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

Open Thread 58.5

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

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1,070 Responses to Open Thread 58.5

  1. Scott Alexander says:

    Maybe of interest to some people here: Ozy is holding an intellectual Turing Test for social-justice vs. anti-social-justice

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      Would this pass?

      Edit:

      “Telling people to use strong passwords while not telling them not to hack is hack culture.”

      That blog does have some good moments.

    • Jiro says:

      Ideological Turing tests often fail because of shibboleths. There’s a difference between not understanding your opponent’s position and not being able to include the correct buzzwords or make the same obscure references.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        There have been very few ITT, but as far as I know that is false. Do you have have large experience with ITT that I am missing? Perhaps you are judging by trolls? But you don’t know the baseline of how many people are trying troll and what trolls are trying to do.

        • Also, just repeating some arguments is considered evil unless you do it in a way that clearly communicates that you personally don’t believe them. After all, someone might be using the ITT to give them plausible deniability to propagate “hateful speech” which they believe is true because they are a hateful person who should be excluded from society. For example, imagine the enemy thinks our king should be killed and has reasons for wanting to do this. If I repeat these reasons in a ITT the king should rightfully be suspicious that I’m using the ITT as an excuse to incite others to regicide.

          • Deiseach says:

            Also, just repeating some arguments is considered evil unless you do it in a way that clearly communicates that you personally don’t believe them.

            I’m only familiar with Intellectual Turing Tests from Leah Libresco running them on her blog, and they seemed to be done honestly.

            Are you saying people sometimes troll them? I am shocked, shocked I tell you!

            They are valuable in that it is very interesting to see how The Other Side characterises your side’s beliefs and arguments. Some people can do it successfully, and some people produce versions that make you go “What – do you really think we’re gnomes from the Hollow Earth, or something?”

          • eh says:

            I think his worry is more that, if we staged an ideological Turing test for pro-beat-up-deiseach-and-steal-her-valuables vs anti-beat-up-deiseach-and-steal-her-valuables, taking part in the test could mark him as an evildoer and potential robber, even if he claimed to be anti-mugging. Because any entrant could be using the test as plausible deniability to say something taboo, anyone taking part could be labelled as guilty in the public eye despite the lack of definitive evidence.

            I think the solution to this is using pseudoanonymity on the internet.

          • Deiseach says:

            eh, that would require I have valuables for you to steal 🙂

      • dtsund says:

        I think if you actually are familiar enough with your opponent’s positions to understand their arguments fully, you’ll probably have been exposed to enough of the buzzwords that this shouldn’t be an issue. Otherwise, you’ve been getting all your information second- and third-hand, likely from people who likewise disagree.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          It’s similar to the best argument for being concerned that Gary Johnson doesn’t know about Aleppo: the idea isn’t that knowing about Aleppo is important per se, but rather that paying a minimum of attention to the Middle East is important and anyone who pays a minimum of attention to the Middle East will know about Aleppo.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Is there an argument against being concerned about Johnson’s ignorance on Aleppo, other than the fact he has no meaningful chance of winning? If he was a major candidate this would be a huge scandal.

          • Wrong Species,

            It’s not clear how smart Gary Johnson is. His frequent marijuana use might have dulled him.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            I was pretty dismayed by the Aleppo thing, so I’m probably not the person to defend Johnson on it. If I were to take on the job, I might start by pointing to the results the people who are paying attention to the Middle East have been getting, and asking how much worse inattention could be.

          • Matt M says:

            CPZ,

            I think the heart of this issue is that Johnson’s response and his follow-up after the fact are evidence that he’s “not a serious politician.”

            Not in the “serious politicians have a comprehensive knowledge of the middle east” sense, but in the “serious politicians know how to BS an answer even when they have no idea what they’re actually talking about at all.”

            GJ proved he isn’t Presidential material, because one of the things we expect from our top-level politicians is the ability to exude an aura of confidence and authority even when they are completely and totally full of it. The problem isn’t that he didn’t know the answer, it’s that he gave the wrong wrong answer.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            While we undoubtedly expect our politicians to be good at faking knowledge, this is not quite the same thing as saying that it’s good for our politicians to be good at faking knowledge. The latter seems to me to work better as a cynically paradoxical conclusion than as a self-evident assumption.

          • Matt M says:

            “this is not quite the same thing as saying that it’s good for our politicians to be good at faking knowledge. ”

            Well we don’t say it that way, because that sounds bad.

            But we can all probably recall a time or 5,000 when a political candidate was asked a question about X and quickly re-directed the conversation to something else without actually answering the question at all. And while rarely they might get called out for that, it’s never treated as some sort of scandal or instant-disqualifiaction sort of moment.

            Had GJ done that, this would be a non-issue. The fact that we punish that significantly less than we punish an admission of ignorance is a revealed preference of the electorate as a whole. Admitting ignorance is one of the greatest sins we have as measured by how severely we punish it.

          • Deiseach says:

            Is there an argument against being concerned about Johnson’s ignorance on Aleppo

            Your government and Russia have made an agreement to broker and police a ceasefire in Syria. This has all kinds of ways of going wrong and getting the US on the wrong side of (a) Russian opinion (and do you think Putin is looking for an excuse to fight/cosy up to the US) (b) Syrian opinion (c) international opinion, not to mention if you’re willing to let Russia put the boots on the ground when it comes to the policing/enforcing, are you being clever in not putting more American troops, when your military is already over-stretched, in the field or is it dumb to let Russia have this kind of physical presence?

            Even if Johnson is an isolationist who thinks the US has no business sending troops abroad (and I have no idea of his foreign policy), if he’s standing as a candidate in anything other than “this is a way to bring my name and our party to the public notice”, he has to have some kind of informed opinion because if the miracle ever happens and he or a Libertarian Party candidate gets elected to high office, then they will inherit a legacy of what the previous regime did domestically and abroad, and it’ll be too damn late once you’ve parked your backside in the boss’ chair to decide “Okay, so we kind of need a foreign policy, it appears”.

            Interpreting it at its most charitable, it was a stumble, the kind of brain-freeze that happens to us all. Looking at the optics of the situation, it gives the impression to the public that Johnson and his party are the joke candidates, to be taken no more seriously than the Surprise Party (I notice that the US rather surprisingly has a distinct lack of frivolous parties by comparison with the UK) since the “candidate” plainly didn’t do his homework on “top topics likely to be sprung on you as surprise questions by interviewer”.

          • Does nobody else actually think Johnson’s explanation for asking what Aleppo was is totally plausible? The prior probability of him genuinely not knowing what Aleppo was is, presumably, very low. And occasional comprehension failures of this sort (where one has heard perfectly well, but still fails to translate the sounds into recognized words, or in this case goes up a dead end by trying to parse it as an acronym) are definitely things that happen, at least in my experience.

          • pku says:

            I did, but then I saw the interview. In his defence, he probably had heard of it, but it looked more like he only dimly remembered its existence than like it just slipped his mind.

          • Matt M says:

            ” The prior probability of him genuinely not knowing what Aleppo was is, presumably, very low.”

            I’m not sure the general public agrees with this, particular when you add the conditional prior that he’s a third party candidate – which most people believe inherently makes you a non-serious whack-job.

            Even before this incident, the method of attack on GJ was something like “He’s just a Republican who happens to like smoking pot and gay marriage” so him not knowing what Aleppo is just confirms priors that he’s a non-serious joke candidate, it doesn’t run against them in any way.

          • Skivverus says:

            So what is a “leppo”, anyway? Is it some kind of newly-trending derogatory slang term for lepers? And why would lepers be important in a political discussion?

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Skivverus

            So what is a “leppo”, anyway?

            It’s a hare or, more generally, any small mammal from the family Leporidae, especially from the genus Lepus.

          • lemmy caution says:

            I never heard of Aleppo until the brouhaha. In real life, it is good when people are willing to show that they don’t know something. I guess you can’t say ‘let me google that’ in an interview though.

        • Jiro says:

          I don’t think that’s true, because shibboleths could require you to know arbitrary levels of detail that may not be very related to the main argument. Imagine that I’m a European pretending to be an American, I’m arguing about the role of the American military, and I know that Americans like to throw in patriotic references, So I casually mention that without Americans in Syria, the streets are going to run red with blood the same color as the Statue of Liberty (I read in some book that it’s made of copper and that’s red). Any American reading that would instantly know that I’m a fake, but it wouldn’t really have any bearing on whether I understand the arguments made by Americans.

          I suppose you could argue whether that’s technically a shibboleth, since it’s something I shouldn’t say instead of something I should.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            I wonder if this works with ideologies as well as with nations. With nations there’s a lot of stuff you have to know that’s not related to any underlying ideas (like the color of the Statue of Liberty, or how to speak unaccented English); with ideologies you’d expect there to be less.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Is the colour of the Statue of Liberty a shibboleth? It seems more like a “common knowledge” thing.

          • Mary says:

            I can not imagine a European who knows the Statue of Liberty exists and is copper without knowing that it’s green. Especially given its widespread iconic image.

          • Gazeboist says:

            The color of the Statue of Liberty was a particularly bad example, but I can think of a few questions where a non-US-resident would probably miss something that would be considered basic knowledge for someone from here. For example, which of {Iowa, Ohio, Idaho} is the first stop for someone who wants to be the presidential candidate of either major political party. I could even imagine someone answering, “None of them, it’s Indiana,” and feeling clever.

            The question of ideologies is hard. Gun control is one that comes to mind, though: a big part of the problem for many gun rights advocates is that gun control advocates thoroughly fail gun-related ideological turing tests all the time by doing things like conflating automatic and semi-automatic weapons or advocating bans of features that simply make a weapon easier to use safely. This usually boils down to questions of culture, which fits the “culture war” context that the ITT (or at least this one) is designed for. Maybe “Cultural Turing Test” is a better name?

            Having spoken to someone who is closer to social justice than I am about these issues, the most likely shibboleth that the anti-sj side will run into is that there are people within social justice who are concerned about the toxic culture within the movement. The problems with call-out culture, for example, were first described (though not named) by a second wave feminist in 1976. Probably the biggest risk thing an ITT/CTT participant risks running across is not so much shibboleths but old, discarded and discredited arguments, or missing internal dissent on an issue.

          • Anonymous says:

            I guess I could see screwing up a shibboleth as a way that an ITT could emit a false negative, but I don’t think it is a big concern.

            It didn’t take me much reading and debating gun rights advocates before I realized they flip out about the difference between clips and magazines and if you want to simulate one you’d better get it right. Or that’s the often a wolf/dog/sheep thing going on and you want to be the dog. And so on.

            Would I be able to talk exactly about the pros and cons of the various rail systems available for the AR pattern rifles? No, but I’d avoid bringing it up for just that reason.

          • Deiseach says:

            Jiro, I would reply to your argument the opposite way: American culture is such a global export, I think Europeans could make a good stab at pretending to be American (and some cursory Googling would permit the construction of a fake opinion on the military*), whereas – given the fanfiction I’ve read where Americans have written for British-based fandoms, they often trip over details** (and even professionally published fiction does this) – the reverse might not be the case.

            *Though that might trip us up – were I pretending to be an American with an opinion on the role of the military, I’d have been aware of Aleppo which, as any fule kno, a real American recently was not 🙂

            **One particular example that springs to mind is a story in the “Sherlock” fandom where the author gave John Watson a favourite baseball team. Yes. I won’t even touch on the “Hogwarts High” versions where American terms and concepts are used wholesale that have absolutely no corresponding usage over here (e.g. sophomore and the likes). Blocks used as measurement of distance in cities, attempts at writing dialect/slang, food and drink – I could go on, though agreed nowadays brand-name chain coffeeshop beverage consumption rather than tea is probably accurate 🙂

          • vV_Vv says:

            @Scott Alexander

            with ideologies you’d expect there to be less.

            Think of debating the existence of God with a Catholic theologian. Would you be able to emulate way the theologian speaks, including all the jargon and obscure references, well enough to fool other Catholic theologians into believing you are one of them?

            Probably not. Does that mean that you don’t understand Catholic theology well enough to refute it’s main arguments?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Gazeboist:

            I had always thought a shibboleth was something where there were two “right” answers, but which one you give identifies you as part of one group or another. The original story involved one tribe identifying members of another by having them say a word and checking their pronunciation.

            A better example of an American shibboleth would be saying “zee” (Americans are the only ones who don’t say “zed” in English, right?).

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @vV_Vv

            “Does that mean that you don’t understand Catholic theology well enough to refute it’s main arguments?”

            Arguably, yes! I agree that few atheists (even if they do understand the arguments for God’s existence) could imitate a theologian convincingly in general. But when the subject is restricted to arguments about God’s existence, rather than general theology, I think if you understand the arguments you probably do know the shibboleths (“ontological argument”, “first cause” etc.).

          • The original Mr. X says:

            vV_Vv:

            Think of debating the existence of God with a Catholic theologian. Would you be able to emulate way the theologian speaks, including all the jargon and obscure references, well enough to fool other Catholic theologians into believing you are one of them?

            Probably not. Does that mean that you don’t understand Catholic theology well enough to refute it’s main arguments?

            Probably, yes. Jargon is just the technical terminology used by a particular field. If you don’t understand a field’s jargon, that’s generally a sign that you haven’t studied it in enough detail to refute its main arguments.

            sweeneyrod:

            But when the subject is restricted to arguments about God’s existence, rather than general theology, I think if you understand the arguments you probably do know the shibboleths (“ontological argument”, “first cause” etc.).

            Those examples would count as jargon, not shibboleths. A shibboleth would be, e.g., an atheist writing “god” and “bible” with lower-case letters.

          • Is the colour of the Statue of Liberty a shibboleth? It seems more like a “common knowledge” thing.

            I’m a European who had no idea the Statue of Liberty was green until just now. Maybe I just have unusual colour perception (I am red-green colourblind), but I thought it was a light gray colour (which I think of as the default for statues) and the picture on the Wikipedia page still looks that same colour to me.

            I also had no idea it was copper. Or that copper turns green as it rusts. Or that pennies turn green as they rest. Or that pennies are made of copper (well, coated with it).

          • Who wouldn't want to be Anonymous says:

            I’m a European who had no idea the Statue of Liberty was green until just now….

            Oh common, guys!

            Verdigris is the the patina any cupreous metals (brass, bronze, and straight copper) will usually develop when exposed to the elements, and has been used historically as a vivid green pigment. Brownish to black patinas (among other colors) may also develop when aged under certain circumstances or through chemical treatments. Because verdigris tends to run off the statue while the patina is forming and is a real bitch to clean off (e.g.) stonework, it is common to treat statues in the workshop so you don’t stain the pedestal. You may also prefer to control the color for aesthetic reasons. But even if you treat the statue, the color may not stick through the centuries (compare A and B).

            I mean, really, what are they teaching kids in metal shop these days!

          • Gazeboist says:

            There are many, many non-green replicas of the statue of liberty (usually because they are made of pewter or a similar metal, but I happen to know of one in the Delaware River that is just a smaller stone miniature), and these are usually silver/gray.

          • Fahundo says:

            I mean, really, what are they teaching kids in metal shop these days!

            How many kids take metal shop these days?

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @The House Carpenter:

            I’m a European who had no idea the Statue of Liberty was green until just now. Maybe I just have unusual colour perception (I am red-green colourblind), but I thought it was a light gray colour (which I think of as the default for statues) and the picture on the Wikipedia page still looks that same colour to me.

            It’s not just you.

            I’m an American who lives in New York and has seen the Statue of Liberty many times in person (including visiting the island) and even wrote a song about the Statue of Liberty…and it doesn’t look even slightly green to me either. Not in pictures, not in person. I also am red-green colorblind, so I suspect that’s the issue.

            (I have a similar issue with “green” traffic lights.)

          • Aegeus says:

            I ran a picture of the Statue of Liberty through a colorblindness filter, and yup, it looks grey under red/green colorblindness (both protanopia and deuteranopia). Yellow/blue colorblindness (tritanopia) makes it look sort of bluish.

          • I’m not color blind, don’t think I have ever seen the statue up close, and had no clear idea what color it was. But I have a pretty bad visual memory, so might easily have seen pictures and forgotten.

      • LPSP says:

        Mmm, this seems like a big issue. I like Ozy’s ideas and efforts but I can see several ways her minor biases and predilections could lead to sampling bias.

        Judging from her talks about Haidt for instance, it’s obvious that Ozy is a non-adapter, and cannot relate to experiences around adjustment, developing a tolerance and so on, which seem like factors in discussions about what SJWs stand and don’t stand for.

    • FacelessCraven says:

      The questions are as follows:

      What discourse norms do you tend to follow? Why? Do you think everyone else should follow them, and why?

      What is the true reason, deep down, that you believe what you believe? What piece of evidence, test, or line of reasoning would convince you that you’re wrong about your ideology?

      Explain [redacted colony insects].

      *slow, fervent clapping*

      …Ozy, if you’re reading this, you’re awesome.

      ITT has come up a lot here over the last few months, usually in reference to posters here purportedly failing one. After seeing Ozy’s setup, it occurs to me that the informal use as a description of outgroup-alienating rhetoric is probably way less useful than the formal version of actually attempting to make really high-quality arguments for both sides of an issue.

    • Deiseach says:

      I wouldn’t do it over on Ozy’s blog for the real test, but walking to work this morning I saw a sign on the back of a lorry which made me think I could probably do a comment on how “Caution: Men at Work” signs are racist, sexist, cis-sexist, heteronormative, The Patriarchy (fault of), and white supremacist.

      How to check your privilege and unearth the hidden assumptions we have internalised due to being force-fed them by society:

      Racist and white supremacist – because of the symbol used of a black figure with a shovel. Why a black man doing manual labour? Why not a green or purple or any other colour figure, if it is truly meant to be neutral? This of course is the dominant white culture talking, reducing POC to nothing more than the slave and coolie labour of the past, and reinforcing that this is their proper place – to serve their white masters by doing the hard, dirty, physical work their “superiors” are too good to do. And that POC are fit only to do donkey work – the work portrayed is not a Black man working at a desk, as an artist or entertainer or sportsperson, as a scientist, writer, doctor or any of the professions or careers that the white supremacist racist culture reserves for those it deems worthy.

      Sexist, cis-sexist and heteronormative – MEN at work? Why not “PERSONS at work”? At least some have begun to address the sexism on show here, with “People working” or “Work in progress” signs instead! But again we see the downgrading of women as incapable of participating in the world of work and that they should be confined to their “proper sphere” in the home. As for cis-sexism, why assume that all the persons are male or male-identifiying? Why not ask them their preferred pronouns? Trans, genderfluid, genderqueer, nonbinary, agender, multigender, Two Spirit and neutrois persons are, once again, suffering erasure here, as the stultifying gender binary is enforced with societal approval as the only possible measure of human condition.

      The work shown as being appropriate to “men” is also that of manual, physical labour – the nurturing and caring sphere of human flourishing is ignored, pushed aside into the domain of the female/feminine/woman/thus-identifying persons, and hence any men who do not perform appropriately manly tasks and labour are stereotyped and coded as effeminate, non-manly, lacking in masculinity, and “gay” or queer.

      (This is a short gallop, it could be expanded at length to contrive something a college activism group would produce to demand that the administration recognise its grievances and implement its solutions).

      • Deiseach says:

        Whoops, and here is evidence of how hard it is to get woke! I forgot to be comprehensively intersectional, and neglected to mention how that is also ableist, anti-neurodivergence, and speciesist! And I think I can work in religion, too 🙂

        Ableist and anti-neurodivergence – that the person depicted working is able-bodied, able to perform labour without accommodations for either physical or mental challenges, from being able to stand unassisted to being able to follow instructions, focus, not be hyperstimulated or overwhelmed by the environment, etc.

        Speciesist – Men at work – but what about the work of non-human animals, those other inhabitants of our planet who have been degraded, enslaved, abused and exploited as labour, entertainment, companionship (specifically for the coerced attribute of ‘unconditional love’ they must pay as a toll for room, board and not being abandoned until they are too old or unwell to perform for their owners), and food?

        Religion – men at WORK. The ideal of the Protestant Work Ethic! Human persons must work, they cannot be at leisure, their only value is when they are not being “idle”. Work glorifies God, thus work is compulsory under the Christianist* ethos. This is not alone a socially codified imposition of organised religion as the default state of humanity, it is also a specific denominational one. Thus we get the rejection of unfettered spirituality (as opposed to blind religiosity), non-Christian religions, and indeed the non-religious as all falling outside the compass of “men” who are at “work”.

        (*Hey, if the term is good enough for Andrew Sullivan, it’s good enough for me. I was sorely tempted to use “KKKristianist” but that would have been going too far).

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Racist and white supremacist – because of the symbol used of a black figure with a shovel. Why a black man doing manual labour?

        Failed the ITT on the first statement.

        Which I think was your intent. But if you weren’t intending to mock, then you note that your innate to tendency to demean and mock with derision that which you do not like got in the way of your ability to accomplish what you intended.

        • Deiseach says:

          HeelBearCub, your response interests me very much indeed. What was so offensive in the intentionally ridiculous farrago? I think a lot of the problem is that there are reasonable and actual points which then get pushed to absurd limits in claims of ever more finely-grained and omnipresent oppressions and structuralisms.

          I was mocking how easy it is to take anything and find offensiveness in it, whether intended or not (I was, to be blunt, remembering the false etymology of picnic which got an airing back in the late 90s/early 00s and how it probably would be equally easy to fire up an online storm about the word “niggle” being a racial and ethnic slur, given all the badly misattributed quotations floating around and being reposted and passed on, apparently with everyone believing they are accurate. I’ve seen the solemn lecturing about how Gypsy is an ethnic slur and should not be used, with people spelling it with asterisks in place of a letter as our forebears did with words like “damn”, and arguments over whether the correct term is Roma or Rroma – arising out of a context where the term was not being used to refer to any human person, alive or dead, but in a vessel name like Gypsy Moth).

          I do seem to have hit a nerve with you and I’d like to know more. This was, as I said, intentionally ridiculous and not intended as anything for the ITT. But there are ideas put forward in all sincerity which are just as outrageously false, by people who have invested a lot of their own personal identity and comfort in a sense of such, hoping that they are true.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Deiseach:
            I said you were “mocking with derision”, and that I thought that was your intent, but that I wasn’t sure. You seem to be clarifying that this is the case, so I’m not sure why you would be surprised if people caught your meaning.

            Given that I think that there is plenty of implicit and sub-textual racism, I suppose you could be aiming this at “me”. I’m not particularly put out by it, but I also don’t think demeaning people for sport is particularly healthy, for discourse or the individual.

            But, it was not entirely clear to me what you intended. Your setup made it seem possible, though less probable, that you actually thought this would pass an ITT. That was really the only the reason I commented. I probably would not have done so otherwise.

            In any case, I find it odd how much umbrage you take when anyone says anything that you find to be a slight on the honor of the Catholic Church, and yet see no need to respect the beliefs of others.

          • Deiseach says:

            I certainly wasn’t directing it at any particular person, more a mood that I seem to be detecting.

            Perhaps it’s a combination of thinking how easy it is to get people to swallow uncritically something they “see on the Internet” when (a) it should be raising some kind of vague questioning about “that does not seem to fit into the general kind of vocabulary/thought/historical context/derivation of words borrowed from other languages that I would expect” (b) how little checking anyone seems to do – it really does seem to go the pattern of “A says ‘look at what this dreadful person has said/this awful thing has happened’ and B, C, D etc fall into line agreeing that it is indeed dreadful and awful, then J, K and L start on how this is a conspiracy/revelatory of the implicit racism, sexism, whateverism polluting the culture” and away we go

            It’s partly to do with a word list I saw, which had the laudable intention of “when writing, don’t always use black and darkness associated words in contexts of evil and dirt and the like, so here are some good associations of ‘black’ and contrariwise here are some bad associations of ‘white'”. And that’s fine – instead of the conventional fantasy Dark Lord, why not go for the Bright Lady who is the Big Bad instead? I have no problem at all with that.

            On the other hand, night is dark, and dark is scary for good reasons. The things you can’t see that might be out there waiting to eat you. I’m sure African peoples have stories about the things in the dark of night that might get you if you’re not careful, and I very much doubt those kinds of stories are based on racist attitudes to skin colour.

            The original list is harmless enough, but I’m plenty sure there is someone willing to criticise someone else for “don’t use ‘it was a dark and stormy night’, that’s racist!”

            Partly it’s to do with what I said much further down about the shock and sadness I had re: the “a vote for Trump is a vote for women-killers”. I thought that kind of ideological propaganda was the preserve of the crazy fringe and didn’t get upset by it as such, because we all have our crazy fringe who say extreme things that have little to nothing to do with what the mainstream think and believe.

            But that wasn’t the crazy fringe, it was the mainstream. Someone who is mainstream liberal (as far as I know) uncritically reposted this crazy fringe material and didn’t comment on it other than to say this was why it was important to make sure Trump wasn’t elected.

            I don’t care a straw about Trump and I’m not going to get into an abortion argument. But as I said – it’s not the crazy fringe anymore, it’s the middle-of-the-road people on one side (and perhaps on the other as well), and across this gulf fixed between us, what can we do?

            Is there any hope for better than all-out war until Our Side wins and then we make sure to crush Your Side once we’re in power? I’m not seeing it any more, which is why I’m sad and shocked. And making derisory exaggerations of the crazy fringe as some kind of apotropaic venting.

          • Deiseach says:

            Hmm, and I hadn’t seen this before I put the “black figure with shovel = Black men only fit for manual labour” point, but it popped up on my Tumblr dash today:

            n the 1850s, a white woman wrote an article on Sojourner Truth and referred to her “muscular,” “manly” body – how energy seemed to “flow” through her and how her body and labor could support and rally (white) women’s rights movements.

            White men and women in colonial times considered brown women – e.g. in India – as inhumanly strong and created entire aesthetics of frailty, purity, and paleness to oppose the image of the laboring Black and brown woman. The concept of the British Woman was formulated directly through the acts of colonization and slavery. And the strengths assigned to especially Black women were done so in order to justify the labor placed on Black women slaves in the Americas and Caribbean and resist empathy.

            The colonial – political, legal, medical, social – view of Black and brown/indigenous bodies as having strong physicality is centuries old and continues to be used in opposition to / as a goal for whiteness in modern (post-1900) medicine

            But you see how easy it is to take an existing point and exaggerate it?

          • ” Someone who is mainstream liberal (as far as I know) uncritically reposted this crazy fringe material and didn’t comment on it other than to say this was why it was important to make sure Trump wasn’t elected.”

            I had a similar if less extreme experience.

            Some time ago I interacted with someone on a FB climate group and concluded that, unlike almost everyone there on both sides, he was a reasonable and civil person worth arguing with. So I friended him.

            The result was that I kept seeing things he linked to. A large fraction were cases of a partisan left group making an indefensible argument in a highly emotive form. Sometimes I would comment, and my friend’s responses were civil and reasonable. But I found it wearing to keep having those links pop up and having to either ignore them or rebut. I tried to tell FB to stop showing me links from him but for some reason that didn’t work, so I eventually and reluctantly unfriended him.

          • LHN says:

            You could mute him entirely (I think the FB term is “unfollow”) without unfriending. (I find I do that a lot, especially in election years.) But there might not be much point for someone you’re not otherwise acquainted with.

      • fubarobfusco says:

        If you think that’s politically charged, look for the sign that comes after the area under repair:

        END ROAD WORK

        It’s right there — an anarcho-primitivist protest against the idea of state-maintained roadways. End road work! End statist roads for poisonous capitalist cars! Let the only roads be our desire lines!

  2. Sandy says:

    A New Generation of Conservatives is on the rise, study finds

    This study seems extremely vague and in violation of the Cthulhu principle. Anyone know anything about this Gild firm?

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      They literally had the kids describe their own positions as “conservative” or “moderate”.
      It just means that the new conservative position on those subjects is now the old progressive one, and the progressive position is moving on to “mandatory crossdressing in kindergarten sex-ed to destroy the cishetereonormative gender binary”.

      Being opposed to gay marriage is definitely not a “moderate” position any more, is it? Because you’ll be punished for it.

      • Anonymous says:

        All 92.5 million Americans that oppose gay marriage are either deep in hiding or are being punished?

        Or did you mean in your tiny little bubble that you claim to hate but for some reason refuse to leave, that’s the case?

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          Why don’t you tell a local newscaster that your family’s pizzeria in East Nowhere, Indiana would decline to cater a gay wedding, and let us know how that works out for you.

          • Anonymous says:

            I get sent more than a million dollars and my pizza place is open and doing fine a year later? Wow, that’s sounds truly horrific! Kevin O’Connor sure does deserve his spot in litany of martyrs.

          • Jiro says:

            And when the second gay wedding comes along, and the third? “Ask people to send me a million dollars to pay the fine” only works as long as the fine isn’t repeated. People won’t send you a million dollars forever, and the requirement to cater gay weddings does last forever.

          • Anonymous says:

            What fine?

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            That’s like being happy you fell off a mountain and broke your leg, because when search and rescue showed up two days later you got a free helicopter ride out of the deal.

            Or being happy that the police busted into your house and shot your dog and put you in jail for a year by mistake, because you won a million-dollar legal settlement with the city.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @ThirteenthLetter

            No it’s not. It’s like some people said nasty things about you on the internet, and then you got $840,000 through crowd funding. Maybe the family who owned the pizzeria disliked getting that money through crowd funding rather than honest work, but since many people would take the deal of a week of internet abuse for a few hundred thousand dollars I think it is not such a terrible punishment in the grand scheme of things.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            You’re aggressively minimizing the situation. Saying “some people on the Internet” makes it sound like a couple of trolls making fun of them on 4chan or something, when they were actually attacked by politicians and journalists and activists all over the country, had their reputation smeared with bad reviews, and were in real danger of closing. Again, the fact that they were saved by a crowdfunding campaign does not make what happened to them which required the saving okay.

            Furthermore, not everyone has a crowdfunding campaign to save them. Look at those poor bastards running the bakery in Oregon. They were forced to close down, and when someone started a crowdfunding campaign for them too, the crowdfunding site determined that it was too politically incorrect and shut down the campaign. The state hounded them legally and the owner is now working as a garbageman. But tell me again how it works out awesome for everyone in these situations.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @ThirteenthLetter

            Which Oregon bakery do you mean? The one that was allowed to keep the $100,000 from their first fundraising campaign (which was shut down), and got a further $350,000 from a second one?

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            I don’t know on what planet it’s considered awesome to go through an insanely stressful and difficult attack out of nowhere because at the end of it some randos on the Internet might take pity on you and send you some money so you don’t lose your business. I’ll give you a little tip about how normal people act: they just want to get on with their stable and predictable lives. They have families and businesses/jobs and they just want to raise their families and run their businesses/do their jobs. The idea of rolling the dice on some kind of social justice-related payout is not worth it.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Somehow I don’t get the sense that you are an expert on how normal people act or think.

            He understands that most normal people don’t like having a load of strangers randomly start trying to drive them out of business, which apparently puts him ahead of you in the “understanding people” stakes.

          • Fahundo says:

            In any event, most normal people surely aren’t small business owners.

            in 1900, 90 percent of Americans were self-employed; now it’s about two percent.

            That’s terror.

          • John Schilling says:

            in 1900, 90 percent of Americans were self-employed; now it’s about two percent.

            Do housewives count as “self-employed”? Do they count as “employed” at all? If so, that’s a highly non-central definition you are using, and if not you don’t get 90% employment of any sort in the USA ca 1900.

            I might believe that 90% of employed adult males were self-employed at some point in their career, but for even that I’d want details and a cite. And probably all you would be proving if you did is that we had lots of farmers back then.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      In my limited experience, British teenagers aged 14-17 seem “more right-wing” than those aged 18-25, in the sense that they are less enthusiastic and slightly more cynical about “tumblr” trans stuff (people being agender etc.) and complaining about right-wing politicians. They aren’t a “new generation of conservatives” though in e.g. opposing gay marriage, unless you count unknowingly sharing memes from alt-right origins.

      • H. E. Pennypacker says:

        From what I know of British teenagers – and from my experience of being one in the past – they’re generally further to the “right” on those issues than they will be when they’re older. I’d say this is probably true in most places. 14-17 is the sort of age where you accuse people of being gay as an insult. I suspect it might have something to do with being at the age when you’re starting to become a sexual person, not really understanding it, and being quite insecure about it.

    • Deiseach says:

      I think this reinforces what I thought about that newspaper piece which went “barring an inconceivable swing back to conservatism in the future”.

      It’s not unthinkable or inconceivable because that’s how the pendulum tends to swing over the generations – conservative A begets liberal B which has a counter-reaction in returning to conservatism C which then generates the swing back to progressive D.

      80s generation were considered to be the uncaring, ‘greed is good’ in contrast to their 60s hippie parents, and their kids were the Millennials and now the rising generation is more conservative than the Millennials. And so it goes until the end of the world.

  3. Sandy says:

    I got this link via Nick Land’s blog. Not sure how seriously to take PJMedia; I’ve always had the idea they’re a somewhat more upscale version of Infowars. But it’s an interesting idea/turn of events.

    The American left believes it has a duty to inspire certain values around the world. Many on the American left also believe American history is primarily a litany of sin and transgressions against humanity. The argument the author makes is that the latter position makes the former untenable — if you rail at great length and in tedious detail about why America has limited moral legitimacy, people around the world will believe you, and you will no longer be able to inspire your values anywhere because you are American. Duterte’s rant essentially makes that claim: he does not have to listen to an American President complaining about extrajudicial killings because America has no moral legitimacy, and the reason America has no moral legitimacy is because the political tradition that President represents has made a hobby of magnifying America’s sins and self-flagellating for the world to see.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I don’t think that’s an accurate description of Duterte’s rant. 90% of his complaints about America are about its actions in the Philippines, which he doesn’t need American help to learn about. official transcript; unofficial translation

      • Sandy says:

        His complaint about America in that rant is that the root cause of Moro extremism is the American occupation of the Philippines over a century ago. I think this is a questionable claim because the Moros seem to be primarily an irredentist group that has mixed Islamism into its ideology — before the Americans, they were fighting the Spanish; after the Americans, they were fighting the Japanese. Now they fight the Filipinos because Catholicism in the Philippines is a Spanish legacy, so both the Islamist and anti-colonial boxes are ticked.

        So it seems disingenuous to me to claim that the Moro conflict stems from something John Pershing did in 1906, not when the Filipino army perpetrated several massacres of that population throughout the 20th century. But the basic thought that goes “American occupation leads to Islamic extremism where there previously was none” is a popular one, regardless of whether it’s true or not. And it is a narrative that is primarily pushed by Americans in Cambridge and New Haven.

        And it’s not “90%” at any rate — in that rant, he says America has no moral authority on this matter because of the Native Americans, Mexicans etc etc.

    • nimim. k.m. says:

      The step “people around the world will believe you, and you will no longer be able to inspire your values anywhere because you are American” seems like description of “the people around the world” committing a critical ethics reasoning error, even if it may be an effective rhetorical strategy able to persuade people not too keen to pay attention to rational arguments.

      Also, if you keep your mouth shut, it does not mean that suddenly others will. If America really acts against its stated values, the victims and outside observers will find out anyway, and will be keen to point them out. If you don’t admit your moral failings, you don’t gain legitimacy, you just appear a hypocrite.

      Not denying the transgressions made by your tribe, even better, doing your best to consistently hold both your tribe and other tribes to the same moral standards should be a major indicator to any observer that you are applying your standards consistently, and worth of listening to. It’s kind of obvious that should you encourage rational behavior that promotes acting consistently and listening to such consistent actors. This has the benefit of being honest and consistent on your ethical position, and most of ethical systems (at least the ones I subscribe to) consider such behavior a minimum standard of moral behavior.

      Main failing of some of the American left is not the pointing out the failings, but probably forgetting all the good parts, which include the ideals and historical processes that amongst others, produced situations where the American left to able to point out the aforesaid transgressions and get them discussed and even acknowledged in the US public sphere.

  4. Psychosomatic Pepe says:

    Would you suggest any changes to this supplementation plan for a kind of moderately depressed/anxious/chronically stressed but otherwise healthy 25 y.o. man? Goals include general health, body recomposition and increasing subjective well-being. Any interactions or other drugs worth checking out?

    Creatine monohydrate (10 g)
    Whey protein concentrate (40 g)
    Multivitamin (including D3, K2, B12, folate, zinc)
    Cod oil (5 ml)
    Curcumin + piperine for bioavailability
    Magnesium L-threonate + lavender oil + minimum effective dose of melatonin for onset insomnia
    L-theanine (100 mg) + SAMe (for anxiety and depression)

    Trial-and-error nootropics, carefully tested one by one: tianeptine, noopept, NSI-189, Selank, bromantane, aniracetam, ashwagandha, bacopa. If legal, controlled microdosing of psylocybin, LSD or MDMA.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Have you done trial-and-error on everything you’re currently taking? Try dropping the multivitamin.

    • Jimmy Gentle says:

      Is going to the doctor(/psychologist etc.) with your problems an option for you? If so, I’d say you should try that first. (Or if you’re absolutely bent on taking the nootropics, go to the doctor as well.)

      By the way, it may well be that the multivitamin is not as helpful as you’d expect. You’d be better off eating things that have high concentrations of the vitamins you feel you need, as your body may sometimes have a difficult time absorbing the vitamins if not in the proper, ehm, ‘food’ configuration. (A quick search on the internet suggests that milk and eggs would be helpful for some of the vitamins you listed, though if you’re vegan that would of course not be an option.)

    • Deiseach says:

      I’d say dump the whey protein and creatine, I’ve never seen the point of these unless you’re into bodybuilding/weight lifting and they have their own little universe of what is good diet where I’m not going to tread. If that’s what you’re going for, you know more about it than I do.

      Unless your diet is very bad, you may not need the multivitamins (if you are going to supplement with vitamins, stick with the B vitamins). The magnesium may do you some good (especially for muscle cramps and regulation of heart rate) and so will the curcumin so stick with them, ditto the fish oil. Lavender never did anything for me (except smell nice) but if you find it calming, then that’s good.

      No idea about nootropics and all the above is not medical advice or based on studies but rather what worked/helped me when I was trying things I’d read about when looking for advice.

      • bluto says:

        I take creatine anytime I need to work hard after noticing a marked decrease in soreness the day after working when I’ve taken it in the past.

        • Mary says:

          I’ve found that when I increase my exercise level, and am taking protein, the first time I’m sore, but the next time I can do it. Before I started, I was often sore several times. I suspect muscle-building help. (Though it does depend on how much dietary protein you get.)

    • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

      “Creatine monohydrate (10 g)
      Whey protein concentrate (40 g)”

      Why are you supplementing with these? I wouldn’t do this unless you’re a vegetarian and/or aren’t consuming enough animal proteins. If you aren’t a vegetarian, then drop the creatine and protein powder and eat a steak instead.

    • ShemTealeaf says:

      A lot of people can benefit from significantly higher doses of Vitamin D than you’d find in a multi, but you could get bloodwork to test your levels to be sure.

      Whey protein is only really useful if you’re not getting enough dietary protein otherwise. I like it sometimes for convenience, but eating real food is probably better in general.

    • AoxyMouseOnArgo says:

      Sure.

      Lower the creatine supplementation down to 3g a day. More then that probably isn’t going to help you.

      Keep the multivitamin, but do some research on which one is the best. Get a varied one, and maybe add 2 individual pills for the ones that doesn’t have. You may have to do some research on the vitamins that are not water soluble and don’t get pissed out. Also, be worried about heavy metal levels. That’s the main real worry about multivitamins. If worried, just go with a major source like kirkland. Avoid multi’s that have random herbal crap added.

      Personal preference, but change the whey to soy. Mostly due to whey being made from cheap brutal factory farming methods.

      Cod oil isn’t the only sources of omega 3,6,9. I would avoid individual pills of those, as I worry about the plastics, and just get a bottle of the oil of what you want.

      Curcumin and piperine are in supplement industry hellhole. I would avoid them

      Things like lavender oil isn’t lavender oil *Per se* Its adding a calming relaxing scent to a certain area you want to sit down and relax. Pleasant aromas, calming aromas help this.

      There are more powerful and effective meds then melatonin for sudden sleep, when you really need it.

      Avoid the L-theanine (100 mg) + SAMe for depression. SSRI’s are probably a really sophisticated scam. Get some exercise in the sun instead.

      Throw away every nootropic. At this point, its a “if there are not articles about mit/caltech professors using it for research, its probably BS”.

      What do they use to aid them? Modafinil / caffiene/ adderall, and general good sleep, diet, exercise. Artists use LSD/MDMA, and its both funky and somehow helps them draw images. LSD *might* be useful for some scientific visualization things, but probably not.

      Throw away all the nootropics.

  5. Homo Iracundus says:

    Eid question for any muslims/locals here:
    Eid al-Adha and Fitr are on a lunar calendar, but seem to focus on meat dishes and sweets/fruits respectively.
    Is it just not important to line those up to the solar calendar the way european feast days are? I can’t imagine someone saying “hey, this year you need to get the easter lamb ready in October, and the pumpkins growing in February”
    LHN’s comment about the jewish calendar leap month got me curious. al-Fitr is moving from September, to July, to March over a decade because there’s no equivalent solar adjustment in the Muslim calendar.

    • maybe_slytherin says:

      The standard interpretation I’m used to is that solar calendars only really matter for people who live far form the equator.

      With more seasonal variability, annual cycles matter a lot. Without it, you may as well use the moon, which is easier to keep track of.

      This applies to Jewish and Christian calendars too: Hanukkah and Christmas were not very significant events on the calendar historically when people were just living in the middle East. But as populations spread north, the festivals that happened to fall close to the solstice gained greater importance.

      • Homo Iracundus says:

        But even in Indian, Pakistan, Africa, etc. you have a rainy and dry season that corresponds to the solar calendar, don’t you?
        Pakistan has a rainy season June-September, but they have to have 10,000,000 lambs/cows ready for slaughter on a date that often doesn’t correspond at all to when you can pasture animals.

        • Gazeboist says:

          But you don’t have those seasons in and around the Arabian peninsula, which was* and remains* the center of Islam.

          * To a point, of course. Constantinople is not terribly far from Medina at the scale we’re worried about.

          • John Schilling says:

            The Hejaz, which is the birthplace and heartland of Islam, has a climate that will kill the unwary in several exciting ways with substantial seasonal variation. Yes, you can die in a flash flood within sight of Mecca. Or maybe you can swim, but your sheep can’t and you’ll starve if they drown. Maybe it would be nice to know a month ahead of time when you should move them to high ground?

          • Gazeboist says:

            Well in that case I’m back to being confused.

            EDIT: Or I was, until I took a close look at this wikipedia page. It seems the proto-Islamic calendar had an occasional intercalary month (like many historic lunar calendars), but it was decided politically and ad hoc, rather like the on-average biannual intercalary month of the pre-reform Roman calendar.

    • Deiseach says:

      Easter is the major Christian feast linked to a lunar calendar, which is why it’s a movable feast. There are suggestions from time to time by secular governments over here to pick a date and stick with it (because that would make the public holiday a regular, recurring date and easier to plan around) but it never seems to come to anything (yet).

      Presumably, since it’s linked to the vernal equinox, that does put a bound on the dates it can fall and so there’s not a problem with “get the Easter lamb ready in October”.

      • Gazeboist says:

        Easter’s on the same 19 year cycle as the Jewish calendar, and is fixed on part by the solar year, so its wandering is limited in the same way that Hannukah’s is. The range of dates is even about the same, at a bit more than a month.

        The Islamic calendar is not fixed to the year and Islamic law forbids intercalation*, so their holidays cycle all the way around.

        * Really, though, who wants to deal with INTERCAL?

        • brad says:

          It is worth noting that the modern Jewish calendar (the mathematical version rather than the observational one) post-dates the settlement of the Easter controversies (well at least the first rounds of them, the Gregorian controversy was still to come).

          I don’t know for sure, but the influence chain may well have been Greeks -> Romans -> Christians -> Jews rather than Jews -> Christians like one might naively expect.

          • Gazeboist says:

            Yes, I think the Jewish and Christian reforms (that is, the Gregorian calendar plus related Easter shifting and the Metonic cycle, anti-respectively) were made at about the same time.

    • keranih says:

      Not Muslim, but having discussed this with educated Muslims –

      The feast days/calendar keeps slipping because the time-sense of God is not the time-sense of mortals. It’s an artifact of our limited minds that we think that just because we count “year” from one spot around the sun to another, that therefore the Creator of All would have to do the same.

      (And when you think about the wobbles in the orbits, and the movement of the Solar System through our galaxy, and the way that the whole mess is rocketing through empty space, they’re *right*. One year is not equal to the next, and we imagine so in error.)

      As for practical matters like availability of lamb, etc, *shrugs* Allah will provide. And so we feast on what we have at hand in that season. Aussies adjust to Christmases with snow well enough, after all…

      • Jiro says:

        The feast days/calendar keeps slipping because the time-sense of God is not the time-sense of mortals. It’s an artifact of our limited minds that we think that just because we count “year” from one spot around the sun to another, that therefore the Creator of All would have to do the same.

        So why would God go with the moon then? Is his time sense different from mortals for the sun, but the same for the moon?

        • keranih says:

          *I* dunno. Maybe because Allah, in his mercy, understood the limits of the human mind?

          (I never asked that, and maybe I should have. I always felt I was skirting too close to the edge in these talks – the Muslim tradition of religious debate is not based on the Western classics, where one can postulate a falsehood in the service of proving it wrong. There was too much room for causing accidental offense.)

  6. Odoacer says:

    Why does Trump use superlatives so often? He seems to use them a lot more often than other politicians. Did he always speak this way, or is this something he’s doing for the election? Is there a way to determine if his way of speaking is helping him or hurting him in general?

    Personally, I may agree with him on some of his “policies”, but his arrogance and manner of speaking really turn me off. I can’t stand his braggadocio.

    • The Nybbler says:

      He’s been like that for a very long time. The bad hair and the manner of speech are part of the Trump brand, I have no idea why however.

      • H. E. Pennypacker says:

        There’s something oddly appealing to me about it. I’m a long way from Trump politically but earlier today I was watching a press conference from just after Obama released his birth certificate. Trump was there with his weird hair endlessly congratulating himself and telling the cameras how proud he was of himself because he was the only who’d been able to get Obama to release his birth certificate and I couldn’t help thinking “I really fucking hope this guy becomes president of the United States”.

        • Homo Iracundus says:

          It’s infectious. There’s no contest between massive enthusiasm and nimble action, vs humourless scolding and blatantly feigned hysterics.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            “No contest” is an unusual way to describe Hillary being up two points in the polls.

            I can’t stand Trump and neither can anyone else I know. And before you lecture me about how people I know are an unrepresentative sample, I’m just using this as an existence proof to counter the claim that everyone has to love Trump.

          • Homo Iracundus says:

            No, you were just already infected by something else. Something even more virulently deplorable than what we have to offer. (sec. VII esp.)

            I mean, is there anyone in your peer group who doesn’t giggle at the national anthem? Or know that, while it might be unavoidable to love your country, you should at least feel ashamed for it?

          • “There’s no contest between massive enthusiasm and nimble action, vs humourless scolding and blatantly feigned hysterics.”

            I interpret that as a comment about the approaches, not the candidates.

            Suppose one could somehow prove that if Hilary switched to Trump’s approach and Trump to Hilary’s, Hilary would go up in the polls and Trump down.

            That would be evidence that Trump’s approach worked better–even if it didn’t work enough better to make up for Trump’s various negatives.

          • Aegeus says:

            So when you said “There’s no contest,” you meant “There’s no contest among people who support Trump.”

          • Homo Iracundus says:

            Sorry: *or who doesn’t think that, while it might be unavoidable…*

          • Scott Alexander says:

            “I mean, is there anyone in your peer group who doesn’t giggle at the national anthem? Or know that, while it might be unavoidable to love your country, you should at least feel ashamed for it?”

            Yes, many people. I think your assessment of how liberal you have to be to not like Trump is way too high.

          • LHN says:

            Sure. I get a lump in my throat at patriotic displays, can get through the other verses of the national anthem on a good day, have voted for Republican candidates for President since the 1980s, and am repelled by Clinton. But I’m repelled more by Trump.

            Same goes for a friend whose fondest political memory was getting to attend the 1984 Republican convention, who proudly identifies as conservative (and makes fun of my wambly libertarianish inclinations), who’s been sporting a Johnson t-shirt for months.

            When asked what vote he’d cast if he lived in a swing state, gun to his head, his response was:

            “PULL THE TRIGGER, YOU COWARD! PULL THE TRIGGER!!!

          • The Nybbler says:

            Not just among people who like Trump. People who absolutely can’t stand him end up using versions of his slogans — “Make X Great Again” (though to be fair he took that from Reagan) and “Build an X and make Y pay for it” especially. And not just to mock him, but to describe things they are actually doing or want done.

          • Gazeboist says:

            I think it’s a hard thing to assess, because Trump vs not-Trump doesn’t quite hit the usual liberal/conservative divide. Clinton vs not-Clinton is also unusual, but to a lesser extent. 2016 is a pretty unusual presidential election (hence rising Johnson support, at least for a time). Whether a proper realignment happens remains to be seen, but I think the fact that it’s Clinton as opposed to someone more like Biden running against Trump actually makes it less likely. No matter what happens, everyone will be able to explain away the results, and this election on its own won’t be enough to change the 2018 or 2020 core constituencies.

          • H. E. Pennypacker says:

            I think things might be different if I was American – it’s not that I’m super enthusiastic about him, largely that I think it would be fucking hilarious combined with the fact that he’d probably kill fewer people in foreign countries than Hillary would.

          • Jordan D. says:

            I personally do actually blink back tears when I hear “America the Beautiful” (I have nothing against “The Star-Spangled Banner, but the lyrics never quite catch my euphoric tendencies the same way.) While I do have friends who would probably prefer to mock national pride rather than display it, I have an even larger number of friends and family who would never dream of failing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

            I find Trump’s tone and style extremely, extremely obnoxious. I remember watching the town halls and debates from 2012, and while I didn’t like Romney’s policies, I never hated his style in the same way. In 2008, I actually very much enjoyed McCain’s speeches and didn’t care for Obama’s vague, transcendental rhetoric. But none of them have put me off in the same way.

          • Adam says:

            I’m not that big a fan of our national anthem, but absolutely love America the Beautiful and God Bless America both. They played the latter every night at Disneyland after a fireworks display in 2002 when I worked there and I consistently choked up every time. I served 6 years in the Army. I voted for Bush but have not voted since mostly because I just don’t care any more.

            And I absolutely cannot stand Trump. And I could not stand him way before he had any political ambitions that I knew of.

          • Matt M says:

            If you don’t think the national anthem can move you to tears, try watching Jim Cornelison sing it prior to a Chicago Blackhawks game. Dude has some serious skill and the atmosphere of everyone standing and clapping and screaming during it is uniquely impressive.

            (If you’re interested, he’s supposedly going to be singing it for tonight’s Monday Night Football game between the Bears and the Eagles, not quite the same atmosphere but still the same vocal talent)

          • suntzuanime says:

            From the other side of the matrix, I’m a supporter of Trump but am very “meh” about our national anthem and other patriotic symbols. I don’t feel anything when hippies burn the flag or blms refuse to stand for the anthem. And yet I love Trump’s rhetorical style.

          • 27chaos says:

            I like Trump’s rhetoric precisely because it’s obnoxious and overdone. It’s a nice change of pace, I am inclined to backlash against criticisms of it because I see those criticisms as superficial, and it’s enjoyably over the top, almost gaudy in its excess and low quality.

          • Phil says:

            @scott

            have you ever had the experience of finding someone annoying, then getting that it was schtick, and then finding it funny afterwards?

            The best example of this I can think of was back when Bill Walton called a lot of basketball games as an announcer

            for a while I found him to be incredibly aggravating to listen to, then at some point in clicked to me that the whole thing was schtick, and then he seemed like far and away the funniest, most enjoyable guy to listen to call a game

            maybe Sasha Baron Cohen is a more relatable example of this, the first time I saw his show, I found it extremely weird, and didn’t really get it, the more I watched it the more I got the schtick and the funnier it became

            maybe you think Presidential politics is ‘serious business’ and not the place for schtick, if you do, maybe you’re right for feeling that way

            but I think a large part of finding Trump tolerable is to sort of get that there’s a large element of schtick to it

            (I’m not really a believer that humorless politics is better politics, but that probably a topic for a different internet comment)

          • Alethenous says:

            “No contest” is an unusual way to describe Hillary being up two points in the polls.

            I know I’m late, but this is Donald bloody Trump. The fact that, against the odds, he’s in the running at all is testament to the power of his particular style (the “enthusiasm”.)

            That man is squeezing a surprising amount out of his insane Charisma score.

        • pku says:

          There is something oddly appealing about it, in the sense that Trump would be the guy in the groups of friends everyone kinda likes and no one’s really sure why. But if I imagine him in my group of friends, coming up with actual plans of what to do on the weekend, I think we’d find his dismissive attitude annoying. So when he’s actually running for president, I can see why a lot of people find him incredibly off putting.

        • Deiseach says:

          I have to admit, I liked the stroke his campaign pulled in getting coverage of endorsement by veterans for him, by enticing the media with a “he’s going to say something about Obama’s birth certificate!”

          The grousing in the media afterwards about being tricked and how very dare they was wonderful; look, guys, it’s not their fault if you lot leap at the hint of red meat dangled before your noses because you assume you know what he’s going to say before he says it. If he’s a joke candidate, why pay him the attention of caring what the hell he says about Obama’s place of birth?

          His campaign played you like a fiddle, O guardians of the sacred civic flame of the public interest!

          • HeelBearCub says:

            This attitude always gets right to my last nerve, so to speak.

            Because it’s nihilism even as you loudly complain that people don’t care enough about what matters.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Not only that, he did something similar to what news programs in the US do to their viewers all the time: Run a teaser for something the viewers actually want to hear, then run 20 minutes of barely-disguised infomercials, then have a 10-second blurb that tells little more than the teaser did.

          • Matt M says:

            I think it’s even extra brilliant because the “birther” controversy is so incredibly irrelevant to any actual issue that might affect Americans.

            It was patently and obviously transparent that the only reason this was a story is because the media was actively searching for ways to damage and discredit Trump. Their motivations were entirely impure and malevolent, so the fact that he was able to play it right back against them is a true stroke of genius.

            Like, it would be one thing if he promised to deliver a speech on his future jobs policy but instead pulled a random infomercial and then in the last five seconds was like “oh and I’m gonna create some jobs.” I think that would be kinda scummy on his part. But in this case, I feel like most regular people (and undecided voters in particular) don’t actually give a single ounce about whether or not he thinks Obama was born in America. He has every right to blow off and dismiss and treat as a joke such a non-story.

          • Anonymous says:

            I have no idea what is or isn’t of significance to those mythological regular people, but I think it is relevant that whether or not someone seeking the Presidency has spent the less five years pushing a delusional conspiracy theory.

          • Deiseach says:

            It’s marvellous because they plainly all expected him to go “Obama’s not a real American!” and they were getting ready to point and laugh (I bet Jo(h)ns Stewart and Oliver had their scripts ready to go), and instead people are pointing and laughing at them.

          • “whether or not someone seeking the Presidency has spent the less five years pushing a delusional conspiracy theory.”

            You mean like the theory that the Lewinsky case was the work of the vast right wing conspiracy? More than five years back, but I’m not sure that matters.

          • Anonymous says:

            Tu quoque.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I really wish defenses of Trump [or Clinton] didn’t start with the words “But Clinton [or Trump]…”

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            Clintonista since the 90s here. I defended Palin because imo the media and her opponents were being very unfair to her. I had a similar impression about Trump on the birth certificate issue; I never heard him saying he believed Obama was born elsewhere, just that Obama’s failure to release the long form b.c. suggested a cover-up of something wrong there. (Maybe some bureaucrat in the 1960s had spilled coffee on it, black PC coffee of course.)

            After the White House Correspondents’ Dinner showed the lfbc to roast Trump, my opinion changed to ‘Obama was trolling the Rightwingers all along’.

    • Trump is a master persuader who knows that if you repeatedly say something simple and direct, many humans brain will come to believe it.

  7. John Schilling says:

    The conventional wisdom in hard SF and adjacent fields for about the past twenty years has been that There Ain’t No Stealth In Space. I am probably as responsible as anyone for that consensus, and there seems to be an eagerness to repeat the discussion here, so let’s do it in the appropriate place.

    Phrased as an absolute, it’s obviously going to be an overstatement. Concealing a spacecraft from a peer competitor isn’t impossible – it just imposes such crippling limitations that it’s generally not worth the bother outside of very specialized circumstances. If you can plan your sneak attacks six months in advance, certain that the target won’t have changed course in the meantime, sure, that’s doable (but expensive). Or, of particular relevance here, you can deploy stealthed observation platforms that just sit around doing nothing but watching and reporting. What you can’t do, without it being more trouble than it is worth, is have a stealthed spaceship perform the sort of maneuvers necessary to carry out interesting missions against an adversary who isn’t so wholly overmatched that you didn’t need to hide from them in the first place. You can’t, in other words, have Space Pirates lurking in the spacelanes to swoop on unsuspecting merchantmen before the Space Patrol(tm) can respond.

    The reason for this, fundamentally, is that space is very big and very dark. Space being big means that in order to move across any useful outer-space distance, you have to command literally astronomical quantities of energy – much of which will by that pesky second law of thermodynamics wind up as waste heat. And space being dark means that astronomical quantities of waste heat will stand out like a lighthouse on a clear, moonless night to anyone who is looking. A spaceship can only remain “hidden” if it keeps its engines turned off – but that just means everybody knows it is in about the place it was when it shut down its (highly visible) engines, and if they need something more precise than that can start a focused search for lesser sources of waste heat.

    The only objection I’ve seen anyone raise here is that they can maybe somehow radiate their waste heat in a direction where there enemy isn’t. In which case:

    1. Make up your mind. If stealth in space is that easy, how do you know where the enemy is that you can safely radiate waste heat where he isn’t? As noted above, one of the few things that is worth the bother of doing is deploying stealthy observation platforms. Everybody who is serious about any sort of conflict in space is going to do that. Starfleet is going to do that, as are the Klingons. The Space Patrol will do it, and if they don’t the Shipping Guild will, and the Space Pirates will deploy their own stealthed observation platforms so the Space Patrol can’t sneak up on them.

    Anyone who doesn’t do this, is so complacent and unprepared for conflict that you don’t really need to be sneaking up on them in the first place.

    2. Possibly the idea is to radiate into a very narrow segment of the sky, a tight cone or beam where the enemy is statistically unlikely to be looking. How, exactly, is this supposed to be done?

    A heat shield that blocks out half the sky is straightforward enough. Anything narrower than that is actually quite hard, as whatever set of baffles or reflectors you are imagining will tend to reflect, absorb, and/or reradiate the waste heat that it is supposed to be carefully redirecting, such that the entire exit aperture of the system becomes a hemispheric radiator. It is possible to use, e.g., parabolic reflectors around point-source emitters to get around this, but as bean alluded to in the last thread, conservation of radiance is going to bite you. For a given radiator at a given temperature, reducing the area of the sky to which you radiate by a factor of N, absolutely requires increasing the area of the radiator by a factor of N or more.

    For example, radiating a megawatt of heat at 1000 K temperature, normally requires a dual-sided flat-panel radiator 3.4 meters in diameter. Radiating that megawatt of heat into a thirty-degree cone, requires a mirror array 46 meters in diameter.

    Which, aside from the practical difficulties of hauling it around with you, will absorb 2.25 megawatts of sunlight if you try to operate the thing anywhere near the Earth.

    3. You still don’t have an engine. In order to actually go anywhere, a non-magical spaceship has to expel reaction mass, and it has to do so at astronomical velocities. Which, again, requires astronomical quantities of energy turning into astronomical quantities of waste heat, about half of which you ought to expect to show up in the reaction mass. From which it will be radiated some distance downstream of your engine, spacecraft, and clever array of mirrors.

    Now what?

    • The Nybbler says:

      Make up your mind. If stealth in space is that easy, how do you know where the enemy is that you can safely radiate waste heat where he isn’t?

      I’m a pirate. I know where an enemy is going to be because merchant ships travel in predictable courses (or maybe they filed a course that my confederate leaked to me). They don’t use stealth; it’s expensive and takes up mass and volume they’d rather use for cargo. Or, I don’t care if the merchant sees me on final approach (because I can outrun and outgun them), I only need stealth to get into position to make sure Space Patrol isn’t going to be ambushing me the way I’m ambushing the merchant, and to get away.

      And my ship is _Angel’s Pencil_, which answers your other two questions. (that is, it’s light pressure drive based on a massive laser)

      • John Schilling says:

        1. Being captured by pirates is also expensive. A ship on a Hohmann transfer between Earth and Mars can alter its midrange course by five million kilometers at the cost of a ~1% increase in propellant consumption. That’s not an error you’re going to make up on final approach; you’re going to be seen while you maneuver to get into position.

        2. The Angel’s Pencil is made of pure handwavium; even Niven admits it is implausible for any level of technology (i.e. if you had the means to make it, you’d make something else that is better at the stated mission of peaceful manned starflight).

        3. If you did somehow manufacture an Angel’s Pencil, with a 99% efficient laser for the propulsion system, the remaining 1% would come to fifteen trillion watts, and the resulting incandescent radiators would be naked-eye visible from just under 1 AU away.

        4. If you’ve got a laser like that, so does the Space Patrol. They can shoot you out of the sky from an AU away, even if you are jinking and weaving for all your drive is worth and they have to guess your position eight minutes in advance.

        • hlynkacg says:

          1. Being captured by pirates is also expensive. A ship on a Hohmann transfer between Earth and Mars can alter its midrange course by five million kilometers at the cost of a ~1% increase in propellant consumption. That’s not an error you’re going to make up on final approach; you’re going to be seen while you maneuver to get into position.

          Granted, but there’s a catch. If we posit a setting where the merchants routinely make random burns as part of a Spacer’s equivalent to the old “convoy serpentine” you’ve dramatically increased the probability of individual burns going unnoticed.

          • John Schilling says:

            In the sense that one-in-a-thousand is vastly more probable than one-in-a-million, perhaps. This is the sort of problem that is readily handed over to automation. Is there a drive plume? Check. Is it right on the projected track of a known spaceship? Check. Does the telemetry of that ship indicate a maneuver? Check. Wait, one of those was a “No”? Generate a suspicious-contact report, and focus a Big Eye on the track while the traffic controller stops playing solitaire.

          • hlynkacg says:

            That’s the point though. our hypothetical Pirate has a lot more freedom to maneuver when a sail on the horizon drive plume aligned with our current velocity vector isn’t sufficient reason in itself to wake the captain.

          • bean says:

            That’s the point though. our hypothetical Pirate has a lot more freedom to maneuver when a sail on the horizon drive plume aligned with our current velocity vector isn’t sufficient reason in itself to wake the captain.

            Why wouldn’t it be reason to wake the captain? Space is big, so close approaches will be rare, and thus notable. The captain gets woken up when anything unusual happens.

          • hlynkacg says:

            The captain gets woken up when anything unusual happens.

            Space may be big, but the shortest distance between two points is still a conic section. In the scenario above, a drive plume on the same path as you wouldn’t qualify as unusual.

          • bean says:

            Space may be big, but the shortest distance between two points is still a conic section. In the scenario above, a drive plume on the same path as you wouldn’t qualify as unusual.

            But a drive plume on the same path almost certainly left at about the same time you did, and is going to the same place. For that matter, the captains of the 50 km/s Terra-Jupiter run this year probably all had dinner together before they left Earth, and you’re pretty sure none of them are pirates. A ship suddenly appearing out of the asteroid belt who just happens to be on the same path you’re taking to Jupiter is suspiciously unusual. It’s even more unusual when someone comes out of the asteroid belt on a course that takes them close to you, but doesn’t seem to lead anywhere in particular. Certainly enough so that you’ll give them (and the Space Guard) a call.
            Also, keep in mind that position on Earth is often analogous to position and velocity in space. A pirate not only has to get close to his target, he has to match velocity as well. At any tech level above nuke-thermal, matching velocity will be a matter of hours or days, leaving plenty of time for the target to get a distress call off, even if the pirate doesn’t immediately trigger suspicion when he sets up the intercept course. That’s unlikely in and of itself. Particularly because the target can run the course of a possible pirate to see if it’s the optimum for what he’s doing. Ships on a non-optimum course coming close? Very odd.
            As for why just setting off from somewhere along the course doesn’t work, remember that two objects with different velocities don’t really have the same position, so there’s no reason to assume that someone going from an asteroid on the path to Jupiter would take the same path as someone who left Earth to go there.
            The only good option for the ‘pirate’ is to make it look like he has legitimate business being nearby at a similar velocity. Join the “convoy” the target ship is using. This isn’t really scalable, because you have to convince the Space Guard you’re legit each time. It would make a good heist story, but isn’t really piracy.
            Edit:
            To put it another way the shortest distance between two points may be a conic section (well, it’s still a line, but I get your meaning), but the best route between them varies a lot. The odds of a random ship’s best route taking it near you is very low.

          • John Schilling says:

            Space may be big, but the shortest distance between two points is still a conic section.

            But points aren’t interesting; planets are. As are moons, asteroids, space stations, etc. Thing is, all those things move. So the conic section that is the shortest distance between Earth, today, and Mars six months from now, is tomorrow the shortest distance between two empty points in space millions of kilometers from nowhere.

            Any ship on that “path” that hasn’t been in convoy with you from the start, is a ship that is Up to No Good.

            In the scenario above, a drive plume on the same path as you wouldn’t qualify as unusual.

            One of the consequences of space being vastly hugely mindbogglingly big, is that spaceships do not coincidentally pass close to one another in deep space. Not if they are traveling on anything resembling efficient paths between useful destinations, not even modulo a bit of evasive routing.

            There is likely to be a real-time database of ships in space just as there is for ships at sea or planes in the sky. That database mostly exists today, though the current version doesn’t extend beyond Earth orbit or include satellites the US government thinks it can hide. Such a database can be automatically updated with the new trajectory of every spacecraft in the solar system, after every observed burn. Burns themselves are likely to be individually cataloged events. If this information is at all useful, making it comprehensively and universally available will be cheap compared to maintaining interplanetary commerce in the first place – just as it is at sea, in the sky, and in Earth orbit today.

            Regularly querying that database and asking, “are any of these other ships on a trajectory that will pass anywhere close to me in deep space?”, is the sort of task that automation is very good for. If the answer is ever “yes”, that ship is Probably Up to No Good, and this will happen rarely enough that the captain won’t mind being woken for it. If after a modest arbitrary maneuver, the other ship makes a corresponding maneuver and is still on an intercept trajectory, they are Definitely Up to No Good. If they do any of the things that might obscure exactly what their trajectory is up to, Probably Up to No Good, and if the error ellipsoid around their now-fuzzy course prediction intersects another ship that pushes it into Definitely Up to No Good while telling everyone who the target is. None of this will be written off as coincidence, nor does any of it require tedious human effort in sorting through all the innocent contact reports – that’s what automation is for.

      • bean says:

        What do you do when you get the ship, though? It’s a merchant ship, so it’s not carrying around a bunch of extra delta-V. It has enough to stop at its scheduled destination, plus a small reserve. It does not have enough to suddenly change course and head for Port Royal or wherever the pirates are operating out of. If it did, it probably couldn’t stop there. If you want to move the cargo to your ship, your ship is going to have to be considerably bigger than the target, because it’s going to need a lot of delta-V. Oh, and the authorities can see where you go with your loot, even if they couldn’t see you get into position to grab it. And trust me, they will be paying attention. Oh, and any place that gets pirates regularly fencing prizes will receive a visit from warships. Privateering is vaguely possible, but straight-up piracy doesn’t work on any level in space.

        • hlynkacg says:

          In monopolar setting maybe, but the fact that we are discussing combat in the first place implies that the setting is not monopolar. There are plenty of candidates for high value, low mass cargoes that would have a negligible effect on dV. Likewise the attackers objective may not even be “piracy” per se, it’s just that is the classic set up for an opposed intercept.

          • bean says:

            I did briefly think of a heist (as opposed to conventional piracy) when I was writing that, but didn’t bring it up. That’s somewhat more plausible, but it still leaves a problem, namely that stealing something will always be more expensive and require more delta-V than shipping it in the first place, and that if it’s worth stealing, it’s probably worth sending on a fast ship which the pirates won’t be able to intercept. The chain the pirates have to be able to pull off is also rather long and involved.
            1. Get into position without being identified as a pirate.
            2. Make the intercept without being dodged. If the target is valuable enough, the insurance company will say ‘dodge till your tanks are empty, and we’ll pay for the tug’. (This has the side effect of thwarting plans where the pirates siphon remass from the target ship.)
            3. Have a safe place to go after they get the loot. Keep in mind that they’re currently headed right for the target’s destination, which is presumably hostile to them. It’s going to take a substantial diversion to avoid the Space Guard flagging you down, which means more delta-V, so the astrodynamics aspect is nontrivial. And whoever you stole from is going to ask the authorities you end up headed for to please hand you over. Those authorities are going to need a reason to not do so. If you’re one of their privateers, then they’ll obviously welcome you, but if someone is privateering, any ships they send out will be carefully watched. (And you still haven’t solved the problem of engine burns being visible.) The same goes for ships from planets that harbor independent pirates, with the added issue that it’s really hard to give good cause why nobody has sent a punitive expedition. (There’s manifold precedent in international law for such expeditions.)

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            The same goes for ships from planets that harbor independent pirates, with the added issue that it’s really hard to give good cause why nobody has sent a punitive expedition. (There’s manifold precedent in international law for such expeditions.)

            All the other objections are scientific/technical, but this one is political. Nobody sent a punitive expedition to Ceres because the People’s Republic of Mars insists that Ceres is totally within its claimed territory and any invasion will be an act of war. Or because the Jovian Union insists that attacking Cerean pirates will just create more pirates and what we need to do is provide those poor oppressed astronauts with good jobs and health care so they don’t feel the need to resort to piracy. Or the President of Earth doesn’t want to call attention to the spike in space piracy because that’ll harm his “We Defeated All The Space Pirates Forever” re-election campaign narrative. Or, etc., etc.

            Frankly, I find any of these more plausible than a punitive expedition.

          • Mary says:

            the problem is that while all of those are reasons, none will be perpetual. Sooner or later, someone will decide it’s worth.

            Even if the motive is sticking your thumb in Mars’s eye.

          • Gazeboist says:

            Hilarious option (that probably won’t work):

            Instead of matching speeds, treat the merchant ship as the slow “friend” in the momentum-exchange maneuver John described. Pass at high speed with no burn, anchor a bunch of sturdy grapples, let momentum point the victim’s orbit towards a pre-arranged target (preferably one of those stealthy passive platforms we’ve been discussing), and release the cables. A second passive confederate (already en route) intercepts you and tosses you away from the cops.

            Not recommended for stealing fragile cargo. Or fragile merchantmen, frankly.

          • bean says:

            @Thirteenth Letter
            1. Piracy is not the sort of crime that gets formally excused by civilized nations. If they’re going to engage in it, they call it privateering. But privateering is an act of war in most cases. What made piracy possible was the fact that searching was really hard back in the day (not true in space), nations had plausible deniability (which is hard to maintain when the exact coordinates of the pirate on final get transmitted to you) and that a private group could create a halfway-decent army on its own (very much not true).
            The reason it works off of Somalia is that the pirates can blend into the background of general boat traffic. But space travel doesn’t work that way, either. It’s more akin to air travel in that way, and while it’s theoretically possible someone could mount guns on a bizjet and force airliners to land, then plunder them, in practice it just doesn’t happen.
            A nation covering for pirates quickly turns them into de facto privateers, and they will have the issues which come from de facto privateering. Also, you have issues reintegrating pirated cargoes into the economy. Any pirate-harboring world will be treated to sanctions and any world covering for pirates will suddenly discover that the customs inspectors are a lot more through, looking for pirated goods.

            @Gazeboist:
            Really, really unlikely. Tethers are very large, very complex structures, and attaching one to an unwilling victim is not a good way to a long and healthy life.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            @bean: It took years of dithering before it was even considered wink-and-nod acceptable to have armed guards on ships traveling near Somalia, and as far as acts of war and punitive expeditions go, was there ever even one of those against a Somali pirate haven? They weren’t particularly secret in any way. (Even the phrase “act of war” sounds faintly musty and absurd nowadays, when you have international diplomats slicing and dicing and insisting that you can make distinctions between the “political wing” and the “military wing” of terrorist organizations, and pretending that massive mechanized invasions of neighboring countries are internal political disputes.)

            In general, it’s not a safe assumption that because a pirate is obviously a pirate, everyone is going to leap into action Royal Navy-style and start shelling their hideouts and hanging them from the yardarms. If the current political narrative requires that we not believe an obvious pirate is a pirate, then that’s how it will be.

          • bean says:

            @ThirteenthLetter
            You make a fair point, but the analogy to Somalia breaks down. Remember that position on Earth is analogous to position and velocity in space, which means that ships in transit between two points won’t ever “be near” somewhere in between. That means you’ll need something significantly bigger/more powerful than the space equivalent of a fishing boat to go after the target. Bigger ships are less generic, and don’t blend into the background as well. Oh, and in space, things change relative position, so a nest of pirates is easily routed around by adding a new constraint to the astrogation computers.
            Other factors are that the government of Somalia is impotent, and that Somalia isn’t an important trading partner to anybody. In space, the only easy ships to raid are ones that are stopping nearby (I suppose gas giant moons might qualify) and doing that makes the local merchants very upset. Oh, and the ships stop coming.
            Another factor might be the general apathy towards sea power among the public and the governments of the world. When ships were the cutting edge of moving things, piracy got taken seriously. Now, air travel is, and we subject ourselves to absurd security theater, and have equally absurd ROEs for dealing with pirates. (Well, the Chinese don’t, but everyone else does.) Space travel won’t have this issue.
            I’ve already pointed out that you never see “Air Piracy”, even though it’s technically possible. I suspect that space will be more like air than like sea here.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ bean

            absurd ROEs for dealing with pirates. (Well, the Chinese don’t, but everyone else does.)

            And the Russians X -)

            As the Wikipedia charmingly put it

            In early May 2010, Russian special forces retook a Russian oil tanker that had been hijacked by 11 pirates. One died in the assault, and a week later Russian military officials reported that the remainder were freed due to weaknesses in international law but died before reaching the Somali coast.

          • LHN says:

            When ships were the cutting edge of moving things, piracy got taken seriously. Now, air travel is, and we subject ourselves to absurd security theater, and have equally absurd ROEs for dealing with pirates.

            True for passenger transport, but sea freight still dwarfs air cargo. But it’s likely true that the fact that the victims are mostly merchant sailors (give or take the rare cruise ship, which does make the front page) that allows it to remain below the radar for most people.

            James Cambias has a hard SF book about space piracy in earth orbit, Corsair, which does that one better: the pirate vessels and their victims are uncrewed and operated via remote and automation, which makes it of even less interest to outsiders. (Much to the frustration of the officer attempting to wage an antipiracy campaign.) But the method is primarily hacking, rather than space stealth.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            Accepting that for argument’s sake (because it’s a fun argument): if one wants to write a story about space piracy and be politically realistic, set it in an era when space travel is mundane and boring. Maybe the cutting edge is teleporters or warp drives or getting hooked up to the Matrix, and nobody cares about the practically unmanned fifty-year-old bulk tankers hauling water ice on minimum-energy transfer orbits from Saturn to Mars.

            Another difference I’ve just thought of is that we’re assuming the “pirates” want to steal the cargo. Destroying it or sending it hopelessly off course should be a lot easier. Maybe the Mars terraforming project is going to be in real trouble if those tankers full of water ice stop arriving.

          • bean says:

            True for passenger transport, but sea freight still dwarfs air cargo. But it’s likely true that the fact that the victims are mostly merchant sailors (give or take the rare cruise ship, which does make the front page) that allows it to remain below the radar for most people.

            I’m aware of that, but omitted it for the sake of brevity. The basic problem is that sea freight isn’t sexy, and isn’t something most people have any interaction with.

          • Gazeboist says:

            @bean Like I said, I was going for “funny” more than “realistic”.

    • Gazeboist says:

      I may come back with something more topical, but:

      I’ve always appreciated one element of Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space setting: to an otherwise fairly hard sci fi spacefaring setting, Reynolds adds (in addition to I think one other soft-ish element) magical processors that get cold as they run, rather than hot. The primary use for these devices is to glue them to the hull of your ship and give them very large numbers to factor so your enemy can’t see you.

      • bean says:

        I’m pretty sure that’s just a flat-out thermo violation, on par with using thermocouples to turn waste heat into electricity or heat lasers. In fact, it would be easy to turn one and some other things into a perpetual motion machine.

        • Gazeboist says:

          Like I said, it’s an exception to the hardness of the setting, and doesn’t answer John’s questions. I just happen to find it amusing.

        • John Schilling says:

          For the record, so did I. It’s handwavium, but directed at the right problem. In the same league as cavorite or scrith,

          • DrBeat says:

            I was going to say “You mean like the Minovsky Particle?” but I don’t know if that example would lead to more people understanding, or less.

    • eh says:

      My grasp of physics isn’t great, but it should be possible to launch something in a deniable way from a very long distance, maybe using a gigantic first stage that handles waste heat and a very small second stage that’s just a warhead with some absorbent tiles, then let momentum carry it to the target. Not great for ship-to-ship combat, but very scary if you live somewhere with a predictable orbit.

      • John Schilling says:

        Roughly speaking, you have to plan that sort of thing months to years in advance, depending on the level of detection technology the target has and the size of the ship/warhead you are launching. Surprisingly, almost everything else cancels in the math – if you start twice as far away, you are four times harder to detect, which means you can run four times as much energy through your engines, which means twice as fast, which means just as much time commitment as if you’d started at half the distance.

        For people who can plan sneak attacks in detail months in advance, this can be made to work. That’s one of the viable niches for stealth in space.

        • vV_Vv says:

          If the target is a planet with a suitable atmosphere, I think that in principle you could aerobrake your warhead in it, then do some small corrections to put it into an orbit where it is difficult to detect from the planet surface. Then you can rain fire and brimstone whenever you want by sending an EM signal to it.

          Aerobraking would be visible, but it might be mistaken for a meteorite. Or even if the warhead is detected during aerobraking if they can’t shoot it down before it cools down it might be difficult to detect again. They will know that there is a “sword of Damocles” orbiting over their heads, but they won’t know exactly where.

        • vV_Vv says:

          Or even simpler, you can have a large number of warheads going back and forth in Hohmann transfer orbits. When you want to attack, you just signal the one nearest to the target.

          • bean says:

            The number of orbits required is too large to make any sense. You’re better off holding them at home until you need them.

    • maybe_slytherin says:

      Thanks, this is a really interesting summary. I think you have a good case for “no stealth in space”.

      The only two major exceptions I can think of are:

      1. Falsifying information, misdirection, and hacking
      Basically, if everyone relies on extrapolating the positions of where ships were last seen…if possible, mess with their observations or the software that computes the extrapolation. Of course, this will require access most of the time, so that’s also impractical in space. But it seems like engine shut-off is a good time for misdirection — if you can send extra propellant in several directions, you will be hard to track.

      2. In-system
      Planets, stars, and moons provide cover for ships. Distances are still very big, but it’s less dark, so there may be a bit more scope for stealth. Finally, it seems like you can do quite a bit with gravitational slingshots while staying pretty dark, though travel times will be slow.

      • John Schilling says:

        Gravitational slingshots require objects with lots of gravity; there aren’t many of those, and if there’s any real potential for conflict the potential adversaries are going to be watching very closely. From multiple angles, with stealthed observation platforms.

        A clever variant that can work, if you can set it up, is to use momentum-exchange tethers. Launch two spaceships on courses that will pass very near each other at substantial relative velocity. Have one of them deploy a cable – very strong and with a controllable dynamic brake – for the other to grab as they pass. Instant batmobile turn with minimal emissions.

        You can also do this by harpooning convenient asteroids, maybe, and I’ve seen that semi-seriously proposed just for the midcourse delta-V in outer planet exploration.

        But there’s a very restrictive range of circumstances where that can be done usefully, and a competent adversary will be looking for it – just why, in all the vastness of the solar system, did those two adversary spaceships launch on courses that would cross within cable-grabbing distance? If you’re looking for a works-once clever trick for a stealth maneuver in an SF story. and don’t mind the adversary looking less than fully competent, this one goes in the “plausible” bin.

    • hlynkacg says:

      I think it would help to unpack some assumptions.

      Personally, I’m basing my arguments on a tech-base that I would call “plausible near future” something roughly in line with Arthur C Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama or Heinlein’s late 21st Century (Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Farmers in the Sky, etc…). Most ships have something on the order of a GW of power at their disposal +/- an order of magnitude. and are comparable to modern structures in terms of scale (no 50 mile long battle cruisers here). Propulsion, Sensors, and weaponry are all assumed to based on existing technologies and theory. Transit between planets are on the order of weeks and months.

      From this I extrapolate that active sensors are going to largely useless for search / early warning due the tyranny of light-speed lag and the inverse square law. Likewise visual spectrum searches are going to be largely ineffective outside a few light seconds due to the optics required. As such, search and initial target acquisition will likely be conducted via passive sensing of a vessel’s IR or EM emissions. “Stealth” will be determined by the ability to conceal these emissions.

      I agree with John Schilling about the roll of “stealthy observation platforms” but covering the whole solar system with them is going to be very expensive given the tech-base described above. As such we can assume that any such network will be a project for large established entities, and that coverage will likely be spotty to nonexistent outside of well traveled routes.

      These seem fairly obvious and self-evident to me but now we need to start nailing down details.

      Just how noisy is our environment? Is every vessel in the solar system directly allied with Starfleet or do we have a situation where 20% belong to UN Space Command, 20% belong to the Martian Congressional Republic with the remaining balance distributed across any number of independent operators? Likewise, just how populated is our field? Is an exhaust plume departing Io even notable?

      • bean says:

        Why would the stealthy observation platforms be so expensive? In terms of hardware complexity, you’re looking at something very close to a modern spy satellite. Those are currently running about $4 billion a launch, although I think this has a lot to do with the big drop in production rates in the last couple of decades. During the height of the Cold War, they were about half that. Yes, placing something in the outer solar system is a lot more difficult than putting it in LEO, but we’re in a setting that is working on a multi-planetary scale anyway, so I’ll assume that’s a wash.
        Now, we know that a 60-degree cone is about the minimum practical for directional radiation. I’ll shamelessly round that 1 radian (57.3 deg), which makes the math easier. Our cone covers 1 steradian out of the 4*pi that make up a sphere. So we need 13 satellites if we’re securing a single point. This is obviously not the case, but we don’t need to be able to detect all directional radiation all the time. 30 seems like a reasonable assumption for the number of platforms we need. If we assume a 10-year lifetime (probably conservative) and a cost of $2 billion/platform, the annual hardware cost of the system is only $6 bn/yr. The estimated budget of the NRO is about $10 bn/yr.

        Likewise, just how populated is our field? Is an exhaust plume departing Io even notable?

        Depends on the size of the exhaust plume. The technology currently exists to track every big ship on the world’s oceans on a daily basis, and most of the small ones without their cooperation. Given the economies of scale involved in interplanetary travel, I don’t have any problem believing that a medium-sized nation could track everybody.

        Edit:
        This is intended as a high-end estimate. A low-end estimate would involve scaling from WISE, at $300 million/unit. Assume that production-line costs and milspec deployment/comms stuff cancels out.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Why would the stealthy observation platforms be so expensive?

          It’s not the individual platforms that are expensive it’s having enough of them to cover an appreciable volume of space, emplacing them, and maintaining the network, that gets expensive. If you’re spending $6 bn/yr to keep Mars under observation, that still leaves the rest of the solar system to contend with.

          • bean says:

            It’s not the individual platforms that are expensive it’s having enough of them to cover an appreciable volume of space, emplacing them, and maintaining the network, that gets expensive. If you’re spending $6 bn/yr to keep Mars under observation, that still leaves the rest of the solar system to contend with.

            My estimate was for the entire solar system, not just Mars. That’s why it’s 30 instead of 13. Remember, directional radiation increases your sensor signature in the direction you are radiating in, so I can put my platforms farther back. And the platforms are stealthier than your ship, so you can’t be sure you aren’t pointing at one even if I don’t have enough for sky cover.
            Add to all this the fact that I don’t need to have continuous cover for directional radiators. Look for the burn, not for the ship in transit. That takes 2 satellites near Mars at most.
            Ball is in your court now. What’s your estimate for platform requirements, and why?

          • hlynkacg says:

            What sort of FoR and angular resolution are you assuming for those platforms? Assuming that you want full coverage of the solar system inside Saturn’s orbit a platform with a 20 degree sweep would have to be approx 30 AU (4.2 light hours) out. At that sort of range a ship could easily make a big burn with it’s torch early on and then subtly change course over time using less energetic means without the operators of the panopticon being any the wiser if they aren’t looking at ships in transit. There’s also the practical matter of getting a platform (or 30) out that far in a timely manner without giving away it’s position, or hostile agents taking pot shots at it.

            It seems to me that you get most of the functionality for a fraction of the effort by positioning your observation platforms around common routes and destinations. If someone does build a pan-solar system observation network chances are that it would be much more a strategic rather than tactical asset much like NRO satellites are today.

          • bean says:

            What sort of FoR and angular resolution are you assuming for those platforms? Assuming that you want full coverage of the solar system inside Saturn’s orbit a platform with a 20 degree sweep would have to be approx 30 AU (4.2 light hours) out.

            I’m not sure why you’d need to position them that far out, as you do have the ability to scan the telescope. Actually, based on the math John did on AR, it looks like regular housekeeping radiators won’t be picked up by a small telescope at ranges over a couple of AU. Interesting. At least for the moment, I concede this part of the point.

            At that sort of range a ship could easily make a big burn with it’s torch early on and then subtly change course over time using less energetic means without the operators of the panopticon being any the wiser if they aren’t looking at ships in transit.

            That’s where your plan falls apart. There are very strong limits on how much you can divert your orbit with small delta-Vs, and analyzing that is pretty easy. Ships which have strategically interesting divert options get flagged for extra attention. And there’s no reason not to delegate some telescope cycles to looking at ships in transit. A slightly longer exposure means better sensitivity.

            There’s also the practical matter of getting a platform (or 30) out that far in a timely manner without giving away it’s position, or hostile agents taking pot shots at it.

            If it’s a strategic surveillance network, then you launch them over a period of time, and let them drift. The platform is a lot smaller than the notional stealth frigate, and thus has a lower signature. It’s also not going as fast, which means a given delta-V has more impact on its trajectory.

            It seems to me that you get most of the functionality for a fraction of the effort by positioning your observation platforms around common routes and destinations.

            Yes and no. Yes, I have no doubt that most constellations will be optimized to some degree to look at obvious trajectories (probably maximum coverage close to the ecliptic). No, in that there aren’t ‘routes’ per se, because we’re in space.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          Does it make a difference if the space pirates aim their magic directional radiation gizmo directly away from the Sun? Anyone wanting to track all the burns going on in the Solar System is going to have to put their satellites on the outside looking in, not the other way around.

          • John Schilling says:

            A platform that just has to observe and report is going to be intrinsically lighter, simpler, and cheaper than a stealth pirate space frigate, and therefore can be launched farther into deep space – on a faster trajectory, even, so the pirates can’t chase it down and sabotage it. As bean pointed out, on the order of a dozen cheap satellites in halo orbits, and you’re outside the piratical sphere of influence looking in, from every direction simultaneously.

            And the directional radiation gizmo probably only works when you are coasting anyway. As soon as you try to maneuver, the radiant drive plume will almost certainly extend well beyond the extent of the gizmo’s directionalizing magic.

    • Lumifer says:

      What’s the tech level that you are assuming here?

      At level close to the current human one, sure, there is no stealth in space and there isn’t much anything in space because you aren’t going anywhere far or fast. But at a noticeably higher tech level, well, how useful were, do you think, XIX century discussions about air combat?

      • Aegeus says:

        On the contrary, his argument works because you are going very far and very fast, and thus you need a huge, hot engine to reach those speeds. If you’re willing to spend months or years to fly between planets, you’ll find it a lot easier to hide. But what good is an ambush you have to plan years in advance?

        Hiding behind “future technology” doesn’t really help here, unless you’re so futuristic that you can ignore thermodynamics. Your kinetic energy has to come from somewhere, and whether that “somewhere” is a chemical rocket or an antimatter torch, it produces waste heat.

        A guy in the 19th century might not know much about radar and missiles, but he can still point out that, say, an airplane will need wings to fly, so a good way to shoot down a plane would be to blow off its wings. That’s about the level of this argument – your spaceship needs an engine, and engines are hot, so you can find a ship by looking for the heat of its engines.

        • Lumifer says:

          unless you’re so futuristic that you can ignore thermodynamics

          The XIX-century equivalent is “unless you’re so futuristic you can ignore gravity”.

          but he can still point out that, say, an airplane will need wings to fly

          No, he can’t, because at this point in time heavier-than-air flight is the stuff of raving lunatics, so “air combat” means hot air balloons shooting at each other, if they can into range, that is.

          • Gazeboist says:

            Birds are heavier than air.

          • Aegeus says:

            ^That. Give me some credit, I thought about that example before giving it.

            But actually, even if he somehow didn’t know what wings are, he could still say “No matter what future technology you use, gravity still applies, so every airship needs something to push up against the force of gravity. So whether your ship uses hot air balloons or something futuristic I haven’t thought of, you can shoot it down by finding the thing that keeps it aloft and shooting it.”

            And if you told him “Well, with future technology, maybe we can just not have the force of gravity apply to our airships!” he’d be equally justified in laughing at you. Future technology isn’t a pass to ignore all known physics.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Aegeus

            Future technology isn’t a pass to ignore all known physics

            That depends. QM allows things which Newtonian mechanics would say are just flat out impossible.

            That’s the general point: while the capabilities of near (in time) technology are reasonably predictable, most of the time, the capabilities of far technology are not.

            I like world-building and have strong preferences for it to be coherent, but I also understand that in SF you start with some arbitrary axioms about how the world works and arguing against them using evidence from real present-day tech is kinda silly.

          • Gazeboist says:

            QM is the physics that occurs when certain critical assumptions of classical mechanics don’t hold, and thee fact that those assumptions don’t hold is mostly* obvious. Thermodynamics makes one single assumption: that any distinguishable arrangement of fundamental components is equally likely, weighted by whatever forces are acting on the system. That alone results in the three laws, so there’s no way to get around it by positing a “new force” of some sort. As they say, “vast sections of the hypothesis space have been eliminated.”

            * It isn’t necessarily obvious that there is a “fastest speed”, which classical mechanics fails to account for, but hopefully it’s clear that, whatever a particle is, it isn’t a point mass, or even a point mass bound to a latice.

          • Aegeus says:

            “Yes, but the writer can just make up whatever laws he wants” is not much of an argument. That’s true for literally any ability in any story. Frank Herbert used future technology to make swordfighting viable, for God’s sake.

            Yeah, you can do it if you want, but at that point it’s gone from hard sci-fi to science fantasy.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Gazeboist

            the fact that those assumptions don’t hold is mostly* obvious

            Since we already mentioned XIX century, was this fact obvious to people in mid-1800s?

            As to the thermodynamics, how well does it work in singularity points (e.g. the Big Bang)?

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Aegeus

            Hard sci-fi is still a work of fiction. What makes it “hard” is more attention to world-building and to the coherency of the constructed world, but it all is just imaginary nonetheless.

          • bean says:

            As to the thermodynamics, how well does it work in singularity points (e.g. the Big Bang)?

            Thermodynamics are absolute. I’m not a cosmologist, so I can’t speak to that specific case, but it’s a very powerful tool to understand the world with, and when tampering with it is carried to the logical conclusion, really weird things happen. Most violations in fiction get away with it because most people remember thermodynamics as that incomprehensible thing from high school physics.

            Hard sci-fi is still a work of fiction. What makes it “hard” is more attention to world-building and to the coherency of the constructed world, but it all is just imaginary nonetheless.

            By the same logic, the term “detective fiction” gives the author license to totally ignore standard procedures and techniques used by detectives, the term “military fiction” allows the author to totally ignore military tactics and strategy, and the term “historical fiction” allows the author to totally ignore the relevant history.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ bean

            Thermodynamics are absolute

            I don’t understand what that means.

            And “really weird things” already happen with garden-variety QM, so..?

            …gives the author license…

            Yes. Yes, it does.

            You mentioned detective fiction, do you think Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple follows standard procedures and techniques? Is it a problem that needs to be fixed?

            You can certainly have your own preferences with regard to which fiction you like and which you dislike. But it seems a bit highhanded to demand that writers curb their imagination and stick to what you consider acceptable.

          • Deiseach says:

            By the same logic, “detective fiction” gives the author license to totally ignore standard procedures and techniques used by detectives

            But they do so ignore them, unless they’re writing a police procedural. The Golden Age “talented amateur with no training but a smattering of general knowledge and a private income sufficient to be a gentleman – or lady – of leisure poking about in murders and mysteries under the noses – and the feet – of the official force” is completely ignoring how ‘real’ police work is done. Or even how ‘real’ private detectives work. Even Raymond Chandler didn’t stick to the reality of the gritty work of the PI. Even Dashiell Hamnett, who was more realistic, didn’t.

            There are sub-genres within the overall genre of detective/crime fiction, and you know what you’re getting when you read a particular one – whether it’s a cosy, a translation of the latest Scandinavian best seller, or another pastiche Holmes story. Hard SF is the same, and you can legitimately complain about a hard SF story not being up to snuff on the science but you can’t complain about the same in space fantasy – and you can’t say “the only real SF is hard SF” because bobbins, the field has been full of fantastic inventions and implausible tech since the invention of the genre.

            (Sweet divine, that website is horribly designed. Great content, but horrible layout. The author/owner may be crackerjack at the science, but they could really use some ignorant pixel-stained wretch of a graphic designer from the arts side to make it less eye-straining and brain-melting to read).

          • bean says:

            @Lumifer:

            I don’t understand what that means.

            Thermo applies all of the time, in all cases.

            And “really weird things” already happen with garden-variety QM, so..?

            Weirder. Much, much weirder, and on a macro scale. Basically, any dodge you use to get around stealth in space is probably going to be trivial to turn into a perpetual motion machine, which means basically infinite energy.

            Re the Atomic Rockets quote, I’ll stand behind my use of it, even if the details can be quibbled with. “It’s a work of fiction” is pretty much the antithesis of AR’s philosophy of Hard SF, and it’s a particularly infuriating response to get when you’ve just finished explaining in some detail why the other person’s claims on the technical possibility of stealth are wrong. I don’t think it’s philosophically wrong to write SF that violates physics, but it’s annoying when they’re not forthright about what they’re doing, and particularly annoying when they do it in a debate.

          • Aegeus says:

            @Lumifer: I’m just pointing out that “The writer can change the rules” is kind of a “Well, duh” observation, so bringing it up in a thread about how to be scientifically accurate about stealth in space is kind of pointless.

            Also, you didn’t start this thread by talking about fiction! You just said “At a higher tech level, that might not be true.” So I assumed you were talking about a higher tech level which might actually exist in the future, rather than a higher tech level that an author could invent. So I think I’m justified in complaining that your “higher tech level” turned out to be wishful thinking.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Aegeus

            I’m just pointing out that “The writer can change the rules” is kind of a “Well, duh” observation

            I’m actually arguing for something subtly different: the author can set the rules, but once set he should stick with them.

            So I assumed you were talking about a higher tech level which might actually exist

            Your (and mine) opinion about far-off tech can be summed up very easily: none of us have any clue. I don’t see much use in pretending that we do.

            And of course we were talking about science fiction, not about studies of plausible future technological developments.

          • bean says:

            @Lumifer:

            Your (and mine) opinion about far-off tech can be summed up very easily: none of us have any clue. I don’t see much use in pretending that we do.

            I have a good clue that thermodynamics will still hold.

            And of course we were talking about science fiction, not about studies of plausible future technological developments.

            But that’s not how this type of debate starts. It’s always about plausible (or at least not totally implausible) technological development, with a strong eye on application to sci-fi. Someone makes claims, gets them shot down, then retreats behind the shield of “it’s all fiction anyway”. Or at least that’s how it looks from my side. Yes, maybe they just came to get some set dressing for their novel, but if so, it’s dishonest for them to pretend that they care about the science involved, and aggravating to have them use that bait and switch. It’s a lot like dealing with pseudoscience people, now that I think about it.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ bean

            I have a good clue that thermodynamics will still hold.

            The question is not whether they will “hold”. The question is whether the limits imposed by your understanding of them will remain intact.

            In any case, I have a name for what you think you have: hubris.

            Someone makes claims, gets them shot down, then retreats behind the shield of “it’s all fiction anyway”.

            So what kind of claims did I make and how were they shot down? Please quote me.

          • bean says:

            The question is not whether they will “hold”. The question is whether the limits imposed by your understanding of them will remain intact.

            Energy out must equal energy in. Water doesn’t spontaneously move uphill. These are the laws. They will hold. Yes, there is a dodge or two you might be able to articulate that would let you have stealth in space without violating thermo, but you should offer one instead of just going on about “future tech”.

            In any case, I have a name for what you think you have: hubris.

            How is it hubris to say that the laws of physics as we understand them today completely close off the possibility of stealth in space, and that the way in which these laws work make it extremely unlikely that we will ever have it? Both statements are true. Going into the future makes stealth less likely, unless the laws of physics happen to be shaped in ways that are suspiciously convenient. Occams razor says they probably aren’t.

            So what kind of claims did I make and how were they shot down? Please quote me.

            Certainly:

            But at a noticeably higher tech level, well, how useful were, do you think, XIX century discussions about air combat?

            Aegeus:

            Hiding behind “future technology” doesn’t really help here, unless you’re so futuristic that you can ignore thermodynamics.

            To which you replied:

            The XIX-century equivalent is “unless you’re so futuristic you can ignore gravity”.

            Aegeus then pointed out that it was reasonable to assume that an aerial vehicle would have some means of generating lift, which is, in fact, the case. Airplanes do not ignore gravity.
            You responded by invoking QM without understanding the correspondence principle (which basically says that areas already filled in on the map of physics are not likely to change).

          • Lumifer says:

            @ bean

            How is it hubris to say that the laws of physics as we understand them today completely close off the possibility of stealth in space

            That wasn’t quite the thrust of your argument. I understood you as saying that the laws of physics [notice that “as we understand them today” part is conspicuously lacking] close off the possibility of stealth in space forever and ever regardless of the tech level that a civilization may achieve.

            I’ll stick to thinking of that as hubris.

            Certainly

            So, my claim is that the XIX century discussions of air combat weren’t particularly useful? And you find that false and you think this claim was shot down..? Oh, boy.

            In any case, this is descending into bickering. I think we understand each other’s position well enough.

          • bean says:

            @Lumifer:

            That wasn’t quite the thrust of your argument. I understood you as saying that the laws of physics [notice that “as we understand them today” part is conspicuously lacking] close off the possibility of stealth in space forever and ever regardless of the tech level that a civilization may achieve.

            You didn’t quote the second part of my statement, which is that it’s fantastically unlikely that future discoveries in physics will change this, hence why I felt confident in speaking categorically. You’d either have to have a case where thermo is violated or find somewhere to put the heat that the other guy can’t detect. The first is equivalent to the statement that no matter what the tech level is, we won’t invent perpetual motion machines. I feel confident in standing behind that. The second requires physical laws that we have currently not observed, and which have a very low prior of being true.

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      Stealth in the sense of “cannot be seen at all” is one thing. Making your commerce disruptor look enough like an ice tug that nobody makes burns to avoid you is another.

      You just have to hide enough radiated heat to make your combat-grade reactor running in low-standby look like a leaky old commercial system running hot.
      And being surrounded by a nice thin cloud of evaporating ice covereth a multitude of incriminating thermal details.

      And as for a giant network of thermal cameras blanketing the solar system… The NRO has those covering every square inch of the earth, but the intel never trickles down to ship captains trying to avoid Somali pirates.

      • bean says:

        The NRO has those covering every square inch of the earth, but the intel never trickles down to ship captains trying to avoid Somali pirates.

        There are several reasons for the difference. First, imaging satellites aren’t overhead continually. Far from it. Second, space is a clean environment for sensors. Major engine burns in particular stand out very well. Computers can do the work. That’s not the case if you’re looking for Somali pirates. Third, the timescales are very different. The best commercial ship-tracking service (which comes from the TerraSAR-X satellite) works on something like a 7-hour delay. I believe some of this is so pirates (or other people with missiles) can’t use it, but the unavoidable minimum after a pass is in the tens of minutes at least. That’s enough time for things to change at sea. It’s not enough time for them to change in space.

      • Mary says:

        I note that terrestrial stealth is often “disguise” rather than invisibilty. It’s not that you leave no tracks, it’s that your tracks look like natural events. It’s not that you make no sound, but that the sound has a logical not-you explanation.

        • hlynkacg says:

          I feel like a lot of people are over-estimating the signal to noise ratio in our relatively uninhabited solar system, never mind one where interplanetary flight is routine.

          • bean says:

            Why do you think this? John’s analysis came from the standard textbook on spacecraft design, which I would assume has a good idea of the noise background. And in relatively clean environments (air search radars) tracks are handled entirely by computer, and have been since the 80s (AEGIS). All of this is based on stuff we can do today. Gone are the days of people peering at scopes, manually marking what they think are tracks.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Why do you think this?

            Now we’re getting into my own area of experience 😉 . My day job is doing testing / QA for sensors and instrumentation at an avionics company.

            The difficulty of deriving timely and accurate positions, velocities, accelerations, etc… from noisy and often incomplete information is something that I’m intimately familiar with. As such, tropes like the “Everything Detector” and “Enhance Button” are a personal pet peeves of mine when they show up in an otherwise “hard” setting.

          • bean says:

            @hlynkacg:
            The performance figures involved come straight from conventional astronomy, along with some assumptions about the continued progress of signal processing technology. Read up on modern naval sensors. They do some incredible stuff.
            I’ll agree that magic signal processing in fiction is annoying.

          • hlynkacg says:

            That’s the thing though. I’m quite familiar with several of those systems and that’s one of the reasons I’m skeptical.

            Conventional astronomy, assumes a stable platform looking at a target of a known magnitude moving along a known orbit. Our hypothetical situation is much nosier. Taking 4 hours to sweep the sky and flag all objects of magnitude > x is a far cry from being able to identify contact y as a vessel on course z with any level of confidence.

            If it takes 4 hours to complete a sweep the vessel wishing to avoid being tracked simply has to make sure that their ejection burn takes less than 4 hours.

            Interior: UN Space Command.
            Analyst: Sir we’ve got a potential situation brewing. 12 hours ago OPs 12 and 8 registered a possible drive plume in the vicinity of Cape Dread. HUMINT indicates that it may have been the LDSS Fiery Swift Sword leaving port.

            Officer: Where are they now?

            Analyst: Hard to say sir, it’s been two sweeps now and we haven’t reacquired them. Relative bearing shift suggested a retrograde burn but we can’t be certain. Considering the situation on Ceres I figured that you’d want to brief the Secretary sooner rather than later.

          • bean says:

            Conventional astronomy, assumes a stable platform looking at a target of a known magnitude moving along a known orbit. Our hypothetical situation is much nosier. Taking 4 hours to sweep the sky and flag all objects of magnitude > x is a far cry from being able to identify contact y as a vessel on course z with any level of confidence.

            But you admit that our numbers are correct on the basic principles of detecting that something is there?

            If it takes 4 hours to complete a sweep the vessel wishing to avoid being tracked simply has to make sure that their ejection burn takes less than 4 hours.

            Or, I don’t know, we write the software so that the telescope reacquires the target every few minutes until the track has been firmed up?
            You can get exhaust composition and the radial component of exhaust velocity via spectroscope and doppler. When you have some idea of range, you can get the drive power. Range comes from multiple stations seeing the target. Drive power plus changes in doppler give you some idea of mass. I’d have to run numbers to find out if the drive plume might be detectable across several pixels, giving better data on direction. So we know roughly how big the thing we’ve observed is, and where it is, and what the burn did.

          • hlynkacg says:

            But you admit that our numbers are correct on the basic principles of detecting that something is there?

            In the sense that an object of x magnitude will be visible at y range given telescope z, your numbers seem plausible.

            My objection is that I think you and John are seriously underestimating the time and difficulty of going from “we’ve detected something” to “we’ve detected a spacecraft”, and from there to “we’ve identified a spacecraft with strategically interesting divert options”.

            Or, I don’t know, we write the software so that the telescope reacquires the target every few minutes until the track has been firmed up?

            In a setting with magical signal processing this would be the obvious solution. In a setting where our sensors have to play by the same rules of as our radiators, we start running into complications.

            See my comment regarding birds and submarines below.

          • bean says:

            See my comment regarding birds and submarines below.

            There are no birds in space.
            I do understand your point. If you insist on cataloging everything the size of a bird that your radar can pick up, you’re going to get a bunch of random junk. But there isn’t much of that kind of junk in space. Particularly if we’re looking for drive signatures, the only possible source of confusion is stars. But stars don’t move. When we’re talking about radar, you can point to birds as a source of spurious returns. What plays that role in space?

          • hlynkacg says:

            There are no birds in space.

            No, but there are all sorts of luminous transients.

            Meteoroids/space-junk burning up in the atmosphere, sunlight reflecting off of satellites, cosmic rays hitting your telescope’s photo sensor, particles of ice catching the light, assholes with laser-pointers, and so on…

            So lets say you’re doing your standard sky sweep, and your software flags a potential bogey. At this moment you don’t know what it is, you don’t know how far away it is. You don’t even know if it’s moving. All you know is that there is a point of light that wasn’t there when you swept the same sector of sky 4 hours ago.

            So you spend a few more minutes looking at it and assuming it’s still there you conclude “Yes, this looks like a drive plume.” Now things get complicated…

            In order to distinguish motion, the target’s relative bearing shift has to exceed the angular resolution of your sensor. The farther away you are, the further the target has to move. This takes time.

            In order to determine range you need to have at least two (ideally three) platforms in contact. Alternately you can wait for your detecting platform to move far enough in it’s own orbit you to measure parallax against a known background object. Once again the farther away you are, the further you have to move. This takes time.

            Meanwhile your area of uncertainty, is scales with range so at 1 AU an error of 1/3600th of a degree translates into a difference in position of +/-750 km or a difference in velocity of the same divided by your sensor’s dwell time. Your accuracy improves the longer you can observe, but you don’t know if your target has been boosting for 4 hours or for 4 minutes. At any moment he could cut-thrust and you’d loose him.

            TL/DR: A sensor system that can give you a target’s range and velocity with sufficient accuracy to determine whether or not that target is likely to intercept another spacecraft days or weeks into the future and do so from a billion kilometers away in a timeframe measured in minutes rather than hours or days is pretty damn “magical” in it’s own right.

          • John Schilling says:

            No, but there are all sorts of luminous transients.

            Meteoroids/space-junk burning up in the atmosphere, sunlight reflecting off of satellites, cosmic rays hitting your telescope’s photo sensor, particles of ice catching the light, assholes with laser-pointers, and so on…

            Aside from the meteors, why would any of these things even register on e.g. a three-color IR sensor set to look for rockets?

            Natural solar-system objects, and for that matter extrasolar objects, are almost exclusively black bodies with color temperatures below 400K or roughly 6000K. Rocket nozzles and plumes aren’t, and can’t practically be made to look like such. Those things get filtered out the way zero-doppler radar returns get filtered out, before any real analysis even begins.

            All you know is that there is a point of light

            Not if I build the sensor, I’m not. I’m not looking for light, I’m looking for heat, in a temperature range or with spectral characteristics (e.g. hot-CO2 emission lines) consistent with rocketry. There’s not much in nature that is going to match that profile.

            An asshole with the right sort of laser pointer might, but either he’s associated with a known contact already or there’s a spaceship full of assholes someplace I hadn’t previously known about. In which case, mission accomplished.

          • hlynkacg says:

            The times and ranges quoted by Bean were for a visible light search, so that is what I replied to. If you want a targeted spectrum search that’s fine, but to get equivalent (or greater) sensitivity you need to be to accept the associated trade-offs in resolution and/or dwell time. Otherwise we rapidly depart the realm of “high-end amateur levels of cost and performance” that you described earlier.

            In either case the rest of my reply still applies. Knowing that “something” left Martian orbit at a given time is a far cry from knowing “what it was” or “where it went”.

          • bean says:

            In order to distinguish motion, the target’s relative bearing shift has to exceed the angular resolution of your sensor. The farther away you are, the further the target has to move. This takes time.

            I’m working on a spreadsheet to analyze these systems. If a zoom system can be installed, this wouldn’t take too long. It might even be possible to see the drive plume spread out across multiple pixels, giving direction on that. And if you have a decent surveillance system, you should get multiple hits. It’s unlikely that you’d see sub-hour burn times in any setting with lots of space activity.

            The times and ranges quoted by Bean were for a visible light search, so that is what I replied to.

            No, my comments were based on math John did for IR searches specifically for rockets.

            In either case the rest of my reply still applies. Knowing that “something” left Martian orbit at a given time is a far cry from knowing “what it was” or “where it went”.

            Will the knowledge be perfect? Probably not. But when correlated with HUMINT, OSINT, and other various INTs, it wouldn’t be too hard to generate probabilities on what and where. And if the probabilities are too high in the wrong direction, you start sounding alarms.

          • hlynkacg says:

            The quote in question discussed using attaching DSLRs to high-end telescopes detect targets of a given magnitude. From this I surmised that we were talking about the visible spectrum and near (λ >= 0.8 µm) infra-red. Moving lower in the spectrum doesn’t change the underlying math much, detection/dwell times will still be based on apparent magnitude. The problem from your perspective is that the increased wavelength of infrared light means that your sensor is going to have dramatically reduced angular resolution.

            Will the knowledge be perfect? Probably not.

            And this is where your plan breaks down. All of your posts thus far have assumed precision knowledge of the targets position and velocity. Knowledge that you’re unlikely to have given the scenario described.

            An error of a few hundred m/s, or a degree or two in your initial track, can leave you with an area of uncertainty larger than a lot of the maneuvers you’re trying to track.

        • bean says:

          Not really. A submarine doesn’t sound anything like a whale, and there are really good ways to tell a B-2 apart from a bird, namely speed. In both cases, the ‘natural events’ you refer to are the inherent sensor noise you get. The target gets mistaken for static, not for a natural object.

          • hlynkacg says:

            The issue with distinguishing a B-2 from a bird is that if you’ve make your radar sensitive enough to resolve birds at 50 nm your gain is such that random noise either from your platform, your environment, or someone using a garage door opener within several arc-minutes of your target, will be an overwhelming portion your sensor’s return.

            The submarine doesn’t have to sound like a whale per se, it just has to be quiet enough that it fades into the background noise of whales, merchant traffic, etc… That 60hz low intensity harmonic that your sonar is picking up could be submarine, but it could just easily be distant merchant traffic, or maintainers leaving a fluorescent light on in the crawlspace.

            A general rule of thumb is that as your sensor’s sensitivity goes up it’s angular resolution will drop, increasing the dwell time required to generate an acceptably accurate track.

          • LHN says:

            It took me a second to read “nm” as “nautical miles”. First thought: “Wait, what sort of sensor can’t detect a bird at fifty nanometers?”

            Which reminds me of the use of “microns” as a unit of macroscopic distance/time in the original “Battlestar Galactica”.

          • hlynkacg says:

            It took me a second to read “nm” as “nautical miles”.

            Funny, I often have the same problem going in the opposite direction. It takes a second for my brain to register the shift from macro scale to micro when talking to our EEs about “separation” and “transmission distances”.

    • Gazeboist says:

      One thing you can do is hide your capabilities, rather than your presence. Peter Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn is not even close to being hard sci-fi, but it does have a good example of what I mean: The main character’s starship has four main propulsion engines, but only uses three most of the time. The fourth is substantially more powerful than the other three, but the fuel (antimatter) is illegal. The character relies on the pretense that he doesn’t actually have any fuel (and couldn’t get it if he tried) to get away with having the drive, and in a desperate situation he can surprise people who think they know what his ship is capable of. And of course there would be no need for a pretense if you haven’t given the enemy a chance to inspect your ship.

      Similarly, if you stick to minimal necessary force in any initial altercation, you may be able to avoid revealing the extent and/or sophistication of your weaponry. And of course sometimes people are dumb and don’t realize that a drive is a perfectly good weapon, as in the case of Niven’s Known Space.

      You may also be able to get away with hiding the fact that you are an enemy all, depending on the circumstances. After all, at intersystem scales, who cares if they figure out your flag is false as soon as you get within hailing distance? By that time, it’s plausible that they won’t be able to mount an effective response.

      • hlynkacg says:

        Agreed, You don’t have to be invisible, you just have to blend in.

        • Homo Iracundus says:

          Having an illegal-to-use antimatter engine on your ship isn’t exactly blending in. Dude, this spaceship is, like, rolling probable cause.

      • bean says:

        And of course sometimes people are dumb and don’t realize that a drive is a perfectly good weapon, as in the case of Niven’s Known Space.

        That’s not really true. A drive is not well-focused. A weapon is. By the time you’re close enough to use the drive as a weapon, lasers are downright terrifying, and you can’t dodge kinetics.

        You may also be able to get away with hiding the fact that you are an enemy all, depending on the circumstances. After all, at intersystem scales, who cares if they figure out your flag is false as soon as you get within hailing distance? By that time, it’s plausible that they won’t be able to mount an effective response.

        How? This isn’t the 1700s, where you don’t know someone is there until they pop over the horizon, so false flags only work if they’re intact since leaving base. That’s an interesting story idea, but not practical on a broad scale.

        • Gazeboist says:

          For ships which are obviously ships, false flags don’t work. For ships which are not obviously ships (maybe you glued a comet to the nose), you *may* be able to come in at your target from another star system faster than some of their ships around the system are able to respond. If you bring your whole fleet to knock out a quarter of theirs, you can then defeat the rest more easily.

          • bean says:

            For ships which are obviously ships, false flags don’t work. For ships which are not obviously ships (maybe you glued a comet to the nose), you *may* be able to come in at your target from another star system faster than some of their ships around the system are able to respond. If you bring your whole fleet to knock out a quarter of theirs, you can then defeat the rest more easily.

            Ah. I’m not sure that’s a ‘false flag’ per se, but I see your point. Interstellar travel does open up many opportunities that intrasystem combat doesn’t, and I often fail to consider them fully. Of course, this depends on the details of your system for getting between star systems.

      • Mary says:

        Real life pirates were often at pains to choose a ship that looked innocuous.

        • John Schilling says:

          Indeed so, and even in the transparent depths of space it would be possible to conduct an act of piracy by masquerading as a freighter, even to the point of taking on a legitimate (cheap, partial) cargo and departing the same port to the same destination as one’s intended target. The problem is that, once you hoist the Jolly Roger, you can’t take it down again. Wherever you next make port, the Space Patrol with be waiting with a warrant, explaining “We’ve been watching you, every minute, since you hit that freighter off the shoulder of Orion”.

          • LHN says:

            That suggests a role for a space polity that’s not a pure pirate haven, but a trade center with lots of legitimate business (maybe they produce a scarce resource?) that also doesn’t ask a lot of questions about provenance. The Jolly Roger makes port there, sells its cargo, and buys a new transponder.

            If piracy gets to be too much and traffic to New Port Royal slows down in favor of the inferior, more expensive products of Titan, the High Administrator expresses shock at the crime wave and cooperates with the Patrol for a bit to thin their numbers. (“We had no idea the Honest Businessman had turned filthy pirate! The crew has of course been spaced as a warning to others.”) But as long as it’s a source of cheap goods that fell off the back of a spaceship, and of bribes to local officials, the optimal rate of tolerated piracy might not be zero.

            With high traffic and relatively standardized ship models, it at least seems as if might be hard to keep track of exactly which ships were arriving and departing, if the departure port didn’t go out of its way to cooperate. Better if New Port Royal has a shipyard that either builds ships or kitbashes them together, so that a new name on the display isn’t an unambiguous red flag.

          • bean says:

            That suggests a role for a space polity that’s not a pure pirate haven, but a trade center with lots of legitimate business (maybe they produce a scarce resource?) that also doesn’t ask a lot of questions about provenance. The Jolly Roger makes port there, sells its cargo, and buys a new transponder.

            The problem is that before the Jolly Roger makes port, the Space Patrol is on the radio to the New Port Royal Port Authority, explaining exactly who the Jolly Roger is. The NPRPA then has to explain to the Space Patrol why he wasn’t arrested, which is awkward the first time, and gets steadily worse. Oh, and Lloyd’s of Mars is refusing to insure ships to New Port Royal until the authorities there start cooperating against the pirates, because they’re tired to paying owners whose ships got stolen. Oh, and the Space Patrol Customs Service is under orders to thoroughly inspect all ships from New Port Royal for stolen goods, and confiscate all goods they find.
            Plausible deniability is an important point in being able to harbor criminals, and it’s really hard to see how that could happen in this case. The government of Somalia can say “look, by the time we get the message from you, and get someone down there, the pirates have hidden their weapons, and their boat looks exactly like all the legitimate fishing boats from that area” and it’s really hard to disprove that. The NPRPA is going to have a hard time explaining why they didn’t do something when the Space Patrol Ambassador came down to traffic control when the Jolly Roger was a day out, pointed at it, and said “that’s a pirate”.
            This sort of thing might happen occasionally, but we’re looking at a heist movie level, not something that could be called proper piracy, and the ship gets abandoned after the job.

            With high traffic and relatively standardized ship models, it at least seems as if might be hard to keep track of exactly which ships were arriving and departing, if the departure port didn’t go out of its way to cooperate.

            Unlikely. Sensor performance is good, and automated track-keeping is well-established these days. The NPRPA will need at least traffic-control sensors. Any place without those will be an effective anarchy, which is unlikely to attract lots of trade, and unlikely to be able to hold off the Space Patrol diplomatically.

            Better if New Port Royal has a shipyard that either builds ships or kitbashes them together, so that a new name on the display isn’t an unambiguous red flag.

            I’m not sure that the build rate will be that high. And if it is, get some HUMINT in the yards to keep the bad guys from getting new nameplates for their ships easily. To keep them from swapping ships, designate any ship that is used for piracy as ‘hostile’ well before it reaches port, and announce that anyone who buys it is equally liable to have it seized by the Space Patrol. Now they have to ditch the ship after every mission, which cuts profitability a lot.

    • I’m curious: how likely is SS Merchant Spacer to have a good telescope pointing in the right direction to see my drive torch? Sure, it’s visible in the right direction, but getting coverage of (say) asteroids around earth requires the efforts of thousands of expensive observatories and many more amateur spotters (as I understand it…) Telescopes are expensive and fragile; how much coverage of the full sphere (at what resolution) do they have? (Note that _no_ spacecraft I know of mount serious scopes, instead relying on ground observation. Heck, Apollo even used ground observations as primary guidance over its own navigation systems.)

      Sure, Traffic Control on Earth sees me within a few weeks, but will they be able to effectively warn the spacer, especially in trans-Jovian space with comm lag (and extraordinarily limited bandwidth?) Boosting interceptors seems even harder, right?

      I guess this falls into your catch of “adversary I didn’t need to hide from” but I’m not clear that’s true here…Maybe I’m missing something.

      • John Schilling says:

        I’m curious: how likely is SS Merchant Spacer to have a good telescope pointing in the right direction to see my drive torch? Sure, it’s visible in the right direction, but getting coverage of (say) asteroids around earth requires the efforts of thousands of expensive observatories and many more amateur spotters (as I understand it…)

        Getting good coverage of asteroids around Earth required one telescope, about the size of a large amateur scope, and most of its work was done in the first six months. The “thousands of observatories” have always had far more important work to do; there are ~1200 wannabe Astronomers in the pipeline in the United States alone, and they don’t hand out Ph.D.s for discovering Yet Another Rock.

        More generally, asteroid hunting has always operated on a pocket-change budget compared to even low-priority military operations. The entire WIRE mission cost about as much as a single E-3 AWACS aircraft. Assessing the detectability of spacecraft by the frequency with which mostly-amateur astronomers discover asteroids, is like assessing the detectability of submarines by the frequency with which they are found by oceanographers and scuba divers.

        So if SS Merchant Spacer is at all concerned with Space Pirates, then yes, it will almost trivially[*] mount a telescope at least as good as the one that found most of the asteroids in the inner solar system, set to sweep the sky every few minutes rather than every few months as it is looking for targets rather brighter and closer than asteroids. Networked with the scopes on every other merchant spacecraft in the solar system, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from science fiction it is that the Spacer’s Guild takes care of its own. And we haven’t even gotten started with the Space Patrol yet – nothing gets past those guys.

        * Most of the cost of WIRE was in the spacecraft to which the telescope had to be attached. Most of the rest was in engineering the telescope to operate reliably with zero maintenance. Given a spaceship and crew, the telescope comes back down to high-end amateur levels of cost and performance.

    • 27chaos says:

      What about decoys?

      • hlynkacg says:

        Tricky, and largely dependent on what you’re trying to decoy. The main issue is that there is no good way to fake a rocket under thrust. You can match a target’s drive output to it’s trajectory to calculate mass.

        Passive decoys and sensor spoofing/jamming on the other hand, I would expect to be quite effective.

    • John, another scenario I’d like you to wargame for me, both to get a better handle on your feelings of the engineering, and because some friends and I worry this scenario kills all realistic interstellar wargames/novels:

      I fly my Starship to Sol from Alpha Centauri and park it ~ 1 kAU out in the shallow Oort Cloud. (Take it as read that I get this far undetected; perhaps I’m unreasonable; perhaps my starship is an extremely slow generation ship powered by light sail; perhaps I have long-distance hyperdrive that’s no good in-system.) Given long enough time, I can be observed, but given that we’re still “discovering” notable Oort objects, I have some time. And with that time, I pick a random 1-km wide iceball (of which there are an infinite number), build a fusion plant and nozzle on the surface, and point it in-system, on a collision course for Earth, accelerating at 0.1g.

      I don’t know how to do orbital dynamics to calculate a transfer orbit off the top of my head, but ignoring real orbits for a moment (i.e. imagining my object starts at rest w/r/t the sun), a back of the envelope calculation says you have 200 days before what’s left of the comet hits earth doing 0.05c and everyone dies. If I turn off the torch after 100 days, we go “stealth” (sorry, I know that’s not true) 500 AU out, and hit doing 2.5% of lightspeed after 300 days.

      What happens? Can a reasonably-provisioned Space patrol notice, boost to intercept, and redirect before the thing is going too damn fast?

      (Obviously the least reasonable thing here is my comet torch, which needs to be doing something like 10-100ksec specific impulse, on a engine the size of a large city, if I want to even have 1% mass fraction here, but I’m curious what you think of a wide class of scenarios like this.

      For example, instead suppose I stick the equivalent of 50 Saturn V first stages–absurd, but much less impossible–onto the comet, and enough mining machinery (and fusion power) to keep it firing continuously.) Then we start out doing about 1.5 milli-gee (this goes up as we lighten but that’s not relevant), and we arrive in 5 years doing 0.7% c. This is still comfortably lethal to everyone and everything, and possibly even harder to detect.
      )

      • (Our private nickname for this failure mode of interstellar warfare is “rocks fall, everyone dies”.)

      • bean says:

        Let’s see. Based on John’s recommended methodology, a 10,000 sec Isp case is actually on the edge of detectability, at least when you start. As you get closer, this obviously changes.
        The problem with this kind of plan is that it takes a lot less effort on the part of the space patrol to generate a miss than it does to put the thing on a collision course in the first place. Assuming that the iceball is on course for the center of the Earth, they’d have to push it approximately 6500 km off course to make it a clean miss. Even if they’re limited to .1 m/s2 (conservative), they only have to start pushing a little over 3 hours out. Basically, you have to guard the iceball all the way in, against the entirety of their fleet. If you can do that, why are you messing around with the iceball anyway?
        Remember, Rocks Are Not Free.

        • John Schilling says:

          Yes, this is probably detectable from the start; at 10,000 seconds Isp that’s 1.5E16 watts of drive power, if 99% efficient/shielded you’re still naked-eye visible at 2.5 AU and telescope-visible probably to the Oort cloud – but we can argue exactly what sort of telescopes the Space Patrol will have.

          As the iceball proceeds inwards at 0.05c, collisions with zodiacal dust will produce another thermal signature, weaker but much harder to conceal.

          But for countermeasures, you don’t have to rendezvous and divert. Even three hours before impact, all you’d have to do is put a mass the size of a large supertanker in its path. Ideally in the form of a supertanker’s worth of volatiles dispersed in the iceball’s path rather than the point mass of the supertanker itself. The impact between iceball and vapor cloud will turn the iceball into a cloud of plasma expanding at ~800 km/s, most of which will miss the target planet altogether and what does hit will be reduced to an impressive but minimally damaging fireworks display.

          The David Brin SF novel Startide Rising has an example of this strategy employed against an entire alien battle fleet. It helped that the plucky Earthican heroes were mostly dolphins, their ship designed accordingly and its life support system recently reprovisioned.

          “They cannot have done that!”, the captain chanted […]. “Water!” it shrieked as it read the spectral report. “A barrier of water vapor! A civilized race could not have found such a trick in the Library! A civilized race could not have stooped so low! A civilized race would not…”

          It screamed as the Gubru ship hit a cloud of drifting snowflakes at a large fraction of lightspeed.

    • bean says:

      I’ve worked up a first draft of a spreadsheet for analyzing space search sensors. I wouldn’t rely on it too heavily. I’m pretty sure I implemented all of the math right, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I missed a couple of important factors. Any feedback is encouraged.

  8. H. E. Pennypacker says:

    In the spirit of the intellectual Turing test above:

    In academia, it seems people often go on at length about what’s wrong with other disciplines whilst having only the faintest understanding of these disciplines. Someone in the last open thread brought up a hilarious review of The God Delusion that compared it to someone who’d only read The Book of British Birds holding forth on biology. I think it’s quite a widespread problem. I read Steven Pinker or Ian Morris dismissing social anthropology, which is my area, and it’s clear they don’t have the slightest clue about the discipline beyond knowing that Margaret Mead got taken for a ride by some young Samoan women and a journalist once defamed Napoleon Chagnon. I don’t mean to pick on these two, examples could be multiplied endlessly and I’m sure no disciplines are innocent.

    I’m doing research now, fairly soon to start writing my thesis, and my project falls largely within the subfield of economic anthropology. Most economic anthropology is pretty critical of the discipline of economics – most criticisms working off the idea that when you go and look at what people actually do it doesn’t fit the idealised models you’ll find in economics textbooks – but it occurred to me I’ve read almost nothing about economics from the perspectives of economists besides a few blog posts, a popular history of the lives of economists called The Worldly Philosophers, and about half of Veblen’s The Theory of The Leisure Class. This doesn’t really matter in terms of how my work will be assessed – those marking it probably haven’t read any economists either – but I’ve been thinking for a while I don’t really want to argue against straw men.

    I know a lot of people here are economists and most are keen on it as a field of study. What would be your recommendations for books or journal articles for someone who wants to get a fair overview of the field and what economists really think about the world and their own discipline?

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      I mean… you could start with any micro stuff from the last 50 years?
      It sounds like you guys have a lot to catch up on.

      I have to say, writing books like “Spirits of resistance and capitalist discipline: factory women in Malaysia” just makes it seem like the whole discipline just exists as weaponized preaching.

      • H. E. Pennypacker says:

        I was hoping for useful suggestions rather than sniping.

        Economic anthropologists do read some economics but there isn’t anyone at my university who specialises in that area.

        To be fair, I have left out economists that we do read like Guy Standing or Karl Polanyi, or Marx because I suspect they’re taken much more seriously in anthropology departments than they are in most economics departments. When I say “economics” I’m talking about the currently dominant theories.

        We call it “economic anthropology” because it’s the part of anthropology concerned with the study of economies.

        The main thing that gets criticised is the model of human behaviour in microeconomics based on rational actors trying to maximise utility. I was hoping you might narrow things down for me slightly more than “anything in the last 50 years”

        • 27chaos says:

          Most everyone agrees that humans aren’t rational utility maximizers, but modelling their decisions in any more detailed way is usually not possible. Criticism is easy, improvements are difficult. In the meantime, doing nothing is not exactly a viable option. And it’s not exactly uncommon that assumptions will approximate the truth well enough to be useful even if those assumptions are not literally 100% true. Keeping descriptions generic is important anyway because fiddling with details creates a lot of room for biased tweaking. Have you read the wonderful sociology paper entitled Fuck Nuance?

          Models are often flawed, but this is arguably only a problem when they’re accompanied by overconfidence. A mediocre or even a bad model can still provide you with valuable information so long as you’re aware of their limitations. Overconfidence occurs too often in economists, but that’s a problem common to pretty much any field. Try to avoid the easy trap of falling into a hypercritical adversarial stance.

    • maybe_slytherin says:

      I am also no economist, but I think it’s pretty reasonable to say “any micro stuff in the last 50 years”.

      From what I understand, a lot of what economists do is examine cases where one of the classical assumptions doesn’t hold up. First they document it — similar to what you may do in economic anthropology — but then they investigate the implications for the broader economic structure. Rather than saying “Hey, this is wrong!”, it’s about saying “So it turns out our first-order approximation is wrong in this case, and here’s a second-order refinement.”

      This constructive attitude is a very different mindset from critics who try to throw it all away. Note that “constructive” isn’t necessarily a good thing — they may just be building castles in the sky.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I don’t want to be condescending but have you simply read an econ textbook? I don’t mean one of those dumbed down pop science books but an honest-to-god college textbook. That’s generally a good place to start. There’s a free one available here:

      https://openstax.org/details/principles-economics

      • H. E. Pennypacker says:

        Thanks, yeah a good textbook would be useful. Is this a particularly good one or is its selling point that it’s free?

        • Wrong Species says:

          Because it’s free. I can’t say anything about how it compares in quality to other textbooks but it worked for me. Assuming you don’t want to read all 34 chapters, at least read the first three chapters and the chapter on elasticity for basic economic insights. And then read chapters 19-22 for a macroeconomic primer on economic growth, unemployment and inflation. Pay most attention to chapter three because that’s where they discuss supply and demand curves and that’s pretty much the core of economics.

          If that still seems overwhelming, it’s not. Chapter one is incredibly simple and the macro chapters are all short. It would also be immensely beneficial to practice supply and demand graphs. It’s one thing to know that price ceilings cause shortages, it’s another to actually graph it yourself.

    • maybe_slytherin says:

      On a more positive note, what can you tell us about your thesis and economic anthropology?

      I’m curious, and I think that for everyone here, our level of understanding is just at the “shallow caricature” stage you describe.

      • H. E. Pennypacker says:

        My research is on the consumer behaviour of football (soccer) fans. I maybe should have made it clear but my thesis isn’t going to be arguing against economics but – at least partly – against how certain strands of sociology, cultural studies, and anthropology use “consumption” in a largely meaningless way.

        I’ll try to find some time later to explain a bit more about economic anthropology because I think some people here would actually find it interesting.

        • Jon says:

          Speaking for myself, yes, we would, thanks.

        • Deiseach says:

          My research is on the consumer behaviour of football (soccer) fans.

          Is this “who buys all the new kits every season” or does it include what kinds of furniture, etc. they buy and what socioeconomic class they fit into it? It sounds interesting and I’d like to hear more. UK, US or Europe? Or all three?

          Football supporting having gone middle-class since Nick Hornby, see Roy Keane’s “prawn sandwich brigade” remark and the mockery of “Call Me Dave” Cameron for not being terribly sure which team he supported (when I think most people would agree that if he follows any team sport, it’s much more likely to be rugby), the consumption habits probably have changed a lot 🙂

        • 27chaos says:

          Can you explain how the concept of consumption is used in meaningless ways? To me, it makes sense that you’d want to distinguish spending of money on instrumental investments from spending money on things someone directly values. There is probably some overlap between those categories, but that doesn’t imply they’re meaningless, so I’m curious about the motivation of your criticism. Is there any more to the concept of “consumption” than that, in the areas you’re criticizing it?

    • Start with a microeconomics textbook. I’m going to act as an arrogant economist here, but without knowing lots of math and statistics you will never be in a position to judge economics. The best econ blog is MarginalRevolution. The best econ podcast is EconTalk. The key economic assumption is that people respond to incentives, so, for example, if you make an activity more costly people will on average tend to do less of it.

      • H. E. Pennypacker says:

        Thanks, I hadn’t thought about podcasts but could be a useful resource.

        The standard answer to the idea that you can’t judge economics without knowing a lot of maths and statistics is that economics combines a very simplistic view of human nature with very complicated maths. If the model of human nature is wrong then it doesn’t matter how brilliant the maths is, it will still be based on questionable assumptions.

        • You don’t need to know a lot of math and statistics to make sense of economics. It’s easier to explain price theory to someone who understands calculus but that’s not a requirement.

          One of the most important economics books ever written, Ricardo’s Principles, uses no math beyond arithmetic.

          On the other hand, Ricardo had extraordinarily good mathematical intuition.

        • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

          EconTalk is excellent for applying classical economics to popular issues. It leans libertarian to right wing, as do most Neo-classical economists in the English speaking world, but you can totally argue for a strong welfare state with the logic they present (hell Canada, Denmark and Sweden regularly rank higher higher on economic freedom (a terminal goal of most Neo Classical types) than the US so even a Berniac could probably get some good out of it without abandoning their views.

          I also Highly recommend Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman, the Nobel prize winning economist who popularized the Concept of economic freedom (as well as: Playing a major role in ending the Vietnam Draft, Popularizing the idea of the minimum income, laying the intellectual groundwork for the end of stagflation, and many more).
          He’s Usually pigeonholed as rightwing/libertarian but really even his popular somewhat polemical pieces offer a lot for anyone on any end of the political spectrum. He layed the ground work for Reagan, Clinton, Thatcher and Blair’s economics, and thorough that’s a mixed bag to a lot of people, i was always really impressed by his ability and willingness to reach out to all sides of the debate.

          You get the impression reading and watching him that he did genuinely want to build up both sides of the discussion, and that he genuinely believed a lot of bad politics and policies were just mistakes that could be corrected without forcing people to abandon their core commitments.

          • Matt M says:

            “but you can totally argue for a strong welfare state with the logic they present (hell Canada, Denmark and Sweden regularly rank higher higher on economic freedom ”

            Ehhhh I’d be careful with this.

            The way the rankings work is that they are an index of various category rankings. At a quick glance, it appears Canada ranks higher than the U.S. largely due to having better ratings in things like Property Rights, Freedom from Corruption, and Fiscal Freedom. But the U.S. is doing significantly better in areas like Business Freedom and Labor Freedom.

            It’s entirely possible that the social welfare states who do well on this list are doing well in spite of their welfare states, not because of them. Keep in mind that Greece is ranked #138, and France is #75.

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            No absolutely, all else being the same a nation with a welfare state will rank lower on economic freedom than one entirely the same less one. But that’s not really how politics works.

            It seems the reason nations like Canada and Denmark can rank so highly on economic freedom is that they have a welfare state, and thus aren’t trying to fix all of societies ills through endless pages of regulations.

            Indeed their less economically free than Hong Kong, but unless you have a means of getting a strong classically liberal autocracy, then there’s a good case to be made that the road to separation of economy and state, goes through a well defined role for government in fixing social ills directly.

            Its a good argument, but by no means the only argument (i’m not sure i support it myself (keep wanting a mechanism to set up more Hong Kongs)).
            The point is the logic is rich and versatile enough to support multiple sides of the political spectrum and really increase the richness of debate.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      I’m not sure I read that correctly. Did you say that most economic anthropology directly attacks economists; whom most economic anthropologists haven’t read? And that you are required to do the same? Why? Why not just present your findings and ignore economists?

      • Gazeboist says:

        My understanding (of Pennypacker’s comments) is that economic anthropologists and economists are in conflict because the first group is strictly attempting to describe empirical facts, while the second group also wants to be able to model novel situations. The modelers and the empiricists then get in a fight because most members of the one group only come in contact with those in their opposite group who only know about the coarsest results by the first group. The fight is ongoing; Pennypacker could certainly get away with attacking economists or just ignoring them, but wants to cool the fight a little by making reference to their more nuanced results, as appropriate for his thesis. (Or possibly he just wants to set a higher example after receiving his phd and building a bit of influence in his field)

        • H. E. Pennypacker says:

          That’s more along the lines of what I meant, although from what I gather economists generally take no notice economic anthropology (which is understandable given that it’s a subdiscipline of an already pretty minor discipline) so it’s not really an ongoing debate. There was a debate several decades ago but it was pretty much internal to anthropology itself between those who adopted ideas from neoclassical economics and those who took their main inspiration from Polanyi. The criticism of economics isn’t along the lines of “these guys have got it completely wrong and all their work is useless” but about denying that it should have a monopoly on the study of economic behaviour. I doubt many would deny that economics can be useful, but they would argue it doesn’t explain everything about economic action.

          Most economic anthropology isn’t focussed on attacking economics, but will often include the odd line about how the thing they’re studying conflicts with the idea of humans as Homo Economicus. I don’t really want to go around saying “hahaha, stupid economists, they think all behaviour is just people mechanically responding to incentives and trying to maximise utility”. I know that responding to incentives and maximising utility are part of economics I just suspect that things are a bit more nuanced than that.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      a journalist once defamed Napoleon Chagnon.

      You omitted the part where the American Anthropological Association formally censured Chagnon on the basis of that “journalist’s” scurrilous accusations. If you were wondering why Pinker and Morris are dismissive of your discipline, that might be a good place to start.

    • Psmith says:

      Our very own David Friedman’s Price Theory is pretty good.

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      One thing that might be worth reading before you dive in is Milton Friedman’s influential paper ‘The methodology of positive economics’ (PDF), which is concerned largely with rebutting the idea that the idealized models in economics textbooks need to fit what people actually do.

    • My biased suggestion is, of course, my Hidden Order.

      The book that put modern economics together, more than any other, is Alfred Marshall’s Principles, written a bit over a century ago.

      For the application of economics to what other people think of as fields outside of economics, read some of Gary Becker’s work.

      Hope that helps.

      I’ve actually been reading anthropology as part of the research for my current book, including I.M. Lewis on the Somali and Evans Pritchard (and others) on the Nuer.

      • H. E. Pennypacker says:

        Thanks for the recommendations – anything in particular by Gary Becker?

        Your current book looks very interesting. The one thing I always remember about those Irish law codes is the hilarious stipulation that “if stung by another man’s bee, one must calculate the extent of the injury, but also, if one swatted it in the process, subtract the replacement value of the bee.”

        • For Becker: The Economics of Discrimination, and Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach.

        • Unfortunately, our information on early Irish law codes is not very good. None of the original texts have survived. What we have are fragments from those texts included in much later works, written by people who may or may not have understood them.

          One of my favorite bits of premodern law is from Lewis on the Somali. The level of violence got higher than the locals approved of, so the two sides got together and agreed to raise the dia, the damage payment for killing someone (corresponding to the Norse wergeld).

          Nice to see people who understand economics.

    • Lumifer says:

      Are you interested in micro or macro? In other words, are you subjects people or nations?

      What’s your current level in (non-anthro) economics — surely you’ve taken Econ 101 somewhere at some point?

      • “Are you interested in micro or macro? In other words, are you subjects people or nations?”

        No, no, no, no, no.

        The difference isn’t one of scale. The world grain market is a subject in “micro” economics.

        Better labels would be “price theory” and “disequilibrium theory.”

        • Gazeboist says:

          Econostatics vs econodynamics?

        • Lumifer says:

          The issue isn’t scale, the issue is what kind of powers the players have. For example, in micro the interest rates are an external given, but in macro they are an important variable to change/affect. Things like taxation, central banks, monetary policy, etc. just don’t exist at the micro level.

          Though it seems pretty much everyone admits now that there is no good macro theory which can explain the current situation, so macro people who are still capable of thinking and not just twiddling the DSGE models are all scratching their heads.

          • “For example, in micro the interest rates are an external given”

            In price (“micro”) theory the interest rates are an equilibrium price on the capital market.

            ” Things like taxation … just don’t exist at the micro level.”

            Taxation fits just fine into micro theory. Consider the conventional treatment of excess burden in a micro textbook.

            What doesn’t fit nicely into price theory is disequilibrium, markets not clearing.

            So far as the status of macro is concerned, I’ve been saying for a long time that a course in macro is a tour of either a cemetery or a construction site.

      • H. E. Pennypacker says:

        I’m interested in people – for this project at least.

    • qwints says:

      Your post instantly calls to mind behavioral economics – Thaler, Kahneman and Sunstein are all good reads.

      • Kahneman yes, Sunstein not as much. He’s derivative of Kahneman and not nearly as intellectually exciting to read.

        • And I should add that behavioral economics is not what he should read if he wants to understand economics as it currently exists. Behavioral is interesting stuff and it may be that twenty years from now it will have had a profound influence on parts of economics, but currently it’s interesting to economists precisely because it isn’t part of our standard picture.

          • qwints says:

            Good point – I should have said that “when you go and look at what people actually do it doesn’t fit the idealised models” sounds exactly like something one of those would say.

    • Adam says:

      There are plenty of divisions in economics, and broadly, one of them is between theoretical and empirical approaches, the latter simply estimating trends and fitting models to measured data. The former seems to be what you’re more familiar with and criticizing. There are plenty of economists critical of the former approach who believe that too many economists, especially in the macro field, discount data when it doesn’t fit theory.

      Otherwise, though, economists of all stripes are aware that their models are imperfect abstractions. Nonetheless, they are tractable and useful. In particular, I think just about any economist, other than maybe Mises if you even count him, are well aware that not literally all human behavior is rational utility maximization. At least some amount is pathological, compulsive, maybe even random. But no model requires all action to be rational. First, systematically irrational behavior can still be modeled and is the entire point of behavioral economics. Second, even seemingly random behavior, such as that of a person with a severe psychiatric disorder, is smoothed over and nonetheless fits in a model so long as the behavior is truly random and not systematically irrational, in the same way a Fermi estimate basically works as long as you’re wrong high as often as you’re wrong low. More generally, regression models work provided your errors are IID and symmetric.

    • What I have noticed is that most slots in the NxN matrix are unfilled. You don’t get botanists criticising classicists, and so in. It’s usually philosophy, theology. Sociology or economics that is on the receiving end,often physics on the giving end.

      • maybe_slytherin says:

        +1 for the good observation.

        I’d love to read some botanists criticising classicists, personally. But yes, Physics Syndrome is a thing.

        • Gazeboist says:

          From my personal experience, the cure for Physics Syndrome is to learn that there is in fact already a model. Hence, I think, why most physicists are cool with economists, and any physicist who complains about biologists has probably only met the worst of their undergrads.

      • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

        You could add psychology to that list.

        IMO, there’s good reason those are the ones that are most criticized. Since they pertain human action (and motivation), and often make normative claims, and subsequent policy suggestions, it’s not unreasonable to demand that some of their research actually replicates.

        This is the same reason AGW is under much heavier scrutiny than other areas of the natural sciences. And AGW has far far more solid grounding than the mentioned sciences.

    • Vaniver says:

      I thought that I got a lot out of reading The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. It’s long, and it’s written in the Enlightenment style (which is a plus for me but not for everyone), but it’s remarkably clear and I think better-suited as an introduction to the subject than a modern textbook.

      That is, when I was getting my economics degree there was a lot of practice in the mechanics of econometrics, and of finding where demand and supply curves intersected, and not much discussion of the dynamics that would cause one to think it made sense to conceptualize the world in terms of supply and demand curves in the first place. Smith gives you more of that.

      • The Wealth of Nations is an interesting and well written book, but I don’t think reading it is a good way of learning to understand economics. Smith didn’t really have a worked out and consistent theoretical structure, as Ricardo makes clear at the beginning of Principles.

  9. One area of the US government that could use great simplification is the tax system. Anyone who has ever filed a tax return in the US knows how complicated it is.

    I am very much in favor of a flat tax, with all income taxed at the same rate and no deductions and no credits. In New Zealand, most people do not file tax returns, because their taxes are paid by withholdings on their paychecks. This can only be done with a flat tax. On another thread, someone said that the UK sends most folks a bill each year, instead of making each person fill out a return. That too can only be done with a pretty simple tax structure. So tax simplification can be done.

    I think that is the direction that the US should head for. One estimate is that filing these returns cost the US about $230 billion each year. Lots of wasted money.

    Most of the complexities of individual income taxes, at least for those who earn low or medium size income, come from the welfare component of US tax returns. Tax rules such as different tax brackets, standard deductions, dependent exemptions, filing status, EIC, child tax credit, are all done so that the poor don’t pay too much in taxes. But this complexity makes it a lot harder to fill out a tax return, plus it makes it much harder to determine how much welfare is paid in the US.

    All welfare should be paid by one agency. This is a lot more effective in controlling the amount each recipient receives, and it is also more accountable to the voters to know what welfare is being paid. As it stands, it is very difficult to judge what the lowest income is deemed acceptable in the US, with the confused jumble of welfare programs. The taxes paid by the poor on their income should be one more item the welfare agency takes into account, and if it was a flat tax, it would be easy to determine the amount for each person.

    I am curious about how individual income taxes and welfare work in other countries. Are they truly as simple as I have heard? Or am I only hearing about the countries that have simpler taxes. And maybe welfare is pretty complicated in welfare states like in Scandinavia, where there seem to be many many programs for pretty much everybody with a lobby.

    • brad says:

      I am very much in favor of a flat tax, with all income taxed at the same rate and no deductions and no credits.

      It’s fine to be in favor of a flat tax, but having tax brackets doesn’t add much complexity to filing taxes. It’s a calculation that can be done in under two minutes. The vast overwhelming majority of the complexity reduction in your proposal is in the eliminating deductions and credits and then the flat tax part is just sort-of slipped in there.

      That said, even with the elimination of dedications and credits, which I’m all for, you still have quite a bit of complexity in just defining what does and does not constitute income. If you work for an employer and get a paycheck it is easy, and that describes a lot of people. But the law needs to take into account those that doesn’t describe.

      • Gazeboist says:

        Agreed. After deductions and credits, multiplicity of forms and statements is the big source of complexity in the tax code.

      • But brackets do add complexity. A simple percentage is easy to calculate. But with brackets, the percentage changes with the level of income, making it a lot more complex when people get raises, work more than one job, etc. One of the reasons it needs to be easy under my plan is so that welfare workers could incorporate taxes into their calculation of benefits, and having to calculate based on bracket makes it harder. Someone below says that New Zealand does have brackets. I am surprised to hear that, because now I wonder how withholding does incorporate most wage earners, when you need to know second jobs, sequential jobs, etc.

        Yes, of course some people’s taxes will be a lot more complicated. I am a corporate tax accountant myself, so I know that calculating business income is often not simple. The idea of simplification is to make it simple for 80% of folks filing individual taxes. And even business taxes could be made a whole lot simpler if legislators truly believed simpler was a valid course to follow.

        • Skef says:

          Arguing for a flat tax on the basis of fairness is at least plausible (although the arguments for a head tax would start the day after it passed). Arguing for a flat tax on the basis of complexity is not, for reasons already pointed out.

          What is this calculation on the part of “welfare workers” that couldn’t be done by some application?

          • Arguing for a flat tax on the basis of complexity is not, for reasons already pointed out.

            You are incorrect. Think of tax brackets of zero tax for the first 12,000, and 10% tax above. Someone making 2000 per month = 24,000 per year, would pay 1200 per year. Withholding of 100 per month easily takes care of this.

            But then assume the person worked part-time for 500 per month the first six months, but then full-time at 2000 per month the rest of the year. The total tax due for the year would be 300. But if the employer just took 100 per month withholding for every 2000 per month employee, they would over-withhold in this case. So the employer needs to take into account all previous earnings for the year. The formula would be YTD earnings plus current earnings to the end of the year, then calculate the taxes on these yearly earnings, subtract withholding taken so far, then divide by number of pay periods left. Doable, but I’ve worked with IT; complicated formulas are often screwed up. And the smallest employers won’t have such programming available. Plus of course it is pretty much impossible with more than one employer.

            Furthermore, with one tax rate, withholding could also be done on investment income such as dividends, interest, and capital gains. This would be impossible without there being one rate. More than one rate makes all the math a lot more difficult.

          • Scanner says:

            Yeah, I don’t think that multiple tax brackets make the tax calculation much more complicated. You can pre-compute the marginal taxes into a massive tax table and just look up the right number, much as it is done today.

            The complexity it produces, as I see it, is that it incentivizes a lot of income restructuring and other (ultimately nonproductive) activity designed to lower the tax incidence at the higher marginal rates. Not everyone is in a position to do this, so it raises fairness issues about who is more able to avoid the higher marginal rates.

          • BBA says:

            In the UK (which has four tax brackets if you count the exemption) there’s a system of getting tax forms from a former employer and giving them to the next one in order to get the withholding right. I don’t know how it works for people with multiple part-time jobs. Some poking around on the British government website reveals that they have free software for small businesses to do the withholding calculations and produce the P60 (British for “W2”) for each employee.

            This would, of course, never fly in America. Putting Intuit and ADP out of business, are you mad?

          • brad says:

            @Mark

            Okay, I can see how brackets make paycheck withholding more complicated, but that’s a degree separated from making computing taxes owed more complicated.

          • @Brad. My point is that I’d like to move toward New Zealand’s method where most people don’t even file tax returns because employer withholding takes the exact amount of tax. I agree that brackets don’t make filing your tax return a lot more difficult, because it just comes form the table, but it does make it more difficult to use withholding only.

            But this subject has been beaten to death. The main concept is that we should remove all deductions and credits. Even if we keep the brackets, that would greatly simplify taxes. My ongoing theme is to get folks to agree on simplification, even if they don’t agree on all the details. I am glad to hear most respondents agreed to it mostly.

          • John Schilling says:

            My point is that I’d like to move toward New Zealand’s method where most people don’t even file tax returns because employer withholding takes the exact amount of tax.

            I would like to move away from the presumption that most people have or ought to have a single employer that provides 100% of their income and has access to 100% of their relevant financial data.

          • keranih says:

            @John Schilling

            I would like to move away from the presumption that most people have or ought to have a single employer

            THIS. A thousand times this.

            Aside from the privacy/central control aspects, a sole source of income represents a tremendous risk and what is (imo) an unacceptable level of inflexibility. There may be those who are better off with this option –

            – there are almost certainly those –

            – but it would be very bad for us and the world if this became the expected standard.

    • Gazeboist says:

      I would guess that welfare and taxes are both simpler in countries where they are less controversial (and thus there is little incentive to hide what is going on or do things piecemeal), and also in countries that tend towards a single national government, rather than the two-tier system the US uses. Compare social security to all the rest of the taxation/welfare structure, for example. It’s strictly national, paid for (at least nominally) by its own dedicated tax, and there is a single uniform benefit being paid. Social security of course also benefits from the fact that giving people money is easier than almost any other sort of welfare (briefly ignoring effectiveness).

    • maybe_slytherin says:

      Seconding Brad here — simplifying tax forms does not require a flat tax rate. It’s a fairly uncontroversial (though I suspect less so in the US) position that progressive taxation, whereby people who make more pay a higher share of their income, is beneficial to society.

      In Canada, the tax system is quite sane. There are provincial and federal taxes, various credits, and tax brackets. In spite of this, an individual (even one with a reasonably complex tax situation) can complete their personal taxes in a few hours.

      It’s interesting to contemplate the reason for the difference. Part of it may be due to American’s resistance to taxation. But I think a lot of it comes down to the use of tax as an instrument of policy. In Canada, this is fairly rare — most government programs are in the form of spending. Whereas I have the impression that it’s much more common in the US to have politically motivated tax breaks, which change over time and come with elaborate (politically derived) eligibility stipulations.

      • Mary says:

        “progressive taxation, whereby people who make more pay a higher share of their income, is beneficial to society.”

        That’s a new one on me. I get a lot of “It’s fair!” calls, but never one that says it’s actually a benefit to society.

        • I’m not even sure what it means. The standard argument can be put as “increases total utility.” Is that equivalent to “beneficial to society?”

          • Gazeboist says:

            Probably, but the argument I’ve usually heard is that a sufficiently high income saturates a person’s ability to spend it, creating a drain from the rest of the economy. From there the argument goes that high incomes taxed at a high rate will stimulate greater activity, since the government is obligated* to spend it.

            There is also the argument that “necessities” (of course a great point of argument in themselves) occupy a larger portion of a poor person’s expenses, and a progressive income tax is more properly seen as a tax on luxury spending power.

            * Assuming the government is not just some guy in a palace, of course.

          • “Probably, but the argument I’ve usually heard is that a sufficiently high income saturates a person’s ability to spend it, creating a drain from the rest of the economy.”

            Consider that U.S. per capita income at the moment, inflation adjusted, is about eight times what it was in 1933. A moderately rich person then was considerably poorer than the average person now. So if rich people then were unable to spend their money, how does anyone now manage to do it?

            Besides, what does “a drain from the rest of the economy” mean? Are you imagining dollar bills piling up under the bed? If you don’t want to spend all of your income the usual thing to do with it is to invest it, lend it to someone who wants to build a factory or plant apple trees. And he spends it doing those things.

          • Gazeboist says:

            Presumably “in a bank vault” rather than “under the bed”, but that’s not all that different. The objection to the spending power argument is easily answered with positional goods: if your spending is saturated but you still have more money, someone will find a way to expand your spending. Some of your income that you wouldn’t have spent is recaptured and does manage to contribute to economic growth; positional goods trickle down and eventually reach fixation as necessities-that-aren’t-quite (see our conversation about rent a little while ago, for example). There’s still a lag, though, compared to someone whose ability to spend was never saturated in the first place, which allows a degree of money to get trapped in things like inefficiently used and overpriced land. And of course “the economy grows” is different from “the economy grows as fast as it hypothetically could”.

            But the strongest claim I would be willing to endorse on tax schemes, granting for a moment that there is going to be one, is “progressive taxes are non-evil”.

          • Zombielicious says:

            The “drain on the economy” part seems to get the most publicity from Robert Reich. The part of his case I’ve never understood is why, if money is essentially being removed from circulation in the economy to sit still in an account somewhere, why that isn’t just equivalent to decreasing the money supply so we should see deflation everywhere. To be fair you do see low inflation on the official measures, in spite of alleged massive government money printing, so maybe that’s his case?

            That aside, I think the argument would go that there is plenty of investment and not enough consumption, due to stuff like wage stagnation. Corporations are sitting on piles of cash and see few opportunities to reinvest it, and prefer stock buybacks to dividends, resulting in slower economic growth as there is plenty of money to invest, but no reason to invest it, since no one is buying due to wage stagnation. Hence the reason people think you should encourage consumption rather than yet more investment. Higher sales taxes would do the opposite of that.

          • There is also the argument that “necessities” (of course a great point of argument in themselves) occupy a larger portion of a poor person’s expenses, and a progressive income tax is more properly seen as a tax on luxury spending power.

            Thus my argument that welfare spending should be done all in one place. As you say, folks often make the argument that the poor can’t afford to pay the taxes. Those are welfare payments. Why should we complicate our tax system include to welfare payments? It is best if voters know how much welfare we pay, which is simply not the case today, with welfare payments coming from dozens of departments, including taxes. It should be controlled in one place, so that agency can make welfare payments in a fair way, and in a transparent way.

            There is more to this than welfare. There is also the equalization of income, the whole decreasing of inequality thing. Even not counting the poor, the brackets require rich folks to pay more than the middle class.

            But I think that such equalization should also be kept to one agency. Like welfare, no one knows how much the government takes from the rich and gives to the middle class (and of course it goes the other way too, although that isn’t the intent of other programs). The tax code should not be burdened with this complexity. I personally think it is not a good idea to try to equalize incomes by taking from the rich, because I simply do not trust the government to do this in a fair manner. But if it is done, it should be done in a transparent manner, so we can see how much is transferred.

          • Corey says:

            Why should we complicate our tax system include to welfare payments?

            If you’re speaking of EIC, wonks love it because it helps the poor while not discouraging work (it’s equivalent to a negative bracket at the bottom).

            As for other tax expenditures, like mortgage interest deduction, then sure, replace them with explicit subsidies (or nothing, as the case may be).

      • A major argument I’ve seen for a progressive income tax is that concentrations of money equal political power, and it’s bad for individuals to have disproportionate influence.

        One branch of that argument is that rich people can manupulate the government to give themselves advantages, and the other is that it’s just plain bad if rich people can affect the government disproportionately.

        • Matt M says:

          Taking the money away from rich people and giving it to the government increases the amount of money/power that is concentrated in the hands of a small, elite, few.

          Unless you really believe that “we are the government” nonsense.

          • I just mentioned the argument, I didn’t say I agreed with it.

            In particular, I’d say that the war on drugs is partly a result of a government which has the arrogance of excessive wealth.

            People who favor high taxes seem to assume that the money will be used for policies they approve of.

    • cassander says:

      >All welfare should be paid by one agency.

      The number of agencies is irrelevant, the number of welfare programs and benefits is what matters. And if you try to cut one, even if you plan to spend the money saved on another one, everyone who benefits from it will have activists out in the streets screaming for your head and calling you a monster.

      >I am curious about how individual income taxes and welfare work in other countrie

      Can’t speak to personal experience, but in most other countries, the income tax is only a small share of total revenue, with much more being raised by a VAT tax. The US is a major outlier in this regard (the rest of the anglo-sphere being minor outliers)

      • No the number of agencies is crucial. With one agency, everyone could see how much is being spent. Once you have more than one agency, anything can happen, and they start to multiply (that’s why we now have 78 different means tested welfare programs in just the Federal government.

        Yes, the activists would scream. My hope is that showing that we could eliminate poverty by making this change would shame at least some of them, and cause the rest to lose their credibility. Probably a hopeless cause, but an important hopeless cause. Another reason to have only one agency — once we allow more than one, we lose credibility on why so and so’s favorite cause has to go away.

        • Corey says:

          I generally favor a UBI on these grounds, though there are a few forms of aid to the poor best given in-kind. Medicaid is the big one – it’s MUCH cheaper than buying healthcare while uninsured.

          • Matt M says:

            It’s cheaper for the person receiving it but not for society as a whole.

            Medicaid and medicare are subsidized by the rest of society having to pay more than they otherwise would.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:
            You are confusing two different things.

            1) Who pays the cost of Medicaid
            2) Is Medicaid cheaper than retail health insurance.

            #1 will be the tax base, regardless of how that that money is then “given” to the person in need of health insurance.

            #2 is empirically true.

          • Matt M says:

            It’s also empirically true that say, an employee of Taco Bell gets access to cheaper tacos than the general public via his Taco Bell employee discount.

            But this tells us little about the true cost of making tacos, and does not logically lead to the conclusion that the key to ensuring taco availability is to give everyone a job at Taco Bell.

          • I think the biggest problem with a UBI is that it greatly increases the cash flow going in and out of government hands, and I am afraid of much of it sticking to those hands instead of passing through.

            I’ve heard it said that UBI wouldn’t work because it would so greatly increase our taxes that we’d invoke the Laffer curve and decrease incentive to work. I think those that advocate the UBI say that much of that money goes back to the ones sending it. But I don’t think sending money to government and then getting it back is equivalent to not sending it in the first place.

        • cassander says:

          >No the number of agencies is crucial. With one agency, everyone could see how much is being spent. Once you have more than one agency, anything can happen, and they start to multiply (that’s why we now have 78 different means tested welfare programs in just the Federal government.

          Again, the relevant figure here is the number of programs, not agencies. A single agency with 100 programs can be just as balkanized as 100 separate agencies each with one, just look at any U.S. military service for proof. I agree completely on the need to consolidate, but the area to focus on is programs and funding streams, not agencies.

          • It certainly is a good idea to reduce the number of programs (to one hopefully), but it is even more important to reduce the number of agencies to one. Then that agency can determine how much welfare in total is paid. Right now, nobody really knows. That agency can coordinate the programs so that they work together — every recipient gets the right amount. Not too much and not skipped altogether. I agree that 100 programs would still be pretty terrible, but it’d be a hundred times better than what we have now.

          • CatCube says:

            One other benefit of having a single agency, even if it has a huge number of programs, is that it’s still a lot easier to track the money. Everything going to that particular agency can be counted, and it’ll minimize the amount of “hiding” being done elsewhere.

            For example, regulations require that Skilcraft be the prime source for a number of products for offices, such as pens, stationery, and cleaning supplies. Skilcraft is a USG program to provide the blind with employment. Their products are usually excellent; their click-type ballpoint pens are the best I’ve used, and I purchased some of their combined red pen/black pen/pencil aviator pens out of my own pocket because I’ve not found a competing product of similar quality. However, they *are* more expensive than going to Wal-mart to pick up similar supplies. That means that there’s a certain amount of welfare spending hidden in the office-supply budget of every single federal and military office in the land. I understand the reason they did it this way–they figured that giving blind people employment and a sense of purpose is better than having them sit in their homes staring at formless blobs and giving them a pat on the head and a check once a month. But it does tend to obscure spending.

          • cassander says:

            >It certainly is a good idea to reduce the number of programs (to one hopefully), but it is even more important to reduce the number of agencies to one. Then that agency can determine how much welfare in total is paid. Right now, nobody really knows.

            It could, but probably wouldn’t.

            >That agency can coordinate the programs so that they work together — every recipient gets the right amount.

            Again, can does not mean will. such an agency would likely, in practice, remain incredibly balkanized. Forcing all the disparate programs under one roof doesn’t magically make things better, just look at DHS. If you close down funding streams though, you naturally start to consolidate the number of agencies.

    • Diadem says:

      I am very much in favor of a flat tax, with all income taxed at the same rate and no deductions and no credits. In New Zealand, most people do not file tax returns, because their taxes are paid by withholdings on their paychecks. This can only be done with a flat tax.

      This is clearly and, I daresay obviously, false. Calculating how much tax you have to pay is only slightly more difficult with a progressive system. It’s just few extra if statements and multiplications. If you use a computer that’s no extra effort at all. Over here in The Netherlands income tax is also automatically withheld from your paycheck, and we don’t have a flat tax rate.

      In fact we have lots of deductions. All of the thing you mention as too complicated we have too (different tax brackets, standard deductions, dependent exemptions, child tax credits, etc), but filing taxes is a piece of cake these days, because it’s all done online, and all the calculations are done for you. So all that’s required is answering a series of questions (do you have a mortgage, are you paying alimony, do you support the eduction of a child, etc, etc) and filling in the right numbers at the blanks. And the end you either have to pay extra, or get money back. In the latter case it’s sent to you automatically, no further action required.

      The only thing that annoys me in the Dutch system is the lack of automated coordination between different levels of government. Why can’t my municipal and waterboard taxes be automatically included in the national tax tool? Shouldn’t be too hard. But that’s a minor nuisance.

      Doesn’t the US have something like that? It kind of sounds like it doesn’t, in which case the problem isn’t bad rules, but bad customer service.

      I don’t disagree that tax systems can be too complicated sometimes. But that mostly seems to be a problem for companies, where there are endless regulations and endless loopholes that can be exploited to lower how much you have to pay. But large companies can afford paid professionals, so it’s not really a big issue for them. Simplifying tax rules is still worth it, but mostly with the goal of closing loopholes.

      • Diadem says:

        To further expand on my previous post. I do think that tax rules can be too complicated sometimes, but I think it’s mostly interaction between different layers of government that causes this.

        I remember last water board elections, I was filling out some online voter quiz while a friend happened to be visiting. One of the questions was “People on welfare should not have to pay waterboard taxes”, with which I strongly disagreed. This rather surprised my friend. “Don’t you think people on welfare need a break?”, he asked.

        Perhaps. But water boards should concern themselves with maintaining our dykes and doing other water management. They shouldn’t be setting social-economic policy. If you want people on welfare to have more money, increase benefits. Don’t do it by having them pay less on water board taxes. This just increases complexity and makes things more opaque. It also introduces a weird form on inequality.

        Because currently some water boards have tax deductions for welfare recipients and others don’t. Some municipalities have lots of extra benefits for welfare recipients, others do not. The end is result is that exactly how much money someone on welfare actually has to spend at the end of the day is hugely dependent on where they live. It’s also utterly opaque, and even experts don’t seem to agree on a number.

        Sadly this is not easy to change. As long as local governments have autonomy on these kind of matters, there will always be differences in policy. But banning local governments from setting their tax rates and stuff like that, would pretty much mean abolishing local government. Not sure that’s worth it.

        • Perhaps. But water boards should concern themselves with maintaining our dykes and doing other water management. They shouldn’t be setting social-economic policy. If you want people on welfare to have more money, increase benefits. Don’t do it by having them pay less on water board taxes. This just increases complexity and makes things more opaque. It also introduces a weird form on inequality.

          Exactly, we agree totally here. We should not mix welfare policy with other policy. Then we don’t know how much welfare we are paying, and we are making the job of the welfare people that much more difficult, in knowing how much the poor need.

          The only thing that annoys me in the Dutch system is the lack of automated coordination between different levels of government. Why can’t my municipal and waterboard taxes be automatically included in the national tax tool? Shouldn’t be too hard. But that’s a minor nuisance.

          Oh yes, the US has this in spades. I had thought this was one issue more centralized governments didn’t have. Most US states have an individual income tax, and many cities do also. Similarly for sales taxes (similar to VAT). None of the states are part of the Federal system. Some of the localities are part of their state system, but an annoying number are not.

          I don’t disagree that tax systems can be too complicated sometimes. But that mostly seems to be a problem for companies, where there are endless regulations and endless loopholes that can be exploited to lower how much you have to pay. But large companies can afford paid professionals, so it’s not really a big issue for them. Simplifying tax rules is still worth it, but mostly with the goal of closing loopholes.

          Don’t think you don’t pay for business tax complexities too. These are all passed on to individuals through prices, wages, and dividends. This is something that is more difficult to simplify, because many business taxes complexities are unavoidable. But this is also something worth simplifying where we can.

    • onyomi says:

      I think a national sales tax as a replacement for (not addition to) federal income tax would be much better in many ways: encourages saving and investment instead of discouraging earning, and much lower total compliance cost.

      Some will say it’s not progressive enough. Of course, rich people do spend more money, so it is progressive. Second, rich people would only be avoiding taxation on income never spent or reinvested. We want to encourage investment because it grows the economy; we’d rather discourage dissipation of wealth in yachts, etc. and that would be discouraged by the consumption tax. We want to encourage the rich guy who works a zillion hours, lives a spartan lifestyle, and investments all his money back in the company (I know this is somewhat anti-Keynesian, but it seems clear that that guy is doing more for the economy than an idle heir who just spends all the money his parents earned on fun and games).

      Possible further concessions to the “not progressive enough/hits poor people too hard” view:

      Could exempt certain things on which poor people spend a higher percent of their income: things like food, rent, or medical care. Of course, care would have to be taken to avoid classifying yachts as a form of rent.

      If someone wants to object that foreign investment doesn’t directly help citizens, taxing foreign investment like consumption might also be an option to further encourage job creation at home.

      • pku says:

        Isn’t this wrong? I think the government generally wants to encourage spending, since it helps create jobs.

        • onyomi says:

          Investment is arguably a form of spending: on labor, equipment, capital, etc. That does more to help, long term, than spending on a lavish vacation.

          • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

            That and the whole “we must encourage spending” thing doesn’t actually make sense from a long view every dollar gets spent eventually, that’s why people save (so they can spend later). If a dollar does’t get spent its the same as if it doesn’t exist (money is only a medium of exchange, not a resource which is used or wasted) in which case the dollars that are spent increase in value such that its the same amount of value is spent.
            The “we must encourage spending” thing only makes sense if A you think their is some irrationality that is stopping people from spending what its in their rational interest to spend (you certainly don’t want people spending irrationally, that’s how housing bubbles happen, so you only want them to spend if its rational) or B if you have a vested interest in seeing all that spending across time and space happen within a limited span of time (say your term in office). (i do maintain that the only reason Keynes is so popular is he justifies politicians doing what they always want to do (spend like crazy). if the same logical rigor and eloquence had been mustered in favour of thrift no one would have listened).

            Rationally we should expect spending to be rather constant people at various points in their lives spending the rational amount for that point, young people spend what little they have, 30 somethings (young families) binge of debt, middle aged save, the old spend sustain-ably.

            The current malaise could be that their are too many middle aged for the population to sustain 90s level growth, or it could be politics have created uncertainty (2008, EU, Debt ceiling, deluge of regulations, Brexit, Trump isnt confidence boosting the way Fall of communism, new world order, de-regulation end of history is), but either way its not at all clear that spending is in anyway the real problem. People are probably spending rationally, its the fundamentals that are screwy.

      • Skef says:

        You are the first person I’ve ever heard describe a sales tax as progressive, and the definition of “progressive” implicit in your description is not what most people are talking about when they use that term.

        Say that we taxed the first $50k of income at 50% and higher amounts at 10%. Someone making a $1m would indeed pay much more in taxes under that system as someone making $35k. But it still seems plainly regressive: The first person pays an effective rate of 12% and the second 50%. Similarly, a flat tax is not a progressive tax just because wealthier people wind up paying more.

        Poorer people often have to spend most or all of their income. With a sales tax they pay a higher rate than those who can save. That’s a regressive tax system.

        • Irishdude7 says:

          National sales tax proposals, such as the Fair Tax, usually have a prebate given to everyone that covers what taxes might be paid on ‘essentials’, which makes it less regressive.

      • “Of course, rich people do spend more money, so it is progressive.”

        No. “Progressive” in this context means that the ratio of tax to income rises as income rises, progresses.

        It’s a very clever verbal trick. From one side it is simply a description of the mathematics of a tax structure. But the obvious implication is that doing it that way is progress in the sense of progress, an improvement.

        • DavidS says:

          I had no idea that there was a ‘technical’ definition of this. I thought it just meant ‘progressive’ in the political sense. Interesting.

          • onyomi says:

            I meant “progressive” closer to the sense David meant, but not realizing or having forgotten the technical meaning, I was just thinking of it as “people who make more money pay more.” The key, as he says, is that to be “progressive,” people who make more have to pay more, not just by virtue of paying the same percentage of a higher figure, but also by paying a higher percentage of that higher figure, as they do with income tax now.

            So yeah, a national sales tax is not progressive, but could arguably be made so by the sorts of measures I mentioned, where the things poor people spend a larger proportion of their income on are exempted. Also, the fact that everyone has to pay at least a little is a feature, not a bug, to me, because it tends to limit the total amount of taxation people will tolerate.

            I definitely didn’t mean “progressive” as in the political ideology.

          • Adam says:

            It literally just means the tax-to-income ratio gets progressively higher as income gets higher.

      • jaimeastorga2000 says:

        Eliezer makes a similar point in this Facebook post:

        This is why most taxes should be on consumption (value-added tax, luxury tax) and fixed resources (land value tax); while capital gains taxes and corporate income taxes and income tax should all be zero:
        ***
        “Did you know that our current Grand Treasurer is a dracon? And into his hoard goes the tenth part of the increase of the kingdom’s treasury, to harness his greed for its management.”
        “The tenth part of the increase?” I exclaimed, shocked down to my sandals. I couldn’t even imagine how many drachmas that worked out to. “Wouldn’t, um. Wouldn’t removing that much money from the national economy have macro-level effects?”
        “Ah! But you see, Lord Droon is a touch saner than other dracons. Droon does not hoard gold or jewels or dwarfwrought treasures. There is no paying people to dig up metals and then paying other people to guard them. Instead, Lord Droon’s hoard consists of a number of embossed parchments – certificates saying that he owns certain businesses and concerns within the kingdom. Droon’s riches are real; he could sell those embossed parchments for gold or jewels any time he pleased. To my knowledge, Droon is wealthier than any other dracon for ten thousand leagues. And yet nobody goes hungry just because Lord Droon sleeps on a dwarfwrought chest full of parchments. Droon spends none of his wealth on mansions or finery. All the income of Droon’s parchments go into Droon’s businesses or other investments, to buy dwarfwright machinery or send out caravans. So Dwimber’s people thrive, and the Dwimbermord’s treasury grows, and Droon gains the tenth part of that increase as well – all as more embossed parchments. Lord Droon’s hoard sequesters only abstract concepts from circulation, while in the real kingdom seed-grain flows from his hands like water. Lord Droon is the prisoner of his greed as much as any dracon, and yet he has taken a step beyond that. He has harnessed his draconic greed, the desire imposed on him by his magic, and shaped it to help others instead of harming them.”
        ***
        Don’t tax Lord Droon just because he wants to sleep on a chest full of abstract concepts. You’ll interrupt the process that causes other people to receive seed grain and dwarfwright machinery. There’s no cause to envy Droon while he goes about in simple clothes and works sixteen-hour days for other people’s benefit. Trying to take away his precious parchments is nothing but spite. The tax that Lord Droon pays should be zero until he actually tries to spend money on mansions or finery. That’s what’s best for the kingdom, and it is both fair and just.
        If you want to slap a 300% luxury tax on giant yachts, that’s fine by me. But if “rich” people are sending material goods to other people instead of themselves, like by taking billions of dollars of “personal income” and using it to “buy stocks” that “double in value” while they live in a tiny apartment, then you shouldn’t dip your fingers into their philanthropy. (Beyond the standard tax on their tiny apartment.) Until, of course, the person tries to actually buy mansions and finery instead of more parchment, whereupon I suddenly agree that they’ve revealed themselves to be rich after all and can justly be taxed quite heavily. A tax policy like that does encourage people to buy parchments instead of mansions, but there’s nothing wrong with promoting charity. It all becomes much more intuitive once you understand how Lord Droon managed to fool his sense of greed.

        • Jiro says:

          How do you tell the difference between buying finery and buying a piece of parchment?

          Note that the answer isn’t “see if a piece of actual paper is involved”. Someone can have a deed to a yacht or other piece of large personal property. “See if they gain any personal benefit” is difficult–the personal benefit from having, say, an expensive statue is just to look at it, which is not that dissimilar from looking at a portfolio of stocks, and of course it raises questions of how to deal with things that are partly beneficial. “Can they sell it later at a possibly higher price” will also fail, especially in the case of certain kinds of collectibles.

          It’s actually really hard to specify the distinction between finery and pieces of parchment.

        • qwints says:

          Until Droon has enough parchments to rewrite the tax laws…

          Like Jiro said, it’s trivial to come up with ways a system could be gained to give the beneficial use of luxuries and armies of lawyers exist in the arms race of creating and banning them.

    • pku says:

      Personal experience (in Israel): I got my paycheck taxes withheld automatically. When I worked two jobs at the same time, I got the maximum tax bracket cleared off the second one, and had to fill a one-page form to get it back (I could also have filled it in advance, but I was lazy). Israel definitely has progressive taxation and welfare.

      I agree with the people above – US taxes seem ridiculously complicated because they’re used for policy. This seems like a consequence of those checks and balances I’m always hearing about.

      • Adam says:

        Yes, this is mostly the reason. They’re called “tax expenditures” for a reason. Our government loves to hide how it spends money, so instead of directly collecting then spending it, much of it is done by simply passing bills to lower collections to reward something they otherwise would have spent the money on. Lowering all taxes doesn’t have this effect, so we get very tightly targeted and restricted deductions and credits and exemptions.

    • This can only be done with a flat tax.

      No, it can be done with brackets, and NZ has brackets.

    • youzicha says:

      In New Zealand, most people do not file tax returns, because their taxes are paid by withholdings on their paychecks. This can only be done with a flat tax.

      You can get this for most people even with a progressive tax. In the UK the normal case is that you don’t need to take any action about your taxes, they were payed for by withholdings. If you are self-employed or have investment income or various other things you need to file a return, but this only affects a minority, apparently about 11 million from a population of 63 million.

    • Corey says:

      Some of the form complexity is driven by lobbying from Big TaxPrep (seriously).

      For anyone capable of filing a 1040EZ (though that’s simple as the name implies) and probably anyone filing a 1040A, the IRS literally has all of the information already, and could very well just send a bill/check, were they allowed to, without any other changes to the tax code. That would save a lot of person-hours across the country.

      • Lumifer says:

        The problem is that the IRS does NOT know who is going to file a 1040EZ. Sure, it knows that Bob McBobface is getting a salary and how much, but it has no idea about other financial arrangements he had this year.

        The precondition for “we’ll tell you what your income tax is” is a radical simplification of the tax code and in particular getting rid of most deductions and such.

        • Matt M says:

          Right. And any potential change to the tax code can be spun by a politician as “tax cuts for the rich” and/or “tax increases on the middle class” and is a political non-starter.

        • Corey says:

          Good catch, yes, without tax code changes it would be limited to “here’s your tax; if something’s different file a return” which might not be simpler (e.g. people would have to know what counts as something different enough to make a difference).

        • Yes. I found out that 1040-EZ is not as simple as I thought it was when I tried to teach my kids to fill it out. They kept coming across things in the instructions that they had no understanding of, such as various other income items, or possible deductions or credits. Even the 1040-EZ is not easy if you actually read the instructions, because of all the possible variables. The Feds don’t know all these variables, so they can’t do anyone’s returns. Congress seems to add more pieces to the tax code every time they meet, and they seem to get Kudos every time they adjust poor folk’s taxes, which just means one more thing they have to figure out.

    • keranih says:

      All welfare should be paid by one agency. This is a lot more effective in controlling the amount each recipient receives, and it is also more accountable to the voters to know what welfare is being paid. As it stands, it is very difficult to judge what the lowest income is deemed acceptable in the US, with the confused jumble of welfare programs. The taxes paid by the poor on their income should be one more item the welfare agency takes into account, and if it was a flat tax, it would be easy to determine the amount for each person.

      While I agree that efficency in distribution would be increased if we had one federal Department of the Poors, whose job it was to piggy-back on the IRS and send out checks to those judged in need, I don’t think it follows that effectiveness in relieving poverty would necessarily increase. The ideas behind cash distribution, while strong, are not universally persuasive.

      One should also have a bit of humility re: our current technology and information capabilities. It is not possible to know just how much sales, hotel, vehicle and other taxes are paid by poor people – and not just because so much of the lower end of the economy is done in cash or in the grey-to-black market.

      • I think we do know better what the poor pay in taxes than other expenditures. But it would be better if the tax system was simpler. And remember, we are comparing the ability of this one department to determine how much the poor need compared to how it is done today. Today, no one person can possibly know how much welfare any individual person receives, because there are so many programs out there. If we redirected all the money we currently spend on the 78 Federal means tested programs to sending each person below poverty a check, we would have far more than necessary to end all poverty in the US.

        I prefer the idea of state welfare programs instead of Federal, because the standard of living is so different around the country, and it is better for the agency to be a little closer to the recipients, so as to understand them a bit better. Even the state is a bit distant, but there are too many destitute counties out there for county welfare to work.

        • Corey says:

          State-level welfare programs will always be handicapped by their balanced-budget requirements, unless the 49 of them that have it amend their constitutions. Currently the Federal government is the only one that can do countercyclical spending.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The federal government “should” be the only one to do counter-cyclical spending using debt, because it can also print money, which states can’t.

            “Should” in quotes because I’m talking about plans/aims more than absolutes.

          • Currently the Federal government is the only one that can do countercyclical spending.

            That is true and I hadn’t considered that. But overall, I still think Federal welfare has more detriments than benefits.

          • John Schilling says:

            State governments could conceivably do countercyclical spending by saving money in good times – not necessarily in literal hoards of cash – to spend at the bottom of the cycle. But the fiscal discipline do do that is almost impossible to sustain in a democracy, whereas it’s easy to sell politicians and voters on “we’ll put it on the government’s credit card, surely we’ll be able to pay it back later”.

  10. I interviewed Dilbert creator Scott Adams. In the second half of the interview we discussed several topics of importance to the rationality community including cryonics, unfriendly AI, and eliminating mosquitoes. In the first part we discussed Trump as a master persuader.

    • Anonymous says:

      Magic sex hypnotism guy? Why would you want to interview him?

      • I have been reading his blog for a long time and find he offers great insights into the world. Adams, Eliezer, and (of course) Scott are my favorite rationalist bloggers. Most importantly, to understand Trump’s political success you need to understand why Adams thinks that Trump is a master persuader. Adams also wrote a fantastic self-help book.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          What is your definition of “rationalist” that he is a rationalist?

          The obvious definition is the LW diaspora, which is obviously false. And I think that his phrasings impede communication with that community. Perhaps you mean that he has good models of the world, and that you learn them from his blogging? Maybe you should say “correct” or “useful”? I’m not sure that’s quite what you’re saying, but don’t use “rationalist” to mean “correct.”

          • Rationalist is a vague word, but Adams does capture a lot of what the LW diaspora tries to do. His humans are “moist robots” = evolutionary psychology, he makes testable predictions of his views (Trump will win in a landslide, perceived health problems will with high probability cause Hillary electoral harm), he believes humans greatly overestimate their agency, he often admits when he is uncertain (he isn’t sure who would be the best president), he is willing to risk failure if the costs of failure are low, and most importantly he focuses on winning (see his self-help book for ways of creating winning systems.)

          • Anonymous says:

            Does he apply the scientific method to his hypnotism stuff?

          • ShemTealeaf says:

            I think Adams is almost a funhouse mirror reflection of a rationalist. He admits uncertainty strategically, in contexts that ultimately strengthen his position. He sometimes makes testable predictions, or things that resemble testable predictions, and then he remembers them selectively and interprets them creatively.

            His methods of communication are so disingenuous that, in the days when he still allowed comments on his blog, there was a popular theory that the whole blog was just an experiment (or perhaps an object lesson) in persuasion techniques. A significant portion of his own fans thought that he was essentially trying to prove that he could persuade people of anything, no matter how silly.

            Credit to him for being mostly right about the Trump nomination, but I can’t consider someone a rationalist if they deliberately eschew clear and honest communication.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Yeah, I’m a little skeptical of the “rationalist” labeling for him too. Forget the magic hypnotism stuff, he predicted a 99% chance of a Trump landslide. Rationalism is a big tent, but the one thing I absolutely demand is that you be able to calibrate probabilities appropriately.

          • I agree that 99% seems way too high and I wouldn’t be willing to bet at these odds, but Adams predicted Trump’s rise when everyone else thought Trump was a political joke who had no hope of winning the Republican nomination so I don’t think it’s reasonable for us to rely on our political intuition to dismiss Adams’ probability estimates as being non-rational. It’s possible that future historians armed with a much better understanding of human psychology will say that given Trump’s persuasion skills Adams’ estimates of the odds of Trump winning were consistently better than, say, Nate Silver’s were.

          • Matt M says:

            It’s also tough to tell with Scott Adams when he’s being 100% serious and when he’s clearly exaggerating for rhetorical and/or self-promotion purposes.

            My guess is the 99% figure is not his true best estimate of Trump’s chances of success, but rather something he said knowing it would draw attention to him and traffic to his websites. Does making a calculated exaggeration for the purposes of self-promotion preclude one from being a rationalist?

            I don’t know if I’d call him a rationalist or not, but I was also a regular reader of his blog long before the Trump presidential campaign and he definitely has a lot in common with other rationalist bloggers.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            “I agree that 99% seems way too high and I wouldn’t be willing to bet at these odds, but Adams predicted Trump’s rise when everyone else thought Trump was a political joke who had no hope of winning the Republican nomination.”

            And I’m saying that any credit he deserves for that makes him a good political analyst or something, but doesn’t make him a rationalist.

            I can’t find where I thought he said 99% chance, but I see 98% chance here.

            There are various ways of grading probability, like Briar score. I’m pretty sure that given his 98% figure, if Trump doesn’t win, Adams’ overall Briar score, even given his success on the nomination issue, will be worse than that of pundits who pooh-poohed Trump at the beginning (when Adams first got into the Trump-predicting business, the markets gave Trump 5% odds, so the average pundit probably only made a 95% wrong prediction, not a 98% one).

            Also, there was a bizarre incident in June where Adams wrote that he’d decided actually, Clinton was a better persuader than Trump, because she had called him racist, and now he was going to lose. After that I don’t think he ever really referenced that school of thought again. But this means that if Trump loses, he’ll be able to point back and say “Look, I predicted this!”. If you’re a rationalist, you don’t play both sides of the argument, you clearly and explicitly change your probability estimate and admit you were wrong before.

            (also, saying “Hillary called Trump racist” is about the stupidest reason to change your mind I can think of, let alone to call Hillary a master persuader. This is American politics. Everyone calls everybody racist. This is like saying a defense attorney is going to win a trial because he’s a master lawyer, then saying maybe the prosecutor will win, because he also seems to be a master lawyer, based on his bold strategy of arguing that the suspect was guilty.)

          • Scott A.

            “Everyone calls everybody racist” in American politics because if you can convince voters your opponent is a racist you win. Adams thought that Hillary started doing an effective job of labeling Trump a racist and wrote that if Trump couldn’t overcome this label he would lose, but, from what I remember, Adams always thought that Trump had the means, motive, and opportunity to overcome this label. Adams wrote that Hillary’s best move was getting nearly everyone in the media to label Trump as “dark” because this was a fantastic way of persuading voters that Trump was a dangerous racist. Hillary’s basket of deplorables comment was so damaging to her because, as I think Adams said, it made Trump’s alt-right (or whatever) backers seem cute rather than evil.

          • “But this means that if Trump loses, he’ll be able to point back and say “Look, I predicted this!””

            What he wrote was:

            “I now update my prediction of a Trump landslide to say that if he doesn’t give a speech on the topic of racism – to neutralize the crazy racist label – he loses.”

            If.

            “(also, saying “Hillary called Trump racist” is about the stupidest reason to change your mind I can think of, let alone to call Hillary a master persuader.”

            His argument was that “crazy racist” was an effective label, not that “racist” was. And he didn’t credit Hilary with discovering that, he credited her supporters.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            I think whether or not Trump wins, we can be confident that Trump giving a speech on racism wouldn’t be the deciding factor between a Trump win and a Trump loss, let alone a Trump landslide and a Trump loss. His credences are clearly screwy.

            I think it’s a mistake to take being rational as a necessary condition on being a rationalist. I’m not sure whether we should understand rationalism as an ideology or as some other broadly social phenomenon, but either way one can be a rationalist without being a good rationalist. Taking appropriate calibration as a necessary condition is a problem for the same reason.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            Philosophisticat: If he were a huge fan of the LW Sequences and talked about superintelligence all the time, then I’d be prepared to call him a “bad rationalist”. Since he doesn’t talk about rationalist stuff or think in a rationalist way, I’m happy to just call him a non-rationalist.

            If he self-identifies as a rationalist (as in the LW category, not just “a rational person”), I might change my mind, but I’ve never seen him do this.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            @Scott

            I don’t follow him, but everything I’ve seen suggests that he is a non-rationalist, as you say. I was just commenting on using the fact that someone’s credences are wacky to disqualify them.

          • JayT says:

            So much of what Adams writes about is talking about putting yourself in situations where you have multiple ways to win, and no ways to lose. So right off the bat his writing is never going to have easily testable claims. He tells you that right up front.

            He may well be a rationalist, but I don’ think his writing is.

          • JayT

            “So much of what Adams writes about is talking about putting yourself in situations where you have multiple ways to win, and no ways to lose.”

            If such situations exist shouldn’t a rationalist take advantage of them?

          • JayT says:

            Sure, but that’s why I say he may well be rationalist, but his writing isn’t.

            Like Scott says,

            If you’re a rationalist, you don’t play both sides of the argument, you clearly and explicitly change your probability estimate and admit you were wrong before.

            That is obviously not Scott Adams. He explicitly says that he purposefully plays both sides of every argument he can.

          • onyomi says:

            I think Adams can be rather perfectly described in Harry Potter vocabulary as the “Defense Against the Dark Arts” professor who seems just a little too enthusiastic about how awesome and powerful the dark arts are.

            And the “death eaters” all support Trump…

        • Loyle says:

          Most importantly, to understand Trump’s political success you need to understand why Adams thinks that Trump is a master persuader.

          I think you accidentally added a few extra words there. Unless secretly Adams is the reason for Trump’s success and eliminating Adams eliminates Trump.

          Edit because I didn’t feel like making a new post: Thanks for the explanation.

          • Let me rephrase what I meant as a prediction: Ten years from now when social scientists discuss why Trump won 2016 in a landslide their starting point will be Scott Adams’ hypothesis that Trump was a master persuader.

          • John Schilling says:

            Pretty certain their starting points will be Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, and the political machines that thought either of those would be a winning candidate if only the machine said so.

        • Philosophisticat says:

          Trump is losing against one of the most (the most, really) unpopular candidates from either party in memory, doing worse than one would expect from a generic republican. I would expect a master persuader to do a bit better than that. I don’t think there’s anything to explain that the “idiot who stumbled into a favorable political environment” hypothesis doesn’t cover perfectly well.

          • Gazeboist says:

            I think “antipopular” (a word I just made up right now) better describes what’s going on with Clinton. Kerry was an unpopular candidate: nobody could be bothered to care about him. Clinton is a candidate who is actively disliked by wide swaths of the country, which is fairly unusual even modulo any kind of enhanced tribalism.

          • Matt M says:

            Agree with Gazeboist. If “losing to unpopular Hillary” means Trump is some sort of idiot failure, what does that make Bernie Sanders? Or Martin O’Malley for that matter.

            High negatives don’t mean what they used to. What they mean is that you’re a celebrity and you have name recognition and that counts for a lot in today’s society.

          • sweeneyrod says:

            @Matt M

            Winning in a primary is different to winning the election.

          • Matt M says:

            I’m so tired of hearing that thrown out there as a justification to just entirely dismiss everything we saw happen last year.

            Explain HOW it’s different in this particular instance. Even among Democrat primary voters, I’m willing to bet that Hillary had higher negatives than Martin O’Malley by a factor of 10. So why did she do so well and he do so poorly?

          • Fahundo says:

            what does that make Bernie Sanders?

            Someone whose own party leadership wanted to see him fail. Also, he self-identified as a socialist, so it’s pretty impressive he went as far as he did.

            Or Martin O’Malley

            one of the bad guys from the Wire.

          • DrBeat says:

            She was anointed by party leadership, who had their whole balled-up fist on the scales in her favor the entire time?

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            one of the bad guys

            Eh.

          • Fahundo says:

            I mean, Carcetti completely turned his back on all the good things he set out to do, and promised, in exchange for more political power.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            Well, yeah, but in a show about gangsters, drug dealers and other assorted fine fellows, a politician doing politician things doesn’t seem like too high in the “bad guy” scale.

          • Philosophisticat says:

            I didn’t say losing to Hillary shows Trump to be an idiot. Politics is fickle, and I think success has much less to do with individual brilliance, even specifically political brilliance, than a whole host of other considerations. I said his current position against Hillary is weak, weaker than you’d expect from any generic republican running against someone with Hillary’s negatives, and provides no evidence that he’s some kind of master persuader.

            What shows Trump is an idiot is all the things he says and thinks, and all the clues to his personality from his long history in the public eye.

          • Fahundo says:

            @WHtA:

            That was a major point of the show though; a lot of the gangsters were just doing the only thing they knew how to do. Meanwhile Carcetti had a good opportunity to help people as mayor and he threw it away because he would rather be governor.

          • Matt M says:

            I am not the least bit convinced that Ted Cruz would be doing significantly better against Hillary than Trump is now, or that Trump would be doing significantly better against Bernie/O’Malley/whoever than he is against Hillary now.

            You are basing this all on your “expectations” which are themselves not based in any particular facts other than what the official political consultants tell us should happen based on what happened 4-8-12 years ago. How did listening to the official political consultants work out for Jeb?

            It’s convenient that your “expectations” are defined in such a way as to confirm your priors about Trump being an idiot.

            Personally, I think this is all a long-game by the media to firmly establish that if Trump somehow DOES win it’s all Hillary’s fault and only because she was so terrible and corrupt and bad and literally anyone else would have beaten him so clearly he has no mandate and there is no movement and we can all just pretend this never happened.

          • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

            @Fahundo: I thought the point was that, in the end, Carcetti was pretty much stuck in the same way, constantly having to compromise in order to have the power to implement the changes he wants to, which always get postergated.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            You guys are completely misunderstanding the message of Bernie’s results.

            First, examine Joe Biden’s decision not to enter the race. He wanted to, but he judged he had no shot against Hillary. Hillary had the fundamentals of the primary on lock.

            Now look at what Bernie said privately (and I think publically) early on. He didn’t get in the campaign to win. He wanted to put his ideas out there and shift the Dem platform and HRC’s positions and the Overton Window (which he was pretty successful at).

            It wouldn’t surprise me of O’Marley was a candidate mostly to give HRC another establishment candidate to run against.

            For a variety of reasons, HRC did not have a particularly enthusiastic base. That’s what let Bernie outperform his fundamentals in caucuses and small states. That’s the only reason he sort of kind of had a shot if you squinted.

          • Fahundo says:

            I think if he was content with staying mayor, he could have delivered on most of his promises. He was certainly making headway with the police department. His only given reason for not taking aid from the governor was that it would make his own gubernatorial campaign weak.

          • JayT says:

            I feel like the Republican leadership was far more anti-Trump than the Democrat leadership was anti-Sanders.

          • pku says:

            The Democrat leadership had an alternative they all agreed on, though, which made things easy. If it had come down to, say, Trump/Kasich early in the race, the republican leadership might have had a far easier time fighting him.

          • suntzuanime says:

            There’s also the possibility that the Republican leadership respected the will of the members of its party and so only used non-corrupt means to oppose its dispreferred candidate. Clinton stole the primary from Sanders, she did not beat him fair and square.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @suntzuanime:
            That’s pure B.S.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Could be, but until China hacks the Republican Party’s emails I’m bound to consider good faith as at least a possibility.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @suntauanime:
            People in the Democratic Party organization preferring Hilary win is much different than what you are alleging.

            Hillary won because she actually got more votes. She performed in line with her polling.

          • Nyx says:

            @Philosophisticat

            Most candidates in recent history underperform generic candidates from their party. The problem is that “generic Republicans” don’t exist, and when they exist they don’t win nominations because who gets excited about generic Republicans, and when they do win nominations, the media rushes to paint them as not generic because nobody wants to read about Generic Republican. Instead, they get to be VP picks instead; both Hillary and Donald picked generics as their VPs, because generics are popular, but they themselves are not very generic at all.

      • onyomi says:

        I think if you ban the people who bring up Robin Hanson’s most controversial couple of posts every time he’s ever mentioned, then you ought to start banning people who bring up “magic sex hypnotism” every time Scott Adams comes up, and for the same reason.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I don’t know what the “magic sex” part means, but hypnotism seems pretty central to Adams’ intellectual identity. I think his whole argument is that his work as a hypnotist allows him to understand hypnosis-style persuasion techniques that the rest of us can’t see. This seems different from citing a random idea Robin mooted one time.

          • onyomi says:

            I think it is the same because it references a few of his weirdest posts of all time as a way to discredit everything else he says. If it were just “hypnotism guy” or even “that shill for Trump,” these would be more fair, because he talks about hypnotism and Trump a lot.

            Hypnosis as a way to have better sex is just one of many, many contexts in which he’s discussed hypnotism and is not a core feature of his intellectual identity. But it’s arguably the oddest, most salacious thing to which he’s ever applied hypnosis, and so gets brought up by someone almost every time he’s mentioned on here.

            It would be like an economist who wrote a post about “the economics of incest” or something. And the remaining 99% of his posts are applying economics to less scandalous sounding aspects of life. But every time his work comes up someone says “oh, economics of incest guy.” Yeah, economics is central to his intellectual identity, but that’s not what’s being emphasized in such a case (yes, incest sounds more scandalous than “sex,” but “sex hypnotism” is intended to sound bizarre and crackpotish in a way just “hypnotism” does not).

          • Nelshoy says:

            @onyomi

            Reminds me of this old joke:

            A backpacker is traveling through Ireland when it starts to rain. He decides to wait out the storm in a nearby pub. The only other person at the bar is an older man staring at his drink. After a few moments of silence the man turns to the backpacker and says in a thick Irish accent:
            “You see this bar? I built this bar with my own bare hands. I cut down every tree and made the lumber myself. I toiled away through the wind and cold, but do they call me McGreggor the bar builder? No.”
            He continued “Do you see that stone wall out there? I built that wall with my own bare hands. I found every stone and placed them just right through the rain and the mud, but do they call me McGreggor the wall builder? No.”
            “Do ya see that pier out there on the lake? I built that pier with my own bare hands, driving each piling deep into ground so that it would last a lifetime. Do they call me McGreggor the pier builder? No.”
            “But ya fuck one goat..”

            You’re only ever as credible in the public eye as the least credible thing you ever say. Say enough things, and people are bound to find a salacious opinion they can use to load you with negative effect and not take you seriously. I think it’s why EY is a lot less esteemed these days than he was in 2008. Just pick his MWI overconfidence, fanfiction, taste in art, or whatever else discredits him the most to your target audience. Then no one reads the Sequences.

            I’m very impressed that Scott has mostly been able to avoid the Scottish goat effect, despite writing a lot on a bunch of topics (see his fairly positive rationalwiki page). But if he keeps writing and getting more popular like I anticipate, I have no doubt that he’ll hit a bit of ceiling.

            “Scott Alexander? Isn’t he that sexist alt-right sympathizing crazy cult white dude who believes in Moloch? Why would I take anything he says seriously?”

            The way I see things working with most writers/thinkers that people actually care about is:

            A.) they write well and accurately on a non-controversial topic, struggle for recognition before breaking into the public conscious. If they make errors, it’s probably not seen as a big deal for anyone except other researchers in their field. Examples: Most of the prestigious researchers who lead fields, Including big names that reached out publicly like Steven Hawking, Lisa Randall, even maybe Francis Collins, Jerry Coyne (?)despite being a devout Christian! They fuck people, which society deems to be acceptable.

            B) You go into controversy but be very very careful, about it. You keep your controversial speculations mostly to yourself and only let them known to a wide audience when you have good data to back them up. You keep your very controversial conclusions relatively quite and don’t stray far from your area of expertise. Examples: Steven Levitt, Arthur Jensen, Robert Putnam, Simon Baron-Cohen, kinda Gwern?

            They might fuck a sheep, but they do it far from the public eye or in a community that’s accepting of that.

            C.) they get into controversial issues or are very willing to wade into issues that go beyond their expertise. Not afraid to be contrarian or iconoclast. They eventually get well known enough that the laser beam is turned in on them. They have very supportive supporters because they are smart and have a bunch of interesting hypotheses for interesting things. But they also get a lot of haters who dislike what they say and their presumed overconfidence, put a lot of effort into finding their mistakes so that they can dismiss them when they aren’t too careful. Examples: Probably most famous popular intellectuals, Charles Murray, Jared Diamond, Stephin Pinker, Greg Cochran, Judith Rich Harris, Noam Chomsky, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Judith Rich Harris, Robin Hanson, Scott Adams, Malcolm Gladwell, Eliezer Yudkowsky, a lot of famous economists, most investigative journalists. It’s not a coincidence that I can name a lot off the top of my head even though they’re probably less common than the other types. They can be a lot of fun.

            They like to fuck a lot of things, and occasionally a sheep can get in there and now they’re Mcgreggor the Goat-fucker for life.

            I see Scott as a definitely in the C.) pile as long as his politics/sociology speculation stuff is more popular than his psychiatry. As such he should definitely anticipate a lot more haters and not-nice labels.

          • Matt M says:

            ““Scott Alexander? Isn’t he that sexist alt-right sympathizing crazy cult white dude who believes in Moloch? Why would I take anything he says seriously?””

            Most of my left/SJW leaning friends already react this way when I link to this blog. Sorry, Scott!

          • onyomi says:

            I think this is similar to “catechisms”/the infamous bingo game, but for people. For each prominent person who offers arguments for the opposition, a quick, easy dismissal should be ready to hand. A strawman version of the superficially oddest-sounding or most controversial thing they ever said is one of the most effective.

            Yudkowsky? You mean the Harry Potter fanfic cult leader? Scott Alexander? Oh, Moloch guy? etc.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t think it would work nearly as well if it was out of character.

            Although people like to preemptively bring it up a a lot, I’ve never seen Yudkowsky dismissed as fanfic guy. He does get hit with the MWI, but that’s much more characteristic of the larger criticism. Likewise I’ve never seen “oh Moloch guy” for Scott Alexander. He gets tagged for being too friendly/charitable to the far right, but again that’s not picking on some outlier post but, whether you agree with the critique or not, something that is actually based in sustained reality.

            Similarly, Hanson’s verboten post is entirely characteristic of what makes Hanson, Hanson. It may be the strangest or most salacious outgrowth of it, but it isn’t some random, out of character, off topic musing. Ditto for Scott Adams and the mass sex hypnotism post. He regularly makes fantastical claims for hypnotism and he has a significant prurient focus.

          • onyomi says:

            “I don’t think it would work nearly as well if it was out of character.”

            While I agree that a label with no basis in reality will have a harder time sticking than one with some resemblance to reality, I think the point of saying “oh, magic sex hypnotism guy?” each time he comes up is not to convince regular Scott Adams readers that he’s a crackpot, but rather to dissuade would-be Scott Adams readers from ever reading or considering any of his other ideas because, after all, why would you want to waste your time with “magic sex hypnotism guy”?

            Scott Alexander may be harder to caricature than Scott Adams, Eliezer, and many others because he is more humble and measured than most, which is to his credit. But it’s still not intellectually honest or charitable toward those who leave themselves more open to it.

            Moreover, maybe Scott Alexander is prevented from sharing his “one weird trick” to something and other such maybe half-baked yet potentially interesting ideas for fear of his forever being tarred with it.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @onyomi:

            It’s not the weird ideas, it’s the lack of epistemic humility.

            Alexander has that in spades. Usually “one note takedowns” tend to target positions that are offered without it.

            Now, I’m not saying that works for everything. You can be as epistemically humble as you want about a position like “Maybe that holocaust wasn’t really so bad for those who were/are Jewish” and it won’t matter. But if the idea is just weird…

          • onyomi says:

            @HBC,

            My point is not that we shouldn’t criticize Scott Adams’s weird ideas and lack of humility when discussing his weird ideas and unrealistic predictions. I’m just saying that, when discussing an opinion of his largely unrelated to “magic sex hypnotism,” it’s poor form to always say “why would you ever listen to anything said by magic sex hypnotism guy??”

            Like if someone brought up Eliezer’s views on AI and someone retorted “why would you ever listen to a Harry Potter fanfic author and avowed human popsicleist??”

          • Jiro says:

            Saying things that are substantially more insane than what most people say is Bayseian evidence that listening to you isn’t worth it.

            Also, remember that real-life arguments often involve a lot of trust that the other person is not misrepresenting things, taking them out of context, or omitting relevant information. Saying insane things can reduce that trust.

          • Anonymous says:

            We weren’t discussing an opinion of his. Someone posted an interview with him, and someone else quite reasonably asked why anyone would want to devote substantial time listening to him given, ya know, his tenuous grip on reality.

          • onyomi says:

            If you don’t want to get worked up about it, fine.

            But please let’s not pretend this is good intellectual practice.

            Re. “not discussing an opinion of his”: no, it was worse, because by saying “why would you want to talk to sex hypnotism guy,” you’re implying that the fact he once talked about something weird means he has nothing of value to say about anything else.

            If what you really mean is “Scott Adams has never written anything of value because I’ve read a sample of his writings on various topics and they are all crap,” then say that.

            If what you mean is, “the probability of his being right about other issues is slightly lower since he wrote about better orgasms through hypnosis that one time,” then say that.

            “Why would you want to listen to sex hypnotism guy?” is, again, dismissing a person’s whole body of work with an example of his oddest piece (also, I haven’t seen anyone bother to actually refute the sex hypnotism thing; it is just question-beggingly assumed that someone writing about “better orgasms through hypnosis” is an idiot and should never be listened to about anything again, just because that sounds weird).

            I hope none of you ever have a kid who does something embarrassing in school. Are you going to say, “well, son, since you did cry that one time in front of your classmates, they are just being good Bayesians by calling you ‘crybaby’ for the rest of your life and refusing to be your friend, since, after all, they had to adjust their priors of you being a crybaby in light of such evidence.”

          • Jiro says:

            Again, writing insane things is Bayseian evidence that the rest of his work is not worth paying attention to.

            It is good intellectual practice.

          • onyomi says:

            @Jiro,

            Again:

            If what you really mean is “Scott Adams has never written anything of value because I’ve read a sample of his writings on various topics and they are all crap,” then say that. That would be rational and intellectually honest.

            If what you mean is, “the probability of his being right about other issues is slightly lower since he wrote about better orgasms through hypnosis that one time, and I know something about hypnosis and/or orgasms and know what he said is crap,” then say that. That would be rational and intellectually honest.

            Mockingly dismissing everything someone ever wrote with a strawman version of the most controversial thing they ever wrote is not good intellectual practice. In fact, it’s a way to avoid being intellectually challenged.

          • Anonymous says:

            (also, I haven’t seen anyone bother to actually refute the sex hypnotism thing; it is just question-beggingly assumed that someone writing about “better orgasms through hypnosis” is an idiot and should never be listened to about anything again, just because that sounds weird).

            You are being deceptive about what was involved. It wasn’t you could go to a hynotist and have a better orgasim, which claim in any event would put the burden on the one so claiming.

            It was rather that Scott Adams is able to mass hypnotize via blog post because he is some sort of god among men:

            You know I already told the bedroom-submissives reading this blog to obey my orders tonight and find a way to thank me. This group is quivering in anticipation and has my permission to enjoy the evening. You are my favorites. Be good.

            For those of you who felt anti-aroused reading this blog series, I recognized your brain wiring as the no-by-reflex personality type, and in Part 2 I hypnotized you to NOT enjoy your New Year’s celebration, or the following day, with deeply satisfying orgasms. If you enjoy yourself sexually during this holiday, it means I am controlling you with my hypnosis, and this group doesn’t want that. So keep your sex drive to yourself. If you can.

            Most of you have begun to feel the change. My email (Dilbertcartoonist@gmail.com) is starting to fill with stories from readers who have had spontaneous orgasms since Part 1 – because they feel my intention – as you do now. For perspective, about 20% of the public would normally respond to my suggestions immediately. The rest of you require repetition. And you are getting it.

            Regular readers know that I used my background in hypnosis to accurately predict nine-out-nine political events in 2015, while most political professionals got zero right. That makes me the best political pundit of the year.

            Actually, that probably makes me the best political predictor in the history of Earth. Nine out of nine – and none of the predictions were obvious or based on trajectory.

            When you notice your body responding to triggers today and tonight – especially when your favorite body parts are involved – it will make you wonder if my suggestions had anything to do with it. That will make you think of my suggestions, my intentions, and my predictions. And that will trigger your brain, which will activate your body, which will create a feeling that reinforces your thoughts. The cycle of triggering will continue until you find a way to relieve it. And you will.

            If your response to that tripe is “well no one has disproved it!!1!”, I invite you to refute the time cube website.

            Besides, branding Scott Adams “magic sex hypnotism guy” is exactly the sort of thing he would celebrate as the technique of a master persuader. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

          • onyomi says:

            “Besides branding Scott Adams “magic sex hypnotism guy” is exactly the sort of thing he would celebrate as the technique of a master persuader. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”

            I’ll agree with you that branding him “magic sex hypnotism guy” is very much like the techniques he claims Trump uses: branding Jeb as “low-energy,” etc. But to extent you think that is effective you are also conceding that Adams had a good insight!

            Also, one of Adams’s biggest arguments is that most people are not acting rationally most of the time. Most people on this blog pride themselves on rationality to one degree or another. So to the extent they engage in or are convinced by labels like “magic sex hypnotism guy,” they are, like most people, most of the time, not being rational, which is precisely my point in calling it not good intellectual practice. Unless we think Trump is a model of good intellectual practice.

            Personally, I’ll note that his posts on “sex hypnotism” were among the first things I read by him outside of Dilbert comics, and I found them weird and offputing. But I’m glad I didn’t just dismiss him after that since I’ve since found many other things he’s said on other issues very insightful. Considering how little marginal effort I had to expend to realize he had something of value to say outside a few weird posts, it would have been bad practice for me to have dismissed him right away, much less encourage others to completely ignore him on the basis of a catchphrase.

            So, it’s certainly not that I’m defending the sex posts specifically, but rather arguing against a kind of (anti-)intellectual gotcha-ism which indeed bears a strong resemblance to political soundbites, whereby everyone gets dismissed for their weirdest, most embarrassing moment rather than engaged with, resulting in survival of the most cautious and skilled at sound-bite crafting.

          • Anonymous says:

            Can you point to a post of his you think is excellent?

          • Jiro says:

            whereby everyone gets dismissed for their weirdest, most embarrassing moment rather than engaged with, resulting in survival of the most cautious and skilled at sound-bite crafting.

            For political soundbites:
            1) Since they are soundbites, they are usually out of context. It’s hard to say the hypnotism quote is out of context.
            2) The soundbite doesn’t go away if the politican disavows what was said in the soundbite. If Scott Adams says “the hypnotism post was total nonsense, because X”, and appeared to be sincere about it, I’d accept it.

          • “If your response to that tripe is “well no one has disproved it!!1!”, I invite you to refute the time cube website.”

            My response is “I think his tongue is firmly in his cheek.”

            But I haven’t read enough of his stuff to be confident I am correct.

          • onyomi says:

            I said I wasn’t going to defend them, but re. evaluating just how crazy the “sex magic” posts are:

            My impression is that they were not entirely tongue-in-cheek, though I think some of the more self-aggrandizing and prurient sounding bits are.

            What I found offputing about them was not that the very idea was crazy on its face, but rather the notion of reading a middle-aged man telling me repeatedly what a great orgasm he was going to help me have.

            But, on its face, the notion that one could, through verbal direction, prime/psyche people up over a period of days to expect a better-than-average orgasm with the result that many of them actually experience/remember a subjectively better-than-average orgasm is not that implausible. It may be wrong. It may feel icky to read. But it’s nowhere near Time Cube level crazy.

          • onyomi says:

            “Can you point to a post of his you think is excellent?”

            Most of his posts are very brief and do include a fair bit of the tongue-in-cheek with the result that you generally have to read many of them over time to get a sense of what he really thinks about anything in a more systematic way. His book “How to Fail at Almost Everything…” is much better in this regard.

            However, he has lots of posts which briefly make excellent points. For example, he called this “dark” thing almost immediately and was subsequently proved absolutely right, as, once I was listening for it, I noticed Tim Kaine and other Hillary representatives, as well as Hillary herself, using it at every possible opportunity.

          • Anonymous says:

            So no sex this time, but plenty of magic. I’m still completely puzzled why you & James would think anyone even remotely in the same ballpark as rationalists would have an interest in this charlatan. He’s like an anti-gwern.

          • onyomi says:

            Have you read any Robert Cialdini? His new book, “Pre-Suasion,” especially, offers copious citations of psychological research. Do you also consider him to be a charlatan?

            Though not as careful or measured, much of what Adams writes seems to be just off-the-cuff observations from a similar perspective, so it’s hard for me to see completely dismissing Adams, unless you think Cialdini is also crap.

            (That said, if someone is interested in learning more about what Adams describes as “persuasion,” I’d recommend Cialdini’s books over anything Adams has written.)

          • Anonymous says:

            Never heard of him. But if he covers the same topics and has even one tiny shred of intellectual honesty in his approach then why in the world would I want to read or listen to Adams over him?

            “Tongue-in-cheek” sounds like a fully general excuse to me.

            (N.B. The post above this one has been stealth edited.)

          • Matt M says:

            I just made a comment that I think was auto-deleted for including a link.

            Google “Scott Adams rationality engine” for a sample of some of his pre-Trump work. He literally had a system he named the rationality engine that he used for debating topics. You can say he wasn’t doing it right and that it’s not REAL rationalism or that he’s just appropriating the language or whatever, but if you look at what he’s doing, it makes a lot of sense that a lot of people would associate him with rationalism, or even think of him as one.

            It seems to me like most of the people here defending Adams are people who actually read his blog pre-Trump, and most of the attackers are people who don’t know anything about him other than “he thinks Trump is smart and that he can hypnotize you into having an orgasm”

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s not a matter of “real” rationalism. I don’t claim Big Y’s version and its offshoots has any particularly great priority claim to that word. It’s just a matter of “this” rationalism.

            Like if you were on an Ayn Rand forum and mentioned objectivism. There are other kinds of objectivism, but in that place you’d be expected to know what was meant.

            In this case, Adams, not only has nothing to do with “our” version of rationalism his values, style, and interests seem nearly opposite.

            As far as not having read all his posts, guilty as charged. The ones I have read lead me to think I shouldn’t invest any more time.

          • onyomi says:

            “(N.B. The post above this one has been stealth edited.)”

            I only edit when, so far as I can tell, nothing has since been added in reply. I didn’t write the parenthetical in response to what you said, but I guess it is a response to it.

            And yes, I would recommend Cialdini over Adams in general, but that doesn’t mean Adams never has anything valuable to say.

            Re. this election and all his posts on Trump, his view amounts to: “Trump is a natural master at the sort of ‘influence’ and ‘persuasion’ skills described by people like Cialdini, and those skills are more important to determining election outcomes (and many other life outcomes besides) than command of facts or specific proposals.”

            Though he may sometime sound like he’s being anti-rationalist when he constantly points out how non-rational people are being, there is also a sense in which he’s being quite rational: if the goal is, e. g., to win an election, and elections are decided largely on non-rational, emotional levels, then looking at what’s going on on a non-rational, emotional level is actually the most rational thing to do.

          • Anonymous says:

            It was in response to the phrase “tongue-in-cheek” disappearing and making that sentence of the response seem a non sequitur. You could see how that would be annoying, right?

          • onyomi says:

            I mean, I guess. But, again, I didn’t see your reply before making the edit. I guess this is a general problem with the edit feature, and maybe I should use it less, but it also makes me more polite in another way, since I frequently edit my posts soon after I write them to try to fix what, upon reading what I wrote, feels to me like bad tone.

        • Montfort says:

          I agree, and would extend this principle to other public figures.

    • Zombielicious says:

      I’ve said this before (other places maybe) but Adams is the real persuader here, not Trump. I’m not sure about “master level,” since his game seems pretty transparent, as shown by the number of comments here calling him out on it, but he’s used the election to attract a lot of positive attention to himself. Start with an interesting, unusual hypothesis (Trump = master persuader), riding the coattails of the most controversial, ongoing, and attention-grabbing event of the year (Trump and the overall election), make a bunch of varied predictions some of which will probably come true (Trump will win the nomination, Clinton will have health problems, record voter turnout, etc), and keep up a stream of well-written and enticing blog posts promising secret knowledge to your audience (plus plug your book a lot).

      But the best part is that he actually managed to convince what I expect is a largely liberal readership that Trump is not a raging buffoon who won by appealing to anti-establishment sentiment and outgroup hatred, but actually a subtle mastermind who they should all be in awe of. Adams’ blog almost makes you respect Trump, or at least consider it – that’s quite a hard thing to make liberals do, and why I give Adams way more credit as the great persuader than Trump, even while expecting that most of his remaining predictions about the election are going to be wrong.

      • Matt M says:

        “what I expect is a largely liberal readership”

        Curious as to where that assumption is coming from.

        I used to read (and comment) his blog regularly before the Trump stuff and I think the community there was mostly libertarian-leaning. I would honestly say it wasn’t *that* different from the community here.

    • Any thoughts about whether Putin is a more powerful persuader than Trump? It seems to me that Trump is giving more to Putin than he’s getting back, and Putin is actually in charge in a more challenging environment.

  11. Wrong Species says:

    Back in 2011, Noah Smith argued against the “Great Vacation” theory of unemployment by noting that if there were all these people voluntarily withdrawing from the labor market then that would indicate lower supply which should result in higher wages. But we didn’t have higher wages so that indicates a demand side problem. Obviously conditions are different now, but I think I agree with him. However, isn’t his reasoning flawed? Lets say that unemployment was down but productivity was way down. Shouldn’t we expect the productivity numbers to overpower the lower supply of labor?

  12. Douglas Knight says:

    What constitutes an electoral landslide? Scott Adams predicted that Trump would win in a landslide. How do we adjudicate that? (He also predicted that Trump would be seen as “running unopposed” by the time the conventions were over.) Above, James Miller reiterates this prediction.

    Does it mean winning 55-45? 60-40? What if many vote for a third party? Should we then look to the difference? ie, should 50-40 counts like 55-45? Or should it be based on electoral votes? Perhaps red pixels in the Mercator projection?

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Well, the Wikipedia article uses electoral votes and apparently considers anything above 75% to be a landslide victory (the lowest victory listed comes in at 76%). That’s good enough for me.

      • Finger says:

        Question about that Wikipedia page. The page shows 14 electoral college landslides from 1900 to 1988. That was over the course of 23 presidential elections, so based on this data it seems about 64% of presidential elections ended in landslides. However, since 88 we’ve had 5 elections (Trump vs Hillary will be our 6th). None of these have been landslides, and Trump vs Hillary is not shaping up to be a landslide either, at least not yet. The probability of seeing 6 non-landslides in a row, assuming each election has an independent 64% probability of being a landslide, is less than 1%. Is this just a coincidence?

        Possible theory that explains this phenomena: Just like every industry, the media industry is getting smarter over time. Presidential elections are a topic viewers are interested in, so the media tries to create as lengthy a campaign season as possible by e.g. baselessly speculating about who might choose to run. Additionally, close races are much better for viewership than landslides. So whenever one candidate starts to do well, the media will attack that candidate to even things out and maintain viewer interest.

        I’m probably reading too much in to the data… the 1800s only had 7 landslides, and the end of the 1800s coincides with a landslide-free period that’s longer than our current one.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          The difference in ’88 forward is ideological sorting and homogenization of the parties, which has gradually become further and further baked in.

          When parties more heterogenous, and their were liberal and conservative Democrats and Republicans, a Democrat in New York or Illinois felt no particular constraint in voting for a Republican from California.

    • Zombielicious says:

      If looking at voter turnout, which Adams also predicted to be record-setting, it looks like breaking 65% would both be the highest since 1908 and beat the very high (compared to recent decades) 2008 turnout.

      If going by margin of victory of the popular vote, > 20% would put the winner in the top six (including themselves), > 15% in the top 12, and > 10% in the top 20 – for all U.S. elections. So probably somewhere in the > 15-20% victory margin range.

      Personally I’d like to hear any kind of remotely quantitative Bayesian evidence for predicting a landslide victory for Trump. Planning on listening to the Adams interview in a bit. Considering it requires disagreeing with the conventional wisdom, most analysts, prediction markets, and fivethirtyeight.com, the prediction would seem to require extraordinary evidence beyond just “I’ve got a hunch.”

      • 27chaos says:

        > Considering it requires disagreeing with the conventional wisdom, most analysts, prediction markets, and fivethirtyeight.com

        I don’t on balance think it’s going to happen, but I am willing to give some amount of consideration to it, in significant part because I expect the errors made by all these groups are correlated with each other and nonrandom. That’s what happened with Brexit, after all.

        Earlier in the year, I placed some weight on the possibility of Hillary getting indicted about her emails.

        Currently, I place some weight on the possibility of something drastic happening to her health. Presidential campaigns are hard on the human body.

        Agree that Adams is a dummy. But those two scenarios hopefully serve as examples.of plausible reasons someone might believe, maybe assisted by an error in reasoning or two, that Trump is likely to solidly win.

        • Zombielicious says:

          Something significant happening to Clinton (e.g. conspicuous health problems, yet another major scandal) would change the analysis. That’s the way I think Trump is most likely to win – Clinton falls into a coma or something before the election. Could be wrong, but aside from that I’m inclined to just go with what fivethirtyeight.com says – they’ve got a pretty good track record so far, and will only have a more accurate prediction as the actual election gets closer. Though their odds have been changing in favor of Trump – he’s currently at a 40% chance, up from a low of 10.8% back in mid-August.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Three things that I think are going to be factors:

            A. Trump has generally done better than polls and pundits have predicted, hasn’t he?
            B. In several European elections, the anti-immigration candidate/party has done a few percentage points better than predicted. Brexit ditto.
            C. Predictions markets have been off, too – they predicted Brexit would fail.

            I’m mentally adjusting Trump’s chance of winning (according to Silver) upwards by a few points on account of the above.

          • pku says:

            A. pundits yes, polls know. Trump has generally done exactly as well as polls have predicted, until it became mathematically impossible for someone to pass him (at which point I think the guys planning to vote for Cruz or Kasich just lost heart and stopped going to vote). The argument by the pundits pessimistic on him was that the polls were overselling him.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Didn’t 538 predict for a while, based on polling, that he had slim chances of taking the Republican nomination?

            Of course, that doesn’t prove 538 wrong – we could live in the world where something with a 1% chance of happening happened.

          • Zombielicious says:

            Fivethirtyeight has also been pretty explicit that the primaries are much harder to predict than the general election.

          • dndnrsn says:

            That is true.

            I’m still expecting a bump for reason B.

          • pku says:

            @dndrsn – I don’t think their purely poll-based predictions ever went much below 40%. Nate Silver said the model was very inaccurate for primaries though, and judgement might be better (the first part is definitely true, based on past primaries).

          • Jaskologist says:

            Nate Silver gave Trump a 2% chance of winning the primaries. When those predictions didn’t pan out, he later said that they hadn’t built a proper statistical model when they released. (Raises the question: how many times has he made a non-model prediction that didn’t turn out so badly he had to issue a correction later?)

            So, why read Scott Adams? Because we have entered the bizarro world where his track record is at least as good as the professional political pundits.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Bizarro world indeed.

            Let’s put it this way. If a couple years ago, someone had said “Donald Trump is going to be the 2016 Republican candidate, and thanks to part of his fan base being a motley crew of far-right internet people, the Democrats will do a news release about how Pepe the Frog is a white nationalist symbol, and going into October he will be closing the gap on Hillary despite such exploits as insulting the family of a dead soldier” …

            Are you going to think that person is that much more out of it if they go on to add “and one person who predicted Trump’s winning the nomination was Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams, who is also a sex hypnotist”?

            Sex hypnotism is the most normal thing here.

        • I can see two possible arguments to predict Trump winning by a large margin.

          1. Because of Trump’s negative public image, lots of people who are planning to vote for him don’t say so. I don’t know if polls vs performance in the primaries fit this or not.

          2. Trump did very well in the Republican debates. One could argue that he is a much more competent demagogue than Clinton, hence likely to do very well debating her, pushing his poll results from nearly even with her to well ahead of her.

          Neither of those strikes me as very likely, but I don’t think they are impossible.

          • pku says:

            2 seems possible, but the accuracy of the polls on Trump’s support in the primaries is decent evidence against 1.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Although perhaps the sort of people who would vote in Republican primaries are more resigned to public deplorability than the electorate at large.

          • Zombielicious says:

            The fivethirtyeight statistical model is also weighted by the reliability of the polls, so they’ve probably considered such factors and taken them into account when assigning the weightings.

            At least the debates will probably be entertaining as hell, if completely shameful and embarrassing for the entire country.

          • Lumifer says:

            lots of people who are planning to vote for him don’t say so

            In the UK that’s known as the Shy Tory factor.

          • At least the debates will probably be entertaining as hell, if completely shameful and embarrassing for the entire country.

            Somehow I find this hilarious.

    • Grort says:

      I think it should be based on Congress. If you win the Presidency _and_ your party gets filibuster-proof majorities in both houses of Congress, that is a landslide.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        No, Reagan won in a landslide in ’84, winning 49 states, but Democrats retained control of the house.

        Landslide is a shorthand for “Electoral College Landslide”.

  13. AnonBosch says:

    Gary Johnson said something stupid again. =(

    I’ve been bullish on Gary compared to most libertarians and right-wingers because I have bleeding heart tendencies. But he’s showing a worrying pattern of thoughtlessness.

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      So the attack dogs are going after him now they’ve decided he’s taking more votes away from Clinton than Trump, huh?

      • Matt M says:

        The right-leaning libertarians I follow on Twitter have been loudly making this declaration for a couple weeks now, up to and including that the Aleppo question was a set-up for this exact purpose.

        • Homo Iracundus says:

          It’s tempting to see what Ken and the Popehat gang is up to now, but it’s the same impulse that makes people watch car crash/cult suicide aftermath videos on liveleak.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            Why? I’ve always found Popehat to be unusually good and reasonable.

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            They haven’t posted anything election-related in the last couple of weeks.

            I second the ‘good and reasonable’ endorsement, and I’d identify as more of a right-libertarian.

          • Homo Iracundus says:

            You haven’t noticed him becoming more and more frantic and unhinged at his Johnson’s dysfunction? And the disintegration of his NEVERTRUMP gang?

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

            No. Link?

    • Diadem says:

      This seems to me to be a much more innocent mistake. Though no doubt the media will pounce on it.

      Everybody makes stupid mistakes on occasion. That’s not really a problem. It’s both normal and something that won’t affect job performance (elementary mistakes like that will be caught by advisors long before they make it into policy).

      Not knowing what Allepp is is more worrying, because it points towards a lack of general knowledge, or perhaps a lack of interest in current events. To some extend that’s also something that advisors can help with, but a President who often doesn’t know what is going on will definitely be less effective.

      • Earthly Knight says:

        Yeah, this is trivial.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        Agreed. If this gets as much attention as Aleppo it suggests that the media really are after him.

      • Deiseach says:

        Well, it is a trivial mistake, and probably down to the rush of having to have an immediate response to news that is still breaking.

        But you could argue this is more serious than the Aleppo slip, because this is domestic news of very great local and national interest. And taking the opportunity to slip in “I was governor of New Mexico” to remind people that yes, I’m now putting in for the top job, plus a bit of flattery to first responders (vote for me, folks, and your friends and family vote for me too, you can see I’ll be on your side!) in the middle of what should be focussed on the event and the places and people attacked is somewhat opportunistic – then again, politicians are opportunists and if they come across as vultures using tragedy to profit, that’s the risk they run.

        A little slip on its own isn’t much. But a chain of little slips? He really can’t afford any more, not unless he does want the media deciding he’s a human disaster and portraying him that way.

        • JayT says:

          I think it was fairly obviously a slip of the tongue though, not a lack of knowledge. I would wager that he meant to say there were no deaths, but accidentally said there were no injuries.

          • Deiseach says:

            Oh yeah, a slip of the tongue plainly. But a guy getting some attention because he’s running against Trump and Clinton can’t afford little slips – or not to make a habit of them, because they will add up in the public mind.

            So what was he like as Governor of New Mexico? Are his former subjects public whom he served “10/10, would recommend” or “let the nation have him, at least that will get him out of our hair”? 🙂

          • JayT says:

            I realize now that I misread your comment. I thought you were saying this was a worse mistake, not that it was a more damaging mistake.

            As for what New Mexicans thought of him, when he was reelected he won by 10%, and he was running as a Republican in a fairly strong Democratic state, so I assume he was fairly well liked.

      • pku says:

        I haven’t even heard of it aside from this link (and I heard about the aleppo thing from three independent sources), so looks like the media actually did not give this an inappropriate amount of attention.

  14. onyomi says:

    Why is the newspaper comic strip business the most pro-incumbent business in the universe?

    There are obviously innumerable funnier (if often more niche, admittedly) webcomics out there which may, in a few cases, be equally or more profitable, but I’m pretty sure most webcomics do not make as much money as comics like Beetle Bailey, most of which are by dead people and their sons and grandsons milking the same sad punchlines decade after decade.

    I mean, I used to enjoy Peanuts and, of course Calvin and Hobbes (the sole known case of someone gracefully bowing out while ahead), and there are occasionally a few chuckles elsewhere, but it’s mostly terrible.

    But what I really want to focus on is: yeah, I know newspapers are struggling and read mostly by old people; I know businesses in general are risk averse and stick with what they know (Hollywood sticking with franchises and established big names), but really, the level of stagnation in this particular area seems almost staggering. Like you could write an economic paper on what went wrong or something.

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      A) Few webcomics or webcomic artists are “fit for print” for a variety of reasons. Format, reliability (nobody wants to have to print “sorry, Miura’s on hiatus again” notices), content, etc.

      B) Everyone who would enjoy that content is already getting it online, and probably not subscribing to newspapers at all. There’s no actual marketing opportunity there. Are you going to tell a bunch of 20 year olds they can pay $400/year (really) for a NYT subscription to read the same comics they’re reading right now?

      C) A lot of newspaper subscribers are legacy. People (and companies) that buy them out of habit/to appear respectable, etc. Making large changes to your format in the hopes of getting more readers risks some of those subscribers thinking “wait, how much am I paying for this rag every month?”

      D) Most of these papers are already doing “youth outreach” stuff in their free digital editions. The NYT does manga reviews, for example, to appeal to 30+ year old librarians who want to be Hip.

      • onyomi says:

        “wait, how much am I paying for this rag every month?”

        My dad claims that he stopped paying for his newspaper subscription years ago, but they just keep delivering it. I guess they can claim their circulation numbers are still up?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Nothing went wrong.

      You aren’t the audience (nor am I).

      • onyomi says:

        Who is the audience? Old people who fear all change?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Well, yes and no.

          Newspaper comics have to be grockable by everyone who opens them. Unless we are talking about some niche weekly paper or something.

          So comics will be necessarily dominated by a form of lowest common denominator humor. This is also true of half-hour broadcast TV comedies. The most popular ones engage in what we would call tired, but others would call time-tested, tropes that are mined for reliable laughs.

          Most people who pick up a newspaper are perfectly happy to get a reliable small chuckle out of the comics. And it’s been that way for a long time. Every now and then something new gets thrown in the mix, but mostly “the old reliable” tropes got mined by whatever comic was there.

          Newspapers in general are in trouble, and get fewer and fewer new (young) readers, making it even less likely you get an editor who will do more than add a comic here or there.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Calvin & Hobbes is not unique. The Far Side and Bloom County are two more comics that lasted only the 80s (though Breathed’s career is more complicated).

    • BBA says:

      Calvin and Hobbes (the sole known case of someone gracefully bowing out while ahead)

      I’d add The Far Side there.

      Webcomics have pretty much sucked away both the supply of and demand for new newspaper comic talent. Artists don’t want to deal with the censorship and other loss of creative control, editors don’t see any reason to include anyone new when the audience is satisfied with the same old strips. If your dream in life was to sell out and become the next Jim Davis, too bad.

      ETA: I’m thinking specifically of Frank Cho and Aaron McGruder, both of whom had brief, controversial runs in the funny pages around the turn of the millennium, and neither of whom is even imaginable as a newspaper comic artist today.

    • God Damn John Jay says:

      I attended a speech by the editor of one of the larger newspapers in the capital of my province. She said that they most hate mail she ever received was when they forgot to add a comics section. I think a lot of people would be mad if they dropped any specific comic.

      • onyomi says:

        I feel like print newspapers are stuck in a “lame and irrelevant” spiral whereby they’re too afraid to alienate their small remaining audience by changing anything yet guarantee they’ll continue their descent into irrelevance by never changing anything.

        • LHN says:

          Aversion to comics page changes long predates the Internet. A newspaper comic was a known gravy train when Siegel and Shuster were shopping Superman around. (They wanted to be the next Flash Gordon.) Though they couldn’t get any bites, and so took a chance on the new monthly ten cent comic book format. (Whether that was a good choice depends when you ask them.)

          I was going to say it predates the decline of the newspaper, but that’s been going on for the better part of a century. When I was growing up, we had two competing newspapers. But decades earlier a major city might have half a dozen or more. I don’t know if there was more frequent change on the comics page in the days of the Yellow Kid, but I’m inclined to bet it was pretty risk averse even then.

    • Anonymous says:

      comics like Beetle Bailey, most of which are by dead people and their sons and grandsons milking the same sad punchlines decade after decade.

      I realize you didn’t actually claim otherwise, but just for the record, Mort Walker is alive. Old, but alive, to quote Morgenstern.

      Also, if you find yourself having trouble enjoying newspaper comics, you should check out The Comics Curmudgeon.

    • I don’t know. I remember talk about newspapers choosing to have fewer comics pages and printing the comics smaller, which led to less flexibility for the comics creators.

      I would leave the possibility open that newspapers have a death wish, but then it would be necessary to explain why.

      • John Schilling says:

        Newspapers are in a death spiral, which isn’t quite the same thing as a death wish. They absolutely have to print more and more blatant, intrusive, annoying advertising, or they can’t make payroll and they shut down next month. They absolutely have to keep printing the sorts of content the audience values, in a conveniently accessible format, or the audience will migrate to getting that same content via the internet over the next few years. Except the only place for the blatantly intrusive advertising to go is in the same place the desirable content already is, meaning the audience starts to leave and the advertisers start to demand lower rates for the same content and you have to cram in still more advertising…

        Comics getting shrunk is part of this dynamic. As is the part where the Sunday comics sheet is hidden inside an unlabeled advertising sheaf, forcing the reader who wants the comics to at least flip through every sheaf of advertising they’d otherwise roundfile at first glance.

  15. So, a question to the readers here about that most important topic, Harry Potter fanfiction, specifically, the Harry Potter Sacrifices arc, by Lightning on the Wave.

    I got pointed at this set of fanfic off of (IIRC) someone’s Tumblr. I picked up a copy of them in .doc form a while back, got nerd-sniped working out the most efficient way to convert .doc files to something Calibre-readable, and ended up the entire honking lot of them on my Kindle. I’ve been chipping away at them for a while, through a mixture of genuine interest, horror (very rarely the horror the author expects me to have), and occasional hate-reading.

    Has anyone else here been pointed to this? I mean, on one hand, I have to applaud the author for simply getting down such a long and coherent story, even in the relatively simple medium of Harry Potter fanfic. On the other hand…as I crest into Book 5, the phrase “The Left Behind of Harry Potter fanfic” is coming to mind more and more strongly. I feel like this series is an encapsulation of a subculture’s bad habits of thought just as the Left Behind books are, and wonder what other opinions people might have on it.

    Has anyone else read this? Does anyone else have any opinion on the series as a whole?

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      Have you considered setting up an automatic timer to get an idea how many hours you’ve spent reading harry potter fanfiction?

    • Aegeus says:

      I’ve never been pointed to it, and the words “eventual HPDM Slash” and “Harry’s twin Connor is the Boy Who Lived” set off some alarm bells, so under most circumstances I’d probably skip it.

      But I tried reading it anyway, and the badfic alarms kept getting worse. Everyone in Connor’s life has been preparing to fight the Dark Lord even though they have no way of knowing he’s returning (it sort of gives you the feeling they’ve been reading ahead in the script). Harry has been studying magic long before going to Hogwarts and is almost strong enough to fight Death Eaters. Wizards can sense each others’ power levels like we’re in Dragonball Z. A brief stop at the Potions Classroom station of canon, to show off the new and improved Harry some more. And that’s where I gave up, at about 15 pages in.

      I can see why you might call it an encapsulation of the subculture’s bad habits, because there’s just a lot of warning flags here. Like, it’s not bad on a technical level, there are no spelling or grammar errors, but everything about this fic is telling me to get out now before things get worse.

    • Yeah, you nailed a few of the big ones early on. I mean, I was fine with the drastically-revised magic system and world history (even if it did strip out most of the Harry Potter-ness), and the HPDM slash isn’t terrible in and of itself…but all of them added together are screaming warnings in the tongue of Shibboleth.

      I may post a review somewhere if I manage to make it through the entire series, but I would be really interested to know what anyone else who’s read it, especially people like me who aren’t in its target audience, thought of it.

    • Deiseach says:

      I tend to stay far away from Harry Potter fanfic these days so my only advice would be “don’t” 🙂

      Though I have seen some very favourable reviews of it, so it might be okay writing. Still doesn’t tempt me into reading it, though.

      (The furore over “The Cursed Child” is helping keep me far away from Potterverse; I’ve seen one person who liked and defended it versus a whole lot who think it’s really dreadful).

    • Anita Restrepo-Sanchez says:

      I don’t understand why people waste their dear time reading things that they know are likely to be terrible? And I really do not know why you bother with Harry Potter fanfiction. Not only is fanfiction generally not worth reading, for all the same reasons that no self-published, or published by vanity press or by niche ideological or religious mini-publishers are, with more added on, but we’re talking about a series whose original books are fairly terrible, so I’ve never wasted my time reading them.

      • John Schilling says:

        Please don’t feed the blatantly obvious troll.

      • Aegeus says:

        Not only is fanfiction generally not worth reading, for all the same reasons that no self-published, or published by vanity press or by niche ideological or religious mini-publishers are,

        If a book is self-published or vanity-published, it means no publisher was willing to pay for it, which is a fairly good signal of poor quality. The existence of publishers filters out all the good works from the pool.

        But if fanfiction is self-published, well, that’s the only option. Publishers can’t take fanfiction, because of copyright issues. That means that, while the pool of fanfiction does contain a lot of unpublishable crap, it also contains some actually good writers, who could probably have gotten published if they had chosen to write original fiction instead of fanfic. And thanks to technology and user recommendations, it’s quite easy to filter out the good authors from the crap.

        we’re talking about a series whose original books are fairly terrible, so I’ve never wasted my time reading them.

        I’ll ignore the obvious bait and point out something more interesting: Fanfic can be better than the works that it’s based on. Good authors can take apart a work of fiction, pick out the good parts, cut out stupid or contrived plot points, patch holes in the worldbuilding, and generally make it a better story than the original.

        (Fun anecdote: Jim Butcher said that he got the idea for the Codex Alera books when someone bet him that he couldn’t write a good book based on a lame idea. The challenger gave him a prompt of “The Lost Roman Legions, with Pokémon” and he turned it into an awesome fantasy adventure.)

        • Deiseach says:

          Publishers can’t take fanfiction, because of copyright issues.

          While that is true, there are the authorised sequels etc. (such as writing a follow-up to “Gone With The Wind”) and the unauthorised works like Wide Sargasso Sea, a response to Jane Eyre, as well as the rash of catchpenny crazes like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies etc.

          You get a lot of it in genre fiction, like the unstoppable flood of Holmes pastiches – some excellent, but some really atrocious. I’ve read fanfiction that is, as you say, much better than these official and legal professionally written things. Ditto with Robert B. Parker’s various detective series which are being carried on by new writers, and there have been authorised new adventures of Nero Wolfe and Hercule Poirot.

          As for turning fanfiction into original fiction, there’s the Cassandra Claire affaire where she took her Harry Potter fanfiction, filed off the serial numbers, and had it professionally published as original fiction under the series title of The Mortal Instruments.

          I have certainly read fanfiction that is much better than the professional version, and I’m sure it’s a training ground for people who want to go on to become professional writers. But it is free writing distributed for the price of nothing by people who love a particular fandom and are inspired to make something by it, and it’s fun for most people, both readers and writers. It’s art, even if the majority of it is low art.

          • keranih says:

            @ Deiseach –

            I too have read fanfic that is heads and shoulders above the average ‘pro’ fiction, and better than the original, to boot. However, I’m going to quibble on a couple aspects.

            Firstly, Sherlock Holmes is perhaps the ur example of a Fandom, and also tumbled into that happy period before any of Walt Disney’s works began earning money. So authorized or not, SH fic abounds, and is subjected to the same standards as the rest of pro-fic – does the publisher think it will sell? Likewise, Jane Austin.

            Secondly, the estate of Margarette Mitchell attempted to sue the pants off the author of Wind Done Gone and in the end settled out of court.

            Thirdly, the list of people who admit to using fanfic as training wheels is increasing annually, but as 50 Shades of Grey amply demonstrates, the drama of Fandom is also increasingly wrapt up in those publishing histories. There is more to fic than just art.

            Having said all that – heck yes, it’s art – and yes, it has a tradition separate from “professional fiction”. I would argue, though, that there is a strong sense of “doing it for the love of the art” running through literary fiction of all genres, and this is, in part, why the late lamented affair d’canines came into being – many professional writers come from socio-economic and fannish backgrounds that resist the idea of the reader is happy, the author gets paid, and push back against populist work that reflects the need to move units off the shelf.

      • I’ve read some excellent self-published fiction.

        HPMOR– it’s uneven, but where it’s good it’s very good. Amends, or Truth and Reconciliation, an impressive account of Hermione’s year after the end of Deathly Hallows. The main thing wrong with it is that it isn’t finished, and I’ve pretty much given up hope.

        The Martian was self-published. Marko Kloos’ milsf was self-published, and I liked the first three books a lot, though I grant I’ve bogged down in the fourth book. (Warning, the story is good, but the science is inexcusably bad.)

        Torchship is self-published, and quite a bit of fun.

        I would like to see an award for best self-published sf.

  16. Casey says:

    Does anyone know any intelligent blogs or other links about religion/spirituality specifically for atheists? I’m interested in picking up religion for mental health reasons – I’m not coping well with existential angst, getting older, fear of dying, all of that good stuff. Being an atheist, which is the intellectually “correct” position in my mind, has not brought me any happiness nor has it led me to making “better” life decisions. I believe that if I acted as though religion were true, I could eventually convince myself of it and thereby improve my well-being. I don’t care about being intellectually correct, I just want to stop lying awake at night worrying about death.

    Unfortunately, I’ve spent so much time being an atheist that most religious or spiritual material is….icky to me. I don’t even know where to start to find communities that are full of religious people who decided to believe those things on purpose, rather than being convinced of its inherent correctness or whatever.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      I recommend Book 3 of De Rerum Natura, ideally in the Martin Smith translation. It was composed for someone in precisely your situation. The section on the fear of death begins at line 830.

    • Protagoras says:

      I’m not really completely sure what you’re looking for, but if you’re looking for blogs that are less likely to seem icky to an atheist, I’m an atheist and I read Fred Clark’s blog, as well as Adam Kotsko’s. I’d probably recommend Clark more than Kotsko, and probably neither will work for your purposes if you are at all politically conservative, as while they may not be in the habit of saying things that offend atheist sensibilities, they are both pretty liberal and connect that to their theology.

    • Skef says:

      This is both a good and a bad time (the former because it’s more available, the latter because it’s trendy and there’s a lot of bullshit practitioners) but have you considered finding an ayahuasca group? Traditional religions are a bit oversold as solutions to the problems you’re dealing with, and given your current outlook a sub-cognitive approach seems much more likely to be effective.

    • Gazeboist says:

      Epistemic Status: when I was nine I decided I was probably an atheist; my actual opinion now is that the question is foolish, but most conceptions of God that people evangelize strike me as unworthy of worship. I’ve also never really experienced the issues you describe as a part of atheism.

      How’s the rest of your life? You can deliberately cultivate a community that will give many of the social benefits of religion. It will be harder than just joining a church(/synagogue/mosque/temple of another kind), and it won’t directly address any fear of death etc, but it will give you a sense of belonging and relevance, plus a set of things to think about other than dying.

      On another, similar note, the deliberate decision to focus on improving the world immediately around me (on, essentially, universalizability grounds) also helped with some fear of the immensity of the task of fixing everything.

    • The two religious authors I like are C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton. They have not persuaded me to be a Christian, or even a theist, but they come across as intelligent and thoughtful people and good (in GKC’s case extraordinarily good) writers.

      • Anonymous says:

        Chesterton’s probably the foremost writer in the English language. Some of his essays are entirely without peer in my experience, and The Man Who Was Thursday isn’t far behind. I think he can be thoroughly enjoyed almost regardless of anyone’s beliefs.

        (I’d argue the other main contenders are Shakespeare and Stevenson, in case someone wants referents to what’s a fairly strong assertion.)

        • Ivy says:

          Some of his essays are entirely without peer in my experience

          You’ve piqued my interest. Could you name a couple?

          • Anonymous says:

            I’ll suggest the collection All Things Considered, and the specific essays (from outside that collection) “On Lying In Bed” and “The Toy Theatre”.

            Oh, and just for safety’s sake, let me underscore that this recommendation is on the basis of the writing as such. If you expect to be blown away by the ideas… well, you might be, but that’s not what’s advertised, anyway. The writing, on the other hand, is sparkling and unmatched. If you disagree with that, I am ready to be blamed. 😀

          • Deiseach says:

            The thing to remember about Chesterton is that he’s a journalist. He’s not an intellectual, he studied as an art student for a bit then dropped out of that and got into writing for a living. So he presents things from the level of “ordinarily intelligent and reasonably well-educated man”, not a specialist, a theologian, a philosopher or anything more advanced than that.

            His autobiography is great fun:

            There was a whole world in which nobody was any more likely to drop an h than to pick up a title. I early discovered, with the malice of infancy, that what my seniors were really afraid of was any imitation of the intonation and diction of the servants. I am told (to quote another hearsay anecdote) that about the age of three or four, I screamed for a hat hanging on a peg, and at last in convulsions of fury uttered the awful words, “If you don’t give it me, I’ll say ‘at.” I felt sure that would lay all my relations prostrate for miles around.

            I remember once walking with my father along Kensington High Street, and seeing a crowd of people gathered by a rather dark and narrow entry on the southern side of that thoroughfare. I had seen crowds before; and was quite prepared for their shouting or shoving. But I was not prepared for what happened next. In a flash a sort of ripple ran along the line and all these eccentrics went down on their knees on the public pavement. I had never seen people play any such antics except in church; and I stopped and stared. Then I realised that a sort of little dark cab or carriage had drawn up opposite the entry; and out of it came a ghost clad in flames. Nothing in the shilling paint-box had ever spread such a conflagration of scarlet, such lakes of lake; or seemed so splendidly likely to incarnadine the multitudinous sea. He came on with all his glowing draperies like a great crimson cloud of sunset, lifting long frail fingers over the crowd in blessing. And then I looked at his face and was startled with a contrast; for his face was dead pale like ivory and very wrinkled and old, fitted together out of naked nerve and bone and sinew; with hollow eyes in shadow; but not ugly; having in every line the ruin of great beauty. The face was so extraordinary that for a moment I even forgot such perfectly scrumptious scarlet clothes.

            We passed on; and then my father said, “Do you know who that was? That was Cardinal Manning.”

            Then one of his artistic hobbies returned to his abstracted and humorous mind; and he said,

            “He’d have made his fortune as a model.”

            So enjoy the writing 🙂

          • Anonymous says:

            Deiseach, I have to quibble with “ordinarily intelligent”. I agree with all the rest, but it seems perfectly obvious to me that Chesterton was quite extraordinarily intelligent; one of England’s greatest intellectual giants of the 20th century.

            Intellectual, on the other hand, specialist; certainly not that. Very much an ordinary man in that sense.

          • Somewhere there is a comment by Shaw on Chesterton’s book about Shaw. It amounts to “every fact he could have checked he got wrong, everything that required a perceptive understanding he got right.”

          • Anonymous says:

            one of England’s greatest intellectual giants of the 20th century.

            Intellectual, on the other hand, specialist; certainly not that.

            Good heavens, what an idiot I look. It ought to read “greatest mental giants”, of course.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Half joking here but become a transhumanist.

    • M.C. Escherichia says:

      I’m in a similar situation: I’ve been attending various churches lately and attended my first ever Roman Catholic mass yesterday… while still being a near-atheist agnostic.

      > I don’t care about being intellectually correct

      In that case, just go to church or synagogue or whatever you feel is appropriate and participate (but do so honestly; e.g. don’t take communion). If asked, just say you’re an interested agnostic. (Being good rationalists, we know that no belief should be assigned probability 0, so this is technically true.)

      After a while you might find yourself starting to believe. I suspect this might happen to me.

      But in any case, I’ve come to believe that taking part in religious rituals is a normal part of being human. The feeling I get in church now is a sort of gladness at being surrounded by people of good will; I feel uplifted — not necessarily by the presence of God, but by the presence of humanity.

      • Fahndo says:

        Being good rationalists, we know that no belief should be assigned probability 0

        What’s the probability that there is at least one belief that should be assigned a probability of zero?

    • dndnrsn says:

      Why not just join a church, synagogue, mosque, etc? Just fake it til you make it. Maybe if you hear enough about how God loved us so much that He sent His Son to suffer and die for us, or whatever, you’ll start to believe it.

      Or, just see if you can take a basic comparative religions course at a university. The study of religion, outside of theology departments, tends to be quite secular.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Comparative religion courses won’t help; the issues he’s facing are not knowledge gaps. A happier, better life is a matter of practice and habit.

        I’m going to agree with you on the “fake it till you make it” part (or, as lambdaphagy would put, LARPing). Learning to trust God generally involves a whole lot of spiritual trust fall exercises, and I suspect most common religious practices are beneficial even without the belief component. Either way, meeting regularly with well-adjusted, virtuous people is going to rub off on you in a positive sense. You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.

        The good(?) news is that humans are pretty good at deciding to believe in things. Start acting like they are true, and the intellect will follow, much like smiling will make you happier*. It is not logical, but it is often true.

        *Unless that was overturned with the priming stuff.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I found that approaching religion from a secular standpoint made me less atheistic. I find that a lot of people – even people raised religiously – don’t actually know that much about religion in general, or even theirs in specific.

    • phisheep says:

      I’ll second David’s author suggestions. Try particularly Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy” and Lewis’s “Surprised by Joy”.

      Also well worth a look is the Ship of Fools forum. It is a forum rather than a blog, very wide-ranging, and populated mostly by Christians who don’t take themselves *too* seriously. Extremely well-moderated and interesting, and you are certain to find a sympathetic ear or fifteen.

    • Deiseach says:

      Religion may not help with fear of death. If you’re lying awake worrying about your mortality, consider if this might be something to do with depression.

      It’s hard to look the fact of your own inevitable death in the face, and even harder, as you get older, to realise the time behind you is greater than the time ahead of you, and death is coming closer all the time.

      Religion helps, but it may not be the kind of “well, if I convince myself I have an immortal soul, then accepting I’ll die won’t be so bad as that’s only my body, I will continue on” reassurance you may be looking for. It’s entirely possible to believe in the soul and an afterlife and still lie awake at night thinking about death and the shortness of life left to you.

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        Most major religions have scary afterlives as well as heavenly ones, so you may add a new worry. A religion that offers a nice and assured afterlife is
        Wicca scrolling down from there finds Theosophy. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity have savior gods each with his own heaven to take you to (Krishna, the Pure Land Buddha, and Christ, respectively).

        Of all these, only Christianity requires intellectual belief in certain doctrines.

    • Aido says:

      You’ve stated you don’t care as much about truth-value, but regardless I would recommend Derek Parfit’s “Reasons and Persons”. He starts from thought experiments (teletransporters, callosotomies, etc) and derives truths about the nature of identity which are deeply unintuitive and fundamentally change the way you will think about yourself and your own death. It’s hardcore philosophy reading and if that presents a barrier to entry I would recommend skipping the first third of the book about the properties of consequentialism and jump right into the thought experiment sections. Should be able to find them without too much trouble.

      I’m also surprised nobody has mentioned Sam Harris. His main focus is meditation but the broader concept is spirituality for atheists. Consider listening to this reading covering chapter 1 of his book, and if it catches your interest you can dive in more fully.

    • Aneesh Mulye says:

      First, it isn’t possible to alieve something on purpose. You can create a highly functional lie, pretend to yourself that you believe something, but deep down inside you’ll know for certain that it’s a lie, and your discontent shan’t go away. What you are trying to explicitly do is to force yourself into doublethink, and that requires a certain obliviousness which attempting to do it consciously makes impossible.

      Second, even when doublethink is successful, it is a kind of violence against the self and a repression of the intellect; my sincere request would be to not do it.

      You may well ask, “OK, but what then? What do I do about the problems? Are these not the only options I have? Are my only options not a simulacrum of belief on one hand, and depression on the other?”, and the answer is that absolutely not; you’ve operating under a totally false dichotomy, probably the result of not knowing about the options. It is definitely possible to transcend the fear of death while still alive, but neither ‘atheism’ nor the various ‘mainstream’ religions (or non-mainstream whacko cults, for that matter) can teach you how to do it. It is understandable that you’d do so; (I suspect) I know how uncomfortable and even painful the state you find yourself in can be.

      You are in luck, and have some august company; these are the same questions that troubled the Buddha, and this discontent is also the starting point of the actual ‘spiritual path’ (I use the term because it’s the only one I know; please don’t reify it) the initial goad for which is almost always the discontent that you now exhibit. Classically, it is death, disease, old age, and finally the possibility of something more that drive this process. ‘Rationalists’ and ‘atheists’ find themselves in the (very uncomfortable and depressing) intermediate state – they have pierced the cocoon of comfort that the popular religions provide (this is, in fact, their psychological purpose and primary draw of those systems), and find themselves facing these realities naked and head-on without the possibility that the suffering they bring may in fact have a ‘solution’ that doesn’t just consist of using comforting BS to numb yourself to reality. It is notable that the thing the Buddha saw after seeing death, disease, and old age was a sadhu – and ascetic, a renunciate – due to which he opened himself to the possibility that there may, in fact, be something more he could do, that perhaps suffering could be transcended. (Without this possibility, you get stuck in a depressed half-life, which I think is the misfortune of some of the best rationalists, IMO.)

      Again, you are in luck; there is. Starting from the very starting point that you have, other people have in fact made the journey out of suffering (though not pain; they are not the same), some with guidance and some on their own, have left behind valuable advice for people in your position, and a number of such people exist today and can guide you at the points where you need it.

      I see that you are still looking outside yourself for solace and succor – with the idea that some religion, something out there, shall provide a means to alleviate your suffering. Note that though outside support may be absolutely necessary to you now, and you should not hesitate to take it as and when required, eventually you shall (have to) recognise that the process that you are going through is your own, that your life is your own, and that this is not just me preaching but a structural truth of the human condition. (And please, no doublethink; that’s a terrible and self-negating abdication of your own authority and life.)

      Partially because of the false dichotomy under which (I think) you’re operating, I see that you’re ‘prematurely optimising’, in a sense – reaching for a solution without properly being with the problem, perhaps because it feels too painful to be with the problem. The thing is, this leads to an obviously sub-optimal solution – that of reaching for a ‘mainstream’ religion – and I’m afraid you may waste years on that pursuit without it actually doing anything for you except wasting your time and energy, the only things you really have. You cannot ‘untake’ the Red pill of honest questioning that undid the mainstream religions for you, I’m afraid; you’ve outgrown them, and you can’t ‘ungrow’ until they fit again. The only way for you now is forward, not back – and going back is impossible in any case.

      Based purely on what you’re telling me, and presuming that your discontent is intense (it definitely sounds like it) and your search sincere, I’d suggest starting with Sam Harris’ book ‘Waking Up’, followed by Jed McKenna’s Enlightenment trilogy (please read the whole trilogy) as an introduction and an orientation. The latter is useful not merely for its practice advice (which I find somewhat ‘dry’) or specific content, but for the various ways in which it demolishes the BS that tends to accrete around things ‘spiritual’. The third book also deals explicitly with the stage/state you find yourself in.

      My own search, to try to make sense of my experiences during and after a meditation retreat (to which I had gone with no expectations and which I thought would at most be something nice to try – and which I definitely did not expect would completely shake up my life and identity) led me to the practice tradition of Shaiva Tantra; or rather, I kept searching until something made sense, and this was the first thing that did. After that, things really ‘clicked’ for me. This may not click for you; I don’t know what will. Finding something that does is also part of the process. In case you’re interested (and I am by no means implying that you should be, this is just the system I’ve found made sense of things, rings true, and works for me right now), I’d recommend two things to begin with: the book ‘Tantra Illuminated’, by Christopher Wallis, and the 40-Day Awareness Challenge to get a taste of what practice is and what it does, when it comes around in January next year. Additionally, you can look at the three videos (in order): What is the Purpose of Yoga, What is Awakening, and 8 Pitfalls on the Path of Awakening.

      (Speaking purely for myself, meditation in general and the Shaiva Tantrik tradition in particular has been absolutely transformative in my own life. I am much calmer, less anxious, more open, just happier in general, and life is more vivid as well. I’m also less prone to BS, both others’ and my own.)

      For actual practice recommendations, you have a variety of options. If you prefer a somewhat more dry, less ‘spiritual’ sounding approach that is reliant almost entirely on your own effort, then Adyashanti’s ‘The Way of Liberation’ (freely available on his website) is quite concise (I’m tempted to call it ‘enlightenment in ~45 pages’), and may even be a complete teaching. You will, of course, require more specific things as you go along – I’d suggest at least Adya’s book ‘True Meditation’ to go along with it.

      There is a large variety of Buddhist traditions, of varying quality; and many others besides. It is possible to spend years in a difficult search – I did, at least two, before I found what ‘clicked’ for me – and my recommendations are meant to help guide your search in the right direction.

      If the only I do with this post is to convince you to re-evaluate what you’re proposing doing to yourself, and consider that ‘doublethink+religion’ and ‘depression’ aren’t your only two options, and that I have made the best effort that I can to let you know that wasting years on uncomfortably repressing your doubts and playing along with a religion that you do not believe in is not your only alternative to depression, and that you are in a particularly painful stage of the natural process of human growth and that there is a next step and that you are damn well capable of taking it (and the next ones after that, if you so choose) and ‘coming out the other side’ (so to speak) then I shall consider myself to have succeeded (even if you decide to go ahead and do this unfortunate thing anyway).

      Or maybe everything I said is totally inapplicable to your situation, and finding a ‘mainstream’ religion and numbing out with the feeling of community that you think it’ll give you is exactly what would be right for you; what do I know about you other than this short post, after all, and who am I to tell?

      I wish you good luck. If you have further questions, feel free to ask – I’d be happy to answer them, if I can.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        Aneesh Mulye – “First, it isn’t possible to [believe] something on purpose. You can create a highly functional lie, pretend to yourself that you believe something, but deep down inside you’ll know for certain that it’s a lie, and your discontent shan’t go away.”

        To the extent that such a thing is knowable, I have explicitly believed things on purpose at least twice in my life, moving from Christian to Atheist, and then back to Christian, each time as the result of a distinct conscious choice. I am highly confident that it is possible to choose your beliefs; in fact, I am somewhat confident that all beliefs are downstream of personal choice.

        • Aneesh Mulye says:

          This is why I used alieve as opposed to believe; I think the distinction is meaningful.

          Secondly, did you make the choice to believe something while knowing and being convinced that it was as a matter of fact not true? Collapsing a state of uncertainty into one of two ‘gestalts’ (that’s the closest word I can think of) that you’re teetering between, or undergoing an organic process of changes in beliefs (even if a part of that process involves a conscious choice), seems to me very different from consciously deciding that you’re going to simultaneously know that something is not the case yet try to ‘believe’ it anyway because you expect doing so shall bring you some benefits.

          Finally, if you’re open to sharing it, I suspect that a more detailed account of how you did what you did, or of how/what the process (of changing beliefs) was for you may be of great use to Casey, if he/she/[pronoun] decides to go down that road.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Aneesh Mulye – “This is why I used alieve as opposed to believe; I think the distinction is meaningful.”

            ah, nuts. I thought it might have been, and should have googled the term. Also, apologies for the thread hijack. This question is one I’ve been thinking about a lot for the past month or two.

            “Secondly, did you make the choice to believe something while knowing and being convinced that it was as a matter of fact not true?”

            I was convinced pretty solidly convinced Atheism was absurd, but Christianity made me miserable, so I decided to stop believing in it. The absurdities and certainties switched polarity in fairly short order. Some years later I concluded that Athiesm was not good for my mental health, and that I had likely been doing Christianity wrong, so I decided to try believing again. The polarities shifted back fairly quickly. Strong family connections and lots of mental stress probably made this process a lot easier for me.

            “Secondly, did you make the choice to believe something while knowing and being convinced that it was as a matter of fact not true?”

            I would agree that Believing something that you know to be false won’t work. On the other hand, I think “known” is just another term for belief as well, and most of the interesting linkages of belief chase their own tails down long chains of recursion rather than being rooted in simple, straightforward fact. Lots of people argue over whether or not God exists; few people argue whether 2+2=4. I think this is because there are a lot of good reasons to believe either side of the former question, and no good reasons to believe one side of the later question. Introduce conflicting values, and I think 2+2 would likely be as fraught a question as the existence of God or Capitalism vs Communism or which candidate to vote for. I posted a thought experiment based on this idea a few threads ago to illustrate the idea.

            The point being, you can’t believe something is true if you know it to be false, but “knowing it to be false” is itself a belief. There’s always axioms at the end of the chain, and axioms are always open to reassessment.

            “Finally, if you’re open to sharing it, I suspect that a more detailed account of how you did what you did, or of how/what the process (of changing beliefs) was for you may be of great use to Casey, if he/she/[pronoun] decides to go down that road.”

            Past the above, I doubt my personal experiences are terribly relevant. There is an idea in Atheism and the Rationalist movement that belief should be forced by evidence. I think there’s a very limited extent to which this is true, but the world is too complex and bias too subtle for our minds to truly work this way on the questions that really matter to us. I think we believe what we wish to believe, what we find it useful to believe. Further, I think it’s healthier to admit this is what we’re doing, and do it consciously and as responsibly as we’re able. Other posters had the right of it: if one wants to believe, immersing oneself in a healthy community of believers while cultivating doubt in ones’ own certainties is a good way to get there.

  17. pku says:

    How common are recursive dreams for people? How common are multilevel recursive dreams? For those who have them, what’s the experience like?

    I woke up this week from a five-level dream (dream within a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream). That’s not super-unusual for me anymore (It happens, say, once every month or two), but it used to be incredibly unusual – I remember getting a multilevel dream a few years ago and freaking out a bit. Two-level dreams I’ve always had (I can remember one from when I was six or so). Also, I often get recursive dreams in clusters- I might get a fortnight with a bunch of them, then a few months without any.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I only remember ever having one recursive dream. It involved me lying in bed, sleeping, having a short nightmare, waking up panting, then immediately going back to sleep and it happening again and again (with a different nightmare each time). It was weird.

    • Cadie says:

      I’ve only had a three-level dream once that I can remember. Two-level happens often enough that it’s not a bizarre situation anymore; I don’t think I had any until adulthood, but now I get them every few months.

      Usually when I have them, the second dream – when I “wake up” and don’t realize I’m still dreaming – is boring. The first one might be weird or might not; the second is almost always mundane stuff, like I wake up and realize I’m going to be late for my shift at Dairy Queen and the dog ate my car keys. We don’t have a dog and I haven’t worked at Dairy Queen since 1997, but that sort of thing is still very realistic and logical compared to most dreams. Then I wake up for real.

    • Rachael says:

      I used to have them quite frequently as a child and young adult, but less so nowadays. For me they always had a nightmarish quality. I’d wake up, relieved, from a scary dream, and then realise with dismay that I was still dreaming, and feel trapped in the dream. Sometimes I’d even “wake up” and tell my parents or my husband about the dream, before realising I was still dreaming.

  18. Shion Arita says:

    I just posted something like this in an older open thread as a reply to something (something akin to ‘what common beliefs of the rationalist community do you disagree with), but might as well do it here as well since it will probably get discussion here.

    I don’t understand why people are afraid of unfriendly AI. I haven’t seen any evidence that they’re likely to be created.

    And, even if they are created that I haven’t seen any evidence they are likely to be particularly damaging. This part of it seems to be often taken as an (IMO unfounded) assumption without adequate support.

    I’m willing to talk about both aspects of it, but to me the second one is more salient because I haven’t seen much discussion on that particular issue.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Let’s get the inevitable out of the way. Have you read The Sequences?

    • sohois says:

      What kind of evidence are you expecting to see for each of these points? Both are in the end entirely theoretical since no strong AIs yet exist, so you cannot point to a bunch of computers and say “see, no unfriendly AIs have been created/done any damage”.

      So what you’re saying is that you disagree with the theoretical arguments put forth by the likes of Yudkowsky and Bostrom. Of course you can find a good number of other experts in the AI field that don’t support ideas of unfriendliness or even the development of strong AI, but what specifically is it that you don’t agree with amongst the theories that you have read?

      • Shion Arita says:

        I suppose the crux of it is that Yudkowsky and Bostrom assume that an above-human-intelligence agent would inherently have the capabilities to overpower humans opposing its behavior.

        I don’t think that follows.

        For the record I do think that strong AI is possible.

        • sohois says:

          I’m gonna answer this including your post just below this to abstemious; the main issue with your conjecture that AIs would have to empirically verify any kind of discoveries or inventions is simulation. A sufficiently powerful or intelligent AI could avoid actually testing things in reality by simply simulating a reasonably advanced model of the universe and testing its own propositions within that simulation. Thus, the AI could avoid having to give any kind of signal to humanity that it was testing dangerous ideas, or have to wait for its experiments to conclude in real time or other such limitations.

          There would be no need to rely on mere collected information from wikipedia or whatever. Assuming the AI had access to the physical laws of the universe it could begin simulation and later testing in that simulation.

          The arguments against this that I can foresee are as follows: First, simulations may not be nearly accurate enough for that kind of testing. To this I would argue that in any hard takeoff scenario a self improving AI will inevitably have enough power after some time to create an accurate enough simulation. Either you disagree with hard takeoff or you prevent the AI from having enough power and thus it isn’t a strong AI in the first place.

          Second, one may suggest that an ‘accurate’ simulation is not enough, and that a perfectly accurate simulation is needed right down to the quantum level. In this case, power arguments may have merit even in a hard takeoff scenario. I don’t really have the expertise to comment on this objection; I would guess that it is true for nanotech at least, but many other damaging innovations could be tested in more basic simulations.

          A third argument that I could imagine is the argument that the AI would not be able to create a simulation since it would lack the physical laws in the first place. This I think is fairly ridiculous but I’ll still address it. I don’t think anyone would bother to create a strong AI and then completely seal it off from any kind of information or physical stimuli; even if they attempted to give it only very limited information, then a sufficiently intelligent AI could most likely infer a huge amount of physical laws anyway and thus overcome this.

          • Loquat says:

            I’ve always had a problem with the idea that the AI can just simulate everything it needs to know to have all its new stuff work right the first time – if you’re going to operate in Earth’s biosphere, you need to know a whole lot more than just the laws of physics. If you’re trying to build robots, for example, a sufficiently clever AI might be able to completely simulate phenomena like rust, metal fatigue, etc, but it would be unable to prevent problems like a previously un-studied species of mildew eating its newly invented super-plastic. Biology is full of surprises like that, and the AI can’t possibly anticipate them all unless it manages to fully analyze all species on the planet, which is such a ridiculously massive project there’s no way a pre-world-conquest AI would be able to do it without science-fiction-level advances in technology.

        • fr00t says:

          Assuming that strong-AI immediately and freely wins is probably too strong (i.e. give it an internet connection and within the day it will be swallowing meatspace with nanotech).

          But the bootstrapping angle is compelling. Consider that we only have a general understanding of how our intelligence came to be (a tractable but computationally AWFUL gradient search over phenotypes), and lack the ability to modulate it even if we had the first idea of where to begin. Versus an AI with access to both its source code, first principles used to design that source code, and computational resources needed to compile/build/learn its mind. And given that you’ve already granted strong AI, its starting point is the level of the scientists and engineers who designed it

          Sure, maybe you could unplug it (though a person with even middling intelligence could make seed money on mechanical turk or some such and rent an anonymous compute-box somewhere, purely through a terminal with web access) – or keep it in the box and not let it out. But if it can happen once, it will probably happen again. It’s a monotonic power equilibrium.

          • DrBeat says:

            Its starting point is the level of the engineers who built it.

            They don’t know how to derive “how to be more intelligent” from first principles.

            If they knew how to make an AI more intelligent than the one they made, they would have done that.

            Where is it getting to information necessary to think itself to greater intelligence?

          • fr00t says:

            They don’t know how to derive “how to be more intelligent” from first principles.

            I never said that. I wouldn’t expect intelligence to be convex.

            The first principles it has are sufficient to build itself from scratch. That represents a huge basis of mathematics, computer science, possibly neuroscience, psychology, etc. ad nauseum. It can do novel science at the pace of a capable researcher (is that too strong of an assumption?), without fatigue and with perfect goal alignment (compared to monkeys shackled to dopaminergic nonsequiturs). It does not need sleep, can clone/fork/(merge?) itself simply by allocating cores and memory.

            I’m not antithetical to the idea that AGI is *way* harder than many believe it to be. But if you start by assuming it, even if that is as smart as it can ever get, seems like meat is already on the way out (a la Hanson ems).

    • abstemious says:

      I think the argument goes like this.

      At some point, people will create an AI that can understand English instructions. Like, you’ll be able to say “build me a house”, and it will go read Wikipedia to find out what a house is, and it will ask you clarifying questions about what sorts of features you want your house to have, and it will read an architecture textbook to figure out how how to design a house, and it will survey available properties to find a good place to put a house that meets your criteria, and then it will design a house and hire someone to build it for you. None of this is super difficult — everything you need is on the Internet these days. A patient human could do it. Computers think faster than humans; they can do it faster.

      Note that this is not an AI in the “I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t let you do that” sense. This AI has no free will and does not act unless following orders. Only crazy people want to build an AI that acts on its own. Eventually someone will build one as an art project, and we’ll have to deal with it then. But we’ll have problems long before that happens.

      The problem is that this obeying-English-instructions AI is too powerful. Here’s something that’s not super difficult: hacking the Internet. You could tell the AI: “get me a copy of Donald Trump’s tax returns” and it would figure out where the tax returns would be stored, and then it would figure out who Donald Trump’s accountants were, and it would research ways of getting at information that isn’t made deliberately public, and then it would try a series of spearphishing attacks and zero-day exploits to get their passwords, and then it would hack every account they owned and send you the data.

      You could tell the AI: “destroy that city”. It would start by researching what a city was and what it would mean to destroy it, and then it would start breaking things until the city stopped working. Electrical utilities, water utilities, traffic lights, bank accounts, self-driving cars: all of these things can be hacked. Combat drones can be piloted remotely; airplanes run by autopilot; nuclear launch codes are, ultimately, stored in computers. We discover new and exciting vulnerabilities in our software every year; an AI can discover those vulnerabilities much faster.

      And none of that is the real problem. The problem is that some doofus is going to say: “AI, get me world peace, please”. The AI will research what world peace is, and it will figure out that human-on-human violence is not peaceful, and it will notice that the easiest way to ensure world peace is to kill all humans. Or, someone will say: “AI, get me world peace without killing all humans”, and it will kill all humans but one. Or, someone will say: “AI, get me world peace without killing any humans”, and it will put a sterilizing agent in the water supply so we don’t reproduce.

      So the problem we want to solve is how to tell an AI: “get me world peace without doing anything I don’t want you to do”. This is the problem of creating Friendly AI, and it’s harder than you’d think, because the AI can’t just look up “list of all the things you don’t want me to do” on Wikipedia. People are working on it, but it’s really really hard, and if they slow down their own AI-building efforts in order to make sure they get a Friendly one, somebody else will build theirs faster and take over the world first (and probably destroy the world in the process).

      Or maybe all this is wrong. Maybe thinking is much harder than our experience suggests, and even running in a modestly-sized datacenter, it’ll take an AI days to read an architecture textbook and weeks to design a house. Maybe computers are much harder to hack than all our experience suggests, and even an AI won’t be able to break into things like plane autopilots. Maybe all the information in Wikipedia and Youtube and everyone’s email account isn’t really sufficient to understand meatspace, and everything the AI does will be full of comically stupid mistakes, and it will need lots of human supervision and the humans won’t let it do anything evil. Maybe the AI will be smart enough to use existing toolsets, like turning the combat drones on and off, but it won’t be smart enough to manufacture killer robots or invent nanobots or bioengineer custom viruses — so we’ll just have a finite number of things to disconnect from the Internet, and once we’ve disconnected or destroyed all those things, it won’t be able to hurt us.

      Nobody knows. We’ll probably find out, though.

      • Shion Arita says:

        Maybe all the information in Wikipedia and Youtube and everyone’s email account isn’t really sufficient to understand meatspace, and everything the AI does will be full of comically stupid mistakes, and it will need lots of human supervision and the humans won’t let it do anything evil. Maybe the AI will be smart enough to use existing toolsets, like turning the combat drones on and off, but it won’t be smart enough to manufacture killer robots or invent nanobots or bioengineer custom viruses — so we’ll just have a finite number of things to disconnect from the Internet, and once we’ve disconnected or destroyed all those things, it won’t be able to hurt us.

        This is the main disconnect that I have.

        I don’t think the ability to manufacture killer robots or nanobots or superviruses is only a question of being ‘smart enough’.

        To manufacture killer robots, it would have to attempt to physically manufacture killer robots, have the initial attempts not work for various reasons, refine the design and process, test them to see if they actually work, etc. For the viruses it would need to have humans to conduct lots of biological experiments on to learn how to make these viruses.

        In other words, being superintelligent doesn’t give you a free pass on information theory. To me it seems like many people imagine a superintelligence to be something that’s able to violate the Parable of the Horse’s Teeth, to just sit there spinning its gears and produce procedural or phsyical knowledge from only its own thoughts, without having to perform empirical experiments in the outside world. I think there’s no way that all of the information in Wikipedia and youtube is sufficient to understand meatspace. There’s a really big difference between knowing about something and knowing enough about something and knowing the right kinds of things about something to be able to actually DO it.

        To use an appropriate quote, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” This goes for the AI as well.

        • RoseMallow says:

          The argument isn’t really dependent on the fact that a strong AI would definitely be much better than humans at that kind of generalized problem solving, just that it might be. It certainly seems plausible that an AI would be really good at that sort of thing.

          The way I conceptualize problem solving is that for any given problem, there is an infinite number of plausible solutions and steps in those solutions. The process of solving the problem is then following a pathway of steps which hopefully leads to the solution, and only really considering a small number of possibilities for a meaningful amount of time. The human brain does a bunch of this automatically, and the longer we work on a specific kind of problem, the better we get at telling which pathways are likely to yield useful results.

          If an AI is using a similar process, it seems reasonable that it would be way better at it than a human would be. It could run through possibilities much faster, tweak its algorithm to check a wider or narrower set of possibilities, and incorporate a bunch more data than humans can. It could also check most possible solutions almost instantly through simulations or the like, especially with programming problems. Even limited completely to computer systems, wiping out everyone should be possible. Also, if an AI were capable of improving itself, it would probably end up being smarter than we can really imagine, in which case it could totally kill all humans if it wanted to.

          All of the above is pretty much just speculation from someone who’s understanding of AI comes mostly from sorta remembering Gödel Escher Bach, but it doesn’t have to be definite. I think there’s maybe a 5% chance of unfriendly AIs being a problem(though I’m probably being overconfident), but a 5% chance of everyone dying is still something which is totally worth worrying about.

          Also, the people who actually work with and understand AI seem to be worried about it, which seems like a pretty solid reason to be worried about it myself.

        • Wrong Species says:

          When virtual reality gets good enough it could perform experiments there. And before you object that VR isn’t similar enough to reality remember that we’re talking timescales at least 30 years from now, and probably much longer. Will VR perfectly imitate reality? Probably not but it could reach the point of good enough for any practical purpose.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Also it doesn’t necessarily have to perform experiments. If you have it interact with people long enough, it could have a good understanding of meatspace long before it carries out its plans.

        • What about less physical scenarios, like crashing the stock market or taking over an automated defender system.

        • abstemious says:

          I think you might be right!

          I think enough of our stuff is now attached to the Internet that an AI could still get really scary. (And it’s going to get much worse once we deploy self-driving cars.) But, yeah, maybe it won’t actually be an extinction event. Hopefully it won’t actually be an extinction event.

        • roystgnr says:

          to just sit there spinning its gears and produce procedural or phsyical knowledge from only its own thoughts, without having to perform empirical experiments in the outside world

          There’s whole engineering discipline devoted to doing just that.

          You can’t develop new foundational science without new physical experiments, true. (although in practice you can squeeze more knowledge out of existing experiments than the human experimenters themselves typically do) But you can use existing science to do new engineering, and I would be surprised if human extinction isn’t achievable solely via new engineering. You’re talking about robots and viruses, not teleporters and unobtanium.

          • CatCube says:

            Finite element models are powerful, but it’s also easy to lead yourself down the primrose path without reference to external reality. Designs that check out in the computer still often require retrofit or redesign once construction starts, because the darned world doesn’t always turn out to match your model.

      • Ariel Ben-Yehuda says:

        At the very least, a “dangerous” AI can easily be as bad as a cabal of a million smart experts, all working together in perfect harmony in order to try to Take Over The World(tm) (because that’s how you ensure the world is *safe*).

        I am not really sure what they can or can’t accomplish, and would prefer not to see that.

      • Jiro says:

        I’ll suggest something very non-Yudkoskian here: We don’t need to program an AI to perfectly implement human values. We need to program an AI to implement human values as well as a human can (or a committee of humans).

        There’s this unspoken assumption that having an AI not understand that “world peace” implicitly means keeping humans alive is equal to not having an AI understand whether it’s better to live 5 minutes closer to work or make 5 dollars more per week.

    • Anon. says:

      What has been the result of every contact between two peoples at significantly different levels of technological development?

      • John Schilling says:

        The Skraelings sent the Vikings home with their tails between their legs, so if as implied the result is the same every time, why, it must be just peachy to be on the lower end of the development ladder at contact. Paleolithics rule!

        • Winter Shaker says:

          If I remember rightly from Jared Diamond’s Collapse, the Greenland Inuit were more technologically advanced than the Norse in the specific fields of surviving in the deep Arctic … and the Norse, through a few bad decisions and unfeasibly long supply lines eventually found themselves without decent metal weapons, and thus with no military advantage over the Inuit.

          • John Schilling says:

            Humans are more technologically advanced than algorithms in the specific field of surviving in meatspace, and we’ll have control over what weapons the AIs have at the start of any conflict.

          • Shion Arita says:

            Yes I agree John Schilling.

            As another example, humans have now gotten to the point where we can unilaterally dominate over other life on earth… kind of.

            But humans have been at about the same level of intelligence for approximately 50000 years. The intelligence itself was not sufficient to directly lead to our increased capabilities. It indirectly led to it through development of knowledge and understanding, and it took us 50000 years to get to that point.

            In addition it’s pretty obvious to me that humans’ capability of understanding things is far above the extent to which we actually understand anything, i.e. anatomically modern humans can attain a vastly greater technological and scientific level than we currently are at.

            I have a good friend from one of the remotest areas of africa, where people hunt with spears and think the earth is flat. It only took him a few years to get up to speed and do original research with the rest of us. It took humanity 50000 years to get there the first time.

            So I think that while an AI may be a lot better than humans at designing new technology and devising new scientific theories, it will remain comprehensible to us, looking at its actions in hindsight and interpreting the fruits of its investigation, for a lot longer than most people here seem to expect.

    • QuickSilverLies says:

      I suppose the crux of it is that Yudkowsky and Bostrom assume that an above-human-intelligence agent would inherently have the capabilities to overpower humans opposing its behavior.

      I don’t think that follows.

      For the record I do think that strong AI is possible.

      The A.I doesn’t have to “overpower” us to be dangerous. It merely has to suggest a course of action that is dangerous, whose danger we can not see.

      Consider for a moment invasive species. Through out history humans have introduced foreign species into new enviroments in an attempt to solve some problem. Many times these new animals ended up causing other problems the humans did not foresee. For example in Australia, the cane toad was introduced to help curtail the cane beetle population to help keep sugar cane alive, and now cane toads are a huge pest.

      Now suppose we have an A.I that we use for advice. We have some problem X (For example beetles are eating our sugar crops), that we are trying to solve. We ask the A.I “How can we solve X?” And the A.I gives a course of action for how to solve X (introduce cane toads).

      Since the A.I is so much smarter than us, we won’t necessarily be able to understand all the consequences of the plan it suggests. So if we are going to do what the A.I suggests, then the A.I needs to know to not suggest plans that would be contrary to our other values/goals. Cane toads are a bad plan because we don’t want to bring so much harm to the native wild life.

      Now “human values” are not something that we can merely be listed and then checked off by the A.I. That is the problem of friendly A.I. How do we get it to suggest/take actions that conform to our values?

  19. Playing off of the Scott Adams discussion …

    The central question for making sense of this election is whether Trump is clever or lucky.

    Almost everyone but Scott A thought Trump didn’t have a chance of winning either the nomination or the election. He won the nomination and did it comfortably–by the time the convention arrived it was all over.

    One possible explanation is that he was lucky. He had a bunch of characteristics that, under almost all circumstances, would have doomed his campaign as most of us expected. Some unlikely series of accidents made those just the characteristics that this time, in the Republican nomination contest worked. If that’s the story, lightning is unlikely to strike twice–Hilary will win. Call it Theory A.

    The other possibility is that he was clever. He was doing things that all the rest of us thought would lose but that he, correctly, believed would win. If that’s the story, he may well pull it off again. That’s Scott A’s theory. Theory B.

    The conditional probability of Trump getting the nomination is low on Theory A, high on Theory B. Most of us are Bayesians. We should revise our prior in favor of B.

    At the moment, he is running a pretty close race to Hilary–betting market odds 33%. The conditional probability of that is also lower on A than on B. We should revise the probability of B up a little farther.

    If A is correct, he will almost certainly lose the election. If B is correct he might still lose, since being clever might not be enough. But he might well win.

    • Shion Arita says:

      I think it’s a third option:

      He’s not really either clever or lucky. He just happens to have a set of characteristics that passively make other people like him and want to nominate him. He’s trying to get the nomination, and what he does to try and what he’s like ends up being what the right people support.

      As an analogy, I wouldn’t say that Usain Bolt wins all those races by being particularly clever or lucky. He’s fast.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Your third option appears indistinguishable from “lucky” as defined above.

        I think his recovery from the post-DNC drop strongly points to “clever”; someone merely lucky would have spiraled out of relevancy at that point. Trump changed his tack slightly and recovered.

      • bluto says:

        Clever seems like a catch all for any sort of political/charismatic talent.

        In a world without stopwatches, does Usain Bolt win all 100m dashes because he’s fast or lucky seems like a similar question. There aren’t easy ways to compare campaign effectiveness in different periods.

        • pku says:

          There’s a difference in that “clever” implies he’d probably also do better than people expect in office, while “lucky in that he has this specific sort of charm” means he’s good at this particular thing, which wouldn’t correlate with a generic measure of success or intelligence, and means that winning this election more easily than his doubters expect doesn’t mean they’re wrong about his ability to actually hold office.

          (In Trump’s case, I’d say there’s another complication – even if his charm is a result of his being a master manipulator with superhigh IQ, he’s a seventy year old man with no experience in politics – and while high IQ can make up for lack of experience, it helps a hell of a lot less for the elderly. Manipulation, OTOH, would be something he started learning when young).

    • Matt M says:

      “If that’s the story, lightning is unlikely to strike twice–Hilary will win.”

      I’m not sure this logically follows. A “political moment” might conceivably last up to a year or so. It’s possible that the “lucky” conditions Trump found himself in that allowed him to win the GOP primary were not necessarily exclusive to Republicans, but were conditions shared among the nation as a whole. It’s also possible that those conditions would not have meaningfully changed within the span of about one calendar year.

      As evidence for this, I offer the Trump campaign’s claim that he attracted a lot of independent or at least non-traditional voters to the GOP primary and did significantly better with such people than his competitors did (I haven’t looked into this myself – it’s possible that it isn’t true). If true, that would indicate that the same lucky conditions which helped him win the primary could help him win the general as well.

      Or it could be that he’s getting lucky in a different way. Among most correct-thinking people I know, the consensus seems to be that the only reason he’s even remotely competitive is because Hillary is far and away the worst possible candidate the Democrats could have nominated. There are people who seriously believe that if she collapsed dead tomorrow, Tim Kaine would win 80% of the popular vote because nobody hates him and he doesn’t have any scandals. This is going to be the narrative if Trump does win – that the only reason he did is because Hillary sucks and is corrupt and everyone hates her and that literally any other Democrat would have defeated Trump easily.

    • Adam says:

      He’s explored running for political office for at least the past 30 years, so at least some of this is that the timing is finally right, which is both luck, because he has no control over wider social conditions that help him, and clever, because he had the restraint not to run back when conditions were not right.

      • Luke the CIA Stooge says:

        Ya i was going to say, Persistence and Effort seem like the real deciding factors here.

        He’s spent 30+ years branding himself as the embodiment of success and the american dream( for a wide cross-section of the american non-elite public), and floating the idea of him as president the whole time.

        He’s indistinguishable from the cliched hallmark version of american success and business at this point, by his conscious design. It would be freaking weird if he wasn’t a surprisingly strong contender for president.
        We would have to consider seriously the possibility that democracy was an effective system of reasoned policy and rational argument, if Trump just fizzled out.
        All the theoretical frameworks we have of democracy predict this is exactly the kind of strategy that should work and has worked in the past, see Rob Ford in Toronto, Justin Trudeau in Ottawa, Barrack Obama in Washington, all cases of successful branding beating out other more experienced/rational candidates (in primaries and generals).

        The only reason the elite media didn’t see it coming was that they were too used to sneering at the trump brand to recognize its value.

        Like if you grew up in the non-urban middle class, and just thought of Trump as a successful and famous (if slightly weird) business man for a good chunk of your life, then this isn’t surprising. I distinctly remember on multiple ocassions hearing or reading him say something about running for president, or one of his hangers on mentioning it and i thought “Ya, i could imagine it”. Apparently outside of the sneering class a lot of people could imagine it,

        Trump values his brand at 4 billion dollars,
        the odds of him winning the White-house is 40% (538 poll tracker),
        If anything he might have valued it rather low.

        • pku says:

          I think you’re wrong about the phrase “sneering class”. People who use the phrase “media elite” seem to do so with a lot more sneer than the actual media ever put in their words.
          Of course, I mostly see them through the outgroup, so they may just be equally likely to sneer (going by the “how would you feel about your son marrying a member of the opposite party”, I’d guess they’re about 60% more likely to sneer). But they’re definitely not significantly more respectful.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I think “lucky or clever” is a false dichotomy. He can be both and something else altogether.

      Trump is good at being manipulative. I guess that is clever.

      He is also more populist than any Republican politician in recent memory, when the electorate, especially the Republican electorate, has been trending populist. That’s more about luck.

      Populist demagogue arises in uncertain times is an old pattern. Sometimes that is because the politician harnesses the rhetoric, without truly being that demagogue, and sometimes they really are just a demagogue.

      • dndnrsn says:

        If it was a coincidence that he happened to say stuff populists approved of, and ran with it, that’s lucky.

        On the other hand, how do we know that he didn’t see a niche for populism and fill it?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @dndnrsn:
          Trump seems to have always been playing the demagogue. His reaction to the Central Park 5 seems like a fairly classic appeal. I find it really hard to believe the birther bullshit was Trump making a clever opening foray into politics to position himself as the populist choice in 2012 or 2016. I think that was just him giving voice to what amounts to a playground taunt about Obama’s name (and dad).

          The Republic base clearly wants someone who proposes “down to earth” solutions and they aren’t very comfortable with anyone who looks like they are patrician. Folksy and angry is where they are at. I think both the Republican base reaction to Sarah Palin in 2008 and the entirety of the 2012 Republican primary process really illustrate how embracing that base is of someone who is populist and uncomfortable they are with someone aristocratic.

          I think they were looking for a populist and they finally found one. But still, if Trump wasn’t running against such a crowded field, he probably still loses the primary. If Jeb? (or Rubio) had more personality than wet cardboard, either of them would be the nominee, and the field would never have been so crowded in the first place.

          One is tempted to give credit to Trump for recognizing that the field wasn’t strong, but everyone in the field also recognized that, which is why there were so many in the field.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Trump was indeed lucky in the field he faced. He was also lucky that it looks like the other plausible candidates all hoped he would take their rivals out for them.

        • Gazeboist says:

          Well, could he have filled another niche?

          That’s the luck argument, that knowing your moment isn’t enough in presidential politics because if you only have one moment it probably won’t come in your lifetime.

    • John Schilling says:

      Almost everyone but Scott A thought Trump didn’t have a chance of winning either the nomination or the election. He won the nomination and did it comfortably–by the time the convention arrived it was all over.

      I don’t think that counts as a comfortable victory, given the way the Republican primary is structured. By the time Trump’s rivals had withdrawn, 83% of the votes had been counted, with Trump winning 49.6% of the delegates to date and expected to win 58+3% of the remaining votes. That’s roughly equivalent to a 51/49 election where the loser gives his concession speech before the mail-in ballots are counted.

      One possible explanation is that he was lucky. He had a bunch of characteristics that, under almost all circumstances, would have doomed his campaign as most of us expected

      As phrased, you are implicitly limiting Trump’s luck to manifesting in Trump’s characteristics. I believe the biggest subset of the “Trump got lucky” phase space has to do not with Trump’s characteristics but with those of his opponents. Do I really need to enumerate their individual and collective defects here?

      If there is a path to a Trump victory in the general election, it runs through the same phase space. This is the year that both major parties threw their weight behind people capable of losing elections to Donald Trump.

      • Vaniver says:

        By the time Trump’s rivals had withdrawn, 83% of the votes had been counted, with Trump winning 49.6% of the delegates to date and expected to win 58+3% of the remaining votes. That’s roughly equivalent to a 51/49 election where the loser gives his concession speech before the mail-in ballots are counted.

        Winning half the votes when there are more than two competitors is a lot better than winning half the votes when there’s one competitor.

      • JayT says:

        51/49 is a small win in a two person race, but Trump had 3-5 viable competitors cutting up that 49%. It ended up being fairly comfortable. For the last few weeks of the Cruz and Kasich campaigns all of the talk was about whether or not they could force a contested convention, not whether or not they would win the nomination.

        • John Schilling says:

          Right, but given the mechanics of the GOP delegate selection process, Trump’s odds of victory take a substantial dive right after the first floor vote when “his” delegates become unbound. It was not impossible for him to win at a contested convention, but pretty much by definition – and especially for Trump – any race that ends with a contested convention is a very close race. And he was within a percent or two of a contested convention.

          • JayT says:

            Sure, but by the time it got to the convention Trump’s lead was insurmountable. just because at one point the race was somewhat close doesn’t mean he didn’t win comfortably. Bill Clinton lost 11 of the first 12 states to vote in the 1992 primary, but by the end he was so far ahead there was no question he would win.

          • John Schilling says:

            Trump’s lead didn’t become “insurmountable” until 83% of the votes had been cast and counted. Just about any 51/49 election will result in a statistically insurmountable lead by the time 83% of the votes have been counted. There is absolutely not contradiction between an election being genuinely very close, and an election’s outcome being known with certainty at the point where 83% of the votes have been counted.

            The fact that the US primary election system uniquely calls for pauses at various stages in the voting and vote-counting processes, doesn’t change that. In almost every other US presidential primary of this century, the outcome was known with certainty and the losers had conceded when less than 17% of the votes had been cast. That the best you can say about Trump is that his lead was insurmountable by the time it got to the convention, that’s the proof that this was a close election.

    • Philosophisticat says:

      I think there’s a lot wrong in this post.

      As I mentioned upthread, the fact that Trump is in the position he is against a candidate as disliked as Hillary is not impressive or surprising and doesn’t suggest he is very clever. Just about any Republican running against Hillary would have greater odds. You have to make your assessments of bayesian evidence against the background of other facts, including what we know about the political circumstances.

      Also, and relatedly, it’s false that it’s almost certain that he will lose if Theory A is true. Given what we know about how partisan elections work and about Hillary’s weakness as a candidate, just about anyone with an “R” next to their name would have at least a decent shot at winning, without needing to be especially clever. This is why the thought about “lightning needing to strike twice” is also wrong. With a little less confidence, I’d go further and suggest that his chance of winning on theory B is only slightly higher than his chance of winning on theory A. Too many of the factors that will determine whether he wins are out of his hands. People overestimate the importance of brilliant decisionmaking for getting elected. Politics is largely about being the right kind of person in the right place at the right time. And the chance of theory B is so low given everything else we know that even if Trump wins in a landslide the probability of Theory B being true will be low.

      Stepping back, though, it’s very easy to find facts that are Bayesian evidence for just about anything you like. The fact that Trump’s odds are greater than 10% is evidence for Theory B. The fact that his odds are less than 90% is evidence for theory A. If his polls go up it’s evidence for theory B. If his polls go down it’s evidence for theory A. If he doesn’t drool on the podium in the first debate, it’s evidence for theory B. If he doesn’t reduce Hillary to tears, it’s evidence for theory A. You can go on and on and get basically no useful information from this exercise. And if you pick and choose your propositions carefully, you can make it seem like there’s lots of evidence going one way, because there’s always lots of evidence going both ways. What matters is the total evidence, and the evidence provided by the mere fact that he won the nomination is swamped by all the other things we know.

      If you see someone in a fight, and they’re flailing around in a way that looks drunk and clumsy, and they manage to win, the fact that they won is bayesian evidence for them being a brilliant fighter whose talent is beyond observers’ ability to appreciate, rather than genuinely drunk and clumsy. And the more drunk and clumsy they look, the more unlikely it is that they win on the assumption that they aren’t a brilliant fighter. But that doesn’t mean that the more drunk and clumsy they look while winning, the more confident you should be that they are a brilliant fighter. This seems like the kind of reasoning that people pushing this “Trump’s apparent political incompetence + winning -> Machiavellian mastermind” are falling into.

      Trump isn’t doing particularly well. Maybe he’s doing well for someone who looks as incompetent as he does, but that doesn’t tell you much. When Donald Trump makes decisions that seem to informed observers stupid, this is evidence that he doesn’t know what he’s doing, and the whole episode remains on balance evidence that he doesn’t know what he’s doing even when he ends up successful (of course, in reality, his obvious political blunders have hurt him).

      • pku says:

        a) I like the analogy. +1.

        b) Alternative: Trump is clumsy in ways some people think should matter, but actually don’t?This reminds me of the attitude of playing Go which goes “make your first three moves at random places not on the first line, then build on that.” For amatuer players that probably won’t noticably effect your win percentage – begining moves aren’t meaningless, but amatuer games are usually decided on midgame mistakes, not razor-thin margins. An amatuer who makes his first three moves at random might look like he’s flailing, but it would make him neither better nor worse.

        c) Where did you get that gravatar? You would think googling “cat with moustache” would work, but it hasn’t helped.

        • Philosophisticat says:

          I think it’s definitely true that Trumps defects matter less than observers thought they would.

          I made this avatar myself. I took a picture of a cat, and I summoned every ounce of my photoshop ability to draw a moustache on it. I’m very proud of it, and hope that someday it will stand as a testament to mankind’s artistic potential.

          I am also willing, for a hefty sum, to draw a moustache on a photo of a cat of your choosing. Talent should not go to waste.

    • Finger says:

      There are other possibilities. Maybe he’s *bold*, in the sense that he’s willing to try strategies that others aren’t willing to try for getting elected. (For example, instead of speaking carefully in anticipation of fact-checkers and critics, bluster your way through every statement to appear “alpha” without worrying about the truth of your words. Instead of apologizing when the media calls you out, double down and count on the low approval rating the average American gives to the news media to pull you through. Etc.)

      It’s also possible that he’s clever but only in particular domains. Many of Trump’s “businesses” consist of him licensing his name to others. Trump can be a master of personal branding and manipulating the media without being remotely level-headed on policy questions.

  20. Franz_Panzer says:

    What is the SSCC’s opinion about a cashless economy?

    Is it good (because of convenience, more difficult to make transfers on a black market)?
    Is it bad (loss of anonymity in transactions, dependence on banks)?
    Will it happen or not?
    Are alternatives to official money like bitcoin viable, given its volatility and that governments can limit its usefulness?

    • Aegeus says:

      I’m a fan, on the grounds that carrying a plastic card is a lot easier and safer than cash, and having a log of all of my transactions is handy for both budgeting and fraud prevention. It’s a little bit weird at times – I’m able to buy things because I have a number on a computer somewhere, and my employer pays for my work by incrementing that number once a month – but it’s super useful.

      I doubt Bitcoin would see a huge following even if the government did nothing against it and the exchange rate held steady. Bitcoin is designed to act like cash, which is great if you want your transactions to be untraceable and irrevocable, but that’s a double-edged sword. If you lose your password or get hacked, your money is gone, as surely as if you had thrown a briefcase full of dollar bills off a cliff. People like the features that banks offer – trust, convenience, legal oversight – and don’t really care about the features that Bitcoin offers – anonymity and irrevocability.

      (Old joke on Reddit: “Bitcoin is a group of ancaps discovering why financial regulations exist, one theft at a time.”)

      I think there’s value in its existence, much the same way that there’s value in Tor or other encryption tech, but it’s not something you want or need to use in daily life.

      • JayT says:

        Is losing your password or being hacked any more likely than losing your wallet full of cash or being robbed?

        I think you would see (legitimate) people storing their cash in banks, but keeping a small amount of bit coins for things they don’t want to be tracked. Basically what most people use cash for today.

        • One of the scarier bits in The Handmaids Tale (from memory) was women losing access to their bank accounts and credit cards. A centralized system means you’re vulnerable to a centralized attack. That vulnerability isn’t just about any particular group– governments can turn agasint anyone.

    • Anita Restrepo-Sanchez says:

      “loss of anonymity in transactions”

      Why is this listed as a bad? That anonymity only really serves illegal or black market or otherwise immoral transactions, and you list eliminating or making those more difficult to be a good of cashless economy. If you aren’t planning on making illegal purchases, then you have no cause for worry.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        Who gets to decide what’s immoral then?

        I’ve worked for born-again Christians and for hardcore feminists, and I wouldn’t want either of them to know about the contents of my bookshelf or my nightstand. Everyone has aspects of their life which they don’t want on public display whether that’s physical or intellectual.

        Total transparency means the only form of security is security through obscurity: as soon as anyone decides that they want to look, they’ll be able to dig up enough dirt to destroy you. Nobody is so clean that they are immune to that treatment.

        • Anita Restrepo-Sanchez says:

          Well, first, I mostly meant things that technically aren’t illegal because of loopholes or exceptions (usually put in place to protect the privileged and allow the law to be used as a tool against the oppressed), but probably should be.

          As to your initial question, we live in a democracy, so the answer is “the people, primarily (but not entirely) through their representatives, subject to the demands of tolerance and of respecting the rights of the under-represented and of not perpetuating systemic prejudice.”

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            I mostly meant things that technically aren’t illegal because of loopholes or exceptions (fnord), but probably should be.

            Can you give any examples of said things? I’m drawing a huge blank.

            the people, primarily (but not entirely) through their representatives, subject to the demands of tolerance and of respecting the rights of the under-represented and of not perpetuating systemic prejudice.”

            So, essentially, majority opinion unless the majority disagrees with you. Nice. Good to know.

            I’ll add you to the list of people I don’t want to see my bookshelf.

          • Deiseach says:

            subject to the demands of tolerance and of respecting the rights of the under-represented

            So vague as to be functionally useless. Do you tolerate everything? How about tolerating intolerance? Are there some things that simply cannot or should not be tolerated? What about competing tolerances – we’re seeing that with religious liberty versus newly acquired legal rights in things like same-sex marriage, whether it’s baking wedding cakes or signing marriage licences.

            How under-represented does your group have to be? What counts as under-represented? If there are no traditional orthodox Catholics who think extra-marital sex is a sin and marriage is only between a man and a woman on the board of the Student LGBT Alliance, should the Alliance be forced to allow them to be officers? (I’m using the flip side of the decision that university Christian organisations would not be recognised as official student bodies or allowed on campus unless they permitted non-Christians to serve as officers).

    • Lumifer says:

      The failure modes can be really bad.

  21. Anonymous says:

    In the last Links thread, this was posted: http://www.salon.com/2001/04/12/science_women/

    Did anyone else read it? Does it stagger anyone else that this was the state of the left 15 years ago? I mean, these are sane people I could very happily live and exchange ideas with! Frankly, the fact that in many cases it must be these same people who are now intractable maniacs scares me more than a little.

    (As an aside, reading this article not only blew me away but blew away the left’s claim that it’s the right who have been getting more aggressively partisan and out-there, at least in my eyes.)

    • The Nybbler says:

      No, that’s Cathy Young. She was a heretic then and she’s a heretic now.

      • Anonymous says:

        Could I ask you to expand on that?

      • Urstoff says:

        She’s a heretic to both sides, now. She was embraced for awhile by the proto-alt-right because of her anti-SJW writings, but now that she’s also anti-Trump and pro-immigrant, the alt-right and anti-semites have come out in force (on Twitter) against her.

        • Fahndo says:

          She was embraced for awhile by the proto-alt-right because of her anti-SJW writings, but now that she’s also anti-Trump and pro-immigrant

          Sounds great, thanks for the recommendation.

        • DrBeat says:

          “Proto-alt-right”?

          Not all people you dislike are interchangeable, and not all people you dislike are morally deficient because you dislike them.

          • Anonymous says:

            Check out that beam.

          • Urstoff says:

            Er, what? There was clearly a pro-GG/anti-SJW group that liked her writings until Trump became a thing, at which point the knives (and anti-semitism) came out.

          • DrBeat says:

            Pro-GG/anti-SJW still likes her. The large, vast, overwhelming majority of pro-GG/anti-SJW are not the alt-right and do not like the alt-right and do not support the alt-right.

            The confusion between them and the alt-right is higher than would be expected, due to the efforts of malicious abusive liars conflating the two groups.

          • Anonymous says:

            It’s so unfair when other people treat me as part of an undifferentiated mass but it is totally cool when I do it.

          • DrBeat says:

            When did I say Urstoff was part of an undifferentiated mass?

            There is a specific group of people who are doing things. I said that specific group of people did things. You can’t claim that since I don’t like wrongly being conflated with groups I have nothing to do with, I am not allowed to identify when groups do things.

          • Anonymous says:

            In your absurdly broad definition of “social justice”.

          • Urstoff says:

            I’ll concede that, although there definitely seems to be overlap between the two groups (what are Milo and his followers, if not that exact intersection of groups?). So yes, all normal caveats apply: #notallGG

          • DrBeat says:

            Urstoff: GG pretty much ended the honeymoon with Milo once he hopped on board the Trump Train.

            Anon: Okay, so you’re just following me around and shitting on me for the sake and purpose of following me around and shitting on me, then?

    • Eltargrim says:

      The article above is written by Cathy Young, who as far as I can tell hasn’t changed her positions much, if at all. Whether or not she was considered representative of the left at the time is a question for someone with a better memory of 2001.

    • Adam says:

      Not only Cathy Young. Larry Summers is still a fixture of the left. Being a blacklisted heretic of the academy doesn’t mean there is no place for you in the mainstream power apparatus of actual policy and decision makers.

  22. Adam says:

    Scott, what do you think about the new RDoC system that NIMH is creating?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Not that new anymore – the guy who invented them has already left NIMH and moved on to bigger and better things (ie Google).

      I appreciate what they’re trying to do. Everyone suspects that the things we call “depression” and “schizophrenia” are mishmashes of a bunch of different underlying conditions – kind of like if pulmonologists diagnosed “shortness of breath” but didn’t understand the difference between pneumonia, lung cancer, and having just exercised too much. This obviously makes them hard to treat, and probably some of our current medications work for some underlying causes and others work for others – which leads to a philosophy of “just try whatever until something works”. I agree it would be really neat to finally figure this stuff out, find out exactly how many kinds of depression there are and what causes each of them, and then clear up some of this confusion.

      I’m less sure that dividing things up into a nice little matrix and demanding that researchers point to exactly which part of the matrix their research fits into is the best way to get to this future. Just to give one example, one of the few really great discoveries in psychiatry was the discovery about ten years ago that some weird psychoses were caused by antibodies to the NMDA receptor and could be treated with plasmapheresis. This is exactly the sort of triumph of biological psychiatry that NIMH wants more of, but it wasn’t done by somebody focusing on some particular neurological circuit and filling in a matrix. I don’t really know how research funding works, but I assume the effect of this will be to redirect research funding from other things into things that can easily fit the neurological-circuit model, and I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

      A lot of people I read in the psych research community are not impressed and think it’s kind of a stunt.

      • Adam says:

        Thanks.

        Where do you go to keep up on this? I’m interested in trying to keep tabs on things.

        I can understand why people might think of it as a stunt, but I think there’s too much momentum for this system to just go away. I think your pulmonologist example is a bit too close to reality for the status quo to exist for much longer (several years though).

  23. Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

    I want to start a long, salacious comment thread so I’m going to go with the most gosspiy topic possible:

    Who do you have a crush on in the rationalist-diaspora scene? Besides me, of course.

    • Whatever Happened to Anonymous says:

      >>/ratanon/

      • wtvb says:

        “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST, that wasn’t even a SSC comment! I had to literally USE my MASTER DETECTIVE SKILLS and KNOWLEDGE of COMMUNITY DRAMA to GO to SOME RANDO’S TUMBLR to find out that you were talking about” continues to be my favorite comment on that subreddit. The capital “USE” and “GO” just crack me up. Thank you anon, bless your posts.

    • Skivverus says:

      Deiseach and Keranih, assuming that this site counts as part of the scene you refer to; not something I expect to go anywhere in either case due to the whole “hundreds if not thousands of real-space miles away” and attendant logistical considerations, but them’s the breaks.

      As for why I’m answering this question at all, I’ll chalk it up to “longstanding personal character flaw”.

  24. Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

    Recently, after watching a vampire movie with my wife, she turned to me and asked me if I would become a vampire if it was the only way to save her from some unspecified danger.

    To be a vampire is to be immortal, but to survive at the cost of human blood. In the movie we watched, the human was inevitably killed when a vampire fed. Being a vampire introduces additional health risks (primarily exposure to direct sunlight, which can be lethal), but generally removes the normal human health hazards. For the purpose of this discussion, I’ll assume that the average human lives H days, the vampire needs to feed once every F days, and that the vampire lives V days longer than an average human after accounting for the additional risk. Additionally, I assume that a vampire can create other vampires, but that no vampires at all exist if you do not choose to become a vampire.

    My question is this: at what N, M does it become moral to become a vampire, not to save your spouse, but for its own sake? At the point where H=V/2=F, the vampire needs to feed only once in its lifetime, and lives twice as long as a human. In this scenario, the total life-years break even, and the only moral factor remaining is an intuitive opposition to the infliction of negative externalities. How much additional time do you feel needs to be added before the vampire’s drinking is a morally positive transaction?

    Building off this, would it be a moral choice to become a vampire so as to infect the world’s top scientists, assuming:
    H=V/2=F
    H=V/2=20F
    H=V/10=200F
    Bear in mind that the scientists are likely to do a lot more good when given brains that don’t decay due to age, and that the total life-years saved may outweigh the downside of having to feed the vampires.

    Finally, it seems like in traditional fantasy vampires do live significantly longer than humans (although they have to feed relatively frequently). Assuming the vampire scientists really do enough good for the world to balance out 1 human life per day per vampire, might the best fantasy system of government actually be some sort of vampire aristocracy?

    • Urstoff says:

      Could I as a vampire feed on wild deer like they do in the Twilight series?

      • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

        Let’s assume not, since that reduces the moral tension too significantly. You could, however, choose to feed only on very old people, so as to minimize the loss of QALYs.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Well, if you want to ramp up moral tension…

          You only “get” as many years as you take, and quality matters, so feeding on the infirm really does very little good. As you become hungrier and hungrier, you become less and less coherent and more and more feral, until you are Lestat subsisting on frogs and ready to drain the first baby that comes within scent.

    • onyomi says:

      This reminds me of a somewhat related question:

      I think it’s generally somewhat accepted (though it could be wrong) that most scientists/artists/thinkers actually tend to do most of their best, most influential, creative work fairly early on at some sweet spot between having enough experience/knowledge to make a real contribution and the onset of age