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Open Thread 59.25

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382 Responses to Open Thread 59.25

  1. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Continuing from 59, I’d like to have a dialogue on the politics of aesthetics. It was during the First World War that the art world started taking men like Marcel Duchamp and Kasimir Malevich seriously. This was part of the broader progressive culture, agreed? It seems to me that WWI created the conviction that we lived in a bleak and unbearable world that didn’t deserve beauty. Both the Communist states and Nazi Germany saw this as degenerate art and had their own realist art movements in, er, reaction. Did any beautiful art come out of the democratic world, and if so, was it politicized?

    • I would say there was beautiful art, but it wasn’t as respectable as non-beautiful art. It showed up in movies and book covers, at least, and I’m probably missing some media.

      Oddly, Disney moved from non-beautiful art (Steamboat Willy) to beautiful art (Fantasia).

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Good point. It was still there, just lower status. It’s instructive to note that Disney films like Fantasia and Sleeping Beauty were heavily influenced by both Wagner (high art) and Kay Nielsen (book illustration).

        I think it’s worth noting James Tissot as a pivotal figure. Despite resistance from his secular artist friends who were moving on to Impressionism, he moved toward greater realism with his Biblical paintings and was still able to take the art world by storm in the late 1890s. After that, Expressionism and Cubism took over in Europe, only to be succeeded by the anti-art of WWI-to-present.
        There have been, indeed, some very talented artists reduced to illustrator status because they painted like it was still the Baroque era. I can imagine Frank Frazetta painting Old Testament action scenes on the walls behind altars in some parallel universe where church rather than state controlled the arts.

      • ChillyWilly says:

        I agree — I think the movie was overwhelmingly the dominant medium of the twentieth century for providing the kinds of things traditionally considered the role of art: beauty, truth, catharsis, opportunity to sympathize/empathize, etc.

        I’m not sure if this is because traditional high-art media turned weird, or high art turned weird because the movies began doing their traditional jobs better than they had done.

    • lemmy caution says:

      representational art was pretty dominant in the US until WWII – ish:

      “As Gertrude Whitney tended to favor Realist and figurative painting, and in particular paintings by artists in “The Eight,” most of the museum’s original collection, as well as those newer works featured in the Annual and Biennial, were of that style. This focus on non-abstract art, as it were, incensed a small group of New York artists who in November 1938 protested the selection of artists for the Whitney Annual by staging their own exhibit called The Ten: Whitney Dissenters.”

      The championing of the abstract expressionists after WWII was part of the cold war project of moving the cultural center of gravity to the US and was supported by the US government and the CIA. Abstract expressionist paintings were quite beautiful though.

    • bean says:

      I think it depends on how we use the word art. To a large extent, people like Duchamp seem to have hijacked the word approximately a century ago, and created something that was radically different from art prior to maybe 1870. (I’m not an art historian, I’m an engineer who is drawing on vaguely-remembered conversations with my brother, who is an artist.) Before that time, art was either a recording mechanism or a means of decoration. Art as a recording mechanism largely died with the camera. We don’t have portraits on the walls any more, we have pictures. Likewise for battle scenes, great events, and so on. Art as decoration in the old style still exists, but it’s been delegitimized as art in some circles.
      I suppose art-as-recording is a subset of art-as-message, and art-as-recording even today conveys messages which aren’t apparent in simpler recordings (good war paintings/photos, for instance). What seems to have changed is that message took over capital-A Art, pushing everything else aside. I’m not sure exactly why this was. I suspect it has to do with the sort of intellectual hipsterdom that Scott has discussed quite often here. Anyway, people like Duchamp who were big into art-as-message got taken seriously. Previously, if you wanted to sell art-as-message, you had to make it beautiful, too. Now, you didn’t.
      Since then, we’ve had accelerating genetic drift in the Art world, with people making more and more incomprehensible messages. I’m reminded of How to Deconstruct Almost Anything, and the processes driving that. I’m not sure that all of modern art is actually people just doing stuff and calling it art, but ‘probably not entirely content-free’ is hardly a ringing endorsement.
      No, I’m not sure of any of this.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Likewise for battle scenes, great events, and so on

        Maybe photography replaced the need for paintings of WWII, but traditionally paintings commemorating Great Events were often of very old Events. If you want new representations of Waterloo, photography won’t help you. You could commission reenactors. In fact, people do for movies, but almost never for still photographs.

        (Whittling down the list of things replaced by photography to just portraits may not hurt the argument much, because portraits were the main business of painters.)

        • bean says:

          Interesting, and true. But nobody paints Waterloo any more, either. At a guess, photography may have changed the way we think about that sort of thing. Although it would also be interesting to, say, take the paintings used for the headings of wiki articles of pre-photography battles and see how many years they lagged the events.

          • bean says:

            I tried this with the articles for Waterloo and Agincourt. In both cases, the title image was pretty close in time to the even. Waterloo had a bunch of paintings in the body, of which (eyeballing) about half were within 30 years of the battle, and all were from within 100 years. Agincourt was different. There were 3 paintings in the article body, all late 19th or early 20th century. I’m not sure what this tells us. Looking at stuff from a century or so earlier (the Great Northern War, to be precise) and it appears that a fair number of the works used antedate the events by 50+ years, but there’s also a lot that are immediately post-battle. I guess it all depends on the artist and the purpose of the art.

      • gbdub says:

        I actually like a lot of modern/contemporary art in an aesthetic sense (not an art historian, almost certainly mixing terms, but I mean the sort of thing you’d see in a museum / wing labeled modern or contemporary).

        But the messaging around it drives me nuts. The little cards next to each piece describing what the artist “meant” (especially when written by the artist themselves) can be rage inducing. You’ve got a giant canvas with a hole in one corner (was it intentional? Who knows!) and a couple monochromatic blocks. Well that looks cool, I say. But you say, no, don’t you get it? This is my representation of adolescent angst in the inner-city Latino-furry community that came to me in a peyote vision!

        Honestly it often looks like more thought went into the explanatory card than the piece itself. Any of the card text could be swapped between pieces and no one would notice. Yet art majors eat that stuff up apparently. I feel for the poor guy that makes beautiful sculpture but can’t come up with a better explanation than, “uh, I just thought that color looked good there”.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          What do you mean by “art majors” and why do they have any power? Surely students have no power. Do you mean that their education makes them like these statements? Then shouldn’t we be talking about their teachers?

          What do you mean by “art majors”? Do you mean students creating art or students studying other people’s art? One day I typed artist statement into youtube, looking for this video. I watched a few of the top hits. One mentioned that statements are required in shows and grants. Perhaps judges find it easier to evaluate text than image.

          • bean says:

            I think he’s trying to describe the broader high art industry. The critics, gallery people, brokers, curators, and so on. As opposed to artists who do paintings for sale to the general public, or for fun.

          • gbdub says:

            In the colloquial sense, “art majors” is, at least in my experience, used to refer to both current and graduated academics in the field, ergo all of art academia. That’s the sense I meant it in. Mostly, it refers to people studying “high art” (where, as you note, the “artist’s statement” is de riguer) more than, as bean notes, artists working for aesthetics / entertainment.

        • bean says:

          I usually don’t find it that interesting in an aesthetic sense. To the extent I allow myself to have aesthetic preferences at all, I like skill in art, and most modern art seems like the sort of thing that is just thrown together seemingly at random. (I will admit that this is not true in all cases.)
          I’m with you on the statement thing. The difference between me throwing random things together and them doing the same is that they can write statements which make it art, and I can’t. I’m now beginning to think of a version of the Rosenhan experiment for modern art. Build a couple of very similar pieces, and send them off with very different statements, some real, some fake, some computer-generated. See what happens.

          • gbdub says:

            That would certainly be an interesting experiment! I used to be in the same boat re: skill, but a simple concept executed elegantly is itself skillful, and it can still look quite pleasing (and is often harder than it looks).

        • Tseeteli says:

          I agree that the messaging is bad. But I think we need more of it, not less. Modern Art is really interesting. Modern Art exhibits are a travesty.

          Gallery art should be read as a debate. The topic was something like, “What are the required elements for a worthy piece?” Instead of essays, artists argue by example.

          The famous pieces are famous because they made an especially pithy point. Often, they were so effective that we forgot how anyone could disagree.

          Take Monet.*

          His contemporaries were Realists. The Realist argument was basically, “No, Romantics, painting doesn’t need to be about idealized stories. Real life is gritty, messy and interesting. You can paint people just being people”

          And the realists were right.

          But Monet went further. His point is something like, “Painting doesn’t have to aspire to be photography. You can paint a scene without copying it.”

          This was controversial. People saw Monet’s style as sloppy and unfinished. It got the label “impressionist” from a review where a critic compared Monet’s work — unfavorably — to wallpaper designs.

          In that context, Monet’s work is a lot deeper than hotel-quality paintings of a pond. He was part of a dynamic debate. And he won so completely that we have a hard time remembering that people disagreed.

          Highlight the context, and the pieces get an entirely new layer.

          But, Monet was impressionist. So, his work goes in an “impressionist” exhibit, next to works by who made similar points. This (plus bad writing) means that the cards seem interchangeable.

          Removing the art from it’s context means that, instead of a glimpse into a raging debate about art’s direction during an era of rapidly improving photography, people get to look at some flowers. Also some paintings of boats.

          Movement-focused exhibits are exactly the wrong way to present modern art.

          * Monet isn’t really Modern art, but the dynamic is basically the same. Someone like Rothoko or Pollack would be building on Monet by saying, “Paintings can be pretty even if they’re not trying to convey any specific scene” Monet just has a sharper contrast with his contemporaries.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      The Nazi and Soviet art I am most familiar with looks a lot like US propaganda in WWII. So everyone agreed on the practical problem of making propaganda for the common people.

      My first guess is that the Nazis and Soviets rejected avant garde art, which, perhaps, exists specifically to be inaccessible. When you say Duchamp and Malevich, do you mean cubism? Cubism grew out of impressionism. I think that the Soviets rejected (?) impressionism, but the Nazis did not.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Nazi and Soviet stuff looks more similar to US propaganda of the period than, say, US propaganda looks compared to US propaganda today. But they still have their distinctive features – for instance, the darker and more limited colour palette of most German propaganda compared to American.

        EDIT: Do we perceive a dark palette, lots of blacks and metallics and reds, skulls and such, as threatening because of the Nazis, or did they choose those things because threatening, or both?


        • Publius Varinius says:

          Do we perceive a dark palette, lots of blacks and metallics and reds, skulls and such, as threatening because of the Nazis, or did they choose those things because threatening, or both?

          Most likely neither. Red is scary because blood, black is scary because night. People just tend to vastly overestimate the conscious design choices made by German propagandists.

          There are mundane, historical reasons behind the color palette: black, white and red were chosen to invoke the colors of the German Empire (and were used in all campaign materials precisely to invoke that trope, well before the Nazis actually came to power).

          The colors of the empire were inherited from the flag of the Norddeutscher Bund. At that time, the main application of flags was identifying ships. The trading fleets of the Bund were based in Prussia and in the Hanseatic city states. Hence, the flag combined the colors of Prussia (black and white) with the traditional Hanseatic colours (red and white).

          Skulls did not feature particularly heavily in Nazi propaganda (google “Nazi propaganda posters” to convince yourself). They were popular military symbols however, as they are today (e.g this or that). A black cap with a skull on it was the common symbol of Prussian hussars, and that’s how the SS inherited it.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I knew there was a pre-Nazi skull tradition – both the Germans and Russians in WWI used them as decorations. And I know the German colours.

            To phrase it another way:

            German WWII propaganda just comes off as more “threatening”. Is this something I am reading that backwards (given the historical concept), is the selection of propaganda non-representative (was there a Nazi Norman Rockwell equivalent?), is seeing darker shades (not just the colours chosen) as ominous a culturally based thing, or what?

          • Publius Varinius says:

            The history of Germany resulted in a set of ominous colors being used in propaganda posters. You were asking whether we perceive a dark palette as threatening because of the Nazis.

            Let me explain again why I think this is unlikely.

            Darker shades (not just the colors chosen) are associated with natural phenomena such as weather and time of day, which make them seem threatening. Similarly, red is seen as threatening because it’s associated with blood and heat.

            Since German propaganda had to work with these colors (for historical reasons detailed above), it’s no surprise that it seems threatening. The French collaborators had a calmer set of colors to work with, and so their posters don’t seem so threatening: 1, 2, 3, while Polish resistance ones do: 1, 2. This is a constraint upon the designer: if you have to work with ominous colors, you’ll go for a different design than If you have calm colors.

            was there a Nazi Norman Rockwell equivalent?

            No, but as far as I know there was no British or French equivalent to Norman Rockwell either.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Aaaand it turns out my belief that German propaganda was universally “darker” in shade, completely independent of the colours used, was largely a result of monitor settings being off, and looking at thumbnails.

        • LPSP says:

          Do we perceive a dark palette, lots of blacks and metallics and reds, skulls and such, as threatening because of the Nazis, or did they choose those things because threatening, or both?

          The former is just reinforcement – the Nazis saw themselves as punishing the wicked and lowly of this world, as zealous compatriots of the new dawn, as the pragmatic industrial powerhouse to whom this world is owed. Black for lack, red for blood and emotion and danger, shiny grey for dispassionate calculation plus the fruits of successful labour and construction/extraction.

          Honestly, I sometimes wonder if the Brownshirts got knived just for spoiling the Third Reich’s aesthetic. Muddy-beige, really? Ve are not ze party of soiled corduroys, you knhow.

    • dndnrsn says:

      The high-school-art-class explanation I remember had something to do with cameras making realism more accessible and thus lower-status. No idea if this is correct.

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        As far as realistic art goes – it’s critically worth remembering that the materials, techniques, and available talent have all improved immensely over the past century. (Historically, you had to come from a relatively wealthy family to even consider art as a profession.)

        Realistic art is therefore not really much of an accomplishment anymore.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          on the contrary, better resources just raise the bar on ambition. The greeks painted their sculptures; we not only paint them, we make them walk and talk.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          On the contrary, better resources only raise the bar on ambition. The ancient Greeks painted their sculptures. We not only paint them, we make them walk and talk, and we can afford to do it for personal amusement.

          [EDIT] – sadly the spam filter appears to eat all links to Artstation, but google it.

    • hlynkacg says:

      The first thing that springs to my mind is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s (of Le Petit Prince fame) line about how Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

      This core premise as it relates to “Art” seems to tie in neatly with Scott’s theories on social signaling (specifically the black and white togas who’s post I cant remember the title of) and his description of the “Ugly Duckling” effect in Reactionary Philosophy In An Enormous Planet-Sized Nutshell.

      Edit to elaborate:
      In most things there seems to be a cultural agreement, almost a platonic ideal, of what roles a thing ought to fulfill. IE, a chair’s role, above all, is to provide a place to sit.

      But Art has this weird contrarian streak where…

      …decent, sophisticated people must scoff at anything outwardly beautiful and say that it’s probably oppressive in some way, while gushing over anything apparently ugly. Cathedrals are “gaudy” or “tacky”, but Brutalist concrete blocks are “revolutionary” and “groundbreaking”.

      …Art of the sort people have been proven to like most is old-fashioned and conformist; real art is urinals that artistically convey an anti-art message, or paintings so baffling that no one can tell if they are accidentally hung upside-down.

      …and I as you might suspect, I blame academia. 😉

      You see, if art is to be judged on simple aesthetic appeal or how well it conveys a specific moment or emotion, any schmuck can look at it and say “yup that’s good” or “no it sucks” and that threatens put a lot of artists and more importantly art critics out of work.

      • Unknown Kadath says:

        IE, a chair’s role, above all, is to provide a place to sit.

        The web is full of design blogs that seem to post nothing but pictures of exceptionally uncomfortable-looking chairs.

      • nimim. k.m. says:

        >…decent, sophisticated people must scoff at anything outwardly beautiful and say that it’s probably oppressive in some way, while gushing over anything apparently ugly. Cathedrals are “gaudy” or “tacky”, but Brutalist concrete blocks are “revolutionary” and “groundbreaking”.

        That particular fashion phase is today mostly a thing of past. Modern architecture (that’s popular I mean) seems to aim for some kind of abstract beauty.

        There’s also certainly many art people who continue to appreciate the old masterworks, and I don’t think most of people who frequent even the most pretentious post-modern art exhibitions would call a beautiful cathedral ‘tacky’.

        I think it’s a mistake just focus ones attention only to what’s fashionable in fashionable galleries and judge entire Western art on basis of that; it’s not lot like contemporaries are always correct in what is remembered fondly afterwards.

        I believe that tradition of skilled graphic art continues to live in fields such comics (speaking of highly regarded and acclaimed works such as Corto Maltese by Hugo Pratt), and will be remembered better than most of the pure signaling that goes on in the art world of the galleries.

        Though sometimes the abstract art can be interesting or enjoyable on its own, if you manage to skip all the pretentious bullshit, and just look at it. I like Piet Mondrian, and he painted colorful squares. They are oddly peaceful.

    • keranih says:

      Did any beautiful art come out of the democratic world, and if so, was it politicized?

      Does Georgia O’Keeffee count? Or Andrew Wyeth?

    • Chalid says:

      Defining art more broadly, a great deal of modern architecture is beautiful, and consciously has beauty as a goal.

      • Anonymous says:

        a great deal of modern architecture is beautiful, and consciously has beauty as a goal.

        Is it? Does it?

        Where do you live, and how open borders does it have?

        • Douglas Knight says:


        • JayT says:

          I think it depends on what you consider modern architecture, but for me I think that the absolute peak of beauty for architecture is the 1960s and 1970s. I would take a median van der Rohe building over just about anything that was built before then.

          The 1980s and 1990s took a bit a of a downturn, but recent work, like the Burj Khalifa, has started to be beautiful again.

        • nimim. k.m. says:

          I guess a classic example would be Sydney Opera House? It certainly does not aspire to be “ugly brutalism”, but non-traditional beauty of abstract shapes.

          I’m partial to our university library. While not striking example of absolute beauty, it manages to be nice to look at (even more so from inside) and still blend in its otherwise utilitarian urban surroundings of concrete and stone without being an eyesore.

          Lot’s of new buildings in Scandinavia use wood very nicely.

        • Kevin C. says:

          And over here I sit, preferring Gothic architecture, finding pretty much every 20th Century architectural style pretty terrible, and agreeing with Theodore Dalrymple that “Le Corbusier was to architecture what Pol Pot was to social reform.”

  2. Loyle says:

    Question: Why are teenage workers considered less valuable?

    My perception of teenagers is that of people who are of the age to have a higher capacity of absorbing information, as well as bursting with energy to throw at any task in front of them.

    While a well trained adult will probably be able to outperform a similarly trained minor, is there any real reason to assume the adult is more trained from the start, will be up to task sooner, or have a higher cap to the extent they can be trained?

    • overtfungus says:

      I’m pretty sure it’s because teenagers have a whole host of problems that make employers unwilling to hire them. The first ones that come to mind are inexperience with working – which means they aren’t quite as suited to the workplace dynamic – and impulsiveness. The latter is more important than the former, I think.

    • Eric Rall says:

      Even basic “unskilled” labor tends to require certain general skills: showing up on time, following instructions, being polite to customers, etc.

      Teenagers are much more likely than adults to be at a relatively early stage of developing these skills (especially in a work context), simply because they haven’t had as many opportunities to practice them. And even if they do have well-developed general labor skills, they usually lack the credentials, work history, references, etc that employers use as estimators of general labor skills, so they have a hard time differentiating themselves from their less-skilled peers.

      Another factor is schedule flexibility: workers are often more valuable at particular times of the day and of the week (peak shopping hours for retail jobs, while coworkers are also working and available to coordinate for office and construction jobs, etc). Adults can usually prioritize work when organizing their schedules, while teenagers usually have hard constraints on when they can work because of their school schedules.

      • Loyle says:

        This must be one of those weird things that kept me from being a normal kid.

        How are “showing up on time, following instructions, being polite to…” not instilled by having to have gone to school most of their lives? Lateness is heavily shamed, and occasionally punished. And conduct is always marked so you generally have an idea of what the teachers think of your demeanor.

        Not really saying they are the same skill set as there are different factors involved, but they are similar enough that I’m not sure it’s fair to assign a negative attribute to teens along those axis. Which is probably another point in favor me being weird.

        • Eric Rall says:

          Bear in mind that every adult used to be a teenager. So whatever training an practice a random 15-year-old has had, a random 30-year-old has had that much training and practice plus an additional 15 years. And most of that additional 15 years has probably been in a professional context, and applying general labor skills in a professional context is moderately different from applying them in a K-12 school context.

          If we were holding training and experience constant, e.g. comparing a 15-year-old with a 30-year-old who dropped out of school at 15 and is only now applying for his first job, the 15-year-old would probably be at a considerable advantage (his school experience is fresher and he doesn’t have 15 years of neither-work-nor-school habits to unlearn, not to mention selection effects).

    • JayT says:

      Also, teenagers are less likely to stick around. When I was a teen I worked a lot of hard labor jobs to pay for school, and I was a very good employee, but my bosses all knew that they only had me for a couple months during the summer and then I was gone, so they had little incentive to invest much into me even though I was a better employee than most of the older guys.

    • gbdub says:

      What everyone else said, plus teenagers can be paid less because they expect / need less money – most of them live with their parents, so their costs are lower, and they also don’t expect the cumulative value of however many years of raises.

    • maybe_slytherin says:

      The basic points you make — ability to learn and the energy (& lack of other commitments) to be able to put in long hours are indeed cornerstones of why the tech industry has such a preference for younger workers.

      And we do indeed find a whole host of articles accusing the industry of ageism for this reason. For example.

      Given these pressures, it’s kind of interesting to ask why the ageism bias isn’t even stronger — that is, why are these employees generally around 26, rather than 18?

      I think the answer to that question is: 1. Skill development 2. Social acceptability — university degree of some equivalent credential are still generally required, even if some companies are a bit looser 3. Regardless of whether some people might prefer to have these jobs at a younger age, demographically they’re just not available in large numbers 4. Floor effect — there’s a minimum age, and people keep getting older.

    • LPSP says:

      From what I see, teenage girls are a valued portion of the high-turnover workforce. They absorb the broader strokes of information with swiftness and nuance, little supervision required; they are hard, thorough workers who are quick to place blame on themselves and accept falls, and will work long and awkward hours for little pay. They serve as marketing for teenage boys, and a generally pleasant and safe face for everyone else. Finally, there’s huge signalling value in being able to say “we employ young and lively workers” in an era where many struggle to find simple part-time work. The drawbacks of teenage girls – not the most experience, can be bitchy and catty with each other or get into fallings out/moods, can go into lockdown in extreme situations – are fairly outweighed, especially given that teenage girls are never the majority and are always in positions of low power.

      Teenage boys, now there’s the unemployable. Teenage boys learn the slow and taxing way – they want to take away deep skills they could apply in their own personal enterprises, and desire competent mentoring and fraternity with coworkers. They are stroppy, headstrong, impulsive and can do physical damage in the event of a spat. They do not look good. Only exceptional teenage boys – who often signal safety by effeteness (ie they actually are effete/gay) – see any degree of employment.

      I couldn’t picture myself employing either my teenage self or any of the teenage incarnations of my close male friends or relatives. But literally every teenage girl I’ve ever known is employable. It’s a stronger AND a safer bet.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        It sounds like you are talking mainly about service jobs. Teenage boys have a major advantage in unskilled jobs that mostly require brute strength.

        • Lumifer says:

          unskilled jobs that mostly require brute strength

          Not many of those left.

          • keranih says:

            And there never were many, that didn’t also need a scooch more maturity and precision than you could expect from a 15 yo at 4 in the afternoon.

            I mean, I love me a broad shouldered fearless young man, but testosterone is a freaking neurotoxin.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Enough for teenage boys working at minimum wage, often enough. Fast food back line (not so much brute strength as dealing with hot things, but same idea), summer labor on road crews, retail stocking, warehouse work, gofer on roofing crews (strength and danger here), truck loader/unloader, etc.

    • cassander says:

      High turnover is a huge part. Part of my job is training our thrice yearly crop of interns to work with our systems, and it’s remarkable how much more work you get out of at the end of the cycle than the beginning. There are all sorts of subtle things you learn even doing simple tasks like data entry, far more than can really be taught. Even paid, full time employees with experience in the field take months to get up to speed.

  3. tcd says:

    I am not sure what to make of the Senate moving to override Obama’s veto of the 9/11 bill (allowing the families of victims from 9/11 to sue the Saudi government). The House votes next and will likely confirm the override. What do you all think of this?

    The 97-1 vote (everyone – Reid) makes me think that this is a symbolic bill and none of the Senators or their advisers think this will turn into a diplomatic/legal mess. In the days leading up to and following the declassification of the “missing” 28 pages of the 9/11 Joint Inquiry report a couple months ago the Saudi government issued statements welcoming the release of the document. This makes me think they are comfortable defending the inevitable lawsuits which will draw heavily and expand on the details of the report.

    Again, I am looking for possible explanations on this one. I thought this looked like a sensible veto from Obama since it sets a seemingly awkward precedent (IANAL), but the near entirety of the Senate disagrees.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Weigh the pros and cons of a vote. If the bill is going to pass anyway, the individual’s vote has no power and the consequences are irrelevant. Voting for it has the advantage of doing what is popular now. Voting against it has the advantage of being able to say “I told you so” years in the future. Very clear decision. There could easily be 20 senators thinking like that.

      • Jordan D. says:

        I second this opinion. The voting incentives in this case are totally skewed- even if I’m a Senator who thinks this bill is likely to cause serious diplomatic problems, the last thing I want is for the soundbyte of my next election to be “Senator D – voted no on making terrorists pay for their crimes. Voted no on America.”

        I think it’s the same with Saudi Arabia. Even if they thought the release of the 9/11 report was going to cost them, there’s no way to go “No, you fools, our evil plot should have been covered up!” which looks good.

        • tcd says:

          I can agree with the optics of an easy vote, especially one likely to pass anyways in a majority Senate. It is still not obvious to me how granting the right to seek personal damages against a foreign suspect of terrorism is a beneficial standard, but the voting dynamics are simple enough. Thanks!

    • onyomi says:

      I think the idea of allowing individual US citizens to sue a sovereign government/kingdom is interesting, and possibly a good precedent, though I’m surprised how many congresspeople are supporting it. I guess because to do otherwise can be construed as lack of sympathy for 9/11 victims.

      The reason I find it legally interesting is that it seems like a step toward treating individual citizens and sovereign states as on “the same level,” in terms of legal standing.

      Being an anarchocapitalist, I want a world in which territorial sovereigns of the kind we have now are replaced, in effect, by privater rights’ enforcement agencies, arbitration agencies, etc. These, of course, would not have the special privileges governments currently enjoy, but would be on the same level as, e. g. Wal Mart–possessing, no doubt, in many cases, more financial power than most individuals, but still completely vulnerable to e. g. a lawsuit from Tracy Jordan holding them to account for the negligence of one of their drivers.

      • LHN says:

        Nit: Tracy Morgan.

        (Though I hope it’s not disrespectful to Morgan’s real-life health issues and the loss of his friend in the accident to wryly imagine how a lawsuit by his character on “30 Rock” might play out.)

        • onyomi says:

          Oh, I’m dumb… you know, I did know his real name, but because his fictional character name and real name are so similar, I think they kind of merged in my mind.

          • LHN says:

            I’ve done the same character/actor bobble when the names weren’t so easily confused. I remember once telling someone that Emma Peel had been made a Dame.

            (Not that Mrs. Peel didn’t rate it for her service to British intelligence, but of course the news I’d heard was about Diana Rigg.)

    • Lumifer says:

      I expect a bunch of lawyers to get much, much richer. I also don’t expect any kind of legal resolution to this for at least a decade.

    • brad says:

      It is a terrible law and just goes to show you how unserious Congress is about its responsibilities. Smart Congressman must be hoping that one of the other branches will save them from themselves, which is cowardly. The other possibility is even worse.

      The courts are neither equipped for the fact finding tasks they are being handed nor do they have the flexibility to craft appropriate response. And that’s not even getting into the considerations of legal reciprocity in foreign courts and the greater diplomatic landscape, which again courts are not permitted or equipped to weigh.

      I don’t have any problem with punishing Saudi Arabia. If Congress wants to go down this road, let them put on their big kid pants and pass a law that does just that. Not hide behind litigation that will be ongoing for at least the next decade.

    • tcd says:

      And what do you know, less than 24 hours after the override is confirmed in the house the politicians are coming out to claim “ignorance of the contents/implications of the bill” and how “uncommon” such a rushed vote is.

      Of course, there is nothing surprising in any of this. There is a stunning lack of leadership in this country.

  4. Jordan D. says:

    Hello, hello, hello!

    First, some of my favorite cases from this week’s Short Circuit newsletter, also available here: (

    From the Second Circuit – should executive branch officials be allowed to willfully ignore judicial decrees that a judge has to pronounce post-release conditions for years because it’s more convenient that way? The answer may surprise you, assuming you’re a lazy totalitarian dictator. (

    From the Ninth Circuit – children facing deportation do not have a right to counsel; some people would like to start up a class-action lawsuit to allege a due process violation. The court holds that because the appeal process for immigration court cases is exclusive, it cannot hear such an action. (

    And from a district court – many of us here have probably heard about the challenges to various state hair-braiding regulations which require expensive training and licenses before being allowed to braid hair. Most people think these laws are stupid and unjust; but while this court might agree with them, it believes that under the rational-basis standard it must uphold them nevertheless. (

    Here’s a lawsuit not from that list- local police get a warrant to search a home and find weed and weed accessories; a whole grower’s operation! The police take all of the contraband, and then also everything valuable while they’re at it. They get a second warrant to search the other home on the property (the parents’ house), and don’t find any contraband there- but they do find more valuable things and they take all of those. Over the next few weeks, the police continued to come back and take things. When the police bring a civil forfeiture action, the property owners contest it. This lasts for eight years, before the court finally decides that the police aren’t entitled to all of the property of these two people who had no connection to a crime. One problem- the police already sold all of the stuff they didn’t own! Do the couple have a remedy at federal law? (

    And at last, an upcoming argument in the Supreme Court. The history of this case is too complex for me to summarize, but it involves several brutal murders, “the worst death row defense attorney” in Texas submitting evidence that his client is likely to kill again, race-based evidence practice, and the bewildering world of death sentence appeals. So basically, worth a read:

    • brad says:

      From the Second Circuit – should executive branch officials be allowed to willfully ignore judicial decrees that a judge has to pronounce post-release conditions for years because it’s more convenient that way? The answer may surprise you, assuming you’re a lazy totalitarian dictator. (

      Interesting case. If I was writing up the summary I would have played up the massive resistance angle though. As soon as the state’s highest court ruled all of a sudden they moved with alacrity.

      Forget 1983 damages, I’m surprised there wasn’t a motion to compel under penalty of contempt of court. Might be interesting to dig into PACER and see what was filed in that intervening year and a bit.

    • The second circuit case is interesting. It looks as though several state officials are going to be personally liable for massive tort damages–although it still remains to see what the court the case has been remanded to will do.

      This raises a more general question. To what extent should state actors be liable for criminal or civil penalties for their actions? If a police officer misreads an address and, as a result, smashes down the door of someone who there is no reason to believe has done anything wrong, shoots his dog, terrifies and perhaps injures him and his family, should the officer be subject to the same penalties as a private actor who made the same mistake? Obviously the cases are not identical–the police officer might be able to show that the act was a reasonable mistake for him, so not negligent, even if a private actor would be found liable. But allowing for that, should the penalties be the same?

      For those who didn’t read the case, it involved three state actors who, being informed that a high level federal court had found what they were doing to be unconstitutional, continued to do it and instruct those around them to do it for well over a year and only began to take any action after a state court, relying on the federal court decision, told them to. The Second Circuit has now held that they are personally liable for the costs their actions imposed.

      My gut level reaction, of course, is that state actors should be personally liable for their misdeeds and mistakes just like other people. In practice they almost never are. In a sufficiently clear case, a police officer may be charged with a crime for killing someone he had no plausible excuse for killing, but that is very rare. Law enforcement malfeasance sometimes leads to tort damages, but they are almost always, as best I can tell, paid by the taxpayers not the offenders.

      I don’t entirely trust gut level reactions, so am curious whether people here can offer good arguments on either side, especially in favor of current practice.

      • brad says:

        In 1983 actions personal liability is a legal fiction. It just used to distinguish from liability in their official capacity where money damages generally aren’t available.

        It doesn’t mean there isn’t an indemnification agreement. Indemnification is pretty close to universal. There was a paper a few years back (NYU law review I think) that couldn’t find a single case where a defendant paid out of pocket, even in jurisdictions that had exceptions to their indemnification rules for intentional acts.

        (You allude to this in your penultimate paragraph, but the earlier ones read as if you think this case is an exception.)

        Anyway, on the larger question, I’d rather that these indemnification agreements not exist. I recognize that this means that in all likelihood we’d have to pay state employees more money, but I think that’s a better choice than relieving them of all liability for their intentional and unintentional torts on the job.

        • Jordan D. says:

          I think that’s a mixed bag. I agree that blanket indemnity really dilutes the threat of personal exposure to a lawsuit, but on the other hand if I have a million dollar verdict against a police officer I’m only going to get that if the municipality ponies up. Unless, of course, it became possible to purchase official act insurance of some kind, which would be interesting.

          Would you propose getting rid of immunities broadly? If so, how would states handle the sizable number of frivolous cases which are brought against their employees regularly?

          • brad says:

            I think frivolous cases are a bit of a red herring, at least as to qualified immunity. With or without QI frivolous cases are going to be dismissed early in the litigation. QI shifts the substantive standard such that otherwise non-frivolous cases get dismissed too. Particularly the “clearly established” branch of the doctrine.

            In terms of paying out judgments — I’m actually okay with victims not being made whole. In this particular case, I think the deterrent effect of personal judgments are more important. The bigger issue for me is whether or not the cases get brought at all, because lawyers are loathe to litigate where the end result even with a judgment is years of trying to attach assets and then ultimately a bankruptcy filing.

          • Jordan D. says:

            True. As I intimated earlier, I think the best solution would be to have general individual liability but require the individual employees to have insurance policies. Since I expect that payouts would be relatively rare but large, rates should be low but would increase enormously for the bad actors, essentially driving them out of being able to afford their employment after a few cases were decided against them.

    • S_J says:

      That item about County Sheriff seizing property surprised me.

      I think that particular Sheriff is an elected official. I don’t know how much (or how little) his popularity as an elected official is affected by this kind of behavior.

      The legal side of the situation is interesting: how does a person get a remedy for wrongful seizure of an item like a classic sports-car? Especially if the value of the car was changed by use (or the car was resold by the seizing agency) ?

  5. onyomi says:

    This is actually kind of what I was trying to say about my reaction to the debate the other day re. democracy, though I disagree with Brennan about the obvious preferability of Clinton (and a lot of other things):

    “Suppose a dad was choosing a nanny for his children. He narrows it down to two candidates, whom he’s still interviewing. One of them is mediocre. The other appears to be grossly incompetent, frequently says horrible things, has a terrible record of dishonesty, appears to be abusive, and has terrible ideas for raising children. Right now, the dad admits he’s got about a 55% chance of picking the better nanny over the worse one. You probably wouldn’t conclude that the dad is doing a good job and ‘works’. You’d conclude that even though he’s more likely than not to pick the better of the two finalists, the facts that A) the second finalist is obviously terrible, and B) he’s still giving serious consideration to this finalist, shows that there’s something seriously wrong with the dad.”

    • Lumifer says:

      I am confused. Is he saying the whether democracy works or not is decided by whether the majority votes for the candidate he likes..? And if it doesn’t work, what does he suggest in terms of alternatives?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        “Would it not be easier
        In that case for the government
        To dissolve the people
        And elect another?” — Bertolt Brecht, 1953

      • onyomi says:

        He is saying that Trump is obviously terrible and Hillary barely acceptable; therefore, the strength of the system which picked one terrible and one mediocre finalist for the most powerful job in the world, and which may yet decide on the terrible finalist, is suspect.

        Like I said, I don’t agree with him that HRC is obviously preferable, but I do agree that, if these two are the best we can do, and if the level of debate I saw on Monday is the best we can do, then the method of selection itself seems suspect.

        • Lumifer says:

          therefore, the strength of the system … is suspect

          Everyone starts to “suspect” the system when it doesn’t deliver the results they want : -/ The critical question is how do they propose to fix it.

          I, myself, like the H.L.Mencken approach: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard”.

          • onyomi says:

            Some alternatives to democracy have been proposed… ancap, for example. I know the traditional SSC response to that is “okay, go ahead and experiment with that somewhere far away from me,” but the question is, how obvious do the problems with democracy have to get before people become a bit more willing to at least experiment with something else (even in a tiny corner of the middle of nowhere to begin with: if the Walled City example in the last thread is any indication, even crummy locations free of government seem to be very popular)?

          • Lumifer says:

            @ onyomi

            I think it’s less “people willing to experiment” and more “people willing to let somebody take over”. Russia (and some other parts of Eastern Europe) might be an interesting example.

            A serious discussion, though, needs to define “democracy” first.

            As to “crummy locations free of government”, what comes to mind is warzones in Africa. They don’t seem to be very popular. Generally speaking, power vacuum gets filled.

          • onyomi says:

            Free from government, not free from law.

          • jaimeastorga2000 says:

            Some alternatives to democracy have been proposed… ancap, for example. I know the traditional SSC response to that is “okay, go ahead and experiment with that somewhere far away from me,” but the question is, how obvious do the problems with democracy have to get before people become a bit more willing to at least experiment with something else (even in a tiny corner of the middle of nowhere to begin with: if the Walled City example in the last thread is any indication, even crummy locations free of government seem to be very popular)?

            “The international community” will not allow you to try something different, no matter how much you and a bunch of other people want to. If you want to try something different, you have to convince Russia or China to provide you military protection.

          • “As to “crummy locations free of government”, what comes to mind is warzones in Africa.”

            Warzones are usually unpleasant places, even when both sides are governments.

            A better test would be to look at actual, functioning, stateless societies. Northern Somalia before the creation of the state of Somalia was far from perfect, but considerably better than Somalia after it got a government. The current Republic of Somaliland, which is basically the same area with a fairly weak, possibly token, government based on the traditional institutions, seems to be doing better than the areas around Mogadishu where we continue to try to reimpose a national government with the assistance of the military of Ethiopia, Somalia’s traditional enemy. Probably doing better than Ethiopia, which has had a government for quite a long time, although the data I saw on that is from some years back.

            And talking about war zones, traditional stateless Nuer society is described in considerable detail by a classic of early anthropology (The Nuer by E. E. Evans-Pritchard). Compare that to the hell the Nuer have been going through for the past fifty plus years as various people fought over who was going to rule them.

            For a broad discussion of stateless societies from a perspective somewhat different from my own, take a look at How Not to be Ruled by James Scott. It’s an interesting book.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ onyomi

            Free from government, not free from law

            So what do you call that institution which provides men with guns to enforce the law?

          • onyomi says:

            “So what do you call that institution which provides men with guns to enforce the law?”

            Well, I’d call the institution providing guns a “gun seller,” but I guess you mean, who enforces the law?

            One might call it a “security firm,” a “rights enforcement agency,” or what have you.

            The whole argument of ancap is that you don’t have to have the territorial sovereign we commonly refer to as “government” in order to have notions about rights, laws, and enforcement of laws and rights.

            Since every function commonly believed to be the sole provenance of the monopoly state has, at some time or place, been accomplished privately, ancap simply says “why not just do it all privately?”

            For example, what, in theory (not talking practical logistics) would prevent me from living in Georgia and having my rights protected by the government of Japan? And if that is logically conceivable, why would it have to be a “government” in the traditional sense at all? Why not a private firm of some kind?

          • Lumifer says:

            @ onymomi

            a “gun seller”

            Ah, sorry, I was unclear. I meant “institution which provides (men with guns) to enforce the law”.

            But my point is that one definition for a government is “that which has the monopoly on legal violence” and it’s not obvious to me that having multiple agents competing in providing violence is going to be a good thing.

            Ultimately power grows out of the barrel of a gun, so how well will Japan be able to project power into Georgia if a serious disagreement arises?

          • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:


            That’s an interesting idea in theory, but I think a couple of things need to be clarified.

            1. What parts of government do you want to move away from via a private system?
            2. How do you think a private system would avoid those pitfalls?

            My largest issue with “public” or current government is that it is involuntary; you have no choice but to pay taxes to one government or another. Perhaps I’m unimaginative, but I don’t see an easy resolution to that through privatization. The most likely business model for a rights enforcement agency is as a subscription service, where it insures the subscriber against people violating their rights.

            In a world where I’m subscribed to one such rights enforcement agency, and my rights are violated, I see a few possible outcomes.
            1. The rights enforcement agency compensates me but does not pursue the violator.
            2. The rights enforcement agency imposes a punishment via force on the violator.
            3. The rights enforcement agency compensates me and imposes a punishment via force on the violator.
            4. The rights enforcement agency attempts to impose a punishment on the violator, but he’s protected by his own rights enforcement agency. The negotiate a settlement.
            5. The rights enforcement agency attempts to impose a punishment on the violator, but he’s protected by his own rights enforcement agency. They achieve a settlement by force.

            Of these, only the first actually fixes the issue wherein you are involuntarily subject to outside force. This situation is also the one I view as the least likely outcome; the rights enforcement agency needs to disincentivize people from violating their constituency’s rights. If all that happens when someone takes $50 from a subscriber is that the rights agency gives the subscriber $50 back, there’s no reason for an outsider not to keep mining that subscriber for cash over and over again. If the agency gives the subscriber nothing and breaks the violator’s legs (option 2), this is still a better deal for the subscriber than the situation in which he gets his money back, since it sharply decreases the chance that he’ll be robbed in the first place.

            To reiterate my questions: which flaws in government do you want to solve through a private system? How do you think a private system would avoid those flaws?

          • Irishdude7 says:


            “But my point is that one definition for a government is “that which has the monopoly on legal violence””

            I’ve used that definition before, but the one I’m coming around to liking better uses Michael Huemer’s concept of political authority:
            “Political authority is the hypothesized moral property in virtue of which governments may coerce people in certain ways not permitted to non-governmental agents, and in virtue of which citizens must obey governments in situations in which they would not be obligated to obey non-governmental agents.”

            Agents that have political authority are government, agents that don’t aren’t government. Given this, a place free from government would be one where ALL agents are subject to the same moral constraints with respect to coercion.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Irishdude7

            That definition strikes me a wee bit circular: You can recognize a government because it has special political authority; the special political authority is something that governments have and non-governments do not.

            It also seems to confuse the idea of a government with the idea of the legitimacy of the government. How does it work in the cases of (attempted) secession, or occupation, or even a civil war?

          • IrishDude says:


            “That definition strikes me a wee bit circular: You can recognize a government because it has special political authority; the special political authority is something that governments have and non-governments do not.”

            The definition I stated is closely related to one provided by David Friedman:

            He notes: “Government cannot be defined by what it does, because all functions of government, including making and enforcing laws, have been, and most are, performed at some times and places by organizations that almost nobody would call governments.”

            He then notes: “My preferred solution is to define rights in terms of the set of mutually recognized commitment strategies by which individuals constrain how other individuals act towards them, and to then define a government as an institution with regard to which those strategies do not apply, an institution which can violate what individuals view as their rights with regard to other individuals without setting off the responses by which such rights are normally defended.”

            In other words, if a non-governmental agent uses coercion to collect money from people to pay for schools, most people would resist this as theft since it’s not seen as a legitimate use of force. The same action taken by a governmental agent is not resisted by most people, since it’s seen as legitimate (incorrectly, I think).

            In this framing, government is created by a state of mind of the populace where they drop their usual resistance strategies to activities they would normally condemn and resist. Huemer has a nice talk on the psychology of authority that explores why people might drop their resistance strategies and defer to authority:

            So, if everyone tomorrow decided that political authority was illegitimate and that politicians and state agents didn’t have the right to use coercion differently than others, and resisted state actions like taxation, I would consider the state to be non-existent. Current state agents would instead become rogues acting without a perceived legitimate use of force.

            It’s not a perfect definition, as the examples you cite like secession create fuzzy cases where some of the population perceives agents of the state as legitimate and some don’t. But the monopoly on legal violence definition isn’t perfect either as non-state agents also use violence legally when they engage in self-defense, so a monopoly does not in fact exist.

          • IrishDude says:

            Thinking about this more, I wondered how I would judge a government that most of its subjects considered illegitimate, but was obeyed out of fear of the state agents’ credible ability to effectively use force. Like if a mafia comes to a town and uses violence and/or threats to subdue the town and the town only obeys out of fear of the mafia but not their perceived legitimate use of force, I’m not sure if I would call the mafia a government.

            Are there any current governments where something like my described scenario is true, with illegitimacy very widely perceived but the populace still obeys state agents? It seems an unstable situation, as I’d think the populace would be be very likely to overthrow the people calling themselves government if they didn’t view their actions as legitimate. I can see this situation existing temporarily, but not long term, so I’m curious if anyone has good historical or modern examples of this.

          • Lumifer says:

            I think the “it’s all in your mind” approach has problems, but, generally speaking, we are talking about definitions and definitions are judged by how useful they are for a particular purpose. For some purposes it would make sense to define a government as “the authority which the population accepts”, for other purposes “sole wielder of legal violence” would be a better definition.

            We started with onyomi speaking about a situation where there is law, but no government, and I struggle to imagine such a situation. Who makes laws? who changes them? who decides how are they applied? who enforces them? Why all that which does this is not a government?

          • “But my point is that one definition for a government is “that which has the monopoly on legal violence” ”

            Isn’t that circular? What makes the violence legal is that the government approves of it.

            My attempt to explain why some things are governments and some are not.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ David Friedman

            Very well, then, let me rephrase this as “a government is that which is capable of suppressing all violence not sanctioned by it to the degree that its own violence and/or the threat of it dominates”.

            Or “a government is that which is capable of establishing and maintaining a monopoly on violence”.

          • By the second definition, do you think there have been any governments?

          • Lumifer says:

            Obviously yes, we’re not talking about absolute purity here. There is, basically, a noise floor (humans will be humans), plus governments can exhibit more or less control, that is, their monopoly can be more or less complete. If the government’s monopoly is contested you have something which is usually described as a war or an insurrection.

          • TheAncientGeek says:

            A government is the means by which groups of humans above a certain, small, size solve coordination problems.

          • onyomi says:

            “A government is the means by which groups of humans above a certain, small, size solve coordination problems.”

            Is radio advertising a government?

          • IrishDude says:


            Here’s an article that discusses private governance, i.e. how rules can be created and enforced outside of government:


            The price system does a great job coordinating millions of strangers from across the world, but I wouldn’t call it government.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ IrishDude

            Um, rules can certainly be “created and enforced outside of government”, look at any human organization from Exxon Mobil to the Linux Foundation. The same examples will suffice for “the means by which groups of humans above a certain, small, size solve coordination problems”.

            What is the point that you are making?

          • IrishDude says:


            “What is the point that you are making?”

            Sorry if I wasn’t clear, but I was responding to your questions:
            “Who makes laws? who changes them? who decides how are they applied? who enforces them? Why all that which does this is not a government?”

            You can have rules of interaction, which is what I think laws are, created, changed, applied, and enforced by groups of people that are not governments.

          • For one source on this, I recommend Robert Ellickson’s book Order Without Law. It’s about systems of private norms, which are one way in which groups, including large groups, solve coordination problems.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ IrishDude

            The big difference is that the “laws” of Exxon Mobil and/or Linux Foundation arise out of, basically, contracts. People agree to a certain set of mutual obligations and have a meaningful option to not agree and not enter the contract. The default situation is that they are not bound. That is not the case with bona fide laws — they apply to you (and they all apply to you) regardless of whether you agreed to that or not.

          • IrishDude says:


            “The big difference is that the “laws” of Exxon Mobil and/or Linux Foundation arise out of, basically, contracts. People agree to a certain set of mutual obligations and have a meaningful option to not agree and not enter the contract. The default situation is that they are not bound. That is not the case with bona fide laws — they apply to you (and they all apply to you) regardless of whether you agreed to that or not.”

            I consider HOAs to be private governance. They set-up a system of laws that govern a particular geographic area and are completely opt-in contracts (like Linux or Exxon Mobil). Only people that have explicitly agreed to the set of rules live in the area. I consider the HOA and its laws to be private rather than the state as they are part of private property moral norms. I don’t know what you mean by ‘bona fide’ laws, but HOA rules seem like ‘real’ laws to me, with consequences specified for breaking the rules.

            In situations where people don’t explicitly agree to what rules should govern their interaction (like say rules between HOAs), it’s not clear to me how you think laws should be decided. In what ways should one person or group of people’s preference for certain rules be set as superior to another person or groups? If they’re a majority? I prefer polycentric solutions, where each person decides what rules of interaction they want to purchase, and disputes are resolved through arbitration, a la David Friedman’s Machinery of Freedom. This sets people up as equals in trying to figure out what rules should be enforced when there are varying rule preferences. I also consider such a system to be private governance and not a state, and so is another way to law without government.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ IrishDude

            I don’t think HOA regulations are laws, but let’s not get hung on definitions.

            each person decides what rules of interaction they want to purchase, and disputes are resolved through arbitration

            I want to use the “big stick” rules of interaction under which I hit you with a big stick until you give me what I want. I also make rude gestures in the general direction of arbitration and insinuate that their genealogy involved hamsters.

            Who will stop me and under what authority?

          • IrishDude says:


            I want to use the “big stick” rules of interaction under which I hit you with a big stick until you give me what I want. I also make rude gestures in the general direction of arbitration and insinuate that their genealogy involved hamsters.

            Who will stop me and under what authority?

            You asked how there can be law without government, and I think I described a situation that would be law without government. Do you agree? If you define law as the set of rules given by a group of people with ultimate authority over its subjects and not subject to the consent of the ruled, then you’ve defined law as something that can only exist with government. In that case, no example will be able to prove that law can exist without government, given your definition of law.

            To your question, people that don’t want to be hit will stop you, either through self-defense or paying someone else to assist in their defense. Do you think you live in a society where people with big sticks that want to hit are more powerful or outnumber the people that want to live in peace? If so, I think there will be poor outcomes regardless of the existence of government, as government would just codify the power of the big stick wielders. If not, then it becomes easier to imagine a situation where people with big sticks are more easily subdued through self-defense or private security outside the purview of the state.

          • IrishDude says:


            Do you think international law can exist? If so, how can this be the case without a supreme authority to enforce the law on unwilling participants?

          • Lumifer says:

            @ IrishDude

            I think I described a situation that would be law without government. Do you agree?

            Nope. Law is pointless without enforcement and in your description there is no one to enforce the decisions of the courts/arbitrators. To rely on contracts you need a legal framework for contracts to exist in.

            people that don’t want to be hit will stop you, either through self-defense or paying someone else to assist in their defense.

            But how will they stop me when *I* have the big stick, and how will they hire mercenaries to defend them when I have taken all their money?

            Do you think you live in a society where people with big sticks that want to hit are more powerful or outnumber the people that want to live in peace?

            Oh yes. This is very definitely so, specifically the “more powerful” part (of course it’s not “want to hit” — it’s “want to take”).

            Think about it this way. You’re basically describing a situation where everyone is a sovereign so the system will look like international relations. And how do international relations look to you for the past couple of centuries, or even just now?

            To answer your follow-up post, international law does not exist for the strong. At the moment the US is the wielder of the big stick, so ask yourself: how bound by international law is it?

            government would just codify the power of the big stick wielders

            For this has always been so : -/

          • IrishDude says:


            So, to be clear, you don’t think international law exists?

            Law is pointless without enforcement and in your description there is no one to enforce the decisions of the courts/arbitrators.

            Sorry, my description that “each person decides what rules of interaction they want to purchase and disputes are resolved through arbitration, a la David Friedman’s Machinery of Freedom.” didn’t make explicit reference to Rights Enforcement Agencies, but those are the groups of people with big sticks that individuals would hire to protect the set of rights they’d like enforced. A nice illustrated summary is here:

            Edited to add:

            And how do international relations look to you for the past couple of centuries, or even just now?

            Relatively peaceful, and getting more so all the time. International trade has skyrocketed, with goods moving across borders more than guns. I think individuals purchasing security would be even more peaceful than countries purchasing security, as individuals use their own money and are more careful about how it’s spent compared to states that use other people’s money.

          • IrishDude says:

            As far as international law not applying to the strong, why would any nations ever make a treaty (e.g., military alliance or trade deal) with the U.S. then?

          • Lumifer says:

            @ IrishDude

            Rights Enforcement Agencies

            We are discussing non-falsifiable hypotheticals, but if a situation as you describe magically appeared on Earth ex machina, I would expect these REAs to fairly quickly devolve into, basically, little mafia protectorates (having your own territory is oh so very convenient) which would then proceed to eat each other with the winners getting bigger… oh, you should know the usual story.

            Relatively peaceful, and getting more so all the time.

            Hm, one of us must be coming from an alternate history. In my timeline the XX century was very very bloody. How about yours?

            individuals purchasing security

            What about those who can’t afford to purchase adequate security?

            Not to mention that in this scenario power snowballs.

            why would any nations ever make a treaty (e.g., military alliance or trade deal) with the U.S. then?

            Why, don’t you want to be friends with the guy who’s holding the biggest stick? It’s not wise to make him mad…

            And if you’re wondering about whether those treates will be honoured, why, just ask Ukraine.

          • “We are discussing non-falsifiable hypotheticals, but if a situation as you describe magically appeared on Earth ex machina, I would expect these REAs to fairly quickly devolve into, basically, little mafia protectorates (having your own territory is oh so very convenient) which would then proceed to eat each other with the winners getting bigger… oh, you should know the usual story.”

            Stateless systems are not merely hypothetical. The traditional stateless system in northern Somalia that existed at least until 1960 when the Republic of Somalia was created had groups committed by contract to enforcing their members’ rights, with the contract also specifying the division of damage payments collected for violation of members’ rights. It existed for some centuries without ending up with one big group.

            Saga period Iceland comes a little closer to fitting your story, but it took most of three hundred years before it got to the Sturlung period, when coalitions including a large fraction of the country fought it out, with the country ending up under the rule of the king of Norway.

            The dynamics of such systems are not nearly as simple as you imagine. There are diseconomies of scale as well as economies of scale in the rights enforcement business.

            For fairly detailed accounts of those two systems, and references, see the relevant chapters in the book I’m currently working on.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ David Friedman

            Oh, I don’t imagine these dynamics to be simple at all. But we are speaking in abstractions and, basically, lack context. For example, I would expect the technology level and the prevailing economics to be very important, but to fully flesh out the scenario to discuss would take a while and be quite arbitrary, anyway.

            I am aware that “stateless” territories and people have existed throughout the ages, however none of them — other than at a primitive tech level — lasted.

            I agree that there are both economies and diseconomies of scale which is essentially why we are not living under a single global empire/republic/council/whatever (power tends to beget more power until it runs into limits). How power structures scale is a very interesting question in and of itself.

            All in all I am very sympathetic to high-individual-freedom ancap-ish systems. Unfortunately I don’t find them either realistic or practical for a universal application. In some more-or-less isolated enclaves, for a while — maybe. The hope for such an enclave drives the seasteading movement, does it not? But the story of Sealand with which I’m sure you’re familiar is a sad one.

      • I think the argument is that if one candidate is obviously much worse than the other, the fact that the first has a substantial chance of being elected is evidence that democracy doesn’t work. He is taking for granted his judgement that Trump is obviously much worse than Clinton.

        • 2stupid4SSC says:

          Huh, I really assumed the argument was trying to say that both candidates are obviously bad, so clearly the system isn’t working. Mediocre does look like high praise next to the description of Trump, but it seems to me that just in general picking between two ‘mediocre’ options might indicate a sub optimal selection process.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            If you force people to choose between the lesser of two evils long enough, sooner or later they’ll start choosing the greater out of, among other reasons, spite.

          • gbdub says:

            The problem this time around seems to be that, if you tell people their reasonable choices are evil for long enough, eventually they’ll stop giving a damn about your opinion of evil.

          • onyomi says:

            I think the criticism is twofold:

            One: the system has selected two less-than-stellar candidates. On Brennan’s assumptions, one totally incompetent and one mediocre.

            Two: that same system stands a decent probability not even of selecting the obviously superior of those two subpar choices (that is, given a choice between “totally incompetent” and “mediocre,” there’s a 40% chance it will pick “totally incompetent”).

    • Rebel with an Uncaused Cause says:

      I think the metaphor oversimplifies the situation in an important way. On the one hand, yes, the example demonstrates that something is wrong with the dad. On the other hand, the country is composed of many different and conflicting viewpoints, while the dad is not. If we change the metaphor to reflect this, and model the dad as a man with multiple personality disorder, 55% “correct” seems a lot better.

      I do think that it’s awful that an awful and mediocre candidate were the finalists, however, and I think that the metaphor may be more apt there. I think a lot of people would agree that Clinton and Trump are each worse choices than the average governor or CEO. It’s surprising that the finalists are “worse than average” in this sense, and is in my opinion a real failure of the two-party system.

      • onyomi says:

        “the country is composed of many different and conflicting viewpoints, while the dad is not.”

        I don’t know what you or your dad are like, but as for me and my dad…

    • gbdub says:

      The reality is that each nanny is awful in their own particular way, and 47% percent of dads prefer the foibles of candidate A. 43% of dads think the bad features of candidate B are less important. 10% of dads think they ought to consider a different nanny agency, because clearly the two companies that recommended A and B are off their rockers, but the dads that like candidate A assure them that by suggesting that they may as well just extend an offer to horrible candidate B.

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        That’s the thing that is annoying me about the Left right now: The insistence that their candidate is clearly superior.

        Clearly, you think that, since you support your candidate. Equally clearly, nearly half the country disagrees.

        The non-stop ranting about how clearly awful Trump is is just tedious virtue signaling.

        On that vein: Scott, I’d vaguely recommend corralling political discussions, and I say that as an avid politics nerd. Things are only going to get worse for the next two months.

    • Chalid says:

      Every election, huge numbers of people agree that both candidates are terrible. And sure, sometimes they are pretty bad, but it’s also partly that the process of running for office makes them look terrible. If you spend a year with the media trying to tear you down, you’re going to look terrible. If you run a campaign designed to appeal to a certain small set of persuadables in a few swing states, the rest of the country won’t find you appealing. etc. Also, voters often have unreasonable expectations of candidates.

      I’d find it hard to think about how one could separate out these effects.

    • cassander says:

      Or we could say that any democratic system where both candidates in a popularity contest are disapproved of by large majorities of the country is clearly breaking down somewhere.

    • Deiseach says:

      The other appears to be grossly incompetent, frequently says horrible things, has a terrible record of dishonesty, appears to be abusive, and has terrible ideas for raising children.

      Oh come on, that’s rather harsh about Hillary!

  6. Orphan Wilde says:

    Proposed change to the US Political System: Ballots are no longer allowed to list the political party of the candidate.

    Any thoughts?

    • Skivverus says:

      Leery on free-speech grounds and general hacky-ness – would much prefer approval voting as far as changes go – but if it’s that or nothing I suppose I could be convinced.

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        It wouldn’t be a free speech issue since it’s controlling what information is on the ballot itself, which is issued by the government.

        Alternatively, in a more free-speech direction: Candidates get to list their name and get, say, 24 characters in which to state their most important positions.

        Judd Smitt: “Anti-war, pro-business”

        • Lumifer says:

          So you want the voters to make a meaningful choice between e.g. “Make America Great Again” and “Stronger Together”..?

          It’s like you’re expecting that advertising billboards will list the most salient characteristics of the product X -D

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Mostly I want to end straight-ticket voting, or at least make it require an effort.

          • Aegeus says:

            “Democrats are the anti-poverty candidates. Vote straight up and down the ticket to end poverty!”

            You took away the candidates’ labels, but then you gave them 24 characters to make up their own labels.

        • Corey says:

          controlling what information is on the ballot itself

          Ballot content control’s important, an aside from my experience as someone who runs a polling place:

          We’re sworn not to influence anyone’s vote (that day anyway :-)) so, as a corollary, if a voter asks questions about the candidates or issues, we CAN’T tell them anything except what’s printed on the ballot. A few elections ago I had to tell an assistant that, who answered a voter’s question about which candidate was incumbent.

          It doesn’t happen too much about candidates, other than people asking about what party candidates are in nonpartisan races, but does happen often on issues. How much will this $2bn bond issue increase property taxes? It’s nondeterministic, and even if I knew the consensus estimates I couldn’t tell you.

    • brad says:

      This already exists in some state and local races.

      I don’t think it would matter much for presidential races but for down ballot races where it is used, you are taking away one flawed but at least somewhat valid heuristic. That mostly serve to strengthen other kinds of far less justifiable heuristics (the order on the ballot, the implied ethnicity given the name, implied gender of first name and so on.) You can’t force people to learn about the candidates.

      As a general matter, I think too many positions are elected in the US. It should just be federal, state, and local legislators & chief executives. No more than 6 total (some local areas are unincorporated).

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        That will mostly serve to strengthen other kinds of far less justifiable heuristics (the order on the ballot, the implied ethnicity given the name, implied gender of first name and so on.) You can’t force people to learn about the candidates.

        What if each candidate got, say, 24 characters to lay out their most important positions, which would be put next to their name:

        Judd Smitt: “Anti-war, pro-business”

        • sweeneyrod says:

          I think positions were stated like that, you would only get worthless applause lights. No-one is going to say they are pro-war and anti-business.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Sure. But what applause lights they signal gives you useful information; certainly more useful information than “Democrat” or “Republican”. And if we’re aiming to dismantle the problematic aspects of political party, that looks like a good start.

        • bluto says:

          Washington publishes a very nice voter guide with a photo and bio (for every candidate that submits one) and lots of info about non candidate decisions that are mailed to all residents, available at government offices, online and at the polling place. I was shocked when I left that these aren’t published in every state. They’re quite useful for low offices and initiatives (and since Washington has easy ballot access give small parties a platform to talk about their issues).

        • CatCube says:

          What if their up to 24 characters was “(D)” or “(R)”?

      • JayT says:

        I would guess most people just wouldn’t vote on those races because they wouldn’t know who agrees with them, and I’m not sure having people vote based off of a letter next to the candidate’s name is better than no vote at all.

        • brad says:

          I think the evidence is that while there is lower turnout in non-partisan elections, among those that do vote there is more noise (the strength of the ballot order effect is a good proxy for this).

          • JayT says:

            Interesting. So you’re saying that if people don’t know what party the candidate belongs to, they just vote randomly/based off of ballot order? That’s kind of amazing to me. I would never think to vote on an issue I haven’t done at least some research on.

            Well, except the times I’ve just written my name in for every office.

          • Corey says:

            @JayT: Helping people with questions about filling out their ballots, it comes as a revelation to some that they *may* skip races (I’m allowed to tell them that). It’s my standard response to “I don’t know who these people are”: “you don’t need to vote in that race if you don’t have an opinion.”

            I assume they think the scanner will barf or something, causing other votes to not get counted (it doesn’t).

    • 2stupid4SSC says:

      I imagine it would mostly cause a shift in party marketing, where considerable more money would be put to the express purpose of familiarizing voters with which names should have an (R) next to them.

      • onyomi says:

        This might be a good thing: if less tribalism is baked into the cake, then not only might tribal loyalty consciousness weaken slightly overall, at least as it relates to political parties, then at least parties would have to expend a certain, continuous level of effort to maintain it. Plus, while attempting to do so, they might accidentally cause voters to learn something about the actual candidates and their policies beyond just “Vote for so-and-so! He’s a Republican/Democrat!”

        And as someone stated above, maybe people would just not vote at all on races where they don’t know who agrees with them. Fewer, more informed votes would probably produce better results than straight-down-the-ticket voting. It’s arguably more democratic, too, because when people only vote on the basis of the (D) or (R) that means, in effect, the party insiders are the ones actually doing the meaningful choosing.

        • 2stupid4SSC says:

          In general I agree with everything you are saying, I guess the root of my concern is about the relative amount of ‘tribal cooling’ this idea could generate vs the ….(tribal warming doesn’t sound nearly as good?) that would be caused by encouraging people to just directly advertise tribal affiliation. Assuming that a reduction in the tribal nature of voting is the goal.

          “Vote for so-and-so! He’s a Republican/Democrat!” as you say.

        • LHN says:

          There are two issues. One is that parties are perfectly capable of making things clear to low-information voters without parties on the ballot. (Where I live, parties and other organizations will helpfully hand/mail out “sample ballots” showing the right people to vote for, including for nominally nonpartisan offices like judge, ballot proposals with no party designation, etc.)

          The other is that parties have power and are entirely able to respond to attempts to reduce it. Since both major parties mutually like straight ticket voting and increased burdens on outsiders who want to clutter up the ballot, it’s hard to get a change through.

          (It’s sort of chicken-and-egg: if parties aren’t getting together to stop a measure along those lines, it suggests either that their duopoly power isn’t great enough that they necessarily need to be stopped or, more likely, that they think that the measure is more cosmetic than actually threatening.)

          More generally: the US was started by people who thought “faction” was the worst thing in the world, actively avoided enshrining it into the system, and warned repeatedly against it. And failed to make it to the second election without devolving into two parties viciously at odds with one another.

          Major governmental overhaul might be able to make the difference between one-party, two-party, and multiparty (nonparty is probably in practice a nonstarter), but I’m skeptical that fiddling with the details of the ballot is likely to be sufficient.

          • JayT says:

            Though if they didn’t have the parties listed on the ballet it would make sending out sample ballets that are presented as Republican but suggest voting for all the Democrats a lot easier.

    • Corey says:

      We have that for NC judges, Raleigh city council, and the county school board (unless they changed the school board for this year). In practice what happens is people have to find out the candidates’ party affiliations manually, and/or campaigners hand out fliers in polling places’ campaign zones saying who’s who.

      Nowadays I think party affiliation is *more* important than individual candidate, for State legislature and above (the parties are coherent enough that essentially all behavior in office can be extrapolated from this).

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        Nowadays I think party affiliation is *more* important than individual candidate, for State legislature and above (the parties are coherent enough that essentially all behavior in office can be extrapolated from this).

        This doesn’t strike you as problematic?


        Which is to say, maybe part of the problem with partisan politics is the fact that we’re no longer voting for individuals, but for or against tribes, explicitly.

        I’m aiming to make tribalism harder and pay off less.

        • Corey says:

          I agree, it’s a real problem and a serious one (Congress is likely to wither into irrelevance and cede all authority to the President, eventually, because of it). But I don’t know of any good solutions to the underlying problem (the parties are ideologically coherent).

          With a few million like-minded friends, you can change a party’s direction via the primary process (as the Tea Party did and Trump is doing), but getting lots of people to agree to have their party internally disagree on ideology seems like a tough row to hoe.

          I don’t think we can get rid of parties or increase their number without Constitutional changes (what’s the relevant game theory? I can never remember)

          • “(what’s the relevant game theory? I can never remember)”

            The Median Voter Theorem by Harold Hotelling. Published in 1929, so I think before Von Neumann invented game theory.

            Hotelling is also responsible for working out the economics of depletable resources. One of those thinkers who came up with ideas that are entirely obvious–once he has come up with them. An economist who I expect most non-economists have never heard of.

    • BBA says:

      The Nebraska legislature has nonpartisan elections. They don’t have official party caucuses either, and the legislature is unicameral. (This is a change that no other state has followed, even though Reynolds v. Sims made bicameralism pointless at the state level 50 years ago.) Anyone know a Nebraskan who can tell us how that works?

    • keranih says:

      I won’t say it’s not worth a try, but to me it sounds like trying to get rid of gangs by banning gang colors.

    • John Schilling says:

      This is not a new idea, and we know how it ends. The parties make sure every voter has a handy sheet telling them which candidate to vote for in every race, and since it is easier to use one of theirs than make your own, straight-ticket voting increases. White male candidates get an even bigger advantage, except in gerrymandered “ethnic” districts, on account of generically non-threatening names. And in the downballot races, incumbency is even more secure than it is now.

      I don’t see any part of this as being an improvement.

    • cassander says:

      If anything, parties need to be stronger, not weaker.

  7. Wanted: Suggestions for an Aspiring Author

    I recently conned my son, a would-be novelist (and I think quite good), into working on a pastiche, a Damon Runyon short story set in a fictional world of superheroes and supervillains. Can anyone suggest other authors he should try to steal from?

    Part of the idea is to write short stories that he can get published so as to get a toe into the author business. Part is to expand his writing range. What he needs is a short story writer he enjoys (or would enjoy) with a distinctive voice.

    • keranih says:

      Well, everyone talks a great deal about Chekhov…

      And I’m sure if he looked hard enough, he could find an experienced author in the close area he could ask for advice…

      More seriously, I’m not sure how much one should encourage a new writer to crib so much from other writers in terms of style/voice, vs encouraging them to just write stuff (*) and find out their own way of telling stories as they go.

      And shorts are a poor way to make money any more – and according to them what know, writing a short is entirely different from writing a novel. So if he’s already heading in the novel area…

      However, if he was looking for a short story author he liked the voice of, he could do far worse than checking out some of the better anthologies, which would have a variety of authors to consider and compare. If I was in the same town, I would lend out the following:

      Women of Future Past
      Shadows over Bakers Street
      The Mad Scientists Guide to World Domination
      Moonsinger’s Friends
      any of the ‘There Will Be War’ anthologies
      Women at War (anthology edited by Elizabeth Moon)

      I am sure I have others that I would suggest, and will remember as soon as I close this comment.

      I strongly suggest finding advice on writing by Neil Gaiman and by Larry Corriea (monsterhunternation). Also check out The Passive Voice website.

      But mostly he should just write.

      (*) By which I mean ‘write things with a begining, a middle and an end.’

      • Bill Friedman says:

        So, I have mostly just been writing. (One novel up to the second draft, one on the first draft, four short stories making the rounds.) But I found that trying to pastiche Runyon, to write in his style, meant that I was trying things I didn’t do normally – present tense, humorous unreliable narration, very long sentences, to take a few examples – instead of just falling back on my standard stylistic tropes. Not that my standard stylistic tropes are bad – I like my standard stylistic tropes, they’re fun and easy to use, that’s why they’re my standard stylistic tropes – but that trying to write Runyon stretched my style and was good prose practice. So my father wondered if there were other authors who had sufficiently unique styles that trying to write like them would usefully stretch me in the same way. So…

        I agree that writing short stories is a bad way to get money. On the other hand, getting short stories published is, or at least seems to be, an excellent way to signal “I am a competent writer”. Getting an agent requires convincing an agent you’re worth five minutes of his time; unless you can write Pratchett-quality opening lines, being able to say “I am published in reputable magazines A, B, and C”, is, I understand, very good at helping convince agents to finish the first chapter, hence very good at getting you published.

        Thank you for your list of good anthologies, by the way. I may want to look into those.

        (And Neil Gaiman, especially his “Make Good Art” speech, is really inspirational and impressive; it’s probably the second most inspirational thing I’ve read as a writer, after Pratchett’s first short story. I’m less of a fan of Larry Correia, but I like the Writing Excuses podcast quite a bit, since Sanderson et al seem to be plotting in a similar style to the way I do.)

        • keranih says:

          All of this is greatness, and let me say CONGRATS!!! to having multiple things in circulation.

          The people who post at The Passive Voice seem to think that legacy publishing is so broken that a new author ought to only waste a small amount of time getting an agent and getting published with the regular houses – there are those who disagree, mostly people with very long standing contracts with legacy publishers.

          trying to write Runyon stretched my style and was good prose practice.

          This sounds quite good. I would caution you against emulating Jennifer Grey.

          • Bill Friedman says:

            Thank you for your congratulations!

            I am sympathetic to the ‘self-publish online’ idea, though I think it has the severe but fixable problem that many self-published books are underedited and serialized before being finished, but I don’t think it’s currently right for me, since I have no talents at self-publicizing or reputation-building, and would rather delegate that to professionals who are getting a share of the book’s profits.

            I do not know The Passive Voice.

            I hear your advice and will hearken to it.

          • keranih says:

            I hear your advice.

            Good. I worried that that was a bit too subtle/ambiguous.

          • Bill Friedman says:

            … Apparently I hear your advice and do not understand it. I’m sorry, I assumed that Jennifer Grey was a specific author who I should not imitate, but apparently she is an actress? My apologies.

          • keranih says:

            Grey was a young actress of some note – and was noteworthy in part because she had a distinctive, non-ordinary face. Perhaps a bit *too* distinctive – it was not at all attractive to some of the viewing audience.

            So she went in for corrective surgery to shift her features closer to normal limits. That surgery went awry, and she had to have a second that left her just as attractive, but completely ordinary. Her acting ability (while impressive) was not enough to compete with a world of other young attractive women who also looked ordinary, and her career was largely shot after that.

            The lesson is – don’t stretch yourself out of shape; remember to keep the parts that make you unique and rare.

      • “any of the ‘There Will Be War’ anthologies”

        Those are easy. Checking my bookshelf I have three of them, possibly because one of them has a (non-fiction) article of mine.

    • Gazeboist says:

      Sanderson is noteworthy as an incredible world builder with surprisingly weak storytelling skills. This makes his works a potentially rich vein, but it will be really obvious if you steal from him.

      I know I’ve discussed Rothfuss before; whatever you think of his politics, he does some interesting things with the structure of his novels – highly recursive, stories about storytelling, unreliable narrator, supposedly major scenes deliberately skipped….

      Niven’s Draco Tavern sequence is probably worth a read – loosely connected short stories are interesting and much more flexible than novels.

      I* generally like playing with prompts and notions of “correct” story forms (and, honestly, playing tricks on the audience): my favorites among my own pieces were usually written to deliberately subvert a prompt I was given. The best of them, in my opinion, was an experiment to see whether I could string a class of writing majors along for about two pages with rhythm and tone without actually telling a story at all.

      I guess what I’m really trying to say with that is, your son will probably find it easiest to write things he likes, so the best way to expand his writing range is probably to expand his tastes, to the extent that you can do that.

      * I’m not published, but I convinced a couple of creative writing teachers I was good at the thing while vehemently disagreeing on the nature of True Literature.

      • Bill Friedman says:

        I wouldn’t describe Sanderson as a “world builder” so much as a “plotter.” The setting of Elantris, say, is comparatively strong for him, but it’s weaker than Videssos or Earthsea, and much weaker than Middle-Earth or Westeros. On the other hand, the cascade at the end of it wherein we learn the relevance of everything that was introduced earlier in the story is excellent, and (in general) his ability to have well-foreshadowed reveals that you don’t notice until the end of the book is probably unparalleled.. I tend to think of him as this generation’s Agatha Christie – brilliant plots, weak (normally – Perfect State) prose and characters.

        On the other hand, it’s almost a cliche that elements in isolation are easier to study than elements in compound. If I want to see how A Good Plot is done, a story with A Good Plot and bald prose is often much better to study than one with everything. If I can see how he puts together Good Plots, I can put together original Good Plots that use elements of his foreshadowing and preparing and general Good Plot ingredients, while writing in a better prose style.

        Also, thanks for the recommendations. In general, thank you for the advice.

        • Gazeboist says:

          Yeah, “good setting” probably doesn’t quite get my meaning across. Sanderson is very good at coming up with strict storytelling rules and working within those rules. Mistborn is the big example here, but his whole Cosmere works like that (and apparently runs on the same system). He even does it a bit in Steelheart, though not as thoroughly.

          Mistborn (actually, more so its successor series) is also a good example of someone leveraging the power of combinatoric explosion to generate new powers, rather than coming up with them on the fly.

  8. Seth says:

    Interesting attempt to deal with the Code of Conduct issue:

    “FIOL Code of Professionalism (FCOP)”

    This code of conduct, called Fantasyland Institute of Learning Code of Professionalism (FCOP), is designed to help ensure productivity and inclusion within professional communities in a pluralistic society. As such, FCOP is not intended to impose any system of politics, morals, or values onto members. …
    The short-form of FCOP is shown below:

    “We welcome all peaceful people to participate in the Community. We do not allow Discrimination, Stereotyping, Harassment, Judgmental Communication, or violations of privacy. We do not exclude any peaceful people from our Community unless they have demonstrated an inability to follow our terms and conditions.”

    FCOP is still under active development, but you can check out a draft version on the official repository.

    • Anita Restrepo-Sanchez says:

      I think it’s a very good start, but I have two concerns about it.

      First, the “violations of privacy” bit. Such things to often provide a shield for harassers or other problem people to evade the consequences of the misbehavior behind online anonymousness, and prevent others from warning others of toxic individuals.

      Second, the terms all seem too vague. Without the specifics set down, there are two possible problems. The first is that the terms might be used too narrowly, so that lots of problematic actions are labelled not rising to the level of “Discrimination, Stereotyping, Harassment, Judgmental Communication…” and allowed to continue unchecked. The second, is that in the opposite direction, problematic peoples might use these terms against the actions taken to combat them. For example, bigots getting criticism of their hate labelled “Judgmental Communication” and supressed, or people claiming their being “stereotyped” and being “discriminated against for being white/male/straight/cis/…” when called to check their privilege. In short, a vague policy is too easy to either define down to irrelevance or else be weaponized by the wrong people.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        Do you support it being weaponized by the right people? I think a general lack of weaponization is better.

        • Anita Restrepo-Sanchez says:

          I think a general lack of weaponization is better.

          In the abstract, yes. But the wrong people, the haters and bigots, will call any enforcement of these rules against them “weaponization” by those who oppose them (often as a prelude to spinning their aggression against their victims as “defensive”), and most any attempts at prohibiting “weaponization”, how ever well meaning, will push into that over-narrow, lack of enforcement failure mode I said of before.

      • Aegeus says:

        Absolutely disagree on the doxxing part. That’s a norm I don’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole. I don’t want it to be an acceptable tactic for 4chan to order five hundred pizzas to your house and write up a fake LinkedIn profile that says you’re a gay stripper. Your True Name can be used for a hell of a lot more than just “warning about toxic individuals,” and shouldn’t be revealed without a damn good reason.

        (The only instance I would find it acceptable to break anonymity is if there’s an actual crime involved. Child porn, for instance, is worth investigating, and I trust law enforcement to doxx people responsibly.)

        Also, in general, I support the right of people to make stupid noob mistakes, get kicked out, and then continue living their life without having to wear a scarlet letter. Especially since a lot of people online are teenagers who should have a chance to grow out of their stupidity. The Internet’s lack of permanent consequences is an important part of its value.

        If you have a problem with pseudonymous trolls and for some reason the banhammer isn’t enough of a solution, there are better solutions available than doxxing. You could quarantine new users until they’ve introduced themselves and proved they can hold a civil conversation. You could IP-ban recurring trolls; it’s possible to circumvent but takes more effort than most trolls want to invest. You could take SomethingAwful’s approach and require a payment of a few dollars to join the forum, which again, is more than most trolls want to invest. No need to pull out the nuclear option.

      • Dan T. says:

        That seems like “not a bug, but a feature”, that the policy can’t easily be used to thought-police all manner of things somebody regards as “problematic” in a highly politicized way, but to whatever extent it does police behavior, it applies to social-justice nags insisting people “check their privilege” just as much as to any other sort of annoying behavior.

    • The Nybbler says:

      There’s no point in having a code that broad. It just allows those who have organizational power to wield it as a bludgeon against anyone they choose.

    • Homo Iracundus says:

      Don’t Communicate Judgmentally: You must not communicate the idea that any person, place, thing, idea, or action is superior or inferior to any other.

      Well, this is going to get awkward.
      What causes this blind spot in technical people who normally have a very good understanding of rule implementation mechanics?

      And what’s going to happen when they start ordering thinking machines to follow “codes of conduct” like this? Mass robo-insanity?

      • CatCube says:

        Yeah, I don’t know about programming, but in civil engineering the only job of the engineer is to be judgmental. Part of your flippin’ job is to crush stupid ideas so we can get the drawing set out the door before the Earth spirals into the sun.

      • The Nybbler says:

        What causes this blind spot in technical people who normally have a very good understanding of rule implementation mechanics?

        That’s not a blind spot. That’s an understanding that when you make a rule that cannot be followed, you put all the power in the hands of those who select how it is enforced.

      • Gbdub says:

        I’m imagining a Monty Python sketch wherein someone attempts to enforce the rule against being judgmental, but hilariously fails to do so without being judgmental themselves (a la the stoning scene in Life of Brian)

      • Lumifer says:


        Funny how people think they can avoid reality checks and spend their entire life in the blah-blah land where no one is ever right or wrong.

      • Deiseach says:

        And what’s going to happen when they start ordering thinking machines to follow “codes of conduct” like this? Mass robo-insanity?

        Didn’t we see this with RoboCop when all the conflicting initiatives were added to his programming? Drastic solution but it worked! 🙂

    • BBA says:

      I prefer Scott’s “Reign of Terror” approach to community management. Better to admit you’re being arbitrary and capricious than hide behind a pretense of “community values” that are inevitably applied in an arbitrary, capricious manner.

    • Meeple says:

      Here’s the question I want a code of conduct to answer:

      “Person A reports that Person B treated them badly. What happens next? What evidence does the community collect? What circumstances, if any, might be relevant?”

      Here are some sanity checks:

      If Person A groundlessly reports that everyone else in the community has treated them badly, the code of conduct should not require that everyone other than Person A be ejected from the community.

      If lots of evidence confirms that Person B treated people badly on distinct occasions, the code of conduct should require that Person B should be ejected from the community.

      If Person A says Person B treated them badly, but there are no witnesses and Person B denies it, the code of conduct should say clearly what happens next.

      • Aegeus says:

        “If you want an official intervention, we will appoint a judge. The judge will speak individually to all parties, including witnesses, before deciding on a course of action, which will involve rejecting the reported violation, or accepting it and imposing a penalty on the Violator.”

        Vague, but this is essentially how most moderated forums work – you get an uninvolved third-party to assess the situation, decide if a rule was broken, and act on it. I don’t think it’s possible to make a code of conduct that doesn’t require a judgment call at some point.

        Even in actual law, there are rarely strict rules about the number of witnesses or the quality of evidence required to act, only general standards like “beyond reasonable doubt.”

    • keranih says:

      Eh. I don’t like that one so much.

      How about this:


      I am not Peaceable. I am Unrestful(*), Annoying, and Disliked.(*)

      I do not “participate in” the Community. I am A Part of The Community – in all my sins and all my virtues. That you shun me does not alter my genetic code.

      I Discriminate daily – between the under-caffeinated, and the adequately coffee’d, one of which I bother with Brilliant Ideas and one which I Leave Be; between the harried and those in search of New Projects; between the abrasive and the receptive; between those with change for the coke machine and those flat broke; between the tardy and the prompt, between the polite and the rude; between the Blessed and Those Not Yet Blessed.

      I am not He who loves all, who causes the rain to fall on the select and the unselect alike. Go ahead, sue me.

      I Stereotype in an even more aggressive manner, for I am not the Shadow Who Knows What Evil Lurks In The Hearts Of Men, and must guess.

      I harass people constantly, but most vigorously and consistently WRT the break room coffee pot – in all else I am inconsistent and unlike to press an advantage.

      I despise mifs(*) and those who put sugar or milk in their grits. All of these I can stand, but people who put milk AND sugar in their grits are an abomination in the sight of God, and virtue demands I Communicate this Judgement unto them, so that they might Repent, and Change, and yet come into the fold.

      Those who have coffee in their cubical whilst others do not have no expectation of privacy, and will be treated accordingly, in that they will be harassed with out ceasing until they divulge the type and amount of chocolate it will take to procure a life-saving cup of the roasted brew. After which random questions will be entertained. Such as the name of the gentleman caller who picked you up at the office door last weekend. Also to be entertained are diversions and half-truths, so long as my coffee lasts and the evasions are funny.

      I assemble furniture, medical equipment, legos and houses without reading the directions. Pray tell why you think you are that special…..

      (*) Bujold
      (***) Milk-in-first Because every generation needs heretics to burn.

      • Loquat says:

        people who put milk AND sugar in their grits are an abomination in the sight of God

        Wait, you’re saying grits *shouldn’t* be considered “oatmeal, but with corn instead of oats”?

        (As an ignorant Yankee, I’m only half joking here.)

        • keranih says:

          Every time I focus on your name, I think of eating loquats off the tree by the handful, and making loquat jam, which makes me very happy.

          Grits are not a breakfast cereal, they are a damp pan bread which ought to be eaten more savory than sweet. A pat of butter is ideal, a drizzle of sorgum syrup acceptable. Cheese – particularly a strong hard cheese – also okay.

          Sweet relishes should be saved for risen breads like biscuits and toast of the plain-to-raisin sort.

          (I grew up eating fats and proteins for breakfast, and think of sweet pastries like danishes and donuts as ‘special treat’ dessert foods, not for everyday. Different strokes, though. Do as you like, but you’re still not getting into heaven if you keep putting milk and sugar on your grits.)

  9. FacelessCraven says:

    Quick random thought – I think I remember a discussion on a previous thread about how much safer modern cars are than 1950s-era cars.

    How much safer could cars be if we didn’t need windshields and windows? would windowless cars allow for a more rigid chassis/more structure available for crumple zones?

    • JayT says:

      I doubt there would be much safety increase, because everyone would be driving into each other since they couldn’t see where they were going!

      • FacelessCraven says:

        The question was sparked by looking at the vehicles from this art thread, and noting that they weren’t very cyberpunkish. In fact, they just look like normal cars. Which reminded me of the vehicles in GitS, where there are no external windows, but rather cameras feeding to an internal wraparound display…

        • JayT says:

          I do wonder what driverless cars will look like. I feel like the external looks will matter less to people when they aren’t in control, and that the money will be spent on better interiors. I wouldn’t be surprised if the outside of cars end up basically looking like pods, not what current cars look like.

          i doubt they would get rid of windows though. If anything, I could see them putting in even more because people will want to sight see more.

    • JayT says:

      More seriously, if the only concern was safety, then yes, getting rid of windows would certainly make a car safer, especially in roll overs I would imagine.

    • tgb says:

      How about rear-facing seats? I think they’d be a size-able safety win but I can’t find numbers.

    • Gbdub says:

      I know a lot of people would get motion sick without a real-time view of the outside. The ability to open windows for air when it is nice out is a plus. Anyway, you still need doors, and those have some of the same design challenges.

      Going all electric will be a bigger deal for car design, since so much of what a modern car looks like is dictated by the need for a large, very heavy engine, gas tank, and drive train. It’s much easier to distribute electrical components (wheel hub motors, flat or spread out battery packs, etc.)

      • FacelessCraven says:

        I was thinking cameras + internal displays for a full wraparound view, but apparently everyone read this as “literally no view of the outside.”

        Mainly I’m curious how much of a safety advantage you could get if the chassis didn’t have whopping huge holes cut in it.

        • Lumifer says:

          Given that you’re constrained by weight, not much. In fact, I suspect that some kind of a skeleton + panels structure would be more crush-resistant than just solid walls in any case.

        • bean says:

          I’m not sure it would do that much over what we have now. The problem these days isn’t usually the strength of the car so much as the strength of the driver’s body. There are ways to deal with this, but they’re suitable for racing, not for general use.
          And to be honest, I’m not sure that getting rid of windows would help overall. Windows are easy to break, and that means it’s easy to get out/get people out of them. You’re trading off improved prompt survivability against decreased ability to get people out of the car.
          I’d also be worried about a windowless car, because windows fail very gracefully. Let’s say the car ahead of you throws up a rock, which hits either the windshield, or the forward camera. If it hits the windshield, the windshield cracks. This is obviously a bad thing, but you can keep going. The same is not true if it takes out the camera. Likewise, I can see a camera being more badly affected by rain, dirt, and the like.

        • gbdub says:

          Note that most of the car is just lightweight paneling in between supporting frame structures anyway. I don’t think the bits that are glass are a big driver of crash-weakness. The “camera with a view of outside” doesn’t solve the motion sickness issue – any detectable lag at all would exacerbate it.

  10. keranih says:

    [low class immature vulgarity]

    Did no one else think that maybe Scott should have held onto the title/illustration for OT 59 for another ten OT posts?

    Or did everyone else think of it on Sunday, and decide against bringing it up?

    (I mean, I dunno whose job it is to make these connections, but it surely shouldn’t be left to me, ’cause it didnt hit me until this afternoon.)

    [/low class immature vulgarity]

  11. Le Maistre Chat says:

    A new National Interest article on Muslim immigrants.
    It makes the interesting point that Muslims were MORE Westernized before the last quarter of the 20th century.

    An old NYT article on the same phenomenon.

    The fundamentalists didn’t gain all their ground at once, either. Nawal El Moutawakel, the first Muslim woman to win an Olympic gold medal, did it dressed like this. By 2016, they were changing the rules to appease fundamentalist Muslims.

    Having once somewhat Westernized Muslims in their own countries and then losing ground for about 40 years, how much faith can we have in the truth claim “today’s Muslims will assimilate exactly like the US’s earlier wave of European immigrants”?

    • Sandy says:

      I don’t know how much “more Westernized” they were. I think there was a Westernized Muslim elite that pushed Western social policies for much of the 20th century, as represented by the likes of Ataturk, Nasser, Reza Shah Pahlavi and Jinnah. I don’t think the views of these elites were representative of the views of the population at large, because they tended to push their policies through military force. But there were always the Qutbs and Khomeinis, condemning these policies and waiting for their chance to come into power. In 2012, the Muslim Brotherhood won the Presidential election in Egypt; 50 years prior, the organization was banned in Egypt and their leaders were tried and executed. Those who push for more democracy in the Islamic world might just be giving the fundamentalists a hand.

      Worth noting that El Moutawakel is Moroccan — Morocco is somewhat more cosmopolitan than most Islamic nations, and their 2016 Olympic squad also had female athletes competing without hijabs.

      At any rate, I don’t think “What if Muslims don’t want to be like us?” is the right question. “Why would Muslims want to be like us?” is more appropriate. If the progressive Western tradition holds that faith, family and loyalty to your community and nation are all regressive parochial things that should be condemned, what kind of an idiot would an immigrant have to be to willingly assimilate into such a culture?

    • keranih says:

      I think I first saw this video via a link here at SSC.

      I don’t disagree that there were parts of the Muslim world that were extremely restrictive on the rights and actions of women – but I think there was a great deal of local custom and that what was seen as reasonable in one place might be mocked as ridiculous in another, even among people who were just as relatively poor/backhills/fundamentalist in their faith.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Like Protestant fundamentalism, Muslim extremism of the sort that currently exists (largely a Sunni thing, really) is a reaction to modernity, so by definition modernity is required for it to exist. Nobody says “the old ways were better” unless there are new ways that they don’t like.

      While some Muslims are trying very hard to be conservative – I live a few blocks away from a mosque, and I see women in niqabs regularly, which I didn’t used to in other parts of the city (hijabs are not unusual in most places though) – I think they’re ultimately going to fall prey to what all the other waves of immigrants have: doesn’t every immigrant group, regardless of their shade or place of origin, have the same “oh no my kids/grandkids are lazy and badly behaved” crisis at some point?

      I went to university with a lot of Muslim kids, and I’d reckon that for every Muslim who is being a good conservative there’s a Muslim who thinks not ordering bacon on the burger when they get drunk late night pub food with their buddies is close enough. Lots of weird compromises, like restaurants that proudly advertise the food is halal and also that their beer is the good local stuff, or young women wearing the combination of painted-on jeans and hijabs. Sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll has always been attractive, because those things are fun, even if you have a headache the next day and it burns when you pee.

      To be honest, I don’t really worry about the integration of Muslims in North America, because the oceans in the way vastly increase the ability of the US or Canada to be selective, to vet people, to vet refugees better (and people are actually trying to claim refugee status overseas instead of showing up and claiming asylum like Europe). And North America has a far better ability to integrate people into the national culture, whatever that is at a given time. The guys who make sure their wives wear niqabs are probably going to be ranting angrily in 50 years that their granddaughters are promiscuous drunks. There’s not enough Muslims in the US or Canada for a critical mass to develop that could resist assimilation into the the prevalent culture in those countries. I don’t think Muslim immigration is going to increase to the point of causing that.

    • HircumSaeculorum says:

      Having once somewhat Westernized Muslims in their own countries and then losing ground for about 40 years, how much faith can we have in the truth claim “today’s Muslims will assimilate exactly like the US’s earlier wave of European immigrants”?

      I think the broad historical narrative here argues rather the opposite: something like “there is nothing intrinsically wrong with Muslims. When they’re in an environment without [whatever caused the reaction – foreign-installed/propped up tyrants, for instance], which the US will be able to provide, they do just fine.”

    • LPSP says:

      That is some woman alright.

  12. Scott Alexander says:

    There’s a problem in (especially online) commerce where Alice wants to buy mail-order goods from Bob, but neither knows if the other is trustworthy. Alice worries if she sends the money first Bob won’t send the goods; Bob worries if he sends the goods first Alice won’t send the money.

    Is there any cryptocurrency that solves this problem?

    What I’m thinking is something like – Alice can verifiably send the money “on a trajectory towards” Bob for a certain length of time, say one month.

    Bob can verify that the money is on the trajectory.

    Once it’s on the trajectory, only two things can happen. Number one, Alice can do nothing, and at the end of one month Bob gets the money. Number two, Alice can cancel the transaction, in which case the money vanishes into the void and neither she nor Bob gets the money. There is no way for Alice to regain the money once it is on the trajectory.

    So Bob’s incentive is to send the goods, since he won’t get any money if he doesn’t (Alice will cancel the trajectory). But Alice’s incentive is to give Bob the money; since she can never get the money back she might as well stay honest unless Bob gives her a reason not to.

    Does anything like this already exist? Should it be possible?

    • Brad says:

      Silk Road had something like this. You need a trusted third party. Call him Eric.

      Alice pays Eric. Eric notifies Bob that he has the money. Bob sends Eric the item. Once he has the item and the money Eric sends them to Alice and Bob respectively (after taking his cut).

      For physical goods there’s no way to eliminate Eric.

      Edit: guess I’m tired and didn’t read very well. You are proposing something different. I’ll leave this up as it is another way to solve the problem.

      • bean says:

        That’s just an escrow agency. They were around long before Silk Road.
        I think Scott’s point is to make a system where you don’t need a trusted intermediary to make it work. In the situation he describes, the only thing that needs to be trusted is the crypto.

    • JayT says:

      Well, PayPal gives Bob 45 to get the item to Alice, and if he doesn’t than Alice gets her money back. I’m not sure why something that would take away the money from everyone would be preferable.

      • Cadie says:

        I think it’s because neither of them trust each other – Bob doesn’t know that Alice will be honest, and there’s a chance she’ll claim she never received it or make up some BS about how it was damaged/wrong/incomplete in order to get her money back when Bob actually did send the item correctly. Since Alice doesn’t have an incentive to do that anymore, Bob can feel safer sending the item to her. She can deprive him of payment, but she can’t get her money back, and almost no one would cancel payment for frivolous or selfish reasons under those circumstances.

        It doesn’t seem like an ideal solution to customers pulling scams, but it is a solution.

        • JayT says:

          I guess so, but usually that’s what postage tracking is for. If it shows that it was delivered, then the money is safe with the seller. If not, than the buyer is protected. I’ve done hundreds of transactions through PayPal, and never had a situation that wasn’t handled well.

          • bean says:

            On the other hand, I had a case recently where the postal tracking was flat-out wrong. The post office said they’d put the book in question out for delivery. I didn’t see any sign of it until over a month later, when I got a slip about it claiming they were about to return it to the sender. Somehow it got back to the post office without them tracking it.

    • Lumifer says:

      The situation is asymmetric: initially Alice risks the payment, but Bob risks nothing. Bob can promise the goods to a million people, send nothing, and collect the payments from whoever forgot to cancel them.

      Besides, there is a timing problem: once Alice receives the goods, Bob is still at risk since Alice can keep the goods and cancel the payment (“This isn’t quite the shade of colour I was looking for, fuck you Bob!”).

      Basically, asking for payment has no costs for Bob (so Alice is still going to be worried) and after she gets the goods, Alice can punish Bob costlessly to herself (so Bob is still going to to be worried).

      Another version of your scheme is to have Alice send Bob the payment, but encrypt it so that Bob is unable to actually receive it unless Alice provides the key to decrypt — and Alice sends the key only after she gets the goods. This shifts the risks in favour of Alice: Bob can’t rely on people forgetting to cancel, but now Alice can ignore Bob’s requests for the key (which is easier than affirmatively killing the payment in transit).

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes, multisignature bitcoin transactions exist and can be a solution for decentralized escrow, though they have their own drawbacks as well.

      Suppose Alice wants to buy a product from Bob for $100. Right now the two main ways of doing this using multisigs are:

      2-of-3 Multisig (AKA Notary Escrow)
      1. Alice and Bob agree to use Charlie as a trusted mediator/notary in case of a dispute
      2. Alice sends $100 to a 2-of-3 multisig address where any pair out of Alice, Bob, and Charlie can release the funds to somewhere else
      3a. If Bob sends the product to Alice and everything goes smoothly, Alice and Bob both sign a transaction sending the $100 from the multisig address to Bob’s address.
      3b. If they agree to refund for some reason, Alice and Bob both sign a transaction sending the $100 back to Alice
      3c. If there is a dispute and Alice wants to refund but Bob wants his payment, they appeal to Charlie who mediates and provides the second signature so that the funds are sent to whoever he thinks deserves it

      This protocol is currently used by the decentralized marketplace OpenBazaar (see here for a description) and eventually there will be a built-in reputation system for the arbitrators as well. Also note that unlike a traditional third-party escrow service, Charlie never actually has sole possession of the funds, so Alice and Bob are not subject to his exit risk.

      The main drawbacks to 2-of-3 multisig escrow are that: 1. Dispute resolution is very difficult, error-prone, and can be gamed by fraudulent buyers/sellers. 2. The system is highly vulnerable to collusion between the mediator and the buyer or seller, so choosing a trustworthy mediator is extremely important

      2-of-2 Multisig (AKA Double-Deposit ‘MAD’ Escrow)
      1. Alice and Bob send $105 and $5, respectively, in a joint transaction to a 2-of-2 multisig address that requires a signature from both Alice and Bob to release the funds
      2a. If Bob sends the product to Alice and everything goes smoothly, Alice and Bob both sign a transaction sending $105 from the multisig address to Bob and $5 to Alice
      2b. If they agree to refund, Alice and Bob both sign a transaction sending $105 back to Alice and $5 back to Bob
      2c. If there is a dispute, the $110 in the multisig address is not recoverable by anyone

      You can take a look at BitMarkets for more info on this protocol

      The key here is that, because of the extra money locked into the transaction, Alice and Bob are in a mutually assured destruction (MAD) situation. If one of them tries to defraud the other, they will both end up net losers. For example, if Bob decides not to send Alice the product, then he will not receive her payment and will simply lose his initial $5 deposit. Likewise, Alice initally put up $105 in collateral, so she is incentivized to sign the multisig transaction to get her extra $5 back.

      The main downsides are: 1. There is no dispute resolution, so there is the risk that one of the parties will act irrationally or does not mind the MAD scenario 2. A significant amount of extra funds are locked up in escrow as collateral and are unusuable until the transaction is resolved

    • Deiseach says:

      Number two, Alice can cancel the transaction, in which case the money vanishes into the void and neither she nor Bob gets the money.

      Do you mean it’s taken out of her bank account or wherever so she loses the money even if she keeps the goods and cancels the transaction? The problem I see is that it’s easier to cancel the money (which is in the form of electronic payment) than it is to cancel the goods once they’ve been packed and put in transit. Alice can justifiably say “If I have to put the cash up first, Bob needs to do likewise with his goods”.

      Otherwise you have the problem at the opposite end: Bob only sends the goods at the end of the month of trajectory, when he’s sure Alice will not cancel and he’s got the money. This means Alice still has to wait however long it takes to have the goods delivered, and Bob could keep the money and not send the goods after all. If Alice can cancel any time during the month, and Bob has packed off the goods, Alice can cancel (and be out the amount of the money) but still enjoy the goods.

      I’m sure you could set up a scam where the goods you get from Mark No. 1 will be sold on and pay for the goods you order from Mark No. 2 and so forth, where you’re only out the amount of the initial cancellation and keep juggling “ordering/paying/cancelling” the same way people juggle credit cards and pay off one month’s debt with another card’s credit.

  13. TMB says:

    I think I’ve solved immigration.

    Only allow female immigration.
    The vetting should be (relatively) easy, there would be no fear of immigrant crime/terrorism, feminists can’t object to discriminating against men, women work harder for less pay, so good for the economy, the manosphere will be happy with the swing in the “sexual marketplace”, there are enough women in the world to do whatever it is that needs doing (economically).

    It’s a compromise that everyone can agree with.

    • Jiro says:

      Working harder for less pay is a problem, not a solution. It causes a race to the bottom which results in Americans having to work harder for less pay in order to compete.

      • TMB says:

        ok – we can leave that bit off.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          You will need to leave off the thing about the sexual marketplace as well.

          But of course, any time something is gender restricted, everyone immediately assumes the gender restriction has a reason and start filling in the standard reasons.

          If you really wanted to piss everybody off, make it female only H1-B visas tied to only traditional male work.

    • Anita Restrepo-Sanchez says:

      If this is a joke, it’s in seriously poor taste; immigration is no laughing matter. Assuming it’s not:

      The vetting should be (relatively) easy, there would be no fear of immigrant crime/terrorism,

      Why? Because we’re so much simpler than men, all quiet and meek and passive? Because it’s not like there are any female terrorists?

      And you say “feminists can’t object”, but I think that “the manosphere will be happy with” this idea is reason enough to object. We can oppose for the same reasons we opposemail-order brides” and similar exploitation of women. And consider the countries these women would be coming from and their gender balance. These places already have big problems with too much machismo. And male dominated spaces tend to breed toxic masculinity, so making the women left behind outnumbered by the men will make the problems worse.

      And then, that these women will “work harder for less pay”, as if we’re supposed to find economic exploitation of vulnerable women a good?

      • TMB says:

        On average women commit less crime than men and are far less likely to be involved in terrorist outrages. Seems like a bit of a no-brainer.

        Obviously when we’re selling it to the feminists we won’t mention the fact that the manosphere will be happy with the shift in the sexual marketplace – we’ll say “listen, there are lots of people afraid of crime and terrorist outrages, there are lots of women suffering in poor countries (and it’s the women who suffer most) as a compromise solution why not only allow female immigration for a short time. This could do a lot to shift the balance of power away from the patriarchy.”

        BTW – I’m not sure if sex ratio does have an effect on how macho a culture is – as I understand there used to be higher proportions of women (in Western societies) and there was also a more man-dominatated culture than we have now.

        I mean, presumably, the best thing we could do for countries in trouble would be to take all of their *worst* people, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

        “And then, that these women will “work harder for less pay”, as if we’re supposed to find economic exploitation of vulnerable women a good?”

        It’ll appeal to the boss class – for the workers we can say something like “it’ll lead to a shift in political power, women will be able to finally get a fair settlement” or something.

        I really think this idea has legs.

        (Also – that link about mail-order brides. Why would you oppose that? They seem happy enough together.)

        • Anonymous says:

          Just for my own calibration: you don’t actually think this idea has legs, right?

          • Lumifer says:

            Maybe long shapely lovely legs? X -)

          • TMB says:

            If I can turn it into a meme and get Donald Trump Jr. to retweet it, who knows?

            (I actually think it would be a good idea, and there has never been a better opportunity to get maverick ideas adopted by a Presidential candidate.)

          • God Damn John Jay says:

            Just for my own calibration: you don’t actually think this idea has legs, right?

            Canada has implemented a policy of avoiding (though not prohibiting) importing single men.

          • Anonymous says:

            … in one tiny part of thier overall immigration scheme.

            Come on. Try to be a tiny bit honest next time.

        • bean says:

          I’m not sure if sex ratio does have an effect on how macho a culture is – as I understand there used to be higher proportions of women (in Western societies) and there was also a more man-dominatated culture than we have now.

          I’ve seen a book on this, Too Many Women?, which posits that societies in which there are lots of women tend to be more male-dominated, and vice-versa. Given that, in general, both sexes want a relationship with the other, this makes sense in terms of market power. This was offered as an explanation for the sexual culture in places like the inner cities. I think I observed the opposite at my male-dominated engineering school, where there weren’t a lot of women, and the ones that were there were generally treated very well.

        • God Damn John Jay says:

          Sorry, didn’t realize we were talking about all immigration, that policy applies for refugees.

    • Lumifer says:

      In the current political climate all that you’d be requiring is for the immigrants to sign a form which says “I feelz like I am a woman today”.

    • LPSP says:

      And fuck foreign dudes, mirite?

    • cassander says:

      I have no idea if this is a good idea or not, but I would love to see the political fallout that came from someone proposing it.

    • Incurian says:

      I actually think this is a good solution to a refugee problem. The men, of course, are rounded up and organized to fight for their homeland.

    • Richard says:

      I sometimes suggest something similar with a slightly different rationale:

      – Europe has somewhat of an influx of asylum seekers
      – The criteria for asylum is basically that you are persecuted in your home country
      – All women are obviously persecuted in muslim countries and should be granted asylum
      – Once that rule is in effect it would be quite stupid to also grant asylum to the oppressors.

      If nothing else, it’s fun to watch feminists tie themselves in knots trying to come up with an argument against without destroying their own narrative.

  14. Fred says:

    What do you guys think about this paper?

    Our work addresses the long-standing issue of the relationship between mathematics and language. By scanning professional mathematicians, we show that high-level mathematical reasoning rests on a set of brain areas that do not overlap with the classical left-hemisphere regions involved in language processing or verbal semantics. Instead, all domains of mathematics we tested (algebra, analysis, geometry, and topology) recruit a bilateral network, of prefrontal, parietal, and inferior temporal regions, which is also activated when mathematicians or non- mathematicians recognize and manipulate numbers mentally. Our results suggest that high-level mathematical thinking makes minimal use of language areas and instead recruits circuits initially involved in space and number. This result may explain why knowledge of number and space, during early childhood, predicts mathematical achievement.

    As someone doing advanced abstract math (but not in topology, analysis, algebra, geometry), the first part resonates with me. As for the second part:

    the overlapping activations to number and to advanced math cannot be explained by a shared component of numerical knowledge but indicate that high-level mathematics recruits the same brain circuit as basic arithmetic.


    these high-resolution single-subject analyses confirm that advanced mathematics, basic arithmetic, and even the mere viewing of numbers and formulas recruit similar and overlapping cortical sites in mathematically trained individuals.

    I must say that, intuitively, I agree with “many mathematicians” who

    however, argue that number concepts are too simple to be representative of advanced mathematics.

    In particular, many mathematical statements they employed (at the bottom of the pdf) refer to numbers or numerical structures, and aren’t at all representative of much abstract math, or at least of what I think about day-to-day.

  15. S_J says:

    News that is local to me: Per the recently-released statistics for 2015, violent crime shows a decline in Detroit.

    Detroit is still among the worst-three cities in the nation for violent crime. [1]

    But Detroit’s annual rate of violence decreased from the previous year, and the rate of homicide remained flat.

    It’s something of a surprise. Even though Detroit is still a violent city, it saw a decrease in violent crime when cities like Chicago, Baltimore, and St. Louis saw increases in rates of violent crime.

    Not sure if this is the beginning of a long-term trend. But I’m somewhat happy that the Detroit area hasn’t had demonstrations-threatening-rioting over Police behavior this year. [2]

    From what I can tell, the current Chief of Police has been working hard to reduce tension between Police and community members. He’s also been doing what is in his power to apprehend and prosecute criminals, as well as clean up cold-cases-lists and improve policing near large public events.

    [1] Such statistics usually cite “cities with population above 100,000”.
    For most of my life, Detroit has been among the top-3-most-violent cities in the nation.

    In some years, Flint showed up on the list of most-violent-cities-in-the-United-States. But Flint’s population recently dropped below 100,000, so it likely disappeared from those lists. Per one of the tables in that articles, Flint’s homicide rate saw a large increase in 2015.

    Oddly, several suburbs in the extended Metro area will make lists of the top-25-safest-cities in the nation. But thoses lists are often for cities-with-population-over-50,000…so the comparison may not be appropriate.

    [2] Come to think of it…during the early-90s, shortly after the trial of officers involved in the Rodney King case in Los Angeles, there was a very-publicized trial surrounding the death of a man named Malice Green at the hands of Detroit Police officers. (One question I’ve always had about that case…what parent names their child “Malice”? But that’s a digression…)

    That trial generated lots of publicity and outrage, but I don’t recall any riots over that situation.

    • Psmith says:

      I periodically see stories about a Detroit revival spearheaded by young folk with college degrees moving there for the low rents (and e.g. businesses setting up shop there for the same reason), see for instance 1, 2, 3. I kind of think it’s starting to rebound, especially as old housing stock gets torn down. Flint much less so.

      Chicago, St. Louis, and Baltimore crime rates best explained by BLM-related unrest imo.

    • JayT says:

      Hasn’t Detroit seen a large increase in private police firms? I wonder if the increased policing lowers the crime rate, but since they are private they don’t feel like they have carte blanche to enforce the rules however they see fit, and so they would have to be “nicer” to the population. Possibly something to look into.

      • Psmith says:

        Hasn’t Detroit seen a large increase in private police firms?

        I don’t believe so, not any more than anywhere else where the official police don’t do a very good job. (South Africa springs to mind as a spot with a booming private security industry.). One agency got a bit of press in certain circles for its nonviolent methods, but they were working over an area of about a block IIRC.

    • keranih says:

      It’s a pretty well accepted tenant of criminology that all crime rates suffer a variance of unknown degree due to reporting issues. Homicide is used as the gold standard because it goes unreported/undetected very rarely, and it generally tracks evenly with the violent crime rate.

      So any time you see a discussion of “violent crime rates” check the murder rate. If there is a difference between the two changes in rates (as there is in Detroit for the year under discussion) suspect a change in reporting, a fudging of the data, or both.

      Robert Ver Bruggen today pointed at an Atlantic article about the role of publicized police brutality in reducing crime reporting.

      • S_J says:

        So any time you see a discussion of “violent crime rates” check the murder rate. If there is a difference between the two changes in rates (as there is in Detroit for the year under discussion) suspect a change in reporting, a fudging of the data, or both.

        I’d forgotten that factor.

        That article by Robert Ver Brugger, plus the potential for copycat-killers doing big mass shootings, makes me wish we had a way to limit news coverage of certain kinds of big, shocking events.

    • I have a theory that the worst neighborhoods are subject to random policing, which might be worse than no policing. In other words, behaving well doesn’t give protection from police and behaving badly doesn’t add to the risk from police.

      This would affect the incentives for good and bad behavior by the public.

  16. The original Mr. X says:

    This is replying to a point Earthly Knight made in OT 58.75. I thought I’d put my response here, instead of in the other thread, because I see people making similar arguments rather frequently, and thought the matter deserved more attention than it’s likely to get in the doldrums of a moribund OT.

    The church holds that homosexual behavior is in some way morally wrong. But it is patently obvious that homosexual behavior is in no way morally wrong. The best explanation of why church dogma contains such an obvious falsehood is that church attitudes towards homosexuality are rooted in a tradition of irrational prejudice and hatred stretching back to the bible’s authors.

    No doubt you, personally, think it “patently obvious”; no doubt, too, if you’d been born two hundred years ago you would have thought it “patently obvious” that homosexual behaviour is immoral, disgusting, unmanly, and so on. What people think is or isn’t obvious often owes at least as much to the prejudices of the society they grew up in as it does to the objective facts of the matter — in which case, I’m not sure why I should put any weight on what you, personally, happen to consider “patently obvious”, especially when it’s clear that lots of people, even in the modern West, don’t share your feelings on the matter.

    There’s another problem with your views, too. You claim that opposition to gay marriage is an example of homophobia, based, presumably, on the “patent obviousness” of the idea that gay marriage is OK. But, if you survey the societies and countries where gay marriage exists with the societies and countries where it doesn’t (or didn’t), you find that every society that existed before the present millennium didn’t have gay marriage, and the ones that do now are all part of the West. Now, I guess it is theoretically possible that all the human societies before 2001 just so happened to be bigoted in the exact same way and to such a degree that they were unable to see the patently obvious validity of gay marriage, but that really would be a quite remarkable coincidence. It is, anteriorly speaking, far more likely that (a subset of) modern Western societies are wrong about something than that every other society in history has been wrong. Accordingly our priors ought to be strongly against gay marriage; certainly they ought to be against it strongly enough that crying “It’s just obvious!” isn’t really going to be enough.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      Historically, very few societies have held Western Enlightenment values: all men are created equal and suchlike. The belief that this implies these values are wrong is relatively common around here, but it is a lot more controversial than the belief that gay marriage is bad. But presuming you accept Enlightenment values, and also accept the modern idea that homosexuality is something you are, not something you do, and that it isn’t a terrible terrible sin, I think it is fairly obvious that gay marriage is a sensible idea.

      You might argue that most people historically didn’t accept those ideas about homosexuality. But I don’t think there was a historical consensus alternative, and in any case the idea that homosexuality is bad but not prison-worthy is also weird and modern. So if you are going to use the same “old societies were right” argument here you have to both justify why you are picking the particular old society you choose, and why its ideas are correct .

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        You’ve made a nearly-acceptable argument for why sodomy laws should be repealed, but you need to go quite a bit further if you want gay marriage.

        The implicit argument has always been about the definition of marriage. Same-sex marriage is a contradiction in terms according to the traditional, procreative, definition of marriage. To even concieve of gay marriage you need the modern definition of marriage as a generic pledge of faithfulness to a lover.

        (Arguably gay marriage fails that definition as well, since non-monogamy is the norm, but that’s not a hill I’m interested in dying on. The health risk is worrying but I care about demographic trends much more than epidemic disease.)

        The traditional view of marriage as a purposeful institution had already been dying for a long time of course, so you can say gay marriage was a mercy-stroke. Hopefully this will spur people serious about marriage to invent new institutions to replace the dead one. I doubt it but it’s not impossible.

        But nonetheless there is a secular and reasonable argument in favor of restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples.

        • Anonymous says:

          But nonetheless there is a secular and reasonable argument in favor of restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples.

          Likewise, there are secular and reasonable arguments in favor of sodomy laws.

        • Urstoff says:

          Is the secular and reasonable argument just the semantic one, or is there something more than that?

        • Cord Shirt says:

          My pro-SSM argument is:

          Over the decades, marriage had already been evolving in the direction of “moves the laws more and more into harmony with human nature, in a manner that is good for society.” For example, aspects of marriage like “not being forced to incriminate one’s spouse” were added because, due to the human tendency to pair-bond, trying to force spouses to testify against one another didn’t work very well.

          So it had already evolved to have a suite of legal protections that more or less gracefully handle the typical human pair bond.

          That suite of legal protections is what is extended to same-sex couples with the introduction of same-sex marriage. And since we don’t know what causes obligate homosexuality, same-sex marriage seems to have a better shot at improving the smooth running of society in this area than anything else.

          I do think, though, that we should also have brought back breach of promise, alienation of affection and criminal conversation–partly because of the “gay non-monogamy norm” you mentioned. Marriage’s “graceful handling of human nature” (not to mention disease reduction–no, it’s never been perfect, but it helps) demands monogamy.

          I support everyone’s freedom to be non-monogamous, but for practical reasons they need to do so outside of marriage. I actually also support married persons coming to private agreements about non-monogamy–but they’d better be *very sure* they *really do agree*. ISTM a crim con suit is an appropriate consequence for “convincing yourself the two of you agreed on non-monogamy when actually you didn’t.”


          • You seem to be rejecting polygyny which, while less common than monogamy, is also a fairly common institution. In at least the Jewish and Islamic versions, each wife was supposed to have her own household.


          • Cord Shirt says:

            I think monogamy is more conducive to stable societies than polygyny; I think polygyny is an unfortunate local maximum.

            The obvious argument is that polygyny leads to large numbers of unattached young men. I think it’s “supposed to”–that is, it’s a social form suited to losing lots of young men in war. When you’re not already doing that, the excess young men could create instability, and (IMO) their unhappiness is in itself a problem.

            I think that polygyny is a problem for women too. Most people want their partner to themselves. Polygyny gives this to the men who actually get married, but not to the women. It a broad cosmic sense this may still be “fair”–men don’t get a guaranteed mate, women do, so “class men” is not better off than “class women”–but in their daily lives, these women repeatedly experience an asymmetry. To the extent that valuing fair treatment is part of human nature, this seems likely to create a degree of unhappiness.

            Polygyny seems like something a society resorts to when it doesn’t have enough men (or enough “men who can contribute enough to the upkeep of the children”). Perhaps it’s the best choice for such situations. I don’t think the USA is in such a situation.

          • My impression is that, in most polygynous societies, most marriages were monogamous. Most men either didn’t want or couldn’t afford more than one wife. The Modern Egyptians, a 19th century description of life in Cairo, reports that fewer than one marriage in a hundred was polygynous.

            So I don’t think your problem of large numbers of young men unable to find a bride is all that likely. But allowing polygyny does solve the problem of some women unable to find a husband, especially in a society where, for one reason or another, women are in excess supply on the marriage market. Allowing polyandry solves the problem in the other direction for some men.

            If you are willing to model the marriage market as an ordinary market with implicit prices and if you assume institutions in which individuals belong to themselves on that market, the standard arguments for free exchange carry over.

            So far “these women” experiencing an asymmetry, are you assuming that someone else allocated them to polygynous marriages? As long as they control themselves, the women in polygynous marriages are there by their own choice, either because they prefer only having to put up with half a husband or because, although they would prefer all of this husband, the net terms offered for half of him were more attractive than the terms they could get for a monogamous marriage–more desirable husband, larger income, or whatever.

      • cassander says:

        >Historically, very few societies have held Western Enlightenment values: all men are created equal and suchlike. The belief that this implies these values are wrong is relatively common around here, but it is a lot more controversial than the belief that gay marriage is bad. But presuming you accept Enlightenment values, and also accept the modern idea that homosexuality is something you are, not something you do, and that it isn’t a terrible terrible sin, I think it is fairly obvious that gay marriage is a sensible idea.

        There’s been what, 300 years of enlightenment? 200 if you cut it close? Of those, for maybe all but 25 the idea of gay marriage was an unthinkable absurdity. Now, I’m actually for gay marriage, but even by the standards of your argument, The original Mr. X’s argument stands.

    • S_J says:

      Out of curiosity….what is the epistemic status of the statement “homosexual people are born that way” ?

      • Anon. says:

        Biometric modeling revealed that, in men, genetic effects explained .34–.39 of the variance, the shared environment .00, and the individual-specific environment .61–.66 of the variance. Corresponding estimates among women were .18–.19 for genetic factors, .16–.17 for shared environmental, and 64–.66 for unique environmental factors.

      • Anonymous says:

        Out of curiosity….what is the epistemic status of the statement “homosexual people are born that way” ?

        Appears to be fairly solid. The Catholic Church even recognizes the difference between a homosexual (OK) and a sodomite (not OK).

      • Skef says:

        Other statements in the same family include “homosexual people do not choose what sex they are attracted to” and “homosexual people are that way in virtue of a combination of genetic factors and unknown environmental influences that fix the orientation by an early age.” If we’re talking about men, I think there is both a great deal of evidence for and agreement about both of these statements. When it comes to women there would be controversy stemming from evidence for more fluidity of preference, but one way of addressing that controversy would be in the understanding of what it is to be homosexual.

        By drawing the line at birth, your statement includes genetic and womb environmental influences but not post-natal environmental influences. I would argue that the current evidence is less clear on the status of that line. There is widely accepted evidence both that genetics are not sufficient and that womb environment plays a role but whether later factors can tip the scale is not clear.

        • Anonymous says:

          What is the evidence that male orientation is fixed at an early age? I am not aware of any evidence other than people saying “I always knew” which is exactly the kind of thing that human memory is bad at.

          (Technically, genetic contribution is evidence for early fixation, but it is very weak evidence. Prenatal hormones would be better evidence, contrafactually.)

          • Skef says:

            Does that mean you’re not aware of evidence of correlation with early childhood behavior or that you reject it?

            [Edit: Sorry, I may not be accurately tracking the Anonymi in this thread. In any case, that’s one kind of evidence.]

          • Anonymous says:

            Thanks! I was not aware of that. It’s definitely going in the right direction. I wouldn’t call it strong evidence, though, because it’s small and I am a little concerned about homosexuality being mentioned in the solicitation. Do you have a bibliography of such studies? It cites a couple of small prospective studies, which have their own problems, but at least they are different.

          • Two McMillion says:

            My personal experience gives me reason to doubt the “I always knew” explanation. In fact, I am aware of several events from early in my life that permanently shaped matters of my sexuality. (No, I will not tell you what they were.) They were (at the time) apparently minor events, and happened at an early enough age that most people would have forgotten them. It is not at all difficult for me to believe that many people could have had similar experiences and forgotten they happened.

          • Anonymous says:

            McMillion, “I always knew” is supposed to be evidence that orientation was fixed at, say, age 5. If your sexuality was shaped by events that occurred before age 5, that is compatible with the claim.

          • Skef says:

            I’m not an expert on this subject but there are things like this meta-study from 1995.

          • Two McMillion says:

            McMillion, “I always knew” is supposed to be evidence that orientation was fixed at, say, age 5. If your sexuality was shaped by events that occurred before age 5, that is compatible with the claim.

            Yes, the events I’m thinking of occurred when I was 3-4.

          • Anonymous says:

            The meta-analysis appears to me to be a collection of retrospective studies based on memory, which I’m pretty skeptical of. The 2008 study is great because it used permanent records of childhood.

      • Anonymous says:

        Nobody has a clue. In Obergefell, the APA filed a brief and had the opportunity to bring all the evidence they could muster in support of their stated position that it is innate and biological. The only paper they cited was an opinion poll asking homosexuals whether they felt they had a choice (…and the poll had actually also asked bisexuals, but they didn’t cite that number, because it didn’t support their narrative). There just isn’t good evidence for almost any position.

        Even my queer theory prof flatly stated that she is agnostic about biological determinism, and one of our early readings was rather hostile to the idea.

        • Anonymous says:

          Lawyers and queer theorists may not have a clue, but that doesn’t mean nobody has a clue.

          Your link is insidiously broken. this is better

          • Anonymous says:

            That’s quite strange that the link wouldn’t work. Yours works fine, thanks.

            My point is not that lawyer/queer theorists just have no clue. It’s actually a two-fold argument. The first part is not concerning lawyers – it’s concerning the APA. These organizations are often trotted out as exemplars of science, definitively settling the issue for all reasonable people. When given their chance to tell the world exactly how to come to their conclusion, they provided the scantest amount of incredibly weak evidence. Given how incentivized they are to make a strong argument in such an important case, I find it likely that there isn’t very much strong evidence elsewhere.

            The second point is a pre-emptive argument against the inevitable, “Only virulently anti-gay, bigoted, and regressive people would even entertain the idea that it’s not biological.” Clearly, that’s not the case.

            This argument suffers the same flaw of all arguments about the absence of evidence – it’s fundamentally impossible to do. However, in an attempt to make a positive argument, it is worthwhile to note that incredibly smart, qualified people with all the incentive in the world to produce high-quality evidence have utterly failed to do so. And like all arguments about the absence of evidence, its fatal flaw is that one can always just point to other evidence (and an argument will commence about the quality of said evidence). So, of course, if you have some of that, let the argument commence. Otherwise, I think that this serves well as a first-order argument, rather than me just starting off by picking a random assortment of the varied terrible literature surrounding this question and blowing 5000 words on why it’s all terrible.

          • Skef says:

            So, Anonymous, am I correctly understanding that your point is the APA assessed the numerous papers pointing to genetic and early childhood influences and rejected those as providing little or no evidence, and then cited papers that in your view clearly don’t constitute good evidence? You say “These organizations are often trotted out as exemplars of science, definitively settling the issue for all reasonable people.” but don’t sound like you agree with that assessment, but also use what evidence the APA cites as your own primary evidence. Maybe pick one?

            Since it’s not tractable to argue about every study, can you briefly outline what sort of evidence you would take as supporting a biological basis, and if relevant who would have to produce it?

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Skef

            what sort of evidence you would take as supporting a biological basis

            Twin studies are the gold standard at the moment, I think.

          • Anonymous says:

            Sorry, the APA is, indeed, not made up of lawyers. It is quite reasonable to bring them up. But their failure to cite the paper Anon cited is pretty damning.

          • Anonymous says:

            the APA assessed the numerous papers pointing to genetic and early childhood influences and rejected those as providing little or no evidence, and then cited papers that in your view clearly don’t constitute good evidence?

            Apparently so. The APA knows how to find scientific papers. They have an entire LGBT Concerns Office. Heck, a while back, they published a report aimed at conversion therapy. It reviewed a ton of literature, and despite admitting at basically every step of the process that all the studies were crap, made a good recommendation in line with LGBT Concerns.

            You say “These organizations are often trotted out as exemplars of science, definitively settling the issue for all reasonable people.” but don’t sound like you agree with that assessment, but also use what evidence the APA cites as your own primary evidence. Maybe pick one?

            I clearly pick the former and not the latter. That is pretty obvious unless you’re horribly misrepresenting my position. I did not use the evidence the APA cites as my primary evidence. I used the fact that incredibly motivated and smart parties used terrible evidence to support their position as evidence that better evidence is scarce. Primary evidence would be the latter process I described – going through various articles one-by-one and determining whether or not they’re junk.

            Let’s put it this way – suppose APS had a Cold Fusion Research Concerns Office, and they were submitting a report to DOE for funding. Their entire section for This Stuff Could Work is based on an opinion poll of self-identified cold fusion researchers (oh, and they also asked a few people who cross-identified as high-energy physicists, but that number was less supportive of the narrative, so they omitted it). While this is not a replacement for going through studies one-by-one, it’s a pretty decent first pass.

            I’m amenable to different study designs supporting different particular claims (genetic/biological/resistant to change/etc), and I’m much more concerned with the quality of the work than the particular who that is producing it.

      • cassander says:

        I love how we live in a world where it’s homophobic to say that people choose to be gay but transphobic to say someone’s been born a man or a woman.

        • Alliteration says:

          Note that some (most?) trans activists would agree with that. That trans people were born the gender, they transitioned to.

          • cassander says:

            Perhaps my sample is not representative, but I hear a lot more “I choose this”/”identity is fluid” rhetoric coming from the trans rights side than I ever did from the gay rights side, where the explanation was always “I was born this way/”sexuality is innate and immutable part of me”.

          • Deiseach says:

            cassander, the “born this way” rhetoric was a deliberate political choice by activists such as Marshall Kirk in the 80s to push for mainstreaming LGBT rights and getting the majority straight public to accept them:

            Now, there are two different messages about the Gay Victim that are worth communicating. First, the mainstream should be told that gays are victims of fate, in the sense that most never had a choice to accept or reject their sexual preference. The message must read: “As far as gays can tell, they were born gay, just as you were born heterosexual or white or black or bright or athletic. Nobody ever tricked or seduced them; they never made a choice, and are not morally blameworthy. What they do isn’t willfully contrary – it’s only natural for them. This twist of fate could as easily have happened to you!”

            Format A for Familiarization: The Testimonial.

            To make gays seem less mysterious, present a series of short spots featuring the boy-or girl-next-door, fresh and appealing, or warm and lovable grandma grandpa types. Seated in homey surroundings, they respond to an off camera interviewer with assurance, good nature, and charm. Their comments bring out three social facts:

            1. There is someone special in their life, a long-term relationship (to stress gay stability, monogamy, commitment);

            2. Their families are very important to them, and are supportive of them (to stress that gays are not “anti-family,” and that families need not be anti-gay.)

            3. As far as they can remember they have always been gay, and were probably born gay; they certainly never decided on a preference one way or the other (stressing that gays are doing what is natural for them, and are not being willfully contrary). The subjects should be interviewed alone, not with their lovers or children, for to include others in the picture would unwisely raise disturbing questions about the complexities of gay social relations, which these commercials could not explain. It is best instead to take one thing at a time.

            I thought this was only anti-gay propaganda and never really suggested by gay rights groups or representatives, but no, it was a suggested campaign to gain sympathy and ‘normalise’ LGBT as much as possible to overcome resistance from the majority.

            Kirk went on to write a book with Hunter Madsen called “After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90s”.

          • houseboatonstyxb says:

            @ Deiseach
            the “born this way” rhetoric was a deliberate political choice by activists such as Marshall Kirk in the 80s to push for mainstreaming LGBT rights and getting the majority straight public to accept them:

            I hope that theory has served its purpose and we can go on to something more realistic, before a ‘gay gene’ is discovered. As a bi woman, if I choose a woman as my next partner, I don’t want to be considered not really gay, or eventually to need a blood test to qualify.

            Gay is as gay does, dammit. (Well, if someone wants to say bi’s are born bi … no, there comes the blood test again.)

        • raj says:

          No, this is a straw-man meme. Nobody gets offended if you “assume their gender”.

    • I believe that homosexuality is innate (established pretty early) because I’ve never heard of anyone choosing to be heterosexual, as well as no one choosing to be homosexual.

      While it isn’t possible to prove that homosexuality is unchangeable, there’s a lot of evidence that trying to chance people from homosexual to heterosexual makes them miserable.

    • Deiseach says:

      I wish you hadn’t raised this again because it’s not going to go anywhere good. One side will be “but it is bigotry and prejudice to forbid a class of people from a basic human right due to one particular thing” and the other side will be “it’s not that particular thing, it’s a whole list of things” and nobody is going to convince anybody.

      I don’t know if gay marriage is going to be good, bad or indifferent. I do know it will have effects we won’t know about until after they happen, and that it’s succeeded in its primary aim: getting gay rights normalised as part of mainstream culture (I never believed it was about “love” and only partially believed it was about “hospital visitation rights and tax filing”). That genie is out of the bottle, fighting a lost battle over again is not going to get anywhere. I’m waiting for the polygamy shoe to drop, because it will: if adultery is no longer a criminal offence, why should bigamy be? If gender does not matter, why should the number of partners? If it’s acceptable for Alice and Bob to be married, and for Bob to have an open relationship with Carol, and even for Carol to move in and live with Alice and Bob so that she is a spouse in all but name, why not make it legal if Alice is agreeable? Why should Bob have to divorce Alice (whom he still loves) to be with Carol? God approves of polygamy – Jacob was married to both Leah and Rachel! This is cultural discrimination and bigotry!

      • Incurian says:

        Cannot wait for polygamy to be normal.

        • Deiseach says:

          Cannot wait for polygamy to be normal

          Functionally it is, we’re just waiting for the law to catch up. “Serial monogamy” and fathering a child with X while you’ve moved on to Y but you still sometimes spend time with X and Z is also on the horizon – it happens. As I’ve said before, soap operas are documentaries when it comes to social housing clients 🙂

          • Incurian says:

            That’s not the sort of polygamy I had in mind.

            Tracking all on the social work clients though.

          • Anonymous says:

            Polygamy is legal, so long as you keep it de-facto, and keep away from de-jure – that is, never actually bother the state organs about it. They will do absolutely nothing about your living with and having children with multiple women, as long as you don’t have a civil marriage with any of them.

      • “(I never believed it was about “love” and only partially believed it was about “hospital visitation rights and tax filing”)”

        Why wouldn’t it be about those rather obvious things, with the respect given to normal people added in?

        One of the significant problems which gay marriage may or may not help is gay teenagers being thrown out of their parents’ house.

        • S_J says:

          A “Medical Power of Attorney” letter, signed and notarized, would probably suffice for “hospital vistation”.

          I don’t know about tax filing, though…

        • Deiseach says:

          Your solution to homelessness is “get married”? Nancy, that doesn’t work unless the new spouse has a flat or house of their own, and if they do, their boyfriend/girlfriend can just move in with them without being married; otherwise then you have two people homeless instead of one, and I don’t know if seventeen year olds are really a good bet for long-term marriage survival.

          I don’t know how America works, but over here you don’t have to be married to get your partner put on the lease of social housing. If your gay teenager is the partner of a council housing tenant, they can move in if the tenant fills out the permission to reside form and lets us know (so we can charge rent). In the social housing department here, emergency accommodation is things like shelters and hostels. Coming in and saying “My parents kicked me out because I’m gay” won’t get you housed next day, and neither will “My parents kicked me out because I’m gay, now I’m married to my boyfriend, we need housing”. You’ll be referred to emergency accommodation, if the hostel in our city has spaces for you, and asked if you have resources to rent private accommodation of your own, if you have any friends/family you can share with, etc. There’s a selection of people waiting housing on our lists who are ‘couch surfing’. The problem is lack of accommodation because during the collapse no new social housing was being built, and we’re still in austerity budgets mode so the government is making promises about building new houses and introducing new rent allowance schemes for private accommodation.

          The problem with the rent allowance schemes is the cap on spending; the difference between what we’re legally allowed to pay in rent, and the market rents being charged by landlords now the economy is gradually improving. Under the terms of the scheme, we’re not supposed to accept applications where the tenant has to pay extra to the landlord to cover the rent, but things are so bad we’ve been instructed to turn a blind eye to “and the landlord wants X on top of what the monthly rent allowance is” even though this is contrary to the regulations – we’ve been told from the top to break the regs (but, uh, pretend you don’t know this is happening).

          Your gay homeless teenager shows up to our office, getting married won’t help them – unless their new spouse has a house or apartment of their own to house them. Gay homeless teenager who probably hasn’t got a job that will let them pay X amount extra on top of an allowance for rent – getting married is no solution, as I said at the top: if we don’t have a house/flat available, two are as badly off as one.

          Why didn’t I believe it was about love? Because, unlike the impression the campaigns (including in my own country) tried to push, “love” was not illegal. Nobody was stopping two men or two women from falling in love, having sex, and living together. True, they couldn’t marry one another, but cohabitation is perfectly socially respectable nowadays, and there are lots of straights living together, buying houses, having kids, etc. without bothering to marry. “I just want our love to be recognised” – bollocks. If it’s none of my business what you do in the bedroom, why should you care if I know about it or not? If you claimed the State has no interest in, and no right to regulate, your private and personal sex life so it should butt out and not make any laws about it, then you can’t turn around and demand the State officially certify your private and personal sex life and make laws about it. Indeed, you are now inviting the State to regulate what you formerly said was invading your privacy: getting married means there are duties and responsibilities as well as rights, infringements on your freedom, laws about what you can and can’t do (bigamy, child support, alimony, so on) and who is and isn’t recognised as your partner where before you were free to make decisions as to how many lovers you had, what proportion if any of your income you paid to your lover when your relationship ended, and so on.

          • keranih says:

            Being able to get married didn’t stop straight teenage kids from being booted from their parent’s homes, either.

            And as I’ve said before, it’s not the status of “being gay”, it’s more like “I’m going to keep on sneaking out of the house and having sex with [edgy undesirable person].” I’d rather people were able to discuss coming-of-age issues like rational adults, but…

            Third and finally – this isn’t something unique to homosexuals. Coming out to your parents might lower the booting threshold, but it happened to straight kids as well.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Interestingly, “it’s all about love” is an extremely modern view of marriages. “It’s about hospital visitation and taxes” is more traditional – marriage has more often been about producing more farmhands/dowries/securing alliances/whatever depending on place, time, and class, than about romantic love.

          • I’ve just finished reading The Book of Women, the volume of Maimonides dealing with marriage and related issues.

            One of the penalties for rape or seduction was having to marry your victim and never being permitted thereafter to divorce her. She could choose not to consent, but he couldn’t.

    • Earthly Knight says:

      No doubt you, personally, think it “patently obvious”; no doubt, too, if you’d been born two hundred years ago you would have thought it “patently obvious” that homosexual behaviour is immoral, disgusting, unmanly, and so on.

      Maybe. But Jeremy Bentham, writing in the late 18th century, found himself compelled to adopt a permissive attitude towards homosexuality simply because he couldn’t identify a single tangible harm that it caused. If you want a deeper rationale than “it’s intuitively obvious that homosexuality is okay,” this is where you should look. Homosexual behavior causes no harm, violates no one’s rights, restricts no one’s autonomy, and does no one any injustice. These are the standard wrong-making features of actions, and the fact that homosexuality lacks all of them is strong reason to think there’s nothing objectionable about it.

      It is, anteriorly speaking, far more likely that (a subset of) modern Western societies are wrong about something than that every other society in history has been wrong.

      I disagree. Many (most?) societies throughout human history have condoned some form of human slavery. But we understand now that slavery is unjust and barbaric, and that the justifications given for it in ages past were self-serving excuses born from thoughtlessness, ignorance, and conformity. The church’s stance on homosexuality seems to me every bit as benighted. Modern western values represent real moral progress, away from our reflexive and unthinking prejudices and towards a more rational system of ethics.

      • There is a lemma required for your theorem–that it is patently obvious that the religions in question are false. Without that, you can’t reach the conclusion by merely demonstrating that there are no good non-religious reasons for opposition to homosexuality.

        Odd though it may seem, there are people out there, quite a lot of them, who believe in God and take seriously what they think His commands are.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          you don’t need the religions either, I think. You just need a communal view of humanity rather than an atomic individualist view.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          I don’t think you require that lemma, but merely the weaker one that either the religions are false, or that their conclusions should also be reachable by secular logic.

  17. IrishDude says:

    Hypothetical: Through coordination on the internet, 10% of the population commits to stop paying federal income taxes. Employers of this 10% of the population also buy-in and agree to stop withholding any federal income taxes. What would the response of the government be? Would it be effective?

    • The Nybbler says:

      The government simply seizes the unpaid taxes, and builds a whole lot more prisons.

      • IrishDude says:

        It’d be politically and economically difficult to seize unpaid taxes from 30 million people, but this would depend on how committed the tax protesters were. Government counts on widespread submission to paying taxes, but if a protest with widespread commitment started, would government have the heart to use violent means to get the taxes back? Similarly, I wonder how it would go if a state seceded today. I don’t see a civil war part 2 happening.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          For the tax protestors, I don’t think the government would try to actually get the taxes back (apart from people who owed large amounts). Instead I would guess they would imprison enough protestors to cow the rest into stopping. But I think the situation is quite unrealistic; if 10% of citizens were opposed to taxes enough to refuse to pay them, surely they (and the people with similar views but less commitment) would manage to elect a government with the same attitude to taxes.

          If a state seceded, I think they would experience incredibly heavy sanctions, and then be annexed after mass emigration.

          • IrishDude says:

            Perhaps there’d need to be a large, pooled legal fund to defend the protestors. If it could clog the legal system then maybe not enough could get imprisoned to act as a deterrent?

            10% isn’t enough to elect enough leaders to change the system. Even doubling that amount, to account for sympathizers, isn’t enough. The political process doesn’t work well for small minorities (unless they are wealthy special interests who can offer favors to politicians).

        • Lumifer says:

          Government can reach into you bank account and just take the money. If you are so poor as to not have a bank account, you probably don’t owe any taxes anyway. If you store stacks of bills under your mattress, you’re an insignificant minority no one cares about and these stacks of bills are probably from the untaxed grey economy.

          if a state seceded today

          What does that mean? If you want to have your own laws, you have them (see e.g. marijuana legalization). If you want to have your own armed forces and foreign policy, well, who will go to fight and die in your army?

          • dndnrsn says:

            Nitpicking: It is pretty easy to end up in a situation where you don’t have a bank account but still owe taxes. Just don’t file/pay taxes, and eventually the government will seize your bank account. After this happens a few times banks will stop letting you open accounts.

          • Jiro says:

            If you want to have your own laws, you have them (see e.g. marijuana legalization).

            That wouldn’t work very well if you wanted to have a law that lets bakeries not have to bake gay edding cakes.

            Also, if the seceding state managed to not be subject to Federal taxes, that woiuld help the state set policies, since the Federal government likes to force states to implement policies by taking money and only giving it back with conditions.

          • IrishDude says:

            Banks are definitely a centralized source of failure for tax protests. Perhaps alt currencies like bitcoin would need to become widespread before a wide scale tax protest could happen.

            If you want to keep all your tax money in state, without it being filtered through federal bureaucrats, you need to secede. If you want your own drug, banking, or health insurance rules outside of federal intervention, you need to secede as well. Seceding states don’t need an army; Costa Rica doesn’t have one.

    • John Schilling says:

      Hypothetical: Through coordination on the internet, 10% of the population commits to stop paying federal income taxes.

      What fraction of the population do you believe pays federal income taxes?

      Actually writes-a-check-to-the-federal-government “pays”, as opposed to having a third party “pay” on their behalf with money they’ll never be allowed to have control over?

      If 10% of the population decides to stop filing tax returns, the government gets to keep what would have been their refund and decide whether its worth the bother of arresting them. If 10% of the population decides to file fraudulent tax returns that say “I don’t owe you any taxes, give it all back”, the government says “no” and again keeps their money and decides whether to bother with arresting them. If government and protester alike decide to actually fight this out in court, the courts are going to get mighty clogged, but the money is going to be in the government’s accounts in the meantime.

      • IrishDude says:

        Note the hypothetical also has employers who agree to stop withholding taxes, so the money never makes it to the Feds to begin with.

        • Yes, but the 10% of employers would have to be the employers of those 10% of workers. Also, it is MUCH harder for employers to get away with this than workers. The government takes it out of their bank accounts, or seizes their cash, and the penalties are pretty severe also. People feel less sympathetic to businesses and the government can seize large amounts of money from them, so this is the weak spot for this scheme. How many companies will be committed enough to this to lose their entire business. This won’t work.

    • raj says:

      The grey market exists (it’s much bigger in certain foreign countries like China, Mexico, and Greece) typically cash-based services. It’s called “paying under the table”. It might even be that 10% is on the order of what is happening today.

      The answer to your question is “the government would punish defectors”, so anything over the level of a small business risks far too much to do this. They highwayman can extract a toll because his threat is credible.

      Also the incentive for business is in attracting employees who want a higher real wage – but there is a signalling paradox – how can they signal to potential employees that they are defecting on tax without the IRS catching on?

  18. IrishDude says:

    Shiftless in Seattle: Lawmakers Pass Onerous New Scheduling Ordinance

    “Under the new ordinance—effective July 1, 2017—certain employers will be required to tell their workers two weeks in advance which shifts they will be working.

    Should an employee be called in for extra hours, say, to replace a sick co-worker, the employer will have to pay him added “predictability pay.” Should an employee be sent home early—maybe because business is slow or a delivery is late—the employer must compensate him for half the hours he was scheduled to work.

    In addition, on-call staff will earn half pay for shifts when they are not called into work, while those employees that have less than 10 hours between two shifts will receive time and a half. Managers will also be required to offer any additional hours to current employees before taking on new hires.”

    One size-fits-all rules not allowing for the unique needs and preferences of each employer and employee 🙁

    • Corey says:

      Another good argument for a UBI 🙂

    • gbdub says:

      “Managers will also be required to offer any additional hours to current employees before taking on new hires”

      Up to what limit? What if I don’t want to pay you time-and-a-half overtime because your current shifts get you to 40 hours? What if the available shifts are meant for someone at a lower pay? If I want a new minimum wage night cashier, am I not allowed to if my midday shift manager who makes 30% more nominally wants to work that shift as overtime?

      • IrishDude says:

        All good questions. Business regulation is a way for government to centrally plan without actually taking nominal control over businesses. They act as the CEOs without the responsibility of trying to make a profit.

  19. In humorous note:
    In a prior thread, I mentioned the abysmal morale in my current department (which I am leaving), and asked for improvement suggestions.

    Today, everyone in our office who received a “disengaged” rating on our “anonymous” feedback survey received an email ordering them to watch to the company positivity video.

    I just felt that was worth sharing.

    • keranih says:

      How can you get your pudding if you don’t kick your feet?

    • Loyle says:

      I didn’t realize the definition of humor was “soul-crushing despair”.

    • Loquat says:

      That is fantastic. Is there any chance you’ll be staying in touch with co-workers who plan to remain there, and able to post updates on this slow-motion train wreck for our amusement?

      Also, I’m curious, is there any enforcement mechanism on this positivity video? And if there is, is it the kind that can be easily defeated by just opening the video, muting it, and minimizing it so it can play itself through while you go about your business?

      • I’m good friends with a few co-workers. So I’ll have plenty of updates!

        Another update: We all had performance reviews. We have an objective performance measurement (deliver Y good below X% of sales).
        We all beat it, and in fact had a record year.
        I received a “below average” performance rating, and my other co-workers received “average” ratings.

        I was personally told I had no sense of urgency on certain deliverables and wasn’t working hard enough. For perspective, I am about to log in to finish a report (even though I am leaving in 2 days), and am well acquainted for the company’s cleaning staff which usually operates 7 at night.

        The training video was skippable. Open-close, mark complete. That’s, of course, not what I did, because listening to it was worth more than a few laughs!

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Today, everyone in our office who received a “disengaged” rating on our “anonymous” feedback survey received an email ordering them to watch to the company positivity video.

      Damn. That’s ridiculously counter-productive and evil.

      I’ve always answered surveys as though they weren’t anonymous, but figured it was just healthy caution. Hadn’t actually expected anyone to be so blatant about it.

      • Lumifer says:

        If the place is imploding, the management might be in panic mode which reduces the probability of them doing smart things even further.

        • Overall, the company is recording record profits and growing quickly.
          Our managers are simply incompetent at people management.

          However, because of this poor people management, we have bled some high performers in our department, which has stressed everything (not helped because they were replaced by sycophants).
          I know a few people who actively told me they want new jobs. If they ever get off their ass and start aggressively searching, our personal Pharaoh will be in deep shit.

    • bja009 says:

      Legit lol’d at this. Keep updating, if possible.

      By chance do any members of management have pointy hair?

    • Deiseach says:

      “Anonymous” plainly did not mean what you thought it meant 🙂

      Will they be introducing the knout as the new means of productivity enhancement? Sounds rather like this Savage Chickens cartoon, as well as this one. Maybe they just need bigger hammers?

      I agree with Dr Dealgood: always answer company surveys with the most boot-licking attitude of “I super love working at this super place for our super bosses!” you can muster without physically throwing up, because they don’t want to hear the truth and if you complain, you only draw unwanted negative attention on yourself.

  20. Anon. says:

    Pessoa on managing your weirdness points:


    Surround who you dream you are with high walls.
    Then, wherever the garden can be seen
    Through the iron bars of the gate,
    Plant only the most cheerful flowers,
    So that you’ll be known as a cheerful sort.
    Where it can’t be seen, don’t plant anything.

    Lay flower beds, like other people have,
    So that passing gazes can look in
    At your garden as you’re going to show it.
    But where you’re all your own and no one
    Ever sees you, let wild flowers spring up
    Spontaneously, and let the grass grow naturally.

    Make yourself into a well-guarded
    Double self, letting no one who looks in
    See more than a garden of who you are—
    A showy but private garden, behind which
    The native flowers brush against grass
    So straggly that not even you see it . . .

  21. Anon. says:

    More formal econometric analysis confirms the lack of a relationship between the S&P 500 and Trump’s electoral odds. Regression analysis shows that day-to-day changes in Trump’s odds of winning had a statistically insignificant effect on log differences of the S&P 500. This is true even when controlling for log differences in Canadian and British stock markets, which should isolate U.S.-specific changes in expectations about the future of corporate profitability.

    Are the markets wrong? (if yes, are you betting against them?) Does the president simply have less power than we imagine? Is Trump less crazy than he seems?

    • Corey says:

      I’d be skeptical that Canada and the UK are uncorrelated enough with the US. Of course also the President’s direct influence on the economy is pretty limited, though he gets ~100% of the credit/blame for it.

    • Lumifer says:

      > Does the president simply have less power than we imagine?

      Yes. In particular, with regard to things relevant to the stock price of large companies.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I’m assuming that stock traders don’t really pay attention to polls and have simply dismissed Trumps chances. Remember when British stocks tanked because of Brexit? My guess is that the same would happen if Trump won.

      • Deiseach says:

        Speaking of Brexit, Theresa May announced today the timeline for exit. She’s going to trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017.

        Reaction will be interesting to see. Those who thought this was all a bluff and the British government would delay and delay and delay until they managed to fudge a “we’re not really leaving after all” solution were plainly wrong. But what this means, I have no idea: I’m not going to forecast the apocalypse out of this, but things are not going to go on the same as they did before, either.

        • Lumifer says:

          things are not going to go on the same as they did before, either.

          Given the context of EU, that’s a good thing.

  22. definitely not using my real name for this one says:

    What if we paid people with heritable disabilities and low intelligence to not reproduce? Obviously this would never happen because the optics of it would be terrible and you-know-who would be screaming genocide because you-know-why. But assuming welfare and etc. weren’t withheld or decreased for people who didn’t take up the offer (a dubious assumption, admittedly) I think the upsides would outweigh the downsides.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      I think the biggest problem is enforcement. How to you propose to pay people? If you pay up front and the people renege on the agreement your only option is to look insanely evil by trying to take money from people who are probably very poor (because they are the most likely to take the offer) for the “crime” of having children. If you promise to pay them in five years you will have to promise a bigger reward (and take into account that people with low intelligence may well have high time preference).

      A secondary problem is that you create an incentive for non-low intelligence people in need of money to pretend they are low intelligence and take your money, so you are basically just paying poor people to not reproduce.

      • JayT says:

        I assume the enforcement would be that to get the payment you have to be sterilized.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          Apparently so (judging by the link to Project Prevention). I think if you tried to extend that project to groups other than drug addicts you would run into problems the first time someone regretted their sterilisation.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        That is not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that political views are heritable.

    • Lumifer says:

      You’re forgetting that, excluding recent immigrants, most first-world countries have fallen below the replacement rates for their population. Look at Japan (which basically doesn’t have any immigrants) and what’s happening to its population. Are you quite sure you want to hasten the process?

      If you want to, um, improve the gene pool, you’d do much better by paying highly intelligent and healthy people for their sperm and eggs.

      And if you care only about a single country (say, the US), the solution is even simpler: establish an IQ immigration threshold.

    • Corey says:

      There’s no particular evidence that Idiocracy is a documentary. That is, convincing people that there’s even a problem that this measure would solve, would be difficult, and not solely because of SJWs.

      • Lumifer says:

        IQ is largely hereditary and the negative correlation between IQ and fertility is well-documented.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Thus, population IQ is self-limiting. Stopping dumb people from reproducing will raise your population IQ, but only by reducing your population further.

          Seems to me it’s definitely better to get high-IQ people to reproduce more. Not sure how you do it, though.

          If the problem is that the same genes which result in high IQ also result in a lowered drive to reproduce, you may be stuck, unless you can find other unrelated genes you can modify to raise the drive to reproduce.

          If the problem is that high-IQ people can see the downsides of raising kids, it’s an even harder problem of re-engineering society so raising kids is a positive again, at least for high-IQ people.

          • Lumifer says:

            As Greg Cochran likes to point out, it’s straight ag science X -D

            1. Buy eggs from high-IQ women. Get a few very-high-IQ men to serve as studs and donate sperm. Get surrogate mothers wherever, preferably in some poor and pious country (no drugs or rock’n’roll) but don’t forget to feed them well for nine months. Farm out the kids to foster families. Since IQ is mostly in the genes, some will be screwed up by upbringing, but most should be fine.

            2. …

            3. Profit!

          • Deiseach says:

            Farm out the kids to foster families.

            Only works if the foster families are not too dissimilar in status: you want your smart little babies to go to the kind of schools that will encourage, nurture and stimulate their smarts; send them on to universities that will make the most of their brains; and most importantly, get them networking with other smart, middle- and upper-middle class kids and their parents who have the connections to get them into the industries, sciences, academia, entrepreneurship, and political careers that you are aiming your smart babies to end up in as smart people being productive, creating wealth, and governing the country.

            You can get away with farming out smart little babies to the equivalent of wetnurses, but eventually they have to come back home to Mommy and Daddy for the upbringing that won’t waste their potential. Not because Mommy and Daddy can bring them up better, but because their peers, the neighbourhoods they will live in, the cultural attitudes of the family, etc. will be the influences on them. If you have them being raised by the servants in the servants’ own homes up until they’re old enough to go to university, they will talk, act and think like the servants, which is not what you want. If your smart little baby is going to the local bog-standard public school, it doesn’t matter how smart he or she is or if they’re best in the class, that counts very little when “best in the class” still means no advanced classes, enrichment programs, or being plucked out for the likes of Duke University’s Talent Identification Program because your school doesn’t participate.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Deiseach

            Eh, the original idea was for improving the general gene pool, not for breeding a new insular elite.

            It’s fine if these kids don’t get the enrichment classes — there is no good evidence they help with anything. It’s also fine if they talk like the servants (at first) — if need be, they’ll teach themselves the high speech.

          • Deiseach says:

            Lumifer, if you want to improve the general gene pool, then you don’t have surrogate-pregnancy high IQ kids raised by foster families – where do the superior genes go then, except in a little insular elite?

            You have the high IQ fathers having babies with the less high IQ mothers. You have high IQ mothers ‘marrying down’ and having smarter babies than would be born to that family otherwise. Maybe you pay families to have foster kids who will be adopted by them and grow up to marry into and have kids in that class or section. You keep intermixing and intermingling the ‘smarter’ genes with the general gene pool, and that only happens when the smart babies are part of the families of the less high IQ part of the gene pool, not by having surrogate pregnancies of smart ova and smart sperm fostered by the less smart mothers, and then the kids grow up, get educated, get better jobs, move out of that class, and get incorporated back into the original stratum of the smart donor daddies and mommies, where they then find partners and have babies who grow up and stay in that milieu, leaving the general gene pool as they found it.

          • The Nybbler says:


            It’s sufficient to increase the numbers of the intellectual elite; this will create a higher-IQ population statistically. However, I don’t your scenario would be the result anyway. Some of that first-generation high-IQ breed is going to intermix with the general population naturally (unless the breeder somehow prevents it). This is especially true if they grow up in lower-IQ foster families; they’ll have plenty of opportunistic outcrossing (to increase this effect, it might be best to pick foster communities where abortion is frowned on, and/or perhaps the breeder can spread the word that some financial support will be provided for such bastards)

          • Wombs are scarce, sperm is a free good. If you want to raise average IQ (assumed to be heritable) fast, you find some way of having high IQ men father lots of babies.

            That could be via high IQ sperm banks. It could be by a polygynous society whose institutions link wealth and IQ–one possible interpretation of the consequences of the Chinese Exam System. It could be in any of a variety of other ways. Getting high IQ women to have lots of babies helps, but that’s a much more limited mechanism, both because it’s costly in terms of time and effort of people likely to be very productive and because the number of children a woman can bear is much smaller than the number a man can father. You can also have high IQ egg banks, but getting eggs is considerably harder than getting sperm.

            Also, it’s worth distinguishing between raising the average and pushing out the upper tail. Matching high IQ men and women tends to push out the upper tail, give you more very smart children. It might also push out the lower tail.

            You get about the same effect on the average if the matching is random, provided the high IQ men and women produce children.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ Deiseach

            General means general — not only the lower classes. Sure there will be stratification by IQ, just like there is now. And yet the elite (in the post-feudal times) is pretty fluid — you can climb into it and drop out of it. People percolate through social strata and I don’t expect that to change if this scheme were successful and the average IQ rose from, say, 100 to 115. Again, the goal is neither to breed an insular elite, nor to spread high-IQ people equally throughout the society.

          • Lumifer says:

            @ David Friedman

            it’s worth distinguishing between raising the average and pushing out the upper tail

            That’s an interesting angle of approach. The consequences of changing the shape of the distribution are likely to be different from the consequences of keeping the shape and just moving the mean…

          • Cord Shirt says:

            Wombs are scarce, sperm is a free good. If you want to raise average IQ (assumed to be heritable) fast, you find some way of having high IQ men father lots of babies.

            Possible pitfall: Popular stud effect. (See also complex vertebral malformation in cattle, hyperkalemic periodic paralysis in horses, Springer rage syndrome in dogs…)

            (People sometimes think you can avoid this by testing for genetic diseases and removing carriers from consideration…but all that does is unmask other genetic diseases you didn’t know about yet.)

          • A quick google search doesn’t find a clear explanation of the “popular stud effect.” If you have five men siring ten percent of the population that would produce a small reduction in genetic diversity and some risk of inbreeding if a couple of the children of one such man might themselves reproduce, but it should be easy enough to keep track and make that unlikely.

            But if you have a tenth of a percent of the men siring ten percent of the children, I can’t see why there would be any significant problem along those lines. That’s still at least tens of thousands of studs.

            Am I missing anything?

          • keranih says:

            David, you’re missing a multigenerational effect, where the daughters of the top ten sires are the dams of 20% of the third generation, and an even higher percent of top ten sires of that lot.

            It can compound *really* fast, particularly if you’re selecting for just a few traits. (Like, oh, I dunno, deep red hair, blue grey eyes, 6 foot 2, 124+ IQ, and a 4% body fat average.)

            Given how poorly we can test humans for life success before they are buried, I don’t think we’d get very far into meaningful concentrations of success traits, and I have enough faith in human frivolousness that different appearance fads will cycle fast enough to keep the genetic pool from stovepiping too badly on aesthetics (which could cause stovepiping on health or success traits.)

            But it is something to watch for.

          • “where the daughters of the top ten sires are the dams of 20% of the third generation”

            Assume we are talking about the U.S. and the sires are the top .1% of whatever distribution we care about. That’s about a hundred thousand of them. The top ten are the fathers of a tiny fraction of one percent of the offspring. And that’s even without allowing for the fact that different people are optimizing for different characteristics, which increases the number of sires–all the ones in the top tenth of a percent of something some people want.

            I don’t see how your problem appears with any plausible numbers.

          • keranih says:

            @ David –

            In haste – this manuscript and this article outline the impact of heavy selection and AI on the dairy cattle population in the USA.

            I think you hit on a key element – that people will be selecting for multiple traits. So long as people have different preferences, we’ll do fine. Once we start over focusing on specific traits, we’ll have issues.

    • Anonymous says:

      The first step is just to remove government incentives to reproduce. As these are generally progressive, the poor (and presumably dumb) will be disproportionately impacted.

    • keranih says:

      people with heritable disabilities and low intelligence

      That right there. It would be extremely difficult in practice, and damn near impossible in litigation, to prove that the impoverished morons had not been taken advantage of by social workers who were paid in part based on the success of this program.

      I am on record as being against government sanctioned birth control/parent licensing because I can’t see where it would not be abused, and that’s against “normal” intelligence citizens.

      While I agree with the theoretical practical benefits of this program –

      – really, do we expect the kids of/raised by very low intell parents to have a fair shot at any thing? –

      – I just can’t see it being done well.

      • cassander says:

        >That right there. It would be extremely difficult in practice, and damn near impossible in litigation, to prove that the impoverished morons had not been taken advantage of by social workers who were paid in part based on the success of this program.

        Say the sterilization was temporary, come in, get some shot or biodegradable device put in, get paid a cash bonus for however long it lasts. and hand out the shots at somewhere like DMVs or post offices. that would seem to answer both complaints, no? I mean logically, not politically.

        • keranih says:

          It would work if the sterilization was always repairable – by which I mean, if you did something to me that cost me money, I sue you and get the money back, so repair has been made.

          If you do something to me to prevent me having kids until I am physically not capable of doing so, you can’t repair that afterwards. (Well, not with current tech.) Don’t forget that this would be aimed with greater focus on preventing women from bearing live children, and not so much on men.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Why would someone pay Trump $200k for a speech?

    Months ago I remember Clinton’s speaking fees being brought up as obvious corruption. I don’t remember details as I’m not a voter but let’s say it was $200k for an hour-long speech. Point being, it was a year’s salary and a ridiculous number for a speech in my eyes. And then someone countered by saying that Trump has also been paid similar figures for such speeches.

    Since Trump was probably not being bribed, that means I misunderstand the point and valuation of these speeches. Why would someone pay that much for one?

    • dndnrsn says:

      From a Canadian paper:

      Celebrity speaking is a different gig altogether — and usually happens by chance. An author or politician slowly builds their star power, and then at a certain point, “some meeting planner somewhere, says ‘I want that guy,’” said Mr. Parker.

      But some of the highest paygrades are ex-U.S. politicians. “Americans vilify their politicians whilst in office, [but] pay them millions in speaker fees once they leave,” he said.

      ‘I am a journalist and a public broadcaster but that doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to activities in my private life. Public speaking is one of those activities’

      Bill Clinton, in particular, once collected $900,000 in three days for four speeches he delivered in Toronto, Calgary and London, Ont. in 2005. The cost to get Hillary Clinton to speak in Winnipeg later this month is estimateted at a minimum of $300,000.

      Among Canadians, astronaut Chris Hadfield is suspected to command upwards of $50,000 per appearance. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau collected $20,000 for a much-criticized speech to a New Brunswick charity and $20,000 has also been bandied about as the fee commanded by Jian Ghomeshi before his career was sent into a tailspin by sexual assault allegations.

      Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s paid speaking is handled “exclusively” by the Washington Speaker’s Bureau, whose clients include ex-French president Nicolas Sarkozy and U.S. president George W. Bush.

      Nevertheless, unlike his G7 peers, it is unlikely his speaking fees crack six figures.

      So, 200k is for the top-of-the-line model, basically. Saying “why would someone pay that much for one?” is like asking “why would someone get a phone case with diamonds on it?” Most people are fine with the basic model where maybe it doesn’t break if they drop it. Likewise, hiring an expert to talk about a specific topic for four or low five figures, or the ex-mayor of wherever to come and talk about whatever, provides expert information, looks somewhat impressive, or both. The top-of-the-line Bill Clinton experience is definitely more impressive: this is a guy who used to have access to a nuclear arsenal, and now he’s speaking at your shareholder meeting! Cool!

      Think of it as them being entertainers. How much does your average pop star get paid for an hour onstage?

      • Douglas Knight says:

        In maybe 2002, Malcolm Gladwell got paid $50k for a speech every couple weeks and Bill Clinton gave a speech every working day, half for free and half for $100k. That makes sense.

        But a lot of ex-politicians get paid $50k for the occasional speech when they have no fame, no charisma, and no expertise relevant to the groups that they are speaking to. That sure seems like bribery to me, though I am really not sure. And it makes sense to hide bribery in the firehose of celebrity speaking.

        The Clintons are rich, so it doesn’t make sense to bribe Hillary with a few speeches of the kind Bill has given a thousand of. It’s not about the money. But it does make sense as a means of cementing an alliance. It’s like the king’s traveling court.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Do low-level ex-politicians make $50k? They don’t in Canada, at least according to that article ($50k gets you a beloved astronaut). If minor and uninteresting politicians get more than they should given supply and demand, then, there could be some sort of “pre-bribery” going on – give to ex-politicians and make it known to current politicians that once they’re out of office they can drop by to make however much money – but I don’t know how one would prove that.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            I meant minor cabinet posts – not low level, but also not famous. Maybe I was misremembering this about Robert Gates, but that doesn’t give a dollar figure and that is not a minor post. Still, he’s only barely famous. Why do grocers want to see him speak?

          • dndnrsn says:

            Unless there is something a secretary of defence would know that’s seriously important to grocers, yeah, that’s weird. But “pre-bribery” wouldn’t make sense either – what decisions is a secretary of defence going to make differently on the basis of that sweet sweet grocer money?

            Maybe it’s just a silly prestige/display thing? I knew who Robert Gates was before, but even someone who didn’t, would probably know that the secretary of defence is important. Spending the average family’s yearly income on having a former secretary of defence come and probably say nothing in particular to a bunch of grocers shows at the very least that the grocer’s association has a bit of money to burn.

          • Deiseach says:

            Why do grocers want to see him speak?

            The ostensible reason, I believe, is that the speaker (having been in a prominent – coughcough – position in public life) has all kinds of leadership and organisational hints’n’tips which you can apply to your business for greater success and profit. The real headline names probably have very interesting anecdotes about actual events you saw on the TV news, and it has the thrill of hearing ‘inside information’ that you can then drop into conversation yourself at other functions (“As Bill Clinton/Tony Blair/Bertie Ahern said about the Northern Ireland Peace Process…”) for the admiration of others who now perceive you as someone who mingles with the movers and shakers.

            Mostly, though, it’s the chance to dress up for the bunfight put on by the National Grocers’ Association, have a nice night out with Mrs or Mr Grocer for dinner and drinks, hob-nob with your fellows in the trade and maybe do a bit of networking, and listening to Guest Speaker is just part of the routine.

            It’s not so much “Why do grocers want to hear Robert Gates speak”, it’s that “For the money, we could only get Robert Gates to come and speak” 🙂

            And the cynic in me adds no politician that ever hatched from the pod and then crawled out from under a rock ever turned down a chance to address a crowd (and make money from it at the same time).

        • Douglas Knight says:

          On the other hand, I don’t think anyone is trying to bribe Kurzweil. Look at the venues he has spoken at. “Frontiers of Thought” sounds appropriate. Berklee because he built synthesizers. But an insurance company and two media companies? I think he gave a speech at a beauty pageant.

  24. TMB says:

    Popularisation of HBD best hope for Jews?

    I’m not anti-semitic because I believe that it is possible for different races to have different average levels of intelligence. If I didn’t believe that, what would I make of the overrepresentation of Jewish people in, well, everything?

    In Britain, the left already has a problem with anti-semitism, which is heavily linked to the muslim vote (or at least a sympathy towards the Palestinians shared between Muslims and traditional Hampstead socialists.)
    Obviously, the whole holocaust thing has made anti-semitism a bit of a no-no for the last 60 odd years, but how long before people start noticing that it isn’t just the “white” male at the top, but a particular subset that they aren’t particularly well disposed towards?

    • dndnrsn says:

      What do you mean by “popularization”? I’m not an HBD’er*, so what are you defining HBD as, too?

      Definitions aside, I don’t think you’re right that if, say, the claim that Jews (or, Ashkenazim specifically) are smarter than everyone else was irrefutably proved to be true, that anti-semitism would reduce. Besides some old Christian propaganda in which Jews were presented as foolish and dumb for failing to recognize Christ, anti-Jewish sentiment in the Western world has generally been based heavily around the idea that Jews are clever, and take advantage of others using their superior intelligence. Having it pointed out to them that, actually, the moneylenders are smarter than them isn’t going to make the European peasant mob put their torches and pitchforks away and go home (and is completely irrelevant to the blood libel). The modern anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist is unlikely to post “hey everyone, I just realized, they’re smarter than us, so honestly is it so bad if they secretly pull all the strings?” on their blog. There are far-right types who combine a belief in higher intelligence among Ashkenazim with views that are still pretty anti-Semitic. Sure, there are the handful of “we welcome our new Jewish/Chinese Overlords” types, usually among the computer-programmers-for-monarchy crowd, but they’re a decided minority.

      I also think it is missing something to associate anti-semitism linked to anti-Israel sentiment with the Muslim vote. The UK has just under 5% Muslims, and the US has around 1%. Does the US have significantly less anti-Israel agitation, which frequently (not always, but frequently) has anti-Semitic undertones? Certainly not on campuses, although anti-Israel sentiment may have made its way into the Labour party in a way it hasn’t in the Democrats, etc. I think that anti-Semitism is liable to increase in Western countries in future, for a whole bunch of reasons. Hard evidence proving greater intelligence is unlikely to reduce this. Probably the opposite.

      *in short, I think that the evidence for HBD is a lot weaker than it looks; it looks stronger than it actually is because the logical opponents haven’t taken to the field, having frequently absorbed ideas that lead them to conclude that the field doesn’t even exist. I think this is too bad, because it makes HBD look stronger than it is, which chokes out competing explanations.

  25. Hofmannsthal says:

    For a while now, I’ve been keeping index card notes with information on people I meet. This is what helps me remember the people I meet and hold meaningful conversations with them.

    I usually take note of small things like where they went to school, children’s names and ages, etc. so that next time we meet I have recollection of our past conversations. I also use the flip side to note friends of that person (that I may meet at a part or such), but this is becoming a large list for friends that are close.

    I want to find a better way to my notekeeping, in a similar fashion that the bullet journal has improved my todo lists.

    Any suggestions?

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