincts.”

          I feel like this is the great, nearly intractable problem of most of political history. As to how it might be solved, maybe something like LW is actually the best, because it goes after failures in modes of thinking rather than failures in particular ideologies.

          Communism may be largely debunked, but if you don’t understand the underlying reasons why it failed, and maybe more important, the underlying reasons for its appeal, you will be vulnerable to the next iteration of it.

          The prospect of getting a sufficient critical mass of humanity thinking at that level, however, seems rather dim, barring widespread genetic or cybernetic enhancements or something.

    • DrBeat says:

      Liking the Skull Throne’s aesthetic qualities at all is what’s heretical! Heck, KNOWING about the Skull Throne is heresy!

      HERETICS! HERETICS EVERYWHERE!

    • yes, an inability to settle the question of leftward versus rightward shift in simple terms could itself be an indicator that something more complex is happening.

    • Sastan says:

      We suffer here from a lack of objective terminology for political shifts.

      I try to describe things in terms of “progressivism” or innovation, as opposed to “conservatism” or traditionalism. Either of these categories can be “left” or “right”. Republicans in the US are progressive about Social Security, but conservative about gay marriage. Democrats are conservative about abortion, but progressive about taxation.

      It is the job of conservatism to weed out the bad ideas progressivism comes up with, just as it is the job of progress to attempt to remedy problems with the existing system. Long term, I don’t see Reagan as being a right-ward shift. Just an instance in which eighty years of leftist progressive economic change was exposed as crap and partially rolled back. The ratchet is always toward progress, but there are instances when those new ideas don’t pan out. Gun control is another where we have largely reverted to pre-1960 legal norms after thirty years of experimentation with various sorts of restriction.

      The more interesting thing, I think, is the source of this progress. For much of the past century, innovation has belonged more or less to the left. I think I detect a shift here, with liberals pining for the good old days of unionization, pre-globalization, protectionism and social welfare and the right more positive about the future, but I could be wrong. I suppose time will tell.

  45. Anthony says:

    Sedan nuclear test

    Imagine the confusion if it had been a two-door instead of four-door bomb named the Coupe nuclear test, and people started wondering how bad internal politics were if nuclear weapons were being used for government takeovers.

    • The Anonymouse says:

      Being a dad myself:

      “Why is it that a chicken coop can only have two doors?”
      ” … ”
      “Because if it had four doors, it’d be a chicken sedan!”

  46. En Dash says:

    That health care costs study you mentioned is massively important. Sadly, it’s been misreported in many of the popular articles that purport to describe it, including the Megan McArdle piece you linked to. The actual paper is here: http://www.healthcarepricingproject.org/sites/default/files/pricing_variation_manuscript_0.pdf

    As the abstract of the study notes, “the correlation between total spending per privately insured beneficiary and total spending per Medicare beneficiary across HRRs is only 0.14.” That’s actually pretty amazing. It would be easy to come up with a story for a strong positive correlation (if medical services are expensive in a region, they’re expensive for all types of insurers) or a strong negative correlation (hospitals target a certain profit margin and don’t really care whether they use Medicare or private money to get there). But neither of those things is happening, as the graph on page 50 makes clear. There are places where both private and public insurance spend a lot per beneficiary, places where neither spends a lot, and places where one is vastly more expensive than the other.

    McArdle is thus incorrect when she says that areas where “Medicare spending is low often have high private spending, and vice versa.” The trend, insofar as one exists, is actually in the opposite direction. But the real importance of this study is showing how weak that correlation is. Hopefully the existence of the new private insurer dataset will redirect research attention away from places that happened to have low Medicare costs but high private costs, and toward places that hold costs down across the board.

  47. Bryan Price says:

    The Atlantic proposes that Obama has precipitated a vast leftward shift in American culture as epochal as the vast rightward shift under Reagan. Counterpoint: Americans Are More Conservative Than They Have Been In Decades. Why do I have to keep reading these kinds of articles every few months? This question really shouldn’t be this hard to settle!

    Why not both?

    On one side we have people going “Shit is fucked up and bullshit” for reasons, typically because of the other side (abortion, welfare, taxes, taking Christ out of the US, ISIS, gay marriage), and the other side has people going “Shit is fucked up and bullshit”, again, because of the other side (racism [police shootings of young blacks that prosecutors refuse to actually prosecute, I’m looking at the Tamir Rice thing in Cleveland, among others], homophobia, an absolute lack of understanding compromise, and yes, even ISIS).

    I’ve probably already shown my bias, but I don’t care.

    It’s a polarizing spiral that I don’t see how it ends, at least not well. And it’s probably been going on well before the Tea Party decided to get involved. Reagan’s destruction of the middle class is finally at fruition, and people are pissed about it, and don’t even understand that it was a Republican responsible, not a Democrat, nor anything to do with Democrat plans/plots/schemes, whatever you want to call it.

    It’s either the end of the Tea Party support for Republicans, or it’s the end of the Republican Party. Maybe both.

    • onyomi says:

      “Reagan’s destruction of the middle class”

      What? I guess this is about unions? Regardless, it hardly sounds like something we can take as axiomatic.

      Also, Reagan received the most bipartisan support of any president in recent memory, so if you’re looking for someone to blame for polarization, he seems a strange choice.

      • E. Harding says:

        Reagan only seems polarizing because Carter and Ford were some of the least polarizing presidents of all time.

        And Reagan didn’t destroy the middle class:
        http://www.aei.org/publication/charts-of-the-day-another-look-at-how-americas-middle-class-is-disappearing-into-higher-income-households/
        Where’s the destruction of the middle class?

        And exactly the same dynamic was at work at the same time in Canada? How could Reagan destroy the Canadian middle class?

      • Bryan Price says:

        “Reagan’s destruction of the middle class”

        What? I guess this is about unions?

        Nope. His acts against the unions were just a symptom.

        Employees were considered assets before Reagan’s terms, and now after them, employees are considered expendable cogs, to be replaced whenever they get too much of a drain on the bottom line. The “trickle down” never did produce the growth that was supposed to happen.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          The death of trickle down predates Reagan. Economic growth stopped producing real wage growth around 1970 in the US for the very bottom income (note that this is income, not the earners so some move out of it during their lives).

          Also the change to expendable cogs is due to the change in the economy and job market- see how life time employment fared in Japan for example.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      The Republicans controlled the Senate, but not the House of Representatives during Reagans term (and they lost the Senate in the last two years)

      https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/72/Combined–Control_of_the_U.S._House_of_Representatives_-_Control_of_the_U.S._Senate.png

      I’m not sure how Reagan was capable of doing everything he is accused of without the cooperation of both parties unless he is using executive orders.

      • Bryan Price says:

        I’m not sure how Reagan was capable of doing everything he is accused of without the cooperation of both parties unless he is using executive orders.

        He did it with the cooperation of both parties. Between the tax changes and other laws that were passed, it was a genius plan. Although I suspect Reagan had nothing to do with it (it’s pretty apparent that Reagan didn’t have a lot to do with his presidency anyway), but it’s his signature and administration.

  48. Peter Scott says:

    The Verge article on SpaceX doesn’t quite get what’s going on. First off, they didn’t land “the rocket”; they landed its lower stage. SpaceX currently has no plans to re-use the upper stage of the rocket; it’s much harder to recover, and they’ve designed the Falcon 9 with about 75% of the cost in the lower stage, so most of the benefit comes from lower stage recovery — which is what they did. When they get the Falcon Heavy flying (hopefully in April or May) the plan there is to recover the first two of three stages, and again, abandon the cheapo upper stage. They’re also designing the Dragon V2 capsule for recovery and re-use; it’s meant to be able to land on Earth, or Mars, or just about any solid body in the solar system. We’re probably not looking at order-of-magnitude launch cost reductions from all this — more like a factor of 2-5x cheaper — but it’s still very important news.

    They are planning on full re-usability for the Big Fucking Rocket, but that’s a while in the future — they’re still working on the engine design at the moment.

    • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

      While the whole concept of reusability is cool and everything, I have little hope that it will translate into real cost savings.

      There is a reason the space shuttle was such a failure. It turns out trying to reuse a rocket engine is even harder than it sounds. They basically had to disassemble, test, and reassemble the entire engine every time. My understanding is that the cost to actually manufacture a part is dwarfed by the expense of validating it as space worthy. And if SpaceX seriously thinks they have found a way to avoid disassembling and testing each (engine) part after each flight I think they have a wake up call coming. And it is really hard to cram enough stuff-not-the-engine that you can get away with testing less rigorously into the first stage to make up for the cost of revalidating the engine. At the end of the day, blowing up someone’s ten billion dollar satellite (or killing a couple people) because you were trying to save a measly few million is a bad way to find out about due diligence.

      But what do I know.

      • Gbdub says:

        You know plenty. While I’m sure SpaceX is capable of doing a better job at reusability than the shuttle, the idea that this landing heralds an “order of magnitude” cost reduction is patently absurd.

        The build cost of the whole rocket (let alone just the first stage) is not 90% of the cost of a rocket launch. It’s not even close. Much of the cost is in paying engineers to design the trajectory and analyze its effect on the (often unique) payload. Much more goes into testing the assembled rocket (and its sub assemblies). You’ll save some of this, but the likelihood is that the refurbishment costs will still be high.

        The reality is that launching a rocket is never going to be like gassing up your car and going, or even like gassing up a plane and going, without major advances in materials and/or propulsion technology. Rockets have absurdly small design margins compared to airplanes, in almost every part. It’s just still really damn hard to make them both durable enough to reuse without serious refurbishment, AND light enough to make orbit.

        And after all that, a cheap rocket won’t even help unless you simultaneously make the payloads much cheaper (and make many more of them). Do you care about saving $10, $20, $30 million on a rocket if it increases the chances of of losing your $500 million satellite even 1%?

        None of this is to say that SpaceX hasn’t achieved something impressive and important. But we need to separate the reality from Elon’s ego fueled hype (to paraphrase Top Gun, Elon’s ego writes checks his tech can’t cash).

        (I am an engineer in the space launch vehicle industry)

        • bean says:

          I’d like to see numbers on this. To the best of my knowledge, mission engineering is usually a rounding error compared to hardware. It was on the stuff I worked on, but those were university programs, so all of the labor was free. (That was the only way we could afford to do it, but even then, hardware engineering took a lot more effort than GNC. And both missions had fairly strict trajectory requirements, not the normal ‘dump it out somewhere’ cubesats.)

          “And after all that, a cheap rocket won’t even help unless you simultaneously make the payloads much cheaper (and make many more of them). Do you care about saving $10, $20, $30 million on a rocket if it increases the chances of of losing your $500 million satellite even 1%?”
          That’s pretty much the model that the smallsat world uses. Build satellites cheaply, and know they may fail. Sure, it might be because we’re poor, but people like Skybox make it work. If you’re launching enough, then a 1% increase in launch risk is worth exactly 1% of the marginal cost of each launch. If one fails, I bolt one of the spares on another booster, and send it off.
          I do agree that this isn’t likely to lead to ‘order of magnitude’ reductions, but only because the data supports doubling all of SpaceX’s predicted numbers.

          • DensityDuck says:

            ahheheheheh
            so
            uh
            you say that your experience is that labor is usually minimal compared to hardware
            and then you tell us that your “experience” is using free labor to keep costs down
            so
            um
            I think that’s what statisticians call “controlling away the independent variable”

            “That’s pretty much the model that the smallsat world uses. Build satellites cheaply, and know they may fail.”

            Smallsats are only “cheap” in relative terms; comparing a single smallsat to a single large vehicle. Smallsat constellations are more expensive than single-vehicle missions when you look at the whole system. Each individual smallsat has lower capability and shorter lifespan, so you need a lot more of them. It’s true that a system failure on a smallsat doesn’t knock out the whole mission, but large vehicles have room for redundancy–and they get tested quite extensively before they’re launched, at the component and the whole-vehicle level, in environments calculated to be worse than anything they’ll encounter in their actual mission (and with a little extra thrown in for good luck.)

            Smallsats are great for small missions, but big missions need big satellites. And if you want to conduct activity for longer than a month or two, that’s a big mission.

            It is true, though, that smallsats allow small missions to happen at all. One of the problems until recently is that doing any mission was so costly that it might as well be a big mission.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        The Space Shuttle was a boondoggle from start to finish. Unlike SpaceX, they made the upper stage reusable, which is plain silly. Extrapolating from the Space Shuttle would make SpaceX the highest-cost plan instead of the lowest-cost plan.

        • Gbdub says:

          Actually the shuttle made “stage 0”, the booster rockets, reusable as well, but the cost of dragging them out of the ocean and refurbishing and refueling them just barely made economic sense in theory, and lost money in practice.
          But then again those were solid boosters, mostly empty shell with a few valuable electronic gizmos once they’ve been used. SpaceX has a lot more value on the first stage, with 9 ostensibly reusable Merlins.

          But then that’s both a blessing and a curse, since that’s 9 engines you need to clean up, inspect, replace seals, whatever (as opposed to 3 SSMEs). It’s just as hard to refurb a small engine as a big one – which makes a single large engine booster attractive, but then that might be too big to recover the booster (it’s hard to make an engine that is both highly efficient at full throttle and able to throttle super low).

      • Peter Scott says:

        SpaceX would be hard-pressed to make an engine that’s anywhere near as expensive to inspect and re-fly as the Space Shuttle Main Engines. Those things were a miracle and a nightmare all rolled up into one: extremely complicated high-performance throttleable staged-combustion hydrogen/LOX monstrosities with razor-thin tolerances on everything. They needed to be like that, in order to pull off the Shuttle’s other goals, but the end result was a technically amazing engine that accumulated quite a bit of wear on each flight, and was not easy or cheap to deal with.

        SpaceX will have a lot less trouble, because they’ve taken pains to avoid doing anything quite so impressive with their engines. How much less trouble remains to be seen.

      • John Schilling says:

        @Gbdub: I, also, am an engineer in the industry, and you lost me with “Much of the cost is … design[ing] the trajectory and analyze[ing] its effect on the payload”.

        That’s not “much” of the cost, certainly not even ten percent of the cost. Not for the bulk of the market where the payloads and trajectories are very similar and often identical – and I’ve never seen any sort of discount for reflying an identical payload on an identical trajectory.

        As for the rest, yes, testing is a huge part of it. What are the testing requirements for flight N+1 of a specific vehicle which has already flown N times? I haven’t seen anyone formalize that for space launch vehicles, but even for very high-performance aircraft, flight N+1 has insignificant testing costs compared to the first flight.

        To those of us who have been paying attention to RLV development, the ability to refly a known-good vehicle is likely to be more important than merely the manufacturing cost savings. Particularly if you can do it during the development phase, which SpaceX unfortunately could not or did not do.

        The space shuttle main engine, yes, had to be torn down and rebuilt after every flight. The SSME was required to deliver literally superlative performance on several measurable dimensions of performance, while being “reusable” but with no specific requirements re maintenance burden. Obviously it was as temperamental and short-lived as a top-fuel dragster engine. Launcher-grade engines that don’t need to be torn down after every flight have been demonstrated, e.g. the RL-10s on the DC-X.

        And yes, you have to make the payloads cheaper. But satellite payloads are ridiculously expensive compared to comparable systems in almost any other environment, for reasons ultimately traceable to launch costs and flight rates. Indeed, it’s fairly well understood in economics that payload costs tend to expand to several times shipping costs, because nobody who has to pay that much for shipping is going to ship the cheap stuff.

        As for needing better propulsion and materials, not that those wouldn’t help, but that’s not where I’m seeing shortfalls. Better systems engineering is where the real gains lie.

        Finally, I think I saw someone here suggest that one of the problems of the Shuttle was that it tried to bring back the orbital stage and this is obviously silly because the upper stage is the hardest to recover. Unfortunately, the upper stage is often the most expensive. The lower stage may be bigger, but most of that is sheet metal and rocket fuel, and even aerospace-grade sheet metal is relatively cheap. Upper stages typically have higher-performance engines, even if smaller/fewer of them, and they have almost all of the vehicles electronics and other finicky expensive subsystems (because the upper stage can command and steer the lower stage(s), but not vice versa). Simplistic mass-based cost estimation works very poorly in the aerospace business. And while SpaceX may have loaded as much of the expense as possible onto their recoverable first stage, their original plans did call for upper-stage recovery as well and I believe they will find this economically necessary in the near future.

        • Gbdub says:

          @John Schilling – does the company you work for not have a GNC group, anyone doing vibe testing and analysis, or systems engineers doing interface design with the payload customer? Because we do, and I’m pretty sure SpaceX does. They don’t work for cheap. There is almost no such thing as an “identical” payload or an “identical” trajectory or an “identical” launch vehicle. They are weighed, analyzed, simulated individually. The customer usually demands it – have you ever worked with/for NASA or the DoD?

          Exactly what percent of the cost all that is depends on the vehicle (and whether it is manned) but it’s typically thousands of labor hours.

          N+1 flights for commercial aircraft are cheap because the Nth flight usually doesn’t come anywhere near the design limits of the vehicle. Rocket flights almost always do. That’s part of why you have to test them so much.

          High performance aircraft are actually a great example – the B-2 costs $135,000 per hour of flight time for maintenance (and flights are many hours long). 10s to hundreds of hours labor per flight hour for fighters are typical. Much less than rockets currently, but hardly cheap, and getting to orbit is rather trickier than going Mach 1.

          Better systems engineering would be good, but it won’t make the physics challenges go away.

          Volume is also a problem. Right now there’s not a use case for flying hundreds of launch vehicles, because there’s not a market for that many payloads. It’s kind of chicken and egg, but right now there are only so many markets that really need space access – lots of whiz bang experiments but so far space is mostly useful for imaging and communications, and you only need a couple geo birds to broadcast to the whole world.

          What we really need is a cheap rocket AND a business case for cheap satellites that you need thousands of.

          Long term I think reusability can work. But there are a lot of things we know we don’t know, and probably a few other gremlins, before it becomes truly economical.

          And we’re a LONG way from “order of magnitude” cost reductions, which was my whole point initially.

          • John Schilling says:

            I work for the Aerospace Corporation, so yes, we have a GN&C group, and we do test and analysis and payload-interface work. If you do DoD work, we’re probably the ones looking over your shoulder and making annoying demands for greater rigor in all of those areas. My particular area is propulsion; almost everything we touch is vibe-tested, I deal regularly with the GN&C people, not so much with payload interface. And I’ve been doing this for over twenty years at various places.

            So yes, I know what I am talking about here.

            “Exactly what percent of the cost all that is depends on the vehicle (and whether it is manned) but it’s typically thousands of labor hours”. If that’s single-digit thousands, then that comes to less than one percent of all the cost for any major launch vehicle. And that’s when you don’t have much reason to trim the cost or labor because your launch campaign is already committed to a year and a hundred megabucks of work.

            But beyond doing mission assurance for what we euphemistically call “national assets”, we also work with DARPA and AFRL on technology development for the equally euphemistic “operationally responsive space”. Which is to say, missions that have to be launched within twenty-four hours of a one-star calling up and saying “this is the payload and orbit I need”. There are some challenges to that, but I haven’t heard any of the GN&C people saying it can’t be done because it inherently takes thousands of man-hours to plan the trajectory. I have seen a major defense prime state that they have the tools for that part of the job waiting to go when the hardware is ready.

            So if trajectory design and payload integration are the first things that you jump to as compelling arguments against low-cost space transportation, I’m not convinced you’re the person to be teaching me anything on the subject.

          • bean says:

            “High performance aircraft are actually a great example – the B-2 costs $135,000 per hour of flight time for maintenance (and flights are many hours long).”
            Yes, but that’s because the B-2 is pushing the very limits of what could be done. I believe most of that is to keep the stealth systems in working condition (otherwise, it’s essentially an airliner), and the LRS-B is being developed explicitly to bring this number down.

            “10s to hundreds of hours labor per flight hour for fighters are typical. Much less than rockets currently, but hardly cheap, and getting to orbit is rather trickier than going Mach 1.”
            That’s not quite right. To take a pair of examples, the Super Hornet is 5-10, while the F-14 was about 50. The F-111, a rather notorious maintenance hog, was supposedly around 80. And as noted, we’ve seen rather dramatic drops in military aircraft doing just about the same job. (Even if you think the F-14 was a better airplane than the Super Bug, it wasn’t 5 or 10 times better.)

            “What we really need is a cheap rocket AND a business case for cheap satellites that you need thousands of. ”
            Planet labs
            Not thousands, but there are several capabilities which could be executed by large constellations of cheap, small satellites.

          • DensityDuck says:

            It’s super funny that you’re here from Aerospace Corporation complaining about how spaceflight programs spend too much money re-analysing mission plans when your company is typically the one who wants to see that re-analysis done.

            Maybe it’s exactly the same mission on exactly the same trajectory, but now you’ve decided there needs to be more margin in the analysis to extra double-super guarantee that everything’s going to work.

      • sabril says:

        A similar thought occurred to me. I am not an engineer, but my instinct is that re-usability is not the key to cheap space flight. In my non-professional opinion, the key is data-processing which is good enough that if you want, you can cheaply build a new rocket from scratch.

        Instead of using an airplane as analogy, think of it like a bottle of Coca-Cola. Yes, a bottle of Coke would be cheaper if you didn’t have to manufacture a new one every time you wanted a Coke, but it’s still cheap enough.

        That seems to be the trend with manufactured goods in general. Nobody goes to a television repair store any more; when your television breaks you throw it away and buy a new one.

        • John Schilling says:

          How does “good enough … data processing” enable you to cheaply build rockets from scratch? Data and metal are two very different things, and I am not aware of any metalworking techniques that would be vastly cheaper than the current state of the art if only we had better data processing. Yes, I know about CNC machining and 3-D printing; in neither case is data-processing the limiting factor.

          Also, Gbdub is right about one thing – most of the cost of the launch isn’t in fabricating launch-vehicle hardware, it is in testing launch-vehicle hardware. Imagine, e.g., taking a 747 straight off the assembly line at Everett and loading it full of paying customers headed for Sydney on the plane’s very first flight. Even assuming the FAA would allow such a thing, what sort of testing do you think your passengers, stockholders, and insurers would demand at every level of manufacturing and integration, for every single vehicle you are going to do this damn fool thing with?

          That’s what the space launch industry does every day – well, every week – in its current model. My company prides itself on the fact that, if you let us oversee your testing, only ~1.5% of your vehicles will crash into the ocean with their exceedingly valuable payloads, compared to ~3% if you do it without our help. But by the time you’re done, you’ll probably have paid a few tens of millions of dollars on extra tests, and if you know of a cheaper way to do that, we’d all like to hear about it.

          • sabril says:

            “How does ‘good enough … data processing’ enable you to cheaply build rockets from scratch? ”

            By automating more of the manufacturing process. Perhaps the phrase “data processing” gave you the wrong impression. I mean better computer systems. So by analogy, it seems that mankind is pretty close to developing automated trucks. This could save a good deal of money on shipping costs since you don’t have to pay a human driver.

            “Also, Gbdub is right about one thing – most of the cost of the launch isn’t in fabricating launch-vehicle hardware, it is in testing launch-vehicle hardware. ”

            In theory, testing could be a lot cheaper if more of it were automated.

            “if you know of a cheaper way to do that, we’d all like to hear about it”

            Sure – build a computer system to do it for you. Which of course is easier said than done. But it’s clear that mankind has made a lot of headway in automating tasks to save human labor and make stuff cheaper.

            In my lay opinion, this is the path to inexpensive space travel which is most likely to bear fruit.

          • John Schilling says:

            For someone who isn’t an engineer, you seem to imagine yourself quite knowledgeable in the fine details of industrial engineering.

            The manufacturing and testing of space hardware is automated. Were you really under the impression that actual rocket scientists who do this stuff had somehow missed the information revolution and never noticed the potential advantages of automated manufacturing? That the literal dotcom billionaire who founded SpaceX had gone and hired a bunch of old-world master craftsmen to build rockets by hand?

            The limiting factor is not the data processing. The limiting factor is the bloody expensive mechanical hardware (a 7-axis milling machine or a friction stir welder costs the same whether you automate it or not), the limited throughput on that hardware, and the skilled humans it still takes to program the fancy computers and verify that they are doing what you really wanted them to do instead of what you shortsightedly told them to do. And, yes, the occasional master craftsmen to do some of the fiddly bits of manufacturing that nobody has a clue how to get a robot to do; there’s still a fair bit of that around. The extensive use of automation whenever and wherever possible is why a Falcon 9 “only” costs $50 million to an Atlas V’s $150 million (and the Titan IV before that cost $400 million). More automation isn’t going to help much, because that’s not the limiting factor any more.

            Unless you’re going to step back three or four levels and say that what you really mean is that the post-scarcity economy of Everything We Ever Wanted Made On Demand By Infinite Friendly Robots is going to make space travel cheap, which isn’t a terribly useful observation.

          • sabril says:

            “For someone who isn’t an engineer, you seem to imagine yourself quite knowledgeable in the fine details of industrial engineering.”

            I’m not sure I would say “quite knowledgeable,” but let me ask you this:

            Do you agree that manufactured goods have gotten steadily cheaper over time, especially in terms of “bang for the buck”?

            And if you agree with this, what do you suppose is driving this process?

            “The manufacturing and testing of space hardware is automated. Were you really under the impression that actual rocket scientists who do this stuff had somehow missed the information revolution and never noticed the potential advantages of automated manufacturing?”

            Nope, but a lot of tasks are very difficult to automate and are still done by skilled people, which costs a lot more than if those tasks were automated. Agreed?

            “The limiting factor is not the data processing. The limiting factor is the bloody expensive mechanical hardware (a 7-axis milling machine or a friction stir welder costs the same whether you automate it or not),”

            Even if the manufacture of this hardware were automated? Do you agree that if the manufacture of this expensive hardware were automated, it would be a lot cheaper?

            “Unless you’re going to step back three or four levels and say that what you really mean is that the post-scarcity economy of Everything We Ever Wanted Made On Demand By Infinite Friendly Robots”

            I wouldn’t necessarily go that far, but there is some point between now and such a hypothetical future where manufactured goods are far cheaper than the present. Agreed?

            “which isn’t a terribly useful observation.”

            It’s useful to ponder whether re-usable rockets are likely to end up being a profitable investment. Or whether it will end up being cheaper to take a television set approach, i.e. throw it away rather than refurbish it. Agreed?

          • John Schilling says:

            Do you agree that manufactured goods have gotten steadily cheaper over time, especially in terms of “bang for the buck”?

            Not really.

            It depends, of course, on the type of manufactured good you are talking about. Wherever technophiles gather, e.g. here, the “manufactured good” that most often comes to mind is computers and other electronic gadgetry. Those have gotten steadily cheaper and more powerful over the past fifty-plus years.

            But all the bits and electrons in all the computers on the planet, won’t get you so much as a cubesat into low Earth orbit. For that you need fire and steel, or rather fire and exotic aerospace-grade superalloys. But even just plain fire and steel haven’t always gotten cheaper. The catalog price of an Automatic Colt Pistol in 1903, was $18.50; the catalog price for an off-brand knock-off of an Automatic Colt Pistol today is $430. Care to guess at what happens when you adjust for inflation? And yes, it’s pretty much the same gun(*).

            Or a more relevant comparison, from the aerospace industry. Then-year and FY10$ price of a minimally-equipped new Boeing 747, in

            1967: $24 ($155) million
            1976: $39 ($148) million
            1982: $83 ($185) million
            1996: $156 ($215) million
            2001: $183 ($226) million
            2008: $234 ($237) million

            So no, things that turn fire and steel into payload flying high and fast, haven’t gotten steadily cheaper. Even adjusting for the increased payload (366 passengers in 1967 to 467 pax today), the modern plane costs more. And yes, Boeing has extensively automated their production lines.

            Really, once Ford et al had done their work nearly a century ago, the limiting factor on making big complex things out of metal was the big complex metal tools you need to do the job, and the big complex metal tools that you need to make those tools, ad infinitum. And the fact that these tools have a limited throughput, and if you overclock them they turn rapidly into scrap metal, and if you don’t overclock them they still wear out and turn into scrap metal only slower. The smartness necessary to keep the tools running smoothly is not a trivial part of the cost, but it doesn’t dominate and it doesn’t limit. So while it is worth automating things that can be efficiently automated, even perfect automation at zero cost isn’t going to produce revolutionary gains.

            And the aerospace industry is in about the worst place to benefit from automation. Again, we use it when we can, but our production rates are beyond rapid prototyping but nowhere near the millions-of-units level that justifies narrowly tailored and optimized production facilities, and the requirement for extreme reliability calls for more expert-level human involvement in the manufacturing process.

            Particularly when the system you are manufacturing both Absolutely Positively Has To Work and Absolutely Positively Can’t Be Tested; again, we really need some degree of reusability just to get past that hurdle.

            (*) Red-tribe pedants will correctly point out that everybody sells clones of the Colt 1911 model today, not the 1903, but I couldn’t find a catalog price for the 1911 in 1911.

          • sabril says:

            “”Or a more relevant comparison, from the aerospace industry. Then-year and FY10$ price of a minimally-equipped new Boeing 747, in

            1967: $24 ($155) million
            1976: $39 ($148) million
            1982: $83 ($185) million
            1996: $156 ($215) million
            2001: $183 ($226) million
            2008: $234 ($237) million”

            Can we agree that a “minimally equipped new Boeing 747” in 1967 had significantly different equipment from a “minimally equipped new Boeing 747” in 2008?

            Also, do you agree that a lot of tasks are very difficult to automate and are still done by skilled people, which costs a lot more than if those tasks were automated?

            Also, do you agree that if the manufacture of expensive hardware such as a 7-axis milling machine or a friction stir welder were automated, the end products would be a lot cheaper?

            Also, do you agree that between now and some hypothetical post-scarcity future, there is some point where manufactured goods are far cheaper than the present?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @sabril:
            Quit while your behind.

            You aren’t engaging with John Schilling’s points. You are talking about a hypothetical world with optimal production rates for cost per unit. John’s point is that, for some classes of manufactured goods, we won’t ever get there. The market for space launches is very constrained, even more constrained than the market for large passenger planes.

            As to the point about “new equipment” and passenger planes, I’m willing to bet that extra equipment cost is almost all borne by safety improvements. Space launches will certainly be putting money into getting safer, so the point is roughly moot.

          • sabril says:

            “You aren’t engaging with John Schilling’s points.”

            Would you mind quoting a couple points he made which I missed?

            “You are talking about a hypothetical world with optimal production rates for cost per unit”

            No, not necessarily. But I admit I am talking about a hypothetical world where it’s a lot cheaper to make stuff. I’m not sure why this is unreasonable.

            “John’s point is that, for some classes of manufactured goods, we won’t ever get there. The market for space launches is very constrained, even more constrained than the market for large passenger planes.”

            I’m not sure that’s his argument, but assuming it is, I’m not sure I buy it. Can you explain why limited markets means an absence (or great limitation) of cost savings due to improved manufacturing processes?

            “As to the point about ‘new equipment’ and passenger planes, I’m willing to bet that extra equipment cost is almost all borne by safety improvements.”

            That’s a difficult claim to assess, since most improvements in airplanes can be cast as safety improvements. Here’s from the Wikipedia page:

            “The 747-400 is equipped with a two-crew glass cockpit, which dispenses with the need for a flight engineer, along with more fuel-efficient engines, an optional fuel tank in the horizontal stabilizer, and revised fuselage/wing fairings. The aircraft also features an all-new interior with upgraded in-flight entertainment architecture. As on the 747-300, passenger variants include a stretched upper deck as standard. The model has a maximum capacity of 660 passengers with the 747-400D variant,[4] and can fly non-stop for up to 7,670 nautical miles (14,200 km) with maximum payload, depending on model.”

            Is it a safety improvement to enhance the airplane to the point where a flight engineer is not even necessary? Arguably yes, since much of his job is to make sure the airplane’s systems are working properly and to fix problems before they turn serious and jeopardize the flight.

            But anyway, I do not think that the distinction between safety improvements and other improvements is really that important for this discussion. Because regardless whether rocketry goes down the Elon Musk path or the Coke bottle path, safety will surely be an important concern.

            “Space launches will certainly be putting money into getting safer”

            Right. And this applies equally to a refurbishment approach or a cheap manufacturing approach. Agreed?

          • bean says:

            @Sabril
            “Can we agree that a “minimally equipped new Boeing 747” in 1967 had significantly different equipment from a “minimally equipped new Boeing 747” in 2008?”
            This is the case. The 747 of 2008 has much more complicated engines, a very different electronics setup, and an entirely different wing. It’s also much less expensive to operate. Undermining this is the fact that the 747 of 1996 and 2001 are exactly the same plane, and we still see $2 million/yr growth in real costs.

            “Also, do you agree that a lot of tasks are very difficult to automate and are still done by skilled people, which costs a lot more than if those tasks were automated?”
            No, at least in context of current build rates. Sure, if we could start turning out ‘Rockets like sausages’ (western sausage rates, not Soviet ones) they’d be a lot cheaper. But, at the moment, anything which can be economically automated has been economically automated.

            “Also, do you agree that if the manufacture of expensive hardware such as a 7-axis milling machine or a friction stir welder were automated, the end products would be a lot cheaper?”
            How do you know it isn’t automated? It’s no longer the 1920s, where you have to chose between ‘produced in car numbers’ and ‘built by hand’. CNC machines are largely made using CNC machines. The difference is that they aren’t using the specialized tooling of the automotive world to squeeze out every last drop of productivity.

            @HeelBearCub
            “As to the point about “new equipment” and passenger planes, I’m willing to bet that extra equipment cost is almost all borne by safety improvements.”
            You’d be wrong. What is a safety improvement on an airplane, anyway? Crumple zones and the like are useless. Sure, seats may have gotten more expensive, but not that much more expensive. Better radar and other avionics? Again, not that much. The actual changes have mostly been about making the airplane cheaper to operate. Less fuel burn, fewer crew, better reliability. (Unreliability is both a safety hazard and expensive, so you can file it under either.)

          • John Schilling says:

            Can we agree that a “minimally equipped new Boeing 747” in 1967 had significantly different equipment from a “minimally equipped new Boeing 747” in 2008?

            I’ve already mentioned the extra hundred passenger seats. That and the more efficient engines will about compensate for the higher price, so we’re at least not losing anything. But beyond that, what were you thinking of? Most of what I see is a bunch of very complicated expensive electronic gadgetry that offers only marginal improvements in the fundamental transporting-passengers-across-great-distances performance metric, but for legal and cultural reasons it is no longer possible to sell new airplanes without them.

            And, Moore’s law notwithstanding, electronics for airplanes are indeed very expensive and not getting any cheaper because of the testing required to make extra-damn-sure they won’t do anything catastrophically stupid in any of the places we can no longer look because we delegated that job to the computers. Its cheaper and possibly safer to train human pilots to not do catastrophically stupid things; it’s just no longer a viable business model in the airline industry (sometimes, but not always, for legal reasons).

            Also, do you agree that if the manufacture of expensive hardware such as a 7-axis milling machine or a friction stir welder were automated, the end products would be a lot cheaper?

            The manufacture of expensive hardware such as 7-axis milling machines is already automated. Not 100% automated, because that’s not really a sensible thing to do, but sufficiently automated that labor is not the dominant cost or limitation.

            The limiting factor on our ability to make things out of metal, including tools for making things out of metal, is the cost and throughput of the tools we use for making things out of metal. And computers don’t much help with that; if you spin the front end too fast, the tool stops carving metal and starts gouging it. There are gains to be made in tweaking the ratio of human vs. computer oversight to most efficiently operate the machine with a reasonable safety margin against that threshold, but they aren’t revolutionary. And we’re already doing that, including in the making-tools-for-making-tools industries.

            In “Civilization” terms, it takes (checks strategy guide) about five years for a fully-developed city with a robotic manufacturing complex to build another robotic manufacturing complex; ten if you include all the support infrastructure a second complex would require (and if the rules allowed two in the same city). That’s actually a pretty good estimate, I think. And it means that if your modern, highly automated industrial economy is entirely devoted to producing-more-tools-to-produce-more-tools-ad-infinitum, you get a 7% nominal growth rate. Maybe with infinite cheap automation that goes to 10%. Useful, but not a post-scarcity cornucopia (nor a physical adjunct to an AI FOOM, if anyone is still worried about that). And not a recipe for order-of-magnitude cost reductions in space launch any time soon.

          • sabril says:

            @bean

            ” Undermining this is the fact that the 747 of 1996 and 2001 are exactly the same plane, and we still see $2 million/yr growth in real costs.”

            Assuming that’s true, I don’t think it’s much of an undermining. Yes of course there are short-term fluctuations but the general trend is that manufactured goods are getting steadily cheaper. Do you agree? If you agree, what do you think is driving this trend?

            “But, at the moment, anything which can be economically automated has been economically automated.”

            I think that your qualifier (“economically automated” versus “automated”) pretty much dodges the thrust of my original question. But let’s put that on hold for just a moment.

            Do you agree that in general, manufactured goods are getting steadily cheaper, at least in terms of “bang for the buck”? If you agree with this, what do you think is driving this trend?

          • John Schilling says:

            Do you agree that in general, manufactured goods are getting steadily cheaper, at least in terms of “bang for the buck”

            You already asked that question, using almost exactly the same words. And I answered it.

            Your conspicuous repetition is unkind, unnecessary, and really quite annoying. So I’m done with you.

          • sabril says:

            @Schilling

            “I’ve already mentioned the extra hundred passenger seats. That and the more efficient engines will about compensate for the higher price, so we’re at least not losing anything. But beyond that, what were you thinking of?”

            According to the Wikipedia article regarding the later model Boeing “embodies numerous technological and structural changes to produce a more efficient airframe. Its most distinguishing features versus preceding 747 models are 6-foot (1.8 m) winglets mounted on 6-foot (1.8 m) wing tip extensions, which are found on all 747-400s except for Japanese domestic market versions.

            The 747-400 is equipped with a two-crew glass cockpit, which dispenses with the need for a flight engineer, along with more fuel-efficient engines, an optional fuel tank in the horizontal stabilizer, and revised fuselage/wing fairings. The aircraft also features an all-new interior with upgraded in-flight entertainment architecture.”

            So there’s your answer. Anyway, you now seem to concede that the phrase “minimally-equipped” means very different things between the Boeing 747 of 1967 and 2012.

            “Most of what I see is a bunch of very complicated expensive electronic gadgetry that offers only marginal improvements in the fundamental transporting-passengers-across-great-distances performance metric, but for legal and cultural reasons it is no longer possible to sell new airplanes without them.”

            This website would seem to disagree with you stating, among other things, that “The advances in cockpit automation have also led to a dramatic improvement in safety.”

            http://www.airlineratings.com/did-you-know.php?id=21

            “And, Moore’s law notwithstanding, electronics for airplanes are indeed very expensive and not getting any cheaper because of the testing required to make extra-damn-sure they won’t do anything catastrophically stupid in any of the places we can no longer look because we delegated that job to the computers.”

            If you are saying that airplane electronics are staying the same in price without improving, then I am extremely skeptical of your claim and I would ask for evidence. I have a feeling that you are making the same error you did when you referred to “minimally-equipped” Boeing 747s.

            “The manufacture of expensive hardware such as 7-axis milling machines is already automated. Not 100% automated, because that’s not really a sensible thing to do, ”

            If automation technology improved to the point where it was “sensible” or “economical” to increase the level of automation, then the expensive hardware would be cheaper. Agreed?

            “Useful, but not a post-scarcity cornucopia (nor a physical adjunct to an AI FOOM, if anyone is still worried about that). And not a recipe for order-of-magnitude cost reductions in space launch any time soon.”

            Is the same not true about Musk’s approach?

            Also, please answer my questions from before:

            Do you agree that between now and some hypothetical post-scarcity future, there is some point where manufactured goods are far cheaper than the present?

            Do you agree that a lot of tasks are very difficult to automate and are still done by skilled people, which costs a lot more than if those tasks were automated as a result of better automation technology?

          • sabril says:

            @schilling

            “You already asked that question, using almost exactly the same words.”

            Re-read. I was asking the question of a different poster.

            “And I answered it.”

            You gave an answer which does not appear to be standing up to scrutiny. Your answer relied on the ambiguity of the phrase “minimally-equipped.” You also asserted — without providing any evidence — that more advanced electronics and such resulted in little or no improvement in the overall aircraft.

            I’m extremely skeptical of your claim and I would like to see the evidence.

            “Your conspicuous repetition is unkind, unnecessary, and really quite annoying. So I’m done with you.”

            Suit yourself, but I suspect the real problem here is that it’s uncomfortable to have your claims subject to scrutiny. I asked the same question to two different posters — this doesn’t seem unkind or unnecessary to me.

            But I can see how it would be annoying for you to be caught making a sketchy claim.

          • bean says:

            “Assuming that’s true, I don’t think it’s much of an undermining. Yes of course there are short-term fluctuations but the general trend is that manufactured goods are getting steadily cheaper.”
            But why would short-term fluctuations drive up the price by 1% per year on a plane that had already been in production for 7 years before the window even started. The 747 is not the only airliner out there (we might do better looking at various 737 models over the years, which are somewhat less affected by market fluctuations).

            “Do you agree?”
            I don’t really know.

            “If you agree, what do you think is driving this trend?”
            That’s up to you, not to me.

            “I think that your qualifier (“economically automated” versus “automated”) pretty much dodges the thrust of my original question. But let’s put that on hold for just a moment.”
            No, it doesn’t. Sure, we could build rockets like we do cars, and it would make rockets cheaper. But car tooling is very expensive, and we can’t justify it for the 737 (40+ per month), much less rockets. You don’t have any experience with manufacturing, do you?

            “Do you agree that in general, manufactured goods are getting steadily cheaper, at least in terms of “bang for the buck”? If you agree with this, what do you think is driving this trend?”
            Depends on the thing. We’re seeing reductions in some kinds of costs, but I’m not sure that we can generalize them into the field of rocketry. Cars are a reasonable proxy, and I haven’t seen huge cost reductions over the last 10 years or so.

            “So there’s your answer.”
            All of that is pretty much there to make the airplane cheaper and easier to operate. Also, your google-fu is weak, as you seem to have missed that the 2012 747 is in fact a -8.

            “This website would seem to disagree with you stating, among other things, that “The advances in cockpit automation have also led to a dramatic improvement in safety.”

            http://www.airlineratings.com/did-you-know.php?id=21
            I work for a company that builds airliners, in the department that supports them, and I don’t know where it got the evidence for that conclusion. The airplane being easier to use does reduce accidents, but there are lots and lots of other factors. And in some cases, easy-to-fly airplanes cause accidents. GPWS and ACAS have made a difference, sure, but neither is connected to ‘glass cockpit’ per se. I’ve seen GPWS on a general aviation aircraft from the 60s. The fact that the article meshes them together does not speak well of it.

            “If you are saying that airplane electronics are staying the same in price without improving, then I am extremely skeptical of your claim and I would ask for evidence. I have a feeling that you are making the same error you did when you referred to “minimally-equipped” Boeing 747s.”
            Well, the electronics in a 777 today are the same ones it was using 20 years ago when it entered service. They recently updated the processors (IIRC from 486 to 686) because only one company made the old style. The IFE has gotten better, but the rest is improving only slowly.

            “If automation technology improved to the point where it was “sensible” or “economical” to increase the level of automation, then the expensive hardware would be cheaper. Agreed?”
            Obviously. What’s not obvious is that that kind of automation technology will improve.

            “Do you agree that a lot of tasks are very difficult to automate and are still done by skilled people, which costs a lot more than if those tasks were automated as a result of better automation technology?”
            If we’re allowed to apply arbitrarily better automation technology, then yes. But that’s not the point. How much better we expect automation technology to get is.

          • ReluctantEngineer says:

            If automation technology improved to the point where it was “sensible” or “economical” to increase the level of automation, then the expensive hardware would be cheaper. Agreed?

            Do you have any reason to believe that “automation technology” is going to improve? What do you even mean by “automation technology”?

          • sabril says:

            @bean

            “But why would short-term fluctuations drive up the price by 1% per year on a plane that had already been in production for 7 years before the window even started. ”

            There are a lot of possible reasons, even assuming that (1) the figures given are accurate; and (2) the two planes really are identical (not much evidence has been offered for either of these two claims). For example, there might be a short-spike in the demand for commercial airplanes. In fact I recall that there was a huge economic boom/bubble during this time period.

            “I don’t really know.”

            Well do you dispute it?

            “No, it doesn’t”

            It absolutely does. Are you claiming that what can be “economically automated” is about the same as it was 20 years ago? Are you claiming that what can be “economically automated” will be about the same in 20 years?

            “Cars are a reasonable proxy, and I haven’t seen huge cost reductions over the last 10 years or so.”

            Well do you agree that what you get now is significantly more enhanced than a car of 10 years ago?

            “All of that is pretty much there to make the airplane cheaper and easier to operate.”

            Ok, so what?

            “Also, your google-fu is weak, as you seem to have missed that the 2012 747 is in fact a -8.”

            Does this contradict or undermine my position in any way?

            “I work for a company that builds airliners, in the department that supports them, and I don’t know where it got the evidence for that conclusion. ”

            Well do you agree that commercial airplanes are a good deal safer now than in the past?

            “Well, the electronics in a 777 today are the same ones it was using 20 years ago when it entered service. ”

            Is it your position that generally speaking, airplane electronics are not changing much in price and not improving much?

            “Obviously. What’s not obvious is that that kind of automation technology will improve.”

            Perhaps, but it demonstrates that the “economical” or “sensible” qualifiers obscure the real issues. If I argue that automation technology will improve in the future thus making manufactured goods cheaper, and someone responds that any economical automation has already been implemented, then they are not responding to my point. They are attacking a strawman.

          • sabril says:

            @reluctant engineer

            “Do you have any reason to believe that ‘automation technology’ is going to improve? What do you even mean by ‘automation technology’?”

            I think it makes sense to answer the second question first.

            By ‘automation technology’ I mean technology which allows more to be accomplished with roughly the same level of human input or less. So for example, gasoline powered tractors allow mankind to produce more wheat per man-hour than if old-fashioned plows and mules were used.

            As to the first question, I have a few answers: First, the general trend over time is for such improvements to take place. It’s reasonable to predict that current trends will continue. Second one of the things which is accomplished with human input is to improve technology itself. So it’s reasonable to think that we can continue along at a decent clip. Third, we are nowhere near the theoretical limits of improved automation technology. We know that human-level intelligence is theoretically possible by the existence of human brains. And we know that smarter machines would make for huge improvements in automation technology.

          • ReluctantEngineer says:

            By ‘automation technology’ I mean technology which allows more to be accomplished with roughly the same level of human input or less. So for example, gasoline powered tractors allow mankind to produce more wheat per man-hour than if old-fashioned plows and mules were used.

            That’s… really vague. Building rockets is a very specific task, requiring very specific technology. So I suppose I’ll rephrase my question:

            Do you have a reason to believe that the specific sorts of automation technology needed to further automate rocket-building will improve? As a follow-up, do you have a reason to believe this beyond “technology in general seems to be improving”? As a second follow-up, would you be willing to put any sort of estimated time frame on these improvements?

            And we know that smarter machines would make for huge improvements in automation technology.

            I’m not at all sure that we do know this — in my experience, the reason some tasks aren’t automated isn’t that they can’t be automated due to technology limitations, but rather that it is not economical to automate them — the cost of automating the task is high enough that automation actually makes it more expensive, because you aren’t performing the task very often (in the specific case of rockets, there are only a few dozen launches per year).

            I don’t think technological improvements are going to change the economic calculus much unless we get to the point where we have machines that are essentially drop-in replacements for human beings — if we had an army of perfect robotic slaves to do all the work then yes, I suppose building rockets would get cheaper. But I am not bullish on our prospects for getting to that point in the foreseeable future (or ever, actually — I am a very pessimistic engineer).

          • sabril says:

            @reluctant engineer

            “That’s… really vague.”

            I disagree, but let’s do this: Name a couple things of which you are unsure would fall within my definition or not and I will try to categorize them for you. That ought to help clear up any confusion on your part.

            “Building rockets is a very specific task, requiring very specific technology.”

            I’m not sure I agree with this — are you saying that more general technologies have little or no role in enhancing the building of rockets?

            “Do you have a reason to believe that the specific sorts of automation technology needed to further automate rocket-building will improve?”

            Yes.

            ” As a follow-up, do you have a reason to believe this beyond “technology in general seems to be improving”?

            If by “technology in general seems to be improving” you mean that “technology in general is improving,” then yes. However the primary basis for my belief is the general observation.

            By the way, I would prefer it if you would use quote marks for actual quotes. TIA.

            I take it that you dispute that in general technology is improving?

            “As a second follow-up, would you be willing to put any sort of estimated time frame on these improvements?”

            Not really, but I do think that more likely than not by the time the refurbishment approach allows cheap space travel, it will be something of a moot point.

            “I’m not at all sure that we do know this — in my experience, the reason some tasks aren’t automated isn’t that they can’t be automated due to technology limitations, but rather that it is not economical to automate them — the cost of automating the task is high enough that automation actually makes it more expensive, because you aren’t performing the task very often (in the specific case of rockets, there are only a few dozen launches per year).”

            This is another version of the strawman I addressed already with user “bean.” When I talk about improved technology, economic feasibility is assumed.

            “I don’t think technological improvements are going to change the economic calculus much unless we get to the point where we have machines that are essentially drop-in replacements for human beings — if we had an army of perfect robotic slaves to do all the work then yes, I suppose building rockets would get cheaper.”

            Well at that point, rockets would not just be cheaper — they would be arbitrarily inexpensive. Agreed?

          • ReluctantEngineer says:

            I disagree, but let’s do this: Name a couple things of which you are unsure would fall within my definition or not and I will try to categorize them for you. That ought to help clear up any confusion on your part.

            When I said it was vague, I meant that as far as I can tell your definition covers pretty much all technology ever. Could you give a few examples of technology that you don’t consider automation technology? Even things like materials science could be considered automation technology by your definition, since they let you build better tractors than you could before.

            I’m not sure I agree with this — are you saying that more general technologies have little or no role in enhancing the building of rockets?

            I take it that you dispute that in general technology is improving?

            To address both of these, kind of, yes. To be a little more specific, let’s talk software. Software development is really, really expensive and hard to do. It’s also a vital part of any sort of automation.

            It can be made easier and cheaper for specific tasks by building tools, writing libraries, etc, which is why creating a smartphone app is much easier now than it was a few years ago (there are now all sorts of tools that essentially automate a bunch of the basic groundwork). But the tools that make building smartphone applications easier are not going to help you write software that further automates the testing of rocket engine control valves.

            I don’t see anything in the pipeline that I believe would make software development significantly cheaper or easier across the board (and I have seen a few things that promised to change everything fail to make much difference at all), nor do I see any developments that promise to make it easier to automate the testing and validation that make up such a large part of the cost of a rocket. Do you?

          • sabril says:

            “When I said it was vague, I meant that as far as I can tell your definition covers pretty much all technology ever.”

            Ok, I am happy to stipulate this is true for the sake of argument. The next questions are

            (1) It is it reasonable to refer to all technology as “automation technology” or even “data processing technology”?

            (2) Is it useful to think of technology in these terms?

            As for the first question, I think the answer is “yes.” It’s reasonable to think of automation technology as technology which eliminates the need for a human being to do some task. And that the human input in that task normally comes down to data processing.

            Taking a really primitive example, look at the stone tools from millions of years ago. What was involved in creating stone tools? Searching for suitable rocks; banging them together carefully in ways likely to produce a suitable tool; watching the process and using that feedback to make the banging more effective; and remembering and transmitting techniques to other people. It’s reasonable — if a bit odd — to think of this process as automation or data processing.

            The next question is whether it’s useful to think of technology in this way. Again, I think the answer is “yes.” Because now more than ever mankind has physical objects known as “computers” to enhance our ability to process data. And as I argue below, computers are enhancing man’s activities in just about every pursuit imaginable.

            “To address both of these, kind of, yes. To be a little more specific, let’s talk software. Software development is really, really expensive and hard to do. It’s also a vital part of any sort of automation.

            It can be made easier and cheaper for specific tasks by building tools, writing libraries, etc, which is why creating a smartphone app is much easier now than it was a few years ago (there are now all sorts of tools that essentially automate a bunch of the basic groundwork). But the tools that make building smartphone applications easier are not going to help you write software that further automates the testing of rocket engine control valves.”

            Assuming that’s true, it’s also the case that less expensive potato chips won’t be much of a help in enhancing the testing of rocket engine control valves. But your claim is much stronger than that — your position is that no technological advances at all are likely to significantly improve testing of rocket engine control valves. Agreed?

            “I don’t see anything in the pipeline that I believe would make software development significantly cheaper or easier across the board (and I have seen a few things that promised to change everything fail to make much difference at all), nor do I see any developments that promise to make it easier to automate the testing and validation that make up such a large part of the cost of a rocket. Do you?”

            To a small extent, yes. So for example, computers are still getting faster and cheaper. That means it’s getting easier to write software which does more in the same amount of time.

            But the bigger problem with your question is that it’s very difficult to predict important technological advances with specificity. If I were able to do that, I would probably be a millionaire or even a billionaire. But it is possible to predict in general terms that past trends are likely to continue. So yeah, I think it will become much cheaper to develop and build rockets.

            Anyway, please answer my question from before: In the hypothetical future where there is an army of robotic slaves, building rockets could be arbitrarily cheap, right?

            The reason I ask this question is that it seems to me the answer is pretty clearly “yes.” And if the answer is “yes,” then it’s reasonable to think that there is some point between now and then where rockets are not arbitrarily cheap but are good deal less expensive than now. And that this will be a result of general improvements in technology.

          • bean says:

            @sabril
            There are a lot of possible reasons, even assuming that (1) the figures given are accurate; and (2) the two planes really are identical (not much evidence has been offered for either of these two claims). For example, there might be a short-spike in the demand for commercial airplanes. In fact I recall that there was a huge economic boom/bubble during this time period.
            The pricing of commercial aircraft is complex, and I have neither the time nor the interest to dive much more into this. I’m not sure where the numbers came from, or where I could get public numbers for better analysis. However, the boom probably isn’t the cause of what’s going on. The typical time between order and delivery is several years, and in 2001, deliveries began a definite drop.

            Well do you dispute it?
            I dispute that you can state it as fact.

            It absolutely does. Are you claiming that what can be “economically automated” is about the same as it was 20 years ago? Are you claiming that what can be “economically automated” will be about the same in 20 years?
            Show me what’s been automated in the past 20 years.

            Well do you agree that what you get now is significantly more enhanced than a car of 10 years ago?
            For a given price? I absolutely disagree. My current car is a 15-year-old Camry. It’s very similar to a modern Camry as a car. It’s not very similar as a navigation device or a stereo, but that’s entirely a matter of electronics, and has nothing to do with rocket manufacturing.

            Ok, so what?
            You don’t seem to understand airliners very well. I was trying to inform you.

            Does this contradict or undermine my position in any way?
            I find it hard to take you seriously when you are ignorant of your example, and then continue to act as if this ignorance does not undermine your ability to understand what you’re talking about.

            Well do you agree that commercial airplanes are a good deal safer now than in the past?
            Define ‘past’. 50 years ago? Absolutely. 20 years ago? Not very much. Deaths have been pretty much flat during that period, and there are major efforts underway to get the trend line heading down again.

            Is it your position that generally speaking, airplane electronics are not changing much in price and not improving much?
            Yes. That’s not just my position, it’s a fact. The control electronics in the next plane you fly on are probably of a design old enough to get a driver’s license.

            Perhaps, but it demonstrates that the “economical” or “sensible” qualifiers obscure the real issues. If I argue that automation technology will improve in the future thus making manufactured goods cheaper, and someone responds that any economical automation has already been implemented, then they are not responding to my point. They are attacking a strawman.
            No, we’re pointing out that in some areas of automation, there’s not that much room for improvement. When we press you to prove otherwise, you go off on wild tangents. I think I’m done here.

          • sabril says:

            @bean

            “The pricing of commercial aircraft is complex, and I have neither the time nor the interest to dive much more into this.”

            Then you really are not in a position to defend your claim that there is some significance to the (alleged) 5-year increase in the price of a 747 between 1996 and 2001.

            “However, the boom probably isn’t the cause of what’s going on. The typical time between order and delivery is several years, and in 2001, deliveries began a definite drop. ”

            Is the price set at the time of order? Also, are you saying that there was a drop in orders for 747s around 1998?

            Anyway, I would like evidence for these claims you are making: (1) that the 1996 747 was identical to that of 2001; (2) that the price nevertheless increased 2 million dollars per year; (3) the lag time between order and delivery is several years; (4) that there was a drop in deliveries in 2001, presumably indicating that there had been a drop in orders several years earlier.

            “I dispute that you can state it as fact.”

            Well let me ask you this: Do you agree that generally speaking the quality and quantity of goods which can be produced per man-hour of work has increased over time?

            “Show me what’s been automated in the past 20 years. ”

            Obviously I cannot give you an exhaustive list, but I am happy to give you an example from my own line of work (I am an attorney.)

            Twenty years ago, if I wanted to number-stamp a document production I (or more likely a paralegal) would have to sit there with a stamping machine to put a unique number on each page. Sometimes you would order pre-printed stickers. But either way, it was very time-consuming and tedious. Nowadays, you can just click a button on your computer and in a few seconds a unique number is inserted on each page of the document production. I haven’t used my stamping machine in years and in fact I have no idea where it is.

            Anyway, I am not sure why you asked that question, but I would like answers to my questions: Are you claiming that what can be “economically automated” is about the same as it was 20 years ago? Are you claiming that what can be “economically automated” will be about the same in 20 years?

            It’s two very simple yes or no questions.

            ” My current car is a 15-year-old Camry. It’s very similar to a modern Camry as a car. ”

            Just comparing the published specifications of the current Camry versus the 2000 Camry, I would very much disagree.

            The current Camry is standard with anti-lock brakes; driveline traction control; electronic stability control; a 6-speed automatic transmission; a run-down protected battery; side impact airbags; curtain overhead airbags; a panic alarm; power-adjustable driver seat; remote keyless entry; cruise control; wireless phone connectivity; and probably other stuff that I am missing.

            As far as I can tell, the 2000 Camry was standard with none of these features. Do you agree?

            “You don’t seem to understand airliners very well. I was trying to inform you.”

            Well thanks for your concern, but actually I already knew that some of the improvements to airplanes have been to make the airplane cheaper and easier to operate. Does this contradict or undermine any point I have made?

            “I find it hard to take you seriously when you are ignorant of your example, and then continue to act as if this ignorance does not undermine your ability to understand what you’re talking about.”

            Lol, I guess that means “no.” Anyway, it doesn’t matter whether you take me seriously since I am not claiming to be an expert on airplanes. If I were claiming to be an airplane expert and asking that you accept my authority, then yeah, your nitpicking might be relevant. But since I am not, there’s really no need for you to nitpick.

            “Define ‘past’.”

            Let’s go with “before 1991” since that’s when the 747 apparently went to the automated cockpit according to the article I linked to. Also, according to the article, other airplane manufacturers were making similar changes at around the same time. Do you agree that commercial airliners are a good deal safer now than they were before 1991?

            “Yes. That’s not just my position, it’s a fact. ”

            Would you mind providing evidence for this fact? Everywhere I look I see improving electronics and I am very skeptical that airplanes are an exception.

            “No, we’re pointing out that in some areas of automation, there’s not that much room for improvement”

            In that case, there would be no need to throw in the sneaky qualifier of “economical.”

            “When we press you to prove otherwise, you go off on wild tangents.”

            Can you quote an exchange where I did so? Because I suspect you are just making stuff up.

            ” I think I’m done here.”

            Suit yourself, but I really would like answers to my questions. Also, given your ridiculous claim about your 2000 Toyota Camry, I am very skeptical of all the other things you have been claiming. I suspect you are just making stuff up and obfuscating to defend an untenable position.

          • bean says:

            sabril, some of your comments were strange enough to get me to come back for one last pass on this.
            Obviously I cannot give you an exhaustive list, but I am happy to give you an example from my own line of work (I am an attorney.)
            I should have figured that out on my own. It explains your unusual style of argument.

            Twenty years ago, if I wanted to number-stamp a document production I (or more likely a paralegal) would have to sit there with a stamping machine to put a unique number on each page. Sometimes you would order pre-printed stickers. But either way, it was very time-consuming and tedious. Nowadays, you can just click a button on your computer and in a few seconds a unique number is inserted on each page of the document production. I haven’t used my stamping machine in years and in fact I have no idea where it is.
            Uhhhhhhhhhhhh………….
            We’re talking about rockets. Big things made of metal and composites. And the best you can do is throw out something about word processors when I ask for an example of automation in the past 20 years? Note that nobody has denied improvements in computers. This is very different from mechanical manufacturing.

            Let’s go with “before 1991” since that’s when the 747 apparently went to the automated cockpit according to the article I linked to. Also, according to the article, other airplane manufacturers were making similar changes at around the same time. Do you agree that commercial airliners are a good deal safer now than they were before 1991?
            Well, the data says that we’re seeing maybe 50% fewer crashes. Is that ‘a lot’? And why the decrease? I’m less sure of that. But it’s not fly-by-wire. And there are lots of planes of the before-91 vintage still flying. Not many 747s, but 737CLs, 767s and 757s.

            Suit yourself, but I really would like answers to my questions.
            And if I could trust that you would actually listen, I’d provide them.

            Also, given your ridiculous claim about your 2000 Toyota Camry,
            It’s not a base model, so it has some of those things. The rest are covered under ‘electronics’, which I’ve repeatedly acknowledged are improving, but are not relevant to your original claim that improved manufacturing technology will reduce the cost of rockets.

            I am very skeptical of all the other things you have been claiming.
            That’s your right. Also not my problem. It’s not worth my time to convince you.

          • sabril says:

            @bean

            “sabril, some of your comments were strange enough to get me to come back for one last pass on this.”

            I’d would like to say that what’s really strange is that your “last pass” would be a return to hurl (an apparent) ad homenim; attack a strawman; and dodge reasonable questions. But unfortunately it’s not strange at all given that your position is not standing up to scrutiny.

            “I should have figured that out on my own. It explains your unusual style of argument.”

            How exactly is my style of argument unusual?

            “Uhhhhhhhhhhhh…………. We’re talking about rockets. ”

            Uhhh . . . . don’t shift the goalposts.

            Here was your challenge:

            “Show me what’s been automated in the past 20 years. ”

            Your challenge was in no way limited to rockets, cars, or anything else. Of course I easily met that challenge and now you want to shift the goalposts.

            Anyway, you continue to ignore the two simple, reasonable questions I asked:

            Are you claiming that what can be “economically automated” is about the same as it was 20 years ago?

            Are you claiming that what can be “economically automated” will be about the same in 20 years?

            Why won’t you answer these two simple questions?

            ” And the best you can do is throw out something about word processors when I ask for an example of automation in the past 20 years? Note that nobody has denied improvements in computers. This is very different from mechanical manufacturing.”

            You chose your goal posts, not me. Anyway, please stop ignoring my questions. I will repeat them:

            Are you claiming that what can be “economically automated” is about the same as it was 20 years ago?

            Are you claiming that what can be “economically automated” will be about the same in 20 years?

            By the way, here is an excerpt from a Wikipedia article concerning SpaceX;

            “The 3D printing process for the SuperDraco engine dramatically reduces lead-time compared to the traditional cast parts, and ‘has superior strength, ductility, and fracture resistance, with a lower variability in materials properties.’

            According to Elon Musk, cost reduction through 3D printing is also significant, in particular because SpaceX can print an hourglass chamber where the entire wall consists of interval cooling channels, which would be impossible without additive manufacturing.'”

            “Well, the data says that we’re seeing maybe 50% fewer crashes. Is that ‘a lot’? ”

            I would say absolutely yes, that’s a dramatic safety improvement. Anyway, I found a reasonably credible source which says that improvements in cockpit automation have led to a dramatic increase in airplane safety. Why should I disregard this in favor of an anonymous person on the internet who insists that a modern Toyota Camry is not “significantly enhanced” compared to a 2000 Toyota Camry?

            ” And there are lots of planes of the before-91 vintage still flying. Not many 747s, but 737CLs, 767s and 757s.”

            So what? There are also a lot of 25-year old passenger sedans on the road but nobody (except for you perhaps) would try to claim that they are equivalent in safety to modern passenger sedans of the similar size.

            “And if I could trust that you would actually listen, I’d provide them.”

            Can you show me an example of a question I asked you; a clear answer you provided; and me not paying attention? I doubt it. Sounds to me like you are inventing excuses just like you seem to invent facts support your position.

            “It’s not a base model, so it has some of those things. The rest are covered under ‘electronics’, which I’ve repeatedly acknowledged are improving, ”

            Which of the things I listed does your 2000 Camry have?

            Anyway, if your 2000 Camry is not a base model, then it’s not reasonable to compare it to a base model 2016 Camry. It should be compared to a higher line model. Agreed?

            “but are not relevant to your original claim that improved manufacturing technology will reduce the cost of rockets.”

            Of course it’s relevant. Let me ask you this.

            1. Do you believe the Wikipedia article which says that 3D printing greatly improved the rate of production; strength; and fracture resistance of rocket engine components?

            2. Do you agree that 3D printing entails modern computer technology?

            “That’s your right. Also not my problem. It’s not worth my time to convince you.”

            I suspect it would be pretty easy to convince me if your claims had a basis in reality and were not just stuff you invented.

            Anyway, I really would appreciate answers to my questions from before:

            Do you agree that generally speaking the quality and quantity of goods which can be produced per man-hour of work has increased over time?

            Extremely simple yes or no question.

            Does the fact that many of the improvements in airplanes have made them cheaper and easier to operate contradict or undermine any point I have made?

            Extremely simple yes or no question.

            Can you quote an example of my being asked to prove a claim I had made and then I went off on a “wild tangent”

            Should be pretty easy if it actually happened and you are not just making stuff up.

        • Emblem14 says:

          I just had to jump in here, out of principle.

          Sabril,

          John, Bean and ReluctantEngineer all gamely engaged with your initial set of questions, with a great deal of relevant background knowledge and experience in contrast to your admitted ignorance of their field. And you made 2 out of 3 of them rage-quit their conversations with you out of sheer exasperation with your inscrutable linguistic pedantry and inability to comprehend their rebuttals to your general assertions.

          Not to mention stooping to accusations of incompetence and willful deceit/obfuscation…only to insist that they continue to be obliged to answer your increasingly quibbling, hair-splitting, nit-picking hypotheticals that veered further and further into vagaries and irrelevance to the subject at hand.

          I sincerely hope you use this power of yours for good.

  49. Laurent Bossavit says:

    Any reason not to link to the original source (http://oberlinreview.org/9055/news/cds-appropriates-asian-dishes-students-say/) for the Oberlin food story? There at least, readers can check out the specific complaints, and hear a dissenting opinion from part of the student body.

    • Thecommexokid says:

      And the follow-up article a month later, reporting on the subsequent meeting between student representatives and Campus Dining Services, which sounds as though it was civil and productive and everyone walked away happier.

      Which presumably would have been the end of the story if not for the bizarre sneering national coverage.

    • Eric says:

      One of the specific complaints is about inauthentic General Tso’s chicken, a dish invented in America by a Chinese chef (exactly who invented it seems to be in dispute). I’m never quite sure I understand what cultural appropriation is supposed to be, but it seems like that shouldn’t qualify.

    • Agronomous says:

      @Laurent:

      a) Good to see you’re still hanging around here.

      b) When did you switch from using your handle to using your real name?

      c) Original links are good, but student journalism is no better (in particular no less biased) than adult journalism.

      @Everybody:
      d) Which culture came up with the concept of “cultural appropriation”? What gives other cultures the right to use it? (Gödelian ethics FTW.)

  50. Dain says:

    I have a little write-up/interview with Beeminder from August, if y’all want to take a gander:

    http://www.moneysedge.com/newsimage?id=269

  51. Thecommexokid says:

    Re: Oberlin dining halls.

    1. The general tone of the online press coverage seems to me to epitomize “sneer culture” to a tee, so as a person who reportedly doesn’t care for that, Scott, I’m surprised to see you joining the fray.

    2. Let’s try to tell the story again without as much rage-inducing phrasing. College students complained about the subpar food in their dining halls, with specific suggestions for how it could be improved. As a result, there was a meeting between student representatives and the Campus Dining Services, which was conducted civilly and led to a number of actionable suggestions that CDS is reportedly taking seriously. Which part of this student–administration interaction sounds like it deserves to be a nationally trending story?

    3. Ignoring the clickbaity “cultural appropriation” headline and looking at the substance, some of the complaints are actually fairly legitimate. Prime example: The dining hall served tandoori specifically in honor of Diwali, a Hindu holiday, except they made it with beef, which many Hindi people do not eat for religious reasons. I can see why a Hindi student might find that upsetting.

    4. All this national attention on students attempting to push for positive change serves to discourage students learning to push for positive change. “At their best, colleges should provide the chance for students to experiment with activism. Pushing for change from an institution of any type or size—be it a city government, a college administration, or a police force—is a complicated and risky endeavor. Better to build skills and try out tactics and messages when the stakes are as low as some bad sushi than to enter the post-college world never having organized around anything. A key part of such an environment is the ability for students to experiment, make mistakes, and pick trivial targets to practice on without the fear of national reprobation. … If I thought the national news media would be watching my every move—that my little campaign, my first foray into collective action, would be picked apart by the very publications for which I wanted to work someday and then blasted to everyone I know on social media, I might [be more hesitant] to rock the boat.” –Alice Ollstein for the Atlantic

    • Randy M says:

      All this national attention on students attempting to push for positive change serves to discourage students learning to push for positive change.

      If someone doesn’t find the changes positive, that might not be a bad thing.

    • suntzuanime says:

      At their best colleges should provide the chance to learn marksmanship, but that doesn’t mean we should applaud school shooters. Learning to pick your targets is more important than learning how to apply randomly-directed force.

    • stillnotking says:

      The “clickbaity cultural appropriation” stuff is the problem, since many people believe “cultural appropriation” is an illegitimate and insincerely-motivated complaint. Imagine a group of conservative students had demanded the cafeteria rename its French fries to “freedom fries”, and you may get a sense of why non-leftists find this sort of thing troubling, or at least irritating.

      Also, as far as “trying out tactics and messages” goes, isn’t national press coverage a necessity?

    • Sastan says:

      Teaching rich white kids to bitch about cafeteria food being racist is “positive change”?

      Well, I’ll just be over here enjoying some negativity then.

      And if these privileged nimrods would like to get their protester bona fides in order, they can swing round my house any time and I’ll hit them with a rubber hose for free!

    • Jaskologist says:

      “experimenting with activism”
      “picking trivial targets to practice on”

      Imposing your will is a skill like any other, and if you want maintain excellence you have to practice constantly. So why not practice on “trivial targets” like cafeteria workers? Once you’ve learned to make them submit to you, you can move on to more important people.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Maybe they should have some middle-school kids visit so the freshmen can pick on them as practice?

        . . . No, on second thought, the middle-school kids would taunt them back, unlike the cafeteria workers who have to work for a living.

        • Deiseach says:

          That’s the fun part with working in service industries, particularly anything associated with retail: you have to take the abuse because as far as your employer is concerned, you are an expense (they have to give you money) and the customer is profit (they give the employer money). Hence “the customer is always right”, even if they’re yelling abuse at the staff.

          So you can have people reporting you to the manager because you didn’t have a chat with them while you were working the till* and you can’t tell them to cop on, there is a queue of people behind them waiting to be served and you are not there to provide conversation at their convenience, you just have to say “yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir”.

          *Anecdote from an early job. Yet one more reason I want as little to do with face-to-face meeting the public in work as I can get away with.

        • Agronomous says:

          Exactly how detached from reality do you have to be to antagonize the people who are making the stuff you’re about to eat?

    • Deiseach says:

      Better to build skills and try out tactics and messages when the stakes are as low as some bad sushi than to enter the post-college world never having organized around anything.

      Yowling at the kitchen workers isn’t the way to do it, though. Catering for institutions and big companies is usually outsourced to a contract company (think something like Sodexo) and head office has calculated that soggy sandwiches and bland curries are the cheapest meals to provide, so you need to write or email them about providing properly sourced and cooked food, not the on-site staff who have no choice about ingredients, recipes or portion sizes.

      Learning how to organise ineffectual protests isn’t going to do any good for change in the world once the students leave college.

      • Thecommexokid says:

        Yowling at the kitchen workers isn’t the way to do it, though. Catering for institutions and big companies is usually outsourced to a contract company (think something like Sodexo) and head office has calculated that soggy sandwiches and bland curries are the cheapest meals to provide, so you need to write or email them about providing properly sourced and cooked food, not the on-site staff who have no choice about ingredients, recipes or portion sizes.

        Agreed. But where do you (and many others in these comments) get the impression that the students were “yowling at kitchen workers”? My understanding is that the students did exactly what you just said they should do: Student representatives had a meeting with the director of Oberlin’s Campus Dining Services and a representative from the contract company to discuss specific complaints and propose means for improvement (which were mostly along the lines of “continue to make your sucky soggy sandwiches, just don’t put the phrase ‘bahn mi’ on the sign”). The administrators at the meeting reportedly took the suggestions seriously and plan to implement some changes as a result. To my ear, this doesn’t actually sound like an “ineffectual protest.” [Source for claims in this paragraph is the Oberlin Review article “CDS and students discuss cultural appropriation”]

        Also worth noting is that the particular “contract company (think something like Sodexo)” that services Oberlin College is Bon Appétit Management Company, which the Princeton Review has named the “No. 1 College Food Service in the Country” for several years running. The homepage of their website reads:

        Widely recognized as a pioneer in environmentally sound sourcing policies, we are proud to be the first food service company to:
        • Directly support small, local farms
        • Strive to serve only sustainable seafood
        • Address antibiotics overuse in our meat supply
        • Switch to cage-free shell eggs
        • Tackle food’s role in climate change
        • Advocate for farmworkers’ rights
        • Commit to pork raised without gestation crates
        • Switch to third-party verified humanely raised ground beef

        This is clearly a company that is (a) recognized for its superior food quality and (b) is publicly committed to a variety of leftist ideals as part of its core mission. So why not call them out when they appear to be failing to meet both of those tenets?

        • suntzuanime says:

          Because the “leftist ideal” they’re supposedly failing to meet is ridiculous. Like everyone has been saying, yelling at the cafeteria for their shitty food is fine. What’s not fine is inventing a bullshit leftist norm violation because you think it will give your complaints teeth.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            What the label ‘bahn mi’ on a bad, inauthentic product does do — is hurt the real ethnic proprietor down the street who is trying to sell the real thing. People try the cafeteria ‘bahn mi’ and never order anything else with that name. That’s a big harm to the proprietor, while the cafeteria would take no harm by dropping the name.

            That’s actually what happens in some cases that are called ‘cultural appropriation’. Outsiders steal the name and misuse it, thereby harming the people who invented the thing and are trying to continue their authentic version.

            (Hm, perhaps the ‘destruction of marriage’ Rightwingers will try complaining of cultural appropriation.)

          • onyomi says:

            On the one hand, I totally agree with Suntzuanime, but on the other, I think Houseboat has something of a point, though I doubt the effect on local businesses would actually be that significant. Maybe part of the problem is that there aren’t many effective ways for groups like students to express displeasure with how things are run, but they’ve recently realized that if you couch your complaints in racial/ethnic terms, suddenly everyone stands to attention.

            Like, believe me, I hate bad cafeteria ethnic food: at my university we had a similar problem: they did American standards just fine; they simply couldn’t do anything slightly outside the usual playbook. Their “New Orleans-style red beans and rice” didn’t even resemble red beans and rice. Their pad thai night was a flavorless mess. I love ethnic food, but I would dread when they would make it. Mostly because it didn’t taste good, but also because it did, indeed, make me sad to think that maybe people thought “oh, this is what red beans and rice is.”

            But “your ethnic food really sucks and makes me kind of sad” isn’t a complaint that will go anywhere.

            I assume this is just an endemic problem and may explain a lot of the needless and harmful deployments of magisterium rhetoric throughout history. I can’t think of any obvious solution other than to say that thinking about how to make institutions more responsive to the people within them so that they don’t have to resort to inflammatory rhetoric to be heard is probably a good idea, within reason. Then again, if you create superweapons like what racism has now become, you also probably have to expect they’ll be abused.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi/@houseboat:
            One of the things that strike me here is that binary “is/is not” language does a poor job of conveying analog data. This is a problem that is endemic to language in general, but especially any language that is couched in deontology.

            From the opposite side of the spectrum, think about the phrase “idea gets counter argument, not bullet” phrase. Clearly the idea of what is a bullet gets stretched further and further, but what it is mostly being conveyed is some registering of a small signal on an analog measure, not an actual bullet.

          • @houseboatonstyx

            The very best example I know of for the sort of “cultural appropriation damaging the reputation of the real thing” you describe is the Philadelphia Cheese Steak. All over American there are restaurants serving what they call Philadelphia Cheese Steaks, made by people who have never tasted a real one and have deduced the recipe from the name. Who knows how many people have failed to take the opportunity, when in Philadelphia, to try the star of its cuisine because they imagine that they know what it is?

            So far as the Bahn Mi case, if the real thing exists in Oberlin students are unlikely to be fooled, especially since they have evidence of how reliable the cafeteria is from other foods.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ David Friedman

            Real Philly cheese steaks are already well known and there are plenty of real Philadelphians with plenty of money and command of English to defend them.

            Bahn mi (presumably real) has a lot of attention on Google, and a student cafeteria probably wouldn’t bother using a label unless it was already a pretty popular label, so another example might be better.

            But where actual physical/financial consequences are involved, there might be some point to the SJW statement that it matters which side is appropriating from which. Not the frequently heard “Your ancestors/race colonized our ancestors/race hundreds of years ago waaah”. But a side with enough power to defend their trademark, er, product is less likely to be harmed than a side with less money for defense, and an obscure product.

          • Jiro says:

            Is that sarcastic or real? That is, is there really something about Philadelphia cheese steaks that many vendors outside Philadelphia get wrong, that substantially changes what the cheesesteak is like? It sounds like something you’d say to be funny, but it’s also true that some parts of the country really are bad at making foods that come from other parts of the country and sound like they should be simple. It’s certainly possible to make bad New York style pizza or bagels, for instance.

            If so, what is it? How can you tell if a Philadelphia cheese steak is a real one?

          • brad says:

            In NYC, which is less than 100 miles away, I often see cheesesteaks that are all wrong. Sometimes they use big roast beef style slices instead of thin fried meat. I’ve seen all kinds of cheeses — mozzarella is pretty common. Usually they at least use a hogie but not one that tastes quite like they use in Philly. Non-traditional toppings can also be an issue, albeit one that customer has more control over.

            I’m not sure about the part of the argument that says it hurts the legit cheesesteak places in Philly though.

          • John Schilling says:

            In California I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything advertised as a “Philly Cheesesteak” that wasn’t thin-cut beef and some sort of cheese, usually provolone or cheddar or maybe mozzarella, on a Hoagie-ish bun, usually grilled onions, maybe mushrooms and bell peppers, lettuce tomato and mayonnaise usually optional on request. Often this is recognizably a second-rate Philly on account of somebody wanting to economize on the ingredients, but still a clear attempt to create as close to what I see as a proper Philadelphia Cheesesteak as possible given the budget.

            If there’s something essential to a True Philadelphia Cheesesteak(tm) that isn’t covered by this, I’d like to know about it. I don’t get to Philadelphia very often myself.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I’ve made Chinese Hot Pot/Shabu Shabu using frozen Philly cheese-steak meat from Walmart. I dread to learn what kind of appropriation that was.

  52. Jacobian says:

    Skulls for the skull throne actually look exactly as cool as you’d expect.

  53. The original Mr. X says:

    That Latin article is all wrong. “Civitas” is used of a city-state; the US states are all too big to count. “United States of America” would to be “Reipublicae Foederatae Americae”.

    • Anonymous says:

      Correct it? It is Wikipedia, after all.

      • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

        I am pretty sure it is insanely hard to retitle an article without pissing everyone off. Consensus and all that. Just look at what happened with the argument about what the title of Star Trek Into Darkness should be….

    • vV_Vv says:

      In the department of self-reference…

      According to the English Wikipedia, civitas and res publica are synonymous.

  54. Sergey Kishchenko says:

    I assume that link to Karlin’s article was a test, right? It was written in March 2008 and in 2015 it’s as far from valid as ever. Specifically, for the points mentioned:

    #8 Russia’s level of income inequality and of corruption is average by world standards. Under Putin, they have registered a slight deterioration and slight improvement, respectively.
    Quote from https://publications.credit-suisse.com/tasks/render/file/?fileID=60931FDE-A2D2-F568-B041B58C5EA591A4
    “According to our calculations, the top decile of wealth holders owns 85% of all household wealth in Russia. This is significantly higher than any other major economic power: the corresponding figure is 75% for the USA, for example, and 64% for China. The very high level of wealth inequality in Russia is reflected in the fact that it has 158,000 millionaires and 200,000 individuals in the global top 1% of wealth holders. It is also well endowed with billionaires, of whom there are an estimated 111 who together own 19% of all household wealth.”

    Unfortunately, there is no recent data from http://www.oecd.org/social/income-distribution-database.htm so it’s hard to plot P90/P10 for instance, but in case of Russia you actually need something like P99/P1 anyways to understand the income curve. To be honest to Karlin, the P90/P10 actually fell from 2008 to 2010 according to OECD data.

    #4 The extractive industries contribute a negligible amount to Russia’s real GDP growth. Today’s excellent macroeconomic situation combined with its impressive human capital stand Russia in good stead for convergence to First World living standards by 2020-30

    Data from http://wdi.worldbank.org/table/3.15 : “Total natural resources rents = 18.8% GDP (2013)”
    Data from https://www.eia.gov/beta/international/analysis.cfm?iso=RUS: “Russia is a major producer and exporter of oil and natural gas, and its economy largely depends on energy exports. Russia’s economic growth is driven by energy exports, given its high oil and natural gas production. Oil and natural gas revenues accounted for 50% of Russia’s federal budget revenues and 68% of total exports in 2013.”

    #3 In the last eight years, poverty rates have more than halved and wages have risen by a factor of 2.6, fuelling an on-going consumption boom. The birth rate has increased, the death rate has fallen and mortality from murder, suicide and alcohol poisoning has plummeted. Projections of Russia’s future dependency ratios are no worse than for China or the G7

    The first part is true, Russia growth rate in 2000-2008 was amazing. But you should check out the bigger picture. I’ve uploaded three images here: http://imgur.com/a/kvXgC. One is 2000-2008 GDP growth, second is 2000-2015 GDP growth and third is oil prices 2000-now. Projections don’t look good from here but they were great in 2008.

    • E. Harding says:

      1. Wealth is not income. Cf., Ukraine, where the difference between the wealth gap and the income gap is even more extreme.

      2. He was looking at actual number of barrels of oil produced, and pointing out that the rest of the economy was growing faster than that.

      3. Russia will recover from this oil shock. Trend growth is probably ~2% per year, maybe more given intense reforms.

  55. TheNybbler says:

    I look at that rendering of the new Colossus, and the only thing that comes to mind is Ozymandias. (no, not that ozy, Shelley’s of course. Sorry Ms. Lazarus).

  56. Elizabeth C says:

    I didn’t understand why Greece was building the Colossus; flight has already been discovered, so the special commerce bonus on each square of the city won’t kick in. But then I remembered that Greece had built many wonders early in the game and thus must have accumulated a large number of culture points. They’re too far behind for a space race or conquest victory, but they still might win the culture game.

    • Randy M says:

      What difficulty are they playing at? It’s hard to win a culture victory when one is surrounded by civs with stronger armies and has income in the negatives. Do they even have any units left to disband, or are they relying on their alliances for defense?

      • John Schilling says:

        Greece has one of the most powerful armies in Europe – among other things, it has almost exactly half of the main battle tanks in the entire Eurozone. The only neighboring “civilization” with a bigger army is the Ottoman Empire, which if it were allowed to join would take the “half the tanks in the Eurozone” title, but which has more pressing concerns for now (are we counting ISIS and the Kurds as rival civs or just out-of-control barbarian uprisings?). And the Greeks get to defend along a few mountain tiles.

        Most of Europe has a vestigial concern with Russian invasions and a notion of being international do-gooders that allows for modest levels of military force, and most of Europe can count on a very powerful alliance to help with those purposes.

        Turkey shares the Russian Invasion problem, amped up a bit because of their inconvenient location, and they also want to retain the option of conquering inconvenient neighbors like Greece. For the latter purposes they can’t count on allies.

        Greece has the Russian Invasion problem, and they have to worry about Turkish invasions as well, and now they have to worry about silly fantasies where Germany invades to repossess the country, and they can’t really count on their allies for the latter two problems because the invaders would be part of the same alliance. So, yeah, they punch above their weight class in military terms.

        And yeah, the expense of all this is small but non-trivial contributor to their current financial difficulties. It doesn’t seem likely to end any time soon.

    • Kyle M says:

      Economic victory looking tough as well.

  57. Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

    I thought this was interesting. Thoughts?

    When coding style survives compilation: de-anonymizing programmers from executable binaries

    De-anonymizing programmers has direct implications for
    privacy and security. Being able to attribute authorship to
    anonymous executable binary samples has applications in
    software forensics. Executable binary authorship attribution
    is an immediate concern for programmers that would like
    to remain anonymous. In this work, we de-anonymize 100
    programmers from their executable binary samples with 78%
    accuracy. This is a significant advance over previous work
    and shows that coding style is preserved in compilation,
    contrary to the belief that compilation wipes away stylistic
    properties. We show that surprisingly, programmer style is
    embedded in executable binaries at a great degree, even when
    the executable binary has been generated with aggressive
    compiler optimizations or when the symbols of the executable
    binary samples have been stripped. These findings suggest that
    while compilation, optimizations, and stripping symbols do
    reduce the accuracy of stylistic analysis, they are not effective
    in anonymizing coding style. We are able to identify GitHub
    authors from their executable binary samples in the wild, even
    though GitHub authors’ executable binary samples are noisy
    and products of collaborative efforts. We have shown that
    attribution is sometimes possible with only small amounts
    of training binaries, however, having more binaries to train
    on helps significantly and that advanced programmers (as
    measured by progression in the Google Code Jam contest)
    can be attributed more easily than their less skilled peers.

  58. onyomi says:

    I have definitely had that experience of a combination of misunderstanding and/or dream logic inadvertently producing something that seems like a good idea, or, at least, like it has artistic potential. I also have to admit to being fascinated by stories of creations which spring from fevered dreams, momentary visions, etc. like Kubla Khan, though I am also usually skeptical about such stories. But the story itself might be viewed as a part of the artwork. I will probably check out Christmas on Mars.

  59. BBA says:

    Another Commonwealth oddity is that Commonwealth realms send each other “High Commissioners” instead of ambassadors, because ambassadors technically represent the Queen and it’d be nonsensical for her to appoint ambassadors to herself.

    The British High Commissioner to New Zealand is also appointed as the colonial governor of the Pitcairn Islands. This is a rare case of an ambassador (or equivalent) having de jure political power – although there are probably more people working at the high commission than residents of Pitcairn, so it’s not worth that much.

  60. Aris Katsaris says:

    That article about Russia is vastly outdated since it was posted in 2008, before Russia’s invasion of Georgia and Ukraine, and uses opinion polls from 2007.

    As such pretty much any stat it uses is meaningless whether it’s about economy, number of murdered journalists, opinion polls, number of invaded countries, etc. What are you doing posting something from 2008 as if it’s current?

    • E. Harding says:

      Number of invaded countries: up.

      Number of murdered journalists: number up (obviously), but rate significantly down.

      Economy: roughly sideways.

      Opinion polls: Russia less popular in Ukraine, Putin more popular in Russia.

  61. suntzuanime says:

    I would swear at some point in the past you posted something appropriately nasty about the “MYTH: exaggerated strawman; REALITY: outright lie” propaganda style. I’m surprised you would link to such an egregious example of it.

  62. Held in Escrow says:

    Also, did I miss a comment on why this is 12/15 instead of 12/29?

  63. Daniel Armak says:

    > Past versions of Notepad had a weird bug that would manifest only for text files with a few very specific phrases, including “Bush hid the facts”.

    That’s not what the linked article says. There are infinitely many strings that trigger the bug, it’s easy to come up with new ones, and people use “Bush hid the facts” because it makes for better headlines than “aaaa aaa aaa aaaaa”. Also, the bug wasn’t in Notepad but in a system routine affecting many programs.

    • suntzuanime says:

      A few can be infinite if it’s a very sparse infinity

      • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

        More importantly, we are particularly interested in the subset of all possible triggering strings that also happen to be valid natural language phrase using only ASCII (or whatever) codepoints. I don’t feel like thinking about it very hard, but I suspect that puts a finite bound on it.

  64. nimim. k.m. says:

    Ezra Klein calling Star Wars / comic genre style rehash as “innovation” sounds bollocks. Telling the same story again — or at least, a story similar enough so it’s recognizable (“Yes, more of the same stuff you liked!”), except differently, isn’t exactly a new idea. Using the next generation – sometimes even children of the original heroes – for the retelling is one of the oldest ways in the book of doing it. Wasn’t that what the basic gist of the TNG reboot? All of the Zorro! Most of the Disney direct-to-video sequels! Tom Swift Jr Jr umptheenth-Jrs! Alexandre Dumas did it already with all the sequel series to The Three Musketeers! The Further adventures of the Son of a Best-Selling Hero Character is one of deadest tropes in serial literature, for a good reason!

    And of course, it may be innovation as far as money-making goes, but as a science fiction nerd, it saddens me. TNG is well-regarded because it also did new things, and did them well. This time, Abrams rehashs the old beats with a plot that isn’t very good. In ANH, the plans for the first Death Star are the focal point of the whole movie! With the second Death Star, at least many Bonthans died!

    Spoiler.

    This time we have 30 seconds of fast dialogue. Even bigger thing that destroys multiple planets and still explodes in the end, except neither of which have any narrative weight, because the bigger thing feels like it was introduced as an afterthought. The opening crawl talks about search for Luke Skywalker — which is dropped because of the Starkiller Base must be destroyed! Instead the search is solved with 30 seconds of camera swiveling around Luke in the end!

    No, this is not the imaginative innovation you’re looking for. It’s a bad excuse for a bad narrative.

    • Deiseach says:

      Well, once again, it’s J.J. Abrams. He likes big explosions in space, he doesn’t like stories.

      Honestly, I can’t believe the difference between his work in television and what he did with Trek and now, apparently, Star Wars. It really must be the difference down to him being in sole (or nearly sole) charge on the movies.

  65. Julie K says:

    > why would poor women in broken families have earlier menarche than others?

    Poor people in first-world countries are more likely than rich people to be overweight, and a high level of body fat is linked to earlier menarche?

  66. The article about Christmas celebrated by enemies on the front line of war is based on some hugely exaggerated and romanticized incidents that took place in 1914, during the first Christmas of World War I.

    A helpful, well-documented, skeptical account (saccharine antidote) is posted in the Badhistory subreddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/badhistory/comments/3y33r8/the_christmas_truce_of_world_war_i_an_exercise_in/

  67. Calo Cola says:

    “Neat riddle spotted in one of Scott Aaronson’s students’ papers: Suppose you have a biased coin but you don’t know what the bias is and don’t want to rely on potentially-faulty induction to find out. How do you use it to simulate a fair coin?”

    I keep seeing the simple solution being attributed to Neumann, but I have an incredibly hard time not believing this trick was popular in some gambling parlor shops in the 1800’s. At least amongst the eduated crowd.

    Its so simple it could be placed on any normal college statistics textbook, with a good amount of the students getting the problem correct.

    So why did Neumann get the credit? Was he really the first in the literature? He deserves his praise as one of the top creators of the last century, but there’s no need to give *everything* to the man.

  68. JuanPeron says:

    An interesting moment – I’m going to cite one of your links in opposition to another of your links.

    The 10 Russian Myths thing is certainly worth a read, but the ‘inequality’ statistic is lame. Your link on the shrinking US middle class addresses this – adding wealth worsens inequality, but doesn’t necessarily make the country worse in any way.

    The US has a stronger middle class and more very wealthy people (Russia has fewer minor rich people with a narrower tail of powerful oligarchs). The Russian per capita GDP is about 20% of the US per capita GDP. That means that Russian poverty does less harm to GINI than US poverty, but I’d much rather have a randomly chosen US income than a random Russian one.

    Given all that, it feels like #3 reads “Our economy sucks, but at least lots of people have an equal lack of money!”

  69. Anonymous says:

    That dream-movie thing… I had a fever the first time I watched Titan AE, and a great disappointment the second time I watched it. The fever dream version of Titan AE started and ended in the same way, but the middle of the movie was torn out and rewoven with awesome.

  70. DensityDuck says:

    That Jacobin article is pretty stupid.

    “Capitalism doesn’t work! Bill Gates said so!” Welp. A capitalist would suggest that the reason we aren’t just building nuclear power plants everywhere is obstructionism caused by OMGATOMZ idiots who think that Chernobyl and Fukishima are representative. The reason that nuclear power is more expensive than anything else is that we’ve decided it ought to be. The only reason anyone builds solar or wind plants is that we have, through subsidies and tax breaks, made them cheaper than anything else.

    “The greenhouse gas emissions from most first and second-generation biofuels have turned out to be worse than fossil fuels once a full life-cycle analysis is performed.” Uhhhh and it wasn’t the market that asked for those in the first place, it was the government saying “you will use these now, here are some tax breaks and subsidies to make it cheap enough that you don’t go out of business”. Blaming the market for biofuel mandates is stupid.

  71. Prs says:

    The Colossus thing might actually make sense in terms of attracting tourism, which afaik is one of the only economical activities that can offer a reasonable life project to people in the area, doesn’t really seem like it will necessarily be a waste.

  72. akarlin says:

    I’m the author of the Russophobe myths piece that S.A. linked to.

    To start off, please note that this is dated to March 2008 – that is, (a) precisely 2 months after I began blogging, and when I was 20 years old and considerably less knowledgeable on various matters than I am now; and (2) in large part a response to a certain Russophobe ideologue who at that time was was a very big thing in the Russia watching blogosphere. She and her acolytes promoted a certain image of Russia as a bleak and fast depopulating land living in Sub Saharan African like squalor while Moscow oligarchs under the Dark Lord of the Kremlin Putin sucking up what little wealth there was. Inevitably, there can’t be a great deal of nuance in countering such a panoply of primitive notions. The point was not to give a balanced assessment as such or to claim that Russia was “better” or “more prosperous” than any developed Western country, but to give a factual, evidence-based rebuttal to these conceptions going round at the time.

    That said, even now looking back 7 years, I am not all that displeased by even some of the most questionable claims and will still stand by them in their totality if inevitably not on some specifics. Following are my replies to some of the commentators:

    ***

    Re-Ukraine:

    (a)

    The top 10 facts about Russia is from 2008; as such it includes
    “7

    MYTH: Russia is an aggressive state which is hated by its neighbors.

    REALITY: Unlike some superpowers, the Russia Federation has yet to invade another country. Most of its neighbors view Russia favorably and a majority of Ukrainians would be happy to join it.”

    Heh.

    (b)

    I also have a really hard time believing that the average Ukrainian has no problem with Russia blatantly running a proxy war inside their country, but what do I know? Karlin has a poll that says otherwise…. Karlin’s slumming it here (vodka? I kid). He wrote a recent article specifically countering claims about killings of journalists in Russia that went into much more detail.

    Was true at the time it was written (MARCH 2008), and the South Ossetian conflict was a response to Georgian aggression including South Ossetia which included the killing of UN-sanctioned Russian peacekeepers. Any minimally self-respecting Great Power would have mounted a military response.

    Even today, apart from Ukraine, Russia (or rather Putin) continues to be viewed positively by its neighbors, and positively or at least by neutrally by everyone who happens to be outside the free independent Western media space. Ukraine is an understandable exception but even there attitudes are less negative than those in the US or any of the other major Western nations, which gives credence to the argument that events in Ukraine are more civil war than Russian aggression.

    Re-corruption:

    As of 2014, Russia is rated as notably more corrupted than India

    As noted by E. Harding, the CPI uses a questionable methodology that is essentialy a subjective survey of various anonymous experts with no detailed explanations of how they are picked or even what makes them experts. They might also have an institutional bias against showing any significant improvements in Russia:

    http://akarlin.com/2013/07/why-transparency-international-hides-russias-bribery-data/

    In surveys of corruption that ask actual people or businesses whether they were “victimized” tend to make out Russia as not atypical within the group of middle-income countries it belongs to, and generally improving. E.g.

    http://www.unz.com/akarlin/if-sunlight-is-the-best-disinfectant-why-is-the-russian-mafia-state-opening-the-blinds/

    Re-journalists:

    I’m not sure #2 is anything to brag about. “Only 17 journalists killed, almost a 50% decline from the last administration!”

    This is relevant because the likes of Trump are condemned across party lines for (correctly) saying there is no evidence that Putin was personally responsible for killing any Russian journalists just on the basis that many Russian journalists were killed under his rule, but for some reason the (still much higher!) rate of journalist killings under the pro-Western alcoholic Yeltsin are for some reason never mentioned in such discussions. That is because doing so would collapse an entire plank of the anti-Putin narrative.

    http://www.unz.com/akarlin/trump-right-on-putin/

    Its also false.

    According to wikipedia, its roughly 100 each.

    These are apples and oranges. CPJ tries to list only those journalists who died due to their professional work. Wikipedia has much laxer criteria and their figures are not internationally comparable.

    Re-other:

    I feel like even the official Russian govt propaganda has evolved and got more sophisticated since that silly list was first written.

    Unfortunately, there was virtually no foreign language official Russian propaganda to speak of in 2008, so naturally the task fell to KGB-sponsored bloggers like myself. Now this is a ~$500 million per year enterprise that is at least comparable with other major countries’ propaganda budgets, such as those used for financing RFERL/Voice of America, BBC, France 24, Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera, CCTV, etc.

    Also, I don’t know a single person who knows anything, including the mere existence, of the Chechen Wars who thinks the Chechens were in any way nice guys. Those conflicts have become a byword in the military establishment for the worst-case scenario of modern “small wars”. I’m sure Karlin found some edgy teenager somewhere who thinks it’s awesome that the Chechens stuck it to the Russians, but come on.

    The BBC called the Nord-Ost theater hostage takers “freedom fighters.” Western opinion was extremely pro-Chechen throughout the 1990s.

    Make sure you rotate in all your family members to get that sweet Crusader trait and +1 martial score.

    Paradox Plaza is leaking. 🙂

    The US has a stronger middle class and more very wealthy people (Russia has fewer minor rich people with a narrower tail of powerful oligarchs). The Russian per capita GDP is about 20% of the US per capita GDP. That means that Russian poverty does less harm to GINI than US poverty, but I’d much rather have a randomly chosen US income than a random Russian one.

    Yes that is all correct, but where do I claim otherwise?

  73. Dave_M says:

    That graph of Indian illiteracy measures a specific grade… nothing about it implies children who are not being failed aren’t learning to read later. We don’t know if illiteracy rates *after school* have gone up.

  74. Graham says:

    The Irish monarchy example is a good one- the neutrality problems it generated were real although I expect only a cause for chuckles in Whitehall. If Ireland had wanted to join the war on the German side, I can’t imagine they would have taken a gamble like that without seizing the moment to ditch the king altogether.

    The Indo-Pakistan war is a good example of the monarch more or less being at war with himself, although it’s iffy. India and Pakistan were independent of one another and both had the king. [The notional title King of India was publicly quieter in India and no new coins were minted between the end of the title “Emperor of India” in 1947 and the advent of a republic in 1950. I’d be curious what legislation from the period looks like- whether enacting clause said ‘His Majesty enacts as follows” or this was omitted. I have never seen any document citing the title King of India. Pakistan took until 1956 to enact its anticipated republican constitution. I don’t know how often George VI was referred to as King of Pakistan, but Elizabeth II was definitely referred to as Queen of Pakistan, including among her titles at the coronation. ] It’s less clear that India and Pakistan were legally at war with one another, though. They pioneered the idea of skipping that part, not least since the whole period to 1950 was covered by transitional provisions of the independence acts, which is why the British King’s British officers and troops were still all over the place at the time. Was it an international war between two of the royal personalities, or a civil war in the course of the prolonged legal separation of two of them from each other, both scheduled to be nullified in the near term, and both from the third?

    The Grenada example doesn’t prove the point at all [the idea that the monarch was at war with herself]. The Governor General was exercising the monarch’s powers, and called in the OECS and US intervention when the [Marxist but lawful and elected] government was overthrown by a faction of its members. Strictly, that means the monarch called in support from her other Caribbean realms and from an ally to restore legal government in her realm of Grenada. That has some potential problems [although the idea that the US should have given prior notice to HM government in London is a specious one- Grenada was not a UK possession] but it doesn’t constitute a war, even an undeclared one, between the Queen of Grenada and the Queen in her other realms. The Queen of Grenada was on the side of the invasion in the personality of Sir Paul Scoon.

    I finally just saw Star Wars and was disappointed, more than I was through most of the prequels. I offer no argument in matters of taste, but was glad to see at least some support for my disappointment among other readers.

  75. Lots of best-selling authors reach a point where their publishers don’t dare edit them properly, too.