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Open Thread 58.25

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever.

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512 Responses to Open Thread 58.25

  1. Linked List says:

    What part of LW-style rationality ideology do you most disagree with, if any?

    • Gazeboist says:

      Basilisk fear. (Warning: this link goes to a comment on a post arguing non-negatively with respect to suicide! I don’t argue either side of that debate in the specific comment, but it’s something to be aware of before you start scrolling around.) (Separate note: the linked comment was made under my old handle.)

      I find the attitude that some rationalists have towards information, knowledge, and scholarship to be a sort of horrifying fusion of arrogance, censoriousness, and naivete. “Infohazard” rhetoric is distinguishable from the rhetoric around human genetic engineering largely by the fact that it takes a paternalistic stance towards a typical person’s intelligence as opposed to their morals: “you shouldn’t consider this problem because you are not smart enough” is isomorphic to “you should not develop this technology because you are insufficiently good”.

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      Decision theory based around a problem (Newcomb), and related hypotheticals, which are of no value to any decision anyone will ever have to make.

      A tendency to confuse creative hypotheses with ones that are simply bizarre, absurd, or extremely impactful, but still fall into existing categories. Examples: banning stuff, choosing arbitrary combinations of restrictions on behavior they dislike, subsidizing things they like. Banning all contracts of length greater than 1 year isn’t creative; automatic debt forgiveness dates back to the ancient Hebrews.

      Not putting any real thought into the above suggests, resulting in having to jump back and patch the idea with arbitrary exceptions for things they like, rather than reconsidering the whole train of thought.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      I have a bunch of disagreements, on various levels and with varying degrees of usefulness.

      My biggest disagreement with the ideology as a whole is the overemphasis on explicit reasoning and the subsequent denigration of expertise as a factor in decision making. In conditions of Knightian uncertainty, which is the rule rather than the exception in real world decision making, simple heuristics will tend to outperform complex statistical analsyes. Gaining hands-on experience in a field is the best, arguably the only, way to reliably build up a repertoire of those vital heuristics. Even if you can’t explain how you got the answer consciously, rationality is supposed to be about winning: getting the answer right is more important than being able to show your work.

      I also have a lot of object level disagreements, which I’ve already discussed at length, about things like nanotechnology or cryonics. Which neatly tie into point one because in all of them it’s Yud on one side and the experts lined up on the other. If your system of rationality consistently leads to you picking positions where the evidence is against you, it is broken.

      Finally, I have a strong gut-level reaction to the cuddling and neoteny. The polyamory as well: I’m not going to use the four-letter-word out of deference to Scott, but it absolutely applies here.

      • Gazeboist says:

        Yeah, “you must take a bet at some level” is also a pain to deal with, when it crops up. “You obviously have more information than I do and I’m not falling for this scam” is a perfectly valid answer.

        • Jiro says:

          For betting, see http://www.overcomingbias.com/2013/07/why-do-bets-look-bad.html . As is often the case in rational blogs, the comments contain much better arguments than the blogpost.

        • Finger says:

          If you wouldn’t bet against someone, your revealed preferences suggest that you believe they’re more knowledgable than you, and you should update towards their position. Bets are a forcing function for ignorant posturing.

          • Jiro says:

            What if I wouldn’t bet against someone because I believe the bet would produce a positive expected value for me but I wouldn’t be able to afford the risk?

            What if I don’t take the bet because I can’t tell if the guy is motivated by making money? Perhaps he’s motivated by trying to get people to agree with him, and his bets are spending for that purpose.

            What if I don’t bet because I know that betting is Bayseian evidence for irrationality among most human beings, and others would justifiably see me as irrational were I to accept the bet and they couldn’t distinguish between me and typical humans?

            What if I believe that accepting bets creates bad incentives (for instance, someone offering me a bet would have an incentive to make his argument look weaker than it is so he could make more money by betting)?

          • Deiseach says:

            What if I don’t want to bet until I see the fine print, because someone popping up to say “What would you bet that there are eleven million little monkeys in the world? Ten dollars? Fifty? Why not more, if you’re so sure?” sounds like “a fool and his money are soon parted”, and I’m not betting real cash until I know what the catch is (and don’t tell me there’s no catch, you using this to make me agree with your principle is a catch).

          • Jiro says:

            Deiseach: actually, that’s a subcase of “incentive to make his argument look weaker than it is so he could make more money by betting”.

        • Personalist says:

          I’m not sure I understand this objection. Isn’t “you must take a bet on some level” a simple statement of fact, that even under conditions of uncertainty you must decide how to act in response to the uncertain information? If someone says that “you must make a bet on some level”, that seems to me to be admonishing that uncertainty cannot be an excuse for inaction or to treat an uncertain proposition as false-by-default or true-by-default, with the actual odds being irrelevant.

          If you treat something as false, you’re taking a bet that it turns out false. If you treat it as true, you’re taking a bet that it’s true, with all of the attendant consequences. If you try to prepare for a range of scenarios, how to distribute your resources/attention depends on your estimate of the likelyhood and consequences of each scenario. That is your bet.

          • Lumifer says:

            Isn’t “you must take a bet on some level” a simple statement of fact, that even under conditions of uncertainty you must decide how to act in response to the uncertain information?

            If you have to act in response, yes. The point is that often enough those bets do not require you to act in any particular way. In simple terms, you can just walk away.

          • Gazeboist says:

            Yeah, I didn’t state it clearly. There’s an implication, when a lot of rationalists talk about betting, that there are only two sides to the bet (assuming a bet on a binary random variable), and you must pick one of those two sides with precise odds that reflect your understanding of reality. Refusing to take part in the bet is dismissed as irrational; any objection that the one making the offer is transparently attempting to scam you is ignored.

            I’m actually talking about the position advocated specifically in this post from 2006. It has all sorts of silliness (we are the Enlightened with True Understanding, here are special rules for interacting with people who don’t Get It, don’t bother trying to explain yourself…), but the biggest problem is that it totally rejects “I don’t know” as a valid, information-conveying sentence for normal human interaction. I mean, come on. The scenario he uses as an example (someone asks you the name of a third person; you have no specific information on them) genuinely occurs in real life all the time, for perfectly ordinary people who have never completed a class on probability or read the sequences or been to a CFAR workshop, and does not go the way Yudkowski seems to suggest it would. “I don’t know” means exactly what it sounds like: the person saying it doesn’t have enough information to form a firm opinion on the subject. It’s a perfectly reasonable shorthand for the belief that the odds are 1:1*. Yudkowski even brings this up in the article, but for some reason assumes that anyone who hasn’t sat through a course on probability (or been inducted into the Cult of Bayes) can’t possibly understand what it means.

            What’s really going on here is that he’s complaining about people using “I don’t know” as a polite shorthand for a slightly more complicated statement: “Having heard all your arguments in favor of your counter-intuitive or contrarian position, I have chosen to look outside the argument and conclude that the simplest hypothesis is that you are wrong and/or lying, and therefore not change my behavior.”

            See also people talking about the guy who named Pascal’s Mugging trying to perform Pascal’s Mugging on people, apparently unaware of the irony.

            I’ve seen (but could not find) another posted IM conversation where he got someone to play “Is it prime?” until they picked wrong, convinced them to lay odds on their pick, and took the money. This was somehow not an example of a crooked booker tipping his hand.

            * Actually taking a bet at 1:1 odds is a bad idea; the safer bet is that the person offering is trying to use their knowledge of you and the variable in question to cheat you out of your money.

          • Deiseach says:

            “‘Refusing to act is like refusing to allow time to pass.’ The null action is also a choice.”

            Yeah, that one about the apples and the names really was the worst light to see them in, because Yudkowsky sounded like he was unwiling to let slip his cloak of Biggest Brain Ever, even so far as saying “I don’t know (when there is no way for me to know, but I could make a guess but that’s not what you’re asking)”.

            He folds it up in a lot of “oh well if the person you are talking to is not trained in rationality” and “this is the politic answer not the rational answer” (and honestly, what is with that showing-off about “I know ‘Michael’ is the most common name but I can’t remember for what years”*?) but basically it comes across as “I am so invested in being the Man With The Answer To Everything, I can’t allow a dint in my self-image by admitting to honest ignorance or by condescending to explain to my inferiors that the best I can do is a hypothesis, not certainty”.

            I certainly would not pick that one out as a sample of what to judge LessWrong and the whole project on, because out of context it sounds bad but to put it in context there is probably a whole lot of conversation and posting before and afterwards.

            Presumably his reluctance to use “I don’t know” is because that can mean “I am unable or unwilling to put a probability on it”, and since the whole shtick of Bayesian Rationality is that you can put a probability on everything, this would undercut his method.

            But there’s nothing wrong with “I don’t have enough information to answer that question, so I don’t know”.

            *The “gun to the head” is unnecessary self-dramatisation. He could construct an answer as follows: “I can’t give you a definite answer because how would I know? But we can make something that’s a bit better than merely guessing. Assume that the age-distribution for men means there’s a better chance any random man in the street will be in the age range 11-30. That means (in 2016) their birth dates range from 1986-2005. Find out what were the most popular male names over that period. Can we find the names that were consistently most popular? From 1986-1999 it was “Michael” and from 1999-2005 it was “Jacob”, so betting that the random man is named “Michael” would involve a probability of [and here the maths people get involved as I’m sunk]”.

            Short answer: “Most likely name is ‘Michael’, for a better-than-guessing answer”.

            Long answer as above, if someone asks “Why do you say that/How can you know?”

            And indeed, he did give the answer as “Michael”, only wrapped up in the fol-de-rol of “gun to the head” and false modesty of “I can’t remember which years”.

            This is all heavily dependent on it being an American street, and on the ethnic composition of the city where the street is, of course (in some places it might be “Miguel” or D’Squarius), but that’s the long-answer disclaimers you’d put in. I mean, the most common surname in Ireland is “Murphy”, but if you’re asked to guess the surname of a random person on a Waterford street, go for “Power” (that’s the most common surname locally).

            Though I suppose all the mystification and obfuscation is part of Yudkowsky’s method of Secret Schools and non-open knowledge transmission, just as alchemical tradition meant you had to learn that the symbol of the Black Raven corresponded to calcination, the first phase of the work (burning or breaking down the material), and the processes hidden under the symbolic representation to keep them veiled from the unworthily ignorant.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ jaimeastorga2000

            Yes, null action is a choice, but so what?

            Let me illustrate.

            A: What kind of ice cream do you like?

            B: Well, it depends. I like chocolate more than vanilla, vanilla more than strawberry, and strawberry more than chocolate.

            A: But that’s inconsistent and I can dutch-book you! Here is a complicated bet which you are guaranteed to lose!

            B: Dude, you sound a bit overexcited. I’m not going to bet anything.

            B walks away.

            So how about that null choice is a choice?

          • Gazeboist says:

            Yes, refusing to act is a choice. But there’s a tendency to use the fact that refusal is a choice to imply that it is an invalid choice: that one may not conclude that it is worse to be wrong in the here-and-now than to spend time improving the answer to the issue at hand.

            Of course sometimes people do not act on an issue and also do not put effort into improving their set of solutions, but all that means is that they have other, higher priorities.

      • Finger says:

        Dunno about complex statistical models, but it does seem that simple statistical models outperform experts, see this classic paper: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.188.5825&rep=rep1&type=pdf If I recall correctly, even if you use the expert’s own predictions as training data for your model (“judgmental bootstrapping”), your model will outperform the expert.

        Which neatly tie into point one because in all of them it’s Yud on one side and the experts lined up on the other.

        “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” – Richard Feynman

        If the primary way you evaluate arguments is by determining how popular the person making them is, then yes, rationality (and science) are probably not for you.

        • Alex Zavoluk says:

          Statistical models are not applicable to every situation. To take a big example upon which EY seems to disagree with most experts, statistical modeling will not help you figure out which interpretation of QM is best. More generally, simple statistics will not necessarily tell you causality in most fields, or tell you which data are valid. If I saw a simple statistical analysis concluding that rent control did not harm housing markets, I would probably conclude the analysis and/or data were an outlier or severely flawed; most of the data indicate the opposite and experts might know this when a simple statistical model does not. LW-Rationality =/= simple statistics.

          Even where statistical models might be helpful, I think their performance depends heavily on the field. For example, experts are aware that earthquakes are basically unable to be predicted, but several simple statistical approaches have already failed miserably.

        • Gazeboist says:

          “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” – Richard Feynman

          If the primary way you evaluate arguments is by determining how popular the person making them is, then yes, rationality (and science) are probably not for you.

          This is hilarious.

          • Finger says:

            Feynman’s statement serves as a proof by contradiction for the idea that experts are infallible. If experts are infallible, and an expert says experts are fallible, then you’ve found a contradiction.

          • Gazeboist says:

            What makes Feynman the expert on what science is? As he himself often said, he wasn’t remarkable with math; his main sources of success were clever analogies and epistemic luck. Even then, his real success was as a teacher and an ambassador from science.

            Your argument that you should not cite “experts” because it is equivalent to arguing by popularity is backed up by a citation of an expert. Not any expert, either, but an expert famous for being clever, insightful, and correct, also a well-known contrarian and rogue, almost designed to appeal to the readership here. Are you really not seeing the irony?

            Scientific consensus appears for a reason; arguments that “the experts are wrong” need to overcome a very strong prior that the speaker has made some error, likely out of ignorance.

            (And of course, the fact that the experts are wrong doesn’t make you right.)

          • Finger says:

            Experts aren’t the be all end all, but the things they say are evidence. If Feynman has a Nobel Prize in physics, that makes him a science expert in my book.

            If someone often disagrees with experts, ala EY, then if they are sometimes right, that gets the double plus rationality points, so just knowing that someone often disagrees with experts isn’t a huge update.

        • J Mann says:

          I also have a lot of object level disagreements, which I’ve already discussed at length, about things like nanotechnology or cryonics. Which neatly tie into point one because in all of them it’s Yud on one side and the experts lined up on the other. If your system of rationality consistently leads to you picking positions where the evidence is against you, it is broken.

          “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” – Richard Feynman

          If the primary way you evaluate arguments is by determining how popular the person making them is, then yes, rationality (and science) are probably not for you.

          Mmm, I’d say it depends on how certain Dr. D. is.

          In an area where I myself am not expert and don’t have the time to become so, it’s probably smart to bet on the expert consensus, but it’s not smart to assume that it’s infallible.

          (My personal bias is that (a) Yud is probably right that we’re not committing enough resources to examining the problems he identifies, but (b) they still will probably resolve satisfactorily, but (c) maybe they won’t, so return to (a). )

      • LPSP says:

        I was really struggling to find something I see no value in from the LessWrong sphere, then I read the words “cuddling and neoteny” and I remember. Blech, thanks for reminding me.

        The worst parts of HPMOR are when Harry starts behaving like a blubbering baby out of the blue. It only makes his conspirational nature come off worse.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          So you’re Ok with everything else…Bayes as the one-stop solution to all your epistemological needs, killer robots as the greatest threat to humanity (or maybe not), computability as an irrelevant side-issue, domain knowledge as unnecessary to the sufficiently advanced Baysean…

          • Deiseach says:

            If killer robots really were the greatest threat to humanity, I’d happily settle for that.

            Humanity is the greatest threat to humanity.

          • Gazeboist says:

            Humanity is something like three out of the top five threats to humanity. Killer robots are humanity’s threat to itself instantiated in a particular way (specifically, they are a variation on “accidental self destruct”).

          • LPSP says:

            I see value in Bayes Theorem as an epistemological tool as well as a general decision/mind/life skill. I see value in assessing dangers inherent in advanced AI. No idea what you mean by the last few things.

          • Gazeboist says:

            The last two things refer to (1) the objection that near-future hard-takeoff scenarios fail to account for the computational complexity of a fully-general problem solving method* and (2) the same “experts are wrong because I am smarter than them” attitude that several other people have brought up.

            * This view fits well with the two-part model of human cognition, where there is a slow-but-correct reasoner using always-correct algorithms, and a fast-but-uncertain reasoner using low-complexity heuristics. The claim is that any always-correct reasoning algorithm (especially one based on Bayes**, which is exponentially hard, if I remember right) is at least np-hard and therefore can’t blow up the way AI safety advocates claim. Provided, of course, that P =/= NP, which is quite sound empirically but not proven.

            ** Bayesian reasoning is essentially a generalized heuristics-generator, which would work pretty well if only it were tractable.

          • Bayes, as a mathematical procedure , can’t be a general life skill, because it isn’t computable in the general case. Likewise, advising people to use Bayes for everything is ignoring computability limitations.

            Of course, you might be talking about the other Bayes, the vague label for any sort of probabilistic thinking. That’s another kettle of fish.

            I was alluding the problem that when I say “Bayesianism is extremely limited”, I am told “Bayesianism doesn’t really have anything much to do with Bayes, it means being generally rational and paying attention to evidence.” Those are unambiguously good things, but if this is an accurate characterization of Bayesianism, it makes the term pretty nearly vacuous. A substantive discussion is going to need to find some middle ground between “always apply Bayes’ Rule” and “don’t be an idiot

            –David Chapman

      • Chalid says:

        What specifically are you thinking of when you refer to rationalist neoteny?

      • I think there’s too much trust in finding one weird trick to make things better. Sometimes the trick exists (I was just reading people improving their lives by sleep hygiene– blackout shades and the like), but sometimes you find yourself believing psycholigical studies.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        The polyamory as well: I’m not going to use the four-letter-word out of deference to Scott, but it absolutely applies here.

        Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. Count me as well. Horrible idea.

        • LPSP says:

          Forgive me, but what is the four letter word exactly? rot13 me.

          • Jiro says:

            My guess is “phyg”.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            No, I’m pretty sure it’s “phpx”.

          • suntzuanime says:

            And here’s silly ol’ me trying to figure out what’s honestly so bad about “betl”. :-/

          • LPSP says:

            Ooooooooh. Yeah, I’m not certain that applies to Scott really. Probably a good portion of the poly community however, almost inevitably.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Jaime got it.

            And to be clear, I meant deference in that Scott specifically called it out as one of the words he didn’t want to see any more of*. I don’t see him as having been phpxrq per se, if anything the man dodged a major bullet.

            *I tried my damnedest to find the original article but have no idea where it is. But I distinctly remember a list of exasperating neologisms with that as one of them.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Can “phpx” be the new “Death Eaters”?

    • Anon. says:

      Utilitarianism and orthogonality are the two big ones.

    • Publius Varinius says:

      Definitely utilitarianism.

    • Deiseach says:

      I don’t know if I get to have an opinion, given that I know more or less nothing of Less Wrong apart from bits’n’pieces by Eliezer Yudkowsky, but there does seem to be a tendency to re-invent the wheel and declare the resulting product something never before conceived by the mind of man until the unmuddling of thought was undertaken by the application of rationality.

      For instance, I’m not at all sure whether Eliezer’s Secret Schools For Fast Science (in some of his Sequence fables and the “Bayesian Conspiracy” in HPMOR) is meant to be taken seriously as a concept he alone has come up with – the idea of a small group of dedicated, intelligent scholars making discoveries via the principles of their art which are never disclosed to the uninformed, kept secret from the masses, you have to prove your worthiness to learn them by solving deliberately obscure riddles until you yourself are initiated into the cabal, etc. – or that we are meant to be well-read enough to recognise the allusions to the Invisible College, the School of Night, and that this is how alchemy was transmitted – via apprenticeship, allusion rather than clear statements (Flamel in HPMOR being both man and woman and transitioning between both states is plainly a reference to both Tiresias and the Divine Hermaphrodite as the product of the Great Work), never writing down secrets, jealously holding onto knowledge, etc.

      Given that most Less Wrongians seem to come from the STEM side and have little to no taste for the humanities (if not active contempt of them – and I may be wildly mischaracterising them on this, if so, I beg their pardons), and tend to be on the younger side than dinosaurs like myself, I don’t really trust that they have that kind of background knowledge picked up from casual wide reading here and there (mostly novels, I have to confess), so I think they think it’s all EY’s unique production. Whether he intends them so to think – I couldn’t possibly say.

      • AnonBosch says:

        there does seem to be a tendency to re-invent the wheel and declare the resulting product something never before conceived by the mind of man until the unmuddling of thought was undertaken by the application of rationality

        As someone who came to this website first and checked out LessWrong from there, this accurately describes my reaction to much of the posts there, too.

      • Publius Varinius says:

        there does seem to be a tendency to re-invent the wheel and declare the resulting product something never before conceived by the mind of man until the unmuddling of thought was undertaken by the application of rationality.

        Your criticism feels weird, mainly because I remember the complete opposite – despite the fact that I have very little common ground with LW beliefs, and I never contributed to the site. The failure mode you allude to was identified relatively quickly by the LW people, and mnemonic devices were created to avert it (e.g. “Rational Toothpaste”).

        In my experience, the quality of discussion on Golden Age LessWrong was insanely high. And the archived comments seem to confirm my memories: if something was not a genuinely new idea, people did not think of it as a genuinely new idea. In particular, the commentariat was certainly able to cite, integrate and evaluate previous ideas from various sources, including old philosophy or classical literature.

        • Deiseach says:

          The failure mode you allude to was identified relatively quickly by the LW people, and mnemonic devices were created to avert it (e.g. “Rational Toothpaste”).

          Ah, that would be my own lack of knowledge so; I’m not at all familiar with Less Wrong itself, more at second- or third-hand, so plainly I’m acting on out of date information.

      • Vsky says:

        declare the resulting product something never before conceived by the mind of man until the unmuddling of thought was undertaken by the application of rationality.

        Could you give an example of this? Because in my experience most of what wasn’t original, and that is to say, most of the sequences, Eliezer didn’t declare as his own, but rather condensed from earlier authors as to bring the community up to speed.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Another vote for “not a utilitarian” and “sometimes it’s just reinventing the wheel”.

      I think the latter though is less a flaw of “LW rationalism” or whatever you want to call it, than a thing that happens where people with STEM backgrounds stumble into subjects where the learning curve is different and think they know more than they do.

      • Deiseach says:

        a thing that happens where people with STEM backgrounds stumble into subjects where the learning curve is different and think they know more than they do

        That’s probably more the attitude I am thinking of, rather than Less Wrong per se; like the cutting but hilarious review by Terry Eagleton of “The God Delusion”:

        Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.

        (Not intending to pick on Dawkins this time, it’s simply that this review expresses it better than I can).

        The tendency of some (not all) to come into an area outside a STEM subject, say “Well plainly nobody here before ever used their brain since they were none of them scientists” and proclaim that you can derive everything from first principles and do it better.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Oh, I read “The God Delusion”, and the first thing I realized was that Dawkins only really knows three things about religion: boyhood Anglicanism, anti-Catholicism, and whatever nasty thing he read about Muslims in the paper recently.

          You don’t have to become a theologian to discuss these things but he hasn’t even bothered to try to understand religion as a social phenomenon.

      • Lumifer says:

        where people with STEM backgrounds stumble into subjects where the learning curve is different and think they know more than they do.

        Obigatory xkcd.

        • Tekhno says:

          Has anyone checked to see if the physicists are right?

          • brad says:

            The richest and most famous quant was a mathematician, not a physicist.

            Of the top richest people through investing their degrees are: BS in Business Administration and MS in Economics (Buffet); BS in philosophy and MSc in philosophy (Soros); BA in philosophy (Icahn); BA in Finance and MBA (Dalio); and then the aforementioned mathematics Phd (Simons).

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @TheNybbler

            It seems likely that most successful quants studied finance carefully before they put their money on the line, and are not the physicists/engineers the xkcds are talking about (who probably thought “I’ll just write a program that sees which stocks have increased in price in the past few days, and buys them! What could go wrong?” or something similar).

          • Lumifer says:

            @ brad

            There is also D.E.Shaw who has a Ph.D. in Computer Science, I believe.

          • sweeneyrod,

            From memory of a book about quants: It wasn’t quite that simple.

            Instead, it was betting on a thing which would plausibly go up, and betting on something else plausibly going down if that thing went up, and not having enough experience to know that both bets could be wrong.

    • Zombielicious says:

      Selective application of rationality, i.e. motivated reasoning or the “rationality delusion” (as named by Haidt). There seems to be a tendency for people to study up on Bayes’ theorem and cognitive biases, all the other stuff, then fail to consistently apply what they’ve learned except when it’s useful to frame and attack their opponents as being less rational than themselves. It makes it harder to take the idea of rationality seriously at all, since irrationality just becomes another thing that “everyone else is but I am not.”

      This isn’t really a problem with the ideology per say, so much as how it seems to be actually used in the real world. But it’s the biggest cost to the credibility of the project, imo.

    • hlynkacg says:

      Utilitarianism is probably the biggest most easily labeled the thing that I disagree with.

      That said, the thing that actively turns me off is the undercurrent of misanthropy that seems to manifest in many rationalist circles. I’ve seen a lot of rationalists casually dismiss the agency and moral worth of others on the grounds that the rationalist is obviously the smartest besest person in the room so every one else should just shut up and think what they’re told. Big Yud seems particularly bad in this regard and I think it ties into the “fusion of arrogance, and naivete” that Gazeboist described above.

      I am also a unrepentant “deathist” so there’s that.

      • dndnrsn says:

        “Arrogance plus naivete” is a good description. I’d also say that “blithe” is a good word to describe what I think you’re describing. The sort of attitude I hope I outgrew when I was maybe 16 or 17, having played too much Civ and Total War and so forth, smart but not wise.

        EDIT: as though I’m wise now hahahahahahaaaaaaaa

        • Deiseach says:

          It probably is a lot to do with being young, smart, not having anybody you know in real life who is interested in what you’re interested in, then you find these like-minded people online and you get introduced to all these (genuinely) interesting and cool new ideas and it’s very easy to get carried away and think “This is it, we’ve cracked it, we’ve got better tools and we know how to use them!”

          Which can lead to an attitude like the following:

          Vizzini: Let me put it this way. Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates?
          Man in Black: Yes.
          Vizzini: Morons.

          I was rather prone to the same myself when I was young. I still have a touch of it now, though you might not think it 🙂

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      >The year of our lord 2016
      >Still being an utilitarian

      I seriously hope you guys don’t do this.

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      Oh, also the idea (fortunately, less strongly held by most rationalists than EY, it seems), that thinking is for a certain subgroup of people, and talking about controversial topics is reserved for an even more particular group.

    • Anonymous says:

      Moral realism, overconfidence regarding identity & consciousness, disparagement of frequentist statistics, disparagement of the philosophical tradition. On LW in particular I’ve noticed a certain humorlessness in the readership which thankfully doesn’t seem to have extended to sites like this one.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Wrapping supposed lessons on thinking clearly in speculative utopian Übermensch style fiction.

    • BBA says:

      In the immortal words of Joe Orton, you can’t be a rationalist in an irrational world. It isn’t rational.

      Of course we think it’d be great to set up society to favor nerdiness and autodidacticism, we’re nerdy autodidacts. Most people aren’t and they won’t be so fond of our nerdtopia, but too often people here don’t recognize that.

    • blacktrance says:

      Depends on what counts as LW-style rationality ideology. If it’s what Eliezer believed when he wrote the sequences, then complexity of value and the Fun Theory it spawned. If it’s what people in the rationalistsphere tend to believe, then the Moloch memeplex.

      I’m also not a utilitarian, but I tend to disagree even more with most of the arguments against utilitarianism.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Utilitarianism. It’s not the consequentialism that bothers me so much as the universalism; it leads to ideas like open borders and effective altruism.

    • Jiro says:

      Utilitarianism, as mentioned by many others here. Past a certain point, if your system models human values poorly, you should give up your system and find another that does it better.

      Disagreeing with experts and claiming that in order to be rational, you *must* disagree with the experts.

      Numerous occurrences of Pascal’s Mugging, stated without irony, and doubly ironic since LW popularized the idea of Pascal’s Mugging.

      Taking ideas that are literally correct and applying them in weird ways, particularly to situations which are not clear cut enough to apply them to.

      Calculating expected values in cases which have large error bars, then claiming that a rationalist *must* do the thing with the highest expected value.

      Deliberately writing things to trigger an emotional response and then implying that anyone who can’t look past the emotional response is obviously irrational. This can overlap with Internet-Aspergers where the “rationalist” doesn’t even comprehend that the emotional response may be justifiable on a Bayseian basis because certain types of writing are strong Bayseian evidence for malice.

    • Corey says:

      It’s been a long time since I read LW or hit a meetup, but from what I remember:
      – I didn’t buy Fun Theory, though it turned out at the time Fun Theory was incomplete
      – The ban on political subjects, while nice to prevent excessive mindkilling, precluded discussion of epistemic bubbles (a subject that fascinates me) and the amount of topics swallowed by politics is only increasing with time
      – My philosophical chops aren’t very strong, so I couldn’t dig into the more esoteric stuff enough to agree or disagree. I still learned lots of interesting and useful things (e.g. “ugh fields”).

    • fr00t says:

      Lot of people are saying utilitarianism. But as far as I understand it, it is tautologically valid. I.e. “shut up and multiply” of course applies, but fails to acknowledge the complexity of the utility function used to come up with said multiplicands. And since a function can be any mapping, utilitarianism subsumes all ethical and meta-ethical frameworks and preferences.

      The point of utilitarianism rhetoric is just pointing out when beliefs, behaviors, and policies are inconsistent. I see a ton of this on this blog and similar other ones that seems non-controversial.

      Also, a lot of the difficulty with utilitarianism on both sides comes from the unwillingness to admit that your actual utility function places immediate hedonic gratification over (say) human life, and the associated disutility of having to acknowledge that truth.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        Either your conception of utilitarianism is odd, or you don’t fully understand the alternatives. There are popular moral systems that say two acts which have exactly the same consequences can be moral or immoral depending on internal factors (intentions etc.). For instance, the doctrine of double effect suggests that giving a terminal patient in pain an overdose of opiates in order to relieve them of the pain (with the side effect of killing them) is morally acceptable, but giving the same overdose because you really hate them is not.

      • blacktrance says:

        Utilitarianism isn’t equivalent to having a utility function. It’s the position that one ought to maximize world utility.

      • @fr00t:

        Utility functions show up in two different contexts, and I think you are confusing them.

        In economics, your utility function describes your preferences. Your comments are relevant to that. But that isn’t utilitarianism.

        Utilitarianism is a position, actually a group of related positions, in moral philosophy. It holds that one ought to take those actions that maximize total utility–not your utility but the combined utility of everyone. Alternatively, maximize average utility. I don’t think your comment has any relevance to that.

    • caethan says:

      The implicit and assumed logical positivism. Particularly the conversation that goes:

      LW: Model X is the best model of Y. We should all use it when thinking about Y.
      O: But model X is a bad explanation of Y, it doesn’t account for facts H, I, and J at all.
      LW: So what model do you propose to replace model X?
      O: I don’t need to have an alternative model to tell you that model X is wrong.
      LW: But how are you supposed to think about anything without a model???

      • Gazeboist says:

        It can help if O’s second statement is instead “I don’t know; can you help me build one?” This will at least allow O to distinguish those who are arguing in good faith from those who are not.

        Of course, LW’s second statement should really be something like “Well, then we need a new model” or “Actually, we can save model X with modification Z” or “If you look more carefully, H, I, and J are already / don’t need to be accounted for”.

        Defusing fights is an important skill that many nominal truth-seekers lack.

        • caethan says:

          Either of those replacements perpetuates the problem.

          Suppose that LW eloquently presents all the available models for Y and with impeccable arguments shows that model #5 is superior in every way to all the others. It is perfectly possible for it to be true that model #5 is the best available and also completely wrong. If I can show that it is wrong then that model needs to be rejected whether or not I have an alternative model to present.

          The underlying problem is the logical positivism – the assumption that without a model or a formalism for examining some system nothing is knowable (or more commonly that nothing is meaningfully knowable, or empirically knowable, or scientifically knowable, or whatever without a logical formalism). So there’s this treatment that if I reject all the formalisms of a problem as insufficient without presenting an alternative, then I can’t possibly say anything meaningful about the problem and my criticisms can just be waved away.

          But facts are ontologically prior to formalisms. I may know some facts about a problem without being able to construct a formalism that can comprehensively answer the problem. If those facts exclude all existing formalisms, then such is life.

          • Anon. says:

            How did you discover those facts? Is this a roundabout way of saying “synthetic a priori” without using those words?

            Do you have a practical example?

          • caethan says:

            I could discover those facts in many different ways – intuition, experience, observation, any of the ways we know anything about the world. Maybe it’s an intuitive fact – e.g., I know it is morally wrong to torture a child, therefore any formalism of morality which does not reject torturing children is wrong. Maybe it’s an experiential fact – e.g., I know that I exist and think about things, therefore any formalism which rejects the existence of consciousness is wrong. Maybe it’s an observational fact – e.g., I know that planets exist, therefore any formalism for solar system formation which excludes the existence of planets is wrong.

            Suppose that you’ve proposed a comprehensive Linnean system to classify living creatures. If your classification system sorts “animals with hair that secrete milk to feed their young” into one class and “animals which lay eggs” into another disjoint class, then when I show you a platypus, you are obliged to reject your formalism. I don’t have to tell you a better way to classify animals that includes marsupials in order to be able to tell that your system is wrong.

          • Anon. says:

            intuition, experience

            These aren’t magical avenues to knowledge, they are neurons trying to approximate some function(s) — they are models too. Just not models that you have explicitly specified. That doesn’t make them special or inherently better than other models (though in certain cases they can out-perform).

            The idea of model-free observation is nonsensical.

          • caethan says:

            Well, you’ve concisely stated the fallacy, so thanks for that.

            The idea that “Hey, there’s a platypus” can’t be known without a model is, well, the kind of especially deep stupid you only get from smart people.

          • Anon. says:

            The idea itself of a platypus is a model, a set of related properties that act as a filter.

            “Hey, there’s a platypus” involves vision. The transformation of photons into “sense data”. Like all observation/measurement (in other words, the systematic transformation of some input into some output that we find useful), this makes use of a model. Identifying the platypus as separate from the stuff around it depends on an object detection model. Then you pattern match that to “platypus”. Another model.

            Naive realism is a dead end, and obviously incorrect. Just consider the case of hallucinating a platypus.

    • Shion Arita says:

      Fear of unfriendly AI.

      There’s really no evidence that unfriendly AI are likely to be made or be particularly destructive even if they do exist.

  2. Sniffnoy says:

    OK, so, MIRI seems to have made serious progress on the problem of “logical probability” recently. Like, they have what might actually be the first workable notion of logical probability.

    Here’s my question: How bad is the failure of Desideratum 13?

    Explanation: If you read the introduction, it discusses a number of desiderata for such a system to have. Of these, 1-12 are satisfied, and 13-17 are not. The conclusion discusses 14-17; quite a few of them it basically says are out of scope. I’m not really too concerned with those, honestly.

    But what about #13? #13 seems like a pretty important one — that as the system sees more and more examples of a universally quantified statement holding true, its credence for that statement should go to 1. #13 is not satisfied, and in fact is apparently incompatible with the ones that are satisfied.

    So, again: How bad is this? I mean this in two senses.

    First, is this a bad thing? I would expect #13 to be pretty important, but it isn’t satisfied here. Should we not regard it as so important? Is it actually a bad criterion? Especially since it’s incompatible with the others — does the fact that it’s incompatible with the others mean it’s really not the good criterion it seems?

    Secondly, can we quantify or formalize the extent to which it fails? What does happen as the system sees more and more examples of a universally quantified statement holding true, if it isn’t approaching 1?

    (Unrelatedly: Aargh MIRI, that is not what the term “affine combination” means. Don’t worry, I’ve already sent them an erratum about this…)

    • Douglas Knight says:

      You should link to the proof, though maybe it’s too slick to provide insight. My first reaction is that axiom 13 is trying to commit to the true natural numbers. We’d like to do that, but that’s not computably possible. I don’t know if this can be made into a proof.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Oh, I didn’t even look at that, thanks!

        So, that certainly makes it look like #13, now matter how intuitive, is just a bad criterion. However, I am a little concerned by condition 3 there; what if it were only required to apply to Π_2 sentences, rather than any Π_2 statement? It seems the proof wouldn’t work then. Would the result still go through? If not, could #13 somehow be rescued by requiring sentences only?

        Also looking more at the “logical induction” paper itself, it seems it somewhat answers my question about what happens in the limit: A statement is assigned probability 1 in the limit iff it’s a theorem. So that seems reasonable, at least, if #13 can’t be achieved.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          What is the difference between a sentence and a statement?

          • Sniffnoy says:

            Statements, unlike sentences, are allowed to have free variables. I think this is terribly confusing terminology, but there you go.

            Actually, now that I look at this more, I’m a bit confused. It talks about “true” Π_2 statements, but surely truth and falsity only make sense for sentences?

            But if we restrict ourselves to sentences, then, TTBOMK, the end of the proof makes no sense. Δ_2 isn’t a notion that applies to statements as such but rather to sets determined by 1-variable predicates. That seems like the sort of thing that could be fixable, though. Or maybe to someone with more knowledge of logic it’s already correct. 😛

            So yeah, I’m pretty confused here. My suspicion is that they did in fact mean “sentence” throughout, because there are parts of this that just don’t seem to make sense otherwise, and as for the end of the proof, uh…? Anyone here who actually knows logic care to clarify?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            One distinction I’ve seen is that a statement is an equivalence class of sentences under mutual provability. You could define a Δ₂ class as one that contains both a Π₂ and a Σ₂ sentence. I think the argument shows that you can’t prove that you have such a procedure.

          • Anonymous says:

            I believe “formula” rather than “statement” is the typical term for a logical expression with free variables.

            Also, it’s perfectly fine to define quantifier hierarchies (is there a standard term for those Σ/Δ/Π hierarchies?) in terms of formulas, with as many free variables as you want, rather than sets. In fact, I find that definition much more natural. And because there are recursive (that is, Δ₀) pairing and projection functions for natural numbers, for each formula with k free variables one can find an equivalent formula in the same quantifier class with only one free variable.

            (<sup> and <sub> don’t work? Shame.)

          • Sniffnoy says:

            One distinction I’ve seen is that a statement is an equivalence class of sentences under mutual provability. You could define a Δ₂ class as one that contains both a Π₂ and a Σ₂ sentence. I think the argument shows that you can’t prove that you have such a procedure.

            Oh, hm, maybe here’s my confusion — I’m used to thinking about truth, not provability. (I am not actually a logician!) If you’re thinking about truth, considering equivalence classes of sentences is stupid, because there’s only two, true and false; you need free variables for it to be interesting.

            But if you’re thinking about provable equivalence, then you could talk about “Δ_2” sentences, and say, yup, that’s a strict subset of Π_2 sentences.

            If that’s what meant, then indeed, that makes sense (I’ll just assume that the assertion that the inclusion of Δ_2 in Π_2 is proper is indeed true, but that seems pretty believable). If not, then…?

          • Sniffnoy says:

            OK, over on Shetl-Optimized, someone named Sam says this makes sense and explains where the end part comes from.

            Hooray! Problem solved. So I guess #13 really is bad. Too bad.

    • Publius Varinius says:

      #13 seems like a pretty important one — that as the system sees more and more examples of a universally quantified statement holding true, its credence for that statement should go to 1.

      Desideratum #13 seems to be wishful thinking along the lines of “everything true is provable”. It’s clearly incompatible, at least in spirit, with Desideratum 6 (Non-Dogmatism) since some true Pi _1^0 statements are not provable.

      • Anonymous says:

        No, it’s an expression of the principle that “absence of evidence is evidence of absence”. Π₁ sentences are those which can be easily disproven if false; just plug in your counterexample into the universally-quantifier variables. If the reasoning algorithm thoroughly searches for counterexamples and fails, I think it’s not unreasonable for it to learn to expect they don’t exist, even if the algorithm cannot prove this by deduction from the axioms.

        • Publius Varinius says:

          But Desideratum 6 clearly says that Pr(X)=1 should mean “X is provable”. Thus, it would be weird if Pr(X)=1-ε expressed anything but “X is very likely to be provable”. That alone should convince us that we should disenfranchise either #6 or #13.

          “Absence of evidence is evidence of absence” is clearly desirable (and simply true!) for finite and compact domains, but not clearly desirable at all for arithmetic. For example, there could be analogues of the family {∀x.x<1,∀x.x<10,∀x.x<100,∀x.x<1000,…} where the analogue of ∀x.∃y.x<y is not provable. Which, by the way, seems to be similar to the motivating consideration behind the Sawin-Demski result.

          • Anonymous says:

            #6 is phrased as follows:

            A good reasoner should not have extreme beliefs about mathematical facts, unless those beliefs have a basis in proof.

            which is vague enough to allow for some wiggle room like saying “believe all sentences with a proof and all Π₁ sentences without a proof” which makes strong belief have “basis in proof” even though not necessarily in a proof existing.

            I’m not sure I understand your example. ∀x.∃y.x < y belongs to Π₂, not Π₁, and it’s provable in sensible theories of arithmetic: just plug x + 1 for y. Sentences true of a fixed finite domain are arithmetically Δ₀ anyway. (Sentences true of all finite domains are Π₁, and in fact Π₁-complete, per Trakhtenbrot’s theorem.)

            [Edit: Ah. Only now I noticed that Sawin–Demski paper and I think I see what you mean. But I still don’t think it’s a good example.]

  3. A question for the commentators here about the ideas of structural or systemic -isms. I’ve heard these brought up a fair amount, and have only ever seen them used in practice to defend Allowed Underprivileged Groups, while disallowing the others. I feel slightly uncharitable dismissing something so many people claim is very important on just a cursory study, so I’m asking for alternate opinions.

    Is there more rigorous versions of these theories, which make useful predictions? Can we take theories like this and predict specific outcomes of specific groups just by looking at given metrics, or even determine whether or not the problems a group is suffering from are systemic or nonsystemic, without being able to cheat and know which groups we’re talking about in advance?

    Again, the only times I’ve seen the theories used in practice is to say “You’re not of the right group, so this isn’t real racism/sexism/anti-religion bias.”, and I’ve never seen anyone go back and show their work in how certain kinds of discrimination are obviously systemic and other kinds obviously aren’t, but there are lots of decent-but-misused theories, so I want to know more before I just write off this concept as naked apologia.

    • Gazeboist says:

      “Happy holidays” as oppression of Christians stands out to me as a pretty clear case of a group definitely not actually being oppressed. It’s functionally the same as “Merry Christmas”, but it covers people who aren’t Christian. I’m sorry you have to dereference the pointer yourself, but please just suck it up. On the other hand, I’m not sure how that relates to structural or systemic biases in any way.

      As to predictions, I think that in order for structural bias claims to separate from claims of inherent inter-group differences, you might need a fully counterfactual history. You might be able to get away with, say, following two groups of Nigerian emigrants, one in the US and one in India (?) over a couple of generations as they assimilate and watch which one does better. But even then, there’s two big problems. First, better relative to what? Do we care about how they perform on whatever measure we choose relative to the population around them, or do we care about how they change with respect to a Nigerian baseline? I think it’s the population of the country they’re in that we’d want to compare to, but I can imagine an argument to the opposite effect. Second, and more importantly, it’s hard to find a target nation that doesn’t have cultural biases at least analogous to those of the US, at least in this respect. India’s the one I thought of that I couldn’t immediately shoot down, but I’m sure someone else could. So if cultural biases are important, and they’re the same or similar in both places … good luck distinguishing them from inherent traits of the people the biases are about. On the other hand, you might get a knowledge cascade, where small differences in outcomes and culture tell you what changes you can make to present US society in order for systemic bias theories to make definitive predictions, and then test those empirically. But that prerequisite specificity isn’t there in the claims of people who talk about systemic biases.

      • Deiseach says:

        Ah, the War On Christmas stuff makes me tired, but the Happy Holidays notion is admittedly a product of “Hey, this is way too One Specific Religion, quick, let’s find corresponding holidays from other traditions so as not to offend people” and then you get Hanukkah (which was a minor Jewish religious festival) being inflated into Jewish Christmas, something like Kwanzaa being invented out of whole cloth, and all the “Actually, this isn’t the date of Christ’s birth, it’s the festival of Sol Invictus” stories being trotted out in the press (along with the usual neo-pagan/New Age “reclaim our traditional feasts from the appropriation of the oppressive Christians”).

        Given that the only reason it’s a secular holiday is that it arose out of a religious holiday at that specific time, and that there aren’t that many worshippers of Sol Invictus around to give you the day off, and that if it stuck to being “it’s the solstice” nobody would get the day off (who gets the day off for the Autumnal Equinox? Not unless you’re in Japan you don’t), I really don’t see that it’s going to kill anyone to acknowledge that “yeah, this in its origins is a Christian festival”. We’ve just had Eid al-Adha and if I were in a majority Muslim country, I wouldn’t be going around outraged that people were wishing each other a fortunate Eid rather than generic “Happy Holidays!” because that is personally offensive to me as a non-Muslim that you assume I share your customs and you don’t give mine representation on this matter. It’s a national holiday in secular Turkey, anyone want to tell the Turks they’re not being culturally sensitive or inclusive by sticking to a One Specific Religion name for their holiday?

        Anybody here absolutely outraged and offended that we’re approaching Michaelmas? And that the name is used in both university and legal years?

        I do think there were some people with particular axes to grind re: getting religion out of the public square who pushed for the secular version, but does that constitute a war? And I wish the people on the other side pushing to have it kept as “Merry Christmas” weren’t mainly using it for political point-scoring and some kind of patriotism test.

        Birmingham invented Winterval as a way to get people out spending money earlier and for longer than the traditional shopping period season of inclusivity, and we have one locally (which again is mostly about “getting punters into the town centre to spend money” rather than inclusivity).

        Not that I am going to get worked up about being wished “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”, it’s all the one to me. All the fuss over “Can we put up a Santa figure? What about a nativity scene – oh no, that would mean we represent the Inquisition and will drag all the non-Christians out of their beds to burn them at the stake!” fuss in America seems overblown.

        • Gazeboist says:

          It’s complicated because our governments are explicitly religiously neutral, but obviously need to make concessions to the fact that the culture has Christian roots, some of which* still show. The question then becomes, of course, what does “neutral” mean? To which the answer seems to be that you let anyone who wants to put up religious symbols in public places, subject to sensible time/place/manner restrictions, but it’s really-sketchy-but-still-kind-of-allowed-in-some-places for the government in question to put up such symbols themselves.

          Santa Claus, of course, has nothing to do with St Nicholas, what are you talking about. :p

          * Actually, the only ones I can think of are “you get Christmas off” and “Sundays are more likely to be a day off than Saturdays”. Easter, even, isn’t reliably something people care about (I understand that to be quite different in the British Isles).

        • Corey says:

          Ah, the War On Christmas stuff makes me tired, but the Happy Holidays notion is admittedly a product of “Hey, this is way too One Specific Religion, quick, let’s find corresponding holidays from other traditions so as not to offend people” and then you get Hanukkah

          The thing that offends me about the Xmas/Holidays substitution is references to “holiday tree”s. None of the other major winter-solstice-adjacent holidays include decorated trees (unless I’m missing something), so “holiday tree” is less accurate and no more inclusive than “Christmas tree”.

          • Manya says:

            Russian New Year’s has a tree. 🙂

            But that’s because the communists actively pushed for a secular New Year’s to replace the religious Christmas, the tree was still a Christmas thing originally.

            And no one knows or cares about Russian New Year’s anyway.

          • LHN says:

            An acquaintance once explained that the Ukrainian New Year’s tree trimming tradition was to decorate it with a) candles, and b) wrapped up pieces of fireworks, which would be removed and taken outside to be set off on New Year’s Eve.

            I marveled that only a country that had endured the Mongols, Stalin, and Hitler would consider filling a living room with wood, fire, and gunpowder to be an essential part of a relaxing family holiday.

        • caethan says:

          The one that irritates me to no end is the attempted replacement of BC/AD with BCE/CE. So we’re going to take exactly the same religious reference, down to the 6th century error in figuring out the birth year of Jesus, but we’re not going to *call* it that any more because that’s religiously exclusive? At least the revolutionary French had the balls to throw out the actual religious reference and come up with a new calendar system instead of pretending to hide it with a different acronym. It’s like me whining about Thursday because it’s unnecessarily exclusive of non-Norse pagans.

          • JayT says:

            Yeah, I agree on this one. What a waste of time to try and come up with something new for no real benefit.

          • Andrew says:

            It’s a sensible compromise.
            Person A: We’ll use BC/AD, ’cause it’s the academic standard and broadly used by historians.
            Person B: I’m not a Christian, and using (acronymized) Christian lingo offends me.
            Person A: Fine, how ’bout we use the same dates and just call them non-Christian terms?
            Person B: Eh, I guess that works.

          • BBA says:

            I first encountered BCE/CE in textbooks about Jewish history for a Jewish audience. It made sense once it was explained to me – AD means “the year of our Lord” and Jesus isn’t our Lord.

            I don’t know why goyim use it though.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            The one that irritates me to no end is the attempted replacement of BC/AD with BCE/CE. So we’re going to take exactly the same religious reference… but we’re not going to *call* it that any more because that’s religiously exclusive?

            That’s what I said to my AP Human Geo teacher in high school.

          • Deiseach says:

            I’ve seen it explained as “Before Common Era/Common Era” which at least is a bit more coherent, since it recognises “we are using a Western dating system which, for historic reasons, is the one most widely recognised”.

            I’ll still use BC/AD in preference myself, though 🙂

          • The Nybbler says:

            That’s irritating, but just as irritating on the other side are those who try to use the conventional phrasing (whether in Latin or in English) to “prove” something is a Christian document. You see this often enough with the US Constitution signature clause:

            done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independance of the United States of America the Twelfth In witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names

        • Aegeus says:

          and then you get Hanukkah (which was a minor Jewish religious festival) being inflated into Jewish Christmas

          I think this happened because Jewish kids were wondering why they were the only ones not getting presents at that time of year, not because Christians were looking for a way to show off their multiculturalism.

          • LHN says:

            Chanukah was elevated in prominence to keep the kids happy, but it became incorporated into public observances in the US as a means of showing off multiculturalism and inclusion and/or of providing a shield against First Amendment objections to Christmas observances in state settings, with different mixes depending on who you talk to. (With the resultant push and pull previously observed on how religious is too religious in schools and town squares.)

            Honestly, I kind of like the whole “holiday season” thing in general. I’ve often suggested (albeit not entirely seriously) that whenever any new religious group immigrates or emerges, they should be informed that it’s their responsibility to come up with an appropriately festive holiday to celebrate around December. (If there are minor obstacles like a lunar calendar that doesn’t have a solar correction factor or established holidays being too serious or otherwise inappropriate, just make something up.)

            Likewise, all newly emergent immigrant groups would be encouraged to publicize or devise a day outside of December to be their appropriately celebratory Ethnic Day, a la St. Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo or Chinese New Year. (No requirement that the day be particularly important or celebrated the same way– or at all– back in the homeland.)

          • Protagoras says:

            @LHN, What excellent ideas!

          • Gazeboist says:

            Hanukkah can fall very nearly anywhere in the holiday season (counting from Thanksgiving to Christmas); a lunar calendar is no obstacle.

          • LHN says:

            The Jewish calendar periodically inserts a leap month to keep it roughly in sync with the solar calendar. That’s why Chanukah can be as early as Thanksgiving (though only two more times ever, unless the calendar is changed) or as late as Christmas, but will never happen in June or October.

            A pure lunar calendar like the Muslim one doesn’t do that, and shifts steadily through the solar year. If Ramadan coincides with Christmas one year, thirteen years later it will overlap July 4.

          • Gazeboist says:

            The Muslim calendar doesn’t care about seasons?

      • Jaskologist says:

        Replacing “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays” is cultural erasure.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          In the same sense that my family not worshipping Perun and Triglav is, yes.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          It’s a microaggression against Christians.

          • Deiseach says:

            I must remember that for next St Patrick’s Day, when all the Americans are online with “Happy St Patty’s Day”.

            IT’S PADDY’S DAY NOT PATTY’S DAY I AM BEING MICRO-AGGRESSED THIS IS A MICRO-AGGRESSION 🙂

      • ” Second, and more importantly, it’s hard to find a target nation that doesn’t have cultural biases at least analogous to those of the US, at least in this respect. India’s the one I thought of that I couldn’t immediately shoot down”

        The most obvious sign of sub-Saharan African descent is dark skin. The population of southern India is dark skinned but not of sub-Saharan African descent–presumably parallel adaptation to lots of sunlight.

        It might be interesting to compare how well African immigrants do in southern India compared to how well they do in otherwise similar societies where the local population is light skinned.

        • Gazeboist says:

          Yeah, but (and I thought of this as I was writing about how I couldn’t shoot down India…) India has a homegrown bias against dark skinned people. I don’t know that there’s anywhere on Earth that doesn’t either (a) have some sort of bias against dark skinned and/or African people or (b) still at least arguably bear the marks of a colonial system that knocked down all the old institutions in one way or another.

          • Mary says:

            Most cultures have a bias against poor people.

            As long as poverty meant work in the fields under the sun and wealth meant interiors, that meant a bias against darker skins.

            then you get into the interesting period of “tans mean you are rich enough to go to the Riviera in the winter.”

            Nowadays tanning beds have probably erased the class markers against skin.

        • gbdub says:

          Doesn’t India have a pretty strong cultural aesthetic preferring light skin?

          • Loquat says:

            Yes, and at least for women skin-lightening treatments are a major component of the beauty industry. The pressure on men to be fair-skinned seems to be lesser, but still present, especially if a man wants to make it in a field like acting where looks are important.

          • Deiseach says:

            Doesn’t India have a pretty strong cultural aesthetic preferring light skin?

            Allegedly arising from the Aryan conquerors overcoming the native Dravidians, though how that stands up to modern theories I have no idea. Vaguely recall reading something about how heroes and beautiful princesses, etc. in stories are all light-skinned or golden-skinned, with the term used referring to the colour of wheat – so being light(wheat) coloured is better than being darker coloured.

            There is certainly the myth of Parvati gaining a dark complexion and undertaking penances and austerities to restore her fair complexion, and out of the cast-off dark part the demon-slaying goddess Kaushiki was created. It’s a little bit complicated because while the darker goddesses are fierce and violent, they’re not regarded as primarily or solely malevolent and indeed have a protective role to play.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            Isn’t that a fairly-universal class thing at least for women (light, un-tanned skin means you’re not someone who has to work outside), which was only supplanted in the West in the early 20th century when a tan instead meant you could afford to go on foreign holidays?

            I think the same is also the case in China/Japan- hence the pictures of Chinese women wearing ski masks at the beach to avoid tanning.

          • Sandy says:

            I’ve never been sure how much stock to put into the Indo-Aryan vs Dravidian theory of colorism in India. My entire family is Dravidian and there is a huge degree of variation, even across generations —- I am about as brown as the typical Mexican, one of my cousins is very dark, and another has pale white skin, even though we are all from the same caste and have centuries of nothing but Dravidian ancestry. Generally speaking, the Northerners tend to be lighter-skinned, but there are still millions of them who are darker than I am.

            The following is a bit from Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger, which won the Booker Prize several years ago and was hailed as a “bold” and “unflinchingly honest” portrayal of India. It’s a conversation between two Indo-Aryan Northerners in Delhi:

            “You know what the best part of this election is?”
            “What?”
            “The way we’ve spread down south. We’ve got a foothold in Bangalore too. And you know that’s where the future is.”
            “The south? Bullshit.”
            “Why not? One in every three new office buildings in India is being built in Bangalore. It is the future.”
            Fuck all that. I don’t believe a word. The south is full of Tamils. You know who the Tamils are? Negroes. We’re the sons of the Aryans who came to India. We made them our slaves. And now they give us lectures. Negroes.”

            This was a bizarre version of history to me, because I was unaware of the Tamils ever being enslaved by Northerners (setting aside the fact that most Dravidians are not Tamils); not only did this not happen, but the southernmost Tamil regions were among the few places in the country that managed to fight off the Mughals and the various sultanates, while virtually all of the North was conquered and subjugated by the Turks and Persians. And yet this is presented as historical fact and swallowed up uncritically. I think the idea of the conquerors introducing colorism into the conquered society is a European framework of slavery and race relations that is being projected onto the Indian context. It might be helpful to know of examples of colorism that existed in societies that were never colonized, because untangling the various colonial influences upon India is a herculean task.

          • Stefan Drinic says:

            I haven’t watched the source material, but how ‘right’ is the quote about Tamils even presented as? Is this a sympathetic character, an idiot? It may very well be parody or presented as obvious ignorance. What would you say?

          • Sandy says:

            @Stefan Drinic: It’s not a sympathetic character but not an idiot either. He’s a rising politician and the whole exchange is used to demonstrate the arrogance of the ruling class.

          • Does anyone know whether skin lightening products actually make people’s skin lighter?

          • onyomi says:

            For the most part, they do not.

            The only products which actually reduce pigmentation are hydroquinone to a very mild extent, and monobenzone and mequinol to a much greater extent. The latter products, however, destroy pigment cells, and are only meant for people like Michael Jackson with extreme vitiligo (white patches). They cannot take you from dark brown to light brown. They can only take you from pigmented to albino, which I’m pretty sure is not what most Indians want, and which I doubt would produce aesthetically pleasing, uniform results outside of cases of already extensive vitiligo.

            Answer is: like 99% of skin product claims, skin lightening creams are 99% b. s. Most of it is either total placebo, like “green tea antioxidants,” or stuff like tretinoin, which will peel off a slightly darker, older layer of skin to reveal a slightly less pigmented, fresher layer, but will not actually change the level of pigmentation.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            What about people like Sammy Sosa? Have they not actually lightened their skin?

          • Jaskologist says:

            Surely products containing sunscreen would be effective.

          • onyomi says:

            I hadn’t seen how Sammy Sosa seems to have gotten a lot whiter.

            Part of it could just be avoiding the sun as compared to his baseball playing days, though it does look rather extreme in his case. It’s conceivable he used an aggressive regimen of sun avoidance and hydroquinone. Maybe some of the more powerful stuff I mentioned, though, if so, he seems to be fairly fortunate in that it seems to have produced mostly even results. Apparently menoquinone is somewhat absorbed systemically, so that could explain a body-wide change. Either that, or slathering it all over.

            I do recall reading, however, that it was discovered when factory workers working with the chemical started to find white patches on their hands, so it’s not entirely systemic in its action.

          • onyomi says:

            Apparently there has also been some photoshop shenanigans used to make Sosa’s change look more dramatic than it really is.

            Given this later picture of him looking relatively normal, I’d guess he was using something with hydroquinone, which can cause some real, temporary whitening, but not permanent depigmentation like the stuff Michael Jackson probably used. That, plus photoshop used to make his change look more sensational and dramatic.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:
            Interesting.

            Given that Sosa was, I believe, hawking product, photoshop probably makes a lot of sense.

        • Deiseach says:

          It might be interesting to compare how well African immigrants do in southern India compared to how well they do in otherwise similar societies where the local population is light skinned.

          Complicated by the fact that British people in the 19th century at least were quite happy to refer to Indians as the n-word slur, regardless of how dark-skinned the Indian in question was, and did classify Indians as “black”. From a 1914 detective story:

          It appeared that Mr Ghoosh was an Indian. Miss Chubb confided that at first she had been rather perturbed at the idea of taking in “a black man,” as she confessed to regarding him.

          I’ve heard the term used by British Indians, at least up to the 90s:

          Historically, the term [Black British] has most commonly been used to refer to Black people of New Commonwealth origin, of both West African and South Asian descent. For example, Southall Black Sisters was established in 1979 “to meet the needs of black (Asian and Afro-Caribbean) women.” (“Asian” in the British context usually refers to people of South Asian ancestry). “Black” was used in this inclusive political sense to mean “non-white British.” In the 1970s, a time of rising activism against racial discrimination, the main communities so described were from the British West Indies and the Indian subcontinent, but solidarity against racism sometimes extended the term at that time to the Irish population of Britain as well.

        • smocc says:

          There are communities of Africans living in India. The community I am most familiar with is students who find it is somewhat cheaper to study something like hotel management in India for a few years. Mostly they leave, but some stay.

          To put it lightly, they are not liked. It could be due to bias against young transient students, but I’m pretty sure it goes deeper based on the things I have heard people say. In the most extreme but maybe also most telling example I know, some American missionary friends of mine were visiting an African student in a poorer neighborhood when a mob started to gather outside the house. The Americans initially thought the mob was there for them but, long story short, a rumor had spread that Africans were stealing Indian babies and eating them and the mob was there to lynch the African guy.

          So India certainly isn’t less racist against Africans than the US.

          Also, as has been pointed out, Indians are biased against even other Indians with dark skin.

        • caethan says:

          It’s not parallel. Dark skin is the ancestral version. Light skin is the recent parallel adaptation (independent at least in its European & East Asian versions).

          • Gazeboist says:

            If I’m understanding this map correctly, it looks like light skin in India has the same roots as (eastern) European light skin. The split with Dravidian groups actually looks older than the split with most East Asian groups.

            But I had to stare at the map for a while to figure that out.

          • caethan says:

            That map doesn’t have the information you need (it’s showing Y-chromosome descent patterns, the major pigmentation allele is on chr15). You can’t get specific gene information from broad descent maps like that because there’s significant selective introgression between neighboring groups. E.g., in two nearby populations with very different ancestries and low enough interbreeding to keep neutral variation pretty separate, introgression of positively selected alleles from one population can leak into the other and go all the way to fixation. That’s what happened with Amerindians and European disease resistance genes, for example. Even in almost pure stock Amerindians, as long as there’s been any past interbreeding, they’re almost all fixed for the European disease resistance alleles, because those genes have been under such strong selection for the last several centuries.

            You’re right, though, European and South Asian light skin is identical by descent. (And obviously affects the same gene.)

            East Asian light skin is not caused by the same gene (SLC24A5), and they share the ancestral version with Africans. AFAIK, we don’t know what causes their light skin yet.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The gene explaining the largest amount of variation in East Asian skin color is OCA2, as determined earlier this year.

          • caethan says:

            Largest yet known, but not very large – OCA2 only explains about 8% of the variation in skin color between East Asians and Africans.

      • Dank says:

        Skin color discrimination is arguably stronger in India than in the US.

        https://www.quora.com/Is-discrimination-by-caste-and-skin-colour-common-in-India

      • I’m Jewish, but grew up among Catholics.

        “Happy holidays” … [is] functionally the same as “Merry Christmas”, but it covers people who aren’t Christian.

        I thought “Happy Holidays” was functionally the same as “Merry Christmas”, but covers New Year’s Eve/Day.

        Moreover, “Merry Christmas” kind of expires at the end of December 25, but the holiday season obviously continues; school is out, many offices are closed, decorations remain in place, etc. On December 27 or something, even in a 100% Christian setting, it would seem silly to say “Merry Christmas”, but totally reasonable to say “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings”.

        • Amnon says:

          Traditionally, Christmas extended for 12 days after that, but nowadays practically no one celebrates the Epiphany. Imagine someone saying “Merry Christmas” on the 6th of January, even though it’s technically correct.

        • Deiseach says:

          As Amnon says, the season of Christmas doesn’t begin until the 25th (or on the Eve, the 24th) and lasts for the famous “Twelve Days of Christmas” up until Epiphany (though it used to run up until Candlemas, the 2nd of February).

          Of course that’s gone by the wayside and is only observed liturgically, but I suppose the main point is that we wish people would stop wielding “Happy Holidays” versus “Merry Christmas” as a political point-scoring contest? If someone (particularly the poor souls working in retail and service industries who have to be very careful about offending customers or else they catch it from the boss who does not want unhappy customers taking their custom away) says to you “Happy Holidays”, so what? They’re not trying to burn down your church! And if someone wishes you “Merry Christmas”, it doesn’t mean they want to drag you off to the baptismal font!

          • “it doesn’t mean they want to drag you off to the baptismal font!”

            A very very long time ago, back in the days of libertarian vs traditionalist arguments in a conservative student group, one of the traditionalists I argued with threatened to do that to me. He was football player sized, and I’m not.

            But he was a nice fellow, and it was only a joke.

            P.S. Remembering it I thought I remembered his name, googled, found a reference to almost certainly the same person (and he actually had been a football player). No longer alive, unfortunately.

    • Deiseach says:

      the ideas of structural or systemic -isms

      In small doses and limited application, useful. But they do tend to get turned into huge over-arching narratives that explain, and are responsible, for everything, e.g. The Patriarchy is the reason peaceful, loving, non-violent, earth-friendly, female-led groups were overthrown and crushed and why dominant, powerful, war-leader and ruler women were overthrown and crushed. Women are both naturally peaceful and would never solve problems by violence or grasping for power, so the world we have is the fault of systemic sexism, and women are just as much natural leaders and fighters as men but have been suppressed when they appeared to threaten the male grasp on power, so the world we have is the fault of systemic sexism. Any way is the right way up no matter what end you are holding the problem by.

      Same thing with all the other -isms. Yes, they exist. Yes, at some times and in some ways very powerful and very bad. Yes, subtle effects that we may not even be aware of in our own attitudes and beliefs. But the answer to every question, no matter what the question, is “it’s because of [specific thing]-ism”? No.

    • The Nybbler says:

      There is certainly a difference between “structural” or “systemic” “-isms”, and cases of one or a few people being “-ist”. If you use the ordinary meaning of “structural” or “systemic” you could probably make valid points of this sort. However, SJ does not allow its theories to be used that way; you cannot simply take their premises and come to conclusions, they are only allowed to be used to come to the right conclusions. SJ is not a system where you have axioms and observations followed by a chain of logic to lead to conclusions; rather, everything is axiomatic… premises, conclusions, and the chain of logic itself. How the axioms are decided on, I do not know; perhaps by a tumblr poll.

    • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

      As a rule of thumb: If you can write an article in a large newspaper claiming that group X is oppressed by society, and people will praise you for being courageous and just, well, then group X is probably not being systematically oppressed. There were no op-eds in the Third Reich claiming that antisemitsm is problematic.

      By that standard the only groups I can think of that fit the bill to day are pedophiles and criminals. The criterion does obviously not distinguish between justified and unfair oppression.

      • Deiseach says:

        As a rule of thumb: If you can write an article in a large newspaper claiming that group X is oppressed by society, and people will praise you for being courageous and just, well, then group X is probably not being systematically oppressed.

        As in the conversation between the White Spirit and the Episcopal Ghost of a liberal theologian/bishop from Lewis’ “The Great Divorce”:

        “Do you really think there are no sins of intellect?”

        “There are indeed, Dick. There is hidebound prejudice, and intellectual dishonesty, and timidity, and stagnation. But honest opinions fearlessly followed – they are not sins.”

        “I know we used to talk that way. I did it too until the end of my life when I became what you call narrow. It all turns on what are honest opinions.”

        “Mine certainly were. They were not only honest but heroic. I asserted them fearlessly. When the doctrine of the Resurrection ceased to commend itself to the critical faculties which God had given me, I openly rejected it. I preached my famous sermon. I defied the whole chapter. I took every risk.”

        “What risk? What was at all likely to come of it except what actually came – popularity, sales for your books, invitations, and finally a bishopric?”

      • Jiro says:

        If you can write an article in a large newspaper claiming that group X is oppressed by society, and people will praise you for being courageous and just, well, then group X is probably not being systematically oppressed.

        I’m fairly sure that people wrote anti-slavery newspaper articles in slave states. Does that mean that slaves weren’t oppressed?

        If you’re oppressed by 90% of society, the remaining 10% can write newspaper articles. Furthermore, oppression isn’t an all or nothing thing; there may be the occasional oppressed person who has so many unrelated advantages, that even the oppression can’t completely prevent him from writing newspaper articles.

      • dndnrsn says:

        This can’t be right. It would depend on there only being one “bubble”. Which just isn’t true, socially or materially. That someone who uses transphobic language might get in a lot of trouble (regardless of if they knew it was offensive or not) on a university campus is no consolation to trans teenagers kicked out onto the street by their parents, to give an example. It is the norm for local values and opinions and social norms and so forth to be different from place to place.

  4. Jordan D. says:

    Hello, everybody! It’s time to lawyer up!

    (Not literally!)

    To start us off, a few interesting court decisions:

    The Seventh Circuit rules that the government can deport an Iraqi immigrant over some minor infractions, but asks the government to take a moment and really think about whether this is a good idea. More interesting to me- the guy left Iraq in 1979 as a teenager, and the country is… more than a little different now. Are there any ethical duties towards illegal immigrants if their home country has seriously devolved since they came over? What if one argues that America was directly responsible for the change? – http://media.ca7.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/rssExec.pl?Submit=Display&Path=Y2016/D09-09/C:15-1378:J:Wood:aut:T:fnOp:N:1824452:S:0

    From the Ninth Circuit – A police officer is sued for beating a man, and the man receives a $50k verdict. Ordinarily, the city would pay the charge, but the city is bankrupt! Who must suffer this loss? Answer: the police officer is still liable. – https://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2016/09/08/14-16192.pdf

    From the Eighth Circuit – A municipal pipe bursts and floods a series of condos. The city offers remuneration… to only the people not covered by insurance. Is this an illegal taking? We won’t find out today, because the Circuit dismissed the case as brought improperly. – http://media.ca8.uscourts.gov/opndir/16/09/153216P.pdf

    Now for the controversial opinion segment!

    A discussion about the legacy of the late Justice Scalia – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2016/09/14/predicting-justice-scalias-future-reputation/?utm_term=.c6e6f01a78ab

    The authors do a very good, scholarly job of identifying various past Justices and trying to pinpoint which one he’s likely to be most remembered-like. I want to short-circuit all of that with a different theory; the people who remember Justices are mostly academics and law school students. The substance of Scalia’s biggest opinions and dissents are, by and large, going to be forgotten within a few decades. On the other hand, Scalia’s writings are very popular in academic materials, largely because he was a really good writer. I think that, combined with Scalia’s role in pushing textualist approaches, is going to ensure that he is regarded well, because he’s a perennial favorite of students and historians.

    Edit: All of these interesting cases come from the Short Circuit newsletter by the Institute of Justice, which I read via republication on the Volokh Conspiracy.

    (Short Circuit : http://ij.org/about-us/shortcircuit/)
    (VC: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2016/09/12/short-circuit-a-roundup-of-recent-federal-court-decisions-20/?utm_term=.80ce9c5ef85c)

    • Deiseach says:

      Barring an improbable resurgence of social conservatism

      Welp, the “Washington Post” just lost me with that little gem, because plainly they are ignorant of history.

      Take Queen Victoria. Why do you think we have the image of the Victorian Age as socially conservative? Because her mother very carefully trained her, in anticipation of her succeeding to the throne, to be very distinct in behaviour from her uncle and the legacy of his brother (George IV) before him (and the succession crisis); to restore the reputation of the monarchy from the low ebb it was at in public opinion due to easy, even lax, morals.

      Just as post-Restoration Britain swung from the Puritan government era to that of the Merry Monarch, so it swung back in Victoria’s time. And this happened in other countries – why is the USA of the 50s considered to be so starchy, stuffy and conservative? And what about the 80s, the era that left behind all the hippy 60s peace and love and the 70s search for self-actualisation in exchange for ‘greed is good’?

      Look back over the history of the world, pick a free-wheeling socially liberal era, and tell me when it wasn’t followed by a resurgence of social conservatism. Who knows but that in thirty to fifty years, same-sex marriage (the case instanced here) may be regarded by all sides as a massive mistake? Or some other ‘right’ we now think is so basic as to be unarguable?

      • Jiro says:

        And this happened in other countries – why is the USA of the 50s considered to be so starchy, stuffy and conservative?

        Because we have TV shows from that era and TV shows were de facto heavily censored and people watching those now take them as a statement about how the society was run when they really weren’t.

        Also because people like to believe things conveninet for their own political purposes, and if your ideology lauds the 1960’s, it’s going to make the 1950’s look especially bad.

      • We don’t know which social changes are going to continue. Protestants and Catholics living with each other in peace seems stable, though you never know whether someone will be able to stir up “ancient hatreds” for their own political ends.

        Likewise, the Jewish emancipation (the end of the laws restricting Jews in Europe) seems likely to hold.

        If I had to bet on what the next conservative swing would look like, homosexual marriage (perhaps even poly marriage) will continue, but there will be social and possibly legal pressure against adultery backed up by much more surveilance than we have now.

        • As your example suggests, it may partly depend on technology. Paternity testing means that some cases of adultery are provable now, where before they were only suspected.

          At a related tangent … . I’ve been reading a book about the Nuer by an anthropologist. In describing their social system, she distinguishes between “genitor” and “pater.” The pater is the man (or, in some special circumstances, woman) who is in the official role of father. The genitor is the man who actually provided the sperm. They are usually the same, but there are a number of recognized situations where they are not.

        • Deiseach says:

          there will be social and possibly legal pressure against adultery backed up by much more surveilance than we have now

          It would be poetic justice if the old adultery laws that made it a crime punishable by jail time or even death and which were done away with as intolerable government meddling in private business were re-introduced under a new coat of paint, all due to the social pressures from the “marriage is between [no limiting number] of persons who love each other” redefinition (because “being in love” is the only thing that marks a true marriage, and gender/number of persons in the marriage, children, etc. have nothing whatsoever to do with it).

          That is, because we’ve put all our emotional eggs into the romantic relationship basket, cheating is seen as this dreadful betrayal and crime. So cheating (without being in a poly/open/according to the negotiated rules of your relationship) could invoke legal punishment.

          • Gazeboist says:

            That seems unlikely in a poly context. Polyamory doesn’t quite acknowledge adultery per se – you can violate the rules of the relationship with respect to outside partners, but that’s not a separate category from eg funding three week trip to the Bahamas out of the joint bank account without consulting your partner.

            But legal recognition for polyamory seems unlikely. It would require some major cultural shifts that very definitely have not happened yet, and would be very hard to implement barring the even less likely replacement of marriage as a universal legal/cultural concept with a sort of generalized civil union.

    • Gazeboist says:

      7th circuit:

      I think there’s a moral sense in which he should be deported to Iraq-1979, which unfortunately doesn’t exist anymore. I’m not sure that there is a general moral answer to this sort of question (that is, assuming you are deporting a person, what do you do if their country of origin no longer exists in a meaningful sense?) and I think it bears on but is distinct from “should you deport someone who immigrated illegally at the age of 3”. In this particular case, I think it’s reasonable for the executive branch to, if it so chooses, exercise something like the pardon power, and say essentially “there is no good country to put you in, and at this time you’re here, so your staying is what will happen. Pay this fine* and don’t do it again.”

      9th circuit:

      That isn’t the whole ruling. The city is (as always, in California) obligated to pay the verdict if the city undertakes the defense of the cop (or other employee). Furthermore, the city’s obligation is to the officer it defends, not the to whom person the officers is liable. Critically, the city chose to defend the officers after receiving approval for their bankruptcy plan, despite the fact that the suit was ongoing (it was automatically stayed when bankruptcy was filed and resumed after that was resolved). Furthermore, multiple other Ch 9 bankruptcy plans (including at least one in California, subject to the same law) did included provisions for how judgments against employees would be paid, yet this one made no mention of such judgments.

      The court ultimately concluded that (1) the cops are still fully liable to the plaintiff and (2) the city is still fully liable to the cops.

      Also: Short Circuit is pretty great, huh?

      * Maybe fine him, maybe don’t. He should probably get some penalty for breaking the law, and jail time doesn’t seem sensible for this case.

      • Jordan D. says:

        It is! I have recommended it twice here before, but probably I should credit them each time I do a post with their stuff. I’d discuss it on the Volokh Conspiracy when Eugine posts it, but frankly that commentariat scares me.

        • Gazeboist says:

          I just signed up for their newsletter back in August, and last weekend I rescued it from what was effectively a spam folder. I think my favorites thus far have been Hatch Valley Chiles and the Sno-ball (c) (r) TM case in Louisiana, just because of the puns.

        • brad says:

          The old website was better. Dealing with wpost is a PITA.

        • “but frankly that commentariat scares me.”

          ???

          I read the Volokh Conspiracy pretty regularly but not all the comments. What’s scary about them?

          • Jordan D. says:

            I’m being a little unfair, probably. On the old site, the VC had some really top-notch commentators; when it moved to the Post, it retained a lot of those but also gained a much larger number of extraordinarily partisan commentators.

            On something relatively non-partisan like VC reposting Short Circuit, I expect the comments are fine but there aren’t many of them. When the VC posts something more politically-charged, like an election story, an Obamacare story or the like, it can get thousands of the worst sorts of content-free cheering for Republican or Democrat positions, and the attacks can become pretty vicious.

            (I still read the ones which are under a hundred comments. Getting mad at internet comments but not posting anything is my chocolate.)

      • brad says:

        The decision strikes me as entirely correct. An agreement to indemnify in no way modifies the obligation of the original tortfeasor. Rather it creates an independent obligation between the tortfeasor and the indemnifier. It’s the second obligation that can be terminated by the bankruptcy of the indemnifier, the obligation to the plaintiff can only be terminated by the bankruptcy of the tortfeasor.

        If courts were to accept the ” effectively claims against the City of Vallejo” it would totally upend 1983 law.

        One thing that puzzles me is what the justification was for staying the 1983 action when the indemnifier filed for bankruptcy protection.

        Also, I think the Supreme Court should grant cert in a appropriate case and find that bankruptcy plans can never discharge third party debts.

        Finally, I am disappointed that the Officers will not in the end be personally liable, though the Court’s timing argument does seem sound. The de facto universal indemnification rule is perhaps the worst part of 1983 law — and that’s really saying something!

        • Jordan D. says:

          In my experience, when a bankruptcy happens, a lot of things which don’t really need to be stayed get stayed.

          • Gazeboist says:

            I think the judges explicitly commented on that, actually. (As well as the fact that Chapter 9 bankruptcy, unlike Chapter 11, contains no provision that liabilities for things like assault cannot be discharged)

          • brad says:

            The section on that basically says “The parties stipulated that the law required a stay, but we aren’t so sure. It seems an odd result.”

          • Gazeboist says:

            Yeah, you’re right. Well, parties gonna stipulate.

      • Deiseach says:

        So the 7th Circuit Court thing – he immigrated lawfully as a permanent resident, he’s been in the US for thirty-seven years, and he had one criminal offence. Agreed that drug-dealing is serious, is it worth it to keep after the guy for this long? Agreed that the interest of the government is not to set a precedent whereby you can get into the USA as either legal or illegal, commit serious crime, and not be deported, but given that they still haven’t managed to deport him after thirty-seven years, they should give up. If they managed to get him kicked out a year, two years, or three years after he committed the crime, fine. But when he’s spent the majority of his life in the USA and very likely has no close family connections back in Iraq and that the situation there (particularly for an Assyrian Christian) is very likely to be hazardous to his well-being, what good is served here?

        It’s not going to dissuade other likely criminals and by now the punishment would be disproportionate to his original offence.

        • On the subject of Assyrian Christians … .

          The nurse at my cardiologist is Assyrian–whether Christian I don’t know. She says that their language is the language of the ancient Assyrians, presumably with some changes over time. Is that established? Is it reasonably clear that the people who currently identify as Assyrians are the descendants of the ancient Assyrians?

          • Gazeboist says:

            Wikipedia seems to say yes, though I didn’t dig too far.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            It depends on how far back in time you want to go and how fine distinctions you want to make. For thousands of years the Assyrians spoke East Semitic languages related to Babylonian. But shortly before the Persian conquest it was replaced by the West Semitic language Aramaic, which became the dominant Semitic language in the Middle East for a thousand years, until it was replaced by the Central Semitic language Arabic. In isolation, the phrase “the language of the Assyrians” suggests the Assyrian language, but it is also true that Aramaic was the language of the Assyrian empire (including the rulers, I think) for a couple hundred years.

            From Aramaic descends Syriac, a common Christian liturgical language. A few groups of Christians and Jews use related languages at home. These groups really do maintain continuity with the language before the Arab conquests, while most Christians and Jews switched to Arabic. But pretty much everyone spoke Aramaic back then, so that doesn’t tell you much about their descent. Some Aramaic-speaking groups claim to be Assyrian or Chaldean. Other (Arabic-speaking?) Christians claim to be Phoenician.

        • Jiro says:

          But when he’s spent the majority of his life in the USA and very likely has no close family connections back in Iraq and that the situation there (particularly for an Assyrian Christian) is very likely to be hazardous to his well-being, what good is served here?

          You could argue for a statute of limitations on this like there is on other criminal activity. In that case, the drug conviction should be ignored, and we should treat him like a new applicant for immigration without a criminal record. If we would otherwise let in an Assyrian Christian on the grounds of fleeing danger, then it would make sense let him stay.

          However, from what BBA says below it sounds like the delay is not that nobody thought to deport him, it’s just that the deportation itself got delayed, and mainly because of his own actions. In a standard criminal case, this would not trigger a statute of limitations.

    • Jiro says:

      Are there any ethical duties towards illegal immigrants if their home country has seriously devolved since they came over?

      If the immigrant is illegal, getting a windfall by being outside the country when bad things happen is like getting a windfall by stealing. It doesn’t matter how much better the thief’s life was made by the theft; what he stole didn’t belong to him, so he needs to give it back.

      • BBA says:

        Point of order. The immigrant in this case entered the country legally and was issued a green card. His drug conviction, by operation of law, terminated his lawful status and made him a deportable illegal alien. The case is about the tangled web of exceptions to that “operation of law” which he’s been trying to invoke for the last 20+ years.

        Trying to reclaim what was once yours is a little morally different from “theft” in my book.

        • CatCube says:

          That actually makes it worse to me.

          If he had been caught last year, after 20 years in the US, I could *possibly* be talked into an exception (probably wouldn’t go for it, but I’d at least entertain it). However, if he was caught 20 years ago, and has been keeping the thing tied up in the court system since then, well taking your medicine might have been the better way to go. Using a situation you created yourself to beg for an exception is the textbook definition of chutzpah.

      • Jordan D. says:

        Speaking in the general case, does it matter if the enforcing authority caused the bad things to happen? Hypothetically, let’s say that someone jumps the border with Mexico and hides out a few years. During that time, the US invades Mexico, causing the country to break into warring dictatorial states or something equally terrible. Is there a moral obligation then?

        • Jiro says:

          Not unless the US also has the obligation to take in all Mexicans who face similar peril in Mexico but stayed in Mexico all along rather than jumping the border.

  5. Irishdude7 says:

    Thoughts on Negative Externalities

    In OT 57.75, I gave an uneconomic argument against minimum wage: “When I make an agreement to exchange my labor for compensation from another individual, it’s no one else’s business what we agree to.” I argued that people did not have the right to use physical force to stop consenting adults from making agreements they disprove of.

    TheAncientGeek asked if I thought this was true even if there are externalities. He (she?) elsewhere also commented that libertarians are externality blind. These comments set up some of my thoughts/questions on externalities as I’m not blind to them, but I don’t think there are always obvious answers.

    Just because a negative externality is created by an action does not mean other people are justified in using force to stop that action. When I turn on my porch light at night, photons are beamed into other people’s eyes, which could cause neighbors to be annoyed (ht David Friedman). Given that a negative externality is created by turning on the porch light, are my neighbors justified in using physical force to stop me?

    Another example: Bob applies for his dream job and is most qualified for the job, but at the last minute Anne applies for the job, is more qualified, and gets the job over Bob. Anne creates a negative externality (Bob doesn’t get the job), but I don’t see the existence of this externality as an argument that Bob or someone else should be permitted to use force to stop Anne from applying for the job.

    One last example: Suppose a group of conservative Christians get upset at the knowledge that others watch porn, such that porn watchers create a negative externality. Is this justification to ban porn?

    So, my broad question is under what circumstances is force justified to stop a negative externality? Secondarily, intervention can itself create negative externalities (e.g., setting up a state apparatus with political authority to intervene in agreements between consenting adults will also have negative externalities, such as taxes) so how should that be accounted for when deciding when intervention is justified?

    My basic belief is that there should be a strong presumption in favor of allowing people to engage in peaceful, non-violent activities, even if these activities create harms suffered by others. Most interventionist solutions to preventing the harms are likely to end up creating more costs than benefits, and if there are good solutions, the State is unlikely to have the right incentives to find them.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Negative externality is another way of saying ‘externalized cost,’ which suggests a straightforward way of answering the question.

      When costs and benefits to third parties can be easily calculated, then by doing the calculation you have determined what the magnitude of punishment should be. By estimating the cost of the enforcement you can also determine whether it is worthwhile to punish in the first place.

      When costs and benefits to third parties cannot be easily calculated, then you can employ a simple rule to reliably minimize the cost or maximize the benefit in the worst cases. This rule would then be enforced consistently.

      Unless I’m mistaken, this is generally what civil courts are supposed to do anyway.

      • Irishdude7 says:

        When costs and benefits to third parties can be easily calculated, then by doing the calculation you have determined what the magnitude of punishment should be. By estimating the cost of the enforcement you can also determine whether it is worthwhile to punish in the first place.

        Two thoughts:
        1) I don’t think costs and benefits are easily calculated too often, particularly when it comes to psychic harms. For example, how do you measure the benefits of people watching porn against the costs of conservative Christians being upset? So, I think using a simple rule (as you suggest in the next paragraph) is more useful in the vast majority of circumstances.

        2) I think considerations other than costs and benefits comes into play. With the porn example, let’s suppose someone does careful calculations and finds that conservative Christians suffer greater harm than porn watchers benefit (I doubt this is possible, btw), is it clear that the conservative Christians have a greater right to not be upset than porn watchers have to enjoy their habit in the privacy of their homes?

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          You saw the paragraph under that one, about using simple rules in that sort of case? I agree that in general simple rules of thumb are a better way to go.

          (Edit: Ok, cool.)

          As for 2:

          If there’s a measurable externality, saying the activity is done “in the privacy of their homes” makes no sense. It’s the principle of “the right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins.” The porn watchers, and not the Christians, would be the ones initiating force in this case as their behavior is demonstrably harmful to nonconsenting third parties.

          On something of a tangent, the supposed external costs of porn are usually framed as a societal harm due to undermining sexual norms. The argument “this grosses us all out, therefore it should be illegal” is a strawman. There’s actually a colorable argument that increased porn consumption has had external effects: whether positive externalities such as a reduction in rapes or negative externalities such as contributing to the decline in male testosterone.

          • Irishdude7 says:

            I did see the next paragraph, and edited my response to make that clear.

            It’s the principle of “the right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins.” The porn watchers, and not the Christians, would be the ones initiating force in this case as their behavior is demonstrably harmful to nonconsenting parties.

            Here’s another example that I hope can be clarifying: Joe likes a pretty girl named Rose, but she doesn’t like him back. Joe gets insanely jealous when he sees Rose flirt with another man. Is Rose initiating force against Joe when she flirts with other men? Should Joe be allowed to use physical force to stop Rose flirting if Joe gets super jealous when Rose flirts but Rose only gets a little enjoyment?

          • Jiro says:

            We (as in everyone except the utilitarians on this site) accept some psychic harm and ignore some other psychic harm because there are deontological rules which say that people have a right to be free from some types of psychic harm but not others. It’s another case where being a utilitarian doesn’t model normal humans very well.

          • Anonymous says:

            Is the loss of a positive externality considered a negative externality? I can see how that would make sense from a mathematical perspective (there’s no difference between “slowing down” and “accelerating in the opposite direction”) but it certainly doesn’t meet up with intuitive ethical principles.

            To put it more plainly you weren’t entitled to the benefits of those positive externalizes to begin with, you just got lucky to get them. So if someone wants to jerk off to porn all day and that means you are losing out on what would otherwise have been an opportunity to free ride — well I can’t say you’ve suffered any cognizable harm. In fact claiming society is entitled to his full efforts sounds pretty communist.

          • Jiro says:

            “You are entitled to this benefit but not this other benefit” is a deontological rule and as such is not utilitarian.

    • AnonBosch says:

      I think your last paragraph answers your second-to-last. Very broadly speaking, force is justified when the benefits exceed the costs. Establishing the Photon Police and having them go around extinguishing all porch lighting undesired by at least one observer is an extreme example, since even if we assign an extremely low weight to liberty it would lead to massive expense just to save people having to use curtains. An example in the other direction would be something like CFC regulation, where you’re weighing a minor cost-efficiency hit among refrigerant manufacturers by substituting HFC against a situation where the externality creates significant x-risk.

      I think it’s very important to have that presumption against force, and of course debate the weights given to the costs and benefits. But presumptions are just that. The strict NAP position where every political decision comes down to “the right to use force” is essentially indefensible when you start looking at situations like atmospheric pollution and oceanic overfishing where there is no feasible mechanism to divide the commons and create property rights. (It also breaks down at edge cases like child abuse, but I didn’t want to make my hypothetical needlessly inflammatory).

    • Loyle says:

      I think deals between two individuals should be treated differently than deals between an individual and a set of rules. I’m not sure why people treat corporations as if they actually consider the value of their workers. If they expect me to generate X amount of value and set my wage based on that, and I actually produce Y amount of value, they wont suddenly go “whoops, you should be paid the Y wages.”

      • Skivverus says:

        Maybe not, but their competitors might.
        “Hey, this guy produces Y value over there; can we convince him to do that over here instead by offering Y wages?”

      • Irishdude7 says:

        How does an individual make a deal with a set of rules?

        • Loyle says:

          I’m crudely defining a large corporation as a “set of rules”.

          For example, if there is an intended outcome, and I complete my tasks in such a way that not only succeeds at meeting the outcome, but performs better than what is typically expected, but it isn’t the way they told me to do it, and when I do it the way they tell me to do it I perform worse, you’d think they’d say “you do you” and allow me to do things my way. But no, they say “sorry we can’t make exceptions for you, gotta follow those rules”.

          • IrishDude says:

            Ah, well how do you think deals between individuals and deals between individuals with one party working at a corporation should be treated differently?

          • Loyle says:

            The idea is that you can negotiate with an individual, but not necessarily with a business, corporations being more unyielding than smaller ones.

            One job I applied for had a field which asked me how much I wanted to be payed. When I got to the interview the HR guy said something to the effect that the pay was going to be this different number, and they can’t change that.

            The point I’m trying to make is there should be a limit to the types of deals an entity big enough to not even consider me a person should be able to make.

            “When I make an agreement to exchange my labor for compensation from another individual, it’s no one else’s business what we agree to.” I argued that people did not have the right to use physical force to stop consenting adults from making agreements they disprove of.

            If the going rate for cutting lawns was $30/lawn, you should totally be able to go to your neighbor and say you’ll do it for $5, but if a landscaping company was hiring you, they shouldn’t try to sell you on $5. Maybe $20, with $10 being the cost of connecting you to the client.

            We don’t always know whether or not someone’s consented, so we tend to consider things that no reasonable person would consent to as evidence they haven’t. Not perfect, I admit, but I don’t disagree with it.

          • Irishdude7 says:

            If the going rate for cutting lawns was $30/lawn, you should totally be able to go to your neighbor and say you’ll do it for $5, but if a landscaping company was hiring you, they shouldn’t try to sell you on $5.

            Why not? Perhaps I want to get experience landscaping and the combination of a $5/hr monetary wage and non-monetary compensation in the form of gaining experience is acceptable to me. I’d have problems if my neighbors intervened in my agreement with the landscaping company, as they shouldn’t be able to substitute their preferences for my own.

            We don’t always know whether or not someone’s consented, so we tend to consider things that no reasonable person would consent to as evidence they haven’t.

            I don’t like paternalism. There’s 240 million adults in the U.S., each with their own set of unique preferences, and it’s not my right to substitute my preferences for theirs. I don’t find being a BDSM submissive to be desirable, but a small subset of the population does, and it should be their right to engage in this activity if they choose. Just because I find it icky or undesirable does not mean that a reasonable person couldn’t agree to it.

            I feel similarly about any other activity or agreement a consenting adult chooses to engage in.

          • Jiro says:

            I feel similarly about any other activity or agreement a consenting adult chooses to engage in.

            I didn’t think there were that many incest supporters on this blog.

          • Irishdude7 says:

            I didn’t think there were that many incest supporters on this blog.

            That’s an interesting way to frame what I said. I support the right of people to engage in hate speech, but I don’t support the hate speech itself.

            As to incest, I don’t think people should have the right to use physical force to stop an adult brother and sister from doing their thing, except as the incest might bring direct physical harm to others. I haven’t researched how likely an incestuously-produced baby is to be seriously deformed, but if the probability is high and the harm is high I could see intervention being justified to prevent conception, perhaps through required sterilization or contraception. Other than potential deformed babies that might be produced, I see no other justification for using physical force to prevent incest.

          • TMB says:

            I’m kind of in favour of paternalism, because (1) I am a father (2) If I buy a box of chocolates, I eat the whole box.

            Some people need to be guided. And I would say that most of us would benefit from guidance or restrictions in at least some areas of our lives (without even considering broader impacts of our actions.)
            So, the benefit of restrictions is pretty clear to me, the problem is deciding who does the restricting and on what basis.

            And that is what politics (as theory) boils down to.

            I think the best solution might be for people to be able to choose the jurisdiction and rules they live in, but… then again I think a jurisdiction has to be able to restrict entry to protect it’s own rules, and I think children shouldn’t have the right to move (but then you could have hellish child abuser jurisdictions).

            So… common sense?

            I definitely don’t want to live in a jurisdiction where incest is allowed. Sorry.

          • Irishdude7 says:

            @TMB
            I’m a father too, and the most important thing I can do for my son is provide him guidance that will enable him to make good choices when he’s on his own. My role as a father will never stop, and I’ll always provide guidance, but the heavy paternalism provided while he lives at home, and the activities I force him to do while young will slowly fade over time, as it should. I won’t be telling him what clothes to wear when he’s 18.

            I don’t object to people providing advice to others, or verbally admonishing others, I just object to using physical coercion against consenting adults.

            So, the benefit of restrictions is pretty clear to me, the problem is deciding who does the restricting and on what basis.

            How the restriction is enforced is also important. Occasionally I cross a line with my wife, or vice versa, and our response when we can’t use discourse to resolve it is not to use force, but to disengage (silent treatment). As social creatures, that method is effective, and also moral. Using physical force on someone for breaking a rule should be used for the most moral important rules like don’t hit and don’t steal, but should not be used in most other circumstances.

            I think the best solution might be for people to be able to choose the jurisdiction and rules they live in, but… then again I think a jurisdiction has to be able to restrict entry to protect it’s own rules, and I think children shouldn’t have the right to move (but then you could have hellish child abuser jurisdictions).

            That’s generally my preference as well. Let 10,000 jurisdictions bloom. I’d like to see most law devolved down to the HOA-level, where entry and exit are easy, and it’s easier for an individual to influence policy.

            I definitely don’t want to live in a jurisdiction where incest is allowed. Sorry.

            No apologies necessary. I think incest is rare enough by social convention and taboo that it doesn’t make my radar as something important to include in any rule set I’d agree to in a jurisdiction.

          • Loyle says:

            Question: Are we both on the same page for what “consent” means? Like, legally speaking we assume those who we define to be adults have the ability to consent. I don’t believe reaching arbitrary age breakpoints magically grants abilities baked into the word “consent”.

            I don’t care about protecting people from themselves. I do care about protecting them from bad actors. Unfortunately, you can’t seem to do one without the other.

            I suppose if there was more transparency (like jobs needing to have a directory on hand comparing other similar jobs with itself), or being able to register with a union who’ll negotiate on your behalf and having that not kill any of your employment opportunities, I’d be more accepting of your rhetoric.

          • Loyle says:

            I’m kind of in favour of paternalism, because … If I buy a box of chocolates, I eat the whole box.

            Is…is that not how you’re supposed to do it?

          • I am also a father. One of the reasons that I tried to impose as few constraints as I thought practical on my kids–they had, for example, unrestricted access to the internet from as early as they were using computers–is that I knew they would eventually be running their own lives without me to keep them from making mistakes.

            It’s surely true that a sufficiently wise and benevolent paternalist authority could improve on my choices, but we don’t have any of those. I think shifting control over my choices from me to another human being, no wiser than me, less well informed about my circumstances and less concerned about my welfare than I am is a poor gamble.

            It’s true that bowls of potato chips near me mysteriously empty themselves. That is one reason I don’t buy potato chips.

          • Irishdude7 says:

            @Loyle

            Question: Are we both on the same page for what “consent” means? Like, legally speaking we assume those who we define to be adults have the ability to consent.

            The definition of consent from google is pretty good: “give permission for something to happen”

            One addendum I’d to the definition is that the permission should not be gained under threat of physical coercion. If I point a gun at you and tell you to give me your money, and you ‘willingly’ hand me your money, you have not given consent in the way I define it.

            I don’t care about protecting people from themselves. I do care about protecting them from bad actors. Unfortunately, you can’t seem to do one without the other.

            I think we have disagreements about who the bad actors are and what types of protection are acceptable.

          • Loyle says:

            I was thinking more of the legal definition, not the colloquial one.

          • “One addendum I’d to the definition is that the permission should not be gained under threat of physical coercion.”

            That makes sense for the moral use of the concept but not, I think, for the literal meaning. I would say you have given consent, but coerced consent.

    • Two specific points:

      1. Your case of Anne taking the job is a bit complicated. Bob could have offered to take a lower wage. The lowest wage he would accept is the one at which he is indifferent between taking the job and not taking it (plus a penny if you don’t like thinking in continuous terms). If at that wage the employer still prefers Anne at the lowest wage she would accept then the cost to Bob of not getting the job at the wage he would have gotten it without Anne, the wage at which Anne got it, is less than the benefit to the employer plus Anne of hiring Anne instead, so no net negative externality.

      This gets into the general case of pecuniary externalities, where someone is worse off but someone else better off by the same amount. From the law and econ point of view that’s why competition is not a tort, a principle recognized in the Common Law from some case I forget back in the medieval period.

      2. Your reading porn as an externality point is an argument made in an old law review article by Bork. It’s my basis for claiming that Robert Bork is the only Supreme Court candidate I know of with a published article explaining why he wasn’t a libertarian–and look what happened to him.

      I discussed the question at considerable length in an old blog post. See also the earlier post it links to.

      • Irishdude7 says:

        If at that wage the employer still prefers Anne at the lowest wage she would accept then the cost to Bob of not getting the job at the wage he would have gotten it without Anne, the wage at which Anne got it, is less than the benefit to the employer plus Anne of hiring Anne instead, so no net negative externality.

        I don’t know if the fact that someone benefits, even more than Bob is ‘harmed’, diminishes the negative externality to Bob in a way that would be satisfying to people who are highly concerned about negative externalities.

        I’ve discussed the costs of trying to reduce pollution with people before, and that the benefits of an activity that creates pollution might be worth more than its costs, but I find people get icky getting economic about this. “You care more about the corporation’s profits than the water they dirty up!”

        Thanks for the links; the liability rule/property rule distinction is an interesting way to frame things.

        • If you take the position that something I do that makes A worse off but B better off is wicked, you end up treating competition as a tort. When one firm goes into business selling something, it is making other firms selling that something worse off.

          “You care more about the corporation’s profits than the water they dirty up!”

          Part of the problem with people saying this is that they don’t realize that the corporation’s profits are a signal of the net effect on humans of what the corporation does. Push the argument down to the level of the humans affected, possibly the consumers who have to pay a higher price for what they buy because the firm is not permitted to do something that creates pollution.

          Someone still might say “you care more about what people are able to consume than about water getting dirty,” but they would then at least be talking about the right tradeoff.

          • IrishDude says:

            If you take the position that something I do that makes A worse off but B better off is wicked, you end up treating competition as a tort. When one firm goes into business selling something, it is making other firms selling that something worse off.

            I’ve seen this used as an argument against scabs. They’re taking food out of the mouths of union worker’s families. Similar arguments were used against poor black laborers that moved north and took jobs for less than white union workers. It was one of the arguments for early minimum wage legislation in the Davis-Bacon Act:

            “The comments of various congressmen reveal the racial animus that motivated the sponsors and supporters of the bill. In 1930, Representative John J. Cochran of Missouri stated that he had “received numerous complaints in recent months about southern contractors employing low-paid colored mechanics getting work and bringing the employees from the South.”[15] Representative Clayton Allgood, supporting Davis-Bacon on the floor of the House, complained of “cheap colored labor” that “is in competition with white labor throughout the country.”[16]”

            http://www.cato.org/pubs/briefs/bp-017.html

    • Lumifer says:

      There is the standard question: what are you optimizing for?

      Most of the replies take the economic/utilitarian approach which seems to me… incomplete. In particular, it lacks the notion of a “right”, never mind the natural unalienable rights that the US Constitution speaks of.

      • AnonBosch says:

        You can get to most of the same places “rights” will get you by assigning a high util value to liberty. It’s arbitrary, but so are “rights” in general, for the most part.

        • You won’t get a unique set of rights out liberty, because people conceive of liberty in such different ways. Liberals think that liberty includes life, which means people with no money have a right to support paid for by others, an idea that is anathema to libertarians.

    • TheAncientGeek says:

      When I make an agreement to exchange my labor for compensation from another individual, it’s no one else’s business what we agree to.” I argued that people did not have the right to use physical force to stop consenting adults from making agreements they disprove of.

      Libertarianism isn’t just the absence of force. It still needs force as the ultimate resort to stop people breaking contracts.

      So, my broad question is under what circumstances is force justified to stop a negative externality?

      Statism isn’t just force, its rules. The statist solution doesn’t allow people to pick up flaming torches whenever they feel aggrieved. Rules are worked out over a long period of time, to suppress negative externalities and get good outcomes. There are many bits of information in statism.

      My basic belief is that there should be a strong presumption in favor of allowing people to engage in peaceful, non-violent activities, even if these activities create harms suffered by other

      Is it OK if someone can be nonviolently harmed to death, eg by polution?

      • IrishDude says:

        Libertarianism isn’t just the absence of force. It still needs force as the ultimate resort to stop people breaking contracts.

        I don’t think libertarianism is about the absence of force, as everyone except the most extreme pacifist believes that force is justified in self-defense. Disagreements might be had between people about how much and what type of force is reasonable in self-defense, and what types of aggression it’s justified to defend against, but the basic idea of justified use of force for self-defense is widely shared.

        I don’t think physical force is necessarily justified to enforce contracts. That depends on what types of enforcement mechanisms the contract parties agree to. I certainly have made verbal contracts with people before (bets) where the terms were violated and I didn’t think force was justified to rectify things. Instead the old friend took a reputation hit in my book.

        Statism isn’t just force, its rules. The statist solution doesn’t allow people to pick up flaming torches whenever they feel aggrieved. Rules are worked out over a long period of time, to suppress negative externalities and get good outcomes. There are many bits of information in statism.

        I have rules in my household, sometimes enforced with force, but it’s not a state. What defines a state is political authority, where state agents engage in actions that would be considered wrong if done by non-state agents.

        Is it OK if someone can be nonviolently harmed to death, eg by polution?

        Can you provide an example? If someone put poisonous gas into a room and killed people, that is not okay to me and it would be justified using force to stop that person.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Physical force is certainly necessary to enforce contracts. First, not everyone always has the relevant information so even someone with a bad reputation might be able to get with being a con man e.g. Harold Hill. Second, sometimes the rewards are big enough that a reputation hit is worth the risk. Third, not everyone cares all that much about reputation in the first place. When it comes down to it, criminal law is almost always a better incentive to follow a rule than any non-binding rules. That’s why we have them. Shaming may work among the Amish, but it has much less use among atomized individuals in a globalized society.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Wrong Species

            I’m not following this sub-thread, but I do admire your casual mention of Harold Hill.

          • Irishdude7 says:

            Physical force is certainly necessary to enforce contracts.

            No. Every agreement I’ve ever made with someone has not resorted to physical force for enforcement. However, if parties to a contract want to add a clause that agrees to certain arbitration backed by physical force, I think this could be useful in some circumstances.

            Lex Mercatoria (Merchant Law) was used for international trade where no state was able to claim jurisdiction. “Merchant courts enforced their decisions privately by threatening noncompliant traders with a loss of reputation and merchant-community ostracism.”

            First, not everyone always has the relevant information so even someone with a bad reputation might be able to get with being a con man e.g. Harold Hill.

            That’s a good reason to use national brands. I treat the traveling salesman coming to my door with more suspicion than my local Best Buy.

            Second, sometimes the rewards are big enough that a reputation hit is worth the risk.

            It could be, and if you make a contract with someone where you suspect that might be the case, it could be worth ensuring you agree to an arbitrator backed by physical force for breach of contract.

            Third, not everyone cares all that much about reputation in the first place.

            How much do you care about reputation when you make agreements? It’s very important to me, and is one reason I almost always buy an item off Amazon only when it has at least 4 stars, predominately buy national brands, and use word of mouth and Angie’s List when soliciting bids from contractors.

            It’s fine if some people don’t care at all about reputation, but they’re likely to get burned and be more cautious in the future.

            When it comes down to it, criminal law is almost always a better incentive to follow a rule than any non-binding rules.

            Is criminal law the main incentive for you not stealing from or hurting other people? Or do you have other more important incentives to be a decent person, like caring what other people think about you and what you think of yourself?

          • Wrong Species says:

            @irishdude

            I’m going to address most of your points on this subthread for ease of reference.

            “How did you become a property owner? How did the state become an owner over the area where it collects taxes from?”

            I see where you are getting at but if you go back far enough the same can be said about most private property. Throughout history, people have violently taken property from others. So yes, maybe I legitimately purchased my house but it’s still stolen goods. So if you want to disband states for violently taking over you have to do the same for private property owners.

            Now for the rest of your points…

            We can’t really infer anything from your peaceful actions. For one thing, you are living inside of a state that does enforce laws. For all I know, you would turn in to a crazy cannibal if given the chance. Second, I highly doubt you’re contracts with friends have involved as much money as a bank loan. The more at stake, the more desperate people are. And third, there’s a difference between trade with strangers and trade with friends. Not to say states are necessary to enforce agreements between strangers but it makes it a hell of a lot easier to trust someone when the law is on your side. So yes, you are right that states are not needed in all cases of commerce but they can establish a simple trust that otherwise might not exist.

            Maybe you would be ok in a world where we all had to watch out all the time in every instance to make sure no one scammed you but there would be people who are more careless. And they don’t have to be an idiot to do so, they just have to make one mistake. I don’t really want to live in a society where I have to be paranoid to survive. This is not to say that the government should baby us at every time but at the minimum, I would prefer a society where I buy my groceries and don’t have to worry about about dying.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Now maybe some kind of informal system a la Lex Mercatoria could to varying degrees enforce rules in order to prevent most of these issues. But I guarantee that more people would slip through the cracks than now. And honestly, companies have every reason not to be honest about their product. Sure, some companies might be willing to have a third party inspect them to up their standing but enough wouldn’t that it would be a problem. Now maybe there are various trade-offs but I’m not convinced that a stateless society would be just as adept at enforcing contracts as a state.

          • Irishdude7 says:

            @Wrong Species

            I see where you are getting at but if you go back far enough the same can be said about most private property. Throughout history, people have violently taken property from others. So yes, maybe I legitimately purchased my house but it’s still stolen goods. So if you want to disband states for violently taking over you have to do the same for private property owners.

            I disagree on your last point. If the original owner of private property is around to make a claim to their stolen property, they should get first dibs. Otherwise, good faith purchasers of the stolen goods (assuming they weren’t connected to the theft) should get dibs. The person who should not have their rights to the property respected are the thieves.

            Suppose the mob comes into a town and uses violence to take control over all the property, then sells off pieces of it that are bought by people not affiliated with the mob, and then the property is voluntarily traded over the next hundred years with the mob continuing to claim authority over the town. At no point does the mob’s claimed authority over that town become legitimate. Assuming the original owners of the property aren’t around to make property claims, the next best thing is to return authority over the property to the current owners that purchased it.

            We can’t really infer anything from your peaceful actions. For one thing, you are living inside of a state that does enforce laws. For all I know, you would turn in to a crazy cannibal if given the chance.

            You never answered my questions: Is criminal law the main incentive for you not stealing from or hurting other people? Or do you have other more important incentives to be a decent person, like caring what other people think about you and what you think of yourself?

            I think I live in a society (in the U.S.) where most people want to live peacefully. I think this comes mostly from a desire for people to think of themselves as decent people and have others think of them as decent people. For people that don’t care what others think and think violence is acceptable, a lot of them are still cautious about initiating violence because they might have violence inflicted upon them from others engaging in self-defense.

            If you live in a place where you think most people have no compunction about committing violence against others, and only refrain from doing so because they think police will arrest them, then I don’t know why you would expect this terrible population to vote for good leaders. It sounds like they have a bad set of preferences that would get translated into bad policy through their votes. I’ll suggest that you don’t live in a place like this, and that the vast majority of your neighbors are good people regardless of the state consequences of their actions.

            Second, I highly doubt you’re contracts with friends have involved as much money as a bank loan. The more at stake, the more desperate people are.

            When the stakes are higher, mechanisms such as trust become more important, but other solutions are available as well, such as collateral. When I got my mortgage, the bank asked for extensive documentation of my pay, my savings, and credit score. The credit score is really a reputation score that indicates how likely I am to pay back a loan, given my past payment history. If the bank was wrong on judging my reputation, they still get to claim rights to my house if I fail to pay them back, so they have a back-up option to reputation failure.

            Not to say states are necessary to enforce agreements between strangers but it makes it a hell of a lot easier to trust someone when the law is on your side.

            You can have law without the state.

            Maybe you would be ok in a world where we all had to watch out all the time in every instance to make sure no one scammed you but there would be people who are more careless.

            I don’t think I live in that world, and if I did, I’d have high expectations that politicians elected from such a population would be scammers themselves. And scammers given the power of the state are a much bigger threat than the traveling salesman scammer.

            This is not to say that the government should baby us at every time but at the minimum, I would prefer a society where I buy my groceries and don’t have to worry about about dying.

            Your grocery store has very strong incentives to make sure they don’t sell produce that will kill its customers. These incentives exist with or without the state.

            And honestly, companies have every reason not to be honest about their product.

            Trust is very, very hard for a brand to build and is taken very seriously once gained. There’s greedy reasons for doing so, as you won’t have many customers if they can’t trust they’re getting what they pay for. There are exceptions, but there are alternatives to the state to handle this.

            Sure, some companies might be willing to have a third party inspect them to up their standing but enough wouldn’t that it would be a problem.

            Which companies would have an easier time gaining customers: ones that got inspected and got a seal of approval or ones that weren’t? If third-party inspection is valuable to customers, they’ll pay extra for it. If it’s not, they won’t. Markets do a good job of finding out what people value and giving them more of it.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Also, the difference between property owner enforcing his rules without a state and the political authority of the state is much smaller than you might think.

          • IrishDude says:

            How do you define a state?

            I think there’s similarities between states and property owners, but that’s because states act similar to property owners, ones who haven’t acquired property in ways most people consider just.

          • Wrong Species says:

            The classic definition: entity with a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence in a given area. I don’t see much of a difference between me collecting rent and the state claiming taxes. The similarities can be seen more clearly in pre-modern China where the state actually claimed to be the rightful property owner over its whole domain.

          • “The classic definition: entity with a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence in a given area.”

            Isn’t that circular? What makes one use of force legitimate and another not, other than that it’s being sanctioned by the state?

            I think the question of why some institutions count as states and some don’t is an interesting one. I tried to answer it in my first book and provided an expanded version in a chapter of the current (third) edition.

          • Irishdude7 says:

            I don’t see much of a difference between me collecting rent and the state claiming taxes.

            How did you become a property owner? How did the state become an owner over the area where it collects taxes from?

          • Wrong Species says:

            David, I should have specified. I’m not trying to define the state as legitimate. It’s less about what any one person thinks than how the institution is seen and what I can do within the confines of that relationship. If my house gets robbed then I know there are certain limits to what I can do to resolve that. Even if everyone hates the government, they all agree to follow its rules(for the most part!) because they know that other people will punish them otherwise. It’s in this sense what I meant by legitimate. It’s a positive claim, not a normative one. In a theoretical anarchist-capitalists society, I could ultimately choose whatever I wanted to do to resolve the situation. I could call my defense resolution company, I could decide to resolve it myself. The point is that it’s my private property and there is no final arbiter above me. We can agree on this, yes?

            Now here’s where the problem comes in. Let’s say I buy another piece of property and rent it out to someone else. This person doesn’t have much say over their residence. If they have a problem, they have to follow my rules and there’s not really anything they can do about it. But, you object, they made a decision to live there. They signed a contract and can leave any time. Fair enough. But what if I enlarge my territory to the size of a city. In a sense, they can leave but it’s much more complex now. It’s not such a simple decision. First off, they have to leave everyone they know just because they may not like some rules. And more importantly, what if they’re only alternative is other city-properties? Then suddenly, we have a Tale of the Slave type situation. And just to add to that, they have a kid and that kid never signed any contract. Now from the perspective of the kid, what difference is there between states and city-properties?

          • IrishDude says:

            @Wrong Species

            Now from the perspective of the kid, what difference is there between states and city-properties?

            David has a really nice essay addressing this question: http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Libertarian/Capitalist_Trucks.html

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Irishdude

            Honestly, I think that essay just proves my point. David himself mentions the similarities between small states and private property. It’s a difference of degree, not kind.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Wrong Species

            David mentions similarities AND differences between states and private property. The differences are why we might expect private property to work better: owners have better incentives to have desirable rules for their property than politicians do and consumers have better incentives to be informed than voters. Given the incentive structure, markets will tend to produce better results than politics. Also, David notes size differences being important, with local governments ruling over a much larger geography and population than HOAs; individual influence over smaller domains is more impactful.

            To me, there is also an important moral difference between property acquired by fiat or conquest, and property acquired by homesteading or free exchange.

        • You think no one has ever died prematurely as the result of pollution?

          • IrishDude says:

            I think air filled with certain particulates is bad for health and could result in death sooner than would occur without the particulates. But the particulates could be caused by factories that provide better wages or cheaper goods in a way that extends life more than it would without that factory. In some circumstances I could see it not being justified to pollute, in others I could. Context matters, so that’s why I asked for an example from you.

            Generally, pollution seems more justified in very poor societies where better jobs are more important than clean air or water. Then, as wealth increases a better environment is in higher demand and more easily afforded, and pollution seems less justified.

          • Some nonviolent harms, such as pollution, are fatal. Some violence, such as dragging someone off and putting them in a cell, are non fatal. Are you saying it is never justified to violence to prevent harm?

      • IrishDude says:

        What should happen when people disagree on what rules they prefer?

    • Garrett says:

      Why can’t you treat the minimum-wage-seeker themselves as generating an external cost of Existing While Being Useless? The people who we talking about working at or around the minimum wage are those who generate little value and/or are easily replaceable. Why should you be taken to task for your supposedly generating an externality while the person you are paying is arguably creating an even bigger one?

      We could address this modest externality by liquidating such people and feeding them to the starving.

    • ninjapandataco says:

      I agree with you that deciding what to do about externalities is a hard problem. I like Scott’s old post arguing that in many cases we should tax externalities rather than forbid them. But I don’t have a good rule for identifying which externalities should be taxed, which should be forbidden, and which should be ignored. In practice it seems to depend on who has the best lobbyists. 🙁

      As to the minimum-wage thing, I’m not sure I agree with your use of the term “consenting” (as in “…to stop consenting adults from making agreements they disapprove of”). There are many different shades of consent — from “after some research, I think the additional income from this job will improve my life more than the cost to me of working” all the way down to “if I don’t get a job right now I’ll get evicted and go homeless, and working for 3$/hour at walmart is better than being homeless”. That first type of consent is clearly real, but that second type not so much.

      I think some people have thought about providing a universal-basic-income, so that taking a job versus not having a job becomes a question of actual consent rather than desperation; after that point we could presumably stop having a minimum wage entirely. But universal-basic-income, like so many other things, is not viable in the current political climate.

      • “all the way down to “if I don’t get a job right now I’ll get evicted and go homeless, and working for 3$/hour at walmart is better than being homeless”. That first type of consent is clearly real, but that second type not so much.”

        I find that puzzling. Consenting to something that improves your life by a little is real consent, consenting to something that improves your life a lot–being evicted and going homeless is a very bad fate–isn’t?

        Why?

        • sweeneyrod says:

          What about “if I don’t get a job right now, this guy will shoot me. So getting a job improves my life a lot.”? Presumably you make a distinction between human-caused pressure and “natural” pressure. But what if the main reason you would be come homeless is because your (human) landlord just increased your rent?

          • Is the guy who will shoot you the one offering the job? If he is, then he isn’t making you better off than if you didn’t interact with him.

            But suppose some person will shoot you next week unless you get enough money to leave town. Someone unconnected to him offers to hire you for a week at a low wage, but enough to buy you a bus ticket. You are consenting to his offer.

            The issue isn’t whether the pressure is human caused. You didn’t consent to be shot, did consent to the job that let you avoid being shot.

            Do you see no difference between “I will hurt you if you don’t do this” and “I will help you if you do do this?”

          • sweeneyrod says:

            OK, I now see the distinction you are making. But where do you place the set point you measure hurting and harming relative to? If a landlord threatens to evict you unless you work for him, he is harming you relative to your previous position of having a place to live. You are worse off due to that interaction with him, but overall your interaction has been positive. So can you consent to working for him? Intuitively, it would seem to me to depend on how long you lived in his house. He is being reasonable if you just moved in, less so if you’ve lived there for 70 years.

          • IrishDude says:

            @sweeneyrod
            If I agree to lend you my car for a week and then ask for it back after the week but you want to keep borrowing it, I don’t think I’m harming you by asking for it back, but you would be harming me by keeping it. Ownership helps clarify to me who is being harmed in various situations.

            If the landlord wants to evict you and it breaks the term of your rental agreement, then I think a case could be made that he’s harming you by violating a promise he explicitly made to you. So, terms of a contract also help clarify to me who is harming who.

          • “If a landlord threatens to evict you unless you work for him, he is harming you relative to your previous position of having a place to live.”

            If your girlfriend breaks up with you, she is harming you relative to your previous position of having her as a girlfriend.

            If you think of a context like that where all exchanges are of personal services, broadly defined, I think the intuition is pretty clear. Your girlfriend is not your slave. She owns herself. So harming or threatening to harm is relative to her not doing the things you want her to do. Breaking up with you is not harming you, assaulting you is.

            To get to the landlord case one has to believe in property rights, believe that the landlord has a right to control his property just as he has a right to control himself. In both cases, he is not entitled to use his control to hurt you, is entitled to not use it to help you. He cannot hit you with his fist or his baseball bat, can refuse to work for you with his body or give you the use of his bat–or his house.

            Does that help? If you have no intuition for property rights the argument doesn’t work in the case of the landlord, since you don’t really see the house as his. If you had no intuition for non-slavery, it wouldn’t work for your girlfriend either.

            And, at an emotional level, your girlfriend breaking up with you may well feel like an assault.

        • Loyle says:

          @David

          Probably the same reason people are uncomfortable with bosses having relationships with their employees. You consent to it and get free gifts and maybe a little preferential treatment around the office. Or you consent to it or you’re fired or transferred to a much less desirable job.

          • There’s a problem if you took the job and bore various sunk costs as a result with a clear understanding that you were being hired as a secretary not a concubine and the employer then changes the terms. But that’s the same problem as any situation where you are hired with one set of terms and after you have agreed the terms are changed against you. It’s an issue of fraud, although how clearly it is fraud will depend on how clear it is what the original terms were.

          • Loyle says:

            I think most people think less about the terms of the job than the terms of the relationship.

            As it is, subordinates can’t choose to enter romantic relationships with their bosses. For whatever reason, people assume that bosses will use their position of authority to exert pressure on the relationship. (No one ever thinks of the liability costs to the company should the subordinate realize they have the ability to ruin things for everyone).

            I, for one, wouldn’t object to my boss coming on to me. I’m sure she and I can be adults about it. But I can at least understand why people are weird about it.

            And I was more answering in reference to your puzzlement. People tend to associate things with other things that look similar enough to it. In this case it’s whether there’s consent in a power disparity. And they usually rationalize why the association is applicable after the fact. Sometimes successfully, other times not. What gets to be the meme, however, is how many came to the same conclusions.

        • Grort says:

          If you only have one choice that doesn’t lead to death or homelessness or some other horrible fate, I think it’s weird to say that you “consented” to that choice. We might instead say that you “had no choice” — and if there is no choice, it’s not really consent.

          If Bob is dying of thirst in the desert, and Alice offers him a water bottle in exchange for fifty year’s indentured service, can we say that Bob “consents” to that deal?

          We might think of this as a market failure: Alice would have been willing to sell that water bottle for ten dollars, but she knew that Bob’s negotiating position was very bad, so she raised the price until she was capturing nearly all the utility of the transaction.

          I don’t necessarily think this proves that price caps on water bottles are a good idea. But I do think you can’t just say “oh well, Bob consented to fifty years of service in exchange for a water bottle, everyone benefited compared to the alternative, the system works” and declare victory.

          • “We might think of this as a market failure: Alice would have been willing to sell that water bottle for ten dollars, but she knew that Bob’s negotiating position was very bad, so she raised the price until she was capturing nearly all the utility of the transaction.”

            Why is Alice capturing nearly all the utility of the transaction a market failure? What do you think “market failure” means?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            What would you call someone getting legal indentured servitudes by selling a single bottle of water?

            In other words, I know this isn’t a market failure as economists define it, but what would you call it. You have presumably heard this scenario setup about 10,000 times in your academic-meets-the-public life, it would seem surely you have a ready answer by this point.

            Instead of mocking someone for not knowing the economists definition of market failure, you could offer something better.

          • Gazeboist says:

            Grort didn’t state it clearly, but it is a market failure in the sense that Bob, up ten dollars and out fifty years, probably loses a lot of utility compared to the alternative scenario, and it’s a rare Alice that can capture all of that utility at 100% efficiency. We presume, of course, that Bob not dying in the desert is enough of a marginal benefit to Alice’s well-being (through a long chain of knock-on effects, likely) to make up for his not being Alice’s indentured servant for fifty years. And that’s probably true: Bob can most likely make better use of Bob’s time than Alice can.

          • My view of what a market failure is.

            A change that increases total utility by less than an alternative change is not a market failure. This one is an extreme example of the fact that while economic efficiency (Marshall’s “economic improvement”) is a useful proxy for utility, it’s only a proxy. Some changes may be economic improvements but lower utility. This one increases utility, but probably by much less than if she sold the water at a much lower price.

            You can find a discussion of the difference between utility and value in Chapter 2 of my Law’s Order.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            That looks to me like you don’t consider, what I will term here exploitation, at all. You aren’t naming or considering this situation.

            Basically, if one can find people who are desperate or “irrational” enough to sell themselves into indentured servitude, that’s fine in your book.

  6. Kid says:

    What part of LW-style rationality ideology do you most agree with, if any?

  7. ameizingly bad says:

    I have Klonopin prescribed for me to take as-needed for anxiety and it works exceptionally well with no negative side-effects. But I obviously don’t want to take a full dose every day because of the risks of addiction and tolerance. How do I determine the maximum frequency with which I can safely take it? My strategy right now is “be cautious” but I feel like some of you guys could have something more systematic/effective.

    (I think I’ve asked this before, but I forgot to read the replies.)

    • Gazeboist says:

      My first thought is that you might want to look for a minimum frequency as well – if you can recognize the onset of an anxiety attack, and the Klonopin works fast enough to treat it, and you reliably have the presence of mind at the beginning of the attack, then you can probably get away with not taking it except when you’re having an attack. Of course, (1) that’s three “if”s in a row, some of which are pretty substantial, and (2) I’m not quite sure if by “as-needed” you mean “comparable to an emergency inhaler” or “comparable to precautionary antibiotics”. I’m mostly considering the former case. In any event, if you can determine a minimum frequency, that tells you what maximal caution looks like.

      Unfortunately I don’t know a good way to go about finding a maximum.

  8. ameizingly bad says:

    How literal are neurotypical people being when they say they’re deeply saddened by tragedies that don’t directly affect them or anyone they know? I’m on the autism spectrum and while I acknowledge on an intellectual level that 9/11, the Pulse nightclub shooting, the thousands of people who die from Malaria every day, etc. are horrible, I don’t actually experience deep sadness over it. Is that just my brain?

    (Edit: Added a “don’t”.).

    • HeelBearCub says:

      It depends on the day, the situation, the precise story you are reading.

      If you read a dry, by the numbers, account of the number of people who died on 9/11, it may very well have no effect.

      But if you read a detailed account written from the point of view of a child and wife who’s partner did not return home on 9/11, you can very much feel sad.

      Of course different people are different. I’m sort of sappy and I have been known to get a little misty eyed when presented with the old AT&T “reach and touch someone” commercials, which was also slightly annoying at the same time.

      Edit: This is one of the commercials I was talking about.

      • I have been known to get a little misty eyed when presented with the old AT&T “reach and touch someone” commercials, which was also slightly annoying at the same time.

        Watched your example, can confirm on all points.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        To amplify this point a little more.

        My kids, my wife and I used to watch various Steve Irwin shows together. When he died I was legitimately devastated. I felt sick to my stomach.

        So much potential lost, and a great kid and wife losing their father and husband. You knew very much who Steve Irwin was. I still have a little wind-up Steve-Irwin-on-a-crocodile figure in my cube and every now and then I will see it and get a little jolt.

        But knowing that people jumped or fell from the twin towers will get me every now and then, too. You briefly imagine yourself in their shoes and it is overwhelming.

    • gbdub says:

      Really, I think most people who say they are “deeply saddened” by faraway events are not literally deeply saddened, but it is certainly a social convention to declare that you are.

      Echoing HeelBearCub a bit, I think it does depend on how you learn about / experience the distant event. I remember being shocked and then very, very angry (once the likely perps were identified) on 9/11, and actually distinctly recall it being the first time I was “patriotically angry” about something that didn’t impact me personally that much but had profoundly wounded my national tribe. I think a lot of that has to do with the feeling of watching it unfold live. E.g. I don’t feel that same emotional response about Pearl Harbor, but I think after 9/11 that I now “get” how Joe SixPack might have felt about it at the time.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Are you using neurotypical to mean “not on the autism spectrum”?

      • ameizingly bad says:

        I guess I meant “not on the autism spectrum or having any other disorders that would cause someone to process emotions abnormally.”

        • dndnrsn says:

          Abnormally, how? Because I’ve mostly seen “neurotypical” used as a polite way of saying “nothing amiss psychiatrically, etc”.

          I imagine there are psychiatric, neurological, whatever conditions that would cause one to feel more sorrow, sadness, etc than normal, just as vice versa.

          To answer your original question, I think it’s one of those stock phrases that people trot out. Somebody who, for example, valued all people equally and didn’t have any diminishing returns (did not experience the “one death tragedy, million deaths statistic” thing), and was thus extremely saddened by all the people dying awful deaths around the world on the regular, would be crushed by it all the time. I don’t know if we could call such a person neurotypical.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ dndnrsn
            To answer your original question, I think it’s one of those stock phrases that people trot out.

            Sfair, it’s said as first response from someone powerful enough to be interviewed, who wishes to distance zimself from the people who take the event quite seriously, or who is about to explain why zie has no intention of doing anything about it.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Scott more-or-less covered it here. I say more-or-less because he takes the term distance a bit too literally: we’re looking at emotional distance, not yards.

      9/11 was deeply saddening for me, but then again I’m a New Yorker and spent that day wondering whether or not my dad would come back (he was fine, though some family friends were in the buildings). Pulse was sad because it was yet another terrorist attack on my country but the target was rather remote. Malaria barely makes a blip on my radar: I’m seriously considering working in a plasmodium lab but the draw is purely intellectual curiosity, if my work saved any lives that would be a byproduct.

      So I think you’re a bit different, in that you experience a sharp discontinuity rather than a gradual dropoff, but not all that different.

    • I don’t say that.

      I sometimes get angry at injustices that don’t affect me, but I think that’s partly because I like feeling self-righteous (unfortunately). But I don’t react strongly to tragedies as such.

      I’m currently reading a book about the Nuer, who went through horrible circumstances during the Sudanese civil wars, and while I wish those things hadn’t happened I can’t say I am deeply saddened.

      In support of HBC’s point, there’s a legal case I wrote an article about which involves a very small number of people, but I find it hard to read the description without wanting to cry.

      How neurotypical I am I’m not sure–probably depends on your definition.

    • H. E. Pennypacker says:

      An interesting example of this was the reaction in the United Kingdom when Princess Diana died. I was a kid at the time and had no idea who she was so I didn’t care but a lot of people seemed genuinely distraught about the death of this one woman they’d never met in their lives. There was a guy who was interviewed who’d been weeping over her death but hadn’t cried when either of his parents died.

      • Homo Iracundus says:

        Was feeling generally smug until you reminded me I still remember crying at the news. 9/11 didn’t get me emotional, but for some reason her death did.

    • JayT says:

      I think I would be considered neurotypical by most any standard, but I’ve never been truly saddened by any disasters. At least, not on the level that I was saddened when my grandfather died. I did have a nightmare the night of 9/11, but that’s probably the closest thing for me.

      I’ve never quite understood how people can get so upset about the deaths of celebrities that they’ve never met before. It’s a very odd thing to me.

    • Chalid says:

      It used to be that reading about tragedies in the news didn’t ever give me any particular emotional reaction. But after I became a father, I became much more sensitive to that sort of thing, especially when the stories are directly about children. It’s so easy to imagine the bad thing happening to *my* family or *my* child, and how I would react to it.

      • @Chalid:

        There is a scene in a fantasy novel by an author I used to read in which a father is unable to keep his daughter from being killed.

        It was the last book I read by that author.

    • pku says:

      It really depends on the event. I find getting sad about 9/11 or princess Diana dying unimaginable, but I was hit pretty hard when a friend of a friend died in Protective Edge. I think nerds can be bees sums this up pretty well.

    • Corey says:

      I’m not on the spectrum, but have a different low sensitivity: outrage. I can’t get outraged about very much. It might be age-related burnout.
      I do experience sadness from disasters and the occasional celebrity death, but the strength is low-ish.

    • I certainly don’t think I’m on the autism spectrum but I never get saddened by distant tragedies that don’t affect me. I really don’t understand why others do.

  9. Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

    Does anyone else have gravatars display differently depending on the region they’re browsing from?

  10. grendelkhan says:

    Can I request that our host review Evicted by Matthew Desmond? It’s an ethnographic study of poverty in Milwaukee, which seems refreshingly… clear. Like, you feel that Theodore Dalrymple would approve of some parts, and Vox of some others, but there’s an excellent focus on what’s actually there. People make bad decisions, these bad decisions are exacerbated by their environment and circumstances, and bad things happen as a result.

    • Psmith says:

      A quote from your link:

      There are a lot of issues balled up here: lack of effective sex education (in or out of school), lack of sufficient access to methods of birth control

      On this note, and tending to contradict these two claims, readers may be interested in Promises I Can Keep, which takes what looks to be a pretty similar on-the-ground ethnographic approach.

      • grendelkhan says:

        That does look interesting! (Also, however, note that that conclusion is from Ed’s review, not from the book; I enjoy his style, but his analysis isn’t of the same sort one gets here, hence my desire to see this discussed in and around this place.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        “lack of sufficient access to methods of birth control”

        The word “access” in the context of birth control sets alarm bells ringing in my head. The (largely poisonous) commenters on the linked article assume that it’s the expense of acquiring it; is that correct?

      • Deiseach says:

        lack of effective sex education (in or out of school)

        I would love to see some decent research on this, but have little hope since it is so politicised on both sides.

        Maybe back in the days when you only got sex ed in school and the only resources you could access were physical books in your local library which might not have them in stock or might not loan them out to 16 years old teenagers, but today?

        When you can download porn to your phone but you can’t figure out how to Google “How to avoid getting pregnant” or “where do babies come from”?

        There’s certainly a view going around about “more education! that will cut birth rates!” and you know, I’ve been hearing it since at least the 80s in Ireland, where all the time the refrain has been “we need more sex education/more access to methods of birth control” over the years, and we’ve become more liberal over the years, and people are routinely having sex outside of marriage and cohabiting and condoms and other methods of birth control are widely available, yet the refrain remains the same: “poor people are still having babies they can’t afford! more sex ed! more birth control!”

        • TMB says:

          http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2014/11/we-panic-about-child-abuse-then-tell-13-year-olds-how-to-have-sex.html

          The mystery of sex education is that parents put up with it at all. It began about 50 years ago, on the pretext that it would reduce unmarried teen pregnancies and sexual diseases. Every time these problems got worse, the answer was more sex education, more explicit than before…

          Sex education is propaganda for the permissive society. It was invented by the communist George Lukacs, schools commissar during the insane Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919, to debauch the morals of Christian schoolgirls.

          It works by breaking taboos and by portraying actions as normal that would once have been seen as wrong. Last week we learned that the Government has officially endorsed material which says sex at 13, ‘for those of similar age and developmental ability’, is normal.

          I have to say that for me, personally, the primary effect of all of the “personal social education” was to make me feel like a bit of a loser because I wasn’t out smoking crack and having sex (at 14).

    • Ivy says:

      Echoing this request. Evicted made me significantly less optimistic about basic income as a solution to developed-world poverty – It seemed like most of the people described in the book would benefit from having less freedom in how to spend their welfare dollars.

      It also made me significantly more willing to accept “exploitation” as a cause of poverty. It seems to be more profitable for landlords to charge unaffordable rents and evict tenants every few months than to charge a bit less but have it be paid consistently – with huge deadweight losses for the tenants and society at large.

      • I will give this book a look. I agree there is a small proportion of the poor that are incompetent at surviving on their own, but I strongly favor the presumption that everyone should be free when possible. I am curious if the author implies this population is larger than I thought.

        I am also curious about the profitability of short-term tenants over longer term ones. I find it hard to believe that planning this on purpose could possibly be more profitable than long-term tenants, so I would like to know how this case is made.

        • Deiseach says:

          I am also curious about the profitability of short-term tenants over longer term ones. I find it hard to believe that planning this on purpose could possibly be more profitable than long-term tenants, so I would like to know how this case is made.

          Long-term tenants get rights in law that short-term tenants don’t have? If you’re moving new tenants in every six months (or sooner), you can keep charging them a month’s rent in advance plus an extra month or a deposit, and even if you have to pay that back, you’ve had the use of it in your bank account for the three months? How many landlords don’t pay back deposits or keep them for “you stained the carpet” and it’s too much hassle and expense for tenants to go to court to try and get the money back and prove “no we didn’t stain the carpet”? As the property market improves, you can keep moving out tenants and charge a higher rent to the incoming new tenants?

          I don’t know about America, but also not declaring rental income for tax purposes? Maybe a lot easier when you’re not getting a regular payment and having to provide a rent book – a lot of landlords here still prefer to be paid ‘cash in hand’.

          From short-term experience in social housing and seeing rental schemes in operation: some landlords are decent and reasonable and some landlords are money-grubbing slumlords (if they could get their hands on a slum to be lord of); some tenants are reasonable and decent and some tenants are destructive and feckless.

          • Yes I agree there are some profits to be made in short -term rentals, such as keeping deposits and other ways of screwing renters that might not be possible with long-termers. But it seems to me the cost would outweigh the extra profits. There are bound to be gaps when no one is renting, and one has to constantly market your flat to keep getting renters. And I think the biggest cost to landlords is when renters break stuff, and I think this would be much more common by short-term renters. In other words, the renters can more easily screw over the landlord too in short-term rentals.

            Don’t short-term landlords such as hotels and day-to-day rent places charge a much higher rate than monthly leases for exactly the reason that short-term is more costly to landlords? I have never been a landlord, so I have no personal experience, but it makes sense to me.

          • Oh to reply to the tax question: how does short-term rental make it easier to avoid taxes? Maybe that is an Irish thing. Actually I think the more likely thing for sleazy landlords is to file their taxes with a loss. It isn’t that hard to find expenses when renting to make a loss. Not that I have been directly involved, but I have heard that most small landlords have a loss, or at least not much income. That may be more difficult for a large landlord, as they are more likely to be audited. But the large ones won’t get away with leaving the rentals off entirely either.

          • Gazeboist says:

            To an extent you can avoid paying repair costs if your renters are short term lease holders living in fear of the courts – they have very little motive to complain if the rental property is not as advertised, and if they’re already overdue on a payment, aren’t likely to complain when something breaks. This lets you avoid what would be typical maintenance, whether or not it’s the fault of the renter (for example, I just moved out of a house where a built-in microwave over the stove was destroyed by buildup of grease, largely due to the poor design of the kitchen).

          • To an extent you can avoid paying repair costs if your renters are short term lease holders living in fear of the courts

            As I said before, it is true that landlords can screw over tenants easier in short-term rentals. But as I also said, it is easier for tenants to screw over landlords too. The landlord may not have to fix something because the tenant will be leaving, but it is still a loss to the landlord. In your example of the microwave, the landlord had it there for a reason before – probably to attract new tenants. Now he doesn’t have it, so he needs to fix it to attract new tenants again. It just doesn’t make sense to me that landlords would prefer short-term renters, but maybe the book has additional insights. Although if someone can tell me those insights, maybe I wouldn’t have to read the book?

  11. JayT says:

    Last open thread there was a comment about whether or not US Presidents die younger than the population as a whole due to the stress of the job. I did a little looking and couldn’t find an answer that was particularly useful (IMO), so I put together an Excel spreadsheet and did the math myself. A few notes before I share what I found:

    1) I couldn’t find life expectancy numbers for before 1850, and there were twelve presidents that left office before 1850, so my numbers for those guys could well be off by a whole lot. There wasn’t much change in adult life expectancy from 1850 to 1970 though, so it’s possible that using the 1850 numbers for the early presidents doesn’t change much.

    2) All of the numbers before 1890 are for Massachusetts only.

    3) I didn’t count living or assassinated presidents in my numbers.

    That said, what I found was that overall Presidents live about 85% as long as their countrymen lived. If you only look at the presidents that lived during the times of better record keeping, the Presidents lived 95% as long. Since FDR though, presidents have lived 35% longer than they would have been expected to. Both Carter and HW Bush have lived almost twice as long as they would have been expected to, so these numbers will shift rather dramatically in the coming years.

    So, my guess is that overall Presidents don’t age any faster than people at large, and any differences are most likely small sample size issues. I can think of reasons that the earlier presidents would die younger (travel was rough back then and Presidents traveled more) and I can think of reasons today’s presidents live longer (better medical care), but overall I would guess that most any differences are due to sample size issues.

    • Publius Varinius says:

      Kudos for looking at this.

    • (1) In general, there is a very strong and largely unexplained positive correlation between socioeconomic status and health. As a general rule, across different countries and eras, the average rich person is healthier than the average middle class person, who is healthier than the average poor person. I presume healthier people live longer.

      It’s much too general and widespread an effect to be attributable to better medical care. It was true in the 18th century despite awful medicine. It’s also true in countries which have tried to equalize access to health care.

      In general, political leaders as a group are likely to be healthier than average, hence greater longevity.

      (2) To be president in 1885 or 1923 is not at all the same as being president in 2016. The presidency of the United States used to be much less important than it is today; presumably it was a less stressful job. The set of presidents is already a small sample, and it’s smaller still if you limit it to the modern era (however defined).

      • Lumifer says:

        One simple guess is that there is a common factor involved — IQ.

        • nimim. k.m. says:

          I would have guessed the best nutrition available in the society, the greater ability to distance themselves from dangerous diseases, to some extent less need to do physically dangerous activities (aristocrats may have entertained accident-prone hobbies, but that’s very different than doing back-breaking labor every day).

          Also, while the 18th century medicine was terrible when it came to its capabilities of curing you if you got sick, to my knowledge, the practice of stuff that would be recognizable to us as a healthy exercise and lifestyle in general is much older than modern medicine. Even if your theory of how human body functions is on the level of Galenos, I’d wager there’s very strong tendency that ideal member of elite is physically capable of being a military commander across the most of of the time in the Western history, and that probably involved at least somewhat useful training regimen of sorts.

          Henry VIII was reportedly handsome and fit as a young lad, and got fat only after a sports accident hindered his ability to continue doing the fashionable sport-ey stuff of his era.

          As an another example, one reason why Newton was able to come up with his scientific theories because he could escape the plague to a country home.

          • I had a conversation years ago with an academic whose specialty involved the history of medicine. She had looked at data for the British upper class, which was much better recorded than the population in general. Her conclusion was that the point at which the medical care available to the upper class was better than no medical care was pretty early, I think seventeenth or eighteenth century.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @David Friedman:

            Speaking historically, there was a period where medicine as a whole was OK – but surgery was still a really, really bad idea. Until some point in the nineteenth century you were probably better off with a priest than with some guy poking around in you with unsterilized instruments and unwashed hands.

          • Deiseach says:

            Until some point in the nineteenth century you were probably better off with a priest than with some guy poking around in you with unsterilized instruments and unwashed hands.

            Until some point in the nineteenth century, the best quality a surgeon could have was speed: without anaesthesia, blood transfusion, etc. the prime objective was to perform the procedure as fast as possible so you didn’t kill the patient via blood loss and shock.

            Robert Liston, the pioneer of using anaesthesia for surgery in England (after the American discovery that ether could be used for this) and inventor of several surgical devices, was most renowned as “the fastest knife in London”, who could do a leg amputation in two and a half minutes “from first incision to clipping the loose threads on the sutures”:

            He was six foot two, and operated in a bottle-green coat with wellington boots. He sprung across the blood-stained boards upon his swooning, sweating, strapped-down patient like a duelist, calling, ‘Time me gentlemen, time me!’ to students craning with pocket watches from the iron-railinged galleries. Everyone swore that the first flash of his knife was followed so swiftly by the rasp of saw on bone that sight and sound seemed simultaneous. To free both hands, he would clasp the bloody knife between his teeth.

          • onyomi says:

            That is horrifying but interesting, and makes a lot of sense.

          • onyomi says:

            “her conclusion was that the point at which the medical care available to the upper class was better than no medical care was pretty early, I think seventeenth or eighteenth century.”

            Considering how long medical care has been going on, that sounds pretty late to me.

            As someone studying premodern China, however, my idea of early and late is kind of weird.

            I will say that, while early visitors to China seem to have been impressed with their doctor’s efficacy relative to European medicine of the time, the depiction of the medical practice in Chinese histories and fictions is very rarely good.

            Occasionally you get some miraculous mystic who cures the patient, but they poisoned longevity seekers with mercury and lead just as often, and the regular doctor is usually depicted as something of a quack, who hastens his patient’s death as often as prevents it.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Maybe 17th century medical care was better than nothing, but 19th century wasn’t. The premise that medicine inexorably progresses is completely wrong, even in modernity.

            dndnrsn: do you have a specific period in mind? My impression is that for all of (western) history up until the 20th century surgery was better than the rest of medicine. Yes, surgery could easily kill, but that was obvious. The immediate feedback kept it in line.

          • dndnrsn says:

            My understanding was that it was fairly unsafe prior to germ theory. Heroic medicine and all that.

            I am including bloodletting as surgery though, and I may be incorrect in doing that – I’m thinking of anything that involves cutting as surgery.

          • “Maybe 17th century medical care was better than nothing, but 19th century wasn’t. ”

            Note that the claim I was repeating was not about medical care in general, it was about the medical care available to the elite. I believe it was based on mortality data, which were much better for the English aristocracy than for the general population.

            But I’m going on a dinner conversation years ago, so can’t offer details.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I believe it was based on mortality data

            That seems likely to be so subject to confounds as to be useless, I would think. Regardless of what the doctor does, adequate nutrition and rest are always helpful, and that would be much easier to come by for the elite when faced with a medical condition that may lead to mortality.

          • As I said, I’m going by my memory of a dinner conversation. The scholar in question was the wife of an economist I was dining with.

            But she wasn’t a fool. The claim was not “the elite lived longer than the masses.” It was “having access to medical care had a positive effect on members of the elite.”

          • Gazeboist says:

            Maybe 17th century medical care was better than nothing, but 19th century wasn’t. The premise that medicine inexorably progresses is completely wrong, even in modernity.

            Medicine (as a field) is easily confused with epidemiology, which did make great strides in the 19th century.

      • B says:

        Theory with some support – being poor sucks, and makes you stressed, then you die from it: http://inequality.stanford.edu/_media/pdf/pathways/winter_2011/PathwaysWinter11_Evans.pdf

        • Steve Sailer says:

          One of the early fields in which Big Data was publicly available was baseball player encyclopedias:

          Soc Sci Q. 2008 Jul 17; 89(3): 817–830.

          Major League Baseball Players’ Life Expectancies*
          Jarron M. Saint Onge, Richard G. Rogers, and Patrick M. Krueger

          We examine the importance of anthropometric and performance measures, and age, period, and cohort effects in explaining life expectancies among major league baseball (MLB) players over the past century.

          Methods

          We use discrete time hazard models to calculate life tables with covariates with data from Total Baseball, a rich source of information on all players who played in the major league.

          Results

          Compared to 20-year-old U.S. males, MLB players can expect almost five additional years of life. Height, weight, handedness, and player ratings are unassociated with the risk of death in this population of highly active and successful adults. Career length is inversely associated with the risk of death, likely because those who play longer gain additional incomes, physical fitness, and training.

      • Autolykos says:

        Guys, don’t forget selection bias. Being sick often will probably make you less successful and less wealthy, while at the same time often leading to an earlier death.
        Also, people tend to amass money over the course of their life. If you die young, you simply have less time to get rich.
        Inheritance might compensate this to some extent, but I would be very surprised if it did so completely.
        Always keep in mind that the effect you’re trying to explain might be spurious before coming up with explanations.

        This does not explain the early deaths of (earlier) presidents, but then again, small sample size. And, as Nassim Taleb points out, one of the most effective legal ways to kill someone is to assign them a personal doctor 🙂

    • RoseMallow says:

      Doesn’t the fact that people need to be relatively old to become president mess with the results a bit? The life expectancy of people who live to be older than 50 will be higher than the life expectancy of the population at large, just because you’re chopping off the lower end. My apologies if I’m misunderstanding this, or if you’ve already taken that into account.

      • JayT says:

        I was using the life expectancy numbers for a person that was the age that the president was when they left office. So for example, Reagan left office when he was 78 years old in 1989. The life expectancy for an 80 year old in 1990 was 7.1 years, and Reagan lived over 15 years, so he was at 2.2 times the average life expectancy.

    • Corey says:

      Took some digging but I found the study I was thinking of, article covering it here.

      They compare elected heads-of-state to the people they defeated electorally (so as to nullify top-of-the-socioeconomic-heap effects) and used 16 other stable Western democracies in addition to these United States.

      Conclusion: winning the election takes ~2.7 years off of one’s life.

      • JayT says:

        I’d have to look at the study carefully to really have an opinion, but I did take a quick look at the presidential losers (that didn’t have presidential experience) since 1900 and the average age difference between the presidents and the losers is less than a year. Now, I’d want to look at how many years after leaving the presidency the presidents lived to make sure it wasn’t just that older people were more likely to win the election. However, I’m also not sure it’s worth the effort since my guess is there would be small differences. These are really small sample sizes we’re looking at, and one guy like FDR, who came into the office with severe health issues, can make for a large swing.

    • Awesome comment.

      Can you share your Excel spreadsheet using Google docs or something? Would love to take a gander and check out individual presidents, causes of death, and so on, in one sheet.

    • SM says:

      Is it possible that it’s just being healthy (and well-aging) positively correlates with electability? I.e. not that presidents live longer but people that would live longer get to be elected. And maybe before TV age looking healthy wasn’t as important 🙂

  12. Last night, I saw the movie Florence Foster Jenkins (with Meryl Streep in the title role), about a wealthy woman who became famous for her awful singing.

    I remember hearing about her from my father, many years ago, and the story he told closely matches the movie version and her Wikipedia page.

    She died in 1944, at age 76, a few days after a concert at Carnegie Hall that cemented her fame, but also, perhaps, made it impossible for her to continue to believe she was talented.

    What I didn’t know was that she had syphilis, and was treated, literally for decades until her death, with mercury and arsenic. Her eccentricities may have been attributable to either the disease or the toxins she was given.

    It’s appalling to realize that these poisons were routinely prescribed by well-educated physicians as recently as 1944.

    • S_J says:

      Mostly unrelated: after I saw the movie The Aviator, I becamse aware of Howard Hughes and his OCD.

      Sometime afterwards, I learned that he may have suffered from syphilis.

      Does anyone know whether Hughes’ behavior was the result of OCD, syphilis, or both? Was he treated with mercury or arsenic?

    • Deiseach says:

      It’s appalling to realize that these poisons were routinely prescribed by well-educated physicians as recently as 1944.

      Mercury was one of the few things that did treat syphilis, but as you say, the cure was nearly worse than the disease. And arsenic (or rather, an arsenical compound) did indeed have anti-syphilitic properties and was developed by Ehrlich – Salvarsan, the magic bullet.

      It wasn’t that doctors in the 30s and 40s were quacks, it was that a compound of arsenic was the only thing of any efficacy they had (until penicillin was trialled in 1943), and the mercuric cure was a relict of the original outbreak of the disease in the 15th century.

      People really do not realise how recent antibiotics and effective medicines really are! I mean, I’m old enough that I caught measles because there wasn’t a routine immunisation programme in my day – not until 1985 in Ireland – and indeed a measles vaccine wasn’t developed until 1963 🙂

    • keranih says:

      It’s appalling to realize that these poisons were routinely prescribed by well-educated physicians as recently as 1944.

      …The toxin is the dose, not the material.

      For infections and cancers both, we are living things being attacked by other living things. The physician corps attempts to locate chemical compounds that kill these other living things faster/easier than they kill us. A fairly tough gig – but the work pays well, if you can get it.

      For that matter, the same principle applies to anesthesia, where the goal is to render the patient only mostly dead, and then reverse the process.

      The modern world is full of marvelous things.

  13. onyomi says:

    This is an atypical question for SSC, so I won’t be surprised or disappointed if no one cares, but I was having a disagreement about this with someone recently and realized that the more I thought about it, the more it interested me:

    Who killed JonBenet Ramsey and why?

    I strongly suspect one of the parents did it and the other agreed to help cover it up.

    My friend thinks the parents are innocent and it was a botched kidnapping attempt.

    Though my friend is, I’m not usually all that into these “true crime stories,” both because I find it kind of weird and voyeuristic to obsess over the details of real private tragedies, and because they’re usually not all that interesting in reality (that is, it’s usually pretty obvious, at the end of the day, who did it). That said, I love Agatha Christie-type mysteries, partially because, imo, a good mystery is designed such that many plausible scenarios seem to present themselves, but none of them is obviously right (at least until Poirot explains it). This is partially a result of lots of weird, sometimes irrelevant, sometimes crucial clues.

    Seeing a new tv special on it, and having periodically googled it over the years, I realized that this particular case is unusually interesting to me because it feels more like a work of fiction designed to confuse than real life. The parents seem to genuinely love their daughter and have no motive. But they do this weird beauty pageant thing. And she wets the bed, which is a sign of sexual abuse. But the pediatrician swears she wasn’t abused. She randomly ate pineapple just before she died, which not only points to someone she knew, but seems to indicate against an accident. There are no signs of forced entry. The mother probably faked the overly-long ransom note after the fact. Then later some pedophile turns out to have been obsessed with her… and so on.

    Overall, I think the parents did it, though I will admit that part of it is just me judging them based on subtle cues. They seem to me like they’re lying and have the “I’m getting away with something” OJ smirk. Still, as compared to most famous cases, this one is genuinely confounding in a way that feels made for tv (of course, it helps that it’s in Boulder and the victim a pretty little beauty queen–very Twin Peaks).

    • dndnrsn says:

      What are the sources of information you’re using/what is the best source of information on the topic?

      An obvious issue: if, as I recall being probably the case, the police made serious mistakes, doesn’t that mean that any evidence, etc filtered through the police might be unreliable?

      • onyomi says:

        Besides the wikipedia page, it all tends to be very tabloidy and gossipy, which makes it tougher, beyond attempting to discern anything from actual evidence like audio recordings, etc. (and people read a lot into such things).

        This page summarizes all the weirdly confounding factors as I’ve heard them, however.

    • bluto says:

      My pet theory is that the brother accidentally killed her with blunt force, and the parents covered it up with the garrote and kidnapping story.

      • onyomi says:

        This seems kind of plausible, especially since the brother had apparently hit her hard enough to cause visible injury in the past (though could that be the parents covering up their own abuse?).

        Either way, the head injury followed by strangulation does seem rather like someone trying to cover up something (that is, intended to hit, but not so hard, then murdered to cover up). Though that could have been the parents or an outsider. That said, it does seem hard to imagine the parents of a child they doted on so much mercilessly garroting her after she suffered a head injury. But then, they could just be psychopaths.

        • anon says:

          I saw an interesting speculation that the garrote could be similar enough to a boy scout tourniquet, I can think of many more unreasonable things than a 9 year old alone at 3 in the morning, panicking and making a garrote intending to make a tourniquet.

      • onyomi says:

        If accurate, this might support that theory: either the father or brother injured her accidentally and then the mother went along with a strange plan to cover up for them.

      • hlynkacg says:

        If I were to lay odds, my bet would be that the Brother did it, parents covered for him. That said, there’s so much bullshit surrounding the case that I don’t think we’ll ever know what happened for sure. As such my general response is to say to hell with it.

    • Nadja says:

      I’d never heard of this case before and just looked it up on Wikipedia. Seems like there is DNA evidence showing there was an unknown male involved. Do you find it unconvincing?

      If the police operated under the assumption the parents did it, I can see how it led to bias in their gathering of evidence, initially. The assumption may have tainted the conclusion of whoever analyzed the ransom note, too.

      • onyomi says:

        Well, from what I’ve read, the evidence was so trace it could have gotten there almost any way.

        The police do seem to have suspected the parents fairly early on, but they acted very suspicious, refusing, for example, to be interviewed separately. When they finally did months later, it was clear they’d got their stories straight with each other.

        As for the ransom note, if it were just the opinion of the handwriting expert, that would be one thing, but it was also three pages long, written using stationery and pen from the house, and mentioned a specific monetary figure only someone in the family or close to them would know.

        It does seem like maybe they botched the early investigation: for example, it apparently at first seemed there was no forced entry, but maybe later evidence showed a basement window propped open? My friend’s theory is that a pedophile who knew JonBenet from her pageants and perhaps in person, was waiting in the basement already when they came home, giving him plenty of time to write the ransom note.

        This still feels rather implausible to me: while someone came forward later who was obsessed with her, I guess he probably developed his obsession after the murder and sensational news story.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          Why would the ransom figure be evidence? Is the idea that the figure of approximately $118,000 was stuck in one of the parents’ heads, so they put it in the note? That seems fairly weak to me; surely there are quite a few significant numbers that could be linked to the parents.

          My theory is that it was the parents and an unknown male, presuming that the DNA evidence is valid. I think it is possible (especially if the DNA evidence is unreliable and the unknown male can be removed from the picture) that she died in an accident (where the parents were in some way culpable) and they tried to cover it up.

          • onyomi says:

            Apparently the husband had received a bonus of $118,000 that year. Typical ransom notes apparently ask for large, round figures, like “1 million.” Apparently $118,000 is both low for a ransom demand for a child, and, much more importantly, too specific to be a coincidence.

            Which means whoever wrote it knew about the husband’s bonus, consciously or subconsciously.

            This doesn’t prove the parents did it, but it does make it highly likely that, if it wasn’t them, whoever it was knew them pretty well, personally, or through business.

          • Two McMillion says:

            This is a tangent, but $1 million seems like a ransom that would only rarely be paid, unless you kidnap the child of a wealthy person, who’s also likely to have more resources to find you without paying the ransom. I wonder if a better strategy would be to demand a smaller amount and kidnap more children.

          • CatCube says:

            @Two McMillion

            My understanding is the FBI comes down so heavily in kidnapping cases that they’ve essentially eliminated kidnapping for profit in the US. Of course, it’s been a number of years since I read this, so maybe it’s changed in the meantime.

        • Deiseach says:

          but they acted very suspicious, refusing, for example, to be interviewed separately

          Yeah, but the trouble is, anything someone does when they’re a suspect can be used to point to their guilt, if you want to interpret it that way. Why wouldn’t people who feel they’re being suspected of murdering their own child, and who have the popular TV image of cops tricking confessions out of suspects during interrogation, decide their best course was to stick together for mutual support and refuse to be interviewed separately so there would be a witness to “No, I never said that”?

          Recording of police interviews was introduced for this very reason – because of “he said/they said” accounts, tampering with notes and statements or alleged written confessions after the interview, etc.

          • onyomi says:

            Well, my view is, if you didn’t kill your child and don’t suspect your husband of doing so either, you’re not going to be all that worried about answering police questions; in particular you won’t be so worried about answering them individually (that was the issue: they agreed, initially, to be questioned, but only if they could do it together; police did not agree and so no formal questioning happened, I think, until months later). The reason you worry about being questioned separately is that you fear an inconsistency in the stories will be used against you. But that’s only a concern if you’re guilty or hiding something.

            To give the parents maximum benefit of the doubt, though I don’t think the police started suspecting them that strongly to begin with, they probably would have known that, in such cases, suspicion usually falls on the person closest to the victim–parents, in the case of children. Therefore, they might have been preemptively defensive in anticipation of such an eventuality.

            Still, they have that “I’m getting away with something” smirk… The mother’s emotion sounds genuine when she makes the 911 call, but, after all, her daughter has just died, which is upsetting even if you or your husband or your son did it. In all subsequent appearances, however, she and her husband seem very fake to me. But that, of course, is a purely subjective judgment.

          • bluto says:

            As a general rule, one should always be worried about answering police questions (that’s why you should always have a lawyer present).

            They have evidence and are looking for any one who fits their evidence, if you fit it because of innocent coincidence, they’re going to close their case and deliver you to the prosecution (where the best outcome is your lawyer pokes holes in their evidence and you leave much poorer, likely with your reputation ruined).

          • Protagoras says:

            What Bluto said. Being afraid that an inconsistency will be used against you is just smart; people’s memories aren’t very accurate, so it’s entirely likely that two people separately answering honestly will produce inconsistencies.

          • onyomi says:

            So, like every other aspect of the case, the parents’ initial refusal is, perhaps, mildly suspicious, but not conclusive.

          • Deiseach says:

            you’re not going to be all that worried about answering police questions

            onyomi, plenty of people have relied on that (“I’m innocent, I have nothing to hide”) and been convicted. Police have said “I suspected the husband did it because he was very upset when he got the news of his wife’s death (so he was acting and over-doing it to try and convince us)” or “I suspected the husband did it because he took the news very calmly (so he didn’t care and it wasn’t a surprise to him)”. It’s ‘heads I win, tails you lose’.

            Even the Australians recommend:

            No matter the situation, never give an interview until you have obtained proper and independent legal advice.

            It is always safer to have a lawyer with you rather than just a support person.

            The best advice is answer nothing, not even “What’s your name?” unless and until you have a lawyer with you!

            Still, they have that “I’m getting away with something” smirk

            And that’s why we have courts of law to try and punish people, not “they sure look guilty, they must have done it!” judgments (even if some jurors may decide on just that basis). Some people just have unfortunate expressions and can’t help their faces, or the subjective impressions others get.

            If you saw them in another context, without the knowledge that “they’re the parents of a murdered child and considered as possible suspects” colouring your opinions, would you think the same thing? “Hm – they look like they’re shady, they must have done something wrong”. You don’t know, I don’t know.

        • houseboatonstyxb says:

          @ onyomi
          As for the ransom note, if it were just the opinion of the handwriting expert, that would be one thing, but it was also three pages long, written using stationery and pen from the house,

          This pretty well would eliminate any intelligent adult from writing it.* So (showing my ignorance here), there was a brother, wasn’t there?

          * except in some Christiesque multi-level scheme to suggest that someone was trying to frame the parents.

          • Deiseach says:

            This pretty well would eliminate any intelligent adult from writing it.

            Or it could be the production of someone abducting the child for sexual purposes but trying to make it look like a kidnapping for ransom.

            How good is the evidence “The stationery definitely came from the house”? As in “the edges of the sheets positively match this notepad” or “it’s the same kind of notepaper which is not unique and can be bought in the stationers’ shop in town”?

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Deiseach

            > >This pretty well would eliminate any intelligent adult from writing it.

            > Or it could be the production of someone abducting the child for sexual purposes but trying to make it look like a kidnapping for ransom.

            * looks up the case *

            Okay, I should have said, “any intelligent adult (except someone who wanted to sound like a Muslim, or really was one)”. And the vocabulary was not typical USian either: ‘attache’ for ‘briefcase’, etc.

            So from my distance, the shallow evidence about the note adds up to a hoax, and the rest of the case (per Wikipedia) doesn’t add up at all.

            (How good was the evidence of where the paper came from, I dunno.)

          • onyomi says:

            @Houseboat

            You mean you think the note does sound like it was written by someone not from the US?

            To me it sounds like someone who is American and knows the family well but wants to create a distraction with the idea of a “foreign faction.” In particular, phrases like “he two gentlemen watching over your daughter do not particularly like you so I advise you not to provoke them” and especially “Use that good southern common sense of yours” sound not only like someone familiar with the family but someone American, and, probably southern. In other words, it sounds like the wife, from West Virginia wrote it, as the handwriting apparently suggests.

            The handwriting expert also notes how the handwriting starts out weird and then becomes natural and fluid looking, with the latter half more closely resembling Patsy Ramsey’s writing. The idea being you can attempt to disguise your handwriting for a little while, but it becomes very difficult to do so consistently.

            That said, looking again at the letter, it does seem oddly specific for someone not actually planning to try to collect a ransom.

            If we try to steelman the “intruder” theory, there is this guy who supposedly hoped to get a big payday of $50 or 60,000 that year, and who liked to torture animals. One can imagine that someone who knew and disliked the Ramseys and knew about their Christmas bonus, hired someone to attempt a kidnapping and ransom which went wrong.

            It’s even conceivable, though seemingly unlikely, given her prior and subsequent devotion to her husband, that the wife herself hired the kidnappers. Though if it’s true it was a real kidnapping gone wrong, as opposed to the idea of a kidnapping fabricated after the fact as a distraction (which I still think is more likely), I imagine it was someone who knew them, but not someone in the family.

          • onyomi says:

            This is an interesting theory of the letter, which, if it’s right that the handwriting is not necessarily the wife’s, seems to make more sense of a lot of thing.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ onyomi
            September 16, 2016 at 9:57 am
            You mean you think the note does sound like it was written by someone not from the US?

            Yes — or rather, in many places the language and word choice showed strong influence of non-USA speech. In other places, there’s a bathos effect as it drops into USA or Southern USA idiom.

            Not to add another theory, just a description: imagine two people composing the note. One writer copies from outside sources: ransom note cliches, stereotype Muslim stuff, and British Commonwealth expressions. The other writer adds the local references: $118,000; ‘southern common sense’; etc. (Of course by Occam there is only one writer, probably doing this at different stages of the draft.)

            The common factor through out the note is childishness. Both in the final draft of the note, and in overall lack of judgement in the larger situation.

            As for the overall mystery, (if we’re not allowed an intruder) I think Christie or John Dickson Carr could get away with each one of the family having done something that complicated the situation, probably at cross purposes with each other.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            PS to mine above.

            Actually, Christie could have taken it further. JonBenet herself could have contributed to the puzzle, something like this:

            The kids plan a pretend-game of kidnapping. They start in the basement. She may have cooperated in the binding of her hands and taping of her mouth. The garrote etc were props.

            Something went wrong and she was seriously injured. The boy tried to save her using the garrote as a tourniquet; when that failed, he panicked and killed her so she could not tell the story.

            For their game, he (perhaps with JonBenet’s help) had prepared the ransom note on a previous day. (He may have hoped to collect the ransom.) Now he used the note to send the police chasing the intruder/kidnapper.

            Hm, this scenario may leave the parents innocent of anything; not iconic Christie, then.

    • Deiseach says:

      Who killed JonBenet Ramsey and why?

      I don’t think we’ll ever know, the whole case has been so sensationalised and mishandled and generally turned into a dog’s dinner.

      And she wets the bed, which is a sign of sexual abuse.

      That sentence is, for me, an example of the sensationalism involved in this case. If we take it on face value then everyone who ever wet the bed past when they should have been toilet-trained has been sexually abused. WebMD is not the most authoratative source, I realise, but it gives the following figures:

      From 5 to 7 million kids wet the bed some or most nights — with twice as many boys wetting their bed as girls. After age 5, about 15% of children continue to wet the bed, and by age 10, 95% of children are dry at night.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        It is a classic example of failing to use Bayes’ theorem! P(wets bed|abuse) might be high (though I’m not even sure about that), but P(wets bed|no abuse) is also relatively high, and P(abuse) is low, so P(abuse|wets bed) = P(wets bed|abuse)P(abuse) / P(wets bed) is still low.

        • onyomi says:

          One must also take into account that, of children who are brutally murdered, a much higher percentage than average had probably previously been abused.

          So maybe the probability of any given six-year-old bed-wetter being abused is not that high, but a six-year-old better who was subsequently murdered must be much higher. Which is not to say it’s certain, of course, but that’s what makes the case kind of fascinating and maddening: many things which seem quite suspicious in different ways, but no smoking guns.

          • Jiro says:

            The fact that the child was murdered at all makes it more likely that the child was abused by the parents. Does (bed wetting+murder) increase the probability of abuse more than just murder and bed-wetting do independently? If not, you can’t use the bed wetting to increase your estimate of the probability of abuse above the amount by which you have already increased it by virtue of the fact that there was a murder.

          • Deiseach says:

            The fact that the child was murdered at all makes it more likely that the child was abused by the parents.

            If the parents murdered the child, Jiro, which is the very point we’re trying to work out.

            If we all simply accept “The parents did it” and then start speculating about sexual abuse, why not speculate that they killed her as a sacrifice to Hecate or something? Why not pile the salacious details even higher?

            The child was murdered. We start from there. We don’t know the parents killed her. Were there any signs of physical or other abuse previously? Did her brother show signs of abuse? Were there ever any suspicions about one or both of the adults abusing other children?

            You can’t just say “the fact that the child was murdered makes it more likely the parents abused her”.

            In 2008, there were 1,494 child homicides in the United States, says Wikipedia. All of those were cases where the child was abused? Where the parents killed them? You see how we can’t simply get from “murdered= parental abuse” unless we make the assumption “murdered by parents = parental abuse”, which is what we don’t know in this case.

            You may as well say “Bed wetting is an indicator that you will be murdered by your parents” because “bed wetting = sign of abuse; sign of abuse = increased likelihood of murder”.

            Bed wetting can be a sign of abuse but is not an infallible, “every single case means definitely yes resulting from abuse” symptom. Even “bed wetting plus murder” does not mean “hence murdered by parents”.

          • onyomi says:

            I didn’t say any sign of abuse implied she was murdered by her parents, just that children who go on to be murdered must almost certainly have been abused at a higher rate than average. That abuse could possibly have come from somewhere else, like that weird Santa Clause guy who was friends with the family, and whose wife wrote a play (before the murder) about strangling a little girl in a basement (?!).

          • onyomi says:

            “Does (bed wetting+murder) increase the probability of abuse more than just murder and bed-wetting do independently?”

            I would guess the answer is “yes,” though one imagines there are much fewer statistics on the combined case.

            Though this brings up something which is interesting (to me, at least) for its counterintuitiveness (to me, a person bad at math and statistics, at least):

            Let’s say smoking increases your probability of lung cancer and increases your probability of heart disease. If you have both lung cancer and heart disease, is not your probability of being a smoker higher than if you have just one?

            I understand that, statistically, it seems like the two must be treated separately, unless there are separate statistics on lung cancer+heart disease sufferers, yet it seems like this kind of thinking is used all the time (and by doctors, not just man on the street).

            For example, let’s say you have a list of symptoms for diagnosis of a disease. Someone presents with two symptoms which, while neither is caused exclusively by disease x, are nevertheless both symptoms of disease x (though not all x sufferers have both); does this not increase your certainty that you are dealing with an x sufferer?

            I guess, again, technically, that you need to know what percentage of x sufferers have both symptoms, but this still feels counterintuitive to me.

            To go back to the crime case: various types of criminals have their stereotyped descriptions. Serial killer might be more likely to be: white, middle-aged, male, living alone, unemployed, history of mental illness… of course, even among people who have all those qualities, the probability of being a serial killer is very low, but if you’re looking for a serial killer, someone who has all these characteristics is more likely your person than someone with just one or two of the characteristics, no?

            I guess what I’m saying is, statistically, it seems you need a new stat for every additional combination you consider, but that that is not at all how people calculate probability in real life (which I understand doesn’t mean it’s right, since people are intuitively wrong about all kinds of things, but are they really in this case?)?

            I understand what Sweeneyrod is saying about the failure to take into account the low base rate. I think I understand what Jiro is saying logically, but intuitively something about it seems odd to me, and I can’t put my finger on it at the moment.

          • Jiro says:

            The fact that the child was murdered at all makes it more likely that the child was abused by the parents.

            If the parents murdered the child, Jiro, which is the very point we’re trying to work out.

            Given that whether the parents murdered the child is unknown, the fact that the child was murdered makes it more likely that the child was abused by the parents. That’s how Bayseian inferences work.

          • Deiseach says:

            Given that whether the parents murdered the child is unknown, the fact that the child was murdered makes it more likely that the child was abused by the parents. That’s how Bayseian inferences work.

            Well, then I’m provably not a rationalist because I’m too stupid to work that one out.

            So in the Milly Dowler case, we are to take “the fact that the 13 year old was murdered makes it more likely she was abused by her parents”? After all, she allegedly left a note planning to run away, the conviction of the man deemed to be the murderer can be interpreted as doubtful, and with the muddy waters of such things as “the police stated that she was probably not taken by force” and ” DNA of an unidentified male was discovered on an item of Dowler’s clothing in her bedroom, suggesting that her killer may have met her before” (shades of the “unknown male” in the Ramsey case), along with the idea that the most likely murder suspects are family and others close to the victim – can’t we say that as long as it was unknown if she had been killed by her parents, there must have been a likelihood she had been abused by them?

            We’re making a lot of assumptions based on jumping to conclusions here – if the child was abused (which we don’t know; bed-wetting is not an infallible sign that always means abuse), if the parents were involved in the death and/or cover-up, if there has been a cover-up, and so forth.

            Invoking Bayesian inferences may well be the correct thing to do, I don’t know. But it doesn’t convince me. Child deaths involving abuse generally result from ongoing neglect and physical abuse, culminating in one final act too far. This kind of murder isn’t very common as the cause of child death; the best thing I can find in some very fast, cursory Googling about child homicides and abuse is that murder is the end result of a period of physical abuse, and there is no indication (or is there?) that the Ramsey child showed signs of being neglected, beaten, etc.

            I’m not saying “Of course the parents didn’t do it”. Parents do kill their children and do abuse them. I’m saying we’re taking a mess of contradictory information and extrapolating from that when we have only the bare fact that the child was murdered to go on (all the rest of the ‘facts’ seem to be sunk in a morass of ‘this happened/no, so-and-so says it didn’t/this was found/no it wasn’t’).

          • Deiseach says:

            Okay, I think perhaps what is rubbing me up the wrong way about this is that we seem to be getting at it from the opposite end.

            Does abuse that is ongoing and not stopped include a risk of eventual death (either from cumulative harm or from violence)? Yes. Does abuse plus murder mean a greater likelihood the abuser(s) eventually became the murderer(s)? Yes. Does “most people are killed by someone close/known to them; children who are killed are overwhelmingly more likely to be killed by parents/caretakers” make it that “the parents did it” is the most probable answer? There’s where we’re hitting the rocks, I think.

            It’s reasonable to suspect them, and the likelihood of their guilt goes up the more with the more bizarre or unexplanined or contradictory or confusing elements. But it’s not absolute certainty.

            And we seem to be working backwards, which is where my goat is got: the child was murdered, it’s most likely the parents did it (because parents/caretakers are the most likely to be the killers where children are killed), if the parents killed her they were likely to have been abusive to her, therefore the bed wetting is a sign of abuse, and from that the abuse reinforces the likelihood of parental murder.

          • M.C. Escherichia says:

            I think Jiro is just saying:

            If all we know is that a child has been murdered, the probability that the child was abused by the parents necessarily rises.

            This is surely right. If we learn other things, that probability may fall back to baseline, or below.

          • Shion Arita says:

            To go back to the crime case: various types of criminals have their stereotyped descriptions. Serial killer might be more likely to be: white, middle-aged, male, living alone, unemployed, history of mental illness… of course, even among people who have all those qualities, the probability of being a serial killer is very low, but if you’re looking for a serial killer, someone who has all these characteristics is more likely your person than someone with just one or two of the characteristics, no?

            no, I think. Well, actually it depends.

            Because way more people have just one or two of those characteristics than do have all of them, so you have to adjust for that. It really depends on what the specific numbers are. It depends on what the probability of having those characterstics themselves is and how strong the correlation is.

    • mobile says:

      > And she wets the bed, which is a sign of sexual abuse.

      I wish you hadn’t said that.

      • onyomi says:

        I’m no expert on any of this. I’m just repeating what some supposed expert on tv said. Are you saying abused children don’t wet the bed at a higher rate than average?

        I certainly don’t mean that bed wetting, alone, is good reason to assume or even expect abuse. Sorry if it sounded like that.

        • mobile says:

          There are lots of reasons kids wet the bed, including the normal stresses of being a kid. Bed wetting is just way more common than sexual abuse among 5-year olds. It was … irresponsible of that TV expert to signal boost the link between them.

        • Deiseach says:

          It’s very circular argument: TV expert claims she wet the bed because she was abused, and we know she was abused because she wet the bed (allegedly, we don’t even know that for sure, do we?)

          Bed wetting on its own isn’t a sign of anything other than bed wetting; TV expert sounds, I’m sorry to say, like the kind of salacious sensationalism this case provoked by the bucketful. At this stage, I don’t trust any kind of ‘expert’ on daytime TV shows if they said fire burns and water is wet, simply because there have been too many times ‘experts’ were anything but, and they are only trotted out by the show to bump up viewing figures with strange, new and startling claims.

    • keranih says:

      Probability theory sez it was a family member or a close family friend.

      This is acres away from proof, however, and at this remove I would not even attempt to guess.

    • Edward Morgan Blake says:

      And she wets the bed, which is a sign of sexual abuse

      Not a very good sign. I know several people, including close family members, who suffered from nocturnal enuresis during childhood and adolescence, to the point where it was causing severe family stress and was causing crippling social isolation (teenagers will not have friends over, and can’t go on overnight fieldtrips or camping trips, if they are plagued with this problem), that I very certain they were not sexually abused as a child.

  14. Chalid says:

    Are there any good novels about business and corporate life? By which I mean, a book in which the primary focus is actually on trying to solve some business problem (reorganize a department, launch a new product, win a promotion, survive an audit/run an audit), and the drama comes from struggling with reasonably realistic obstacles, e.g. internal corporate politics, unreliable suppliers, broken processes, unsupportive management, and the like.

    • bluto says:

      Bureaucracy is about government life, but the main plot follows a reformer attempting to reorganize his department. I found it pretty humorous.

    • Anon. says:

      It’s not exactly what you’re looking for, but Gaddis’s JR is a very good novel about business.

    • Noms says:

      Interested commenter here.

      What attracts you to this kind of novel in general? I’m asking purely because I think for me personally, reading about that would be more of a stressful experience than an enjoyable one. Interested in seeing why how/my tastes different.

      • Chalid says:

        1) curiosity. Can it be done? If not, why not? Struggles within work is a central part of the life of a great many people – indeed, a lot of people define their lives and self-worth in some large part through work and gain a great deal of satisfaction and excitement from it. And yet I’ve never encountered a book that takes that seriously – either the corporation is a backdrop for something else, like a crime novel, or the book is all about how someone finds freedom from the soulcrushing nature of corporate life blah blah blah. Perhaps the type of person who becomes an author is not usually the type of person who can find satisfaction in a corporation?

        2) education. Work is a *really important* part of the human experience these days and all I really know about is jobs that I’ve held and those that are closely related to them. Also, perhaps I could gain some insights into my own work.

        3) variety. I’m kind of bored with my usual reading diet, and something like this would be *very far* from my normal reading.

        • Chalid says:

          After some searching it seems like The Goal is a classic of the genre, about improving the performance of a manufacturing plant. The Phoenix Project is about saving a disastrous IT project.

        • This is reminding me of an essay by C. S. Lewis about Kipling being the first writer to do fiction about work, even though work is such a large part of people’s lives. It sounds as though the lesson that work is interesting has been largely forgotten.

          I’m not dredging up examples at the moment, but isn’t some of science fiction about work? Or is there a fair amount about work, but it’s not the center of the plot?

          This is just an impression, but I think that small businesses are more common in mysteries and romances than they used to be.

          This is as good a place as any to recommend I Am Your Judge, a hunt for a serial killer which has a good bit about police work and also hospitals and organ transplatation. Fourth in a series, but it was the only one I read and it worked.

          I’m not saying it’s the best thing ever, but it’s a solid entertainment.

          • The Nybbler says:

            This is reminding me of an essay by C. S. Lewis about Kipling being the first writer to do fiction about work, even though work is such a large part of people’s lives.

            He must have meant this in some other way than I’m thinking; Melville comes immediately to mind for doing fiction about work.

          • Nybbler, good point about Melville.

            Unfortunately, the Lewis essay doesn’t seem to be conveniently available online, so I can’t check on what Lewis said.

          • The essay is webbed. The relevant sentence:

            “With a few exceptions[41] imaginative literature in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had quietly omitted, or at least thrust into the background, the sort of thing which in fact occupies most of the waking hours of most men.”

            The footnote references Middlemarch as “perhaps the finest” of the exceptions.

            Interesting essay.

          • Oldman says:

            If you include soldiers and sailors, there are quite a lot of novels about work. Does “life at court” count as work for an aristocrat? That’d expand the list even more.

    • Dan says:

      The Soul of a New Machine is a good nonfiction story about a company’s effort to make a new microcomputer a few decades ago.

  15. The Pachyderminator says:

    It seems obvious to me that one popular form of two-factor identification, the one that requires you to get a code via text message in order to log in on a new computer, is a bad, bad, bad idea.

    Phones get lost, they get stolen, they run out of battery power, they get left at home or in the car, they get outside of service areas, they run out of minutes. These aren’t rare marginal cases either: they happen all the time. Relying on a phone for a login seems like a setup for getting stranded somewhere, unable to access the email/social media/bank/cloud storage/whatever account you need to get help.

    The badness of the idea seems so obvious, and so rarely pointed out, that I suspect I’m missing something important. Is that the case?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Well, you’re not the first one to have noticed that two-factor over SMS is not very secure. That said, the reasoning here is pretty different. I think the usual alternatives, while more secure, have the same problems you list — a dedicated secure app on your phone is still on your phone, a dedicated device can also easily be lost, etc. What alternative did you have in mind?

      • Corey says:

        On security Twitter recently I saw a nice summary of the three types of authenticator:

        – Something that can be easily guessed
        – Something that can be left in a cab
        – Something that can be cut off

        • dndnrsn says:

          Glad to know I’m not the only one who thinks “thumbprint lock on my phone? I DON’T WANT THEM TO TAKE MY THUMBS”.

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        The closest thing to a currently practical solution I know of is this: rely on a single email account, and make sure that one account is as safe as you can make it. (My Google password is a string of 15 random ASCII characters, and I don’t use it anywhere else.) You could use an online password manager if you think that’s safer. Chrome can serve as a password manager if you set it up.

        Obviously this provides a single point of failure, which is somewhat hazardous. But it seems to me that it’s better than the alternatives for now. One hopes, of course, that eventually retinal scanning or something will be widely adopted.

        (I do imagine scenarios where I stumble out of an emergency room in a strange city with bandages over my eyes and head for an internet cafe, but that, unlike losing my phone, could be fairly called – well, unlikely.)

      • brad says:

        It doesn’t seem like Pachyderminator is objecting to the security of a phone based factor, but rather the availability.

        FWIW, I have in my wallet a set of emergency codes for google authenticator. So if I have either my phone or my wallet I can provide that second factor.

    • Lumifer says:

      Yes, you’re missing this.

      All security is a compromise and different solutions provide different trade-offs. In this case your alternatives to the SMS verification are (a) single-factor authentication; (b) biometrics; (c) various special-purpose hardware devices.

      If you pick (a) you sacrifice security; if you pick (b) you sacrifice the ability to login from anywhere which doesn’t have secure biometric sensors (e.g. a browser on your desktop), not to mention the general biometric-ID problems; if you pick (c) you have more things to forget, lose, run out of battery, etc.

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        I’ve considered that there’s no perfect security solution. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t acceptable ones. All I’m saying is that the requirements for an acceptable solution, to my mind, include “it doesn’t require me never to lose my phone.”

        • bluto says:

          If you lose your phone, but get a new one attached to the same account, couldn’t you continue to get SMS messages to the same phone number, or do you need the old phone to update the account for some reason?

          • The Pachyderminator says:

            Maybe, but then you’re locked out of everything until you get a chance to buy a phone. You also might not have lost the phone, but simply don’t have access to it at the moment (you left it at home, battery is dead, etc.).

          • Irishdude7 says:

            @The Pachyderminator

            I use two-factor authentication for my gmail, but this is only for new devices. My home and work computer are authorized and only require single-factor authentication, so if I lose my cell phone I can still access my email from home or at work, which is where I access my email 99% of the time. I have this same set-up for other types of accounts as well.

        • Lumifer says:

          That is not the requirement.

          The requirement is “If you lose your phone, you will have to go through a process where you will have to provide more identification than usual to reset your SMS information”.

          People do lose phones and a workable system will obviously have to account for that. All SMS-authentication schemes that I’ve seem do. You might have to call a phone number and talk to a human, though.

          • Gazeboist says:

            You might have to call a phone number and talk to a human, though.

            With what phone? :p

            A friend’s, of course, but that might not always be an option. Landlines are falling out of use, so you can’t rely on someone having an extra phone to reset mobile-related information, any more than you can rely on someone having internet access to activate their modem online (a service which Comcast offers, but which I find rather baffling).

          • Zakharov says:

            Activating your modem online using your phone seems like a useful option.

        • Protagoras says:

          Do you lose your phone a lot? If so, I think that may be what you’re missing, as I don’t think that’s a universal experience. I’ve never had a phone lost or stolen; I’m extremely careful with them. Admittedly, part of being careful with them is not always having mine with me, which was another of the failure modes you mentioned, but that one just confused me; I don’t see any overlap between things for which I am likely to need emergency access at a moment’s notice and things for which I would use two factor authentication anyway.

          • Gazeboist says:

            You avoid losing your phone by *not* always having it on you?

          • Protagoras says:

            Yeah, leave it at home if I’m not going to need it, primarily.

          • Gazeboist says:

            Hmm. Since middle school I’ve carried my phone, keys, and wallet very nearly all the time. It works pretty well for me; I know something is wrong if I don’t feel their weight as I’m leaving somewhere (I have several times gotten rather alarmed at the absence of my phone/wallet, rearranged my pockets to find that everything was in fact fine, and calmed down).

          • Protagoras says:

            Also like that about keys and wallet, and perhaps just being neurotic about the danger of losing such things also contributes to my not doing so, but I don’t have the “I feel like something’s very wrong” response when I’m without my phone, so I need to use other strategies.

    • Aegeus says:

      If you’re stranded somewhere, you usually don’t need access to your cloud storage. You just need a way to call a friend to come help you out.

      I’m not sure what scenario I’d be in where I desperately need to get on my email/social media/cloud/bank account, and I have to do it on a new computer rather than one I already have my credentials on, and my phone is lost or broken (If it’s simply out of battery, then anywhere with a computer probably has a place to charge it. If it’s out of data or signal, wifi is still an option. And Google Authenticator doesn’t need a connection at all once it’s running).

      Maybe if I’m about to give some sort of important presentation, I put it on my cloud drive so I could open it on a client’s computer, and then forgot my phone at home, so I couldn’t retrieve it once I got there? I could see that happening, but I think scenarios like that are a pretty small risk.

      Anyway, if you’re still worried, most two-factor services have some sort of backup available. Google allows you to print out some emergency codes on paper that you can keep in your wallet. Your bank usually has a way to reset your password, if you call them and answer a bunch of security questions.

    • Garrett says:

      There are three items: discoverability, recovery latency, and value.
      For discoverability, how hard is it to know that your credentials have been compromised? If it’s something you use routinely, like a phone, it’s much more likely that you will notice it missing promptly and thus be able to use whatever “cancel that token” mechanisms your system has in place. Something like a RSA security token that you leave in the cupholder of your car you might not notice missing over the weekend giving somebody more time to take advantage of your credentials/account.

      Recovery latency roughly involves figuring out how long it will take you to get back up and running. If your phone is stolen while you’re on vacation on the other side of the world it’s going to be more difficult than if your phone got crushed by a car in front of your local Verizon store.

      Finally, what’s the value, both in terms of losing control of your account, and of not having access to your account. For consumer use most account access loss is merely annoying. You can’t post on social media or read your personal email. And recovery is annoying. My work account is more valuable. There are national governments who would like access to the trade secrets I have access to. Getting new credentials involves me coming into work and getting replacement hardware, showing my ID, that sort of thing. I get paid to do that. The economic loss of value to me is minimal. The loss to my employer is also minimal.

      This is in contrast to the President. If the President loses the executive restroom key and needs to wait over the weekend for a replacement. If the President loses the use of the credentials to launch nuclear weapons it’s a national security emergency.

      Trying to find something that does a better job in all cases than a phone is doable, but hard.

  16. Zorgon says:

    This is an usually tech-oriented community, so I have a question that may have a better return on here than elsewhere:

    Have any of you been involved in the genesis of a potentially unique or groundbreaking piece of technology?
    And for those who have – how did you respond to it psychologically?

    I had such an idea a few days ago and with the help of a business-savvy friend, I’m currently looking at grants etc to pursue it, with the intent of spinning the idea up into a workable technology. But it’s absolutely terrifying me; I have people throwing absurd superlatives around and I’m trying to find ways to express that so far I have NO IDEA how well this is going to work or even if it’s really possible. From my perspective, I’m literally making this up as I go along. I’m pretty sure there’s something in this – I’d not have bothered telling anyone otherwise – but I’m a matter of days into it with very little work done (except for a lot of searching for other people having already done it, of course). There’s a part of me which is absolutely convinced that as soon as someone else more knowledgeable than me gets a look at my work, they’re going to point out something obvious I’ve missed and the whole thing will fall apart.

    I don’t know if this is standard impostor syndrome or fear-of-failure or some such, but I’m increasingly finding myself wanting to flee back into my comfort zone as fast as possible.

    Anyone else been in this mess? Or failing that, any advice for making the terror abate? As things stand, it’s only gonna get stronger as the next few months go by and grant applications start to go out.

    • Andrew says:

      I’ve had a few great ideas that I spun up into prototypes, saw massive gains in my field, and went “Damn! I think I just made a big tech leap!” only to find out that there were a dozen small firms providing similar tech already.

      What’s that quote? “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”

      That is to say, *you* might really have something big and innovative. But nowadays most tech advancements come so quickly, that parallel or near-parallel invention is the rule.

      • Zorgon says:

        It’s not impossible that this is already happening, I quite agree. I’ve spent most of the past week looking for indications that I’m treading well-worn ground, to no avail; I’d be amazed if I was the only person to notice this gap.

    • Corey says:

      I have only generic advice, which is “even your failure scenario doesn’t sound too bad”.

      Assuming you’re not, say, quitting an existing day job tomorrow to pursue this, even if it turns out to be absurdly impossible early on, you’re out a couple weeks of work and have an interesting story to tell at parties and in blog comments.

      If you get six months in, working from grants, and it turns out to be impossible, well, probably better to fail because of that than some random thing like market crashes, etc.

      McArdle’s “The Up Side Of Down” may have better advice along these lines (haven’t read it but I hear good things).

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I participated in a tech start up that had a moderately successful exit. Not sure if that counts.

      My advice would be to throw yourself into the work, revel in it, but also presume that that nothing will come of it. Most big ideas fail, so don’t be scared of failing.

      Also be careful of venture capital (if it is that kind of idea). VC money can be useful, but it also has a good chance of sucking your soul away. VC money comes strings attached. Far better to do as much development as possible without it, if you can.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I have never been involved in anything like that, but now I’m curious. Can you say where your tech is on the Yudkowsky ambition scale?

      1) We’re going to build the next Facebook!
      2) We’re going to found the next Apple!
      3) Our product will create sweeping political change! This will produce a major economic revolution in at least one country! (Seasteading would be change on this level if it worked; creating a new country successfully is around the same level of change as this.)
      4) Our product is the next nuclear weapon. You wouldn’t want that in the wrong hands, would you?
      5) This is going to be the equivalent of the invention of electricity if it works out.
      6) We’re going to make an IQ-enhancing drug and produce basic change in the human condition.
      7) We’re going to build serious Drexler-class molecular nanotechnology.
      8) We’re going to upload a human brain into a computer.
      9) We’re going to build a recursively self-improving Artificial Intelligence.
      10) We think we’ve figured out how to hack into the computer our universe is running on.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        I feel like that scale needs a negative part.

        • Zombielicious says:

          0) We sat here, blogged and played video games.
          -1) We got Donald Trump elected.
          -2) We sparked a major regional war.
          -3) We caused a global economic meltdown.
          -4) We triggered a major mass extinction event.
          -5) We created technologies enabling a stable, eternal totalitarian state.
          -6) We set the species back to pre-agricultural times.
          -7) We wiped out all life on Earth.
          -8) We paperclipped the universe.
          -9) We nucleated a true vacuum.
          -10) We proved the existence of the basilisk.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            I was more thinking for disruptive things not as big as Facebook, but your idea’s good too. Maybe 0-1 should be positive but not as successful as Facebook.

      • Zorgon says:

        Assuming it functions to the level I extrapolate internally, probably around a 0.3.

        Assuming it functions to the level other people have breathlessly discussed, somewhere between 1 and 2.

        The mark I’m looking for is “highly disruptive within a specific limited market”, it doesn’t have enormous world-changing potential or modify the base state of human life in any way.

  17. Pete Houser says:

    What do you think?

    The term “Bayesian logic” is commonly used to designate any filtering process that uses measurements recursively to refine a probabilistic estimate. However, it is important to recognize that the underlying math assumes that:

    1. The probabilistic density in the state space may be accurately represented as Gaussian (or Rayleigh, depending upon the dimensions).
    2. The relationship between the state estimate and the measurement is linear.
    3. The noise on the measurements is Gaussian.

    If a Bayesian process is applied to a system that violates these assumptions then the resulting filtered estimates may be non-optimal; the filtering process may converge inaccurately, may diverge, or may vary without converging (e.g., hem stitching). I’ve done quite a bit of work with Kalman Filters and Maximum Likelihood Estimators (mathematical cousins of Bayes) for submarine tracking and have seen all of these behaviors routinely.

    A recent blog post used Bayesian processing as a model for cognition and did not consider these process assumptions. If we do hypothesize that a Bayesian process is a useful model for cognition, then perhaps the cognition process itself is also “hard wired” to these assumptions. It it might also be useful to consider how the cognition problem inherently violates the three Bayesian assumptions and to consider how those violations might lead to the cognitive dissonance seen in certain psychological conditions.

    This could be a much longer discussion but this summary seems sufficient to start the thought process. I’d be interested in discussing this further along these lines with anyone who is interested.

    • Mr Mind says:

      Are you sure the term used is “Bayesian logic”?
      Because I’ve known the term used in general to point at probability as extended logic, and searching for “Bayesian logic” or “Bayesian logic filter” doesn’t uncover anything specific.

      I’m asking because general Bayesian logic depends from none of the assumptions you make, so I guess there’s a specific model that is called that way.

  18. cwl says:

    A few years back, I was talking to my 56 year old mother. I forget the exact context, but I mentioned the city of York, England in passing. My mother stopped me to ask if York was at all related to New York. I replied that the former was the namesake of the latter, and she said she had never realized.

    I was surprised because I had previously thought that inferring the existence of a place called “York” based on the meaning of “new” and the existence of “New” York was something fairly universal even among grade school kids. I asked around my immediate family and a few friends. They all reported that they made a similar inference when they were young and were also surprised that some had never made the connection.

    Has anyone here ever had a similar experience discovering a thought is less common than expected?

    • Do you know if it was specifically the existence of some York she meant she had never realized? Maybe she just never realized the York in England was the namesake of New York.

      • cwl says:

        Supposing the second case were true, that makes my conversation even more surprising.

        It is less of a logical leap to hear of New York and York and assume a relation between the two given the history of the United States as English colonies. This is a weaker inference than assuming the existence of York only knowing the existence of New York.

        The most likely explanation is that my mother had heard of York before, but promptly forgot it each time as it was not relevant to her.

        • Gazeboist says:

          Given that she did make the connection eventually, it seems like it was there, in a sense “ready to be made”, but never actually happened. Probably, like you said, because the two never actually came up in the same context.

    • JayT says:

      Not quite the same, but I remember one time a friend said to me “I saw on the news that Russia is invading Georgia! Why aren’t we doing anything?!?”

      I had to gently explain to her that it wasn’t the state that was being invaded. This was a reasonably intelligent person that has a master’s degree. I think sometimes people just don’t really think too carefully before they say something.

      • Also, there aren’t that many chunks of territory (as distinct from cities) which share the same name.

        • LHN says:

          Though just for added confusion for history students, one of the previous states on Georgia’s territory was the Kingdom of Iberia, not to be confused with the peninsula Spain and Portugal hang out on.

          (And of course there are the various uses of Columbia/Colombia, though it’s usually possible to distinguish British, the Gem of the Ocean, District of, and South American Country from one another via context.)

    • Deiseach says:

      My mother stopped me to ask if York was at all related to New York. I replied that the former was the namesake of the latter, and she said she had never realized.

      I think that was just context. Your mother (and let’s face it, most people) doesn’t think of “New York” as two separate words, differentiating this York (the new one) from the original; she thinks of it as the name of the place, all one word, “NooYawk”.

      It’s only when you stop and about it as words, not a sound, that it strikes you: hey, there must be another York! It’s the same with Maine placenames in Stephen King’s novels; the original Bangor and Derry are over here. Baltimore takes its name from a lord whose Irish peerage was in County Longford (and not the more famous Cork town as I had previously thought).

      • cwl says:

        While I agree with you that most people view [New York] as a single semantic entity most of the time, it seemed strange at the time that most of my family and friends had at one point considered that the name was derived as [New] [York].

        After consideration, most of my surprise was probably due to my social bubble that includes a large number of people likely to make these sorts of inferences.

  19. NPS says:

    This week on Does Anyone Else Experience This Or Is It Just Me: sometimes when I experience disgust I get an unpleasant sensation, similar to aching but less dull, on my butt and the backs of my legs. Not all forms of disgust cause this; it’s primarily caused by perceiving or thinking about something that’s sexually repulsive or that involves bodily harm.

    • hlynkacg says:

      Not sure if its the same thing but I experience something similar along my Trapezius rather than my legs. It’s kind of like a cringe reflex turned up to 1e11.

    • Protagoras says:

      Probably not just you, but definitely not everybody; I don’t.

  20. An interesting piece by Paul Romer arguing that current macro-economics and string theory are both examples of a failure mode of science.

    “A norm that places an authority above criticism helps people cooperate as members of a belief field that pursues political, moral, or religious objectives. As Jonathan Haidt (2012) observes, this type of norm had survival value because it helped members of one group mount a coordinated defense when they were attacked by another group. It is supported by two innate moral senses, one that encourages us to defer to authority, another which compels self-sacrifice to defend the purity of the sacred.

    Science, and all the other research fields spawned by the enlightenment, survive by “turning the dial to zero” on these innate moral senses. …”

    “The trouble is not so much that macroeconomists say things that are inconsistent with the facts. The real trouble is that other economists do not care that the macroeconomists do not care about the facts. An indifferent tolerance of obvious error is even more corrosive to science than committed advocacy of error.”

    I don’t do either macro or string theory, so can’t evaluate those cases, but I think I have seen the pattern he describes in other fields.

    • hlynkacg says:

      I don’t do either macro or string theory, so can’t evaluate those cases, but I think I have seen the pattern he describes in other fields.

      Ditto.

    • Gazeboist says:

      The problem with string theory is, as I understand things, less that it fails to fit the facts and more that it fits every conceivable set of facts. It’s certainly nifty, but more theoretical work needs to be done in order to actually extract an interesting hypothesis.

  21. TMB says:

    I’ve often read that Hitler actively encouraged bureaucratic turf-wars and rivalry between his direct subordinates by creating institutions with overlapping responsibilities.

    This is normally described as a way for him to maintain his own power – but isn’t it also an example of the market in action within government? Why shouldn’t this system ultimately result in greater efficiency?

    According to Albert Speer the system was actually entirely ineffective. Why should this have been the case? Did it just not have sufficient time to evolve?
    Is the fact that Albert Speer ultimately became Minister of Armaments and increased production a point in favour of this system?

    Also, I suppose it depends on the selection criteria – if there is some clear measure of success (I suppose Hitler had great faith in his ability to judge), I can’t really see why it shouldn’t be a good way of organising government.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      The CEO of Sears tried a similar thing (explicitly inspired by Objectivist libertarianism). It didn’t work very well.

      Some idle speculation — markets work at meeting multiple goals (some people want cheap cars, others want reliable ones etc.) but less well at meeting single goals (making Hitler happy). They work well when the easiest way to succeed is by acting properly (producing a good product) and less well when it is easier to sabotage your competitors (as with bureaucrats).

      • caethan says:

        Holy crap, he had IT and HR spun off into separate autonomous divisions where other divisions who needed their help had to sign contracts with. I don’t even have the words.

    • Lumifer says:

      isn’t it also an example of the market in action within government?

      I don’t see how bureaucratic infighting can be called “market in action”. It might be considered an example of evolution and/or natural selection if you really want to stretch things, but it ain’t no market.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Hitler had a strong belief in social Darwinism – one explanation is that he felt that making subordinates fight it out would lead to the best rising to the top, conceivably. He also had a habit of appointing people to ad hoc positions to get around red tape – which generally led to more red tape. He was just a terrible boss and administrator in pretty much every possible way.

      I, personally, am convinced that total war is a situation where a command economy is worth it: the short term advantage is worth the long-term hit to innovation or profits or whatever. German military production was seriously outpaced by the US and USSR, to a greater degree than one would predict by merely considering resources and industrial facilities, so clearly the system didn’t work.

      This wasn’t just an issue for military production, either – things like party/state/SS overlapping were a problem for a lot of things. Consider, for instance, the Reich Security Main Office, which included the criminal police and the (not technically party or SS but full of Nazis and under Nazi control from the start) secret state police (Gestapo) as the “security police” along with the SD, the SS’ own security and intelligence service. Without even considering that the military had its own intelligence service and its own secret police, plus another military intelligence service devoted to the USSR and Eastern Europe, that’s already a lot of overlap: it’s completely unclear where the line between Gestapo responsibilities and SD responsibilities, the two shared personnel, etc.

      Additionally, don’t take Speer at face value. How much credit he deserves for the armaments production increase is an open question, and the man himself can’t be trusted.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        He was just a terrible boss and administrator in pretty much every possible way.

        Isn’t the bolded part trivially provable as false?

        Unless you think that he really didn’t want to kill people who were Jewish, had disabilities, etc.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Do you mean that, if he was successful in euthanasia and genocide, and those were his objectives, that indicates competence, albeit at evil objectives?

          Hitler often got what he wanted done, at least internally, but the Nazi German system had a lot of problems. Considering the history of the T4 euthanasia program and the Holocaust, even Nazi atrocities were often thrown together in bits and pieces in a way that led to inefficiency.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Yes. He was incredibly competent at motivating the organization (and populace) to accomplish that goal.

            The thing is, when you look at most large organizations you will see in-fighting. To a certain extent this is how large organizations make decisions. I have a bias against reports that show “how bad” it is in some large organization. The proper comparison is to the reference class, not optimal decision making.

            But, even setting that aside, and granting that the German High Command was somehow disfunctional when compared to a counter-factual one that could have arisen from the German nation at that time, they weren’t incompetent in all ways, only some.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Hitler was extremely competent as a demagogue and a politician. I said he was a bad boss and a bad administrator – I did not mean that he was an incompetent who somehow stumbled into running a country.

            Additionally, he was very good at staying on top of a chaotic organization, and did a very good job at winning Nazi party infighting in the 20s and early 30s, but I wouldn’t say that successfully staying on top of a dsyfunctional organization makes you a good administrator.

            And, of course, the German high command was not as a rule incompetent. They had some very good generals (although not as good as they made themselves/others made them sound after the fact). I still think their major advantage and what kept them in the war as long as they did was superior tactical leadership and superior officer staff training and so on.

            At the highest levels, at the grand strategy level, however, decision making was extremely dysfunctional.

      • Lumifer says:

        German military production was seriously outpaced by the US and USSR, to a greater degree than one would predict by merely considering resources and industrial facilities

        Citation needed. My impression is that this is not the case, though I can be easily convinced by facts here. Notably there is a large population difference, plus Germany has been severely constrained in some important resources (oil, rubber, etc.).

        • bean says:

          The standard book on the subject is Wages of Destruction. I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, so I can’t comment personally, but my understanding is that the German economy was in a state of near-collapse from 1939 onward, and survived only by looting everyone else. Also, it wasn’t nearly as efficient as it could have been. I know they were still making civilian hunting rifles through 1941 or so.

          • cassander says:

            I think you’re misreading wages of destruction Bean. the key of the book is that the german economy faced lots of very hard raw material constraints that simply could not be gotten around. You can’t run the tank factories on triple shifts if you don’t have the steel to make the tanks out of. There were, of course, inefficiencies, but even if they had all been ironed out, the production increase would have been limited due to limits on iron ore, oil, etc.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I’m trying to find where I saw that initially but I’m getting bogged down in sources I’m not sure are reliable and questions about metallurgy (not all steel is of equal quality etc).

          According to Wikipedia in 1941, for instance, the entire Reich + occupied territories had a 1,145 billion dollar (1990 value) GDP (I’m using the GDP numbers because I can’t find, say, steel production numbers) and the Reich alone 412 billion, while the USSR had 359 billion. However, that year, Germany produced just over 3,500 tanks, while the Soviets produced just over 6,500 tanks. Of course, a lot of the Soviet tanks were crummy and outdated light tanks, but about a fifth of German production was Pz IIs and Pz 38(t)s which were in the same boat, and the Germans built just under 2,700 Pz III and Pz IV tanks plus variants, while that same year the Soviets built 2,800 T-34s and just under 1,400 KV tanks, both of which were generally superior to what the Germans had at that point.

          Meanwhile, in 1942, the US had a GDP of 1,235 billion (1,259 if “colonies” are included) and Germany 417 (1,150 when occupied included). That year, the US produced about 10,500 light tanks and AFVs and over 15,500 medium tanks and AFVs. In comparison, Germany produced just slightly over 5,500 tanks, of which just under 4,000 were IIIs, IVs, and variants, and under 100 of which were Tigers.

          There is a clear disconnect between the German economy as a whole as measured by GDP and what it was able to do as a war economy. Resource constraints were indeed a problem, but often one that hurt units in the field more than it hurt production (eg in the late war the Germans had more tanks than they really had fuel).

          • Lumifer says:

            Direct comparisons are troublesome (e.g. the Soviet Union had an essentially slave labour force that was willing to subsist on gruel (or else, of course) and that has obvious economic consequences). But your original statement was about “command economy” — are you saying that in wartime Nazi Germany the economy was insufficiently commanded? It was too free, compared to the US?

          • dndnrsn says:

            The Germans used slave labour (whetehr from the concentration camps, POW camps, or press-ganged from occupied territories) more and more throughout the war, though. One thing they discovered is that motivated and well-fed workers are way better than half-starved slaves – the Germans got bitten in the ass by this (they’d estimated that a slave labourer would be x percentage as effective as a German, but they were actually less effective than x percentage).

            The German war economy had a whole lot wrong with it. Part of it was just that from the very beginning, the German economy had big problems: it had a modern manufacturing sector but its agricultural sector was fairly backwards. Even if the German war economy had been run perfectly (and it was run better than people often credit it for – part of this is due to Speer’s “everybody else is a moron and nothing worked until I showed up and fixed everything” shtick) the Germans were at a disadvantage. But it didn’t help them that they had a lot of duplication (eg consider the number of half-track models including variants the Germans built, vs Americans) or their use of a wide range of captured foreign equipment and foreign designs produced under occupation, which caused all sorts of problems (I have a citation at home for the number of different models of trucks they used in Barbarossa – it’s some ridiculous number, maybe over 100).

            And the fact that decision-making in the Third Reich was just completely messed up hurt a lot too. So much infighting. One of the trademark moments of the Third Reich is, even as the Soviets reach Berlin, various underlings competing against each other for Hitler’s favour.

            My point about the command economy was a broader one – even if (this is an if largely accepted around here, but it’s still an if) the free market is generally better, there are situations where it is not the best choice. TMB’s question was, in part, about whether the greater competition – like a market – would produce better results.

          • cassander says:

            YOu’re missing the the massive raw material inputs that the US gave to the USSR, without which their production would have been vastly lower. Germany had a lot of hard resource constraints that no amount of money could get around.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Was that already a factor in 1941? Soviet tank production explodes in 1942. Was the US providing much in the way of supply before the end of that year? (I’m using tanks as a shorthand for production in general because tanks are cool and we’re not discussing the Japanese, who didn’t really have either quality or quantity.)

            You’re right that the ability of the US and UK to control world resources and keep Germany from getting access to a lot of things was one of the decisive factors.

            I wonder if there is a specialist history on this topic – it would probably require a lot of knowledge of manufacturing, manufacturing history, etc to be able to discuss it really well. I think it is extremely likely that the relatively large number of different models and variants the Germans had didn’t help them, but I don’t have any hard facts.

          • cassander says:

            dndnrsn says:
            September 16, 2016 at 10:23 pm ~new~

            >Was that already a factor in 1941? Soviet tank production explodes in 1942. Was the US providing much in the way of supply before the end of that year?

            First, the specifics of the timeline matter. Lend lease is passed in March, initially does not apply to the USSR. the germans invade at the end of june. lend lease aid officially begins in october. So, already, aid in 1941 is limited, and on top of that, much of soviet industry spent the latter half of 1941 being evacuated eastwards. Much of the early aid also was taken up more in the form of finished goods that were immediately thrown into the fight. in 42, once the factories are running again, the soviets request more raw material aid.

            >I wonder if there is a specialist history on this topic – it would probably require a lot of knowledge of manufacturing, manufacturing history, etc to be able to discuss it really well. I think it is extremely likely that the relatively large number of different models and variants the Germans had didn’t help them, but I don’t have any hard facts.

            The official book is Wages of Destruction. It’s an extremely fantastic book. I think it’s actually better at the pre-war and early war than the Speer Era, but when I say that I’m doing whatever the opposite of damning with faint praise is (praising with faint damnation?). It very concretely demonstrates that Speer’s armaments miracle was largely not of his making, and shows the extent to which the german war economy was limited by hard resource constraints.

            The germans definitely would have been better off with certain economies, and suffered from far too many models of certain vehicles and aircraft which dissipated their engineering capacity and complicated their logistical chains. That said, you can’t just assume that a winnowing down would have selected the right models. the story of the Sturmgewehr is illustrative. At the end of the day, though, it simply didn’t matter. Replace every single german tank with a Tiger, every me 109 with an me 262 and the germans still lose. It takes longer, and more allies die, but once germany is at war with the brits, americans and russians, they can’t win. All they could do was ensure that little boy dropped on berlin, not hiroshima.

          • Homo Iracundus says:

            Wasn’t all US–>USSR lend-lease done through the well-documented arctic convoys? Because that would seem to provide perfect figures on the amount of raw materials sent. Or am I missing something?

          • I’ve seen “praising with faint damns”.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @cassander:
            I’ve read Wages of Destruction and it changed my mind about a few things. I certainly agree with the statement “Germany was kind of fucked once it was fighting the British Empire, USSR, and US.”

            That said, I think that if the German war economy had been handled differently, it would have given them a better chance to knock the USSR out of the war before the end of 1941. Still, the Germans wouldn’t have been a betting favourite had it been a boxing match, no matter what: USSR had quite the chin. I also think that the greater Soviet production in 1941, despite the superior German GDP, and the fact that for most of the year the Soviets had no American assistance and for the rest of it their own factories were overrun, threatened, destroyed, or being moved, shows that the Soviet war economy was better arranged than the German.

            Wages also made me adjust my view of Speer from “lying about his knowledge of the Holocaust and involvement in slave labour” to “lying about everything”.

          • cassander says:

            @Homo Iracundus

            >Wasn’t all US–>USSR lend-lease done through the well-documented arctic convoys?

            Definitely not. Lots went through Persia and Vladivostok. Can’t remember the figures off hand, and there are some disputes about total figures.

            On top of that, there’s a huge calculation problem. How do you value the cost of the materials needed to make a tank against the a finished tank? How does that value change between late 1941, when finished tanks were desperately needed to blunt the attack on Moscow, and 1944 when tanks were rolling of the assembly lines? How do you calculate the value of the efficiencies of allowing the Russians to more or less ignore entire fields (e.g. Large trucks and locomotives), which not allowed greater economies of scale in production and the concentration of scarce engineering capacity? How do you value things the USSR simply was unable to make on their own, like high quality machine tools and high octane gas?

            Even if the Soviet records were complete, reliable, and consistent, and they are none of those things, these are problems enough to never really be solvable.

            @dndnrsn says:

            >That said, I think that if the German war economy had been handled differently, it would have given them a better chance to knock the USSR out of the war before the end of 1941.

            I’m curious what you think was possible. Ipso facto, more of anything makes German victory more likely, but wages really drives home for me how hopeless the German situation was. At the very least, they needed to win the battle for Moscow (maybe not take the city, but at least inflict a major defeat on the Soviet cyber attack). To do that they needed hundreds of thousands more troops near Moscow in December 41, and to do that they basically needed a whole extra army group in June. I don’t see any way that re-jiggering production could have gotten that much more output in time.

            >and the fact that for most of the year the Soviets had no American assistance and for the rest of it their own factories were overrun, threatened, destroyed, or being moved, shows that the Soviet war economy was better arranged than the German.

            “Better arranged” is a tricky phrase. The Soviets had advantages the Germans didn’t and vice versa. And while the Soviets didn’t get lend lease aid during most of 41, they got plenty of stuff. First they had whatever they bought on a cash and carry basis directly. Second, they got a lot of British aid. Had the Brits not been able to rely on American production (both through cash and carry and lend lease) they’d have had a lot less stuff to give in 1941, and been much less willing to give it.

            And remember, 1941 was, for the Germans, the year they really invested in building up productive capacity, which relates to my previous point. To the extent that Germans could have increased production by focusing on fewer types, the benefits would have come after 41, not before, and the decisions made by early 42 at the latest.

            That said, there were definitely things they could have done better. For example, More stugs and a sloped armor panzer iv would almost certainly have been a better idea than the panthers and tigers. At the end of the day, though, I think bad production decision were relatively minor compared to strategic ones. Of these the largest was the North Africa campaign, a huge waste of the two resources that were most precious to the Germans, pilots and fuel, at the time when the Soviet air forces were still largely non-existent and the stukas could sill wreak havoc.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @cassander:

            I’m curious what you think was possible. Ipso facto, more of anything makes German victory more likely, but wages really drives home for me how hopeless the German situation was. At the very least, they needed to win the battle for Moscow (maybe not take the city, but at least inflict a major defeat on the Soviet cyber attack). To do that they needed hundreds of thousands more troops near Moscow in December 41, and to do that they basically needed a whole extra army group in June. I don’t see any way that re-jiggering production could have gotten that much more output in time.

            Reading Wages one of the things that struck me was that it kind of seemed that there was a tendency towards contradictory short- and medium-term planning – the best example I can think of is all the weirdness with steel allocation and ammo production relatively early on. I suppose one way to put it is, in a spherical cow situation where you don’t face things like bureaucratic infighting, service infighting, office politics, or whatever thing complicates it, things would have been easier.

            “Better arranged” is a tricky phrase. The Soviets had advantages the Germans didn’t and vice versa. And while the Soviets didn’t get lend lease aid during most of 41, they got plenty of stuff. First they had whatever they bought on a cash and carry basis directly. Second, they got a lot of British aid. Had the Brits not been able to rely on American production (both through cash and carry and lend lease) they’d have had a lot less stuff to give in 1941, and been much less willing to give it.

            OK, that’s a good point. How could an estimate be made as to what % of the Soviet production advantage was from raw materials advantage and what was due to some kind of organizational superiority? Because I suppose that’s what’s important here. EDIT: You do raise some other advantages they had through the other Allies above. I still think the 1941 difference – when one would expect things to be worse for the Soviets – shows a gap that is at least in part due to German decision-making screwedupedness.

            And remember, 1941 was, for the Germans, the year they really invested in building up productive capacity, which relates to my previous point. To the extent that Germans could have increased production by focusing on fewer types, the benefits would have come after 41, not before, and the decisions made by early 42 at the latest.

            Do you think there couldn’t have been decisions made better in the 30s?

            That said, there were definitely things they could have done better. For example, More stugs and a sloped armor panzer iv would almost certainly have been a better idea than the panthers and tigers. At the end of the day, though, I think bad production decision were relatively minor compared to strategic ones. Of these the largest was the North Africa campaign, a huge waste of the two resources that were most precious to the Germans, pilots and fuel, at the time when the Soviet air forces were still largely non-existent and the stukas could sill wreak havoc.

            Yeah, definitely. The Germans were not the favourite under any possible scenario, and bad strategic decisions/situations (Mussolini rushed into some dumb stuff the Germans had to bail him out from) made it worse.

            I recall the book making it seem like Stresemann’s goal was internationalism and trade. That’s what Germany has done more recently, and it seems to have worked better for it.

          • cassander says:

            @dndnrsn

            >Reading Wages one of the things that struck me was that it kind of seemed that there was a tendency towards contradictory short- and medium-term planning – the best example I can think of is all the weirdness with steel allocation and ammo production relatively early on

            The reason they pul put all that emphasis into ammo was because they needed lots and lots of ammunition to wage the battle of France and everyone remembered the shell crisis of ww1. Had the battle of France gone on longer, which they expected it too, that might have been a major coup.

            > I suppose one way to put it is, in a spherical cow situation where you don’t face things like bureaucratic infighting, service infighting, office politics, or whatever thing complicates it, things would have been easier.

            Sure but those things always exist and you can’t just assume them away.

            >OK, that’s a good point. How could an estimate be made as to what % of the Soviet production advantage was from raw materials advantage and what was due to some kind of organizational superiority? Because I suppose that’s what’s important here. EDIT: You do raise some other advantages they had through the other Allies above. I still think the 1941 difference – when one would expect things to be worse for the Soviets – shows a gap that is at least in part due to German decision-making screwedupedness.

            See my response to homo iracundus. You can’t calculate stuff like that with much accuracy. And it’s not German screwedupedness, but hard limits on German productive capacity.

            >do you think there couldn’t have been decisions made better in the 30s?

            Things can always be done better. The question is could they have done something differently in the 30s that would have made a large difference in 1941 without costing them in 36, 37, 38, etc. And to that question, I have to say I don’t think so. There was no magic bullet available. Maybe if they had put more effort into mechanization of agriculture and raw resource extraction that might have helped, but the former of those was directly contrary to Nazi ideology and the story of agricultural collectivization shows that your can’t just buy your farmers tractors and magically get more food. For the latter, there were only so good places to hold mines. On top of that, any such investment would have come at direct cost to the military buildup, and that effort already relied on a very high degree of bluffing.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @cassander:

            It’s a good point to mention agriculture. One of the things that I did not know about Nazi Germany was the weird agrarian lobby. The existence of those guys does create a big limitation on plausible counterfactuals for the 1930s.

            I still think that German war production could have been done better – but with the caveat that it would not have been a silver bullet; the effects on Germany of preexisting economic problems, resource issues, etc were a bigger deal. A better war economy would have been able to make changes on the margins but wouldn’t have changed the core of the problem.

            Thinking about it yesterday – the generally dysfunctional high-level decision-making process in Nazi Germany probably hurt them more with regard to bad strategic decisions than war economy issues. Even if they had done everything they could “right” they still probably would have lost; the difference (as you pointed out) is that Berlin and maybe one or two other major German cities would have gotten the Enola Gay treatment.

        • Protagoras says:

          According to Speer, the peak of military production in WWI Germany was higher than the peak of military production in WWII Germany. If true, and he was certainly in a position to know, that does seem to suggest that WWII Germany was not quite maximizing its military production (which was also Speer’s opinion).

          • dndnrsn says:

            I’d take a look at those numbers from a neutral source. Speer just isn’t reliable. He would have hanged at Nuremberg if he’d been honest about what he knew, and his books paint a picture of him as an apolitical, highly effective technocrat while simultaneously excusing the fact that he was in charge of a significant work force of slave labour. He also blamed a lot of stuff on Himmler when in fact he and Himmler were pretty tight at times.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Competition is not always good for bodies subject to evolution. Generally you want selection at the organism level or else you get fitness-reducing mutants taking over.

      Competition between genes in the genome is bad for the organism, that’s how you get DNA parasites.

      Competition between cells in tissues or tissues in organs is bad for the organism, that’s how you get cancer and the paternal age effect.

      • TMB says:

        Yeah – I suppose selection at lower levels is always good (necessary) for the more complex structures built up of those lower levels, but the nature of that selection will be determined from above.
        The rulesets for any given level of selection are selected for at the next level of complexity.

        “Competition” is where the ruleset in which selection takes place is not so strict – more variety is possible, but then less likely that the outcome will give any specific result at highly levels of complexity.

        We normally think of competition existing on the level of organism (or species), because there is no higher level of complexity beyond that to determine/narrow down the ruleset for that level of selection. (Morality?)

        I guess the question is how strict the rules have to be for government ministries.

        • Lumifer says:

          because there is no higher level of complexity

          Ecosystem?

          • TMB says:

            I don’t know – my thinking is that an ecosystem is just a way of describing a collection of organisms – there isn’t any selective pressure operating on the level of ecosystems, so there is no way to select the ruleset of the lower level system.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ TMB

            An ecosystem is a system — the organisms in it interact in complex ways and the way they develop and evolve depends on the particulars of their ecosystem. If you pull a species from one ecosystem and drop it into another one, if it survives it will start to evolve in a different manner.

          • TMB says:

            “If you pull a species from one ecosystem and drop it into another one, if it survives it will start to evolve in a different manner.”

            That’s true. Maybe I can draw a distinction between environments and environments that are themselves subject to selection.

            So, an office is subject to selection by whatever market process – those that don’t make money are destroyed.
            Workers are subject to selection by whatever rules enable the office to survive.
            Workers’ actions and thoughts are subject to selection by the worker as he seeks to be selected.

            I’m not sure how that process would work with an ecosystem – or perhaps it’s just that the time scales on which an ecosystem is selected are too long for it to have any meaningful impact on the process by which organisms are selected.
            I mean, the fact that the sun will go supernova can’t really have any effect on the way that we have developed can it? I don’t think there has been an opportunity for that information to be imparted, or not be lost in the churn.

            So you’re absolutely right – they are all environments, but a sub-set of that is the selected environment.

            Perhaps what I’m getting at is that the non-selected environment won’t gain any advantage from whichever configuration of lower level elements emerge – that seems (to me) like it might be an important distinction.

    • Garrett says:

      I thought a market economy required multiple arms-length buyers and sellers. Are you expecting to have multiple competing nuclear regulatory authorities? Competing on price and convenience?

    • cassander says:

      >I’ve often read that Hitler actively encouraged bureaucratic turf-wars and rivalry between his direct subordinates by creating institutions with overlapping responsibilities.

      FDR operated in a similar fashion, though, by most accounts, more successfully.

      >According to Albert Speer the system was actually entirely ineffective.

      Speer said lots of things to glorify his reputation and to keep from hanging. many are flat out lies and few should be trusted.

      >Why should this have been the case?

      because the “market” this created is not a market for good policy, it’s a market for Hitler pleasing, and those two things can be far apart.

  22. If we assume that cognitive effort helps delay dementia, does this mean that computers which sort of work but not reliably are actually good for us?

    Am dubious that the cortisol resulting from Windows photo reader was worth the neuroplasticity.

    • ChillyWilly says:

      Have you read “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr? The book’s main argument would agree with what you wrote. He gives an example at one point of a study comparing users working with easier (more tools, shortcuts, guidance, and hints) programs vs. more difficult ones for some given task, and the users with the harder program came up with better, more elegant solutions, were more able to accomplish the task without computers, etc. I haven’t checked the original studies he cited, though.

  23. Can we learn anything worthwhile from eulogies? If people were that good, the world would be a better place, but on the other hand, I think eulogies mention good traits and actions which usually don’t get overt notice.

    • HircumSaeculorum says:

      Absolutely.

      Case in point: W.H. Auden’s In Memory of Sigmund Freud.

      It honestly changed my opinion of Freud quite a lot, mostly by putting Freud’s ideas into a more positive context, emphasizing that he wasn’t a nihilist, and by comparing him to “the ancient cultures of conceit” and “lucrative patterns of frustration” that he opposed.

      The general lesson, I think, is that it’s easy to take your culture’s standard presentation of someone at face value, and even a brief positive view of someone’s life can broaden one’s perspective considerably.

      A eulogy (Like Auden’s In Memory of W.B. Yeats) can also serve to crystallize positive perceptions and create a more stable, complete image of someone who might otherwise be seen only through media snapshots, isolated quotations, passing mentions, etc.

  24. Fr0 says:

    Global Income Inequality Has Declined in Relative Terms, But Gone Up Substantially in Absolute Amounts

    http://sciencebulletin.org/archives/4678.html

    • Very interesting. It seems to me that inequality as a percent is what matters. I think absolute differences just mean that everyone’s income has gone up, so the differences are larger in total income? OR am I missing something here?

      And this is something that you never see publicized. We get the constant refrain of ever increasing inequality (for example Piketty). It think the reason for that is because inequality within countries has indeed increased, but when looked at globally it has decreased, because differences between nations has decreased. And this is mostly because China and India have greatly decreased the number of the destitute.

      This is a very good thing, that the global poor has decreased. But this decrease in global poor I think is largely because of imports from China and India to developed countries. I believe the existence of so many poor in China and India creating imports and out-sourcing to rich countries has temporarily reduced the demand of the low wage workers in the rich countries, which drives up the in-country inequality of rich countries. So the poor of the rich countries are partly paying to save the destitute of poor countries. I still have to think it is a good thing to help the destitute of the poorest countries, even if it hurts the poor in my own country. Of course I am not one of those poor in my country, so it is easy for me to say. I also think this a temporary situation, and the economy will eventually adjust, so the low wage workers will move up again. But there are lots of folks in India and China, so it takes awhile for the adjustment to occur. Although I have heard that the market wages for the lowest skilled have increased in the last year or two, so some of the adjustment has started I think.

    • suntzuanime says:

      I wonder how many people get into feminist theory specifically to get away with saying really nasty things about women.

      • Zoop says:

        That’s interesting; I usually encounter the image of people getting into it to say really nasty things about men.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      As a woman, I find it horrible to contemplate that Plato was wrong about women’s education, that if you give women access to academia they won’t, as a group, be able to handle logic and math and so will take collective action to eliminate them (i.e. feminism). Better that only males who can pass entrance exams be allowed into academia than to have equality of opportunity followed by the destruction of true and useful subjects by feminism. =(

      • sweeneyrod says:

        Well, good thing that “equality of opportunity followed by the destruction of true and useful subjects by feminism” is not in any way an accurate description of anything.

  25. green anonymous says:

    I have a new theory about why wordpress/gravatar changed the identicon algorithm. It is to destroy the record of past conversations where people addressed each other as “purple anonymous”; and to disrupt ongoing such conversations by making people see different icons.