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

Open Thread 64.25

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

Also, the 12/18 NYC rationalist community meetup is still looking for a location. If anyone has a big house in New York City and wants to help us, we can figure out some way to make it worth it for you. Please let me know or email schnaigs@gmail.com

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378 Responses to Open Thread 64.25

  1. Levantine says:

    I hope there are readers among you who agree with this:
    It is reasonable for the US military to be stationed near the borders of China and Russia, because, Alaska aside, their imperialistic ambitions need to be under check.
    I hope some of you agree with it, because I want you to tell me:
    Given that that is sensible, why is the idea of Chinese and Russian military in the Mexican Gulf to prevent execution of the Monroe Doctrine generally seen (or would be seen) as nothing short of alarming?

    • mobile says:

      You mean besides the obvious object-level reason? This is politics, so there doesn’t need to be another reason.

    • Jiro says:

      Because it is much more likely that Russian and Chinese military in such a position would behave really badly than American military.

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      Given that that is sensible, why is the idea of Chinese and Russian military in the Mexican Gulf to prevent execution of the Monroe Doctrine generally seen (or would be seen) as nothing short of alarming?

      Russia is in the Gulf of Mexico all the time. Their strategic bombers patrol the area regularly and a few years ago one of their subs got detected snooping around (safe bet that wasn’t a one-off).

    • cassander says:

      >Given that that is sensible, why is the idea of Chinese and Russian military in the Mexican Gulf to prevent execution of the Monroe Doctrine generally seen (or would be seen) as nothing short of alarming?

      Because American troops over there are the status quo, and chinese troops in Panama would be something new.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Because we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American Way. The strong do what they can, the weak suffer what they must.

    • Tekhno says:

      It is reasonable for the US military to be stationed near the borders of China and Russia, because, Alaska aside, their imperialistic ambitions need to be under check.

      It probably isn’t that reasonable. This strategy does more to piss them off and make the fires of their ambition burn hotter than it does to check them.

      Having troops directly stationed near their border gives you the advantage of speed but confers the disadvantage of political antagonization.

      If the USA wanted to stop Russia, they could stop them. However, even with troops stationed around Russia, the USA hasn’t decided to go to war with Russia over the Ukraine, so I’m not sure that threatening Russia for decades since the Cold War was actually that much of a deterrent. Having troops stationed there permanently makes Russia feel like it can’t catch a break, after expecting a fresh start once the USSR was gone. It’s that kind of feeling that makes someone like Vladimir Putin popular to begin with.

      You kinda use up some of your deterrent potential when you saber rattle over and over again and then chicken out when they actually do something too.

      Given that that is sensible, why is the idea of Chinese and Russian military in the Mexican Gulf to prevent execution of the Monroe Doctrine generally seen (or would be seen) as nothing short of alarming?

      It would, and you can’t just say that the rules only apply to the “baddies”, because the “baddies” notice that and react accordingly. Hypocrisy matters. If you treat people like monsters in foreign affairs then they become monsters. If the USA and friends can freely change dictators in the Middle East, then why shouldn’t Russia be able to freely change leaders on its borders, and why shouldn’t China intervene in the South Pacific for all sorts of cooked up reasons.

      You can say that “it’s different” and the USA wasn’t acting imperialistically because it wasn’t occupying those places, but it makes little difference in reality, because no one believes you. We all “know” about Project for the New American Century, and we all “know” about the oil pipeline related reasons for Middle Eastern action. We “know” that the USA and allies want good little puppet regimes in the Middle East. It’s the kind of stuff, true and false, that Bin Laden referenced behind his battles against the Great Satan.

      Image is everything. Perhaps the US could have behaved hypocritically and gotten away with it if they thought a little bit more about the PR consequences of intervention 50 or more years ago. Because they didn’t, the power of the American exceptionalism card has declined. People were a little more grateful after WWII, not so much now. China and Russia want in, and hypocrisy is just going to further convince them that they are right. They’re damned if they do, damned if they don’t. It’s become a meme: “Look at how close X’s country is to our military bases, they must be trying to invade us”.

      So, either China and Russia should be allowed to conduct military exercises in the Gulf, and all parties mutually hang out near each others borders, or everyone pulls the fuck back. If we’re going to be checking imperialistic impulses, we should all check each other, otherwise don’t bother.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        Interesting, but I’m not sure that the European response to unilateral withdrawal of all US troops, intelligence assets, and defense/intelligence infrastructure from western europe and the Med but saying “Don’t worry, we’re totally awesome at the whole REFORGER thing” would be all that different from “Man, this whole NATO thing is a shitty deal for us. Screw you guys, we’re goin’ home.”

        Nor am I at all certain that we could count on it leading to Russia being -less- aggressive with respect to Ukraine/Syria/Baltics/etc. because I suspect they value their freedom of action within their declared sphere of influence/interest more than they value not having US troops forward deployed. Trade off on Syria -alone-? Maybe.

        To go one step further, I’m not certain -OUR- interests are better served by abandoning the policy of foreign basing of US troops.

        I’ve said before that I’m not at all happy with the relative commitments of many of our NATO partners in not just purely financial terms but in terms of sustained capability…but I also think just bringing all the boys back home would have pretty profound and unpredictable consequences for not just our national security policy but our position in trade agreements, as a voice and authority in intergovernmental organizations, etc.

      • Jiro says:

        It probably isn’t that reasonable. This strategy does more to piss them off and make the fires of their ambition burn hotter than it does to check them.

        Whether it is reasonable is different from whether it’s the same as the thing you’re comparing it to.

        Russia has actually invaded Ukraine using troops that were on the border, while lying about it. The US hasn’t done anything similar in a long time.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Well, it’s been a long time since Russia fomented a coup in Canada, too. We did invade Cuba and lie about it, when it came to that.

          • Jiro says:

            We didn’t do that using troops that were on the border, just troops that were in the US, which doesn’t count (unless you’re talking about why people are afraid when the US/Russia has troops at all rather than has troops on the border).

          • suntzuanime says:

            The troops “on the border” of Ukraine were in Russia, because Russia borders Ukraine. Technically we don’t have a land border with Cuba, but I think the cases are analogous, it was an enemy coup right next door.

            It’s not clear that having troops inside your own homeland is comparable to using an array of foreign military bases to encircle other countries.

          • Jiro says:

            The troops were specifically near the Russia/Ukraine border and widely recognized everywhere as a Russian troop buildup on the border of Ukraine that was going to be and later was an invasion. It’s not as if people were complaining that Russia had troops a thousand miles away and it was just a technicality that they were in a bordering country.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I have often thought it would be a good idea for the US to vacate South Korea. From what I’ve read of South Korean strength vs North Korean strength, I think South Korea is much stronger militarily. With the exception of nukes of course, but the US could maintain their nuclear umbrella while leaving physically.

      I think this would save the US a bunch of money, since withdrawing from Korea would let them to decrease their forces a bunch. But the main benefit of the US leaving is not saving money, but helping Korea. I think the ultimate solution to the North vs South separation is a unification of the two. It has to be basically an extension of South Korea over North Korea as a democratic state, similar to the combination of the Germanies 25 years ago. It will definitely be more difficult than Germany, since any suggestion of North Korea losing its sovereignty causes the regime there to brandish its arms and particular its nukes. But I think the longer term issue is that China would be very nervous about having US arms on its borders. If the US physically left South Korea, maybe China would actually be in favor of an ultimate unification. China can’t be happy about having a crazy, nuked-up neighbor that hates everyone else in the area. Maybe the US should leave based on the promise that China move toward a unified Korea.

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        Would the Unified Korea still be allied with the US?

        If it is, I doubt China would be much happier with South Korea The Esteemed US Ally on its border. The situation will be just worse, because the N-K buffer zone is no gone

        If the unification causes Korea not to be US ally anymore … why should the US do anything that would cause it to lose a valuable ally around that part of the world? To my eyes, the main reason South is still extremely eager to stay allied with the US is the existence of N-K and its nukes, but on the other hand, it looks quite unlikely that either part would really initiate a war, so for a token military presence the US gains a valuable ally in that part of Asia.

        On the other hand, if the issue around Korea is solved, then we have a large Unified Korea (with an economic crisis) in addition to China and Japan left to argue about their particular histories of atrocities and who wronged whom in WW2. S-K and Japan aren’t the best buddies because of their history now, would S-K choose to stay in the same alliance as Japan if the major threat to its existence is no longer a threat? Especially if the deal that allowed to Unified Korea to happen is that China will be friendly with the Unified Korea?

        Also, any attempt at unification will become very messy. The German unification was weird because it started with one party official making mishap in a televised PR event about new passport regulations, and suddenly E-German people were smashing the Wall with tools from Home Depot and border guard had no idea what to do about them (because they saw the same thing on telly as everyone else, but did not receive any official orders). Then E-German leadership (to everyone’s surprise) agreed to roll with their own dismantlement instead of shooting people to maintain their power (and Gorbachev’s SU wasn’t willing to do a Prague Spring).

        That was something rare. Can you imagine something like happening in N-K? I doubt it. And E-Germany was relatively well-off, N-K would be …a mess of refugees. No one is willing to have Korean Unification to happen on their watch, because the idea is scary. Not only because of N-K itself (refugees? who will govern?), but it will shift the current local power balance (that everyone knows and is accustomed to and not willing to start a war to change it, in other words, it’s stable) to something new, and all parties might try take a chance and improve their current position, which is inherently an unstable position. If it is mismanaged, it could even lead to a shooting war.

        In short, all parties (maybe outside idealists in S-K) are in favor of status quo than anything that would lead to a crisis called Korean unification. (Unless they have a some information that leads them to believe that the Korean unification would benefit them, which I doubt.)

        I think what is going to happen is China slowly trying to uplift N-K to prosperity (so that the regime won’t be in a danger of economic collapse) and then maybe (in half a century perhaps?) to a position where it can trade a like normal country. Recently Kim has allowed small private business etc.

        • John Schilling says:

          Any Korea unified under Seoul will be quasi-Western and very Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. Notwithstanding the bad blood between Korea and the WEIRD-ish Japan, nor any promises the Seoul regime might make there is no way the very non-WEIRD PRC is going to see such a nation as anything but a de facto ally of the US-led Western Bloc.

          And depending on exactly how that reunification takes place, quite possibly a nuclear-armed US ally. Beijing, trust me, is not happy about that prospect.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          That was something rare. Can you imagine something like happening in N-K? I doubt it. And E-Germany was relatively well-off, N-K would be …a mess of refugees.

          Yes, as I said, it would be harder than Germany. But I think 95% of North Koreans would rather be part of South Korea than their own country, as least those who have access to outside news. It is the 5% that is the problem. If the Chinese could put pressure on that 5% and guarantee them sanctuary, that might be a way out.

          Also, of course the economic issues are different from Germany, since the disparity is greater in Korea. It would be mess, but a mess in the good sense that desperate North Koreans would finally have a chance to improve their lives.

          But the point is to find a way out of the current mess, where some mistakes coudl lead to war, and even nuclear war. It is not a great equilibrium, because of the clear disparity between the Koreas. Perhaps your idea of a gradual increase in prosperity by the North Koreans, helped by the Chinese is another way out, although a much longer haul. And it is far from certain that this will happen. I don’t think North Korea is advancing economically at all right now.

      • John Schilling says:

        With the exception of nukes of course, but the US could maintain their nuclear umbrella while leaving physically.

        The United States could also lie and say it was maintaining its nuclear umbrella while not actually doing so. This is a matter of real concern to the South Korean government and people, and our best assessment of North Korea’s evolving nuclear strategy is that it likely includes the selective threat or use of nuclear weapons to decouple the current US-ROK-Japan alliance.

        Maintaining a couple of combat brigades and an air wing in South Korea, under a unified command structure, means that any realistic North Korean war plan has to involve inflicting substantial casualties on US military personnel. Which, in turn, makes it politically unrealistic for the United States to leave the Korean peninsula to its own devices.

        Conversely, pulling American troops out of South Korea will greatly increase the probability of the ROK deciding to acquire nuclear weapons of its own. For reasons already discussed here, that would greatly increase the possibility of stupid mistakes leading to nuclear war.

        • bean says:

          After all, we should remember the reason the British built their own nuclear deterrent. It wasn’t so that they could hold off the Soviets on their own. It was so that they could be sure that if the Soviets came west, the US wouldn’t look at the prospect of losing New York to protect London, and decide it wasn’t worth it. It was specifically developed so that the US would be drawn into the war anyway.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          Yes it would sightly raise the chances of South Korea getting nukes, but I don’t think greatly, since I think no Western ally has gotten nukes since the UK and France 60 years ago? And truthfully, even if they did, I don’t see it being a great risk to civilization to have another rich democratic country getting nukes. The risk is certainly a lot lower than the risk of having those two belligerent countries next to each other.

          • John Schilling says:

            Israel, ~45 years ago. South Africa, ~35 years ago. Both dubiously western allies, but if we’re talking about the US pulling out of South Korea, that alliance starts looking pretty dubious too. And the technology for covert proliferation has advanced enormously.

      • bean says:

        I’ve heard from several people who were stationed in South Korea that we’re not just there to keep the Norks from coming south, but also to stop the South Koreans from going north. (This isn’t a new worry, either. In the late 40s, the South Korean government wasn’t given tanks because Truman was worried that they’d invade.)

        • John Schilling says:

          That’s certainly a concern, but the consensus among the people I’ve talked to at USFK is that if the ROK rolls north, we won’t be able to help but follow. Rather like France unilaterally turning the Libyan “no-fly zone” into a full-scale air war, except that we’re a lot tighter with the ROK than we are with France.

          • bean says:

            Sort of. The people who told me that were mostly fairly low-level, IIRC, and I think it wouldn’t be so much that we’d fight the South to protect the Norks (though that is an amusing thought) as that they couldn’t prepare for the war without us noticing and telling them to knock it off. I suppose they could ignore that, but it would be hard, and they couldn’t absolutely count on our support. And without that support, they might not be as certain as they want that they could take the Norks.

          • John Schilling says:

            I mostly talk to HQ staff, and while they are certainly up for telling their Korean counterparts to knock it off, the sense is if they go anyway, we’ll go with them. In roughly the same way you go with your crazy idiot cousin into the barfight you tried to talk him out of, because A: he’s your cousin and B: the other combatants know you’re his cousin and are going to treat you as a combatant anyway and C: see A again because it’s important.

            Also, the plausible scenarios for a South Korean offensive don’t involve much in the way of planning, but hasty responses to some great provocation or calamity. It doesn’t help that doctrinein both Pyongyang and Seoul is leaning towards decapitation strike and (worse) overt threats of decapitation strikes.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            That sounds like another argument in favor of leaving. If the South moves north, best if the US isn’t part of it.

  2. GregS says:

    Does anyone else have serious doubts about the recent “prescription opioid epidemic?” There’s little doubt that the sheer quantity of opioids prescribed has increased dramatically (something like a tripling) since 2000 or so. But we aren’t seeing any increase in the number of people who use these drugs illicitly. Two big annual surveys ask about drug use: SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health and Monitoring the Future (the latter focusing on school-age children). Neither of them is showing an increase in the number of people claiming to abuse prescription painkillers. The SAMHSA survey asks a question about “substance use disorders,” and this metric has barely increased. The CDC tracks every single death in the US, including the cause of death, and these data appear to be showing a big increase in opioid deaths. But a leading textbook (Karch’s Pathology of Drug Abuse) warns *repeatedly* that it is very difficult to tell if a death was a drug-related poisoning (an overdose) or something else.

    So are more people *really* overdosing? Or are more people just dying with opioids in their system and “drug overdose” is a handy explanation to stamp on the death certificate? I’ve been researching this for about a year now, even digging into the CDC’s data files containing all the deaths for each year. My impression is that increase in opioid-related deaths is partly spurious, part real, but I’m not sure in what proportion. I’m increasingly annoyed at news stories that take the CDC data at face value without even questioning how many of these are *really* drug poisonings. There are some very odd things about the data that make me very much doubt the death totals. The proposition that we’re seeing an explosion of new addicts seems totally unsupported by the survey data. If those surveys are accurate, then recent history shows that you can dramatically increase opioid use *without* causing an addiction epidemic, quite contrary to the dominant narrative. You might say, “Survey responses are garbage, and we’re seeing the increase in the death totals,” but I’d respond with “Well, cause-of-death codings are also garbage, so we don’t know how real that increase is.”

    I’d appreciate commentary from anyone who’s looked into this topic.

    • Anonymous Bosch says:

      The CDC tracks every single death in the US, including the cause of death, and these data appear to be showing a big increase in opioid deaths. But a leading textbook (Karch’s Pathology of Drug Abuse) warns *repeatedly* that it is very difficult to tell if a death was a drug-related poisoning (an overdose) or something else.

      So are more people *really* overdosing? Or are more people just dying with opioids in their system and “drug overdose” is a handy explanation to stamp on the death certificate?

      I took a dive into this on some other forum ages ago, but I can’t find the post offhand. If I recall correctly, the vast majority of opioid deaths are in conjunction with at least one other substance (such as alcohol). But I think waving it off as a “handy explanation” is giving it short shrift, since opioids actually are incredibly dangerous potentiators of other drugs. Fatal opioid-only overdoses with no other drugs and prescription-quality meds (not street heroin cut with god knows what) are actually pretty rare.

      I also believe the SAMHSA survey discrepancy was largely due to self-under-reporting because a lot of people believe that if they have a prescription (even multiple ludicrous-dose scrips from sundry pill mills) it’s not a disorder. But again I’m half-remembering an analysis that I can’t take the time to dig up at the moment.

      • GregS says:

        Thanks for your thoughts. Point taken about self-under-reporting, and I’ve thought about this before. I’m sure it’s a thing, but it’s strong enough to exactly cancel a trend in rising use rates? Could be, but it sounds kind of implausible to me.

        It’s definitely true that these are largely multi-substance poisonings. Here is my own dissection of the CDC’s data file. This actually makes me think these aren’t addicts; lots of people are just accidentally taking their normal prescriptions, but doing so inappropriately. Clearly a lot of these really are people with drug abuse habits, considering that a lot of them include cocaine and heroin, but my suspicion is that the recent increase is largely due to normal people misusing a legit prescription.

    • onyomi says:

      My impression of the “prescription opiod epidemic” is that it isn’t just about people who literally die of an opiod overdose obtained illegally. It’s also about people who do have prescriptions for opiods written by doctors of questionable ethics and who are using them to a degree which is detrimental to their health and ability to function. Certainly the latter case seemed to be the situation in a rural area I have lived in. I recall seeing posters in doctors’ offices there saying “DOCTOR SHOPPING IS A CRIME.” In other words, if we don’t agree to write you an Rx for oxycodone, don’t just keep trying different doctors until you get one.

      • suntzuanime says:

        Is doctor shopping actually a crime? That seems horrible and totalitarian.

        EDIT: After a brief and panicked search, it seems like lying to doctors in order to obtain prescription medication is the crime, and it is still legal to seek second opinions in good faith.

    • Jon S says:

      I don’t know much about the general opioid landscape, but I’m somewhat familiar with Insys Therapeutics, a company which systemically bribed doctors to overprescribe a Fentanyl spray. Several of their former executives have been recently indicted for it. Here’s a deep dive which originally exposed the company a year ago: http://sirf-online.org/2015/12/03/murder-incorporated-the-insys-therapeutics-story/

      • GregS says:

        Thanks for sharing the fentanyl spray story, good stuff. But please read the comments at the end. There are two people in the comments section saying that prescription opioids have been a godsend to them, essentially complaining that every news story on this topic has a negative tilt. Radley Balko has done a lot of good reporting basically pointing out that this constituency exists and that they should get more consideration than they currently do. This is my concern. People like these guys, who get enormous relief from crippling chronic pain, might have their supply cut off because of a suspicious doctor or a wrong-headed government crack-down.

        There is this narrative that goes, “Big corporations are unloading these pharmaceuticals that nobody really needs on the public, and we’re all just falling for it.” It’s a tempting narrative and some people just eat this stuff up; I see the fentanyl spray story as a piece of this narrative. But it’s important to keep in mind that many people desperately need these medicines. They don’t need to be tricked or bribed into using opioids. They use them because they work.

  3. WashedOut says:

    Does anyone know what happened to The Last Psychiatrist?

    He hasn’t updated his website since May. Last time he went AWOL he took time off to write a porno, but there weren’t any indicators as to what the potential reason is this time. His silence on the last 6 months of politics and popular culture is deafening.

    • nyccine says:

      I’d imagine the doxxing affected his work. But yes, his voice was sorely missed, well, really since he went radio silent.

    • skef says:

      Don’t you mean May 2014? Or did he show up in the comments somewhere?

    • sohois says:

      People aren’t going to stick around writing forever. He put up blog posts for 8 years, maybe he just got tired of it?

  4. IrishDude says:

    Mutually Assured CyberDestruction?

    SPOILER ALERT: The book series Wool, which I’m part way through the second book, describes a world where nanobots are spread everywhere by enemy nations, set to kill people if a switch is turned, and thus some people in the US launch a nuclear first strike to eliminate this threat. I don’t know how this resolves since I’m only part way through the series, but I just watched the documentary Zero Days which seems to cover similar ground with real modern day stakes: cyber warfare between nations where enemy nations might have secret code infecting financial, transportation, energy, or other critical infrastructure. A switch could seemingly be turned and cause chaos, and I’m interested in the game theoretic elements of how this could be prevented.

    Does anyone have knowledge of how the rules of cyber warfare are being developed between nations? The movie Zero Days talks about nuclear warfare, and how the US and Russia have inspectors in each other’s facilities to account for capabilities, but how could this be translated to cyber warfare accountability? It’s kind of creepy that ultimate destruction of a nation could be quietly already be placed in countries around the world such that it just takes one wrong person to turn a switch.

    • Autolykos says:

      From what I’m seeing the people making the decisions don’t even have much of a clue how the Internet actually works. At least that’s the only way I can explain how the German Interior Ministry can believe it would be a good idea to create an organization that counters “foreign cyberattacks” with attacks of their own on whomever they believe the attacker to be.
      The most charitable interpretation would probably be that they have no intention of actually doing anything so ludicrously reckless and useless, and are just telling it to the press so they don’t look soft on those evil “cyberterrorists” everyone seems to be talking about, correctly reasoning that neither the journalists nor most of their readers can tell effective security from theater.
      Source (only in German, sadly):
      https://www.heise.de/newsticker/meldung/Innenministerium-will-bei-Cyberangriffen-zurueckschlagen-3549703.html

    • John Colanduoni says:

      It would be pretty tough to set something similar up. If you didn’t let inspectors poke deeply into what was going on, you’d just be able to say the opposing government has X people sitting behind computers that they showed you. You have no idea if they just play Quake when you’re not there, or if on the other hand they have twice as many working surreptitiously in university computer labs and can already play with your power grid like it’s a light switch.

      If they don’t lie, then showing you that they really have something would mostly negate the weapon’s effectiveness in the process, because the capabilities are too specific. By telling you what they can target and how (either by demonstration or information exchange), they’ve dramatically reduced where you have to search for the problem as well as given you a partial picture of it in operation. Otherwise it’s hard to tell if they’re just blowing smoke up your ass (the nuclear equivalent would be “we’ve got lots of missiles and they can go many places, trust us”). Demonstrating domestic-based capability for DDoS attacks wouldn’t necessarily reveal enough information to give you a way to deal with it, but if your enemy is doing serious damage that way you can just cut ties to foreign networks (If there isn’t already a quick way set up for the governments in question to do this, it could be set up without much difficulty. Network operators cut each other off all the time as a negotiating tactic.). If their DDoS botnet is in your country that’s a lot scarier, but again if they prove to you it exists (by triggering it or revealing some nodes) you’ve now got a big head start on rooting it out.

      Today’s cyber warfare is much more like spying than nuclear warfare. It can be used very effectively while at peace, it’s pretty dangerous at even relatively low levels of use, and if you let something really critical be infiltrated it can be an existential threat. But purposely showing your adversary that you can do it puts your capability at a huge risk of being neutralized.

  5. marikiathoi says:

    Periodically, various clubs at my school have fundraisers where you can send people candy or flowers or whatever with an accompanying message. The next time they have one of these, I’m considering sending myself one with a bizarre/cryptic message, to perplex and/or weird out my classmates. Any recommendations for the message?

    • Odovacer says:

      The desert flower blooms.

    • Itai Bar-Natan says:

      (Each line is a separate suggestion.)

      don’t look it’s out thxr sakbglger gktjengkkl iflssssssss

      Your time in this world is over. Wake up.

      SUN

      Two is in three. Seven is in Nine. Fifteen is in 5. Good luck!

    • John Colanduoni says:

      A random date, time and the geographic coordinates from this post.

    • Jiro says:

      If you do this in a way which leads someone to call the police, you could get in serious legal trouble.

      • marikiathoi says:

        Heh, that’s definitely something to watch out for. These all look like they’d be fine at my school—they’re appropriately strange, but not necessarily worrying.

    • beleester says:

      All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play…

      (Repeat until you run out of room on the page.)

      If you don’t want to write as much, a simple RED RUM is good too.

    • lhn says:

      “All is discovered. Flee at once!”

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once sent a similar message to a few of his friends as a joke. One of them promptly vanished, and was never seen again.

        • Vermillion says:

          I’ve heard that anecdote before (also with Flemming instead of Doyle) but near as I can tell it’s an urban legend.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            I thought it was Twain?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Twain and Doyle were in a secret society together? I did not know that …

            /s

            Seriously, I think this is how conspiracy theories start. Or, as Click and Clack said, two guys are stupider than one.

    • AnonEEmous says:

      meet me where the sun touches the ground

      -an unfulfilled heart

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      DO NOT MESS WITH TIME
      in slightly shaky handwriting.

  6. suntzuanime says:

    So, it was a really great thing that happened when posting a comment stopped resetting the “new comments” time, so that you could make comments as you checked the new comments without losing your place. But now, with mandatory registration, whenever you log in, you lose your place. Could something similar be done about this? I don’t know the technical aspects of it, so if it would be difficult, whatever, it’s not a big deal. But if it’s easy it would be nice.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Seconding this request!

    • CatCube says:

      I don’t know if I’m the only one having an issue with the “new comments” system randomly failing to keep track of the new comments since the WordPress login was implemented. Sometimes it’ll be up to date, sometimes it will get “stuck” on an update time, and sometimes it’ll lose track entirely and reset to Dec 31 1969.

    • Bakkot says:

      Done. Let me know if it doesn’t seem to be working.

  7. Two things relevant to past discussion:

    1. I believe it was here that I discussed the webbed financials of the Clinton Foundation, arguing that they were consistent with (but didn’t prove) the view that the Foundation was basically a slush fund to maintain a political machine in being–salaries, travel, meetings, and the like consuming a large fraction of the total. Scott’s previous post contains a link to a piece by Robinson which itself contains a link to another piece by Robinson about the evidence on what the Foundation actually does consistent with, and to some degree supporting, that view.

    Reading both pieces I’m inclined to like Robinson. I suspect his views on many things are wrong, but he comes across as making a serious attempt to be honest in both writing and thinking.

    2. I discussed Keith Ellison, raising the question of whether he was really a Muslim or was labeling himself such in part to blur the picture of his past association with the Nation of Islam. I recently came across a webbed article accusing him of anti-semitism and supporting the accusation with some bits quoted from a talk he gave. To the authors’ credit, they linked to the full transcript of the talk.

    It did not support their claim of anti-semitism, was consistent with Ellison’s self-identification as Muslim. The relevant part of the argument was that American Jews had done an effective job of influencing the U.S. government in favor of Israel and American Muslims should do the same thing on behalf of causes they favored, most obviously the Palestinian side of that conflict. A reasonable enough position, given that he supports that side.

    I think Ellison has represented his past ties to the NOI as less than they were, but I didn’t see any evidence of them in that talk.

    I should probably add that my view of the NOI is mixed. Their official views are crazy, whether from the standpoint of a conventional view of world history or an orthodox Muslim view. On the other hand, they seem to have done some good things.

    • sflicht says:

      It will be interesting to see whether Charity Watch and the other “mainstream” charity raters (whom I largely ignore in favor of Givewell, but who probably have a fair amount of influence nonetheless) revisit their Clinton Foundation ratings.

      • Deiseach says:

        It will be interesting to see whether Charity Watch and the other “mainstream” charity raters (whom I largely ignore in favor of Givewell, but who probably have a fair amount of influence nonetheless) revisit their Clinton Foundation ratings.

        I think they have? I was looking up how the Foundation was rated, and back in 2015 with the various problems one organisation of this type – Charity Navigator – put it on a watchlist but now it seems to have cleaned itself up and is back on with a high rating.

        CharityWatch, on the other hand, seems to be giving it an A rating based on 2014 financial documents which seems a bit off.

        The whole thing seems a bit murky, with Snopes detailing how Foundation members were leaning on Charity Navigator to get them back on the rankings, and there does appear to have been some horse-trading about that:

        Charity Navigator stopped rating the Clinton Foundation entirely in 2014 because it said changes in the foundation’s business structure were incompatible with the way Charity Navigator calculates its ratings. After what Thatcher described as “unprecedented demand” for a rating for the Clinton Foundation, Charity Navigator asked the foundation to consolidate its tax forms in a way the watchdog could evaluate it. That led to Thursday’s four-star rating.

        • sflicht says:

          Right, I think I recall the events you’ve mentioned. I meant my question to be about whether they will subsequently re-revise their ratings, back to the pre-campaign status quo. I can imagine that the experience left a bad taste in some people’s mouths.

          • Deiseach says:

            We’ll have to wait and see: if they only took them off the watchlist because they were being leaned on, it will make the Foundation look even worse, no matter if they’ve cleaned up their act.

    • Jiro says:

      On the other hand, they seem to have done some good things.

      All extremist groups, even ISIS, do good things for the people in the ‘hood. It helps them build a base of support, and they’re often considered part of the ingroup anyway.

      • I was thinking not of local charitable sorts of things but of their apparent ability to propagandize middle class virtues to their members. Work hard, don’t use drugs or get drunk, be faithful to your spouse, boring stuff like that.

        • Jiro says:

          I’m pretty sure ISIS propagandizes those virtues to its members too, although I would hesitate to call them specifically middle class virtues.

          • qwints says:

            ISIS does not propogandize temperance or monogamy. It is actively distributing drugs and sex slaves to its members. The NoI is much closer to Mormons in terms of mixing a bonkers world view with fairly normal behavior outcomes.

          • Jiro says:

            Googling it up shows me ISIS fighting drugs and stoning people for adultery. (Of course, they don’t support monogamy, but faithfulness is not the same as monogamy.)

            Yes, ISIS distributes drugs and sex slaves. They’re hypocrites; their propaganda and the values they impose on others are not the same as the values they keep themselves.

          • “Yes, ISIS distributes drugs and sex slaves. They’re hypocrites;”

            With regard to drugs perhaps. Slave concubines are consistent with Islamic law and common enough in past Islamic societies.

            Zina, the Koranic offense of improper sexual behavior, is defined as intercourse with someone who is neither your spouse nor your concubine.

          • rlms says:

            @David Friedman
            Which other Islamic societies had slave combucines?

  8. Sniffnoy says:

    So, interesting thing I just learned about from Hacker News: The burned house horizon. A region of southeastern Europe where, for about 4500 years (6500 BCE to 2000 BCE), there’s evidence of lots and lots of burned houses, apparently intentionally burned; and probably not due to warfare, as the sites lack other things you would expect in that case (human remains, arrowheads or spearheads). So, it seems like a whole lot of people, across several different cultures in the region, intentionally burned their own houses for unknown reasons (possibly ritualistic, but anything is possibly ritualistic, so…), for thousands of years.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Broken window stimulus, but even more hardcore?

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      That’s the problem with dragons. They’re hell on your equity. (More seriously, dunno, but given the comments about the intensity of the fire, that would seem to point to some sort of artificial measures to enhance the fires, which in turn supports the “intentional” school of thought)

    • houseboatonstyxb says:

      cn: boring

      To sanitize a disease location?

    • Tekhno says:

      @suntzuanime
      The Krugmanni Tribe suggested a stimulus package to remedy the unemployment problem of wattle and daub masons.

    • DrBeat says:

      They just kept trying human transmutation and having to burn away the past to move on from their sins.

    • Deiseach says:

      Possibly related to the custom that was once prevalent amongst the Irish Travellers of burning the house/caravan and belongings of the dead?

      There are many different customs and rituals surrounding the experience of death in the Traveller community. Traditionally when someone died, the home and belongings were burnt. This custom of burning is not as common as it was but most families will sell the caravan because it brings back too many painful memories.

      If you have a belief that (a) spirits can become malignant ghosts after death and (b) spirits hang around their old dwellings and communities, attracted by links with their past life, and (c) fire is held to be purifying by just about all cultures, then burning any links that can draw and hold dangerous entities is sensible. You can always rebuild a house but if dead spinister aunt comes back as a baby-killing ghost because you were too sentimental to get rid of her favourite cooking pot, what do you do?

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Huh, interesting!

      • Tyrant Overlord Killidia says:

        Dear Prudence,
        When my friend became pregnant she asked me if she could buy my kids’ old cot. I told her she could borrow it but made it clear I wanted it returned when she was finished. She knows the cot holds a lot of sentimental value for me, as my late grandfather made it. Unfortunately her baby boy died unexpectedly, and she is planning to burn everything he used due to religious beliefs. I recently went to her place and saw the cot pushed out into the garage along with everything else she is planning to burn. It wasn’t the time to say anything, so I held my tongue, but I really want my old cot back. I would be devastated if she burns this. Is it callous if I contact her and ask about the cot while she is mourning?

        • Deiseach says:

          Dear WHAT KIND OF IDIOT DID YOUR MOMMA RAISE,

          So you allowed an object steeped not alone in familial links of the most intimate kind but associated with birth and reproduction – one of the basic primal drives of creation – out of your possession? And the entirely foreseeable result – that of early infant death – means that your friend, who may be unfortunate and was probably cursed by an ill-wishing neighbour or someone who holds a grudge against her, overlooked by the evil eye, or who offended a malicious ancestral or local spirit, but who is undoubtedly more wise than you in the facts of life, is planning to do the only correct thing in the circumstances and you wish to stop her?

          Not alone stop her, but take back this now defiled, cursed, and inauspicious object to your home? Presumably to offer it to a child of yours when they are expecting their first child? Do you want all your family to be stricken with misfortune, ill-luck, and physical and spiritual destruction for nine generations?

          Yes, it would be callous to talk to her while she is in mourning – also it would incur spiritual contamination from the aura of the death. Wait an appropriate period for purification then assist her in burning this now irrevocably tainted symbolic object. And in future, please remember to only lend new or unused and with no psychic, astral or spiritual associations yet formed objects to your friends.

          Wishing you luck (you’re going to need it), PRUDENT PRUDENTIAL PRUDENCE

      • houseboatonstyxb says:

        Sounds like some of Hillerman’s tribes in the US Southwest.

      • Mary says:

        One notes it also would have the effect of containing disease, so people could point out that if you didn’t do it, you would fall sick and die.

      • S_J says:

        I have long associated the burning of the deceased (and possessions) with the practices of Vikings.

        Interesting to the see the Irish Traveller connection.

  9. shakeddown says:

    Anyone else getting the bug where gravatars are a bit too big on the screen?

    • Loquat says:

      Yes, and I’m ashamed to admit I only noticed it when I saw this comment.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Only in Chrome. Every time I zoom out and back in it gets worse. After reload it resets the effect of zooming, but it’s still a problem at any level but default zoom.

      • shakeddown says:

        Interesting. For me it starts off weird, but zooming in to 125% fixes it, after which it stays fixed through more zooming in and out.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Just wanted to second that zooming in seems to create the problem, but zooming further in seems to fix it.

          ETA: Although, when I posted this comment my avatar was too big (but nothing else was). When I zoomed one level further in, it fixed itself.

          I say zoom, but I really mean “hit ctrl +”

    • Chalid says:

      They are HUGE on my screen right now, to the point where they obscure the first few letters of the poster’s name and of their post.

    • Eltargrim says:

      Using Chrome 54.0.2840.99 m. Avatars are fine upon load, break upon zooming in, do not reset until reloading the page.

    • sflicht says:

      The military community’s enthusiasm over the Mattis pick was so strong that it managed to penetrate the Blue bubble. Firsthand accounts of his leadership style really are extremely impressive.

    • suntzuanime says:

      I kind of worry about Mattis being so cool that he undermines important democratic norms of civilian control of the military. That shit takes a while to grow back.

      • sflicht says:

        I did a brief survey and was surprised at how universal (in Western democracies) it is for the Minister / Secretary of Defense to be civilian (or long removed from service). Currently the only obvious exception is Canada.

        On the other hand, China has had a military officer as Minister of Defense since the Cultural Revolution (with one exception). But Mao established a very strong principle of Party control of the military as part of official state doctrine, so perhaps China needs to be evaluated completely differently in this context.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        yeah, that’s a valid concern, given the manifest quality of our current leadership. It probably helps that the populist drive is at least somewhat isolationist as well at the moment. Hopefully it stays that way.

      • keranih says:

        I think that’s a valid concern. But I’m not sure how to think about whether this disqualifies Mattis – because that reaction is not something he would do, but that people would do in reaction to him.

        In my head, that “a weaker respect for civilian control of the military” could come out of Mattis’s appointment is a fact of the environment that needs to be taken into account. So is “my customers will be leery of shopping in my arts and crafts store if the service staff are all big burly tattooed bikers.”

        So is any number of “obvious” biases that we attempt to legislate away in business, etc.

        At what point do we stop looking at “what can this person specifically do(*)” and instead look at “how does this person work as a member of the system”?

        (*) For which I understand that there still some legit concerns about Mattis.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Governing norms are important. Trump’s breaking the norm by nominating Mathis. You oppose the nomination on the principle of protecting norms, not because you think Mattis will do anything bad.

          Question, do we think any of the generals nominated by Trump will show up for political duties in uniform? I’m not talking military balls or the like.

        • hlynkacg says:

          I am very definitely biased but…

          Note that the GOP and various Veterans groups have been trying to get him on the presidential ticket since 2008 and he made it quite clear that he did not want the job.

          In regards to the “environmental argument”, we’re talking about a guy who by all appearances takes all that “support and defend the constitution” and “city on the hill” stuff deadly seriously so I suspect that if things deteriorate to the point where Mattis himself feels compelled to take the reigns I think that we will be glad that he did.

        • The Nybbler says:

          The last Secretary of Defense we had with such high military rank (higher, actually) was George Marshall in 1950; he was apparently technically (but only technically) still on active duty. Doesn’t seem to have done any damage to the norms of civilian control of the military.

          • John Schilling says:

            Marshall was appointed in the middle of a severe emergency – the United States and its allies were in the process of losing a war – and with the explicit understanding that win or lose he would serve only a single year. Also, there could not in 1950 have been a meaningful norm against military officers serving as SecDef because the position had only been created three years previously. He in fact served only a single year before stepping down, and the norm has held ever since.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There was a law against military officers serving as SecDef in 1950; it was waived for Marshall. The law is still in effect. The current requirement is that the nominee must be out of active duty for seven years, but it can be waived by Congress (as it was for Marshall)

            There have been several SecDefs since who were either officers or NCOs in the military previously, but none who were generals or admirals.

    • Hircum Saeculorum says:

      I’ve got to say, Gen. Mattis is the only one of Trump’s appointments I’m remotely pleased with. Do we have any indications as to what Mattis, personally, thinks about Trump?

      • Deiseach says:

        No idea, but if he’s military then even if he thinks the guy is a thundering disgrace, he’s still the Commander-in-Chief and you salute the uniform, not the man inside it. What he might let slip in an unguarded moment would be a different matter, and I wonder what pitfalls lie in wait if he takes the job and forgets that now he’s officially a civilian and the rules are different (if you bitch to your subordinates about the guy at the top, somebody is going to leak that to the press).

        Though that’s probably not the man’s style at all. It will be interesting to see the transition from active soldier to bureaucrat, however.

        • bean says:

          No idea, but if he’s military then even if he thinks the guy is a thundering disgrace, he’s still the Commander-in-Chief and you salute the uniform, not the man inside it.

          I think we can draw more than that out of it. Mattis didn’t have to be SecDef, and it’s a rather thankless job. Nobody comes out of it looking good. He might have signed up because he thinks that he’d do better than Trump’s next pick, and it’s a dirty job that has to be done, but I don’t see him as the sort of person who would take the job if he didn’t think he’d be able to do well at it.

          What he might let slip in an unguarded moment would be a different matter, and I wonder what pitfalls lie in wait if he takes the job and forgets that now he’s officially a civilian and the rules are different (if you bitch to your subordinates about the guy at the top, somebody is going to leak that to the press).

          Uh… Stanley McChrystal should have taught everyone that lesson.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          Hopefully the example of McChrystal and Rolling Stone continues to resonate.

  10. FacelessCraven says:

    CW: Guns, Gun Control, Violence

    Last thread, Shakedown posted a question about whether pro-gun people thought nukes should be legal. That led to a discussion about where on the continuum between guns and nukes the law ought to step in. What interests me is that most people, even the pro-gun people, seemed to conceed that the gradient between guns and nukes is reasonably smooth.

    I think there is an obvious discontinuity between discriminating personal weapons (rocks, clubs, knives, swords, bows, guns) and indiscriminate, impersonal weapons (fire, explosives, artillery, WMDs). It seems to me that the former are pretty clearly harmless to modern society on net, so leaving them legal does little harm, while the latter have to be restricted or modern society becomes impossible to maintain. I posted a more in-depth explanation in the old thread, but I’m interested in what others think about this question specifically.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Automatic-fire weapons seem like they fit in a middle ground between the two categories.

      And obviously we don’t ban fire, or even require a license to buy a lighter, so it’s not clear that impersonal weapons are actually the downfall of society.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @suntzuanime – “Automatic-fire weapons seem like they fit in a middle ground between the two categories.”

        I would argue that even with automatic weapons, there’s still probably at least one order of magnitude and possibly two between the most indiscriminate small-arm and the most discriminate impersonal weapon. It’s hard to compare the two because the memetic aspect of firearm spree killing is far more developed, but I think this holds true right on up the scale through miniguns and heavy machine guns and even into artillery; KE projectiles depend very heavily on precision for lethal effect, and even canister fired from light artillery is vastly less efficient on all axes to explosives and fire. Likewise, Frag-lined explosives are bad in the form of hand grenades, and they’re bad in the form of 155mm HE shells; fire is bad in the form of a gascan and lighter, and bad in the form of a vehicle-mounted flamethrower. All of them seem to scale pretty linearly.

        “And obviously we don’t ban fire, or even require a license to buy a lighter, so it’s not clear that impersonal weapons are actually the downfall of society.”

        That’s actually one of the more interesting corollaries; this might actually be a serious problem in the future, depending on how the memetics of spree killing evolve. On the other hand, if we can get electric cars developed sufficiently quickly, might banning gasoline and similar accelerants be possible?

        As for how impersonal weapons make modern society unlivable, imagine if the current spree killings continued at their current rate, but killed ten times as many people per attack. given how much torque terrorism and random violence puts on society currently, I don’t think we’d handle it well. I’m sure life would go on, but I think a heck of a lot would change, and not much of it for the better.

        • John Colanduoni says:

          One thing that occurred to me (and has me a little bit worried frankly) is the possibility of terrorists orchestrating a massive forest fire in an area that is particularly susceptible to them. Southern California’s forests are quite the tinderbox at the moment, and considering how much grief smaller fires have caused a geographically widespread and organized set of them seems like it would be downright uncontrollable. The fact that a couple of teenagers and a gas can can do some serious damage certainly hasn’t made me feel better about it.

          • I just read a (pretty good, not great) fantasy novel where the equivalent of a nuclear attack was using their version of magic to start mass fires in coastal cities of a culture that built almost entirely in wood.

          • shakeddown says:

            There’s actually suspicion that Israel’s recent wildfire was started by terrorists (investigation is ongoing last time I checked). The good news is, the kind of wildfires terrorists can start intentionally are hard to distinguish from the normal sort – so at worst, you’d get one or two extra wildfires a year. Not great, but not that big a difference from what we have now.

          • John Schilling says:

            The good news is, the kind of wildfires terrorists can start intentionally are hard to distinguish from the normal sort

            Which makes them next to useless for terrorist purposes; they might as well just stay home and take credit for the natural ones. I wouldn’t rule out terrorists figuring out how to start, er, supernaturally bad wildfires, but it doesn’t seem to be a major threat yet.

        • Fossegrimen says:

          Nobody needs liquid accelerants if they have 1200 lb of readily available lithium.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            eh?

          • rlms says:

            You mean you don’t have have 1200 lb of readily available lithium?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            embarrassing as it is to admit, no, I don’t. What does 1200 lb of readily-available lithium do?

          • rlms says:

            Presumably burn very well.

          • Fossegrimen says:

            Sorry for the late reply. Yes, Lithium burns very well, also under water which makes it hard to put out. When in handy 1200 lb packets, it is commonly known as a “Tesla battery”.

            The underlying point is that you can’t have something with enough energy to propel a modern car and is not also usable as some sort of weapon and was a reply to:

            if we can get electric cars developed sufficiently quickly, might banning gasoline and similar accelerants be possible?

      • ShemTealeaf says:

        I think there’s a strong distinction between weapons that are at least possible to use in a targeted way (automatic firearms, small-scale explosives, some chemical agents, etc.) and weapons that are by their nature impossible to target effectively (mostly nuclear and biological weapons, but large-scale conventional explosives might also qualify).

        With the first category, you at least have a plausible case that you intend to use the weapon for legitimate purposes. With the second category, you’re basically threatening innocent people any time you claim intent to use the weapon.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          I would agree; “Weapon of Mass Destruction” also seems like a real category distinguishable from mere indiscriminate, impersonal weapons. Again, the gradient is not actually smooth; there are massive gaps in lethality between KE weapons and explosives, and between explosives and WMD.

    • S_J says:

      From personal experience with pistols, shotguns, semi-automatic rifles, one or two fully-automatic rifles, and a “trench broom” (one of these, owned by a wealthy collector)…

      There is possible an order-of-magnitude increase in potential harm between a fully-automatic rifle with a 30-round magazine, and a tripod-mounted machine gun fed with a belt of bullets. That step is much bigger than the step from semi-automatic rifle to fully-automatic rifle.

      Mostly because the 30-round magazine will disappear pretty fast, and need a pause for reload. Also, the fully-automatic rifle is hard to aim while firing, and a few well-placed shots in single-shot mod usually have more effect than a spray of bullets that misses.

      There are definitely orders-of-magnitude difference in death tolls between notorious shootings and arson/explosives used against buildings. [1]

      There are further orders-of-magnitude between conventional explosives and explosives classed as Weapons of Mass Destruction.

      Most of the argument on limiting explosives and other impersonal weapons is that it is very easy for the person wielding them to harm himself, as well as harm others who he/she does not intend to harm.

      ————–
      [1] As an example, the bombing in Oklahoma City in the 1990s (or the school building in Bath, Michigan during the 1920s) have higher death tolls than almost any mass-shooting in American history. Further, there are some dozen fires-at-nightclub tragedies in American history that have higher death-tolls than either bombing.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @S_J – “There is possible an order-of-magnitude increase in potential harm between a fully-automatic rifle with a 30-round magazine, and a tripod-mounted machine gun fed with a belt of bullets. That step is much bigger than the step from semi-automatic rifle to fully-automatic rifle.”

        An AR15 seems like it should be at least an order of magnitude more lethal than a .22 handgun, but the difference between the two in spree killings seems much smaller. Again, firearms depend on precision for lethal effect, and as a consequence tactical considerations tend to outweigh all other factors combined. In terms of spree killing and terrorism, belt-fed machine guns don’t actually seem to be all that much more effective than assault rifles, or for that matter handguns.

        “Most of the argument on limiting explosives and other impersonal weapons is that it is very easy for the person wielding them to harm himself, as well as harm others who he/she does not intend to harm.”

        This is a limiting factor on impersonal weapons full-stop; they really can’t be used for anything besides mayhem, so there’s fewer of them kicking around. A flamethrower isn’t actually all that much more complicated than an automatic rifle; it’s just that automatic rifles are way less dangerous and way more useful for a great many more things, so they’re far more common. Again, there’s a serious discontinuity between bullets and fire that people seem to be missing.

    • shakeddown says:

      In which category would you put the Death Note?

      • FacelessCraven says:

        It’s discriminate, and it’s reasonably personal, so I’d say it’s in the same class as rocks and knives and guns. Compare to, say, a camera that kills anyone captured in a picture it takes. Obviously the later would be considerably scarier.

        • Wrong Species says:

          So because it’s discriminate you would think that it would be “pretty clearly harmless to modern society on net”? I have a feeling you would change your mind if it could actually be created.

          No offense but “Discriminate and personal” just seems like some ad-hoc thing you made up so you can maintain that private guns are good while private nukes are bad.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Wrong Species – The scary thing about the Death Note isn’t that it can kill people, it’s that it lets you kill people via spooky action at a distance, via methods that are invisible, unstoppable, and unaccountable. Again, compare it to the camera described above; if both existed, which would you be more afraid of people having?

            “No offense but “Discriminate and personal” just seems like some ad-hoc thing you made up so you can maintain that private guns are good while private nukes are bad.”

            I’ve gone into a fair amount of detail above on exactly why the difference between discriminate/personal and indiscriminate/impersonal weapons is a real thing, and can point to a fair amount of evidence. If you find the arguments above unconvincing, I’d be interested in hearing why.

          • DrBeat says:

            The former would be WAY scarier. The latter’s use is limited by the fact that you have to be physically present to use it, and can be stopped in your attempt to use it, and its use can be retaliated to, and its use can be known. L wouldn’t have nearly as much trouble tracking down someone who used a Death Camera, because there’s a guy within visual range of every incident of its use.

        • shakeddown says:

          Would you want Death Notes to be legal, though? My point was that, even though they’re very discriminate, they’re also (to my intuition) something that should clearly be illegal, even if guns aren’t – they can’t really be used for self-defence (unless you know the attacker’s name and have time to write it down), or recreation.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @shakedown – No, but the reason would be the supernatural aspects, which are also the impersonal ones: being able to kill remotely and with perfect secrecy. If the Death note only let you kill people who were physically present and did so in an obvious way, it would actually be less scary than a gun.

            A suppressed rifle seems pretty close to a real-life Death Note, and sniper attacks are actually pretty scary, so I think licensing for suppressors is a good idea. Automatic fire makes guns less discriminate, and I think licensing for that is a good idea as well… but the basic thing the Death Note does, allowing a person to kill another person, is not actually that scary to me.

            “they can’t really be used for self-defence”

            This is one of the angles I find interesting. Why does this matter, in your opinion? There are a great many things that can’t be used for self defense, but can easily be used to kill people, while still being totally legal. Cars, for one.

          • Evan Þ says:

            “A suppressed rifle seems pretty close to a real-life Death Note”

            Er, WHAT? Suppressors do not make guns inaudible. They make it possible to fire guns without risking your hearing. There is a difference.

    • Tekhno says:

      I prefer to look at these sort of things from the materialist perspective. The question before anything else should be whether you can regulate a particular thing effectively.

      You can look at this from an idealist perspective and rank indiscriminate weapons higher in terms of how much you plan to regulate them, but the problem is that this isn’t reflected on the enforcement side. Even if explosives are more dangerous than guns, explosives are in principle harder to regulate. A wide variety of household chemicals can be turned into explosives just by carefully following a formula, as ISIS has shown us (last episode of Achmed in the kitchen showed you how to create Acetone Peroxide from ____ and _____). Many of these chemicals can’t be too egregiously restricted because they are needed for common uses. Meanwhile, with guns, you only have to restrict the sale of specific pre-made items, because homemade guns are going to be far harder to make from more basic elements (assuming you don’t want an ineffective zip gun).

      So, we already have an almost impossible time restricting the raw materials of explosives and the knowledge to make them, and yet society is relatively easy to maintain, because A: most people can’t be bothered to look this shit up, buy the required ingredients (there are safeguards in terms of people buying too much stuff at once but it’s pretty easy to get around that), and go around blowing things up, and B: most people who do want to blow stuff up are highly ideological and leave a huge trail and set off loads of red flags, like visiting terrorist training camps, before they do anything.

      Turns out most people don’t want to start killing people, so even though random acts of terrorism should be very easy to carry out, they don’t actually happen that often. Also, when they do happen, they are not exactly civilization threatening events. Bombs kill hundreds, sad, but not threatening on a large scale, unless more suddenly started making them, or bombs got a hell of a lot more powerful. If it turns out that we can make Macguyver Nukes from candy wrappers, rubber bands, toothpaste, and ____, then yes, society would collapse if it didn’t become a police state, but we don’t live in that world, and there’s no reason to believe we will be any time soon, because that would require the laws of physics to radically change.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @tekhno – “Turns out most people don’t want to start killing people, so even though random acts of terrorism should be very easy to carry out, they don’t actually happen that often. ”

        Enough people do want to kill people to make spree killings a problem. The question is why do spree killers operate the way they do, and not other ways that might be considerably scarier? My best guess is memetics, which isn’t a reassuring answer since the memes can and probably will change.

        “unless more suddenly started making them”

        This is the worry. Assuming kill count drives the memetic cycle for spree killings, a handful of arson attempts might swing the consensus meme from ARs to gasoline, which might in turn increase both frequency (gasoline is a LOT more available than thousand-dollar ARs) and lethality.

        “Meanwhile, with guns, you only have to restrict the sale of specific pre-made items, because homemade guns are going to be far harder to make from more basic elements (assuming you don’t want an ineffective zip gun).”

        shovel AK.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Meanwhile, with guns, you only have to restrict the sale of specific pre-made items, because homemade guns are going to be far harder to make from more basic elements (assuming you don’t want an ineffective zip gun).

          shovel AK.

          That looks like it requires actual skill at metalworking, so I don’t think that contradicts Tekhno’s point about it being much harder than bomb-making.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Sniffnoy – “That looks like it requires actual skill at metalworking, so I don’t think that contradicts Tekhno’s point about it being much harder than bomb-making.”

            Ghost Gunner, 3D-Printing.

            I’m not really familiar with how easy bombmaking is and don’t want to get myself flagged worse than I already am, but I’m skeptical that firearms prohibition is a practical possibility.

      • bean says:

        This almost seems like an argument that restricting guns would be a bad thing because it would mean that mass killers would be more likely to make use of other means which are more effective but currently less intellectually accessible.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          That is in fact the argument.

          Spree killing is an old, old phenomenon. The preferred methodology appears to be a meme. and evolves over time. Methods that are more effective but less intellectually accessible become more accessible thanks to technology. Sooner or later, this is probably going to mean a switch from firearms to arson as the preferred method, because arson provides a massive step up in lethality.

          Restrictions on tech access are probably hopeless to deal with this problem, because a gallon of gasoline and a couple bike chains are pretty clearly ten times as dangerous as a thousand-dollar assault rifle.

          • AnonEEmous says:

            but isn’t it possible that some part of spree killing is to do the dirty deeds yourself, and feel some kind of connection to them

            this is why I believe a lot of Islamic terrorists use knives, because they feel like it’s them, as opposed to maybe a gun where they can’t establish that link

            now fine, in part that’s a function of the meme and it can evolve, as we just saw from knives -> guns. But I think explosives and flames are a big step from that; one which most spree killers won’t be making.

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @AnonEEmous – Possibly. On the other hand, flamethrowers have never been easier to make. It’s hard to see how a flamethrower is less personal than an assault rifle.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The meme of “how do other guys kill people, I’ll do that too” definitely matters. For years people would go on a shooting spree with a gun with a lot of rounds. High capacity magazines got banned. So they went to bringing a lot of guns.

            The latter provides a higher body count because the lone gun would eventually jam. The spree shooters weren’t figuring this out. They were moved into an equilibrium with a higher body count by outside forces.

            See also “people who don’t understand X should not try to regulate X.”

          • See also “people who don’t understand X should not try to regulate X.”

            Also, people with a vested interest in X shouldn’t regulate X. Welcome to the problem of regulatory capture, both sides of it.

            The logical next step from banning high capacity magazines is banning multiple gun ownership, but who is more likely to own multiple guns, and want to keep on owning them, than a gun expert?

    • Spookykou says:

      It seems to me there is an obvious discontinuity between rocks, clubs, knives, swords, and guns.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        there are discontinuities between all of those, and I’d add bows in as well. My point is that the gap between swords and guns, say, is relatively inconsequential compared to the gap between guns and fire or explosives, to the point that it is not useful to compare the two. The difference is noticeable at all levels of scale, from versions you can fit in your pocket to versions you need a truck to transport.

        in math terms:
        rocks: 1+1
        swords: 2+2
        bows: 3×3
        guns: 5×5
        fire: 5^4

        • Spookykou says:

          relatively inconsequential

          The relatively there seems to be doing a lot of work. Looking at school massacres, many involve explosives knives guns etc. The top 50 excluding the worst three(the worst three were all done by armed extremist groups) range in death count from 44 to 5 with the 44 being an explosive and 32 coming in second place being a shooting your first knife attack comes in at 9, and was at an elementary school. If you look at the worst terrorist attacks there is a good mix of guns and bombs ignoring the outlying top of the table knife attack.

          It doesn’t seem obvious to me in terms of effect that less than and equal to guns is a meaningful category.

        • FacelessCraven says:

          @SpookyKou – “It doesn’t seem obvious to me in terms of effect that less than and equal to guns is a meaningful category.”

          what makes “less than or equal to guns” a meaningful category is that all the items within that set rely on precise application of kinetic force for their lethal effect. Current firearms technology represents a lethality plateau for this sort of weapon; there doesn’t appear to be any way to make precise kinetic weapons significantly more lethal than what we have now, which is why firearms technology hasn’t meaningfully changed since the invention of the intermediate-caliber automatic weapon in the 1940s. But don’t take my word for it, look at the numbers:

          Columbine – two attackers, armed with shotguns and high-capacity semi-auto pistols and carbines: 13 killed, 21 injured.

          San Bernadino – two attackers, armed with hi-cap semi-auto rifles and pistols: 14 dead, 22 injured.

          Sagamihara, Japan – one attacker, armed with a knife: 19 killed, 26 injured.

          Sandy hook was 27 killed 3 wounded, Aurora was 12 killed 70 wounded, Virginia tech was 32 killed 17 wounded, Pulse was 49 killed 53 wounded, which is probably approaching a soft limit on lethality for these sorts of attacks.

          It is obviously true that knife attacks are less deadly than gun attacks, but I would argue that they are not fundamentally different phenomena; they rely on similar tactics, require similar responses, and their lethality rates have significant overlap. Killing dozens of people is rare and difficult with any personal, discriminate weapon, because mass killing is not something those weapons are good at. On the other hand, the attacker responsible for the Happy Land fire killed 87 and injured 6 with a dollar’s worth of gasoline in a plastic container on a whim, and four men armed with gascans killed over 420 at the Cinema Rex in Iran. Further, I think there is good reason to believe that while the gun variant of the spree-killing meme is approaching soft limits on effectiveness, the arson variant is not; if it becomes the preferred method for attack, I would expect low-to-mid three-digit death tolls to be the norm, even from poorly organized lone attackers. Here’s a list of accidental nightclub fires, for instance; fire kills people on accident worse than guns kill people on purpose, and flamethrowers are not actually all that hard to build.

          • Iain says:

            I have taken you up on your challenge and actually looked at the numbers. They absolutely do not support your claim.

            The Sagamihara stabbings happened in a care home for the disabled. The killer broke in through a window at 2 AM and killed people in their sleep. Calling that the same sort of attack as Virginia Tech or Pulse is an abuse of the language.

            I’ve just gone through the entire list of mass stabbings on Wikipedia. I suggest that you do the same. In every mass stabbing with a death toll greater than five, the victims were helpless: either asleep, sedated, or children. The two semi-exceptions are this attack, which involved eight attackers, and this case, for which I can find no evidence that a knife was involved.

            I particularly object to this statement:

            They rely on similar tactics, require similar responses, and their lethality rates have significant overlap.

            This is bunk. The perpetrators of mass stabbings rely far more on surprise, stealth, or vulnerable victims. Pulling in a chunk from your post below:

            Spree killing with discriminate, personal weapons involves getting a large number of people in an area with the killer, preventing them from escaping, and preventing a counter-attack either from the victims or outside responders.

            It is easier to inflict fatal damage with a gun than with a knife. It is easier to escape from an attacker with a knife than an attacker with a gun. It is easier to prevent counter-attacks with a gun than with a knife. Charles Whitman, who you yourself brought up in the other thread, is a perfect example of an attack which was horrifically effective with a gun, but would have been impossible with a knife. (Want to sit at the top of a tower and stab people? Go ahead!)

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Iain – “I have taken you up on your challenge and actually looked at the numbers. They absolutely do not support your claim.”

            Having looked over them myself, I think you might be right, at least as far as arguing that both firearms and melee weapons employ similar tactics; I cannot find any examples of a melee weapon being used to corral large numbers of victims, which was the basis for my point. Here’s the list I’m looking at.

            “In every mass stabbing with a death toll greater than five, the victims were helpless: either asleep, sedated, or children.”

            Were Sandy Hook or Dunblane less serious because the victims were primarily children? Sedated or otherwise completely incapacitated seems like a valid complaint; victims being children or asleep does not.

            “…and this case, for which I can find no evidence that a knife was involved.”

            …you can find no indication a knife was involved… in an incident called the Yema Stabbings? 19 killed. Possible objections: ???

            From elsewhere on that list:

            Nainital, India – 22 killed, an unknown number injured by a drunken Ghurka armed with a machete. Possible objections: occurred in 1950 in India, not relevant to a world with modern policing. Also, Ghurka.

            Williem Unek – Killed 21 with an axe in one rampage, escaped, then started another rampage by killing two police officers with an axe to gain access to firearms, going on to kill another 36 via rifle, axe, arson and his bare hands. Possible objections: 1950s Africa, so no modern policing.

            …and also quite a few others in the low-to-mid teens for victims.

            “This is bunk. The perpetrators of mass stabbings rely far more on surprise, stealth, or vulnerable victims.”

            Other examples do not involve those elements, but I will admit that I can’t find any good examples of melee weapons being used to corral large numbers of victims in the way I was describing. It appears that my argument about tactics is unsupportable.

            “It is easier to inflict fatal damage with a gun than with a knife.”

            It is easier to inflict fatal damage with a 5.56mm rifle or a 12-gauge shotgun than it is with a .22 LR or 9mm handgun, yet we have multiple incidents where even multiple attackers armed with the former failed to kill more than a single attacker with the latter. A weapon’s capacity for inflicting fatal damage is not relevant, because it appears to have only a tangential impact on the lethality of the attack. Tactics and tactical considerations appear to greatly overshadow weapon selection.

            “Charles Whitman, who you yourself brought up in the other thread, is a perfect example of an attack which was horrifically effective with a gun, but would have been impossible with a knife. (Want to sit at the top of a tower and stab people? Go ahead!)”

            It fundamentally does not matter if you kill people loudly from 400 yards away or silently by cutting their throats. The question is whether one tool lets you kill significantly more people than another tool, given that arson and other methods are vastly more effective than either.

          • Montfort says:

            …you can find no indication a knife was involved… in an incident called the Yema Stabbings? 19 killed. Possible objections: ???

            FC, I know tempers run short in this kind of conversation, but if you actually read the wiki page, follow the links to its sources, or search for English language articles on the incident, you’ll see that the Chinese authorities did not specify the manner of killing. It’s probably called a “stabbing” on wikipedia because knife attacks are much more common than gun attacks in China in general. If you have another source that confirms it was a knife attack, please provide a link.

            (the wp edit that put “knife” as the weapon in the infobox was done by an ip editor who did not cite any sources for it. Later the page was moved to “Yema Stabbings” because wp policy prefers pages about incidents to pages about non-notable people who happened to be involved in notable incidents. Presumably “stabbings” was chosen because “knife” was in the infobox. If you leave a note on the talk page, probably someone will move it to “Yema Murders” or something within a few months)

          • Iain says:

            Were Sandy Hook or Dunblane less serious because the victims were primarily children?

            No, clearly not. It is possible to kill children with either knives or guns, and in either case it is obviously a horrific atrocity. Once you move up to, say, high school, though, there is a clear qualitative difference between society’s vulnerability to a madman with a gun vs a madman with a knife. Charles Whitman could not have killed so many people without guns. The Virginia Tech shooting could not have happened without guns. École Polytechnique could not have happened without guns. Port Arthur could not have happened without guns.

            Guns enable a relatively unskilled attacker to kill a significant number of able-bodied adults, even when those adults are aware of the attacker’s presence. Easy access to guns significantly expands the available opportunities for spree killings. The fact that you can show some overlap between particularly effective knife attacks and particularly ineffective gun attacks does not change that.

            PS: Montfort’s explanation of the Yema “stabbings” is indeed what I was getting at.

          • “Easy access to guns significantly expands the available opportunities for spree killings.”

            Easy access to guns by spree killers significantly expands the available opportunities for spree killings. Easy access to guns by other people significantly reduces the opportunities for spree killings.

            It’s easier to make it hard for ordinary non-criminals to get guns than it is to make it hard for criminals or would-be criminals.

          • Iain says:

            Australia is a pretty strong counter-example to that claim.

            Moreover: on what evidence are you making that assertion? What percentage of spree killings are ended by civilians with guns? Allow me to do some of your research for you: Eugene Volokh scoured the internet for cases and came up with a small handful. Let’s look at them:
            1. There’s not enough information here about how the shooter acquired his gun for me to claim that he should have been prevented, so I’ll spot you this one.
            2. An argument in a barbershop that escalates to a shooting is a perfect example of how easy access to guns can go wrong.
            3. The shooter had a lengthy history of gun arrests and violence, and should never have had access to guns.
            4. This is a bar fight gone wrong; moreover, the shooter even had a concealed weapons permit. Again, this is easy access gone wrong.
            5. Nobody actually died here, making it a pretty weak example of a mass shooting, but you can claim it for your side if you like.
            6. I’ll give you this one.
            7. As Volokh notes, it’s unclear whether he would have killed any more people. Partial credit.
            8. Again, unclear if he would have killed any more. Partial credit.
            9. Again, unclear if he would have killed more. Partial credit.
            10. Yet again, the killer was shot on his way out, and it’s unclear if he would have killed any more people. Partial credit.

            Of these cases, I think #1, #6, and maybe #5 are actually instances where easy access to guns by other people plausibly prevented spree killings. #2 and #4 are examples of how carrying guns around on a daily basis enables arguments to escalate fatally, and #3 is likely an example of a person who should have been prevented from obtaining a gun via background check. Examples #7-#10 all involve stopping the shooter after the mass shooting had already happened, and leave doubt about whether any lives were actually saved; I mark them as a draw.

            Feel free to quibble with my classifications. But those are ten cases that were specifically chosen to demonstrate the value of civilians with guns, and overall they don’t actually seem to support your claim that armed civilians stop spree killings. If you want to make that claim, you are going to have to provide a lot more evidence than bare assertion.

          • @Iain:

            Thanks for the link to the Volokh piece. As he points out, there is no national database from which one can identify all such cases. Furthermore, spree killings are rare events, so one would expect cases where they are prevented by armed citizens to be even rarer.

            Your analysis seems to have a built-in catch 22. If the shooter is killed before he has killed many people, we don’t know if it would have been a spree killing–cases 2-4. If he is killed after, then the spree killing wasn’t prevented. You are ruling as “draws” cases 7-10, where someone killed people and was stopped by an armed civilian before he killed more people. In case 8, one of your draws, the shooter started with more than a thousand rounds of ammunition.

            You also ignore my point about the lesser effect of restrictions on people intending to commit crimes. Thus you write “The shooter had a lengthy history of gun arrests and violence, and should never have had access to guns.” It doesn’t follow that, in a world with stricter controls on who was legally permitted to buy a gun, he would not have obtained one, possibly illegally.

          • It’s easier to make it hard for ordinary non-criminals to get guns than it is to make it hard for criminals or would-be criminals.

            Why doesn’t that apply to drugs, explosives and a bunch of to the things? In many other cases, access to dangerous things can be and is controlled by having a principle that you don’t have access to it unless you have a license, permit, prescription etc.

            The problem you are pointing out isn’t a natural one, it is caused by the second amendment.

            It doesn’t follow that, in a world with stricter controls on who was legally permitted to buy a gun, he would not have obtained one, possibly illegally.

            Which is a great argument so long as all nonzero numbers are equal.

          • Iain says:

            If you want better data, take it up with the NRA.

            Your claim that preventing people from acquiring guns will reduce spree killings needs to engage with the counter-example of nearly every other western liberal democracy. Would you care to point me to a source showing that other countries with stricter gun laws have more spree killings (or even more gun violence) per capita than the United States? Or propose another metric? “An armed society is a polite society” is a slogan, not a proof.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It’s easier to make it hard for ordinary non-criminals to get guns than it is to make it hard for criminals or would-be criminals.

            Why doesn’t that apply to drugs, explosives and a bunch of to the things?

            It does. At least, it certainly appears criminals have little problem obtaining drugs such as heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine. As a non-criminal, obtaining those drugs is extremely difficult.

          • John Schilling says:

            What percentage of spree killings are ended by civilians with guns?

            All of them, except for the ones that take place in designated Gun-Free Zones?

            I am not aware of any mass shooting in the United States that did not take place in a location where ordinary private citizens were essentially prohibited from carrying weapons. There are lots of places in the United States where ordinary people cannot carry guns. Most schools, government facilities, bars and nightclubs, private property generally if so posted, and several entire states with “progressive” gun control policies. At this point, when I hear of a spree killing, it is pretty much reflexive to ask why nobody tried to stop it, and I literally cannot remember an instance where I didn’t quickly find that it would have been illegal for anyone except maybe an off-duty policeman or the like to have been carrying a gun. There have probably been a few somewhere, but they seem to be quite rare – at least for the sort of high-profile, 10+ victim mass shootings we are implicitly talking about here.

            It is probably unknowable whether this is because people planning spree killings make a point of not doing so in places where they are liable to be shot, or because the would-be spree killers who do try such a thing wind up being shot before they kill enough people to make headlines. I can think of other theories, equally unprovable. But, given the US’s only-partially-deserved reputation as a barbaric armed camp out of the Wild West, one ought to consider why the spree killings so disproportionately occur in the disarmed areas. And maybe think real hard before jumping to the conclusion that we need to expand the gun-free zones.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            If you want better data, take it up with the NRA.

            Some people already did. Turns out the NRA isn’t the advocacy droid you’re looking for.

            At any rate, spree killings aren’t actually worth analyzing relative to other violent crime. For every innocent person killed by a spree killer in the US in 2015, an estimated 1300 more were murdered, plus about 7500 rapes, and 27000 robberies. As worth preventing as spree killers are, they’re incredibly rare. Anything you try to do to restrict their access to guns is much more likely to affect the other crime rates, in the wrong direction.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            I’d have an easier time getting upset about the cuts to CDC research if more of the criticism took the form, “Those darned cuts! Now we’ll never know whether or not more restrictions on gun ownership are a good idea.”

        • Spookykou says:

          I intentionally compared weapons to weapons because I think any attempt to compare ‘fire’ regulation to ‘gun’ regulation is not a very realistic or fair comparison.

          Gun control, like a lot of things, is a necessary evil question and should be addressed on those terms.

          You summed it up pretty perfectly in my opinion.

          It is obviously true that knife attacks are less deadly than gun attacks

          Agreed.

          The basic questions to ask in a necessary evil question are, off the top of my head, something like this.

          1.) How much good work does this do.

          2.) How much bad work does this do.

          3.) How hard is this to regulate.

          4.) How culturally important is this.

          Now just thinking about a few examples and comparing them, cars, alcohol, knives, fire, and guns. When I look at this, and all the first world countries that already have very effective gun bans, guns are an obviously unnecessary evil.

          Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand that a gun ban is not politically feasible in the US! But I don’t see much value in this,

          precise application of kinetic force

          distinction in particular. It seems like it is just being used as an excuse to lump guns with knives, when there are very obvious reasons why we don’t have knife regulations that simply don’t apply to guns.

          Potentially relevant anecdote, the Japanese Weapon law,

          No one shall possess a firearm or firearms or a sword or swords

          • Winter Shaker says:

            No one shall possess a firearm or firearms or a sword or swords

            I thought Japanese nouns didn’t mark singular vs plural by default, and that therefore [Japanese word for sword] would automatically encompass the singular and plural without needing to go to extra effort to specify. So: is the Japanese criminal code being surprisingly pedantic, or is the person who produced the English translation of the Japanese criminal code being surprisingly pedantic?

          • Mark says:

            @winter shaker
            I think that translator was being pedantic.

            http://digital.law.washington.edu/dspace-law/bitstream/handle/1773.1/807/9PacRimLPolyJ176.pdf

            It says - 
            銃砲または刀剣類を所持してはならない

            (In the attached translation it just says “no person shall possess any firearm or sword)

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Spookykou – “I intentionally compared weapons to weapons because I think any attempt to compare ‘fire’ regulation to ‘gun’ regulation is not a very realistic or fair comparison.”

            The basic issue, as I see it, is that there is no “fire” regulation or “gun” regulation; there is only people regulation. As long as there are people who want to spree kill, there will be spree killings. If your regulations don’t in fact save lives on net, what’s the point?

            “You summed it up pretty perfectly in my opinion. “It is obviously true that knife attacks are less deadly than gun attacks.” Agreed.”

            If the average knife attack kills three, and the average gun attack kills five, gun attacks are more lethal than knife attacks. If guns cost several hundred dollars and require paperwork to obtain, while a decently killy knife costs five dollars at Goodwill, focusing on the gun deaths is not going to actually help your violence problem. If in fact guns save more lives then they take, perhaps by an order of magnitude or more, again, focusing on the guns isn’t going to help you.

            “But I don’t see much value in this “precise application of kinetic force” distinction in particular.”

            knives are less lethal than guns, but they are not enough less lethal to justify treating them as a separate class. They are dangerous in similar ways for similar reasons and demand similar responses. I appreciate that this seems like a ridiculous idea, but please look at the casualty figures I quoted above.

            Spree killing with discriminate, personal weapons involves getting a large number of people in an area with the killer, preventing them from escaping, and preventing a counter-attack either from the victims or outside responders. It works this way because these sorts of weapons are not good at killing people quickly and reliably, as evidenced by the fact that killers armed with high-capacity rapid-fire “assault weapons” frequently kill fewer than other spree killers armed with knives, axes or other melee weapons.

            “It seems like it is just being used as an excuse to lump guns with knives, when there are very obvious reasons why we don’t have knife regulations that simply don’t apply to guns.”

            What are those reasons? Britain, for one, actually has banned knives.

          • Deiseach says:

            So: is the Japanese criminal code being surprisingly pedantic, or is the person who produced the English translation of the Japanese criminal code being surprisingly pedantic?

            C’mon, we all know somebody would try “It said I couldn’t have a sword, it said nothing about having fifty swords”, hence the legalistic but probably correct in spirit English translation 🙂

          • Spookykou says:

            Britain, for one, actually has banned knives.

            Banning a kind of knife or knives and ‘banning knives’ is not the same thing. When they start searching every kitchen I will take that into consideration.

            There could be an issue of language here.

            When I say knives, I mean, pointy pieces of metal, you can go into your kitchen and probably find some. When I say gun, I mean basically any kind of privately ownable gun.

            knives are less lethal than guns, but they are not enough less lethal to justify treating them as a separate class.

            As I understand the term knives, there is no regulation on the vast majority of knives, so you are advocating for no regulation on the vast majority of guns?

            A suppressed rifle seems pretty close to a real-life Death Note, and sniper attacks are actually pretty scary, so I think licensing for suppressors is a good idea. Automatic fire makes guns less discriminate, and I think licensing for that is a good idea as well

            This seems to imply at least some amount of gun control.

            You also seem overly hung up on Spree killings, which I will admit is all we have talked about so far, but guns make IMO crime and suicide generally more deadly. I will look for the article later but Scott did a pretty good write up on it, America is just more violent than other places, but it does seem that there is a significant numbers of deaths that can be attributed to guns in particular. Unless I am remembering that incorrectly.

            So again, with that information, guns lower the over all utility and for what?

            Compare guns to other necessary evils directly, don’t try to create new categories and regulate along those lines, if you honestly think that knives(as defined previously) and guns are so fundamentally similar in terms of their use, danger, and ease of regulation, then I think we just have wildly different world views?

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Spookykou:

            It’s been some years since I looked at the statistics, but my understanding is that legal gun ownership in the US is correlated with neither an increase nor a decrease in gun violence – it doesn’t cause more violence net, it doesn’t result in bad guys getting stopped net – but it is correlated with suicide rates being higher. This is probably because guns are one of the most effective means of suicide.

          • Spookykou says:

            @dndnrsn

            I am mostly remembering this and this which hardly paints a convincing picture that guns are clearly bad, I am inclined to think they don’t help though and this doesn’t disabuse me of that notion. My main concern is that we have lots of really dangerous things in our society, because we need them, or because getting rid of them is too hard. I think Guns are an example of the latter, so personally I would prefer as much gun regulation as possible, but don’t expect much.

            I have no problem in theory with creating a useful category, but when people are willing to regulate kinds of knives, it seems to me that lumping all guns with all knives into a zero regulation group is just kind of weird?

          • FacelessCraven says:

            @Spookykou – I’m explicitly trying to avoid getting into the broader gun control debate; the main thing I’m interested in is what it means for a weapon to be “more lethal” or “less lethal” than another weapon. What I’ve been trying to point out is that for both knives and guns, lethality is largely determined by the tactics employed by the attacker, and that the specific weapon makes less difference than one might expect. Spree killings with lone attackers armed with knives (and machetes, and axes) have killed more victims than killings with multiple attackers armed with semi-auto rifles.

            “When I say knives, I mean, pointy pieces of metal, you can go into your kitchen and probably find some. When I say gun, I mean basically any kind of privately ownable gun.”

            The entire point I’m trying to make here is what you just described: there are not “good knives” and “bad knives”, there are only knives. There are not good melee weapons and bad melee weapons, there are only melee weapons. The individual characteristics largely balance out in terms of lethality.

            Likewise, it’s not obvious to me that .22 handguns are more dangerous than AK-47s. It is obvious to me that in terms of spree killing, guns are more dangerous than melee weapons, but I think the two overlap enough that banning guns isn’t going to solve the spree killing problem.

            “As I understand the term knives, there is no regulation on the vast majority of knives, so you are advocating for no regulation on the vast majority of guns?”

            Sort of. I actually think a moderate amount of regulation is a good idea, but it rapidly hits diminishing returns and technology is on the cusp of making it impossible to enforce. I am pretty happy with the laws we have in America, at any rate, and don’t think there’s much point in tighter restrictions.

            “This seems to imply at least some amount of gun control.”

            Automatic weapons and suppressors both require a government tax stamp for civilians to own, while concealed carry requires a government license. I think the stamp should be cheaper and should be shall-issue, meaning the government has to have a good reason not to grant it in order to deny an application, but I think paperwork being required for things like suppressors, autofire and concealed carry are probably a strong net positive. Ideally, all firearms ownership would require a license much like car ownership, but the gain is probably marginal enough that it’s not worth the downsides.

            What’s important to realize is that the licenses and tax stamps above act as an incentive on good behavior; suppressors and automatic weapons are dead-easy to make, and laws can’t change that, so the lion’s share of the benefit is gained by encouraging people to act well, not by preventing them from acting badly.

            “You also seem overly hung up on Spree killings, which I will admit is all we have talked about so far, but guns make IMO crime and suicide generally more deadly.”

            Therein begins the rabbit hole. I’ve focused on spree killings, because those are the crimes where “greater lethality” would be most easily visible. Firearms do make ordinary murder attempts more lethal, but how to fix this is an open question; pistols are by far the most common firearm used for murder, but the most likely result of a pistol ban would be for criminals to make their own by sawing down rifles and shotguns, which would probably result in an increase in overall deaths. Banning all guns is a pipe dream, and only gets less realistic as fabrication tech improves. And speaking as someone who’s seriously considered suicide, I’m pretty ambivalent on whether making it harder for people to kill themselves is a good thing.

            The problem is people. People rob, steal, murder, spree kill. They will continue to do these things no matter what laws are passed, and I do not see any evidence that laws restricting either guns or knives will have much effect on the mayhem.

          • Spookykou says:

            The problem is people. People rob, steal, murder, spree kill.

            While this is true in a sense, I think it is important to keep in mind that the culture of violence in America is pretty unique and bad. I am not sure what exactly is the cause of this problem, but it is not equal across all populations of people across the world. It seems at least possible that there are cultural factors, and so by extension, the particular elements of American gun culture could be a factor.

            The entire point I’m trying to make here is what you just described: there are not “good knives” and “bad knives”, there are only knives.

            I am not so sure about this either, and I guess this is part of my problem with the idea of making the proposed category and category based regulation, it doesn’t allow for individual calculations of danger and value. I think it is at least possible that the total utility of switch blades is negative and so regulating them could be warranted, the ability to look at these things on a case by case bases seems worthwhile.

            The conversation with Iain seems more directly on topic with your main point so I will respond to something from there.

            It fundamentally does not matter if you kill people loudly from 400 yards away or silently by cutting their throats.

            I think you are wrong here, in terms of our ability to design security and plan for defense. In a society that doesn’t have guns they can, for instance, spend all school security funds on elementary schools. The relative dangers and security measures needed change pretty drastically assuming “The perpetrators of mass stabbings rely far more on surprise, stealth, or vulnerable victims.” is true. If the measures to prevent spree attacks and reduce the death tolls change with this change in tactics, and I think they do, then it really matters if you can kill people from 400 yards away or not.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I think it is important to keep in mind that the culture of violence in America is pretty unique and bad. I am not sure what exactly is the cause of this problem, but it is not equal across all populations of people across the world. It seems at least possible that there are cultural factors…

            The majority of the US violence problem is actually fairly concentrated in a handful of urban centers, and even a cursory examination of the data on gun ownership and crime by locale shows that guns are not correlated with crime or violence. Some of the highest gun ownership areas have a crime rate similar to that of the UK or Scandinavia, while areas with low gun ownership due to local legislation have a crime rate that pulls the US somewhere below that.

            In a society that doesn’t have guns they can, for instance, spend all school security funds on elementary schools.

            Only to see those schools occasionally pillaged by pedophiles or drug dealers who notice there is no security – and very occasionally shot up by a mentally disturbed person who managed to obtain a gun despite all the resources allocated to laws saying he ought not have one.

            Whatever security you had in mind to defend against people who you said ought to not have guns, will be at a severe disadvantage against those who manage to acquire them anyway.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Only to see those schools occasionally pillaged by pedophiles or drug dealers who notice there is no security – and very occasionally shot up by a mentally disturbed person who managed to obtain a gun despite all the resources allocated to laws saying he ought not have one.

            We don’t generally have much in the way of school security in the UK, and we very rarely have to deal with our schools being pillaged by paedophiles, druggies, or gun-toting lunatics.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            To be fair, I believe this is rare in US schools as well. (Come to think of it, if I weren’t short on time, I’d try to find out the rates of such incidents per unit population in the US vs UK.)

            I’m inclined to ask how much publicity such incidents get in the UK, on those occasions when it happens.

            I’m also interested in UK demographic breakdowns. There is another explanation I’ve seen around for why the US has the violence it does, and it has to do with putting cultural groups in close proximity to each other within cities. I get the impression from the news that European countries are more homogenized, though of course not wholly so, and that they are trending toward more heterogeniety, attributed to more open borders plus the influxes of refugees from the Middle East, and that this is leading to a slow rise in violence. It suggests that the US pays a price for diversity, in terms of violence and more broadly in terms of general antipathy. And that any nation concerned over this will have to make some tough choices between free trade to keep its economy going and immigration control to keep pace with its assimilation rate.

          • Spookykou says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            I already linked the articles that Scott did on Guns and I agree with the conclusions Scott drew from those articles, I also read the counter points raised in the comments. If that does not count as a ‘cursory glance’ at the data, then leave me to revel in my ignorance.

            The point about schools is in direct response to FC and the conversation we were having. If knife spree killings in schools mostly happen in elementary schools, and gun spree killings happen some what randomly in all level of schools. Then in as much as you dedicate any resources to prevent spree killings, a society that only has knife spree killings can use that information for more efficient spending. This is then I think a meaningful difference between a hypothetical knife spree killing society and gun spree killing society. FC was I think trying to say two such societies would be functionally equivalent.

          • John Schilling says:

            Then in as much as you dedicate any resources to prevent spree killings, a society that only has knife spree killings can use that information for more efficient spending.

            To the best of my knowledge, neither the United States nor any other nation dedicates any significant resources to preventing spree killings. There is some level of security theater dedicated to making people feel safe from spree killings, but that calls for a different measure of efficiency.

          • Some of the highest gun ownership areas have a crime rate similar to that of the UK or Scandinavia, while areas with low gun ownership due to local legislation have a crime rate that pulls the US somewhere below that.

            Urban gun onwership does not equal rural gun ownership.

            Only to see those schools occasionally pillaged by pedophiles or drug dealers who notice there is no security

            Oh good grief..the idea of disarming the police and forms of private security is a complete strawman version of gun control.

          • Spookykou says:

            John I think you are mostly correct, in that we do not actually spend a lot of money on preventing spree killings. Although the Buckeye ‘Run Hide Fight’ message that got a bit of media attention recently was apparently created by a branch office of the FBI as part of an information packet for schools or something like that. It seems to me the advice is particularly more helpful in a Knife spree killing.

            More generally the conversation with FC is pretty hypothetical(the sentence following the one you quoted, referring to two hypothetical societies). I interpreted ‘fundamentally no difference’ as saying that there was no meaningful way in which knife and gun spree killings are different. I think that in the context, hypothetical policy options are a valid consideration.

          • John Schilling says:

            [Run Hide Fight] It seems to me the advice is particularly more helpful in a Knife spree killing.

            It works better than you’d expect against gun spree killings. Very few people are any good at shooting moving targets beyond close range, or shooting while they are themselves on the move. And at the other extreme, while “fight” clearly works better if you have a gun of your own, typical spree killings are conducted at ranges where a killer distracted for two seconds could be blindsided by a bystander and the whole thing reduced to a wrestling match.

          • Aapje says:

            Police data also shows that gunfight deaths drop off extremely fast.

    • shakeddown says:

      One thing that struck me about the answers was that the pro-gun people seemed to reason very similarly to the anti-gun people, except for disagreeing on the object-level issue. There were consequentialist arguments, arguments from “what would make sense”, and arguments from legal/idealistic places in about the same distribution as I see in anti-gun circles.
      This was very different from what I usually see about Abortion or Climate Change, where the people who take the opposite side to me generally seem to have entirely different principles and ways of thinking, to the point where it starts feeling like talking to a paperclip AI. (I’m on the liberal side of one of those and the republican side on the other, so it’s not just a matter of Democrat/Republican thinking style differences).

      • FacelessCraven says:

        I noticed that as well; it’s one of the reasons I have a lot of hope that the gun control issue might be actually solved in my lifetime.

    • DavidS says:

      In terms of the gradient: you lump in guns with close combat weapons and WMDs with explosives (presumably even small ones). I think someone used to swords (where you have to standing right next to someone and stab them) would think automatic weapons (where you can spray bullets, even if you aim at one person you could kill someone different in the crossfire etc.) are an order of magnitude away from his trusty blade, and lump them in as being ‘more like’ grenades than a sword. [note: I don’t have a gun and have very limited experience with swords. It’s plausible I’m massively overestimating the risk of accidentally shooting the wrong person or underestimating the risks of swininging a sword around]

      Obviously nukes are miles away from swords, but I think if not a slow gradient there are several clear steps not just two camps that you can compare and contrast.

      I think I broadly agree with you in practice that indiscriminate weapons would be far more dangerous, but I wonder if this is just because they have more destructive potential (and I note we don’t ban fire!) On guns I neither think they’re the most significant issue facing the US nor do I feel powerfully there’s a right to have them. Possibly because I’m in the UK but I think both ‘sides’ tend to overstate the case.

      • John Schilling says:

        [note: I don’t have a gun and have very limited experience with swords. It’s plausible I’m massively overestimating the risk of accidentally shooting the wrong person or underestimating the risks of swininging a sword around]

        Outside of Hollywood, the primary effect of “spraying bullets” from a handheld automatic weapon is that neither the intended target nor any innocent bystanders are injured, but much noise is made and lots of people become intensely terrified of bloody violent death. This effect can be put to good tactical uses, so long as you are OK with it being only probable that nobody gets hurt. When the effect carries over into e.g. legislative policy, it can lead to perverse results.

        When it is necessary to actually kill people with an automatic weapon, you have to use it in pretty much the same way you would use a semiautomatic weapon, aiming in turn at each individual target, but gaining a modest benefit from the second and third (only) shots fired automatically at each aimpoint. Or you need to use a tripod or the like to control the “spray” more tightly than the unaided human hand can accomplish.

    • Autolykos says:

      I’d say that while there is no hard cutoff point in principle, a pretty good rule is whether you can even store the item safely. Which should be a “yes” for most people concerning small arms and sensible amounts of ammunition, a “probably not” for most explosives (unless you happen to own a very large piece of land with a bunker on it), and a “definitely not” for WMDs.
      My rule would be that you can have anything you like as long as you can demonstrate that you are mentally stable and that your neighbors won’t be hurt if your house burns down.
      You should probably also be required to take appropriate measures against theft, or be responsible for what happens when your stash of artillery shells gets stolen…

      • bean says:

        And if I store my nuclear weapon with the pit removed and in a very, very fireproof safe? The chances of an accident with that being worse than any other accident involving a few hundred pounds of high explosives are basically zero. And a few hundred pounds of HE isn’t that different from a slightly larger quantity of lower explosives, which are more common than you’d think.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        Safe storage is the easiest ancap argument I see against nukes, aye. The risks of concentrated radioactive material are well known, as are the risks from a missile flying around over other people’s airspace.

        (I only use the ancap framework here because it’s the one with the most permissive ownership rights, so I think any ancap argument ought to also work for any other framework.)

  11. PedroS says:

    I just noticed that I can no longer read the comments properly on my Android smartphone: the avatars are now too large and they partially hide the comments. Has anyone had a similar experience today?

  12. Fossegrimen says:

    Is there somewhere on the interwebs where random people can just drop short stories and other random people can give feedback? My google-fu is not strong.

  13. Dabbler says:

    Question. I’m not sure if this has been discussed before, but two things I wonder about.

    A- How much is the stigmatization of certain behaviors under Clinton that were seen as corrupt actually going to change political behavior? Is there any real hope that, at least, Clinton-esque corrupt behaviors will be scrutinized in the same way in the future? Or stopped even?

    B- How much do we have on whether Clinton was uniquely corrupt? I’ve heard some people defend her by saying that her behavior is simply how politicians typically behave in America.

    • sflicht says:

      On B, I have never read any credible allegations that Obama engaged in influence peddling for foreign donors. Of course the situation is different since he hasn’t yet made a Foundation. It will be interesting to see whether he does; I don’t think he’s expressed any intention to do so, but it’s possible that there’s no other practical way to fundraise for his presidential library?

    • Deiseach says:

      Taking B first – uniquely corrupt? No, seems like pretty standard “cash for access” influence-peddling and going on the lucrative dinner speech circuit like many ex-politicians (and other celebs) do. Nothing extraordinary there, even if you think the cattle futures thing was rather too lucky a result to be plain trading.

      The problem is the perception at least of ongoing, ingrained, brazen corruption; getting caught at it; being greedy. You can get away with even blatant corruption if you also have a sense of style about it or are in a position of power where you damn well don’t care what people say about you (witness various Italian scandals, most notably in our time Berlusconi, and an Irish politician of my day as well).

      But cheerless, dour-faced, money-grubbing by someone who then goes on to be a finger-wagging scold (or at least a representative of the party of finger-wagging scolds)? Not something the ordinary joe can enjoy as spectacle (see Trump as vulgarian – yes, he’s all the horrible things the well-bred say about him, but his crass vulgarity is exactly the kind of conspicuous and entertaining excess that the little guy can appreciate for making those well-bred hoity-toity types fume and rage) and getting caught out so obviously time and again makes you look like a desperate social climber to the circles you want to break into.

      Trump would take his “I creamed this off my taxes and cheated my contractors” ill-gotten gains and spend it on gold bath taps to fill the marble basin that his hair soaks in. Hillary would take the money they make and spend it on – what? Nothing that looks like a good time, and if you’re going to steal/cheat/moneygrub via corruption and bribery and backhanders, you might as well enjoy yourself while you’re at it, not look like you’re going to spend it on a crate of Rennies for your dyspepsia.

      As for A – scrutinised? Yes. Stopped? Probably not; some caution in engaging in such behaviours while the spotlight is still turned on will ensue, but eventually the spotlight will move on and loopholes will be found in the regulations and the brown envelopes will continue to be exchanged.

      • Now who that runs can read it,
        The riddle that I write,
        Of why this poor old sinner,
        Should sin without delight-
        But I, I cannot read it
        (Although I run and run),
        Of them that do not have the faith,
        And will not have the fun.

        • Deiseach says:

          To be fair, Bill looks like he’d spend it on a good time – if it weren’t for getting respectable in his old age and the missus, of course 🙂

          I am most definitely not recommending “hookers and blow”, only that if you’re going to shred your dignity and grub for money, once you’re past a certain level of “now we have a roof over our head and clothes on our back and the kids educated” – well, if you don’t do “hookers and blow” (or the equivalent of whatever gives you a thrill; buying really expensive fancy full-colour plates large size art books! wooo, somebody hold me back!) then it just looks like miserliness. Go big or go home.

  14. onyomi says:

    I post this comparison of American and British styles of writing academic letters of recommendation because it’s funny and true, but also because it seems to me interesting from a game theoretical perspective: namely, why have Europeans (and, if I understand, it’s not just the British), managed to largely avoid a hyperbole “arms race” in this case, where Americans have not (though, as the “meta” versions show, things can get complicated when the two systems have to interact)? Given the talk recently about “crying wolf,” knowing how to effectively save your hyperbole might be a useful thing.

    • Mark says:

      I understand that the English are particularly bad for this.

      Watching the English, Kate Fox:

      I mean not that the English are somehow naturally more modest and self-effacing than other nations, but that we have strict rules about the appearance of modesty. These include both ‘negative’ rules, such as prohibitions on boasting and any form of self-importance, and ‘positive’ rules, actively prescribing self-depreciation and self-mockery… The modesty that we generally display is false – or, to put it more charitably, ironic…
      The problems arise when we English play this game with people from outside our own culture, who do not understand the rules… we make our customary modest noises, the uninitiated foreigners accept our apparently low estimate of our own achievements, and are duly unimpressed.

      • Creutzer says:

        The contrast between British and American customs in this regard is particularly stark, and probably well-known because they clash comparatively often, but other Europeans also recognise this effect. Although the American way has been gaining much ground, for obvious prisoners’ dilemma-style reasons.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Speaking of British understatement – a British unit in the Korean war, outnumbered 8-1, was not reinforced because its commander told his American superior that the situation was “a bit sticky”.

  15. Dabbler says:

    Question. Does anyone have any thoughts on the shutting down of alleged fake news sites, as major governments such as the EU have began with sites such as the Alex Jones Channel?

    Also, are there any non shut down substitutes people here know of? Frankly, if major governments are going to act like this it’s important to be able to have a counterpoint to work with.

    • sflicht says:

      It’s self-evidently a terrible thing that is extremely unlikely to ever happen in America. And it seems like a long shot in Europe too, tbh, unless EU countries go in a much more China direction with respect to internet policy. (Possible, but politically unlikely.)

      In America our first line of defence is our robust set of legal speech protections, so technological workarounds to avoid censorship are largely unnecessary here. That’s cold comfort to our European freedom loving friends, and also leaves out the question of whether the government could manage to pressure important companies like Facebook to ruin the business models of non-mainstream news organizations. They probably could get away with this.

      Two lines of defence on this front are (a) distributed, crowdsourced funding models, and (b) pressure will emerge to produce alternative distribution technologies. A good example of (a) is my favorite podcast, the No Agenda show, which like many popular podcasts doesn’t rely on advertisements to support its creators or iTunes/Sticher/etc for distribution. We already see (b) happening with nascent “alt-tech” efforts like Gab and Infogalactic. In the short run, I’m of course pessimistic about disrupting major incumbents in any given social media niche for obvious network effect reasons. But already such alternative platforms represent a vastly more functional medium for dissident thought than was (or is) available in, say, Castro’s Cuba.

      So on the whole I’m not really very worried about overreaction to the fake fake news phenomenon resulting in consequential stifling of speech.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        It’s self-evidently a terrible thing that is extremely unlikely to ever happen in America.

        Huh? It is not evident to me. I think it is a good thing that it is very difficult for the US government to shut any media outlet. It would be a good thing for readers to become more skeptical, but government shutdowns won’t help that. To the contrary, then the public thinks if they haven’t been shut down, they are endorsed by the government.

        • sflicht says:

          By “it” I meant “the shutting down of alleged fake news sites”, not the fake news sites, so I think we’re in agreement, or am I misunderstanding you?

      • Mary says:

        The big question is whether we can get the “common carrier immunity” if the private businesses start.

    • Aapje says:

      Does anyone have any thoughts on the shutting down of alleged fake news sites, as major governments such as the EU have began with sites such as the Alex Jones Channel?

      Is there any evidence of this, aside from Alex Jones himself claiming it?

      • sflicht says:

        Yes.

        By the way I found that bit of non-fake news on Breitbart, in addition to Infowars.

        • Aapje says:

          That’s about hate speech, not fake news, which is not the same thing.

          • sflicht says:

            The EU is making an attempt to blur the distinction. Money quote from the FT piece, emphasis added by me:

            The report — for Věra Jourová, EU justice commissioner — found that 40 per cent of recorded cases were reviewed within 24 hours, but the figure rose above 80 per cent after 48 hours. Twitter was slowest to respond while YouTube was fastest.

            “If Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft want to convince me and the ministers that the non-legislative approach can work, they will have to act quickly and make a strong effort in the coming months,” Ms Jourová said.

            “The last weeks and months have shown that social media companies need to live up to their important role and take up their share of responsibility when it comes to phenomena like online radicalisation, illegal hate speech or fake news.”

            Of course EU laws against hate speech are as terrible an idea as potential laws against “fake news”.

          • Aapje says:

            You can interpret that just as easily as tapping into the current hype about fake news, to push through an agenda that is more about hate speech (which Germany is especially keen on suppressing and to no surprise, the EU person in charge of this is…German).

            Ultimately, this is just a request/voluntary agreement with the US to do this as the EU has no jurisdiction in the US. So I don’t see how you can claim that the EU is ‘shutting down Alex Jones Channel.’

            Obviously, the 1st amendment and whatever the US government makes into law is the only thing that really matters here. I don’t see any action by the US government that would logically lead to the banning of the Alex Jones Channel.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It’s a “voluntary agreement” in the sense that we have a system of “voluntary compliance” when it comes to paying your taxes, or that one “voluntarily” pays protection money to the mob.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The Nybbler:

            Huh?

            The IRS is backed by the legal use of force.

            The mob is backed by the illegal use of force.

            A voluntary EU agreement with Facebook is backed by what?

          • The Nybbler says:

            > A voluntary EU agreement with Facebook is backed by what?

            Credible threat of force, just like the others. It was either the social media networks agree “voluntarily”, or there’d be legislative action.

          • Aapje says:

            Do you mean that the EU troops that are stationed in America will intervene? Oh wait.

            The only realistic consequences are that some individual EU countries will ‘block’ Alex Jones (just like The Pirate Bay is ‘blocked’ in my country) and that the US will get a mild scolding by a EU bureaucrat.

            And there is no way that Facebook is going to just get banned from the EU.

    • onyomi says:

      Sounds like something Alex Jones would tell you to expect.

  16. WashedOut says:

    Has anyone had experience using apps for private mathematics education or “refresher” purposes?

    I am a professional engineer looking to brush up on my university-level math. It is a bit embarrassing how infrequently I am called upon to use any of it, and as a result my skills and understanding have waned. I’m looking for something where I can do a lesson or two during my 30 minute commute to work, or in a similarly compact manner.

    Appreciate any recommendations, or if i’d be better off just watching Khan Academy videos on youtube and making notes.

    • knownastron says:

      I would find something like this really helpful also.

    • scriptifaber says:

      I agree, and I’ve been searching as well. I watched a few course lectures of Calculus to try and recall, but found recovering the knowledge difficult without any practical applications for it. I would personally find a math workbook with problems (and answers, preferably explained in great detail) extremely helpful, but classic classroom textbooks aren’t exactly the best for this, answers to question sections are either in extra material, or not present at all.

      • Jonathan says:

        Alternatively, try to accomplish something concrete with the math.

        Partial differential equations are pretty central to engineering (stress/strain, fluid flows, electromagnetics, etc.). Building a basic nonlinear PDE/ODE solver (finite difference or finite element) isn’t really that hard. Back in late undergrad/early grad, I developed a somewhat unusual interest in solid state physics and ended up writing (in MATLAB) various finite difference (I was lazy) solvers for different semiconductor device configurations. It certainly sharpens your understanding in the area as you use it practically.

    • rlms says:

      I think there are quite a lot of university problem sheets online. How helpful they are probably depends on whether you can do them while you commute, or failing that how well you can think about how to solve problems while commuting (without writing anything down).

  17. Mark says:

    On service in England:

    Service staff may often be of a lower social class than their customers (and linguistic class-indicators ensure that where this is the case both parties will be aware of it), but there is a conspicuous lack of servility in their demeanour, and the unwritten rules require that they be treated with courtesy and respect…
    In the special micro-climate of the pub, I found that the rules of egalitarian courtesy are even more complex, and more strictly observed. For example, it is not customary in English pubs to tip the publican or bar staff who serve you. The usual practice is, instead, to buy them a drink. To give bar staff a tip would be an impolite reminder of their ‘service’ role, whereas to offer a drink is to treat them as equals.

    Service by nation –
    America – Good at faking friendliness.
    Japan – Good at faking servility.
    Indian – resentfully servile
    French – bad at servility, bad at friendliness
    English – genuinely friendly, or not friendly.

    I feel like there is definitely a shift in British service – younger people especially seem to have been trained in the American school – much better at faking friendliness.
    Not sure if that’s altogether a good thing, though.

    • onyomi says:

      Chinese–attentive, but neither friendly nor servile; will not be insulted by you shouting to get their attention

      One thing my wife had difficulty getting used to: in restaurants in China they typically hand you a menu as soon as you sit down and then just stand there while you order. My wife found this very “high-pressure.” She wants time alone with the menu to contemplate and discuss without feeling like the server is waiting on her decision.

      But from the Chinese perspective, to leave before taking the order would be thought of as bad service. The server assumes it is their responsibility to sit there and have a conversation with you about the menu.

      At times in America when I’m sitting in a restaurant for 20 minutes and have to seemingly grab a waiter to place an order because someone in the party told them they needed a minute to think twice, after which they tend to just abandon you, I miss this style of ordering.

      • Randy M says:

        One thing my wife had difficulty getting used to: in restaurants in China they typically hand you a menu as soon as you sit down and then just stand there while you order. My wife found this very “high-pressure.” She wants time alone with the menu to contemplate and discuss without feeling like the server is waiting on her decision.

        I feel similarly to your wife. The reason is feels like pressure is because I would feel like I was wasting the servers time if I did not order very quickly if he is attending to me there. This generalizes in my other interactions–I’m pretty cognizant of demands I’m placing on other people, even if those fall under their paid duties, like leaving a messy table. I feel sort of anti-entitled to other people’s attentions. It’s somewhat reciprocal; procedures that delay me to no obvious benefit are irritating, like having your receipt examined when exiting Costco.

        Is this common or particularly American?

        • onyomi says:

          I think it is related to American egalitarianism. Americans in recent decades, especially, tend to have a kind of egalitarian attitude which is not comfortable being “served” or “waited on,” and the hierarchical relationship that implies. And so both American customers and employees tend to pretend like the employee is just your buddy who just happens to be on hand to help you out.

          So, as Americans, it’s not uncommon to be like “your steak is overdone? let’s ask them to take it back?” “what, no, I don’t want to be a bother…” But of course to be bothered is sort of what the employee is getting paid for, though there are certainly cases of a customer who is more trouble than he’s worth.

          Though I think Americans go overboard, in Asia I do seem more likely to encounter the phenomenon where someone is super nice and polite to the people he or she’s with, but seemingly super mean and rude to service people. Though, as I mentioned, in China, at least, the standard for “brusque” treatment of a server is much higher. You are almost doing them a favor by shouting over the din of the restaurant to let them know you need something, for example, and they don’t have much interest in, or time for, you to pretend to be their buddy. They’re there to do a job and you’re there to be served and pay them for doing it.

      • gbdub says:

        At times in America when I’m sitting in a restaurant for 20 minutes and have to seemingly grab a waiter to place an order because someone in the party told them they needed a minute to think twice, after which they tend to just abandon you, I miss this style of ordering.

        As a former waiter – that’s not good service, but it’s understandable if the place is busy. A waiter needs to have a rhythm to keep track of multiple tables, and your hostess is probably giving you a new table every few minutes. The first part is the stressful bit – drop off water, give the specials, come back a minute later for drink orders. Return with drinks, take dinner orders.

        Your diner who needs “just an extra minute” to look at the menu throws the whole rhythm off, because you’ve now added an extra visit right when the waiter is supposed to be visiting their next table. Same goes for asking for “extras” e.g. ranch dressing after the meal is delivered.

        Of course sometimes the hostess just forgets to tell you they seated someone in your section.

        • onyomi says:

          I, personally, almost always set to the business of deciding what to order right away, and am secretly annoyed at people who don’t even open the menu until the waiter shows up to take the order, and then act all surprised like “oh, I totally forgot to think about this!” especially if they tell the waiter to come back more than once (maybe I’m just more focused on the eating part than the socialization…). In my experience, most waiters can keep you within their rhythm if you tell them to come back once. Twice and they tend to forget about you.

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      Yes, but service in UK restaurants is really bad. Or at least it was when I was there 30 years ago; perhaps it has changed. As I recall, the servers didn’t feel it was very important to help their customers. It is one thing to pretend friendliness or servility, but it is another to not do what you are paid to do. It is possible that I simply did not know the rules of how to act (although I didn’t go into pubs, these were all restaurants). But I do remember a person in Scotland saying how pleasantly surprised she was at restaurant service in Canada.

      • Mark says:

        Yeah, definitely.

        I worked various service jobs in England about 15 years ago, and we used to play a game where we’d ignore the customers until they went away. Hilarious good fun.

        I think it was just the general workplace culture – there was definitely an element of us feeling that we were doing the customer a favour just by being there. If you were naturally an asshole, there wasn’t really any reason to disguise that.

        I’m pretty sure that attitude died off sometime around 2008 – it’s actually much more difficult to get that kind of job now – (I failed a psychological test to get a job stacking shelves a few years ago) – and people seem far more attentive.

        Which is good, but on the other hand, it’s only come about because the position of the good old chippy English working class has been undermined. Seems like the man is using technological change and deliberate policy to force us to do his bidding. And to force a smile while we do it.
        As long as we received bad service, at least we could know we were a free people. Not necessarily true anymore.

        (Maybe we are more free now, and people simply aren’t doing service jobs that they resent)

        • Deiseach says:

          Oh, there are bad staff as well as bad customers, and I absolutely hate the obligation to put on your fake “customer service persona” (it’s not just waiters and shop assistants who have to do it, anyone dealing with front-line public interactions has to do it). Being courteous and pleasant is simple good manners, having to be all chirpy “Hello sir/madam, how can I make your experience with us the most fantastic event of your life?” is silly (and calling people who are using government services like social welfare “customers” and “clients” is ridiculous; I hate it when I’m one of the “customers” because it’s not like going shopping and if I don’t like the goods or prices on offer in this store I can go to another; I can’t go “Well, your welfare payments are terrible value, I’m choosing to go with an alternative service provider”).

          The one big thing from my time in the trenches I would emphasise is: please don’t yell at front-line staff. You may indeed be angry and frustrated with good cause, but yelling at the minimum-wage or under employee is not going to change things. They don’t set policy (and indeed automation and routines handed down from corporate headquarters means even less freedom to get around inconvenience); they can’t take that expired coupon, decide to give you a free coffee for that one you dropped, take a cheque without getting it authorised first (or maybe at all), or knock the price down if the tin of beans is dented on the side.

          They don’t make the rules or policies. And if they do give you what you’re looking for, they could well lose their job for violating “it’s in the regulations about not taking vouchers ten minutes after the deadline elapses”.

          You want to yell at somebody? Find out where the top boss(es) are and write or phone them and yell about it.

          • skef says:

            I can’t imagine myself yelling at restaurant staff unless I’ve had such a bad day for whatever reason that I would yell at anyone, which hasn’t happened to me so far. But I’ll admit I don’t always apply this advice more generally, however wise it is. When the cable company representative keeps on their script, subverting basic norms of human communication, more often than not I’m going to wind up angry and raising my voice. I guess I feel like if pissing people off is basically written into your job requirements, it sucks for you but you’re just going to have to deal with angry people. Hopefully the suckiness of your job translates through the labor market to at least a bit more pay.

            On a related-but-not note, I’ve found that the fastest way to get an operator when using a voice menu system, assuming pressing “0” and saying “operator” don’t work, is now to yell at it. Most of the current software has some basic psychology built in.

          • Deiseach says:

            When the cable company representative keeps on their script, subverting basic norms of human communication, more often than not I’m going to wind up angry and raising my voice.

            That’s exactly the problem, though: they’re given a script, calls are recorded (we’ve all heard the standard opening spiel) and if they deviate they get hammered about it, because it’s not about “customer service”, it’s about “throughput”. Stick to the script, get as many calls through as humanly possible, up your rates and move those units! Pissing off customers is probably calculated to only cause a small number to actually quit your service and go elsewhere and that’ll be made up for by new customers, plus the blame will not be put on whoever decided to run the process by script, it’ll be “it’s the operative’s fault for not simultaneously following and breaking the rules”.

            And I don’t know about pay rates nowadays precisely because ‘customer service’ is one of those business buzzwords that don’t really mean anything (other than “reduce costs, maximise revenue”); see the rush to automation and replacing humans on the end of the phone line with “press button 1 for option A” scripts, supermarket cashiers with chip-and-pin machines, bank tellers with online banking and self-service machines in branches, etc.

          • skef says:

            Your description assumes more fairness on the part of the company than often applies, though. The script is instrumental; what the company wants is retained service and up-selling. Merely doing what you intended may hurt the call center employee despite whatever is said.

            And one doesn’t really know the company logic, anyway. What if expressed anger is taken into account, so getting angry and dropping service is penalized less than not getting angry and doing so?

            And how far does this extend? The script is designed to be psychologically coercive. What if they added “negging”? Or what if it were in person and they shoved you around a little because the script said to?

          • Deiseach says:

            Your description assumes more fairness on the part of the company than often applies, though.

            Oh, I don’t assume any fairness on the part of the company. If some higher-up gets excited about Latest Managment Guru and decides everyone should address customers in terms of “Hey, Larry, wanna suck my dick?” then that’s what they’re going to make you do and if you don’t like it you have to lump it. We had a talk by a work coach a couple of months ago and they were telling us about applying to various companies, and their description of (Dublin office) Airbnb was “Yeah, it’s a bit of a cult, right enough” (that is, there is One Way And One Way Only and everyone has to buy into and incorporate the company culture and mantras into their way of thinking and speaking and behaving).

            I think there are some basic things everyone on both sides of the encounter should remember:

            (a) Companies, businesses and services want to make money out of you. They don’t like you, they are not your friend, they don’t want to help you. They want your cash and for you to piss off and stop bothering them.

            (b) The poor sap given the job of interacting with you, the public, is only human. They have bad days too. They’re not robots. Maybe they’ve just dealt with six demanding, unreasonable and carping customers in a row and now you as number seven get the “yeah, waddya want?” treatment even though you’re perfectly nice. Please try and understand and don’t automatically assume they’re deliberately trying to piss you off. This is even worse for public/civil servants, we are wrapped in red tape and bureaucracy. We are not all part of One Big Information-Gathering Service so we can’t “just ring up that department and ask them for the information, sure you lot have it already, why do I have to get it?” Because by law and under data protection and civil rights, you are the only person who is entitled to ask for and get that information because it is sensitive confidential private personal information, a third party (like us) can’t ask for it or (if we have it and are asked for it by a third party) can’t hand it over or give it out without your knowledge and consent.

            (c) As above, the person taking your order/complaint/ringing up your goods does not have power. They have little to no freedom, especially in these days of measured and tested and scripted and “this is how to make a Big Mac, follow the recipe precisely as written” days. They might want to take that coupon that only expired yesterday because hey, that’s nitpicking and unreasonable to refuse, but they can’t.

            (c) Fellow toilers at the coal face, remember the public are humans too and not all of them are unreasonable jerks. Try to keep your patience with the slow and the bewildered, they’re not doing it on purpose to make a fool out of you 🙂

          • keranih says:

            The one big thing from my time in the trenches I would emphasise is: please don’t yell at front-line staff. You may indeed be angry and frustrated with good cause, but yelling at the minimum-wage or under employee is not going to change things.

            I tend to use a line of “Please get your supervisor” when I’m really po’ed. If the staffer balks or tries something like “well, it may be a few moments, are you sure that there isn’t something I can do,” my response is “You are not getting paid enough to deal with me. Get your boss. Get them NOW, because I’m only going to get more pissed and unreasonable(*) if I have to wait.”

            Then they tend to scurry. And the boss is plenty forwarded that I’m both v. annoyed and able to be reasoned with. So they put on their reasonable hat and we are generally able to come to some sort of compromise.

            (*) This is not actually true. Part of the reason for putting people off is that after sleeping on something, people are less passionate and say “screw it, never mind” and don’t follow through with a complaint.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            My RL job is being the Supervisor in “I want to Speak To Your Supervisor!” at a customer service desk, so I am intimately familiar with this dynamic. Unfortunately, in large organizations the Supervisor sometimes has only marginally more power and flexibility than the front line employee.

            On the other hand, yeah, sometimes the supervisor COULD solve the problem, and is being a lazy dick and doesn’t want to. And when you’re already frustrated and angry, it’s a lot harder to distinguish a sincere “I am offering you the best solution I can within my operating constraints, sir/ma’am” from the exact same phrase with an underlying message of “Fuck you, they don’t pay me enough to put up with this crap”.

            From interactions on both sides of the issue, my personal strategy is always to start out as polite as possible and escalate in tone only if/when I’ve determined that I’m dealing with “I don’t want to help you” rather than “I can’t offer the solution you want”. The reason for that is that I will freely admit that due to the nature of my job, I deal with not only “Challenging” guests, but with the SAME challenging guests over and over and over again.

            That lady in front of you in the check-out line who brings 30 items to the 10 item express check-out (which the clerk hopefully doesn’t make an issue of as it’s faster to just get them processed than start an argument), tries to pay with a check despite the sign saying “Cash/Card Only”, and then makes a federal case out of her expired coupon being refused?

            In my experience, that’s not an isolated incident. That person is that person, and brings that sort of antagonistic and abrasive “Screw you, I’m getting mine” attitude with them to all their business transactions where they have the power. Sometimes framed as “I’m not letting anyone take advantage of -ME-! In this world you gotta look out for yourself because no one else will!”.

            And I will freely admit, once I believe that I am dealing with that personality type, my willingness to be flexible and expend energy to find a solution and make them happy goes WAY down. If anything, I would rather they leave and never come back. Because I know that even if I perform an outstanding song and dance, apologize for whatever situation led to the aggravation, fix the issue, offer extra compensation for the inconvenience, etc etc…that personality type will at best see this as the bare minimum they are do and will mark us as “Average” on the surveys that are used to determine our bonuses. More likely, they will slag us anyway, even if the initial issue wasn’t even with the customer service desk. Finally, as long as they keep coming back to my place of business, I will continue to have more and more interactions like that one, because that’s who they are.

            So yeah, once I think I’m dealing with one of Those Customers, there is a truly powerful temptation to be polite, professional, but tacitly respond to threats to take business elsewhere with “Yes. Please. NOW. PLEASE.” And I try to avoid categorized as “Oh no, you’re one of Those Customers” when I’m the customer dealing with issues.

            That said, sometimes the best thing you can do when the supervisor -is- a lazy jerk is find that customer service hotline to corporate and leave a -detailed- complaint. I can’t speak for all industries (I suspect ISPs and Cable Companies don’t care), but a LOT of them actually do care about their MarketMetrix numbers, Net Promoter Score, and all that folderol that comes with those “Complete A Free Survey TO Get A $5 Coupon On Your Next Visit!” surveys.

          • Brad says:

            The thing about “I don’t may don’t make the rules, don’t yet at me” is that those jobs should be unpleasant, so that employers have to pay people more to take them, and so ultimately it ceases to be profitable to engage in anti-social behavior on the part of the company.

            By being polite to people that are being rude to you, because you think to yourself it isn’t their fault, you are breaking this feedback loop.

          • skef says:

            I just want to clarify: My feelings about this sort of thing are limited to overtly alienating cases, where the employer is cynically taking advantage of human social conventions. The most common example is where you want to reduce* your service, and the person you’re talking to refuses, in a variety of ways, to acknowledge that you’ve made that request. With normal day-to-day stuff I wouldn’t care enough about whatever was at stake (a clothing defect? a mislabeled price?) to put anyone, including myself, through unpleasantness about it.

            I assume it would be untenable to use these tactics for in-person encounters because the training for the employees would have to be extreme, and therefore expensive. But maybe that cost could be transferred onto employees just like the others. “All applicants must be current in their sociopathy certification.”

            * This would also apply to eliminating service, if I didn’t now always start by claiming to be moving out of the area, whether I am or not.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Ach, I replied to your suggestion, Brad, but didn’t nest it deeply enough. Sorry, look below. Basically, I get where you’re coming from but I don’t think your proposed feedback mechanism is working the way you think it is, and I don’t think it -can-.

          • Deiseach says:

            The thing about “I don’t may don’t make the rules, don’t yet at me” is that those jobs should be unpleasant, so that employers have to pay people more to take them, and so ultimately it ceases to be profitable to engage in anti-social behavior on the part of the company.

            No. From the employer’s point of view, Unpleasant Customer GIVES them money, employee COSTS them money. And in this day and age of social media, online surveys, sites like Yelp that invite reviews of services, etc., it is more worth their while than ever to throw the employee under the bus and cater to the customer, who very well may go online to exhort everyone not to patronise that shop/café/grocery store as they got terrible service, were refused any recompense, and treated like dirt. The people reading that review don’t know what the original situation was like and will believe it because they’re assuming this is an average person like themselves telling it like it is about this business.

            So punishing anti-social behaviour means they go to your competitor not you, and you lose money. Even if it’s only one transaction, and your competitor also punishes anti-social behaviour by refusing to tolerate it, the customer is spending money with them, not you. Big concerns don’t care too much if they lose one hundred customers every month as long as they attract one hundred, or one hundred and fifty, new customers by their ad campaigns and marketing gimmicks. They do care if those one hundred customers discourage the new customers by complaining about the employees or the service via word-of-mouth (which nowadays incorporates going online).

            So the company or boss will try to minimise disgruntled customers leaving bad word-of-mouth, even if that means turning around and berating the employee before that customer and everyone else in the place for following the rules.

            Apart from Mr “Throw The Money”, the other main incident in my four years at the counter that annoys me was one customer who complained to the boss that I didn’t smile at her and chat with her. And I got reprimanded for that.

            Now, this was on a busy Friday evening, when we had the usual rush in – everyone going home from work and calling in to buy the groceries for the evening meal and whatever they had run short of, before doing the main shop on Saturday. Everyone is tired, hungry, and just wants to pay for their shopping and go home. So we’re running the tills as fast as we can, because people don’t want to be held up longer than necessary. That means that while I am being polite and courteous and returning greetings, I am not ringing up the groceries in a leisurely manner and having a good old chin-wag with any customer, because that would hold up the line and annoy all the people waiting to be served.

            I was not being rude, I was not deliberately ignoring people, I was not refusing to smile and say “hello” and “thanks for shopping with us!”

            I still was complained about. I still was reprimanded.

            Sometimes you just can’t win 🙂

          • Mary says:

            I once wanted to cancel my service.

            The reason why it took me only about five minutes was that was the point at which I threatened to hang up and call the cops to report telephonic fraud.

            I think the person got off script at that point.

        • @Mark:

          Interesting. Did the pattern depend on the service people thinking of themselves as working class and the customers as upper class? Would you get the same behavior in a context where the customers were of the same social class as the service people, say a pub or a fish and chips place?

          • Mark says:

            Not related to class.
            I think it’s more difficult for English people to feel fully comfortable with someone from a very different class background – so they might not be as friendly towards them, but the basic attitude is independent of the class of the customer.

            (The bad attitude must surely be well hidden or non-existent for staff at the Dorchester)

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          I have to disagree, Brad. Honestly, I think we’ll hit the point where these jobs are automated out well before your hypothetical feedback cycle has any effect, because it requires that the supply of unskilled labor to dry up.

          Is there anyone else here with recent low level retail/customer service experience? I get the sense that my socioeconomic tier is rather lower than both the median and mean for this blog. Either way, I can attest to the fact that there is no difficulty finding new hires for mcdonalds/wal-mart/target/call center jobs.

          Really -Good- employees, sure, but that’s because if you’re good enough to be a notably good employee at a $7.50-$9 an hour unskilled labor job, you’re probably good enough with marginally more effort and experience to get promoted or land a better paying job elsewhere within a year or two unless your local area is really economically stagnant.

          There is no end to the pool of replacement unskilled workers, nor do I see any prospects of that supply drying up absent something like an effective UBI.

          • Loquat says:

            I’ve done call center work for a couple of different companies in the last 5 years – both in the $10-15/hr range rather than minimum wage, though you didn’t need a degree or any relevant prior experience/training. One of them has for the last couple of years been having difficulty finding enough people, but it mostly hires seasonally (they do sales for the Medicare AEP) and offers neither benefits nor any kind of commission/sales bonus. The other mostly hires full-time employees and does offer both benefits and sales bonus, and a couple of years ago when they had high turnover in the customer service dept they didn’t seem to have any trouble filling a new training class every few months. (Then upper management told customer service to stop cross-selling, and mysteriously the need for constant new hires has gone way down.)

          • Deiseach says:

            Honestly, I think we’ll hit the point where these jobs are automated out well before your hypothetical feedback cycle has any effect, because it requires that the supply of unskilled labor to dry up.

            This is why grocery businesses are going for the self-service options; there’s a self-service/chip and pin section for machines in the major anchor tenant in our local shopping centre. Automation is the way to go, and I can easily see in future just a few staff to oversee the self-service and assist customers, check on stock levels, and prevent shop-lifting. Areas like butcher/deli area will probably be the ones using real humans the longest, because they’ll still be the ones cutting up the joints of meat etc. until the stores decide to fully buy in pre-packed portions of everything.

            Even low-pay labour is still an expense, and if you can make the customer do the work that the checkout operator used to do, you are getting both the money for the goods and free labour. It won’t matter that you can always get kids who want to work after-school jobs and people (like single parents) for whom part-time hours are more convenient and so you can pay lower rates of hourly wages, it will be cheaper to have automated as much as you can get stores.

            Upmarket stores (or wanna-bes) will probably use real humans as part of the entire experience but they’re also the ones charging premium prices for either really good products or fashionable tat that pretends it’s high quality. Harrods, for example, that leans heavily on its reputation as catering to the carriage trade, will not expect its clientele to serve themselves. Those will be the exceptions rather than the rule in our Brave New World, and I don’t expect UBI to be instituted on a wide scale as fast as the shedding of unskilled/low-skill jobs.

            Not until it’s people in professions being hit.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @Loquat
            Yes, those call center jobs are the “better jobs” the better employees at base level Retail/Customer Service are leaving FOR. When the local call center company shut down it was a big disappointment because they were the “Good” no-skills, no-education employer. Now, we are, in some departments.

            @Deisach
            I predict three basic job positions for the low end stuff, in addition to stocking:

            -On-Site Tech Support/Maintenance who repair the automated kiosks/scanners/associated equipment when it breaks and are probably also tasked with overall building maintenance and some janitorial tasks. A full-size wal-mart open 24/7/365 might have 3-4 on payroll, supplemented with seasonal hires as needed.

            -Vestigial Customer Service, as a backup for when the automated systems are down for maintenance, and to help the luddites and the folks just too damn dumb to interact with any sort of automated interface. Before anyone comments, see above: I work customer service, and we already HAVE touch-screen kiosks designed to do several of the more basic transactions my team handles. I would guesstimate about 10-15% of our customer base just cannot wrap their heads around them. These are the same people who don’t use ATMs because they are “too complicated”. Believe me, they do still exist, and businesses will need to account for them.

            This may or may not end up being merged with the personnel/Store Manager position. Again, probably only need 3-4 for an entire store. Maaaybe double if it you want 2 in the store at a time to REALLY hit home on customer service…

            -Loss Prevention/Security. As was noted awhile back in the case of the heavily understaffed wal-mart in a small town that became a massive nexus of theft investigations for police, if you don’t secure your storefront, you will get massive amounts of theft. If you try to handle ALL of that with after-the-fact police reports and surveillance footage, the cops will get mad at all the work you’re generating for them and apply political and legal pressure to make you increase your security. I am not getting into the argument over whether that’s right or wrong, I’m just predicting it WILL happen. As such, the cheapest solution will probably be to retain some token amount of Loss Prevention/Security people on-site, maybe in-house, maybe a contractor service. I could see an argument for using the massive staffing cuts in other areas to beef this up a bit over the current model, but either way, probably not more than another 10-12 people total.

            -Stockers. What this will look like, as automation pressures help standardize packaging to some extent, is the minimum number of people the store can get away with “supervising” automated forklift/stocker robots and stepping in when one sets off its pager because it’s got a wierd shelf space/package it can’t figure out on its own and to handle the truly awkward stuff like bicycles.

            End result of this: You can walk into a 100,000 square-foot “Supercenter” style store, and there will be maybe 4-5 employees sharing the building with you.

          • Brad says:

            Constantly cycling through employees has its own cost on the business. I don’t doubt that there are lots of people willing to sign up and give the job a shot, but when they find it really unpleasant they quit. That’s true in picking fruit and it’s true in customer service positions.

            Being the tip of the spear in implementing sociopaths corporate policies is tough work. I think all of us have a responsibility to make sure that continues to be true. Not to let them take advantage of our natural tendency to empathize with the person on the other end of the line.

            On the flip side, I think that companies that give in to the terrible customers are also making a major mistake. Go to any major retail store and stand by the returns counter. You’ll find people that ought not only be able to pull whatever scam they are trying, but should be banned permanently from the store. You will never turn a profit from such people, they are anti-customers.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Deiseach pretty much covered it in her reply above, Brad. From the perspective of the business, yelling at the person behind the counter means they need a new person behind the counter. If it keeps happening, maybe they need better training. Changing the policy won’t even be on the table unless and until it starts costing them business.

            Even then, it needs to be communicated to the company that that’s -why- they’re losing your business. Most companies do pay attention to their customer service metrics and survey responses, and with social media it’s gotten easier to communicate with them, though they still take the surveys more seriously because they show more commitment to the issue and there’s a tendency for exaggeration online.

            I will note that re: ISPs and Telecom carriers, they’re one of the noted people who DON’T pay nearly as much attention. I don’t have the several thousand dollars needed to buy MarketMetrix NetPromoterScore report that’s broken down by industry and company (our company uses NetPromoterScore, as do a -lot- of others), but I was able to google image search a graph from the report awhile back, and they stood out notably for being the only industry within NEGATIVE NPS numbers.

            NPS relies on the “How willing are you to recommend BRAND X to a friend or colleague on a scale of 1-10?” question. 9-10s are “Promoters”, spreading positive word of mouth. 7-8s are “Passives” (“Yeah, Denny’s is ok, I guess. I’ll probably eat there again someday.”). 6s and below are “Detractors”.

            (Promoters-Detractors)/Total Responses for a given period = NPS.

            Upshot of this: On those surveys, the most important parts if you want to change the company’s policies are the “Willingness to Recommend” and the “What’s the primary reason for this score?” questions.

          • Brad says:

            You and Deiseach are looking at the wrong side of the transaction. I’m not at all talking about hurting the company via the revenue side. Often the worst of these abuses aren’t even towards customers but rather potentially customers (e.g. solicitation). I’m talking about raising employment costs via making the front line jobs as unpleasant as is warranted by what they are actually imposing on the rest of us.

            In terms of customer service surveys, I no longer participate unless there is some compensation attached. If a company wants to hire me to consult on the quality of its employees it can pay me to do so.

            Again this is corporations cynically exploiting your natural human fellow-feeling. They don’t say “why don’t you volunteer your time to help out our wildly profitable multinational” they implicitly say “you wouldn’t want this nice person on the phone to be fired, right?”

      • skef says:

        Given my pop-cultural understanding of British food of that period, I’m tempted to conclude that they were doing you a favor by giving you reason to leave without ordering.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          Well yes the food was often bad too. We usually looked for ethic food, which was usually a bit better. But service at the good food places wasn’t different from the bad food places.

      • rlms says:

        In my experience, UK service isn’t uniformly bad (or good). I suppose that a lot of servers don’t put much effort into being friendly beyond what is normal, but I don’t really have a problem with that. And a relatively high proportion of waiters do try to be especially friendly (in order to get a decent tip). Aside: it seems to me that waiters in rural restaurants tend to be more friendly than urban ones. Possibly this is because in a small village you are more likely to get repeat customers, so it’s worth being friendly with everyone in case they come back.

  18. Paul Brinkley says:

    I had some additional thoughts on the subthread from 63.75 on metaphysics, and that thread was slammed all the way to the right of the screen, so they are below. Mr. X, Trofim_Lysenko, and StellaAthena in particular may be able to flesh out or even correct my understanding on some of these. (I highly suspect I’m off the rails wrt a great deal of metaphysical realism (M-R), so beware.)

    “Properties are not -objects-, and I think it is a category mistake to try to manipulate them in object terms. When we say that something “has” the same property, we’re not describing one object being in two places simultaneously. ”

    This appears to imply that objects are distinguishable in that they can be located somewhere. This is consistent with my understanding of metaphysical realism, but I also think you can make it even stronger.

    Properties are exemplified; when we say “this object has X-ness”, we mean “this object exemplifies X-ness”, as opposed to “this object contains X” or “this object contains an instance of X”. (ISTR philosophers who claim the latter are known as nominalists or trope theorists, but I could be mistaken.)

    In M-R, there’s no such thing as “a redness” – at best, you have a red thing here, and a red thing there, and a property of redness that both things exemplify.

    In the ur-ontology I helped develop at my previous company (for use in constructing formal knowledge models of real-world domains – things you could base database schemas on), we posited entities which weren’t properties (which we kept distinct from universals, just in case, though I can think of no functional difference), but which also had no location in spacetime. We called them abstract, and objects which had location in spacetime we called concrete. Concrete objects included everyday objects such as balls or houses, and events such as WWII. Abstract objects included stories, poems, songs, propositions, concepts, etc.

    So what was called “objects” in the quote above sounds like what we called concrete objects, and the quote’s “properties” were our properties (or maybe universals). So properties are not objects, and there are even entities which are neither (and I think this is also consistent with M-R, or maybe with certain subschools of M-R).

    If a teacher thought C=2pi*r and a student thought C=2pi*r, there were two different thoughts, about the same concept (assuming both people thought the symbols meant the same things and so on). We could posit a host of differing characteristics on each thought – perhaps the student’s is more unsure than the teacher’s; perhaps the teacher associates that thought with Archimedes while the student does not – but since we have no reliable way of measuring these, these reach beyond practicality. The concept itself is apart from both, though, and is even apart from its expression as the string “C=2pi*r”. (Yay, semiotics.)

    A (concrete) object’s distance from another object is not an intrinsic property of thateither object in M-R, although at this point you’re introducing the phenomenon of time, and you now have to establish what the rules are there. Do objects perdure, or endure? Perdurant objects have distinct parts through their temporal existence; e.g. a butterfly has wings as an adult, and no wings before that. Endurant objects are timeless; that butterfly exists in all time, wings and all, and adulthood is a part of that butterfly for which it happens to be attached to wings that aren’t attached to the larval part. I think most people are more comfortable with the perdurant view, but I’m not sure, and the endurant view has benefits. (Our ur-ontology effectively committed to perdurantism.)

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      Thanks, Paul. I want to reply to this, but it may be awhile. My free time and time to think are somewhat limited during the work week as my day job is not an environment conducive to…well, anything but the job, really.

    • Properties are exemplified; when we say “this object has X-ness”, we mean “this object exemplifies X-ness”, as opposed to “this object contains X” or “this object contains an instance of X”. (ISTR philosophers who claim the latter are known as nominalists or trope theorists, but I could be mistaken.)

      In M-R, [metaphysical realism] there’s no such thing as “a redness” – at best, you have a red thing here, and a red thing there, and a property of redness that both things exemplify.

      Metaphysical realism is quire a broad category. what you are doing here is morelike backing Aristoelean realism against Platonic realism.

      • StellaAthena says:

        To follow up on this with detail, metaphysical realism is the most general category of realism. It’s often just called “realism” though the adjective “metaphysical” gets used in contexts where you want to contrasts different types of realism. It means that that you believe that there are things that exist independent of our conceptual schemes, language, culture, etc etc. Most philosophers and basically every layperson are metaphysical realists. Plato, Aristotle, every Christian theologian and philosopher ever (it’s necessary to be a realist to be a Christian), Hume, Heidegger, Popper,… the list of realists is really really long and has been the predominent theory for basically forever, since it’s hard to argue with the assertion “shit exists” and then not proceed to starve to death.

        One mainstream position that could be classified as antirealist is Pragmatism. I find Richard Rorty’s view of truth (specifically that truth-in-a-language is the only kind of truth) and his brand of pragmatism in general somewhat compelling. It’s an interesting question as to whether I can be a pragmatist and a realist at the same time. Rorty himself was /also/ a Baysean, or at least pretended to be one. He is adamant about the fact that, despite issues with the concept of truth, it’s important to at a minimum act as if X is true if it is pragmatically useful for you to do so. It’s kind of a philosophy that lets you simultaneously say “yes there are some deep issues with grounding metaphysics and epistemology in anything and we shouldn’t pretend to know how to do so, or even know that it can be done. That said, I’m going to continue to live my life and act as if I believe that __________ is true (in the usual sense of the word) because it is useful to me to do so.” I’m not totally won over by Rorty’s views, but I think that it gets at something really important.

        As an analogy, you might image the mathematicial formalists who believes that “mathematical truth” is a social-lingusitic construct. From certain axioms you can prove things, but there’s no such thing as “right” axioms. We have no reason to prefer ZFC (widely accepted axioms of modern mathematics) to ZFD (a different, logically contradictory set of axioms). No mathematics is “really true” there’s just what is true within the axiomatic set we choose to apply. The correct sentence is not “2+2=4 is true” but rather “2+2=4 holds in any axiomatic set consistent with Pareno Arithmetic.” However, despite believing this, the formalist still does all their work in ZFC, because working in ZFC allows you all sorts of benefits, including the existence of other mathematicians interested in your work, universities giving you tenure, and scientists wanting to learn about your work to use to model things in their research. So you don’t go around saying “mathematics is relative” all the time. You prove things in ZFC and put a little askterisk next to it in your mind and maybe talk about it in philosophical and metamathematical conversations. But your work gives off the appearance of believe that ZFC is the One True Axiomatic Schema. That’s kind of how the Pragmatist lives.

        NB: this doesn’t say anything about epistemology. So, you can believe that we cannot know any facts and still believe that there are facts. You could believe we are brains in vats, but believe that brains and vats exist. It’s really hard to not be a realist.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Thanks for the detail on M-R – honestly, it feels consistent with my sense of that level of philosophy. One exception I have to this might be too selective, FAIK – there was enough hay made out of alternatives to M-R in some books I read, such as Loux’s Metaphysics, that I got the sense that schools such as nominalism have more sway among scholars than you seem to describe here. Intuitively, I, too, find it hard not to be a realist, and modern data models seem to derive much utility out of realism, and so we went the same way, as does pretty much anyone who builds a database.

          Indeed, anyone’s interest in entertaining non-realist models in a working model probably lasted all of a minute, and after that it was a pursuit of only academic interest. Our focus instead turned to determining what commitments we ought to make on top of realism.

          Rorty’s “act as if X is true” sounds like an academic’s way of saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. It has also informed my sense of a secular society’s easiest path to success when subgroups have different moral theories. A secular government ought not assume anyone theory is true, or even that any of the available moral theories is true, but may still act as if shared moral imperatives are true. So, “killing people is wrong” ends up secularly enforced, without having to be taken as explicit endorsement of any one of the moral theories that claims that. It’s useful in that it’s naturally enforced by those who believe it, and that’s reason enough.

          • StellaAthena says:

            Thanks for the detail on M-R – honestly, it feels consistent with my sense of that level of philosophy. One exception I have to this might be too selective, FAIK – there was enough hay made out of alternatives to M-R in some books I read, such as Loux’s Metaphysics, that I got the sense that schools such as nominalism have more sway among scholars than you seem to describe here. Intuitively, I, too, find it hard not to be a realist, and modern data models seem to derive much utility out of realism, and so we went the same way, as does pretty much anyone who builds a database.

            Nominalism is not an anti-realist position. Nominalism is specifically a statement about the nature of universals. Realism is the belief that there are things that exist independent of us. To quote the SEP:

            Generic Realism:
            a, b, and c and so on exist, and the fact that they exist and have properties such as F-ness, G-ness, and H-ness is (apart from mundane empirical dependencies of the sort sometimes encountered in everyday life) independent of anyone’s beliefs, linguistic practices, conceptual schemes, and so on.

            The relevant question is not “does it make sense to talk about redness with a specific kind of ontological status” but rather “is the statement “x is red” 1) well-formed and 2) factually correct in a manner that doesn’t depend on our minds.

            Rorty’s “act as if X is true” sounds like an academic’s way of saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. It has also informed my sense of a secular society’s easiest path to success when subgroups have different moral theories. A secular government ought not assume anyone theory is true, or even that any of the available moral theories is true, but may still act as if shared moral imperatives are true. So, “killing people is wrong” ends up secularly enforced, without having to be taken as explicit endorsement of any one of the moral theories that claims that. It’s useful in that it’s naturally enforced by those who believe it, and that’s reason enough.

            Roughly, yes. Different pragmatists have different ways that the encourage acting in the face of this language-dependent truth, but the phrase “pragmatically useful to take as true” tends to show up a lot.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Nominalism is not an anti-realist position. Nominalism is specifically a statement about the nature of universals. Realism is the belief that there are things that exist independent of us.

            Actually “realism” is also used to describe the belief that universals have real, extra-mental existence. It’s usually contrasted with nominalism (universals don’t exist) and conceptualism (universals exist, but only in the mind).

          • StellaAthena says:

            Isn’t that a particular type of realism? Like, you can be a realist about many things. About universals, about mathematical entities, about morals, … Realism broadly construed is in opposition to solipsism and skepticism.

            Unless “metaphysical realism” is a narrowly construed term I’m not familiar with? I’m taking that to just mean “realism about metaphysics”

          • Protagoras says:

            Hmmm, saying that it is realism about metaphysics appeals to me as a critic of metaphysical realism, but I think it is more misleading than helpful. Admittedly, my criticism of metaphysical realism is that pretty much everything that can be said about it is more misleading than helpful, and so that it should just be avoided. But, for example, metaphysical realists are likely to argue that electrons are real, rather than being convenient theoretical constructs, and electrons are presumably not metaphysical.

            To give the super short version of why I hate that debate, in what is probably the most common sense of “real,” phlogiston is not real, and witches are not real, and bigfoot isn’t real. Electrons and doctors and gorillas are real in that sense, and there seems to be a diversity of opinions among readers of this blog over whether AGW is real in that sense. The debate over what’s metaphysically real is a different and vastly more complicated one, which is far too easy to confuse with the ordinary sense of “real” where it is opposed to various mistakes or illusions. And that confusion definitely infects the debate; defenders of metaphysically realist views very often seem to think they are trying to defend the objects they are realist about against the criticism that they they are witch-type mistakes, and less frequently anti-realist critics seem to think their criticisms lead in that direction. But the kinds of arguments and evidence involved in the metaphysical debate are entirely inappropriate to those questions, so anybody who thinks, even partly, that that’s what they’re debating is confused. So I think the metaphysical discussions should, to put it in rationalist terminology, taboo the word “real” (and honestly “mind-independent” is not a huge improvement) and try to be much clearer and more specific about what issues they are really dealing with. And I guess that wasn’t as short as I intended.

          • StellaAthena says:

            Is this a critique of academic philosophy, lay conversations, humanity in general, or something else? That seems like a bizarre mistake to make to me. In a world in which I believed that confusion was commonplace, I would totally agree that it makes the conversation significantly less worth having.

          • Protagoras says:

            Humanity in general. Professional philosophers are slightly more aware of the complexities of the issues, but most of them are sufficiently human that they nonetheless do not avoid the confusion completely.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      I think of properties as “categories of objects which exhibit similar behaviors” where behavior is defined as “movement through phase space”. The question of existence is a question of membership.

      I don’t like Endurantism’s compound-ownership. E.g. if a butterfly drinks nectar to grow wings, do the wings belong to the plant or the butterfly? Endurantism conflates the Law of Equivalent Exchange with the ephemerality of configuration.

      That said, the question of “Endure vs Perdure” is an artifact of compression, and therefore arbitrary. An ideal database would distinguish objects not only by location, but also by time stamp. E.g. butterfly_t1 != butterfly_t2.

      • StellaAthena says:

        That said, the question of “Endure vs Perdure” is an artifact of compression, and therefore arbitrary. An ideal database would distinguish objects not only by location, but also by time stamp. E.g. butterfly_t1 != butterfly_t2.

        This is what endurantists believe. A perdurantist would say that this is not true. I think you’re conflating your position with base axioms here.

    • StellaAthena says:

      So, I gave a summary of what M-R is and tried to flesh out a “reasonable” metaphysical view that isn’t (might not be?) M-R as a contrastive example. Now, to respond more fully to your post. But first, definitions!

      Im not sure if there is a consensus way to define “object” but I’m going to go with “X is an object of the sentence “X exists and has Property P” can be true. There are (potentially) many different types of objects. A physical object is something like a chair, a shirt, a person. Notably, they have spatio-temporel properties. However, We might conceive of something that is an “object” in the same way a chair is, but lacks the /physical/ properties of a chair. Instead, it has properties of another sort. We call these objects “abstract” objects, and are usually more specific based on what kinds of properties they have. In some theologies, (the) god(s) is an abstract object. In the Greek Pantheon this isn’t the case (since those gods have special positions) but in Christianity and in Buddhism it is. The Christian god has moral properties. He is good. He is benevolent. Another example of an abstract object might be a set with three elements. This set has mathematicial properties, and belief in such objects is known as mathematician Platonism. Plato was also a fan of abstract objects. Plato believed that there were these abstract objects called Platonic Forms, and that they were connected to the material world in a particular way. Descartes believed in abstract objects. He believed that there were mental objects, objects that exist in the mind but not in the world.

      Notably, the three chairs in my kitchen (as a collection) have the property of being three in number. What makes them different from a set with three elements is that the chairs also have physical properties, such as spacio-temporel properties (length, position) and material properties (is made of wood, is hard, etc). So someone who believes in abstract objects believes that physical properties aren’t special. No one would go around objecting that chairs aren’t real because they don’t have moral properties, but you might object that the Christian God isn’t real because he doesn’t have special properties.

      Some people (most philosophers, if I remember the survey correctly) believe that physics objects are the only kind of object. The person you are quoting does not (in that quote) profess to hold this position, but you are taking them to.

      In M-R, there’s no such thing as “a redness” – at best, you have a red thing here, and a red thing there, and a property of redness that both things exemplify.

      This is central to Aristotle’s theory of categories, to the point of being exactly an explanation of what “in res” means. Aristotle goes further and says that if you make a list of all the red objects, and then for each object made a list of all of their properties, the content of the term “redness” is whatever properties show up on every list. This is in stark contrast to Plato, who said that there exists an abstract object that typifies redness in the sense that “being red” means “resembling the platonic form of red.” Notably, this Platonic form doesn’t have /one/ color. It is fire truck red AND burgendy AND maroon. The fact that there are different red objects whose redness is different comes from. The fact that they resemble the platonic ideal of redness in different ways. As AKA1Z says, this seems to be the distinction you are talking about predominantly.

      Your comments about C = 2πr seem to approach Mathematical Platonism (not to be confused with the other sort) as the most natural follow up to that I see is to assert that the proposition holds in a mind-independent fashion. If you follow that up with “… because it holds for circles. And not the approximations I draw on the white bird but a /real/ circle” then you’re a Mathematical Platonist. I doubt many people would support the view that there is some kind of important connection between the truth of that expression and it’s syntax, except insofar as semantics relies on syntax. In fact, one of the fundamental ideas in mathematics is that the notation is irrelevant. Mathematics is invariant under changes of notation.

      I think you’re wrong about the content of your last paragraph. We don’t need endurantism or perdurantism to talk about the distance between to objects that are co-located in time. We can just measure the distance. Endurantism vs perdurantism is about identifying one object at multiple points in time, and if that is possible at all.

  19. Mark says:

    If anti-abortion was really all about protecting a vulnerable class of people, you’d think most liberals would be “pro-life” and most conservatives would be “pro-choice”. That’s not what we see in the real world, though.

    OK – I think this is an example of a genius, fifth columnist, conservative comment. Probably the best I’ve ever read.

    It’s the perfect model for a comment that can only be ‘liked’ (and probably will be) by somebody who already agrees with you, and will turn off anybody else. Negative persuasion value.

    Sometimes I wonder if the liberal left really exists online – I know for a fact that during the Brexit vote I spent a fair amount of time pretending to be a Remain supporter making completely unconvincing comments designed to motivate people to vote leave.
    Though the evidence of Eddie Izzard suggests that it’s not all just deliberate sabotage.

    • skef says:

      Isn’t politics generally kind of “post-persuasion” these days? It seems to mostly involve pointing out things that are (taken as) wrong on the increasingly tenuous premise that people share a sense of what is wrong.

    • qwints says:

      Read a sufficiently partisan website and you’ll see a ton of pieces whose internal logic is simply “the other guys are baddies.” Freddie deBoer had a good post about how common “certain, condescending and incoherent” arguments are. The average level of internet comment is generally awful.

      I don’t think it’s a false flag phenomenon. One of the worst intellectual mistakes of lefty/liberal spaces online has been to equate disagreement with abuse. I’ve been criticized for saying I was in favor of mandatory blood and organ donation in response to a pro-choice argument that relied on such a mandate being unthinkable – not for the object level disagreement, but for making whether women are people the subject of debate.

      • Aapje says:

        The interesting part about Freddie is that he seems fairly aware and nevertheless, does all those negative things himself as well.

    • shakeddown says:

      I am a pro-life liberal, and the issue in the quoted argument legitimately confuses me.

      • Loquat says:

        Most likely, whoever wrote it is deep in a leftist bubble and has concluded that liberals have found all the correct answers to all the controversies in modern society, while conservatives love only hatred and oppression.

        I once went a few rounds with a guy who made basically the same kind of argument, except over same-sex marriage rather than abortion. It was even more baffling, too, because it was kicked off by someone else linking to an essay presenting “the conservative case for SSM” and this guy didn’t want to accept that such a thing could exist. He kept repeating various forms of “But evil cannot comprehend good conservatives love authoritarianism and other bad things! It is impossible for them to support a good thing without becoming liberal!”

    • JulieK says:

      (Where is the quoted text from?)
      Do you think a conservative would say that conservatives don’t care about protecting the vulnerable?

      …Can we just agree that (for most people) politics is more about joining a tribe than about starting from first principles and choosing your positions based on them?

      • Mark says:

        The danger with travelling to the other side is that you don’t know what might come back with you.
        But here you go: http://www.wehuntedthemammoth.com/2016/12/07/mgtows-completely-lose-their-sht-over-a-gif-of-a-toddler-on-a-cell-phone/comment-page-1/#comment-1096822

        I don’t think that is what politics is about for most people – or at least it wasn’t until recently – the Brexit campaign/ Trump election, this is the first time in my life I’ve heard of people *cutting others out of their life* for voting in the opposite direction.
        I know one woman, in her 60’s, who didn’t speak to her husband for two weeks after he voted for Brexit – she was legitimately sounding like she wanted to divorce him.

        So for me, it’s a recent phenomena, something that can and should be reversed.

      • Mark says:

        The danger with travelling to the other side is that something might come back with you.
        But here you go: http://www.wehuntedthemammoth.com/2016/12/07/mgtows-completely-lose-their-sht-over-a-gif-of-a-toddler-on-a-cell-phone/comment-page-1/#comment-1096822

        I don’t think that is how most people approach politics – or at least it wasn’t until recently. The Brexit campaign/Trump election is the first time I’ve ever heard of people *cutting people out of their lives* for voting in the opposite direction.
        I know one woman in her 60’s who didn’t speak to her husband for two weeks after he voted for Brexit. She honestly sounded like she wanted to divorce him.

        So for me, it’s something new that can and should be reversed.

      • Mark says:

        jruhagrqgurznzzbgu
        It won’t let me link to it. Probably for the best.

        I don’t think that is how most people approach politics – or at least it wasn’t until recently. The Brexit campaign/Trump election is the first time I’ve ever heard of people *cutting people out of their lives* for voting in the opposite direction.
        I know one woman in her 60’s who didn’t speak to her husband for two weeks after he voted for Brexit. She honestly sounded like she wanted to divorce him.

        So for me, it’s something new that can and should be reversed.

        • Brad says:

          So for me, it’s something new that can and should be reversed.

          I think I see someone that’s part of the problem:

          I know for a fact that during the Brexit vote I spent a fair amount of time pretending to be a Remain supporter making completely unconvincing comments designed to motivate people to vote leave.

          • Mark says:

            (#^.^#)

            Did you get me?

            I dunno – I feel like if you’re kind of blinkered you’re vulnerable to being spoofed —> people have to stop being blinkered.

            The circle of life.

          • Brad says:

            Don’t hate the player, hate the game?

            I’ll take transparent rationalizations for anti-social behavior for $200, Alex.

        • skef says:

          This seems like weird place to draw the line, given that you’re surely heard of people *shooting each other* over political disagreements.

          • Mark says:

            Probably wise to draw the line somewhere before that point…

            I’m a bit worried there might not be too much of a gap between “I never wish to see or hear these evil people again” and “let’s shoot them”.

        • keranih says:

          The Brexit campaign/Trump election is the first time I’ve ever heard of people *cutting people out of their lives* for voting in the opposite direction.

          2016 might be the first time it impacted you, but the pattern’s been there for more than a decade in quasi-mainstream American culture. Prior to, oh, 2000-ish, it was not uncommon for activists of any stripe –

          – you know, the sort of people who would not shut up about their particular cause –

          – to either be cut out of the lives of mainstream people (including their families) or to shut themselves off from non-fellow travelers. And I mean all sorts of activists – to include people who became Born-Again in the most obnoxious way – in this description.

          Now it seems we are all activists.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      I couldn’t find that text on a google search, and you didn’t seem to be quoting anyone else here. Anyway, I guess it takes a special kind of willful obtuseness to not notice that the abortion debate is polarised over exactly when a [zygote/embryo/foetus/neonate] becomes an entity worth of moral concern (a ‘person’ for practical purposes) – if you could get the pro and anti sides to agree on that, you’d then expect the liberals to more strongly favour protecting the vulnerable, but you’d also have more or less ended the dispute anyway.

      • Mark says:

        I don’t think I would expect that.

      • Deiseach says:

        I certainly wouldn’t expect that – I’ve read my share of “I believed my pregnancy was a baby but I had an abortion anyway and it was the best decision” columns in papers and online enough to think pro-choice people are not going to give up on abortion because the mother’s life (defined not alone as physical and mental health but access to education, career progression, and ‘want a baby but not right now’) is more important. Even if you can financially support a child, if you don’t want a baby, it’s not a person or it doesn’t matter if it’s a person, your already existing life over-rides theirs.

        I certainly agree that the problems which mean people choose abortion because of lack of other solutions badly need addressing, and I do think that the lack of thinking about the concept and principle of personhood is going to cause trouble down the line (e.g. if our hypothetical God AI decides on the legal arguments for abortion that “personhood” is the determinant of “right to your life” and all legal and civil rights, that something can be held to be alive, can even be held to be human life, but can also be held not to be a human person, and that personhood is not an inalienable quality of being human but a status that can be given and revoked by fiat and depends on cognitive ability amongst other things – if your brain is insufficiently developed or has been damaged by accident or illness such as Alzheimers or condition such as Down’s Syndrome so that your IQ is deficient by a particular standard held to be functioning human intellect – then it simply decides on these principles that the existing humans do not possess, or have lost, personhood and can be humanely put down).

        See quote below from a speech given in 2007 to a women’s health clinic, which got the speech-giver in some hot water from the conservative Episcopalians (but didn’t really affect the clergy-person’s career as she went on to be elected president and dean of a divinity school) – I mean in particular the part I have bolded:

        Let’s be very clear about this: when a woman finds herself pregnant due to violence and chooses an abortion, it is the violence that is the tragedy; the abortion is a blessing.

        When a woman finds that the fetus she is carrying has anomalies incompatible with life, that it will not live and that she requires an abortion often a late-term abortion to protect her life, her health, or her fertility, it is the shattering of her hopes and dreams for that pregnancy that is the tragedy; the abortion is a blessing.

        When a woman wants a child but can’t afford one because she hasn’t the education necessary for a sustainable job, or access to health care, or day care, or adequate food, it is the abysmal priorities of our nation, the lack of social supports, the absence of justice that are the tragedies; the abortion is a blessing.

        And when a woman becomes pregnant within a loving, supportive, respectful relationship; has every option open to her; decides she does not wish to bear a child; and has access to a safe, affordable abortion there is not a tragedy in sight only blessing. The ability to enjoy God’s good gift of sexuality without compromising one’s education, life’s work, or ability to put to use God’s gifts and call is simply blessing.

        These are the two things I want you, please, to remember – abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Let me hear you say it: abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done.

        I want to thank all of you who protect this blessing – who do this work every day: the health care providers, doctors, nurses, technicians, receptionists, who put your lives on the line to care for others (you are heroes – in my eyes, you are saints); the escorts and the activists; the lobbyists and the clinic defenders; all of you. You’re engaged in holy work.”

        –Reverend Katherine Ragsdale, President and Dean
        Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA

  20. Mark says:

    What do you guys think about the practice of “holding wives in common”?

    It seems to have been a pretty common to accuse egalitarian and radical movements of supporting communal marriage, though not always clear what this might mean in practice.
    I was reading this article about the Sassanid Emperor Kavad, and how he might have tried to introduce commonality of wives to undermine the power of the aristocracy, and how the more generally egalitarian Mazdak movement might have tied into this.
    The other example I found was that of the Anabaptists involved in the Munster rebellion (though not really clear if this was just an accusation) and the related Batenburger movement.

    The Batenburgers also shared the views of the radical Münsterites on polygamy and property; all women, and all goods, were held in common. A few Batenburger marriages did occur, and Van Batenburg himself retained the right to present a deserving member of his sect with a ‘wife’ from the group’s general stock of women. But such unions could be ended just as readily, and on occasion the prophet did order an unwilling wife to return to servicing the remainder of the Batenburger men.

    If conspicuous consumption, status, are largely ways of improving sexual opportunity, wouldn’t you expect radical egalitarian movements to make more of this practice?
    (As far as I can tell Marx’s position on ‘holding wives in common’ was a fairly characteristic – “bourgeoisie bad, this problem can’t exist under communism, the end.” )

    • skef says:

      I think it’s fair to say that contemporary polyamory is most common among those of an egalitarian outlook, if that’s roughly what you mean.

      If you mean something more specifically like what has been described as “holding women in common” in the past, and is pretty much written in to that choice of terminology, no, it doesn’t seem particularly compatible with “radical egalitarianism”.

      • Mark says:

        it doesn’t seem particularly compatible with “radical egalitarianism”

        I’m not sure – there is always going to be a conflict between equality and choice, at least until we reach the promised land.

        • skef says:

          Could you clarify?

          • Mark says:

            I took your comment to mean that something like the Battenburger practice of “order[ing] an unwilling wife to return to servicing the remainder of the Batenburger men” was incompatible with egalitarianism because it treats women as property rather than humans with the capacity to make their own decisions.

            But, I think you can have a version of egalitarianism where this isn’t really a problem – the kind of egalitarianism where the same basic social rules apply to everyone and we aim for an equality of consumption (in this case, maybe we choose daily sexual partners by lot or something). Social rules and enforcement still exist in egalitarian systems, until you reach the ‘promised land’ where the need for these (or their possibility) simply disappears (communism, heaven, the singularity).

            As to whether there has to be a conflict between equality and choice – perhaps only to the extent that there must be a conflict between living in society and choice.

          • skef says:

            So “a version of egalitarrianism where [treating women as property rather than humans with the capacity to make their own decisions] isn’t really a problem”? Am I getting the anaphora right?

            You could have that, but I don’t think it would be considered “radical” by contemporary standards. More like “retrograde”.

            But that doesn’t sound like what you then describe. If you’re thinking of a system in which there are rules but they’re really the same, so that the men have no more or less power or choice than the women, that would be different. But it’s not clear that anyone would describe such a system as “holding [x] in common”, and certainly not “holding women in common”.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Just because everyone is “equal” under the rules of the game doesn’t mean that the system is egalitarian. If people don’t want to play the game at all, and have no say in the matter, it seems wrong to describe it as egalitarian.

          • Tekhno says:

            If people don’t want to play the game at all, and have no say in the matter, it seems wrong to describe it as egalitarian.

            No, that can still be egalitarian. It’s just involuntary.

          • Mark says:

            Yeah – I see what you’re saying – the psychic costs associated with any given egalitarian system might differ from person to person rendering it inegalitarian – but I think I’d rather just say that that is a drawback of vulgar egalitarianism, rather than say that such a system isn’t egalitarian.

      • DavidS says:

        I think this has to be seen through a religious lens. The heretical movements were sometime egalitarian (absolutely or for the time) and this is reported of many of them. But not clear that this is about a general egalitarian policy but rather:
        – Given the position of the Church, you had to be pretty anti-authoritarian to do this (and if you were working on a ‘reverse the church’s view’, it’s something that might come up
        – You might get here through trying to apply the ‘all things in common’ principle of the apostles

        Also, it’s unclear how much this is true and how much it’s just one of those tropes the Church applied to lots of heretics on general principles

        I agree with what I think is the spirit of skef’s comment, in that the entire description above is an incredibly unpleasant and creepy treating of women as goods which makes me think that medieval Catholicism sound charming by comparison.

    • qwints says:

      Same problem as the free love movement, only even more stark – it robs women of agency.

    • Deiseach says:

      We really have no idea what “holding wives in common” was about, because most accounts we get are from the eventual victors. It may be more the idea of Free Love and the campaign to permit sexual intercourse outside of marriage and to broaden the definition and acceptance of relationships outside of marriage which has been around since at least the 18th century (as a formal philosophy/movement, rather than the natural human ‘we’re horny, let’s fuck, don’t worry right now about whether we’re in a socially-sanctioned relationship or not’ instinct which has been around for forever).

      It may be indeed treating women as a sexual resource to be allocated to men, and so a way of rewarding the loyal and attracting new recruits – the leader gives his favoured ones permission and indeed the pick of the sexual bounty. This was a recruitment tactic used in the 70s by the Children of God/The Family sect. It may be some notion of “in heaven there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage” so our new sect is the perfected doctrine of the saints and we are all the elect and we don’t need to engage in this dead ceremony.

      We don’t really have an idea what various sects were doing, e.g. the Cathars rejected marriage as perpetuating the cycle of re-incarnation via childbirth and so entrapping souls in the material world. Many heretical sects were at least accused of sexual perversion (“bugger” and “buggery” comes a long way down to us via the Bogomils) and promiscuity; overthrowing all the social mores of the day meant rejections of institutions like marriage which were seen as much as part of the church power structure as secular society, so in a rule which rejects or de-emphasises marriage, and human nature not changing that much, the natural conclusion of your enemies is that you’re still having sex but now you’re not bothering to be bound by the normal social rules so not alone sex outside of marriage but women being the common property of the men, etc.

    • The one real world example of a large group marriage I’m familiar with is the Oneida commune in the 19th century. Modern polyamory seems to involve very small and selective groups, which isn’t the same thing at all, more a mild expansion of conventional monogamy. The same is true of polygamy and polyandry.

  21. Deiseach says:

    The election goodies just keep on coming. Hillary wuz robbed, or at least hacked by the Russians, say the CIA? Are we going to see the people scolding the FBI for interfering in election campaigns criticising the CIA for this? (Just asking).

    If true, what does it mean? And what would it mean had Hillary been elected, if the Russians dislike and distrust her this much? What would foreign policy and “oh noes she has the nuclear codes” concerns be, if it were President Hillary vs Putin in Syria and elsewhere?

    As an aside, does anyone know what Russian-Chinese relations are like? I have a vague idea the Russians might be concerned about/with China, given that they have a border in common and are not separated by an ocean like the USA and China – would they prefer Trump because they think he’s more friendly to them and likely to stand up to China (e.g. the Taiwan phone call) so that maybe he’s less likely to get into a shooting match somewhere because of that? i.e. the Russians are less likely to try and back Trump into a corner because they feel he’s on ‘their’ side, whereas with Hillary it would be ‘damn the bitch, let’s see her get out of this one’.

    Secondly, the election result also seems to have overturned conventional wisdom all over the place. I remember the pieces about how Trump could never mount and/or support a campaign because he simply hadn’t got the do-re-mi; he wasn’t as rich as he boasted, modern American elections, particularly for president, are very expensive because you’re running over the better part of two years and you need to keep pumping money into ads, marketing, and targeted spending, and Hillary had all the big rich corporate and private donors sewn-up.

    If this story is accurate, Trump came in on time and under budget here:

    Hillary Clinton and her supporters spent a record $1.2 billion for her losing presidential campaign — twice as much as the winner, Donald Trump, according to the latest records.

    The president-elect, who confounded critics during the campaign by saying there was no need to raise or spend $1 billion or more, ended up making do with $600 million.

    Clinton’s expensive machine tore through $131.8 million in just the final weeks, finishing with about $839,000 on hand as of Nov. 28.

    Team Trump spent $94.5 million in the home stretch — from Oct. 20 to Nov. 28 — and had $7.6 million left.

    The figures include all spending by the campaigns, PACs and party committees.

    At this stage of 2016 with everything that’s gone down, I’m about reduced to “what-the what-the what” 🙂

    • Matt M says:

      When it comes to the Russia thing, I think there are several questions that every individual should ask themselves…

      1 – Is it reasonable/appropriate for foreign nations to have a preference in U.S. elections?

      2 – Is the preference of any particular foreign nation (whether ally or adversary) a relevant factor for Americans to consider when selecting their preferred candidate?

      3 – If you had to make a list of foreign countries, in order of “we should oppose what they want” to “we should do whatever they want”, where would Russia fall on this list?

      4 – For the rest of the countries on said list, which candidate do they all prefer? (going through the whole list would be a big ask, but maybe just ask it of the top and bottom 10)

      5 – Is it appropriate for a country to communicate and/or signal boost their preferences about the results of elections in other countries?

      6 – Is it appropriate for a country to use its intelligence service to gather information that might influence a foreign election and to selectively utilize it to help achieve a desired outcome?

      7 – What countries do we think have engaged in this type of behavior historically?

      • It’s worth considering, in the context of your questions, Obama’s attempt to influence the Brexit vote.

      • The Nybbler says:

        1: Of course. The foreign policies of the candidates are directly relevant to the foreign nations.

        2: For a relatively weak country, the preference of a foreign nation might be a very relevant factor. For a strong country like the US, it should at best be a minor factor.

        3: Russia definitely falls on the “we should oppose” side. It might even be #2 on that list (reserving #1 for North Korea), but nearly all countries are neutral in this regard. That doesn’t mean we should always oppose them, just that anything they do, we should have a prior of “this will harm us”.

        4: I have no idea.

        5: Sure, even foreigners get opinions if not votes.

        6: It’s dirty tricks, but well within norms. In an ideal world no country would engage in this, in this world playing by a “higher standard” means those without them win.

        7: The United States, the Soviet Union, Russia, China, Cuba, England, France, Germany…. basically any country that had both the ability and the interest in doing so.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Ever since Trump won, the Russians have backed off their claims that they had nothing to do with it and have been intimating they were in contact with Trump the entire time, e.g.

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/moscow-had-contacts-with-trump-team-during-campaign-russian-diplomat-says/2016/11/10/28fb82fa-a73d-11e6-9bd6-184ab22d218e_story.html?utm_term=.cbc4eda1519f

      Why would the Russians “admit” this? Seems to me the best reason would be to try to undermine a Trump administration. Same goes for “individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided thousands of hacked emails […] to WikiLeaks.”

      By all accounts Podesta’s email was very badly secured. A badly-secured high value target is going to be hacked by _everyone_.

      • Deiseach says:

        By all accounts Podesta’s email was very badly secured. A badly-secured high value target is going to be hacked by _everyone_.

        Which is part of what concerned me over Hillary’s private email server. Maybe it was better secured than her campaign manager’s and his staff and everyone dealing with them email, or maybe it was on the same level. Doesn’t really lay to rest concerns when at the same time your guys are saying “Everything was completely safe and protected” and “We were hacked and manipulated!”

        Though my main thing with Podesta etc is not so much that they were hacked (that’s not great, but we’re living in a tabloid culture world where hacking celebs’ phones and long-lens stalking by paparazzi is all acceptable to get inside scoops, not to mention pushing ‘is Susie Starlet pregnant by donor insemination with new lesbian lover while on the rebound from her love-rat boyfriend?’ as far as your lawyers will let you get away with ‘it’s not libelous yet‘) but that they’re flapping about “the things they’re claiming are all made up!”

        Mmmm – yeah, maybe. It’d certainly be a great way to get disinformation and good old-fashioned mud-slinging out there into the public view, but that means you have to claim everything leaked was made-up (because otherwise you’re saying “okay, John Moneybags who donated big to our campaign then asking me to use my influence to get his kid into a cushy job with a big company that I have pull with and he doesn’t is true, but the other email is fake”, and people are not going to be too impressed because then they’ll think you’re lying and it’s all true) and since it can be shown that not everything leaked was made-up, this just means people are even more willing to believe the bad stuff.

        All that out of the way, the Russians are not admitting anything about hacking, all they said was that they had contact with Trump’s campaign and tried to have contact with Hillary’s but they brushed them off. Hillary’s campaign’s response (one word – false) doesn’t convince me one way or the other, because this could be weasel-words: do they mean “no the Russians never contacted us, that’s a lie” or “no we never answered the Russians”?

        Professor Friedman has reminded us about Obama using his state visit to Britain to slip in a few words about the referendum, and I think there has been some contact between British parties/advisors and American parties/advisors about running campaigns before elections before, so it may indeed be common – or at least not unprecedented – for the Russians (especially in view of the Ukraine, Syria and so forth) to try and get chummy with the candidates just in case.

    • shakeddown says:

      General hint: Once you intentionally misspell a word to mock people, it becomes impossible to take you seriously.

    • John Schilling says:

      So, the FSB(*) illegally spied on the DNC, Podesta, et al, and leaked the resulting information to the American voters by way of Wikileaks. The obvious result of this is that Trump may have picked up a few more votes than he otherwise would have on November 8th, but whether it swung the election or not it damages the legitimacy of whoever winds up in the White House.

      We know this because the CIA spied on the FSB or whomever, and illegally leaked the resulting information to the American voters by way of the Washington Post. The obvious result of this is that Trump may lose a few of the votes that would otherwise be cast in his favor on December 19th, but whether it swings the election or not it damages the legitimacy of whoever winds up in the White House. Thanks, guys.

      Spies gonna spy, and don’t count on any of them having the slightest respect for democratic principles, rule of law, or national sovereignty. You might be able to convince your own spies to refrain from meddling in your country’s elections, but that leaves about two hundred other groups of spies who have their own interests in the matter. If you don’t want spies meddling in your elections, it’s on you to hold spy-resistant elections.

      Among other things, that means selecting spy-resistant candidates backed by spy-resistant parties. Ones with the discipline to stick to secured email servers, and make their followers leave the smartphones at the door before they talk about the 47% or the baskets of deplorables. No matter how much you think Candidate X would make a fine standard-bearer for your values and how many people share those values, if the X you nominate can’t practice basic infosec your values aren’t going to be represented.

      But this does leave me with a question or two: Is Julian Assange still a certified Hero of the Left, and do we still believe that the Swedish government is part of a nefarious conspiracy to have him renditioned and executed by the United States?

      * Or possibly the GRU; details are understandably fuzzy

  22. meh says:

    I’ve been reading the Scott Adams blog lately because, ya know, and have some questions for this community.

    His basic premise that people don’t care about facts and just need to be persuaded makes sense, and he generally has some interesting things to say about it, but then there are many things that don’t make sense.

    1. He constantly is showing examples of Clinton supporters being dissonant, and how what they think is entirely contrary to the facts of the policies of Trump. But this seems to counter his thesis that Trump is a master persuader. Wouldn’t the followers of the master persuader be more dissonant, having been taken in under the spell of the persuader? And if the facts of Trumps policies are so outstanding, then wouldn’t that have caused him to win, and not being a master persuader?

    2. There is also a bit of what I am calling ‘dissonance entrapment’. Trump spends a year campaigning on policy X, and then 5 minutes ago changes to policy Y. Adams then goes on about how people are being dissonant to believe Trump supports policy X, when he plain as day said he supports Y.

    3. I may be taking this too seriously. Given his premise that facts don’t matter, should I just be assuming that this holds for his blog as well? He is just writing to persuade so intentionally is ignoring contradictions such as the above? And if so doesn’t that give him a pretty big blanket to hide behind?

    SSC communities thoughts?

    Thanks!

    • Aapje says:

      1. A master persuader might want to troll the most extreme elements of the opposition. Playing the victim of an extremely unreasonable group can give you a lot of sympathy votes. Picking a fight with obnoxious people thus seems like a good strategy.

      2. It makes most sense to assume that Adams is the one who was ‘persuaded’ here. As for Trump’s ‘chaos’ strategy: a good political strategy is to allow people to project their concerns on you, without being too much of a blank slate that people think you don’t care. This is a hard problem, since these two goals conflict. I’m not sure if chaos strategy is optimal to do this, but it might work well for a decent percentage of the voter public.

      3. He is clearly using persuader tactics on his blog (he admits to this in some posts). He also seems to have overestimated his persuasion ability (resulting in severe threats & real life problems with his business), which caused rather erratic behavior.

      • meh says:

        What happened to his business?

        • Aapje says:

          Scott Adams:

          I estimate my opportunity cost from speaking events alone to be around $1 million. That’s based on how the rate of offers went from several per month (for decades) to zero this year. Blogging about Trump is expensive.

    • onyomi says:

      Wouldn’t the followers of the master persuader be more dissonant, having been taken in under the spell of the persuader? And if the facts of Trumps policies are so outstanding, then wouldn’t that have caused him to win, and not being a master persuader?

      I think he’d probably say that there is no “not under a spell” option. It’s not that people normally make decisions based on facts, but a “master persuader” can come along and influence them to do otherwise; rather, people make decisions based on emotion most of the time (except in cases where there is no emotional investment in any particular outcome or answer to a question) and a “master persuader” is someone who is effective at taking advantage of that fact by guiding and shaping peoples’ “inner movies” in such a way as to further his own goals.

      Though Adams seems to suggest here and there the even more radical claim that there is no such thing as objective reality and we’re all living in a computer simulation, which I don’t believe, I do support a weaker version of the claim which I think he’d still endorse: namely, that what is possible and what people believe is possible, are mutually constitutive. It’s especially obvious in a case like an election: if someone can convince lots of people he has a chance at winning when previously no one thought he did, that can translate into him actually winning. But it also happens in areas like: once one person does a triple axle or breaks a 10 sec. hundred meter dash, suddenly a whole lot of people do it.

      While I do believe there is an objective world “out there,” I also believe that we can’t directly access it and are living in “movies” created by our brains–simulations roughly based on objective reality, but optimized first and foremost for survival and reproduction. Also, given how important the stories we tell ourselves, our own actions, and the stories and actions of others are to how our lives really play out, influencing how people interpret or “spin” the sensory input from the physical world is a very powerful tool for influencing how objective reality will unfold.

      For example, if you see Jeb Bush debating on the TV screen, which is the “correct” interpretation of his actions? Is he a cool, steady, calm, thoughtful leader, or is he a “low energy,” uninspiring person not likely to accomplish much? Barring the ability to run a computer simulation of a hypothetical Jeb Bush presidency, there’s no “correct” answer we can get at. These are both plausible interpretations of the same exact sense data. By suggesting the “low energy” interpretation over the “thoughtful leader” interpretation, Trump shaped peoples’ “movies” in a way which was advantageous to him, and which actually helped create the objective reality he wanted. It’s not that he brought people further from or closer to the truth; rather, he influenced people to select the one interpretation, of many likely equally valid interpretations* of the sense data, which was most helpful to him, and, in so doing, created something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

      *Edit to add: focus is, I think, very very important here, and in general: the reality is probably that Jeb Bush is both calm and thoughtful and a little boring and uninspiring. But your brain is constantly looking for shortcuts–to pigeonhole options one way or another. By drawing your focus to the particular, actual traits of Jeb Bush’s which it was advantageous to Trump for you to notice, Trump shaped peoples’ movies, and with them, what was possible in reality.

      • meh says:

        I would think evidence of a master persuader would be all of the followers realities he has altered. But he only seems to show evidence of this happening to the other side?

        • onyomi says:

          He does talk about how he believes Team Hillary had persuasion experts like, perhaps Robert Cialdini, come on board at some point during the campaign. Adams seems to think they were quite successful, through use of terms like “dark,” at persuading many people to see Trump as a racist, sexist monster.

          But he does talk about how Trump influences his own side: how he got Republicans to see Jeb as “low energy” instead of calm and mature. How he “paced and lead” the GOP base to change their internal narratives about e. g. LGBTQ issues.

          I agree he seems biased, or even to contradict himself, in the sense that he frequently talks about “un-hypnotizing” Clinton supporters, whereas he seems to imply that to support Trump is to get closer to the truth, but this is also clearly his own opinion or “story,” and he could just as well say that he just thinks the “Trump is a great leader who will drain the swamp, etc.” is a more useful illusion or story for people to tell themselves than “Trump is the next Hitler.” Adams does like to be coy, and talk about things as if there were an objective reality and then deny it the next minute, and maybe that’s part of him trying to be persuasive; I’m not sure.

          To steelman his position, one might say that team Clinton had the MSM, academia, the political establishment, etc. all on her side, as well as maybe some persuasion experts, all working to create an illusory (not grounded in reality) narrative in peoples’ heads wherein Trump was the next Hitler. Trump, because he’s so good at persuading, was almost singlehandedly able to counteract all that and offer people an alternative, closer-to-reality vision/narrative in which he was a reasonable choice for POTUS.*

          I’m not sure that’s what happened in reality, but it’s one way Adams might explain it, I imagine.

          *Edit to add: consider: a few years ago, what did everybody think about Donald Trump? In the minds of most Americans, Republican and Democrat, I believe, he was basically just a bombastic real estate tycoon guy with crazy hair and a reality tv show. Most people couldn’t imagine him as POTUS, but neither did they think he was an evil white supremacist. By running for POTUS, Trump gradually persuaded a fair number of people to accept an updated idea of himself in which he was not just a goofy real estate tv guy, but a possible leader of the free world; at the same time, and largely in response to Trump’s efforts, many others offered a version of reality in which Trump was not just some innocuous real estate tycoon/reality tv star, but a sinister, sexist exploiter carrying water for the KKK.

          In reality, Trump is pretty much the same guy he was a few years ago, but now people have these very different and starkly incompatible views of him. Time will tell which movie proves closer to the reality, though my best guess is that the actual, real life Trump presidency will most nearly approximate what you’d expect of being governed by a bombastic real estate tycoon with crazy hair, which is why I’ve previously said that, to me, it often feels like political campaigns act as “anti-information” (everyone ends up with a less accurate model of reality by the end of them than when they started).

  23. Deiseach says:

    I may need a good slap round the head for this one, so if that’s your opinion of what I need, go right ahead.

    Okay – saw some “Pantheon Aesthetics” post for the Egyptian pantheon, and aside from the fact that I went “mmm – not quite sure that particular deity is as closely fit with that attribute/is limited to that area”, which is really only a minor quibble, today for some reason it just irritated me that “yeah, but the face claims you’re using are all sub-Saharan African which is not what Egyptian gods would be, even if you wanted to base them on ‘Egypt is African nation so use native/appropriate ethnic persons as representation’.

    Am I being over-precious here? I want to hasten to clarify that I don’t particularly care that they’re using Black African source photos qua the persons portrayed, it’s just that:

    (a) I know if I made that comment on that particular site it would raise a complete shit-storm and accusations of racism

    (b) I probably am being over-literal but y’know that’s what the whole possible mental problems thing is, and this may simply be my brain deciding it is fed-up and is going to take offence at everything this weekend because it’s tired, the depression is gearing up, my hormonal balance is shifting, and it wants to be pissy so to hell with the world

    (c) I’m probably also reacting to the finger-wagging I’ve seen a bit too much of re: “white-washing” characters and not casting properly appropriately ethnic characters when the person making the accusation (and it is an accusation) plainly has insufficient knowledge themselves (e.g. objecting to “all white actors cast in movie set in Egypt” – fair enough; criticising casting of Rami Malek in something as ‘he’s white’ – um, ethnically Egyptian*?; long post dragging someone over ‘lightening’ the skin colour of Moana in their fanart when it was fairly clear the artist was not ‘whitewashing’ but was using a bleached palette for all their colouring as could be seen by looking at the clothing and comparing it with the source stills; etc.)

    So yeah – do I need a kick in the pants and to be told I’m being over-sensitive here? Or do I have a point that correcting factually wrong information is not racism, imperalism, colonisation, imposition of prescriptive language, privileging academic scientific Western ways of knowing and down-grading other ways of knowing, etc?

    *Technically, I agree! He’s white! (But not “White”). He’s of North African extraction, which is Caucasian! Which is my point about using sub-Saharan African photos for Egyptian character representation!

    • Tibor says:

      I don’t like the “putting white actors into non-white roles is racism!” spin, but at the same time I find it annoying. If there is a historical or pseudo-historical film with say Asian characters, I want them to be played by Asian-looking actors (I emphasize the “looking”, if they can make a European actor look convincingly East Asian then it’s fine by me…Ben Kingsley in the Physician actually looked convincingly Persian to me…then again, Persians look more European than Arabs and the real Avicenna looked sort of like Ben Kingsley). Also, Romans should not look like Englishmen, Alexander should definitely not be blond, Attila ought to be ugly (although who knows, the Romans and almost everyone else in Europe at the time obviously held a grudge against him, so they were unlikely to portray him as particularly handsome) and so on.

      I think the problem with native Egyptians is that it is hard to find anyone today who looks like them. Arabs don’t look like ancient Egyptians, neither do Europeans or Sub-Saharan Africans. Egyptians were not black, so Arabs and southern Europeans might be a better choice for representation.

      I think the general problem is that while some things used to be a matter of a private opinion (whether you fancy historical accuracy and detest a blond Alexander…not to mention the rest of that horrible film), they’ve been turned into a political statement. My reaction to this kind of manipulation is annoyance towards the people who try to enforce that narrative and what’s more, ironically I sometimes become irritated by things that are likely innocent – but it can be interpreted as some kind of a hidden “PC” or “SJW” agenda. I know that it is often irrational and I try to limit those reactions. So I might find what you describe more irritating not because I’d think a black Amun-Ra is worse than a blonde Alexander, but because my brain switches to “someone is trying to force me his political agenda and all the identity politics bullshit”, ironically making me think exactly in this framework, something that would never happen without people actually emphasizing the identity politics in the first place. It actually fits the old Scott’s post “Social science is a flamethrower” where he cites some studies which mention this exact effect. I think this might also be a reason for why some people here, according to other people here, pay too much attention to the SJW bullshit, giving it perhaps too much importance. If their buttons are pushed kind of like mine then it is kind of natural. Jonathan Haidt’s findings about libertarians’ high reactance scores seem to hit the nail on the head at least in my case. I’ve always been bad with people who told me what to do and when someone tells me what to think or say then my gut reaction is to do or say the exact opposite just to show them that they are not my masters and cannot force me like that. I suppose some people might see that as childish and if not tempered by some more intellectual evaluation (“are these people just condescending or also unreasonable?”…or something like that) it can be, but that’s just how my lizard brain works. Of course, you are not a libertarian, if anything you are something like a conservative social democrat (if I understand things well), but perhaps you share this particular characteristic also.

      This might also explain why libertarians are often seen as favouring the conservatives (an evergreen objection from the left-wing commenters here). For some reason, the conservatives simply tend to be less condescending than the left. They can be insulting, boorish and lacking taste alright, but those all target the disgust reactions. As Haidt points out, libertarians are really hard to be disgusted by pretty much anything. But condescension provokes not disgust but reactance (I don’t know if this term is standard in sociology, I’m using it roughly the way Haidt is) and libertarians seem to be sensitive there. Hence they are “triggered” more by the left than the right.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Aelian reports that Alexander the Great’s hair was, in face, blond.

      • Tekhno says:

        Yeah, I vaguely remember Greek writing talking of fair hair and so on. Is it possible that the Greeks got turned more arab looking later (didn’t Greece have strong interaction with the population of Turkey), or maybe it’s just that people underestimate how many Mediterraneans have fair hair.

        • Tibor says:

          Well, several ancient Romans had the nickname Ahenobarbus – red-beard, but it was always mentioned as a curiosity and they would sometimes get mocked a bit for not being real Romans (by their political opponents) since they must have had some Gaul ancestors. The kind of blond hair that you see in northern Europe was also unheard of in Rome until their encounters with the Germanic tribes. Pale blond Germanic women were sought after (kind of like when a natural pale blond woman visits central or southern Italy today) and Roman women started using stuff to bleach their hair (I forgot what they used exactly, but you can bleach hair even without peroxide). All of that indicates that blond or red hair was very rare in at least republican Rome. Of course, increased interaction with northern Europeans meant that this grew more common over time, although since the only invasions to continental Italy (save for those organized by the Eastern Rome) came from the north and since modern Italians are hardly known to be blond, I’d say the Romans looked kind of like they do today, definitely not more Anglo-Saxon.

          As for the Greeks, the Turkic invasions probably changed the way they looked quite a bit. Today’s Greeks look almost the same as today’s Turks* (at least those from Istanbul and western Anatolia) and that was probably not true even 1000 years ago (but the western Turks also probably look more Greek than they used to). Before Alexander’s conquests they were also not in such a close contact with the Persians (although at least many of the modern Persians look often pretty much the same as southern Europeans), so they were again probably a bit lighter-skinned than today’s Greeks. But they had no contact with the Gauls or the Germans either (I have no idea what the Scythians looked like though). So I would be very surprised if Alexander were as blond as in the film. The thing is the southern Europeans or Latin Americans recognize much darker hair colours still as blond. I am routinely told by people from those countries that I am blond, even though my hair colour is rather light brown with a touch of ginger (they also think I have blue eyes even though they are green). If ancient Roman historians were anything like them then Alexander might have been kind of light brown haired and still considered blond.

          *Btw, Turks are not Arabs, their language is Turkic, which is a completely different group of languages than Arabic (which is a semitic language) and it is actually closer to Mongolian and Japanese (although it is only a very distant relative) than to Arabic or Hebrew. All the “-stans” at the Caspian sea also speak Turkic languages. The original Turkic religion was Tengriism, a belief in the Sky God (in fact, the Mongolians still have something like that), although most of the Turkic tribes converted either to Islam or to Eastern Orthodoxy since.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Ahenobarbus probably started out as a nickname, although later it became a regular surname. (Much like our surnames, in fact.) (Fun fact: ancient Italy was one of the only places in the ancient world where people had surnames.) Rufus (“red”) and Flavius (from flavus, “yellow, blond, yellowish-red”) also relate to hair colour. All in all, I think the evidence suggests that blond(-ish) hair was known in ancient Rome, even if it wasn’t particularly common.

            (Plus, come to think of it, the ancestors of the Latins — and the Greeks, for that matter — had migrated into Italy from the north, so it wouldn’t be surprising if they’d brought some blond-haired genes with them.)

          • Tibor says:

            @The original Mr. X: That’s hard to say. It would make sense, given that the only land route to Italy is through the north. But there were these sea peoples in the ancient history we know very little about and they could have also populated Italy. Also, who says that prehistoric central Europeans looked the way modern ones do? There have been several waves of invasions since, after all the Indo-European languages are from a certain perspective not native to Europe (unlike Basque for example).

            Given the Roman sources which write about bleaching hair etc., I’d guess that while some Italians were a bit blond back then, some also red-haired, it was fairly uncommon. Also, one thing is the hair colour and another is the general looks. Most films have Anglo-Saxon actors depict the Romans. They might have looked a bit different than modern Italians but they probably looked more like them than modern Englishmen. But yeah, this is nitpicking, and what’s worse, nitpicking based on very little knowledge.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            That’s hard to say. It would make sense, given that the only land route to Italy is through the north. But there were these sea peoples in the ancient history we know very little about and they could have also populated Italy.

            Well, the Italic languages are generally considered to be quite closely related to Celtic, and the simplest explanation for that would be that the two peoples were originally either one people or in close enough proximity for their languages to affect each other; and the most likely place for *that* to happen would be somewhere in central or northern Europe.

          • Mary says:

            They also sheared German and Gaulish slaves like so many sheep, to get blond hair for wigs.

          • Salem says:

            The Scythians were frequently described as red-headed in Greek sources.

        • Stefan Drinic says:

          Whyever for does it matter what the Greeks looked like when we’re discussing Alexander? The man was Illyrian and Macedonian by birth. Given that both these peoples lived further to the north than the Greeks then did, I will argue that Alexander having had fair hair is very possible.

        • Deiseach says:

          Hard to know – Alexander (and his father Philip) were Macedonians and there was a perception that these were Not Real Greeks, so a blond(ish) Alexander might just be re-inforcing Them Damn Furriners Tryna Take Over Our Polis at work there 🙂

          Or it could be a sign of godly favour (the PR story that he was the offspring of Jupiter-Ammon).

          Or the Thracians, said to be red-haired and have blue eyes, and identified with the worship of Ares (said to have been born there); fair hair might be associating Alexander with Ares in the field of martial success.

          But I definitely think the blond Alexander in the movie was a bad move – Colin Farrell has black hair and brown eyes, so bleaching his hair just looked wrong. I wish they’d either cast blue-eyed blond/es if that’s the look they want, or stick with “this actor is dark-haired, let the character be dark-haired too”. They did it with Orlando Bloom as Legolas, but at least there the blond wig (whatever about the very visible blue contacts) wasn’t as distracting.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        At the risk of being a terrible pedant, Krishna ‘Ben Kingsley’ Bhanji is of partially Indian descent, so it wouldn’t be surprising that he can convincingly play someone from a land poised between India and Europe.

      • Deiseach says:

        Thinking a bit more about it, it’s not so much a “black Amun-Ra” that is irritating me, it’s this kind of lumping of all the nations and regions in the continent of Africa into one melting-pot (if I can use the term) – “Egypt is African, these are African people, there you go!”

        That’s fine for building up your sense of being a good ally and being woke (if you’re white) or for boosting a sense of representation and ‘seeing people like us’ if you’re African-American but it’s nothing really to do with accurate history, which I think is at the root of my irritation – it’s a more subtle version of the Black Athena notion and the exaggerations perpetrated by those who took the idea and ran with it to ludicrous lengths (I think I mentioned on here seeing a post about how Europeans didn’t have soap – amongst other things – which was an African invention, until they enslaved Africans?)

        There’s no idea that “Africa” is not one huge country (unlike the United States) but a range of countries (like Europe) and that it contains different ethnicities – not just tribes but separate ethnic groups.

        Eh, it’s over-sensitivity on my part and who really cares if they show Egyptian gods as black Africans, but it’s just hitting my “this is bad history” button particularly hard 🙂

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @Deiseach:
          How likely is it that you would have been so triggered by this movie?

          If you find yourself less triggered, you might think about why.

          • Deiseach says:

            I haven’t seen that movie, but I think that’s the one that garnered a lot of complaint, and to be fair, I’d probably be annoyed about “That’s a pharoah being played by a Northern European”. I can definitely live with Thoth being played by Chadwick Boseman (Thoth is one of my favourite gods).

            But I’d be even more annoyed about “No, hang on, that’s not accurate about Set!” Most of my bitching would be about the mythology, to be frank 🙂 Though to be fair, it’s intentionally about as historically and culturally accurate as Douglas Fairbanks in The Thief of Baghdad movie, and I have no objection to colourfull spectacle (as long as it’s not too idiotic when it comes to plot/dialogue).

            And I can’t say I’m triggered, just testy and irritated.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            You are always testy and irritated.

            But only about certain things and certain people.

            I’m guessing you don’t give a fig for historical accuracy if it’s the “right” movie. How did you feel about Cleopatra (with Elizabeth Taylor)? Or Ben Hur? Or any number of sword and sandal movies?

            My sense is that you are going out of your way to find people who irritate you, maybe because anger makes you feel good, and then selectively criticizing them for things you think are objective.

            You seem to be fooling yourself into thinking that this actually objective criticism, when it is likely to be outgroup antipathy.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always thought that Middle Eastern people look more similar to dark-haired Europeans than they do to Sub-Saharan Africans. So, having Sub-Saharan Africans playing Middle Easterners would, to me, be more jarring than having dark-haired Europeans playing Middle Easterners, for this reason.

            How did you feel about Cleopatra (with Elizabeth Taylor)?

            Cleopatra was of Greek/Macedonian descent, i.e., white, so I’m not sure why having a white actress playing her should be upsetting?

          • “Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always thought that Middle Eastern people look more similar to dark-haired Europeans than they do to Sub-Saharan Africans. ”

            In the historical context it’s a little tricky.

            Medieval Islamic societies in the Middle East imported slaves from sub-saharan Africa, some of whom became the concubines of important men. The result was the production of some mulatto aristocrats. A famous example is Ibriham ibn al Mahdi, son, brother, and uncle of caliphs and briefly an unsuccessful pretender to the caliphate. Also a notable musician and gourmet.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      For my part, it’s a balancing act. I’d rather have actors that match the physical descriptions of their characters AND be skilled performers. But I think it’s reasonable to fudge the physical match (especially when you can do a lot with costume, makeup, and/or CGI) for the sake of getting a sufficiently good performance. So I tend to agree with Tibor, but I’m willing to make exceptions.

      Honestly, it’s not usually hard to tell the difference between “this actor doesn’t quite fit the ethnic appearance of the character, but he’s SO GOOD for the role we had to go with him!” and “This actor doesn’t fit the appearance of the character, but he’s SO MUCH MORE MARKETABLE!”

      Five words: “Yer beautiful in yer wrath”

      My objection is to the assumption that any and all such cases are “obviously” due to insufficient identity political consciousness.

      • Deiseach says:

        Honestly, it’s not usually hard to tell the difference between “this actor doesn’t quite fit the ethnic appearance of the character, but he’s SO GOOD for the role we had to go with him!” and “This actor doesn’t fit the appearance of the character, but he’s SO MUCH MORE MARKETABLE!”

        I was sympathetic to the anger about the changes in the Doctor Strange movie (casting Tilda Swinson and down-playing any hints of Tibetan influence to avoid pissing off the Chinese who are a big movie market), but at the same time, the Doctor Strange comics are the same 70s source material which gets criticised for the attitudes of the time re: race and sex.

        So even if they’d cast an appropriately ethnic male actor as The Ancient One, they would have been open to criticism about racial stereotypes and exoticism and Orientalism – as I see by the movie Wikipedia page they indeed were sensitive about:

        A Master of the Mystic Arts, tasked with protecting some of Kamar-Taj’s most valuable relics and books. The character is depicted in the comics as Strange’s Asian, “tea-making manservant”, a racial stereotype that Derrickson did not want in the film, and so the character was not included in the film’s script. After the non-Asian actress Tilda Swinton was cast as the other significant Asian character from the Doctor Strange comics, the Ancient One—which was also done to avoid the comics’ racial stereotypes—Derrickson felt obligated to find a way to include Wong in the film. The character as he ultimately appears is “completely subverted as a character and reworked into something that didn’t fall into any of the stereotypes of the comics”, which Derrickson was pleased gave an Asian character “a strong presence in the movie”. Actor Wong was also pleased with the changes made to the character, and described him as “a drill sergeant to Kamar-Taj” rather than a manservant, who does not practice martial arts in the film, another racial stereotype. Derrickson added that Wong will have “a strong presence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe” moving forward.

        I do get that it is tricky – I love Doctor Strange, who was always a rather minor character in the Marvel verse, because I read (some of) those comics in the 70s, but it is also correct that 70s attitudes, even when they were trying to be sympathetic, do leave a lot to be desired. You do have to make changes and update things.

        But when fleeing the Scylla of outdated and mildly offensive stereotypes on the one hand, falling into the clutches of the Charybdis of being over-sensitive and making changes with an eye to averting criticism whether that criticism is warranted and bending over backwards to make silly changes is no better. Either keep The Ancient One as Tibetan and let the Chinese suck it up, or be explicit that you care about the bottom line and don’t pander to hyper-criticism by making minor changes to give the appearance of being sensitive and inclusive (when those changes don’t affect the money-making potential).

    • keranih says:

      I think that getting too (*) wound up over racial/SES/gender representation in art is counter productive – either in objection to novel innovation or in objection to lack of adherence to some perceived standard of accuacy (**) in depiction.

      Having said that, I do think that how one tells a story is an important part of telling a story. We can have the hero as the pov character, or we can tell the story via a spear carrier, and that was acknowledged, even in the bad old days, as an important distinction. This is as old as the history of telling stories – we have ‘competing versions’ being a staple of joke folklore from way back. And then they went and made it all fancy in The Trojan Women, back long before Christ was born.

      Which is relevant, you see, because the whole point of Christ is not so much a new Message from God, but that God is among us – walking and talking and pooping and appreciating a pretty lady and a hot meal like the rest of us – and so can put The Message in a form that makes sense to humans.

      Different people have differing abilities to emphatize with people who are not them. For some people, they don’t need much. For other people, it really makes a difference when an accent or a gender or a skin color lets the listener/reader say “Oh, hey, yeah, I get that! Yeah, man, that’s just how I would feel!”

      Thing is, this is not just for marginalized or minority groups in America, but for all peps, everywhere.

      So a maker of movies pitched to a Caucasian-centric audience would, of course try really hard to find actors and stories that would easily resonate with Wester Caucasian audiences, in order to make money. And it would be stooopid to ignore the “I can empathize with this person!”and fatal to ignore the money making factor.

      There are other issues, of course – the fetish for the exotic, which is something that all us humans have, too, and an appreciation for somewhat subtle cultural references, which allow sterotypes to be used with effect (because of common symbolism) and also a growing appreciation for scholarship – for depth in storytelling details that builds an accurate picture of that other world. Likewise, SFF is growing in its ability to tell accurate-ish stories of what space travel and other alien cultures might be like.

      I myself think it’s more important to understand that the intent of Romeo and Juliet was that young lovers are idiots than to have the kids talk with the regional accents of my youth, but that’s just me. Other people can and do enjoy the story better if the conflicts of old Italy are something they can relate to. Likewise, I love the heck out of Chi-Rac for bringing that story back to our future.

      tl;dr – if the skin color of the faces is the Most Important Part(***) of something (movie, art, etc) to someone, then that is not someone that I can talk with about that thing. Likewise if someone can’t see how what appeals to them is a turn off to other people. But I agree that Fiction Matters, and so does history, and that Accuracy In Pop Media Depictions is worth talking about.

      (*) by which I mean, “more than I would be”

      (**) pardon me whilst I fall flat on my ass laughing

      (***) Idris Elba should be in All The Things. As should Emily Blunt, James Spader, William Macy, Peter Dinkage, and Angelia Bassett.

      • hlynkacg says:

        well said

      • Deiseach says:

        Re: Idris Elba, I had literally three seconds of “But Heimdall is a figure of Norse mythology, he’s not black” wibbling about the casting, before my brain slapped me round the face and said “Feck that, it’s Idris Elba, he’ll be magnificent” 🙂

        I like Heimdall both in the myths and the comics, so I want him to get a good portrayal.

  24. onyomi says:

    With “T Rex” Tillerson as Secretary of State and “Mad Dog” Mattis at the Pentagon, I’m starting to think that Trump not only likes to give his opponents mean nicknames, he also prefers to hire people with cool-sounding nicknames. Therefore, I have a suggestion for Energy Secretary.

  25. Tibor says:

    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38275292 Santos seems to be the only recent Nobel Peace Prize laureate who actually deserves the thing (assuming it still has some value left). At least his rhetoric on the so called war on drugs also looks very hopeful. According to Wikipedia, his political party’s ideology seems to be something like “libertarianism light”, which is also nice (and fits into what he says about the war on drugs). Colombia seems to be on the right track to follow Chile as another successful Latin American country.

    • Tibor says:

      Speaking of Latin America, the history of Argentina is worth noting. It was relatively poor until the end of the 19th century when it adopted very liberal (libertarian in americanese) economic policies, opened its borders and experienced an unprecedented economic boom – the country was richer than Canada in the 1920s (and Canada was already among the top 10 richest countries in the world). Unfortunately what followed was a mix of military juntas and socialist populists such as Perón, who destabilized the country, indebted it severely (which is why I use the world populist – they threw money around they didn’t have) and over the next 70 years squandered all the wealth that the liberalization created. It kind of reminds me of Czechoslovakia – also one of the 10 richest countries in the 1920s, whose economy was devastated by (briefly) the nazis and then the communists. But Argentina is a more striking example, since it rose from being poor to being rich very quickly (whereas Bohemia had been the richest part of the Austrian Empire since pretty much the industrial revolution) and then fell even further down than Czechoslovakia did. Argentina illustrates (better than Singapore or Hong Kong IMO, since Argentina is not a city state) how powerful the free market can be as well as how easy it is to destroy the wealth by turning away from it (note that the Scandinavian welfare states combine the welfare and high taxes with either a fairly unregulated economy or oil revenues…and at least by some measures even this harms their current economic growth to a non-trivial degree)

      • hyperboloid says:

        Your history of Argentina is in many ways deeply misleading; in seeing politics as a conflict between classical Liberalism and Socialism You’re projecting the history of your own country onto a very different part of the world.

        The zenith of Argentine liberalism and prosperity happened under the leadership of the center left Unión Cívica Radical (Radical Civic Union) and president Hipólito Yrigoyen. Known as El padre de los pobres (the father of the poor) for his social reforms, Yrigoyen presided over an of alliance of Liberals, Socialists, and trade unionists who supported the radicalista platform of universal male suffrage, free trade, and and expanded social programs.

        Argintina’s relative economic decline dates to the “Década Infame” that began with the coup of September 6, 1930 that overthrew Yrigoyen’s government, and brought to power a reactionary right wing regime that shifted Argentina’s economy towards massive protectionism and industrialization through Import substitution. It was this shift to corporatism led by the right, not the left, that strangled the free market in Argintina. Perón, who was no Socialist, simply continued these policies with a more populist bent.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          @hyperboloid. Actually I don’t see anywhere in either of Tibor’s posts where he used the word “Left.” He talked about Argentina moving away from the free market, which is what you also said happened.

          I do have a bit of a problem with the Argentina narrative myself, however. I agree that the free market is better for economies in the long run, but
          I don’t think it has an effect so quickly. We’ve seen many countries move either in the direction of the free market or away, and it seems to have widely varying results, because of lots of other factors. Over the course of decades, then yes, I think it is pretty clear that even a slightly more free market approach will have better results. Was Argentina clearly free market oriented in the first three decades of the century, and then clearly corporatist for decades after that? Usually things aren’t that clear cut, and changes don’t happen so abruptly. But if so, then I could get behind Tibor’s Argentina narrative.

          There is one fact in particular that doesn’t seem to follow the free market narrative that I and other free marketers would expect. That is Russia. My understanding is that Russia was a relatively poor European country in 1917. Since 1990, they have also been a relatively poor European country, so little change in rank. I would have expected that those countries that were mostly free market during those years, such as the US and Western Europe, would have advanced dramatically more than Russia over that period of time. Yes, WWII intervened to mess with everyone’s growth, but that affected Russia as much as everyone else. I am certainly not arguing for the USSR as a good strategy to use, because even if shown to be not so bad economically it was a disaster for human rights. But maybe a totalitarian society can advance economically as fast as a free market economy.

          • Tibor says:

            AFAIK, Argentina had some 30 years of very pro-free market governments, followed by political instability and deteriorating towards a anti-free trade military junta with a mix of populist policies that indebted the country heavily. This has continued for some 70 years and in a sense has not quite ended yet (although I guess that it is better nowadays than even in the early 90s). I am not saying that Argentina became relatively poor at the flick of a switch when the governments changed. But over the course of 70 years of protectionist socialism (you can call it right wing in kind of the same sense in which Marine Le Pen is a right-winger, I don’t really object to or care about whether it gets the right or left wing label), all the wealth created in the 30 or so years before was squandered.

            The remarkable thing is the speed at which Argentina grew economically during the late 19th century and early 20th. I’m not saying that in 30 years you can make any country super rich by adopting economic liberalism, depending on the circumstances it might take a bit longer, but it is still a remarkable speed. While people might argue that HK or Singapore are city-states and therefore completely incomparable to the problem of making an economic success of a big country, Argentina shows that it is possible even with very big countries. It also shows how relatively easy it is to divert from that track. In fact, Donald Trump seems kind of like one step in the Argentinian direction, although the US has the benefit of a long era of stability and wealth and it is also probably much much harder to destabilize it than it was in Argentina back then.

          • Tibor says:

            Russia has a lot of natural resources and its economy is based pretty much entirely on those. I think countries like those should be considered separately (similarly the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Norway and probably a couple more I’m forgetting about). Another thing is that when you start with a very poor and undeveloped country, there are many things you can improve, whereas in the rich country most of the “easy” things with a high return have already been done. If you have a developed country and an undeveloped country which both have the identical political system, I would generally expect the growth rate in the less developed country to be higher.

            Natural resources can be quite a curse though, at least in a politically unstable country, since they provide the ruler with a source of income almost independent of the country’s development. Natural resources make dictatorships much easier.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Look at the size of Russia in terms of both its population and geographic scope. Look at its natural resources.

            The question is not “at the end of the 20th Century, how does Russia compare with Germany or France?”…The question is “at the end of the 20th Century, how does Russia compare with America or the Entire EU?”

            From that perspective, and looking at where -China- is after its own foray into communism, I think that the answer is obvious at this point, even if you restrict yourself to pure economic growth and discard questions of human development and quality of life.

            Even after making allowances for Russia getting hammered hard in WW2, I don’t think there’s any way you can look at China and the USSR and say that they advanced economically as fast as their European and American competitors.

        • Tibor says:

          Well, the thing is that 19th century liberals were the left-wing of the time. Free trade was a left-wing idea back then. Then there was a split between the socialists and the liberals. I might have a bit skewed notion of the right-wing, I consider national socialists as extreme left-wingers (I mean, they call themselves socialists after all…and both Hitler and Mussolini were against capitalism, Mussolini even started out as a communist), but ok, if I adopt your nomeclature then it was the free-market left against the socialist right-wingers. At least in modern terminology that sounds strange,although I do admit that it is perhaps historically more accurate. The important point is that the left of the past is not the left of today and same for the right (after all, most progressives of the late 19th century were just plain despicable people who were hardly distinguishable from the Nazis in their ideology…but it would be very low to use that against modern left-wingers).

          • skef says:

            The “socialist” in the Nazi party name was the result of a coalition with actual socialists early on, who were then purged (i.e. murdered) on the Night of the Long Knives.

          • hyperboloid says:

            We should first define what we mean by “left wing” and “right wing”.

            The terms themselves date to the French revolution and the convening of the estates general in 1789.

            When the national assembly first met and set about the task of writing a constitution they quickly fell into infighting and factionalism. For the simple reason of trying to make the tumultuous debates more orderly, the factions took up the habit of siting on opposite sides of the assembly hall. Those who supported the position of the king, the aristocracy, and privileges of the Catholic church sat on the right. Those who supported the interests of the king’s creditors (who were even then being called capitalists), the abolition of feudalism, and the creation of a constitutional monarchy (or more radically a republic), sat on the left.

            Oddly this tradition has lived on long after the specific issues debated in Versailles were forgotten; and ever
            since European political thought has traditionally been divided between left and right.

            Stranger still, though the terms are rarely explicitly defined, every one is expected to know left from right when they see them. Roughly speaking left wing ideas left wing ideas are thought to include such things as: Socialism, Communism, Pacifism, Feminism, Liberalism(in some forms), and racial equality. Right wing ideas are thought to include: Nationalism(in some forms), Fascism, Libertarianism, free markets, protectionism, Monarchism, family values, and religious fundamentalism.

            You will notice then many of the positions attributed to the two notional camps are completely contradictory; what after all do Fascists have to do with Libertarians? The only meaning I can derive from this ideological tangle is that “left wing” means something like egalitarian, whereas “right wing” means little more then “opposed to the left”.

            Of course egalitarianism is to say the least a nebulous concept. If we say that leftists aim to promote equality, we must ask; equality of what, and between whom?
            We could mean equality before the law, equality between the sexes, equality in some material economic sense, or equality between religious, racial, or ethnic groups.
            Real world political movements often emphasize some of these while ignoring or actively rejecting others.

            Take for instance the quintessential example of the extreme left. Paradoxically Marxist-Leninist ideology demand the creation of a system of radical political inequality in the name of radical economic equality. Under the empty promise that the state would wither away once the communist paradise had been achieved, Marxist governments enacted policies that would widely denounced as extremely right wing if proposed in a different context. Imagine what people would say if Donald Trump proposed deporting convicts to labor camps in Alaska.

            Given all this can we make sense of the claim that the Nazi party was an organization of the extreme left?
            Not really; “National Socialist” doctrine was fanatically racist, and with it’s with it’s Führerprinzip opposed to any form of political equality. The Nazi world view was strictly hierarchal, Germen men led their families, the führer led Germany, Germany was the natural leader of the other Aryan nations, and the Ayran race was the herrenvolk, biologically destined to rule the world. Only in the economic sphere was there anything even slightly left wing about the Nazis. And even there they were at most pragmatic; first allying themselves with one faction of Socialists, led by the Strasser brothers, who supported their other goals, before having those allies murdered the minute they threatened the Nazi relationship with the German capitalist elite.

            As for the case of Argentina; the break between Socialists and Liberals happened at different times in different countries (indeed in some places like Scandinavia it never happed at all). The fact is that on the eve of the great depression (and the coming era of military rule) the Argentine left, as the word was understood in that time and place, included both the mainstream Socialist parties and free trade supporting Liberals. Whereas the Argentine right included the military, wealthy land owners, protectionist business interests, and some elements of the Catholic church.

            There were serious tensions within both camps, so its hard to say what would have happened if the military had not seized power. But I think it was far from certain that Liberals and leftists were destined to go their separate ways.

          • Tibor says:

            @skef: How is socialism defined, actually? To me, socialism is synonymous to collectivism. Then the opposite of socialism is individualism and national socialism (as well as communism) are both completely antithetical to individualism, so I conclude that Nazis actually called themselves National Socialists for a reason. In fact, political nationalism in general is rather socialist (again by my definition above).

            Maybe you disagree with my definition, that’s fine by me, replace the word socialist in what I wrote above by collectivist then.

          • skef says:

            Synonyms are words that have the same meaning. Taking some X (e.g. individualism) and stipulating that anything at odds with X is the same as anything else at odds with X is, well, wrong.

            Even calling Nazi Germany “collectivist” is at best selectively accurate. As @hyperboloid points out, the culture was very hierarchical. It also didn’t shy away from making heros of individuals, particularly Hitler. Businesses largely kept their owners and some profited greatly. And of course a number of groups were arrested and eventually killed.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Roughly, I think “the left” maps to “society is responsible to and for everyone” and “the right” maps to various versions of ideologies that deny this.

            Fascism suborns the individual in service to the state. Only the glory of the state matters. Libertarianism raises the individual to a level where the state ceases to exist. But both deny that the state has responsibility to all its citizens.

            ETA: Monarchy/aristocracy raises some individuals above the masses, etc.

            The Catholic Church is an interesting thing to contemplate, because it shows how changing views on what constitutes well-being can move an organization from left to right and vice-versa.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Roughly, I think “the left” maps to “society is responsible to and for everyone” and “the right” maps to various versions of ideologies that deny this.

            No I think pretty much everyone on the right would be in favor of the state being responsible to and for everyone. Those who believe everything is for the glory of the state believe this because they believe glorifying the state is the best result for all people. Well, at least the more modern fascists I have read tout this. To the extent that Libertarians believe in government, and most of them do believe in at least a limited government, I’ve never heard of any that say that government is for the benefit of some more than others.

            I think hyperboloid has it pretty close that the Left raises equality above all other values, and the Right does not. Maybe that doesn’t fit all the facts, but most of them.

          • Tibor says:

            @skef:

            Well, Nazis glorified Hitler, sure, but the USSR glorified its leaders as well (and North Korea does it in a particularly absurd way). Killing entire groups of people – also done in the USSR (note that in both cases this was justified as being done for the greater good – the good of the collective). Pretty clearly the “interest of the state”, understood as the interest of its people taken as a whole – and defined by the ruling party of course – is put above the interest of the individual. As for privately owned businesses, what the fascists and nazis tried to do was a corporatist economy with state supported monopolies with nominally private owners who however had to be loyal to the state and do as ordered – and their companies would be nationalized otherwise (or nationalized and given to the puppet monopolist). Technically it still is private ownership, put in practice the state would have the power to override any decision of the owners and competition was actively suppressed in order to create monopolies. It seems to me like a cosmetic difference at best, but I grant you that the communists and the fascists do differ in this. Maybe it makes the fascists/nazis slightly less collectivist than the communists, but still way more than pretty much everyone else.

            JFK captures the collectivist sentiment well – “Do not ask what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. I’m not saying Kennedy was a Nazi or a communist but this quote of his is extremely collectivist and it would not sound strange if it came from either Stalin or Hitler.

            Btw, Armies are very hierarchical, would you say they are not collectivist? I’d say armies are one of the most collectivist organizations you can get.

            But you still haven’t answered my question – what is your definition of socialism?

          • Tibor says:

            @hyperboloid: I agree that the “left” and “right” are unfortunate terms. Even in your post you kind of make a contradiction – not due to your own fault but due to shifting meanings – the (classical) liberals of Argentina are the left-wing, but libertarians (which is just another word for the same idea) are right-wing.

            So maybe we should get rid of these archaic terms, since they tend to make things more confusing and are not particularly helpful. I think the confusion comes from most libertarians having a tendency to see the left-right scale as a metric of (economic) socialism – (free market) capitalism, or else something like collectivism – individualism. On both of these scales Nazis are the “left”, but other people define the left and right differently and so this is arbitrary at best and confusing at worst – to me Front National is a left-wing party and Trump might be (let’s see, it’s not entirely clear) more left-wing than Clinton. But of course, this only makes sense based on the left-right definition from above.

      • shakeddown says:

        From what you say, Peron seems like the closest Trump analogue I’ve seen so far. Considering the consequences, this is not reassuring.

        • Tibor says:

          I think he kind of is. However, while Argentina was rich, it did not have the long era of stability, prosperity (the economic boom was very abrupt) and balance of power the US has. So a Peron can do a lot less damage to the US than to Argentina. Of course, increasing presidential power during Obama’s presidency did not help the cause, but unfortunately, the only people consistently opposed to expanding the power of the president are the libertarians (with Reps and Dems their “opinion” seems to depend on whether they control the presidency or whether the other party does).

          Also, Perón did not manage to destroy Argentina on his own, his government was overthrown in a military coup (something that is extremely unlikely in the US) and the new government was at least as bad as his. Had Argentina had 4-8 years of Perón followed by a return to where it was in the early 20th century (politically) it would not have damaged the country very much.

          What is more worrisome though, is that a lot of Republicans seem to be throwing away their economic liberalism (or at least rhetorics of economic liberalism) and jumping on the Trump train. Even one guy who used to work for the CATO institute is now one of Trump’s advisors and supports his policies. If this sentiment is more than momentary opportunism and outlasts Trump himself, it could be a problem.

  26. https://www.amazon.com/b?node=16008589011

    http://www.cnbc.com/2016/12/06/amazon-go-slammed-as-the-end-of-jobs-by-the-new-york-post.html

    Here is something I was thinking of.

    Not only is this the end of jobs, but the end of all possible privacy for everyone.

    Remember: Big data is watching you

    • Tekhno says:

      Basic income SOON or communists!

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I think this is a great thing, and also is inevitable. Why do we have cashiers in this day and age when electronic billing is so easy? Being opposed to this is similar to the Luddites smashing knitting machines in the 19th Century. It is both against economic growth and against reality, because it can’t be stopped. About it destroying jobs — after 200 years of increasing automation, we don’t have less jobs than we had then. At some point, robots may become so ubiquitous that there finally are few jobs that are useful for humans to do, but I think we’ve got a ways to go for that. There are still innumerable personal service jobs that could be done by people if society was rich enough to pay for them. When we do run out of jobs, then yes we need to provide a basic income to everyone. But I think that is already the basic rule in advanced countries these days in providing welfare to all; it’s just that we are extremely inefficient is providing this welfare. At least in the US that is the case.

      I don’t understand the privacy thing. Sure the store has to know who you are while you’re in the store; but not outside the store. I don’t see that as an important privacy issue.

  27. timujin says:

    Is there a name for the error of reasoning, where you add some weakly relevant info into your argument, expecting it to weakly fortify your argument, and that makes the argument weaker, because you opponents will attack that irrelevant bit and, upon defeating it, conclude that they have defeated the entire argument?

    Example:

    – Abortions should be legal, because it will [reduce poverty, increase health, standard pro-choice argument #1, standart pro-choice argument #2,…]. And the baby doesn’t even become conscious until 7th month of gestation, so it’s not like there are any disadvantages to abortions.
    – Actually, babies become conscious as early as 4th month. Ergo, abortions should not be legal.

    (note: I don’t actually know when the baby becomes conscious)

    • skef says:

      It’s the opponents in this case who make the error of reasoning, by only addressing part of your argument. So if this is a mistake it’s a rhetorical one, but I don’t know if it has a name.

    • Deiseach says:

      If the issue of consciousness and personhood is only weakly relevant, what the pro-abortion argument boils down to is “it is currently, and should always be, legal for certain persons to bring about the deaths of other persons for personal advantage, and society has an interest because these killings have social advantages too”.

    • rlms says:

      That seems like an odd example, since it seems to me that “the baby doesn’t become conscious until after the abortion” is, if not the core of your argument, at least a considerably more important part than the “weak fortification”. If that statement is true, you are defending “doing something to an inanimate object is morally acceptable” (which is generally true). If it isn’t, you are defending “killing a thinking being with human genetics is morally acceptable” (which generally isn’t).

      • timujin says:

        You are completely right in your objection. The objection is, however, irrelevant, and is an example of the error I was trying to describe. Thank you!

        (yes, I was deliberately baiting it out).

        • Deiseach says:

          How is the objection irrelevant? It is like debating “Let us do away with the crime of homicide; now, setting aside as irrelevant the objection that murder is wrong, the real arguments for and against this are: that decriminalising murder will free up space in prisons, that…”

          • skef says:

            It’s irrelevant to the question of whether abortion should be legal in the first four months, and therefore can’t be a reason for abortions to be illegal simpliciter.

    • Jiro says:

      People attack your weakest argument because that is a necessary defense against Gish Gallops.

    • FullMeta_Rationalist says:

      It’s possible that the listener expected your conclusion to necessarily depend on each of the premises, as is true of deductive arguments. But the argument wasn’t a deduction; it was a cost-benefit analysis. I.e. you’ve applied a utilitarian calculation and decided that the pros outweigh the cons. If the listener simply pattern-matched your argument to an enthymic deduction, then the mistake could be called an instance of Denying the Antecedent. But this is a stretch and also uncharitable, since it assumes the listener is behaving belligerently just to prove you wrong (perhaps justifiably so if you’re sealioning).

      More charitably, the listener: A) updated the premise; then B) applied their own flavor of moral calculus. In which case the rebuttal isn’t an error, but a difference of opinion. A productive way for you to respond would be to explicate which combinations of premises the listener would have to prove incorrect in order for you to change your stance.

  28. Deiseach says:

    Today I was pointed towards a mediaeval history blog, and this entry discusses the origin of the term “the Arkenstone”. It goes from the use in Anglo-Saxon Christian imagery to the Norse myths:

    It’s in this poem that we meet our word from The Hobbit, and the title of this post has given away the clue: the word is Arkenstone, the name Tolkien gave to the great jewel of the dwarves, which he took from the Old English earcnanstan, ‘precious stone’. This word appears a handful of times in Old English, sometimes in reference to a particular gemstone – a pearl or a topaz – and sometimes for jewels generally.

    So if you want to impress your friends and relatives at Christmas, Holiday or Solstice gatherings, just drop this little nugget of information into casual conversation and see them stunned with admiration at your urbane, sophisticated and easy mastery of a wide range of reading! 🙂

    A word which can be used as a name for Christ and for the pre-eminent dragon-slayer of Germanic legend, for the kingdom of heaven and for one of the most perilous objects of Norse mythology, for the Virgin Mary and for the necklace of the goddess Freyja, is a word located at the centre of an intricate web of literary traditions.