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Open Thread 70.25

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

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555 Responses to Open Thread 70.25

  1. AnonYEmous says:

    since I got the first comment (probably) now is a good time to shout out Scott Alexander and say that I had to change account because of a persistent issue where certain accounts’ posts won’t go through

    not entirely sure if this is a ban or not but pretty sure it’s not, so could you please look into that?

    • paranoidfunk says:

      Maybe you were just posting really shitty comments and he silently shadowbanned you into chapel perilous.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t know if I did or didn’t spam-filter you. I have a very low tolerance for spam-filtering comments by people whose names are some variation of “Anonymous” because of past bad experience with these accounts.

    • Deiseach says:

      Sometimes the spam filter eats things Just Because. If you’re sure you did not use any of The Forbidden Words and you weren’t being a jerk in those comments, then it’s Just One Of Those Things. Scott tends to tell people if they’re banned.

  2. bean says:

    I promised armor as this OT’s battleship post (See here for the previous one). It turned out to be somewhat longer than I expected, so I decided to split it in half. The second part will be coming on Sunday.

    The most important thing to understand is that a shell’s ability to penetrate armor is based on four things. The quality and size of the shell, the quality and thickness of the armor, the velocity of the shell, and the obliquity of the shell’s impact with the armor. The shell and armor are fixed by design, while velocity and obliquity are crucial to how it plays out in combat.

    The classic armor scheme of a post-Jutland battleship (see here) is based upon a few distinct elements, namely the belt, armored deck, fore and aft bulkheads, turrets, barbettes and conning tower. The belt, bulkheads (which are just fore and aft of the fore and aft turrets respectively) and deck form the armored box or citadel, which is where all of the important stuff like engines, magazines, and fire control computers are located. The deck and belt drop down and run aft to protect the steering gear. The barbettes are basically armored tubes which run from the armored deck to the main deck, and which the turrets rest on. They armor the path from the magazines to the turrets. The turrets are boxes which protect the guns and gun crew. The conning tower is a protected control space for the ship’s command staff, to allow them to see the battle from behind armor.

    Battleship armor comes in two main types, face-hardened and homogenous. Face-hardened armor (Class A in US terminology) has a hard layer on the outside produced by certain heat treatments and is most effective against shells hitting at nearly right angles, as the hardened face is intended to shatter the shell. However, it is more expensive to make, cannot be built at all below a few inches thickness, and is less effective against glancing hits. This is because in a high-obliquity hit, a broken shell is less likely to ricochet off intact, and more likely to penetrate. It’s universally found in belts and bulkheads, and usually on the faces of turrets, but rarely elsewhere. Homogenous armor (Class B) is universally used in decks, and thinner plates, known as STS (special treatment steel) in the US, are used as splinter protection and to armor things like secondary battery turrets and gun directors. The US made extensive use of STS in the structural design of its ships, while other nations often used cheaper steels which were not as effective as armor.

    The problem with armor is that it is heavy. Steel weighs 40 lbs per inch per square foot, and thin armor is often specified in pounds instead of inches. This factor makes it easy to estimate the weight of a piece of armor, but also reveals the difficulties inherent in designing an armor layout. The common method invented by the US was an approximation known as the immune zone. This is the range in which a ship’s main armor should in theory be immune to a given gun, most commonly the ship’s own. The inner edge of the immune zone is set by the point at which the shell stops going through the belt, due to a combination of increased obliquity and reduced striking velocity. The outer edge of the IZ is set by the point at which the deck becomes penetrable, as deck penetration goes up with range. The reduction in shell velocity is more than offset by the reduced obliquity. This can occasionally produce counterintuitive results. For instance, an immune zone computed against a US 16”/50 caliber gun actually had a further outer edge than one computed against a 16”/45 caliber gun with the same shell. This can be seen here, where the South Dakota’s gun has the greatest deck penetration at any given range. The obvious counter is that a low-velocity gun has a shorter maximum range. There were experiments conducted to use reduced charges in the Iowa’s guns to improve deck penetration, but the results were never approved for service use.

    The biggest advantage of the immune zone was that it made tradeoffs between belt and deck armor easy to analyze. If the immune zone was specified to be 10,000 yards wide, the designers could find the lightest combination of belt and deck armor to meet that specification. Here are some examples from the design studies leading to the North Carolina-class vs the 14”/50 caliber gun.

    Belt 12.25 14 12.75
    Deck 4.5 5.25 5.0
    IZ (kyrd) 24.1-27 20.7-30 23.1-29.3

    To a first approximation, the typical deck is about 6 times the area of the belt, and it is obvious looking at the thicknesses of various pieces of armor over time how the balance between the two changed. In British practice, at least, deck armor went from 5% of displacement in 1912 (Iron Duke or Queen Elizabeth class) to 16% in the King George V class.
    A related concept is “all or nothing” protection, developed for use on the Nevada-class battleships. The basic principle was to concentrate the armor into the thicknesses necessary to resist heavy gunfire, and to not worry about armoring against lighter threats beyond splinter plating. Battleships at the time had extensive belts of varying thicknesses, often 12” or so in the center of the ship and 4-6” at the ends. Nevada’s belt, however, was concentrated to only run between the foremost and aftmost turrets at full thickness. Likewise, her deck was 3”, as opposed to the 1-2” common in the rest of the world at the time.
    (Next time: Details of Iowa’s arrangements, and more history.)

  3. bean says:

    I promised armor as this OT’s battleship post (See here for the previous one). It turned out to be somewhat longer than I expected, so I decided to split it in half. The second part will be coming on Sunday.

    The most important thing to understand is that a shell’s ability to penetrate armor is based on four things. The quality and size of the shell, the quality and thickness of the armor, the velocity of the shell, and the obliquity of the shell’s impact with the armor. The shell and armor are fixed by design, while velocity and obliquity are crucial to how it plays out in combat.

    The classic armor scheme of a post-Jutland battleship (see here) is based upon a few distinct elements, namely the belt, armored deck, fore and aft bulkheads, turrets, barbettes and conning tower. The belt, bulkheads (which are just fore and aft of the fore and aft turrets respectively) and deck form the armored box or citadel, which is where all of the important stuff like engines, magazines, and fire control computers are located. The deck and belt drop down and run aft to protect the steering gear. The barbettes are basically armored tubes which run from the armored deck to the main deck, and which the turrets rest on. They armor the path from the magazines to the turrets. The turrets are boxes which protect the guns and gun crew. The conning tower is a protected control space for the ship’s command staff, to allow them to see the battle from behind armor.

    Battleship armor comes in two main types, face-hardened and homogenous. Face-hardened armor (Class A in US terminology) has a hard layer on the outside produced by certain heat treatments and is most effective against shells hitting at nearly right angles, as the hardened face is intended to shatter the shell. However, it is more expensive to make, cannot be built at all below a few inches thickness, and is less effective against glancing hits. This is because in a high-obliquity hit, a broken shell is less likely to ricochet off intact, and more likely to penetrate. It’s universally found in belts and bulkheads, and usually on the faces of turrets, but rarely elsewhere. Homogenous armor (Class B) is universally used in decks, and thinner plates, known as STS (special treatment steel) in the US, are used as splinter protection and to armor things like secondary battery turrets and gun directors. The US made extensive use of STS in the structural design of its ships, while other nations often used cheaper steels which were not as effective as armor.

    The problem with armor is that it is heavy. Steel weighs 40 lbs per inch per square foot, and thin armor is often specified in pounds instead of inches. This factor makes it easy to estimate the weight of a piece of armor, but also reveals the difficulties inherent in designing an armor layout. The common method invented by the US was an approximation known as the immune zone. This is the range in which a ship’s main armor should in theory be immune to a given gun, most commonly the ship’s own. The inner edge of the immune zone is set by the point at which the shell stops going through the belt, due to a combination of increased obliquity and reduced striking velocity. The outer edge of the IZ is set by the point at which the deck becomes penetrable, as deck penetration goes up with range. The reduction in shell velocity is more than offset by the reduced obliquity. This can occasionally produce counterintuitive results. For instance, an immune zone computed against a US 16”/50 caliber gun actually had a further outer edge than one computed against a 16”/45 caliber gun with the same shell. This can be seen here, where the South Dakota’s gun has the greatest deck penetration at any given range. The obvious counter is that a low-velocity gun has a shorter maximum range. There were experiments conducted to use reduced charges in the Iowa’s guns to improve deck penetration, but the results were never approved for service use.

    The biggest advantage of the immune zone was that it made tradeoffs between belt and deck armor easy to analyze. If the immune zone was specified to be 10,000 yards wide, the designers could find the lightest combination of belt and deck armor to meet that specification. Here are some examples from the design studies leading to the North Carolina-class vs the 14”/50 caliber gun.

    Belt |12.25 | 14 | 12.75
    Deck |4.5 | 5.25 | 5.0
    IZ (kyrd) |24.1-27 |20.7-30 | 23.1-29.3

    To a first approximation, the typical deck is about 6 times the area of the belt, and it is obvious looking at the thicknesses of various pieces of armor over time how the balance between the two changed. In British practice, at least, deck armor went from 5% of displacement in 1912 (Iron Duke or Queen Elizabeth class) to 16% in the King George V class.
    A related concept is “all or nothing” protection, developed for use on the Nevada-class battleships. The basic principle was to concentrate the armor into the thicknesses necessary to resist heavy gunfire, and to not worry about armoring against lighter threats beyond splinter plating. Battleships at the time had extensive belts of varying thicknesses, often 12” or so in the center of the ship and 4-6” at the ends. Nevada’s belt, however, was concentrated to only run between the foremost and aftmost turrets at full thickness. Likewise, her deck was 3”, as opposed to the 1-2” common in the rest of the world at the time.

    • bean says:

      A couple of things. First, Scott, thanks for finally getting the OT up. I’ve been waiting for a while to get this out.
      Second, as a follow-up to the comments on secondary battery weight a couple of OTs ago, the same table I got the figures on deck protection for British battleships from (in Nelson to Vanguard) also had numbers on the secondary battery. The 1912 ship was rated at 2% of displacement, the 1935 one at 5%.

      • Eric Rall says:

        Thank you for the numbers. That’s less than I was expecting (both the 2% and 5%), and in that context it makes sense that de-emphasizing the secondary armament further wouldn’t free up enough displacement to be worthwhile.

        • bean says:

          I do wonder about the 2% number. I suspect that both don’t involve the non-rotating armor for the secondaries, which is a much bigger deal for the casemates on the 1912 ships. But it’s certainly not a huge component.

    • Eric Rall says:

      What are the trade-offs involved in making fewer and bigger BBs vs more and smaller BBs?

      One obvious advantage of smaller ships is flexibility of deployment, since each ship can only be one place at a time. Other advantages that occur to me are: treaty limitations, ability to fit into port facilities, and ability to navigate certain chokepoints (the Panama Canal is an important one, but to the best of my knowledge only very late battleships came close to Panamax size limits (Iowas just barely fitting, and the planned Montanas blowing straight past it)). And the “eggs in one basket” effect, where losing any given ship to a lucky hit is less catastrophic if it’s a smaller portion of your navy’s overall combat power.

      I’m less clear on battleship-specific design features that may have economies or dis-economies of scale.

      I’m guessing that firepower scales roughly linearly with displacement dedicated to guns. So you’d need a certain minimum ship size to effectively mount a certain size of gun, but once you’re there, I’d expect Ship A with N tons worth of guns (including turrets, magazines, etc) of a given size to do twice as much damage (other considerations aside) as Ship B with N/2 tons.

      Armor seems like the square/cube law would apply, so doubling a ship’s linear dimensions would result in 4x weight of armor at a given thickness, but 8x total displacement. This seems like it would nudge us towards bigger ships.

      Speed is the area I know the least about here. I don’t know how engine power scales with engine weight. I seem to recall from Physics classes that drag (and thus the amount of power you’d need to get a given speed) is roughly proportional to either cross section area or surface area, but my memory here is very fuzzy and I suspect I’m forgetting something important.

      So basically, I’m wondering if bigger=better up until you hit the limits of what you can afford and whether you can fit your ship where it needs to go, or if there’s a sweet spot where making either larger or smaller ships would result in a less efficient naval construction budget.

      • cassander says:

        There were attempts to look at smaller battleships, and they never came off all that well. The trouble is that you wanted a minimum of about 6 guns to do proper shooting, and that was cutting it close. You couldn’t get away with smaller guns because that meant both less power and next range, so the size of ships was driven upwards by the size of guns. With naval construction in general, too, there tend to be economies of scale in ship size. All else being equal you can get more stuff per ton of ship as your ship gets bigger, because fixed costs decline. If you have a class of four ships you might be able to squeeze in an extra gun with a couple thousand tons, per ship, which is a lot less than the weight of an extra ship with 4 guns.

        • suntzuanime says:

          Total idiot here, why do you need six guns?

          • John Schilling says:

            The center of a three-shot group is a good approximation of your actual point of aim even if there is an outlier, and if there are three shots a single outlier is easy to note and ignore. If you fire one or two shots and either hit with an outlier when your point of aim was off, or vice versa, you can wind up with a bad fire control solution that takes an annoyingly long time to recognize and fix.

            Now consider that you don’t know exactly how far away the target is, and the mechanical computers of the early 20th century wouldn’t give you an exact trajectory if you did. With six guns, you can fire two three-shot salvos at, say, best guess range +2000 yards and best guess -2000 yards. Neither will hit, but you’ll easily see whether they both fall short, both fall long, or bracket the target. Implement a bisection search every thirty seconds until you converge on a solution. Stick with that until you notice that 4-5 shots out of every six are falling either short or long, then increment a notch.

            With three three-gun salvos at a time, you can cut the time by not quite 50%. Four or more salvos at a time puts you into diminishing returns territory. But with less than six guns, the trial-and-error part of hitting the enemy is going to be too vulnerable to perverse errors.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Thanks, that’s interesting!

          • gbdub says:

            Isn’t part of it also that two-gun turrets are less efficient armor wise? E.g. the Bismarck had 8 big guns in 4 turrets, when 9 guns in 3 turrets would probably weigh less overall?

          • bean says:

            @gbdub

            Isn’t part of it also that two-gun turrets are less efficient armor wise? E.g. the Bismarck had 8 big guns in 4 turrets, when 9 guns in 3 turrets would probably weigh less overall?

            They are considerably less efficient weight-wise, but they’re more efficient from a gunnery perspective. More guns in a turret usually means less space to work them. A twin mount is about 1.75 singles, a triple 2.5, and a quad 3.25.
            The revolving weight of the British 14″ Mk II two-gun mounting was 898 tons, while the 4-gun Mk III was 1550 tons. Both were from the KGV class.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ John Schilling:

            Is there any reason why you couldn’t have sets of three light, fast-firing guns to find out the range, then have fewer, bigger guns to open fire once you’ve got an accurate estimation?

          • bean says:

            Is there any reason why you couldn’t have sets of three light, fast-firing guns to find out the range, then have fewer, bigger guns to open fire once you’ve got an accurate estimation?

            Only half (or less) of spotting is to figure out how far off your range estimate is. The other half is to work out how things you can’t predict in the abstract (wind, gun alignment, gremlins) are throwing your aim off. Firing a different battery does very little to help with that. In particular, lighter guns have very different ballistics at long range, which is when you need spotting most.

          • John Schilling says:

            What bean said, plus fast-firing guns don’t much help for spotting when it takes a minute or so for the shells to reach their target.

            Which, yes, can be enough time for the target to maneuver clear of what was a perfectly-aimed salvo when you fired it; yet another annoying complication in long-range gunnery.

      • bean says:

        So basically, I’m wondering if bigger=better up until you hit the limits of what you can afford and whether you can fit your ship where it needs to go, or if there’s a sweet spot where making either larger or smaller ships would result in a less efficient naval construction budget.

        Bigger is better in all cases. Hull and engines scale more slowly than ship size. Armor is affected by the square-cube law. A bigger ship requires less proportional power to drive it through the water.

        I’m guessing that firepower scales roughly linearly with displacement dedicated to guns. So you’d need a certain minimum ship size to effectively mount a certain size of gun, but once you’re there, I’d expect Ship A with N tons worth of guns (including turrets, magazines, etc) of a given size to do twice as much damage (other considerations aside) as Ship B with N/2 tons.

        Sort of. Weapons scaling is slightly complex. As cassander points out, you need at least 6 guns, preferably 8. In practice, it’s usually not worth going above 4 turrets, which puts a theoretical limit of 16 guns. Only one battleship got above 12, and it was insane. The usual question is big guns vs small guns.

        Port facilities are very important, and usually set the maximum size of each country’s capital ships. I know that this has been a limit on US, German, and British ships.

        • Controls Freak says:

          From your link on maximum battleships,

          The navy was not interested in the designs and drew them up to win support from the Committee on Naval Affairs, on which Tillman sat.

          This has me all ready to roll my eyes and think, “Lol Congress pork.” But then, this:

          Senator Tillman had grown impatient with the navy’s requests for larger battleships every year as well as the navy’s habit of building battleships significantly larger than Congress authorized. He accordingly instructed the navy to design “maximum battleships”, the largest battleships that they could use.

          Is it just me, or does that sound… not insane? Almost forward-looking, even? If you’re a Congresscritter, and you get a whiff of, “I wonder if they’re being incremental in order to sell us on the idea that things are about the same,” it may be quite useful to signal, “Actually, we’d be open to some significant jumps, so don’t be afraid to really push the boundaries.”

          • bean says:

            Is it just me, or does that sound… not insane? Almost forward-looking, even? If you’re a Congresscritter, and you get a whiff of, “I wonder if they’re being incremental in order to sell us on the idea that things are about the same,” it may be quite useful to signal, “Actually, we’d be open to some significant jumps, so don’t be afraid to really push the boundaries.”

            It does sound not-insane, and it definitely was interesting, but the problem was that at the time, nobody had Panamax docking facilities. The initial ‘maximum battleship’ study in 1913 was a ship of 38,000 tons, which could only drydock at two places on the West Coast, and nowhere on the East Coast. The 80,000 tonners would have been worse. So not only would Congress have had to pony up for new battleships, but also a bunch of new docking facilities.
            Also, Congress was probably reluctant to build a new battle fleet and render the old one obsolete. That sound weird, but there were serious arguments made that Britain should not start the Dreadnought revolution to avoid rendering obsolete her existing ships.

          • Aapje says:

            Sounds like game theory would apply here:

            Countries don’t necessary need the strongest fleet to have deterrent power, but they need ships that are not completely obsolete. If I make their ships obsolete by building a super-ship, they will be forced to also build a super-ship. As I cannot afford to lose my only super-ship when they have one and because ‘shit happens,’ I then really need multiple super-ships to be safe and so do they.

            So building one ship inevitably means that you have to build several more.

          • bean says:

            @Aapje
            More or less. The idea was that they’d need a whole new battle fleet, obsoleting the one they’d just built. This tends to make whoever holds the purse strings annoyed. The exact strength relative to opponents is a difficult question, but if they’d built one, they’d have essentially hit the reset button on fleet strengths and had to do the building race all over again.

          • Eric Rall says:

            It’s also a consideration that battles are generally fought by fleets, not individual ships. Build a battle squadron of 7 old battleships and one new Super-Heavy (TM) battleship, and the SHBB won’t be able to fight to full effect because it needs to operate with the old battleships. The two types of ships will likely have different handling characteristics (speed, acceleration, maneuverability), different effective gunnery ranges, and different zones of immunity for their armor schemes. So the admiral will have to maneuver the squadron based on the worst combination of the two classes’ handling characteristics, and will have to compromise the effectiveness of one or both classes of ship when choosing what kind of engagement to try to create.

            The German fleet at Jutland was significantly hampered by this effect, as they brought along six old pre-Dreadnought BBs to attempt to mitigate the British fleet’s advantage (28 Dreadnoughts and 9 BCs, vs 16 Dreadnoughts and 5 BCs, and 11 of the British ships were new “Superdreadnoughts” with 13.5″ or 15″ guns instead of the traditional 11″ or 12″ guns). The pre-Dreads were in their own squadron, but they still slowed the rest of the fleet down and gave the British a significant advantage in speed, while not adding much to the German fleet in terms of combat effectiveness.

            Conversely, the British dealt with the same issue by taking four of their newest, fastest, and most powerful Battleships (the Queen Elizabeth class) and using them to reinforce the Battlecruiser squadron (operating semi-independently from the rest of the fleet as scouts and flankers) rather than as part of the main line of battle. This let the Queen Elizabeths use their speed to full effect, but it wound up wasting their firepower and armor: Beatty (the commander of the British Battlecruiser squadron) let the Queen Elizabeths fall behind when he was pursuing the German Battlecruisers during the first phase of the battle because they couldn’t quite keep up with the British Battlecruisers at full speed, so the Queen Elizabeths only really participated in that phase of the battle a bit later. The German BC had been leading Beatty into an ambush by the full German battle fleet, which Beatty successfully disengaged from, but the Queen Elizabeth squadron was far enough back that they missed the signal and ran into the same ambush a bit later. They also successfully disengaged, but it was a close-run affair.

          • bean says:

            It’s also a consideration that battles are generally fought by fleets, not individual ships.

            Very true.

            The pre-Dreads were in their own squadron, but they still slowed the rest of the fleet down and gave the British a significant advantage in speed, while not adding much to the German fleet in terms of combat effectiveness.

            The design speed for the Nassau was only .5 knot faster than the pre-Dreadnought Deutschland. I’d have to do a bit more digging for sea speeds.

            Conversely, the British dealt with the same issue by taking four of their newest, fastest, and most powerful Battleships (the Queen Elizabeth class) and using them to reinforce the Battlecruiser squadron (operating semi-independently from the rest of the fleet as scouts and flankers) rather than as part of the main line of battle.

            That was an accident of sorts. The 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron had been detached for exercises at Scapa Floe (the Battlecruiser Fleet was based at Rosyth) and Beatty had gotten the 5th Battle Squadron instead. This was an advantage when they did actually meet the Germans because their gunnery was much better than that of the battlecruisers. (Some of this was Beatty’s fault, but a lot of it had to do with Scapa Floe having a lot more room to exercise in than Rosyth did.) They effectively covered Beatty during the run to the North, doing a much better job than he would have against the Germans.

            This let the Queen Elizabeths use their speed to full effect, but it wound up wasting their firepower and armor: Beatty (the commander of the British Battlecruiser squadron) let the Queen Elizabeths fall behind when he was pursuing the German Battlecruisers during the first phase of the battle

            Beatty was, frankly, an idiot who should have been kept far from high command. His failure to report in was only mitigated because Jellicoe got just enough information to make the right call anyway.

            but the Queen Elizabeth squadron was far enough back that they missed the signal and ran into the same ambush a bit later. They also successfully disengaged, but it was a close-run affair.

            Not quite. It was Beatty’s Flag Lieutenant (signaling officer) Ralph Seymour who failed to send the signal properly. His actions bit Beatty in every battle that Beatty fought. Failing to replace him was one of Beatty’s biggest mistakes.

          • Protagoras says:

            Got a question about bigger is always better. It’s basically impossible to protect the rudder, and a rudder hit can be a mission kill (and in fact seems to have been such in some cases historically). Is there a point at which the fact that a smaller number of larger ships means a larger fraction of your fleet gets taken out when the enemy gets a lucky hit like that becomes important enough to be the reason not to go larger?

          • cassander says:

            @Eric Rall

            >It’s also a consideration that battles are generally fought by fleets, not individual ships.

            This consideration is precisely why the US opted for the “standard type” type battleships, building their whole fleet to operate with similar handling characteristics, speed, turn radius, cruising radius, etc.

          • bean says:

            @Protagoras
            I’m not certain that such a point can be found without a lot more detailed study than we are capable of here. I suspect that Yamato may have crossed that line, and I’m pretty sure the Tillerman ships would have. To some extent, I think you’d have to worry more about other types of availability. The most powerful ship in the world is of no use if it’s on the other side of the world or in drydock somewhere. So you need enough to be able to put the necessary force where it needs to be when it needs to be there. And enough that you can take some mission kills without unduly compromising your fleet.
            But this seems to happen less often than being restricted by treaty or dock facilities.

            @cassander
            I’m not sure that’s entirely it. Read that chapter of Friedman again. Every year, the Navy asked Congress for bigger, better battleships, and every year Congress (or Josephus Daniels) told them that they could have minor improvements on the previous year’s ship. Yes, it looked brilliant, mostly because they started from a really good design. But it was mostly a political decision that produced the Standards, not a strategic one.

          • Eric Rall says:

            @bean

            Beatty was, frankly, an idiot who should have been kept far from high command. His failure to report in was only mitigated because Jellicoe got just enough information to make the right call anyway.

            That’s the impression I get of him, as well. As I recall (it’s been a few years, and you’ve already pointed out several important details I’ve misremembered) Massie’s biggest criticism of him in Castles of Steel was that Beatty had no awareness of the strategic context of his actions. Jellicoe’s often been criticized for overcaution in the later phases of Jutland, but Massie defends those decisions based on them happening in the context of Churchill, Fischer, and Jellicoe having jointly decided that Jellicoe’s biggest responsibility was to avoid the risk of “losing the war in an afternoon”. I.e. Britain depended utterly on naval superiority to stay in the war, and losing a significant portion of the fleet in battle would be catastrophic, but Germany wouldn’t be much worse off with their entire fleet sunk than the would be with the status quo (blockade, but with a German fleet-in-being) continuing. Jellicoe’s caution was appropriate in this context, since nothing he could accomplish through boldness would be worth the risks. Beatty, on the other hand, fetishized boldness for its own sake, took several unreasonable risks during the battle, and had them blow up in his face.

            I think Massie’s other major criticisms of Beatty were,

            1. Failure to report in properly, as you mentioned.

            2. Failure to signal the QEs properly at the end of the Race to the South (now that you mention it, I think I do remember a discussion of Beatty’s flag lieutenant around this, but I don’t remember any details).

            3. Generally being a relentlessly self-promoting ass in a way that detracted from the proper performance of his duties.

            I’ve also heard Beatty blamed for the bad ammunition handling practices that are suspected to have contributed to the battlecruiser losses at Jutland, but I think I read that somewhere else.

          • bean says:

            I’ve also heard Beatty blamed for the bad ammunition handling practices that are suspected to have contributed to the battlecruiser losses at Jutland, but I think I read that somewhere else.

            Beatty certainly knew of them, and did nothing to stop them, although in fairness, I think Jellicoe shares some responsibility on the matter.
            At this point, I don’t think we need to say ‘suspected’. Lion’s gunner was unusual in insisting on proper magazine practices, and she survived at least one turret hit. The stuff on deck protection was retrospective posterior-covering by Beatty and Jellicoe, and DNC was able to show that the German shells couldn’t have reached the magazines.

          • cassander says:

            @bean says:

            >I’m not sure that’s entirely it. Read that chapter of Friedman again. Every year, the Navy asked Congress for bigger, better battleships, and every year Congress (or Josephus Daniels) told them that they could have minor improvements on the previous year’s ship. Yes, it looked brilliant, mostly because they started from a really good design. But it was mostly a political decision that produced the Standards, not a strategic one.

            there’s some of that, but there were debates within the navy about building faster ships, and there were big changes, like moving from 14″ to 16″ guns or adopting turbo-electric propulsion. The navy consistently chose to build ships that could maneuver together. I’m not claiming that was a grand plan they came up with in 1911, just that they consistently chose to be consistent. And for what it looks like to not do that, just look at the RN, Iron Duke: 21kts, Queen Elizabeth: 24-5, revenge: 21. N3/Nelson: 23. They also had difference turning circles and other handling characteristics, etc, something the standards deliberately avoided doing despite growing in size about 20-30%.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Germany wouldn’t be much worse off with their entire fleet sunk than the would be with the status quo (blockade, but with a German fleet-in-being) continuing.

            Arguably they’d be slightly better off, because they’d no longer have to pay for the upkeep of all their useless battleships.

          • bean says:

            @cassander

            there’s some of that, but there were debates within the navy about building faster ships, and there were big changes, like moving from 14″ to 16″ guns or adopting turbo-electric propulsion.

            Both of which were done with no gain in ship size.

            The navy consistently chose to build ships that could maneuver together. I’m not claiming that was a grand plan they came up with in 1911, just that they consistently chose to be consistent.

            They didn’t have a choice. Congress chose for them. I suppose they could have asked for something completely different on the same tonnage and cost, but they didn’t.

            And for what it looks like to not do that, just look at the RN, Iron Duke: 21kts, Queen Elizabeth: 24-5, revenge: 21. N3/Nelson: 23. They also had difference turning circles and other handling characteristics, etc, something the standards deliberately avoided doing despite growing in size about 20-30%.

            It’s only 20%, and half of that growth was Nevada to Pennsylvania. It wasn’t unusual for navies to build tactically homogeneous squadrons of 4-5 ships. The US just built them over more years than normal.
            Edit:
            Note that every British battleship from Dreadnought to Iron Duke was 21 kts. I don’t have tactical diameters to hand, but I suspect they were fairly similar. Their interwar fleet was a mess, but that was the exception, not the rule.

            @The original Mr. X

            Arguably they’d be slightly better off, because they’d no longer have to pay for the upkeep of all their useless battleships.

            Their fear if they lost the fleet was that the RN would be able to open up a lifeline to the Russian Baltic ports. This wasn’t an unreasonable fear, and if that had happened, it would have probably meant German defeat in the east.

          • Deiseach says:

            To me it sounds more like “Okay, I am not going through this crap every year. Tell me the biggest ship you can realistically use and we’ll decide on that, don’t try sneaking ‘just a bit bigger’ past me every year”.

      • Anthony says:

        There’s a practical maximum speed for boats and ships which scales up linearly with the length of the ship. It’s complicated, but the basic idea is that as long as the ship is shorter than the wavelength of its wake, the power required to go faster increases at less than v^2. But once the length of the ship is close to the wavelength of the wake, the power required to increase speed starts to go up as v^4.

        At least that’s how I remember it from Hydraulics, decades ago.

        • bean says:

          I think you’re groping at the natural hull speed, which is proportional to the square root of length. Most warships exceed it, except for slower battleships.

        • @IrishDude

          It may be the case that there is always some kind of wealth gap, but that implies nothing about how much. AFAICS, it is a valid political question whether you tend towards a US style or Swedish style gap. Telling the US poor that they should just put up with a US style gap is telling them to do something which probably isnt in their interests, but definitely is in the interest of the better off. Again libertarianism=conservatism.

          • John Schilling says:

            Telling the US poor that they should just put up with a US style gap is telling them to do something which probably isnt in their interests, but definitely is in the interest of the better off.

            What do you imagine is their alternative? Not, what is our alternative for dealing with the poor, but what is their alternative given that the rest of the nation seems to have decided what it is going to do about the poor and about wealth inequality and WYSIWYG.

          • Brad says:

            They could vote. Given the low starting point, significant shifts in turnout could easily work fairly radical change.

          • @Brad:

            It’s worth distinguishing between things that “they can do” in the sense of things that are effective for all of them if all of them do it and things that are effective for one person if he does it. Doing the former faces a public good problem. Each individual correctly believes that his vote (in your example) has essentially no effect, and there isn’t anyone who casts the votes of all the poor together.

      • John Schilling says:

        You couldn’t get away with smaller guns because that meant both less power and next range, so the size of ships was driven upwards by the size of guns

        OK, I’m supposed to be packing for a vacation, and you’ve got me designing imaginary battleships because I have a perverse desire to play devil’s advocate here.

        Why do we care about power and range? We’ve got battleship guns that can reach 40,000 yards, and armor that provides immunity zones out to 30,000 or so, when nobody ever managed to hit anything past 26,000 yards and even that much was rare. What if we don’t bother to try?

        The average Treaty battleship had a 14″ belt and 6″ deck armor. The US Navy’s 12″ Mark 8 gun firing the superheavy AP shell could penetrate a 14″ belt out to 18,000 yards. With a reduced charge, it could drop the same shell through a 6″ deck from 18-21,000 yards. Causing maybe half the damage of a “proper” battleship gun’s shell, but it can fire 50% faster and weighs half as much.

        Also, if we accept that ships won’t start actually hitting each other until they are inside any practical immunity zone, is there really much value in armoring battleships against anything bigger than 8″ cruiser guns? Make the ships tough, with good compartmentalization and damage control, but give up on the immunity zone. Was any dreadnought battle past Jutland ever won by way of armor actually deflecting shells?

        All else being equal you’d rather have a large battleship than a small one, but for e.g. a second-rate power trying to control a large ocean on a budget (and a treaty tonnage 60% of your rival’s), the best bet might be a large number of small battlecruisers, maybe 20,000 tons with 8-9 12″ guns and modest armor. If you have to go up against heavy battleships you’ll need to match them 2:1 in numbers of your cheaper ships, and you’ll want to try for a night action to close the range. Otherwise, you get to send a battlecruiser to places you’d otherwise only send heavy cruisers.

        But it was Japan that built the Yamatos, and the United States that decided to crank out a few Alaska-class ships just to prove we could. Help me convince myself we didn’t stumble onto the practical optimum dreadnought and ignore it because we were pretty much done with dreadnoughts by then. Is there anything we, or the Japanese, did with Real Battleships in the Pacific that couldn’t have been done tolerably well by Alaskas in proportionately greater numbers?

        • gbdub says:

          Last time I brought up the possibility of a battleship armored against 8″ cruiser guns, bean declared he started seeing red mist 😉

          Struggling to find more about it, but the Wikipedia page for the Iowa class actually mentions an early proposal for precisely that, a battleship-sized, fast, relatively lightly armored “cruiser killer” design.

          So even if it’s a bad idea, it’s at least a bad idea that the experts had at one time too.

          • bean says:

            Last time I brought up the possibility of a battleship armored against 8″ cruiser guns, bean declared he started seeing red mist 😉

            My excuse is that you were proposing doing it to a North Carolina, not a Large Cruiser.

            Struggling to find more about it, but the Wikipedia page for the Iowa class actually mentions an early proposal for precisely that, a battleship-sized, fast, relatively lightly armored “cruiser killer” design.

            There was one, yes. Belt of 8″ or so as opposed to the 12″ of the ones armored against 16″. It was a very early proposal, IZ 10k-30k, although it did serve as the start of the side of the design office looking at faster ships. Eventually, they went with a stretched SoDak.

            So even if it’s a bad idea, it’s at least a bad idea that the experts had at one time too.

            That ship would have been about 50,000 tons standard, which is very different from what John is proposing. I do slightly wonder if he isn’t being lead astray by the 12″/50 Mk 8, which is a truly spectacular weapon. Everyone else’s 12″ guns would have been fairly useless.

        • bean says:

          OK, I’m supposed to be packing for a vacation, and you’ve got me designing imaginary battleships because I have a perverse desire to play devil’s advocate here.

          Muahahahah! My diabolical plan is working!
          (Also, isn’t that what SpringSharp is for? And why haven’t I linked to that already?)

          Why do we care about power and range? We’ve got battleship guns that can reach 40,000 yards, and armor that provides immunity zones out to 30,000 or so, when nobody ever managed to hit anything past 26,000 yards and even that much was rare. What if we don’t bother to try?

          How sure are we that nobody would have tried? The US was never in a position to fight at really long ranges, and we had by far the best systems.

          The average Treaty battleship had a 14″ belt and 6″ deck armor. The US Navy’s 12″ Mark 8 gun firing the superheavy AP shell could penetrate a 14″ belt out to 18,000 yards. With a reduced charge, it could drop the same shell through a 6″ deck from 18-21,000 yards. Causing maybe half the damage of a “proper” battleship gun’s shell, but it can fire 50% faster and weighs half as much.

          I do like the way you think. I’ve always been a bit surprised that reduced charges never seem to have reached fleet service anywhere.
          Also, it bears pointing out that at longer range, the increased rate of fire usually doesn’t mean all that much.

          Also, if we accept that ships won’t start actually hitting each other until they are inside any practical immunity zone, is there really much value in armoring battleships against anything bigger than 8″ cruiser guns? Make the ships tough, with good compartmentalization and damage control, but give up on the immunity zone. Was any dreadnought battle past Jutland ever won by way of armor actually deflecting shells?

          Guadalcanal, maybe If SoDak had only been armored against 8″ guns, there were at least two hits which would have gone through the main belt, given the range they were at.
          And there were definitely battles lost because of inability to keep out shells. Denmark Strait springs rather forcefully to mind.

          All else being equal you’d rather have a large battleship than a small one, but for e.g. a second-rate power trying to control a large ocean on a budget (and a treaty tonnage 60% of your rival’s), the best bet might be a large number of small battlecruisers, maybe 20,000 tons with 8-9 12″ guns and modest armor. If you have to go up against heavy battleships you’ll need to match them 2:1 in numbers of your cheaper ships, and you’ll want to try for a night action to close the range. Otherwise, you get to send a battlecruiser to places you’d otherwise only send heavy cruisers.

          I like the way you think, though I wouldn’t call the results ‘battlecruisers’. My concern with ships that small would be that there are lots of things you can’t fit, most notably TDS.

          But it was Japan that built the Yamatos, and the United States that decided to crank out a few Alaska-class ships just to prove we could. Help me convince myself we didn’t stumble onto the practical optimum dreadnought and ignore it because we were pretty much done with dreadnoughts by then. Is there anything we, or the Japanese, did with Real Battleships in the Pacific that couldn’t have been done tolerably well by Alaskas in proportionately greater numbers?

          I’ve always liked the Alaskas. Hipsterdom, I think. But what you’re saying is not entirely implausible. Although I wouldn’t be sure that the lack of long-range battles was a necessary feature of the war. I’ll have to read up on them a bit, if I can stand D&Gs carping about them.

          Edit:
          Wait a second. 12″ and 25,000 tons standard? Are you in the pay of the British negotiators of the 1930 London Naval Treaty?

          • Protagoras says:

            Why hasn’t SpringSharp been updated in years? I want more features, like machinery actually varying in weight depending on which kind of engines you use!

        • cassander says:

          I imagine cost would come up to bite you in the ass if you tried that. I lack good figures on cost, but seriously doubt that the Alaskas were half the cost of the iowas, so even if buying 2 alaskas for every 1 iowas was a better use of tonnage, it wasn’t more cost effective. Each battlship has fixed costs for things like fire control radars and gunclocks regardless of ship size, so your more numerous small ship navy costs more.

          • bean says:

            That’s going to be a hard question to answer. Your smaller ships do take more radars, gun directors, etc, but you also get economies of scale on your guns and armor, and building smaller guns and armor is generally cheaper per weight than large ones. Unfortunately, cost breakdowns are almost impossible to find.

    • gbdub says:

      Re: all or nothing armor, is there any truth to the idea that light armor was almost counterproductive against heavy guns, because it was thick enough to set off AP shells (which could just punch through non-armor steel without exploding) but too thin to prevent penetration?

      In later battleships the main belt armor was sloped – obviously this would increase effective thickness against flat trajectory shots, but how did it affect overall immune zone?

      It seems as though all battleships (Iowa included) were mostly designed before the real danger of aerial bombardment was fully realized. Dive bombing would result in a heavy projectile coming at the deck armor at a near vertical angle – presumably with more penetrative power than maximum range plunging gunfire. What would a fully “post Pearl Harbor” armor scheme have looked like?

      • bean says:

        Re: all or nothing armor, is there any truth to the idea that light armor was almost counterproductive against heavy guns, because it was thick enough to set off AP shells (which could just punch through non-armor steel without exploding) but too thin to prevent penetration?

        It depends on the fuse. I’d have to check details on such things. At best, it’s a waste of weight.

        In later battleships the main belt armor was sloped – obviously this would increase effective thickness against flat trajectory shots, but how did it affect overall immune zone?

        It was sloped inboard, not outboard. The protection is improved against plunging fire as well as flat-trajectory fire. There were early proposals, I think one of the US ones was called Ironsides, to slope the belt the other way for protection against flat fire. But that never got implemented.

        It seems as though all battleships (Iowa included) were mostly designed before the real danger of aerial bombardment was fully realized. Dive bombing would result in a heavy projectile coming at the deck armor at a near vertical angle – presumably with more penetrative power than maximum range plunging gunfire. What would a fully “post Pearl Harbor” armor scheme have looked like?

        A very heavy deck (probably 7-8″), with a 1.5″ bomb deck at least two decks up to start fuses going. Somewhere, I have a table with immunities from bombs for various deck thicknesses.

        Edit: Found it, in Nelson to Vanguard. Altitudes (kft) above which deck armor can be penetrated by 2000 lb AP bombs. (Table has other bombs, but I don’t feel like reproducing it.)
        Thickness/Altitude
        7/9
        6/7
        5/5
        4/3
        3/1
        2/-
        The 7″ deck is immune to 1000 lb AP bombs, and 1,500 lb AP bombs would have to be dropped from 13,000 ft.
        Battleship Design and Development suggests that a 16″ AP shell dropped from 15,000 ft would achieve a terminal velocity of 300 m/s and penetrate 8.7″ of armor. A dive bomber usually reached a terminal velocity of about 150 m/s.
        The most serious attempt at a true post-Pearl battleship design was probably the German H-44, which was as big as it was precisely to make the very thick deck practical. The US didn’t do much formally after 1942, while the British, oddly, did. They settled on something like 7.5″, depending on which study you read.
        Unfortunately, I don’t yet have a copy of Raven & Roberts, which might have more details on those designs. It was at the top of my list, until I found US Cruisers (relatively) cheap.

        • gbdub says:

          I know sloped armor is inward – I figured it was similar to a tank, which has inward sloped armor and faces flat-firing weapons. Outboard would be goofy – very inefficient way to enclose a volume.

          Anyway I find these questions interesting because it seems like, while the citadel armor worked well to prevent battleships from being outright sunk by naval guns, they were vulnerable to air attack (especially on their soft bits, e.g. the rudder, which would be a hard target for a gun) and to “mission kills” when their super structures got blown to hell. So I wonder what, if anything, naval architects would have done had they had a better sense of the threats the ships would face in practice.

          • bean says:

            I know sloped armor is inward – I figured it was similar to a tank, which has inward sloped armor and faces flat-firing weapons. Outboard would be goofy – very inefficient way to enclose a volume.

            Sorry. Crossed wires, but you have it backwards. It slopes the opposite way that a tank does (I think naval practice is to look from the main deck, not the outside). It does seem a bit weird, and internal belts (the only way to get a slope above 15 degrees) are not good for damaged stability, but sloping top-in would hurt immune zone a lot, and bottom-in is more efficient than a similar thickness of vertical armor. Check the link for a diagram.

            Anyway I find these questions interesting because it seems like, while the citadel armor worked well to prevent battleships from being outright sunk by naval guns, they were vulnerable to air attack (especially on their soft bits, e.g. the rudder, which would be a hard target for a gun) and to “mission kills” when their super structures got blown to hell. So I wonder what, if anything, naval architects would have done had they had a better sense of the threats the ships would face in practice.

            There wasn’t much they could do. Shafts and rudders are impossible to armor. Topweight means you can’t put much armor in the superstructure. The stuff in the superstructure is distributed and duplicated as far as possible to avoid this, but there’s no easy solution.

          • gbdub says:

            Whoops, me dumb – not your fault. I was misreading a diagram like this one and thinking of the sloped “shoulder” of what’s actually the deck armor (the part marked “230 MNC”), while you were obviously referring to the main belt.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Can you expand a bit on the nature of the minimum thickness of face-hardened armour? Google is giving me nothing.

      • bean says:

        I’m not an expert on this (the person to ask would be Nathan Okun), but thinking this over more, I think the limit is that below a certain thickness, the face-hardened layer decreases the overall resistance of the plate to penetration. Basically, the face doesn’t join the back in holding the shell outside the armor, and past a certain point, shattering the shell is less important than simply holding it out. There’s also the problem of properly controlling the depth of the face-hardened portion in thin plates. A .1″ variation isn’t much in a 12″ plate, but it’s a big deal in a 1″ plate. (I know this is definitely a thing. I’m not sure about my first point.)

        • dndnrsn says:

          Does the necessary thickness vary with the area of the plate? I know that there were tanks with face-hardened armour considerably less than 12″. Even the Maus, agreed by connoisseurs to be the be-all and end-all of stupidly impractical super-heavy tank designs, didn’t have 300mm of armour. Penetration data for some guns measures penetration of FHA in the ~75mm range at 100m. So I have to assume that for areas smaller than on a battleship you could have thinner FHA.

          • bean says:

            12″ isn’t the minimum for face-hardened armor, just an example value. I think the usual naval minimum was 5-6″. Tank and naval armor face rather different environments, and I think (but am far from certain) that face-hardening is much less important against big slow-moving projectiles than it is against smaller, faster projectiles. Tanks are much more likely to face the latter. At sea, nobody ever shoots at 100m. 4,000 yards is close, and at that range, the 5″/38 Special Common has 5 inches of penetration and a striking velocity of 1,600 ft/s.
            It’s also quite rare to see small-caliber AP naval shells. They’re usually SAP or common, although intuitively I’d think that would mean you’d be more likely to face-harden, as uncapped projectiles are a lot less effective against face-hardened armor.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The estimate you gave for a minimum was “a few inches” but I am guessing it is less for tanks – given that 100m was a short enough distance for AT vs tank or tank vs tank that making an armour-piercing round that couldn’t penetrate past 100 or 200m wouldn’t be worth it.

            (As an aside, I think this is another way some war games delude people – while AT vs tank or tank vs tank confrontations in WWII commonly started at a kilometre or less, with between 500-1000m seemingly the norm, but longer distances possible with some gun-optics combinations, in a lot of tactical wargames ranges tend to be much shorter)

          • bean says:

            I know very little about tank armor, so I can’t say what the limits on their face-hardening were. The Germans do seem to have used face-hardening on plates of 1″ or less. A paper from DTIC suggests that the face was reasonably thin and formed using something called flame-hardening. I don’t know what that is, but I don’t think it’s the same thing that they used on naval armor.
            I’ve also come to the conclusion that wargames should be banned, because all they do is pollute discussions of this kind of stuff.

          • dndnrsn says:

            As a moderate, I support only banning wargames below, say, the corps level. That’s where the rot sets in.

          • bean says:

            As a moderate, I support only banning wargames below, say, the corps level. That’s where the rot sets in.

            Agreed. The problem is that your typical wargamer has a short attention span, and just wants things to blow up. There’s a niche for things like CMANO, although I have quite a few problems with that, too. (I once lost Iowa to three hits from a Soviet SAM in surface-to-surface mode. From flooding. Fire, I could see, but not flooding.)

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Fire, I could see, but not flooding.

            Coincidentally, how often do people assume at first that “fire control” means “putting out fires on the ship” (like I did… >_>)?

          • dndnrsn says:

            The larger the scale of something, usually the more it can be abstracted, and thus the less skill (as opposed to, say, judgment) comes into it. Combat command in real-time is extremely demanding – if the leaders aren’t well-selected and well-trained, bad shit happens. Of course, real life sees plenty of that happen, but wargamers disproportionately want to play elites versus elites, not “terrified 23-year old made an officer because he has a university degree in charge of a bunch of guys combed out of logistics units due to unexpectedly heavy infantry casualties versus old men and teenagers somewhere in the Netherlands in late 1944”. They don’t, however, want to go through demanding selection and training, for the most part. Add to that the fact that it’s very hard to make good AI – I suspect the level of abstraction has something to do with it, as I’ve seen far better AI in games where the pieces are battalions or divisions than where the pieces are squads or individual men. Something’s gotta give, and give more the smaller the scale.

          • bean says:

            @Gobbobobble

            Coincidentally, how often do people assume at first that “fire control” means “putting out fires on the ship” (like I did… >_>)?

            Occasionally. I can’t really put a number on it (as much as anything because I’m usually talking as soon as I see signs of receptiveness and correct them before they tell me), but I’ve certainly had people assume that and tell me about it.

            @dndnrsn

            The larger the scale of something, usually the more it can be abstracted, and thus the less skill (as opposed to, say, judgment) comes into it.

            Agreed to all of the below. I think it’s also a reflection of the people who play the games. In general, someone who wants to fight with tanks doesn’t want to have their platoon ambush the other guy at 700 m, and have a long-range exchange of fire as the other guy’s unit scatters for cover. They want a melee, and we get World of Tanks and the like. The same happens with naval games. People who play tactical games want stuff to blow up, and they get disappointed when it doesn’t. People who play strategic games seem qualitatively different.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Even the tactical games that are meant to be hyperrealistic have these problems. I think a big part of the problem is that in a game where a “match” is a 60-minute stretch of combat or whatever, to serve as entertainment it needs to be a “fair fight” in a way that strategy is entirely about avoiding if possible.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Interesting to hear how unrealistic tactical wargames are. My perspective has always been that it’s meaningless bro minutiae. How well a German tank company performed against its adversaries tells you nothing about what WW2 really meant, how it lost, and the net effect on the world.

          • bean says:

            Interesting to hear how unrealistic tactical wargames are. My perspective has always been that it’s meaningless bro minutiae. How well a German tank company performed against its adversaries tells you nothing about what WW2 really meant, how it lost, and the net effect on the world.

            I’d point out that those are not really the questions tactical wargames are designed to answer, so far as they have meaning beyond entertainment/Wehraboo validation. You get the answers to your questions out of books and discussion, which is an entirely different type of entertainment.
            This does raise an interesting question, though. We tend to think of military enthusiasts as being all sort of the same, but that’s not true at all. The most obvious divide is between people who are primarily into the really cool gear and those who are into the specifics of what happened back then. There’s a parallel interest in tactical/individual vs strategic. And none of this even touches on what drives people to favor specific wars.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            Interesting to hear how unrealistic tactical wargames are. My perspective has always been that it’s meaningless bro minutiae. How well a German tank company performed against its adversaries tells you nothing about what WW2 really meant, how it lost, and the net effect on the world.

            I don’t know if “unrealistic” is the right way to put it. Some games are highly realistic insofar as the technical stuff goes. It’s just that the context of the combat is all messed up, and neither most of the players nor most of the AI is up to doing the job. Imagine a baseball game with the greatest physics engine money can build, incredibly accurate simulation of your pitchers’ elbows and shoulders getting injured, etc. It won’t produce an accurate depiction of baseball if all the teams have the same number of points, if the players and AI don’t actually know how to manage a baseball team, etc.

            The question of “how did a German armoured company do” has, as Bean noted, been answered. It usually amounts to something like “really well when things went right, not so well when things didn’t.” Tactical games often don’t portray either accurately, because hitting your opponent where he’s weakest and attempting to pocket enemy forces and let the infantry mop them up isn’t as fun as smashing a company of Tiger IIs into an “equal points value”, whatever that means, of Shermans or T-34s. Even less fun is not getting to use those Tiger IIs because they got taken out by enemy aircraft or ran out of fuel.

            The “meaningless bro minutiae” mattered, but not for the reasons the Wehraboos think, and not always the minutiae they think mattered: they’ll get all hot and bothered over the different models of German tank, but be far less interested in the issues the Germans had using too many different models of truck, or the problem of German vs Soviet rail gauge.

            @bean:

            This does raise an interesting question, though. We tend to think of military enthusiasts as being all sort of the same, but that’s not true at all. The most obvious divide is between people who are primarily into the really cool gear and those who are into the specifics of what happened back then. There’s a parallel interest in tactical/individual vs strategic. And none of this even touches on what drives people to favor specific wars.

            I think the issue is that a lot of military history stuff is targeted at people with neither specialist technical knowledge – they’re into the superficial bits of the cool gear but it’s lust, not love – nor experience with historical methodology and the accompanying willingness to look at the big picture.

            I come at it more from the latter perspective – military history doesn’t get enough attention in the academic study of history (the attitude seems to be “if you love military history so much, why don’t you go to West Point/Sandhurst/RMC”) but the sort of methods I was taught to use to analyze, I don’t know, how Europe was shaped by the Black Death, can be applied to stuff like “why did Germany go into a war it probably couldn’t win? Did they know they couldn’t win?” or “why did things go so wrong for the US in Vietnam?” More broadly, what do the ways countries enter into war and the way they behave in those wars say about their societies?

          • bean says:

            I think the issue is that a lot of military history stuff is targeted at people with neither specialist technical knowledge – they’re into the superficial bits of the cool gear but it’s lust, not love – nor experience with historical methodology and the accompanying willingness to look at the big picture.

            I think that’s a good way of putting some of what I was trying to get at. Maybe we call that axis shallow vs deep. Because yes, there are the people who are in lust with the technical gear (the best way to tell this apart from love is probably the interest in the development history of the stuff), and you have the people who read Tom Brokaw and Steven Ambrose and the like, which are very much descriptive, and not analytical.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Conversely, there are academic historians who really look down on military history. I think this is because they see it as a throwback to “names and dates” history, or “great man” history – everything changed because of battle x, battle x was won by general y, etc. Unless things have changed drastically over the past decade, the trend in history is “social” history. Back when I was taking history courses (focused mostly on medieval), for example, the focus was on society and how it changed, with technology (rightly) seen as playing a large role. Battles were barely mentioned, and wars really only so far as they fit into the bigger picture: WWI was the industrial chickens coming home to roost.

            I think this is unfair to military history. Good military history has to look at society and technology. Getting into the nitty-gritty of how the technology they had (and the technology they didn’t) have shaped WWI helps explain it: not just “factories could build lots of shells and equip vast armies” but looking at how the technological situation favoured the defence, etc. And you can’t understand how WWI happened without considering the various societies that went into it.

            It is, of course, possible to do social histories of war. One of my favourites is the imaginatively-named War, by Gwynne Dyer. As I recall – haven’t read it in years – it covers everything from the Battle of Megiddo to the early 2000s (when the second edition was written).

            I don’t want to be snobby about the more descriptive, narrative stuff, though. It’s a great introduction – you can’t just be like “hey, 14-year-old, here is a copy of Wages of Destruction.” And descriptive/narrative stuff in the form of memoir is worth reading, although primary sources should always be handled carefully.

  4. vollinian says:

    Is learning a second language reaaally good?
    Is learnig a Third language good for you?
    What about a new dialect for a language you already know?
    What about a fourth language?

    • knownastron says:

      A Freakonomics podcast touches upon this subject:

      http://freakonomics.com/podcast/is-learning-a-foreign-language-really-worth-it-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/

      From what I remember, if you’re a non-English speaker learning English your lifetime earnings increase 20%. If you’re an English speaker learning a different language, then it’s something like 4%.

    • Well... says:

      [edit]

      Earlier I wrote that I like learning new dialects of English. What I really mean is accents. I love doing accents.

      • moneybadger says:

        Do you have a formal process to select or learn certain accents/dialects? Which ones have you learned? I’ve been interested in a while in learning to speak and better understand certain Creole dialects.

        • Well... says:

          No process. I’ll hear an accent and like it, or like the way certain words/phases sound in some accent, and then a switch flips in my brain and I’m talking like that (to myself mostly) the rest of the day. Some words/phrases turn permanent: for example, when I’m at home anyway, I basically always pronounce “soap” in an Australian accent, like “sorrip”. Or sometimes I’ll make up an accent for an imaginary character. It’s mostly silly. But the idea is that all these accents/voices are distinct and (I think) opaque–meaning you won’t hear any of my natural accent in them.

          I’ve got more of these accents/voices than I could list. It’s probably fairly annoying. But if I ever need to become an actor one day…

      • Tibor says:

        Does English actually have any dialects, by the way? If not, then why?

          • Tibor says:

            Some of them seem to be accents rather than full fledged dialects, at least the way I understand the word dialect. I think that a New Yorker and a Londoner who speaks cockney will have no problem understanding each other immediately. They same cannot be said of someone who speaks Plattdeutsch (which I gather is basically Dutch?) and a Bavarian who speaks oberbairisch, they will likely not understand each other at all at first. Pilsen, where I am from, has a few unique grammatical rules as well as a few words Czechs who are not from Western Bohemia won’t understand (whereas I sometimes have a problem recalling what the “proper” word for those things is) but I still think it is a stretch to call it a dialect. It would qualify by the standards of the wiki page you link to though.

            Scottish seems to be a proper dialect though. And Singlish too.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Mutual understanding has soft boundaries. I have a friend who I’d say has a pretty mild southern accent, but he says there are parts of New England (and, I think, Chicago) where people can’t understand him. Fortunately, he can also do a northern accent.

            I know someone who grew up in upstate New York. In general I can understand him, but if he’s asked a yes-or-no question, he makes a sound that I can’t transcribe, let also understane. It’s one syllable, but I can’t make out the phonemes.

          • When we lived in New Orleans, I could understand the local black teenager whom we hired to mow our lawn, my wife couldn’t. I think I remember a similar situation in London with a cab driver, that time with our kids not understanding.

          • Protagoras says:

            Some people just have more trouble with understanding accents than others. I seem to be one of those who is fairly good with understanding them; I always get confused when people say they can’t understand what someone with such and such accent is saying, because it’s almost always pretty clear to me, no matter how different it is from how I usually speak. I’m also terrible at faking accents, and my own accent tends to change over time to be more similar to those around me without any conscious effort. I have no idea how any of those are connected, if they are, or what other factors they correlate with.

          • Aapje says:

            @Tibor

            I found this:

            Neither is German intelligible to Dutch speakers, even after 3-4 years of studying German. This even holds for Low German, which is often held to be intelligible with Dutch. It’s not, even after 3-4 years of study and even to speakers of Dutch-German border lects in the Netherlands that are presumably closer to Low German than the rest of Dutch. After 3-4 years of German, Dutch speakers have only 55% intelligibility of Low German, and the ones on the border have only 59% intelligibility of Low German (Gooskens in publication).

            Interestingly, before reading this I guessed that West-Frisian and Plattdeutsch/Low German have roughly the same linguistic distance to Dutch and he did find that in his research.

            PS. Flemish and Dutch seem to be growing apart, BTW. My experience is that it is already quite hard to talk with many Flemish people.

            PS2. Perhaps the high mobility and big influence of Hollywood limits ‘drift’ in English?

          • Tibor says:

            @Aapje: After 4 years of studying? That is hard to believe. I guess it depends on what passes for studying. I mean I have never learned any Dutch, my German is probably something between B2 and C1 and I can still understand more than half of https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nederlanders (for example). It would be a lot more difficult when spoken (and if I tried to pronounce it, it would probably be wrong), but that’s a matter of getting used to a particular pronunciation and then it becomes (almost) as easy as reading. English also helps a little, although German is much more helpful. Words like “hoewel” “geïntroduceerd” “later” sound more English than German but they seem to be perhaps 10-20% of the Dutch vocabulary, most are closer to German (and about 40% I don’t recognize at all but my German is not perfect). I think I could learn Dutch in a year or two well enough to follow everyday conversation.

            I wonder why there are so many double vowels in Dutch though. My working theory is that the Dutch stole those extra vowels from the Czechs.

          • shakeddown says:

            @Protagoras

            Does this also extend to written-down weird accents? I hate it when books do this because it makes things almost unreadable for me, is it easier for you?

          • Protagoras says:

            No, I hate attempts to write down accents with a passion. I mean, I guess I don’t have great difficulty understanding them if I do read them, which is the topic at hand, but I do find them sufficiently annoying that it takes great effort for me to read them in order to attempt to understand them. I appear to be less flexible about spelling than pronunciation.

          • Aapje says:

            @Tibor

            After 4 years of studying? That is hard to believe. I guess it depends on what passes for studying.

            I’m pretty sure that refers to mandatory language lessons (3 hours per week or so) at the Dutch equivalent of High School/Gymnasium/Hauptschule. So unmotivated students + no practice outside of class = very little sticks.

            I’m not surprised that Dutch people who went through this have little proficiency in German and French (although I forgot the French words after each exam, which turns out to cause a rapid decline in grades).

            I wonder why there are so many double vowels in Dutch though.

            This critic actually thinks that Dutch would be improved by having more of them.

          • Creutzer says:

            @Aapje: Thanks for introducing data!

            It should be noted that the study references tested comprehensibility of (written) isolated nouns. I predict that comprehensibility of written full sentences or texts will be higher. I tried very quickly to find a study of that, but Google didn’t turn up any.

        • Creutzer says:

          English dialects, on the whole, seem to me to be basically as pronounced as German dialects, and you can certainly find ones that have severely diminished mutual comprehensibility.

          The major language that famously and miraculously has no dialects is Russian.

          • Tibor says:

            I’ve also heard that Russian has no dialects. But wikipedia seems to disagree.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Color me skeptical. There are definitely distinct differences between “St Petersburg Russian” and “Mainland Russian” and as much as it pains me to admit this Ukrainian and Moldovan both skirt the border between being dialects of Russian and languages in their own right.

          • random832 says:

            @hlynkacg

            Ukrainian and Moldovan both skirt the border between being dialects of Russian and languages in their own right.

            Er, what? My understanding was that Moldovan is (more or less undisputed) a dialect of Romanian. Did you mean some other language? Belarusian, perhaps?

          • Creutzer says:

            There are certainly no differences between St. Petersburg and Mainland Russian, whatever the latter is, that rise to the level of anything that a speaker of, say, German can take seriously as a “dialect”.

            Now, of course, I was exaggerating a bit. I don’t know how much of a dialect continuum was there and is left to Belarussian and Ukrainian, or how much of the original split within the Russian “heartland”, though it doesn’t seem very prominent at all. Russians don’t even seem to have much of a concept of what proper dialectal differences would look like.

            It would be interesting to have some measure of distance and see if even the original Russian dialectal splits went very far. I’ve only ever seen lists of a handful of sound changes which altogether don’t amount to very much more than the differences between Standard Austrian and Standard German German (and less than the difference between RP and General American). Maybe it’s mostly lexical stuff going on on the way to Ukrainian? (It is my impression that much of the impediment to Russians understanding Ukrainian is lexical; though I may well be mistaken about this.)

          • hlynkacg says:

            So my family is Ukrainian and Slovak. I speak Ukrainian, but have an American accent when doing so. I find Russian intelligible and can make myself intelligible to native Russian speakers so long as I take care to speak slowly and clearly. I also find Moldovan and Romanian intelligible but upon reflection this may have more to do with my familiarity with Latin/Romance languages than their similarity to Russian or Ukrainian.

            you make a fair point about German-speakers and what constitutes a “dialect” but I still find the Russian spoken by those from St Petersburg to be distinct from the Russian spoken in Moscow or Sevastopol in much the same way English as spoken in the Bronx is distinct from English as spoken in Atlanta or Los Angeles.

          • rlms says:

            I am pretty sure that Romanian is a Romance language (the Facebook posts of the Romanians I know look like Italian), and isn’t related to Russian at all.

          • Creutzer says:

            @ hlynkacg: If you want to get a feeling for what I mean when I say differences that German speakers would take seriously as dialectal differences, just think of a New Yorker who says “thoidy thoid street”. Compare the difference between his speech and your imaginary LA person to that between a Moscovite and a St. Petersburger. One is a matter of hearing that they’re probably not from the same place; the other is… a serious dialectal difference.

        • Well... says:

          Yes, English has dialects.

    • Anthony says:

      The real reason American schools teach foreign languages, in middle school and high school rather than in elementary school, is to make students’ English better.

      English barely has grammar, but making a teenager learn a language which has lots of grammar creates habits of thinking about the grammatical structure of what he or she is writing.

      • “English barely has grammar, but making a teenager learn a language ”

        Tell that ti a foreign learner of Englush…theres string verbs, irrregular plurals, prepositional verbs….

        • I’ve just been reading Orwell on the subject. He argues that English has unusually simple grammar. Of the six persons of a regular verb, only the third person singular (and the now obsolete second person singular/intimate) are different, so you only need two versions of the verb plus the auxiliary verbs. No gender except for things that actually have gender, such as people, with a few exceptions.

          • suntzuanime says:

            You don’t actually remove complexity from the grammar by using auxiliary verbs. You still have to learn how to use the auxiliary verbs. Plus English has articles, tenses, enforced word order; I think Orwell’s parochialism is showing.

          • Creutzer says:

            As far as I know, people estimate that learning different languages takes different amounts of study time (in terms of hours), and English is at the lower end. This seems plausible to me. English morphology is minimal and very easy to learn, so you don’t have to practice forever to get the morphology automatised. Second, rigid word order actually makes a language easier. Languages with so-called “free word order” don’t really have arbitrary word order, it’s just that the rules are more complicated and depend on discourse context in inscrutable ways. Rigid word order, I suspect, also makes understanding easier because you know what to expect.

          • Aapje says:

            @Creutzer

            I’ve heard the claim that learning mediocre English is easy and learning to speak it very well is quite hard.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Rigid word order, I suspect, also makes understanding easier because you know what to expect.

            Plus, it makes understanding ungrammatical sentences easier compared to more inflected languages. “Me not like you” is bad grammar, but it’s still understandable; “Ego non tu amare” or “Εγὼ οὐ σὺ φιλεῖν” is complete gibberish.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ Aapje:

            I’ve heard the claim that learning mediocre English is easy and learning to speak it very well is quite hard.

            FWIW I heard the same from a native German-speaker I know. He said that with English it’s easy to pick up enough to make yourself understood, but that you then have a lot of work to speak proper grammatical English; with German, it’s harder initially, but once you’re good enough to make yourself understood there’s not much more work to do.

          • Creutzer says:

            Agreed – when it comes to the question of speaking a language really well, then the morphosyntactic features of English are already irrelevant.

            @The original Mr. X: What that person told you about German is complete nonsense. There is a lot of inflection to get wrong, but you can perfectly make yourself understood without correct inflection. You can also easily make yourself understood with very unnatural word order.

          • Tibor says:

            @Creutzer: German does get easier though because of how the words are constructed. You can often guess a word in German simply by putting the meaning together from two other words, for example “Fahrrad” (of course, it is unlikely you will learn the words Rad and fahren before you learn Fahrrad, but anyway).

            For Czech speakers, what also often works is simply literally translating words by its parts. My favourite example of this pattern is the word “unauffällig”, which broken down consists of “un-“, “auf” “Fall” and the suffix “-ig”. Translating each of those separately gives you “ne”, “na”, “pád” and “-ný” and together the Czech word “nenápadný”, which has the same meaning as unauffällig (parts of the words change slightly, so instead of “-fall-” and “-pád-” you end up with “-fäll-” and “-pad” and in Czech “na” changes to “-ná-“, but those are minute things and the changes also somehow come naturally once you get a feeling for the language).

            After a while, you get a sense of what is probably going to work this way and what not. Typically the suffixes and prefixes have direct translations, so you really just need to remember the roots (of course, one does not usually think about it like this consciously, but it can help to remember the words).

          • Tibor says:

            @David: I think the only difficult thing about English is the abysmal spelling. The testimony of how horrible it is are the spelling bees. Other languages don’t have them, because everybody would win*. Maybe French could have them, it also seems to have a rather bad spelling, although perhaps it makes more sense if you learn French a bit.

            *Well, that is not 100% correct. But the contest would be very boring and concentrate on whether you write “i” or “y”, “c” or “k” or something like that, depending on the language.

            Also, middle English seems to have had quite reasonable spelling rules, then it was screwed up by a series of vowel shifts which were not accompanied by the corresponding change in writing. Modern English (if you forget most of the words with Latin roots) pronounced phonetically, actually seems to sound quite a lot like middle English and middle English becomes a lot easier when you realize that is in many ways just modern English with sensible pronunciation 🙂

          • Aapje says:

            @Tibor

            The testimony of how horrible it is are the spelling bees. Other languages don’t have them, because everybody would win

            False: Grand Dictation of the Dutch Language

            Of course, it is made difficult by choosing words that are rarely used, including a high percentage of loan words (especially from French) and even words that are based on names (the Dutch variant of Przewalski’s horse is (in)famous for once being featured in the Grand Dictation and it is named after a Polish explorer who discovered them).

            So I would caution against using the existence of spelling bees as evidence for spelling complexity, rather than a cultural desire to have spelling bees.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            There are transcription contests in French because there are so many homomyms.

          • Tibor says:

            @Aapje: Well, Dutch is essentially an Englishman’s attempt to speak German, so that does not surprise me 😛

            But seriously, I guess I was wrong and you learn something new every day. However, from your description there still seems to be a difference between the Dutch “grand dictation” and English spelling bees in that you can use relatively normal words in English and still make it difficult, at least for school children.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            OK, so “unauffällig” means “unupcasey”. Now what?

          • Polycarp says:

            @Cerebral Paul Z.: unauffällig = non – up – falling. Something that fell upwards would be conspicuous. Non – up – falling is inconspicuous. I think this method is more likely to produce a helpful result if you translate the pieces using more literal (Fall = fall), rather than figurative/derivative, meanings (Fall = case).

          • John Schilling says:

            But English spelling is easy to master. All you have to do is master German, French, Latin, Greek, and Spanish, figure out which of those language the word in question was stolen from, and spell it properly according to that language’s rules. Well, OK, the compound words with discordant origins can be a little tricky, but I really don’t see what all the fuss is about.

          • Aapje says:

            @Aapje: Well, Dutch is essentially an Englishman’s attempt to speak German, so that does not surprise me 😛

            Them’s fighting words, partner.

            Anyway, the Dutch are simply speaking correctly. The Germans ruined their language with a consonant shift and the English with a vowel shift.

          • Creutzer says:

            @Tibor: I’ve noticed this effect in the other direction between German and Slavic languages, because the word formation patterns are basically the same. I wonder how general that is, though: does that word formation pattern make lexical acquisition easier for everyone, including speakers of only-root-languages like English (I’m exaggerating), or does it help only those to whom the pattern is already familiar?

          • Winter Shaker says:

            This person proposes Tibetan as the hardest language to spell (presumably, among languages whose writing system is actually an alphabet at all – I don’t know if Chinese is still harder), with an honourable mention to Thai as well.

          • random832 says:

            @suntzuanime

            You don’t actually remove complexity from the grammar by using auxiliary verbs. You still have to learn how to use the auxiliary verbs.

            I think it’s possible that auxiliary verbs are less likely to develop irregularity (in the sense of normal verbs having irregularity* in how auxiliary verbs are used with them, not the auxiliary verbs themselves not being irregular) than inflection.

            *or ‘semi-regularity’ i.e. a whole class of verbs, related by etymology or simply ending in the same set of sounds has the same set of quirks. You can’t necessarily call the difference between Spanish -er/-ir/-ar “irregular”, but it does triple (well, double-and-a-half, -er/-ir turn out to be very similar to each other) the number of endings you have to learn.

          • Creutzer says:

            Interesting point about the regularity of auxiliaries! Not sure how it plays out in practice, though. There is both irregularity (French) and… non-trivial, though ultimately regular variation (German) in auxiliary selection, but I don’t know how wide-spread this is among languages that use auxiliaries.

            I don’t think regularity is all there’s to it, though. I don’t know of any studies about this, but I have the impression that for some reason, adult learners generally find it easier to use separate words instead of affixal morphology, however regular. Even highly regular agglutinative morphology seems to be harder to learn for adults.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          I much enjoyed John McWhorter’sThe Power of Babel, about the evolution of languages, which puts forward the idea that there is a huge variety in grammatical complexity between languages, and that, left to its own devices in a small community, a language tends to accumulate all kinds of crazy complexity, but as a civilisation expands and conquers its neighbours, the more people who end up learning the expanding language as adults, never quite mastering all the difficult bits, the more they will pass the simplified version of the language to their children, and eventually a lot of grammatical complexity will disappear.

          Thus, apparently, languages spoken by a tribe of a few hundred hunter-gatherers are a lot more difficult to learn than big nation state / imperial / colonial languages … though I’ve only really had experience learning big languages myself, so can’t vouch personally. I do find it striking just how much complexity Polish has relative to Bulgarian (based on a very low level of both so far), given their recent common ancestry .

          • Tibor says:

            Well, historically, if any of the two ever formed anything close to an empire then it would be Poland rather than Bulgaria…

            Sometimes, languages regain complexity – Czech was basically reconstructed by nationalists in the 19th century after a long time when at least city people spoke mostly German and even in villages it was kind of a mixture of the two. They reconstructed it by reviving old 14th and 15th century words (some of which are supposedly still part of the modern language today, although I don’t know which those are) and by borrowing words from Polish (věda, which means science in Czech, is supposedly a Polish loanword) and partly Russian.

            Complexity also disappears regardless of conquests. Czech has a particular way (called transgressive) to describe a past action which takes place while another action was happening (which in English would be expressed using the gerund I guess, so “putting the book back to the shelf, he said…”) or a past action which is followed by another past action (I don’t even know if that can be well translated to English, but the idea is similar to that of past perfect tense). But those are now obsolete and are not even used in writing any more (unless you want to sound “historical”, sort of like “ye olde english”). Nowadays, we just use one past tense instead. In German there also seems to be a shift from “präteritum” and “perfekt” tenses to using mostly only perfect (and I believe that swiss german does not even have präteritum”), so like if in English, you used present perfect instead of simple past. Interestingly, Spanish exhibits the same pattern, but only in Spain. In Latin America, the distinction seems to be kept, whereas Spaniards often use present perfect even for simple past.

    • Yes, for certain values of ‘good for you.’

    • Mark says:

      I think that learning a second language is good for you in that it can help reveal where your language might be constraining your thinking – though maybe that’s actually more of a cultural than a language thing.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      if you never expect to spend much time outside of an English-speaking country, or romance a person who is not a native English speaker, there are probably more efficient ways of getting the same sort of cognitive benefits.
      That said, there are few social reactions as pleasing as someone from a small country where lots of people speak English, say, a Dutch person, or a Bulgarian, on hearing you speak even a bit of their language that you didn’t strictly have to learn just to survive, so, if you’re going somewhere, always have a go at learning the basics beforehand, I recommend.

      • Creutzer says:

        It’s generally said that this is false for Dutch in particular, though.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          I guess I’ve just been lucky with the Dutch people I’ve met, then 🙂

        • Aapje says:

          @Creutzer

          I think that Dutch people do greatly appreciate it, but that there are other factors at play why they tend to quickly switch to English:
          1. A belief that the effort to learn their language is not worth it unless the other person wants to permanently stay. Dutch people see their language more like Luxembourgish than like English, French or Spanish: useful locally, but pretty useless globally.
          2. A self-image as cosmopolitans. Speaking a foreign language is ego-stroking to people with this self-image.
          3. A desire to practice the language. This is especially strong because Dutch people tend to consume English media much more than they practice speaking it.
          4. A belief that their English language skills are probably better than the Dutch skills of the other person, combined with a fairly blunt & practical culture (like you would find in New York, as well). In this kind of culture, you are supposed to often just take over the lead if you think you know better (this is incredibly rude in some other cultures).

          In practice this can mean that the social reaction that Winter Shaker enjoys can be missing when speaking Dutch to a Dutch person, although my personal experience as well as observations of other Dutch people leads me to believe that the pleasure is there, but this is often not shown because Dutch people almost reflexively switch to English. This rapid response leaves little time for signalling.

          PS. Note that personal factors can play a role here. I consider it plausible that Winter Shaker uses Dutch in a way that is particularly appreciated by Dutch people and thus get a bigger social reaction. In general a strong social reaction tends to require some level of surprise and Dutch people tend to be well-traveled, so it’s not that easy to surprise them, compared to the average Bulgarian, I would think.

    • vollinian says:

      Also, is it the case that more people are learning Chinese, specifically speaking Mandarin?

      Is German considered to be one of the hardest commonly spoken languages?

      What about Japanese? Is Chinese hard? It seems that these Asian languages that stem from Chinese itself requires a radically different set of knowledge than European languages or ones that stem from Latin. For example, it seems that for an English speaker, learning Spanish is easier than Chinese (or Mandarin if spoken).

      • ftktt says:

        My understanding is that pretty much all measure of language “difficulty” is highly dependent on how distant the target language is from other languages you can speak.
        Having studied both French and Mandarin, Mandarin has been much more difficult due to lack of vocabulary overlap, as well as a grammar and writing system totally different from Indo-European languages.
        Mandarin and Japanese are widely considered two of the most difficult major languages that you can learn as a native English speaker. However, a Chinese person learning Japanese will have a much easier time than an English speaker would, due to a long history of exchange between those languages and cultures. However, Japanese does not stem from Chinese, it is in a separate language family and the grammar is quite different. The confusion comes from the similar writing systems and (a little) shared vocabulary

        East asian languages can be very rewarding in their opportunities for inter-cultural communication, but you should know what you’re getting into. It will take you several times more study hours to reach similar level of proficiency as a European language (think a factor of 2 to 4). (ref.)

      • rlms says:

        There are various lists floating round on the internet listing how long it takes to become proficient in various languages (presuming you are an English speaker). My impression is that Mandarin (and I assume also Cantonese and other languages/dialects) are vastly hard to learn for a native English speaker than Romance or Germanic languages. I think Japanese is regarded as easier to learn to speak than Chinese, as it isn’t tonal and possibly has simpler grammar. Korean has a much easier writing system than either Chinese or Japanese, I don’t know how it compares in other ways. They aren’t only hard because they’re different from European languages; I think a native Swahili speaker would find Chinese much harder than e.g. French as well.

        German is definitely one of the hardest commonly spoken languages. Perhaps some people find it harder than Spanish or Italian because it has slightly more grammar, but that difference is dwarfed by the difference between any of those and East Asian languages.

        However, not all Asian languages are equally difficult. Urdu/Hindi is easier to learn than East Asian languages, and Indonesian is much easier. Equally, some European languages (such as Hungarian) are pretty difficult for native English speakers.

        • powerfuller says:

          I’m an English native speaker who has studied Latin, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean (though I’m not particularly good at any one of them), so I can give you some relevant anecdata. I remember reading some guy’s blurb on language learning, and two things he said that stuck out: first, the first second language (there’s probably a better way to phrase that) you learn is most likely to be the hardest, since you’re learning how to learn languages, etc. That’s why some people suggest learning a little Esperanto before learning the actual target language, since that may be the easiest language (for Westerners at least) to learn. I remember reading about some study that demonstrated learning 6 months of Esperanto and 6 months of French was more effective for ability in French than 12 months of just French (don’t have the study, so I might just be making that up). Second, he said that languages are like friends, and you have to learn to tolerate their difficulties. I have a friend who gets mopey a lot, and another who gets angry, and that doesn’t bother me (although I get frustrated when the mopey one is angry and the angry one is mopey). Likewise, each language has some things that are going to be wicked easy and other things that are very hard, and you just have to take it as it is. That’s not saying anything insightful. But as illustration, in my experience, each of those four languages is really easy for me in some ways, and really hard in others. Specifically:

          Latin: easy vocabulary (minus having to memorize all those principle parts), easy reading, difficult grammar, difficult writing, nobody cares about speaking.

          Chinese (Mandarin): I don’t find tones terribly difficult after a while, but it’s a real swerve at first; otherwise the pronunciation is pretty easy. The grammar is very simple compared to English. Learning to read/write the characters is probably the hardest thing, but that’s becoming somewhat unnecessary (at least for writing) because of how typing works (if you know the Romanization, all the possible characters pop up to choose from as you type it out). German and Polish were/are more intimidating to me than Chinese, but YMMV.

          Japanese: Very easy pronunciation (Spanish is harder for me), difficult grammar (although I liked it because it has some similarity to Latin, and probably found it easier since I studied Latin first), especially with the differences between formal/informal language. The writing can be difficult for the same reason as Chinese, although the language’s syllabaries are easy to learn.

          Korean: Kind of feels like Chinese vocabulary plus Japanese grammar (though that’s probably not a fair description). I found the pronunciation harder than Chinese or Japanese, and the grammar is really hard (though some are rarely/never used, Korean has something like 7 levels of formality); Korean seems like the Asian equivalent of Polish in terms of grammatical difficulty (in fact, Korean seems similar to Poland in other ways as well). On the other hand, Hangul may be the easiest and most well-structure writing system on the planet (thank you King Sejong).

          The order I studied the languages was Latin, Japanese, Korean, Chinese so some of the intimidation factor was mitigated (Latin grammar helped with Japanese, Japanese writing helped with Chinese, Korean pronunciation helped with Chinese, etc.). Once again, I’m no expert and for the most part only ever reached middling day-to-day proficiency at best.

          • ftktt says:

            I think it’s important to note that just because Chinese grammar is simple, it is not necessarily easy. For day-to-day communication it is very streamlined, but to express some more complex ideas it can get tricky. You only have a small set of grammatical tools/rules, and even if you follow all the rules you may be completely misunderstood, because it’s such a context-dependent language. For me it is much more intimidating than German. When my friend’s German is corrected, there is a precise explanation of what was wrong (case, gender, whatever). When I mess up in Chinese, despite years of experience my teacher is sometimes at a loss. “Eh, we just don’t say that.”

            Learning chinese characters is really important if you want to advance beyond an early intermediate level. This burdensome writing system has survived the influence of our fancy western alphabets not only because of cultural significance/inertia, but also due to its ability to a) distinguish homophones, of which there are tons, and b) encode etymological information. Most words in Chinese are made of two characters, each have its own more “fundamental” meaning. For example, 电脑 meaning “computer” is made of the characters 电 meaning “electric” and 脑 meaning “brain.” It becomes much easier to understand and remember new words when you already know the characters.

            One could then argue that you can learn to read without writing, since we have keyboard input. I can anecdotally offer: I tried that, it didn’t work well. Learning writing has been necessary to really understand the character structure, to distinguish very similar characters, or to read anything with a kind of calligraphic font (which seems like half of all signs in China ).

          • Mark says:

            I think that the bigger problem with regards to Japanese formal/informal language is the social difficulty of having to defer to people, rather than any additional grammatical challenge.

            I don’t think there is any situation with English (except perhaps when you’re a servant or worker in a luxury hotel) where it’s inappropriate to respond in the same fashion to which you are addressed. Not so in Japanese.
            Luckily, as a foreigner, you can more or less get away with anything, especially if you smile and everyone has had a little bit to drink. But in order to go completely native you either have to be a bullshit merchant par excellence (almost like a Japanese) or completely servile and lacking in testicular fortitude.

          • powerfuller says:

            @ftktt

            Your comments are very similar to what a friend of mine, who speaks Chinese very well, told me: he said everything in Chinese is so context dependent that the language kind of only works because everybody’s already on the same page, and that expressing truly novel ideas is therefore more difficult than in other languages. At this point, some comment about the language and the collectivist culture reinforcing each other could be made, I guess.

            Also, to your point, I pretty much gave up on being able to read calligraphy. I found characters somewhat easy to remember (and easy to forget, now that I no longer live there), and a lot of times I could often get the basic meaning of something from its component characters (if I recall correctly, a lavatory comes out as something like “hand wash room”), but I never wanted to bother learning the proper stroke order. If I’m not mistaken, quite a few Chinese verbs are composed of two characters that both mean the same as the verb, like 看见 meaning “see,” but 看 and 见 both mean “see” individually as well. That sort of redundancy was helpful to me for making sure the meaning was clear.

            @Mark

            Regarding the levels of formality, I really only meant that learning one set of inflections and then learning another set was burdensome (though in retrospect, it’s probably easier than learning Latin’s 4 conjugations and 5 declensions); I found Japanese a lot easier than Korean for knowing when to use which level, though I’m sure many nuances will forever escape me. And as you say, for a foreigner like me it hardly mattered whether I was talking correctly, as long as I was not being a dick about it.

          • One Name May Hide Another says:

            but I never wanted to bother learning the proper stroke order

            There is an app called Skritter that makes learning how to write Chinese characters addictive.

          • powerfuller says:

            @One Name May Hide Another

            Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll have to give it a try.

    • Tibor says:

      What do you mean by “good for you”? It can mean several things.

      If you’re talking about “practical” issues like how it affects your income and job prospects, then I imagine it really depends on what your first language is. Basically, if it isn’t English, then learning English is “reaaally”, well, necessary, as long as you want to do anything above high school level (and even then it is useful). It is also usually mandatory at school (I don’t know any European country where English isn’t a mandatory subject). Third language might still be pretty useful sometimes. I’m Czech and we share 55% of our border with German speaking countries (Austria and Germany). I also come from a town rather close to Germany (about 70km from the border with Bavaria, of course by non-European standards the whole country is close to Germany), so German can even be more useful than English. Essentially, if you’re doing something university-level, English is generally more useful than German, but if you’re a car mechanic then German might be even more useful than English. I imagine this is similar for other small countries with a big (and rich) neighbour. Other than that, learning a third language is, on average, probably not worth it in terms of income (save for obvious exceptions like when you’re a linguist, a translator or something like that).

      Of course a good reason to learn a new language is if it’s your partner’s native tongue.

      I speak Czech, English, German and some Spanish and Portuguese and I find that the more languages you learn the easier the new ones are, at least if they’re in the same category (Indo-European in this case). Neither of the above would probably be very helpful for learning Finnish or Hungarian, not to mention Mandarin or Japanese. Of course, Portuguese is particularly easy when you speak (some) Spanish, those languages are practically mutually intelligible (if two native speakers speak slowly and pronounce everything carefully) and English actually helps with Spanish more than you’d think (German or Czech not so much, although Czech shares some grammatical features with Spanish, such as the double negative or the possibility to omit the pronoun in some cases and the rules for placing the reflexive part of a reflexive verb are pretty much identical in Czech and Portuguese…not 100% in Spanish though). Stretching the definition just a little, one could say that Portuguese and Spanish are dialects of the same language (they are definitely closer to each other than Catalan is to either of them). I suppose that apart from fun, there are not that many practical reasons to learn Portuguese when you speak Spanish (and Spanish is a lot more useful than Portuguese, it will quite likely surpass English at the world most spoken language in a few decades). Learning a dialect might be good if you move to a place where it is spoken and you want to fit in. It is pretty much a necessity in Switzerland, from what I’ve heard. If you insist on speaking standard German, the Swiss will just consider you a foreigner (and they don’t seem to be so fond of Germans, actually) and you won’t be able to really fit in. But this is probably the same in other places.

      One thing that learning more languages opens to you is a sense of etymology. Many words are really the same in Indo-European languages, specifically, more than it seems, because they are spelled and pronounced differently. Learning many languages gives you a good insight into the etymologies. This is of course more pronounced in each subgroup (Germanic, Romance, Slavic), but many words are really common even across those subgroups (Irish, Welsh, Greek and probably a few more are Indo-European but do not fit into either of the three subgroups, but those are exceptions). Particularly Romance languages are useful, since they come from Latin and a lot of fancy “learned” words have Latin roots. You then realize that those fancy words are actually quite plain. For example the word “acreditar” means to believe in Portuguese, so credit is just belief and a creditor is just a believer (incidentally, this is how the term is translated to Czech and German). I imagine this is particularly useful for medical doctors, the names of all Latin names for muscles and bones probably start making a lot more sense when you learn either Latin or a romance language (often they are embarrassingly simple, sometimes the name in Latin means something like “the big bone in the back”). I imagine that Greek is also useful in this respect because another set of fancy “learned” words have Greek roots.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I’ve heard claims that knowing and speaking more than one language fends off dementia for some years, with the theory being that the work of inhibiting the language you’re not using at the moment is good exercise for the brain.

      • Tibor says:

        It would be interesting to see the distribution of dementia over different professions (although controlling for other things that influence it might be hard if you don’t want to keep a broad enough selection of professions). I wonder in particular, whether linguists are more or less susceptible to dementia than mathematicians.

        I also read somewhere, that multilingual people have on average a smaller vocabulary in each language than equally educated and intelligent monolingual people (but of course, their total vocabulary is a lot bigger). I notice that the more languages I know, the harder it is to recall a particular word in a particular language (including my native Czech) at a given moment. I sometimes recall a word in one or two languages and I have to think about the others for a while. And if the other person also speaks the language in which I can recall the word, then I sometimes just say the word in that. Sometimes I do it deliberately because one language does not have a good word for something I want to express. I try not to use too many Anglicisms, because I feel like English is penetrating other languages too much nowadays, but that’s just a matter of aesthetics. Sometimes it is really easier to say the English word however, especially if it is something work-related as basically all mathematics is written in English nowadays and often there are not even any translations of more modern terms in maths.

        I also cannot bring myself to say “Portmoneau” in German, I say “Geldbörse”, even though that seems to be rather old-fashioned nowadays. But the French word for a wallet just does not sound right to me in a German sentence. Of course Börse comes from the Latin “bursa” (btw, in German and Czech the word for the stock market is Börse and burza respectivelly), but it has morphed enough for me to sound like it belongs to the language 🙂

    • Matt M says:

      Something that I don’t think has been brought up yet is the prestige value of being bi-lingual.

      This is from an American perspective, but I suspect it’s similar elsewhere in the West (or the English-speaking west, at least). Not knowing any language other than English makes one seem like an ignorant boor. It implies a lack of interest in the outside world. It probably correlates with a whole number of other “problematic” traits and positions.

      Now some of this might be captured in metrics such as lifetime earnings, but there’s also the simple sense or pride and satisfaction you get from feeling like a properly educated and culturally advanced person. If you travel in certain circles, knowing only one language is essentially something to hide and be ashamed of. Feeling less ashamed is surely a positive end.

      • John Schilling says:

        This is from an American perspective, but I suspect it’s similar elsewhere in the West (or the English-speaking west, at least). Not knowing any language other than English makes one seem like an ignorant boor.

        Out of curiosity, how do you know whether someone you are talking to, speaks any language other than English? How do they know whether you speak any language other than English? Is this something that, in your circles, comes up in casual conversation early enough in a relationship that you haven’t already decided whether or not someone is an ignorant boor?

        Of the thirty or so people I have worked with for years, I could maybe tell you whether or not ten of them speak a foreign language, and then only because they are immigrants or first-generation Americans and their obviously-distinct background does come up early in conversation.

        • If what you mean by speaking a foreign language is being fluent enough to engage in conversation with a native speaker at an ordinary speed, I would guess that very few Americans other than immigrants or the children of immigrants speak a foreign language. It’s a nice accomplishment, but I wouldn’t think less of someone who doesn’t have it since few do.

          I have some knowledge of three foreign languages, but I don’t speak any of them to that standard.

  5. paranoidfunk says:

    Hey commentariat,

    Are there any Fulbright scholars here that could drop details on their experience as a whole?

    I’m in the middle of applying and would appreciate alumni tips or regrets, or otherwise. (And I’d certainly enjoy reading about your personal times abroad, as well! Stranded drunk in Prague, anyone?)

  6. Le Maistre Chat says:

    So if Mars once had a third moon, and it was 100 km in diameter, what would its orbital period have to be to look like it and Phobos were the same size to a creature on the Martian surface?

    I need to know for a story.

    • Eltargrim says:

      It would need to have an orbital radius of roughly 34 000 km to have the same rough angular diameter of Phobos as viewed from Mars.

      Approach: take largest dimension of Phobos and rough orbit of Phobos, as per here, and then cross-multiply the appropriate equation from here.

      EDIT: Nornagest makes a good point about the distance being smaller. Roughly the same result though.

    • Nornagest says:

      Well, let’s see. Phobos is about 22.5 km in diameter and orbits with a semi-major axis of 9376 km. The diameter of Mars is 6,779 km, so in the best case that translates into viewing Phobos at 5986.5 km. (It’s going to vary a lot more than Earth’s moon does, though.)

      Apparent diameter is inversely proportional to distance, so for a 100 km object to look the same size it’d have to be 4.4 times as far away from the viewer, which gives an orbit of about 30,000 km. Plug that into the orbital period formula (assuming zero mass for the moon, because it’s a lot smaller than Mars and I can use numbers from a Wikipedia table if we ignore it) and I get an orbital period of 157811 seconds, or about 44 hours. Phobos orbits about every 7 hours, so that passes a sanity check for me.

    • smocc says:

      Phobos has a diameter of 22.4 km and a mean orbital radius of 9376 km. For the two moons to appear the same they must occupy the same angle, so their diameters and orbital radii come in proportion. Hence, a_new = a_Phobos *D_new/D_phobos = 41,857 km 30,113 km.

      It will also have a longer orbital period than Phobos, by a factor of the ratio of their orbital radii to the 3/2 power = 9 5.75

      A Mars day is very nearly a day, so while Phobos goes around ~ 3 times a day, the new moon will go around once every 3 days 44 hrs ~ a little under 2 days.

      If the moon has roughly the same density as Phobos, its mass will be (100/22.4)^3 ~ 89 times larger.

      Deimos orbits at about 23,000 km. So at nearest approach it is ~7000 km away from the new moon, ~ 3 times closer than it is to Mars. However, for the gravitational forces between Deimos and the new moon and Mars and Deimos to be comparable we would need m_new / m_Mars ~ 0.09.

      The mass of Phobos is a factor of about 10^-8 smaller than that of Mars. The size difference gives about a factor of 2. For the Deimos-New Moon gravitational interaction to be comparable to the Mars-Deimos interaction we would need the New Moon to be about 10^6 times as dense as Phobos. Not likely.

      However, orbital interactions are tricky and often chaotic, meaning the seemingly small perturbation of adding in this new moon with an orbit close to Deimos could wreak havoc on the whole system.

      We could wonder about how an extra body would perturb the orbits of the other moons, but I don’t know enough to say. My guess is not much because it will still be very light.

      EDIT: I neglected to take into account the radius of Mars, which is non-trivial here because of how close Phobos orbits. Good job Nornagest and Eltargrim

      • Nornagest says:

        Mars’ radius is large enough relative to Phobos’ orbit that it has noticeable effects on the moon’s apparent size. Because of that, these numbers are accurate when viewing distance to Phobos is equal to its orbit’s semi-major axis, which is going to be true (ignoring eccentricity) around moonrise and moonset but will overshoot for most other times.

        My numbers above make the opposite assumption, so le Maistre Chat could probably get away with anything between them.

        • smocc says:

          Indeed, I caught that as soon as I saw your post and edited. I always forget the size of the planet. That messed me up in KSP for a long, long time before I caught it.

      • Eltargrim says:

        Don’t give me too much credit, I made the same error. Some of my other assumptions mitigated the effect is all.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Thanks, guys!

  7. skef says:

    So, the Supreme Court of Texas heard a case concerning Houston and spousal benefits that makes three primary points:

    I. There is no “fundamental right” for married couples to receive taxpayer-funded benefits or subsidies.

    II. This court should instruct state courts to narrowly construe Obergefell because the ruling has no basis in the Constitution.

    III. This court should instruct state courts to narrowly construe Obergefell because it threatens the religious freedom of those who oppose homosexual behavior.

    As it happens, the specific issue that forms the basis of the suit is that Houston has a law on the books prohibiting any support for same-sex spouses. The court earlier skipped hearing this case, but then decided to (apparently under some political pressure, because they face elections).

    So, setting the question of what the laws should be aside, it seems to me that point I is entirely sound, while points II and III are the sort of wishful federalism that states try and fail to engage in all the time. Therefore, if Texas actually had a court system instead of an additional legislature with a penchant for black robes, shouldn’t Houston be instructed to get rid of all spousal benefits unless and until that law comes off their books?

    • The Nybbler says:

      Point III isn’t necessarily unsound, just inapplicable. You’d have to find a case where Obergefell was possibly in conflict with religious freedom, e.g. a gay wedding bakery case. The State isn’t permitted to discriminate based on religious beliefs so it doesn’t apply here.

      Obviously Point II isn’t going to end well; the last person to successfully tell the Supreme Court how to do its job was FDR, and he was in a much better position.

      • skef says:

        On III, even better. Still, Houston should really be rescinding all spousal benefits, right?

        • The Nybbler says:

          The equal protection argument can be resolved either way, by granting spousal benefits to all married couples (striking down the law disallowing benefits to same sex couples) or to none (striking down the rules which provide benefits only to opposite-sex couples). I’d expect the courts to do the former just because it’s less disruptive.

        • Deiseach says:

          I would agree, save that it would be one hell of a mess re: adjusting tax allowances, pension rights and the whole kit and kaboodle, so I think The Nybbler is right and they’ll extend marriage allowances to all married couples because it’ll be less effort.

          You then have the semi-perennial single person cases where someone argues married people are being preferentially and unfairly treated compared to single/unmarried people and they want all spousal benefits struck off, but that never happens and I can’t see it happening here, either.

    • Brad says:

      The link is to a motion for re-hearing and the arguments therein are being made by private petitioners. Was this motion granted? Did they have oral arguments?

      Therefore, if Texas actually had a court system instead of an additional legislature with a penchant for black robes, shouldn’t Houston be instructed to get rid of all spousal benefits unless and until that law comes off their books?

      I don’t follow. Why should they do that versus just striking down the law themselves?

      • skef says:

        Was this motion granted? Did they have oral arguments?

        My understanding is that arguments were this week. (I won’t tempt the filter gods, but I believe Slate theorized the court was preparing to weasel out of all this by denying standing.)

        I don’t follow. Why should they do that versus just striking down the law themselves?

        If the teacher says “no tiddlywinks for girls” and the principal says “all toys must be shared” then the logical space left seems to be “no tiddlywinks for anyone”. (More specifically, the argument of I is that no one owes anyone spousal benefits. So of Houston wants to not give gay spouses support by not giving any spouses support, that’s up to them. The law they passed is only discriminatory if it is interpreted a allowing benefits to straight spouses. It a) need not be interpreted that way and therefore b) is not intrinsically in violation of Federal law and in need of being struck down.)

        • Brad says:

          First, the law also says that various benefits must be provided by the city. These benefits don’t exist as a result of some extra-legal process. So some Houston law must fall, why should it be constitutional ones instead of the unconstitutional law?

          Second, the law in question appears to be: “Except as required by State or Federal law, the City of Houston shall not provide employment benefits, including health care, to persons other than employees, their legal spouses and dependent children;”

          Given the change in law worked by Obergefell, viz. that Texas recognizes same sex marriage, the entire case seems moot. Houston can comply with the law by providing employment benefits only to employees, their legal spouses and dependent children — including legal spouses of the same sex.

          Edit:
          By the way, I don’t know what the rules are in Texas but some of those sentences impugning Justices of the Supreme Court could get lawyers in hot water in some states.

          • skef says:

            Sure enough! Burned myself again by relying too much on press descriptions.

            So basically, Houston was prudent with it’s legalizing back in 2001 in trying to avoid saying anything too explicit, but given how things turned out that prudence didn’t really help them.

            In that case, what the hell are the plaintiffs and their supporters thinking? What is the legal theory as to what Houston did against their own laws? From an article I turned up with your quote, I guess the theory has something to do with remaining standing of Texas’s DOMA, but that seems super-tenuous given the language of the Houston law.

    • skef says:

      Note: See Brad’s sub-thread for why my understanding of Houston’s law is mistaken. (There’s actually noting in there about same-sex anything.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “This court should instruct state courts to narrowly construe Obergefell because the ruling has no basis in the Constitution.”

      Is this them saying that they disagree with the Supreme Court (who presumably thought their ruling was based on the Constitution) and so they’re going to try to ignore them as much as possible? Can courts do that?

      • suntzuanime says:

        They certainly can ignore them as much as possible, by definition.

        The state courts probably have more leeway to do this than federal circuit courts, since they’re theoretically independent jurisdictional entities. They have to do what the Supreme Court explicitly tells them to, but they may not be as bound to interpret the law based on the Supreme Court’s precedent in matters that the Supreme Court hasn’t explicitly ruled that the states are bound by. At least that’s my guess as an enthusiastic layperson.

        • Jordan D. says:

          This is basically correct- with Obergefell, for example, there’s no doubt that it says that a state that provides marriage has to provide same-sex marriages. On the other hand, you could make a good-faith argument that it doesn’t require them to be called marriages, I suppose. A court can push against the edges of opinions it doesn’t like right up to the point where a higher court reverses them.

          Shortly after Obergefell, actually, there was an attempt by Justice Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court to challenge the US Supreme Court’s ruling on the basis of unconstitutionality, but even his sympathetic co-Justices weren’t willing to actually go through with the matter (and Moore was later suspended by state authorities for ordering state judges to enforce the state’s anti-same-sex law himself). Frankly, if you can’t get enough impetus to do that in Alabama’s state courts, I’m not sure you can get it anywhere.

          • A court can push against the edges of opinions it doesn’t like right up to the point where a higher court reverses them.

            Or doesn’t. I think it’s arguable that the CAFC more or less dragged the SC into recognizing software patents.

      • Brad says:

        Remember that link is a submission by private petitioners asking the court to rule a certain way, not the court ruling that way.

        I don’t think any contemporary court would make an explicit ruling like that, if for no other reason than because it is an invitation to be overruled.

        Cooper v Aaron is illustrative on how the Supreme Court might rule in such a situation: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/358/1.html

    • Nyx says:

      Point 1:

      I agree there is no fundamental right for couples to receive benefits or subsidies. But at the same time, as long as some couples are getting it, why should it be restricted to only straight couples? That’s arbitrary discrimination. Maybe Christians should have thought more carefully back when they were getting the government involved in the marriage business in the first place. They were perfectly happy to receive benefits and privileges for decades, under the aegis of “promoting family values”. And now they’re acting all shocked that the government isn’t going to discriminate arbitrarily against millions of Americans on their say-so.

      Point 2:

      Tough, the Supreme Court is the authority on what’s in the Constitution and what isn’t. I think Obergefell is on quite shaky ground legally, but at the same time, lower courts don’t get to overrule higher courts.

      Point 3:

      Gay people getting married doesn’t threaten religious freedom any more than coveting your neighbour’s oxen or failing to wear a niqab in public does. Religious freedom means the right to practice your own religion, not to force it upon others.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Maybe Christians should have thought more carefully back when they were getting the government involved in the marriage business in the first place.

        You mean the eighteenth century?

        Gay people getting married doesn’t threaten religious freedom any more than coveting your neighbour’s oxen or failing to wear a niqab in public does.

        These people (plucking an example at random, because I happened to come across it just before reading your post) might disagree.

        • rlms says:

          Those people had their religious freedom infringed, because the government punished them for making a choice based on their religious beliefs. They did not have their religious freedom infringed by the mere existence of a lesbian couple who wanted to get married.

          Separately, given that they ended up $217,000 better off, I don’t feel too sorry for them.

          • Jiro says:

            There’s nothing to prevent a nother gay coupkle from telling them to bake a cake, at which point they’ll have to pay a second fine and probably won’t be able to raise the money again.

          • CatCube says:

            Right, except that’s a few years of a modest salary, and they don’t have an income after it runs out–leaving aside that defending themselves will eat a substantial portion of it. That’s more of a consolation prize for being screwed over by the system than some sort of vindication.

            BTW, for full disclosure, I donated to that fundraiser. But I did that more because it’s nice to see somebody carry the fight forward (and fighting for something I’d like to see happen, as opposed to people like Yiannopoulis) than out of the expectation it’ll actually do anything more than act as a bridge for them to find a new career.

          • rlms says:

            @CatCube
            The unreasonable thing is the government fine, which is more than cancelled out by the donations. They are still operating the bakery as an online business (like it was originally) so they do still have an income. If it is reduced, that is really just consumers making choices in a free market (and the same would be true even if they had been completely forced out of business).

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Separately, given that they ended up $217,000 better off, I don’t feel too sorry for them.

            Ah yes, the old “It’s OK for my tribe to try and destroy members of your tribe’s livelihoods, because sometimes we fail” argument.

          • rlms says:

            Would you care to point me to the place where I expressed approval of the fine?

          • AnonYEmous says:

            rlms, you didn’t, but it’s clear that a lot of people are sensitive because you’re citing the specific example, when people are using that as an example of what could happen in the future

            i get that it was an offhand remark, but it’s literally, as the post says, a random example. Why even bring it up, unless you think all the other examples are similarly fated?

          • rlms says:

            @AnonYemous
            My main point is that the example given (and any similar examples) don’t imply that the existence of gay marriage infringes religious freedom, unless you take the position that people can infringe on your rights without directly affecting you. The fact that the people in that example received donations that more than covered their fine is just a relevant fact. If they had not received those donations, I would be more sympathetic towards them. In the same way, I would be less sympathetic towards someone fired for being gay if they were heavily compensated by donations.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Would you care to point me to the place where I expressed approval of the fine?

            You said it didn’t matter, because the people in question ended up getting more money in donations than they had to pay in the fine.

          • rlms says:

            No, I said “I don’t feel too sorry for them”. I meant “I don’t feel too sorry for them”, not “I condone the government’s fine”. If Carla Hale had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations after being fired for being a lesbian, I would not feel too sorry for her either, but also would not condone the firing (in reality, she didn’t receive any donations).

        • skef says:

          Even if such issues are not separated in the U.S. legal system, they are separable.

        • Montfort says:

          People in the 18th century were quite aware that the church and the state were different things, and could have reasonably foreseen that state marriage would diverge from their preferred religion’s marriage.

          (Edit: but yes, “centuries” might be better than “decades”, though I don’t know how long various marriage benefits have been around)

        • Nyx says:

          Maybe I’m being an obtuse foreigner here, but surely the threat to religious freedom comes from the massive government fine, rather than two men marrying each other?

          • Perhaps the real mistake was getting the church involved in marriage about a millennium earlier.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Maybe I’m being an obtuse foreigner here, but surely the threat to religious freedom comes from the massive government fine, rather than two men marrying each other?

            Given the way US (and most western, AFAIK) law is set up, gay marriage was obviously and inevitably going to lead to this kind of thing.

          • rlms says:

            @The original Mr. X
            Do you have a problem with interracial marriage? The same thing applies there.

      • Deiseach says:

        Maybe Christians should have thought more carefully back when they were getting the government involved in the marriage business in the first place.

        Nyx, don’t make ignorant remarks. I could equally say “Maybe LGBT people should have thought more carefully before getting government involved in regulating their ‘we just want to mark our committed love’ ceremonies”. All societies have traditions, rituals, understandings, and obligations re: marriage, particularly what is and isn’t and who is and who isn’t; it wasn’t “so humanity went along happily until Christians decided government should decide who was and who wasn’t married”.

        Government got involved because people kept going to law over “he so married me!” “i so didn’t!” and “i’m his wife” “no, i’m his wife” and “i’ve got a baby and he promised to marry me” “i never made any such promise and besides that’s not my kid” “twelve fourteen sixteen is old enough to get married without your parents’ consent” and other fun and frolics.

        Eventually enough people were “Something Must Be Done!” that governments got in on “look, we don’t care about what religion you get married in, for a civil marriage to be recognised, this is the bare minimum: you need to be this tall to get on the ride this old, if you were married before you need to be a widow/widower or properly divorced, if you have kids you have to support them and if you want to end your marriage contract this is how you do it”.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          In other words, the argument over gay marriage has always been about civil marriage.

          People who are now claiming that SCOTUS/the gays are destroying religious marriage are simply wrong. They aren’t affecting religious marriage.

          Mind you, there are also conversations within churches about whether that church permits gay marriage within their doctrine. But these are completely separate conversations from the question of the legal right of gays to marry.

          • JDG1980 says:

            Mind you, there are also conversations within churches about whether that church permits gay marriage within their doctrine. But these are completely separate conversations from the question of the legal right of gays to marry.

            Are they? Bob Jones University lost its tax exemption for refusing to admit students who were in interracial relationships. What reason do we have to think that the next time SJWs get into the federal government, they won’t revoke the tax exemptions of every church that refuses to recognize gay marriage?

          • random832 says:

            What exactly do you mean by “refuses to recognize gay marriage”, and how do you think it’s equivalent to the BJU situation? “Recognize” isn’t conduct, so let’s taboo the word. What, specifically, do you think a church (BJU is, incidentally, not a church) may want to do to someone on the basis of them being in a gay marriage that you think they will be unjustly prohibited from doing?

            (And why is there no serious push by any religion to “refuse to recognize” other kinds of invalid marriages such as marriages of divorcees?)

          • John Schilling says:

            What, specifically, do you think a church may want to do to someone on the basis of them being in a gay marriage that you think they will be unjustly prohibited from doing?

            The most obvious case would be that a church might want to refuse to provide the use of its facilities and the services of its minister to perform a wedding ceremony for a gay couple even if they are nominally members of the church. Given the wedding-cake precedent, I can easily see progressives trying to force that.

          • skef says:

            The most obvious case would be that a church might want to refuse to provide the use of its facilities and the services of its minister to perform a wedding ceremony for a gay couple even if they are nominally members of the church. Given the wedding-cake precedent, I can easily see progressives trying to force that.

            The question was about what might be forced, not what progressives might try to force. This would only happen in a very different legal landscape than the one we have now. Churches are still legally free to avoid marrying interacial couples.

          • Evan Þ says:

            But the Bob Jones standard would say the government could take away their tax exemption, which would be a very significant assault.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            The question was about what might be forced, not what progressives might try to force.

            Having to defend against a lawsuit is a very stressful, time-consuming and expensive business, even if the ultimate judgement is in your favour.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Would anyone like to take a crack at whether tax exemptions for religions make sense?

          • Brad says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz
            Keep in mind that there are two (major) tax benefits for charities: not owing taxes themselves and donations to the org being tax deductible.

            If I were king, I’d eliminate the latter benefit altogether. But that doesn’t tell you anything about religious organizations specifically.

          • John Schilling says:

            Tax deductions for charitable contributions make sense insofar as the government is also running a social welfare state that commits to the same goals as the average charity. Churches have traditionally doubled as the biggest charity on the block.

            Tax-exempt status for churches also make sense if are trying to enforce separation of church and state, insofar as targeted manipulation of tax rates and deductions is one of the standard tools for governments to manipulate behavior. But if we’re just going to replace that with “you only get to keep your tax-exempt status if you do X and Y but never ever Z”, then that’s not so good an argument any more.

            Whether that means its time to abolish tax-exempt status for churches or to push back hard against anyone who imposes conditions on tax-exempt status for churches depends on your priorities. And maybe on whether you’ve got some other credible plan towards the same end.

          • rlms says:

            @John Schilling
            “Tax-exempt status for churches also make sense if are trying to enforce separation of church and state, insofar as targeted manipulation of tax rates and deductions is one of the standard tools for governments to manipulate behavior.”
            Most governments tax things like petrol and tampons. Does that mean there is too little separation between the fuel and hygiene produces industries and state?

            I’m not massive fan of churches as charities, in that large amounts of their untaxed donations go to things I don’t value, like buying new church things. But they are non-profits that don’t do actively evil things, so it makes sense for them to have charitable status (unlike, for instance, UK private schools which have charitable status despite being run as businesses).

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            This is a small thing, but I used to be in the SCA (Scoiety for Creative Anachronism), and churches had spare space which could be rented for probably not very much money.

            This was presumably made possible by the tax examption.

            That flexibility presumably contributes something that’s hard to quantify to local culture.

          • But they are non-profits that don’t do actively evil things, so it makes sense for them to have charitable status (unlike, for instance, UK private schools which have charitable status despite being run as businesses).

            The argument was that charities are largely substituting for government activities. That is true for the private school, since every student going to a private school is one fewer student that the state has to pay for in a public school (U.S. meanings of both terms).

          • Brad says:

            My sense is that the average deductible dollar does not go to pay for something that would otherwise be paid for as part of the social welfare state. But I’d be willing to be convinced otherwise.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            rlms, what do you mean as “run as a business”? In America, tuition for a private school is a fee-for-service, not a tax-deductible donation. But also in America, there are two levels of non-profit. A private club can easily declare itself a 501c non-profit, promising never to distribute its profits, in return for those profits not being taxed. A 501c3 charity has a further status, avoiding other taxes, in particular that donations (in return for no benefit) are subsidized by the government.

          • rlms says:

            @DavidFriedman
            But the services that government provides depend on those provided privately (and vice versa). A private army would also provide services largely provided by the government, but they usually aren’t given charitable status.

            @Douglas Knight
            I meant charitable in a 501c sense. Since I’d heard of private schools getting charitable status by making token gestures towards “public benefit”, I’d assumed that that was a sufficient condition. After further research, it seems that most private schools (around 80%) are actually non-profits, and the for-profit ones don’t have charitable status.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Most governments tax things like petrol and tampons. Does that mean there is too little separation between the fuel and hygiene produces industries and state?

            Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the US Constitution. Freedom of tampon manufacturing, as far as I know, isn’t.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ David Friedman:

            The argument was that charities are largely substituting for government activities. That is true for the private school, since every student going to a private school is one fewer student that the state has to pay for in a public school (U.S. meanings of both terms).

            Plus, since parents who send their children to private school still pay the taxes that go towards the upkeep of state schools, each such parent is effectively subsidising the state education system to the tune of several tens of thousands of pounds a year.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          It wasn’t just “we feel like we’re married”, it was also that the government (not the religions) thought it was inportant to incentivize marriage and/or worthwhile to have a bunch of rules making it simpler for the government to deal with people whose money and child custody were deeply entangled.

          On the whole, these operated to the advantage of married people, and there was no way to duplicate them without being married. It was possible to make contracts (this took a chunk of money and time) to sort of duplicate the marriage advantages, but not completely.

          I’ve asked a gay friend about why marriage was chosen as a cause to push for. He said it was a result of partners not being granted visitation privileges in hospitals when many homosexuals were dying of AIDS.

          I’ll say that marriage has the advantage of being well-defined, which makes it easier to get than ending (or at least lessening) bullying at school or parents throwing their teenagers out.

          I can hope that legalizing marriage makes gay people be more accepted as normal people and this might help with the latter two problems.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            It wasn’t just “we feel like we’re married”, it was also that the government (not the religions) thought it was inportant to incentivize marriage and/or worthwhile to have a bunch of rules making it simpler for the government to deal with people whose money and child custody were deeply entangled.

            In Britain, at least, it was pretty much as Deiseach said.

            On the whole, these operated to the advantage of married people, and there was no way to duplicate them without being married.

            Married people brought benefits to society as a whole (raising the next generation to fight the French, mostly), so why on Earth wouldn’t they get benefits that non-married people didn’t?

            I’ve asked a gay friend about why marriage was chosen as a cause to push for. He said it was a result of partners not being granted visitation privileges in hospitals when many homosexuals were dying of AIDS.

            Here in the UK civilly-partnered people had/have hospital visitation rights, and that didn’t stop people pushing for gay marriage.

  8. rlms says:

    Content warning: possibly irritating psychological introspection/navel gazing.

    Some autistic people are bad at telling how people are reacting to what they’re saying, so they can socially fail by talking too much about something other people don’t care about. I kind of have the opposite problem. I’m very sensitive to how people react to what I say, which can cause me to socially fail by not talking at all if I don’t think people will react positively. This is bad, because a little bit of awkwardness from saying irrelevant/uninteresting things is inevitable in most conversations, and trying to avoid it by not talking leads to much more awkwardness in the form of silences. Does anyone know what I’m talking about?

    • skef says:

      Is the increased sensitivity limited to reactions in conversations, or is it more general? Do you spend time and effort gauging how those around you might react in order to prepare for or hope to influence those reactions, given your sensitivity to them?

      • rlms says:

        Largely limited to conversations; I don’t e.g. carefully choose how I dress to get positive reactions.

        • skef says:

          Do you choose how you dress on any non-personal basis? You get a gift of some clothing that you personally think is attractive and looks good on you but is a little “flashy”. Would you just go ahead and wear it without hesitation?

          More generally, is it worth putting aside opportunities for positive reactions for the sake of reducing the probability of negative ones?

          • rlms says:

            Yes, I take other people’s reactions into account, but not as much as I do when choosing what to say.

            I think there is a balance between saying risky but potentially beneficial things, and avoiding saying uninteresting/offensive things, but I think I fall too far on the side of avoiding negatives. Additionally, often I can’t think of anything that would be positively received, and settle for an awkward silence.

          • skef says:

            Well, after all that, I can at least say that yes, I think I know what you’re talking about.

            These issues fall into the general area of “social anxiety”, which (in my opinion, at least) is a poorly understood phenomenon compared with other psychological problems. All I can offer in a few paragraphs is this:

            The standard resources often talk of a problem called something like “social phobia” and also of a problem like “avoidant personality disorder”. There is controversy over whether these really identify separate problems. But to the extent that the diagnostic criteria do manage to separate them, what you describe is more like an avoidant personality. That’s not to say you are out there in “disorder land” — it sounds like your distance from the mean is pretty small.

            I suspect the ultimate difference, which again is not very well captured by the criteria but is a useful and relevant distinction to make, is whether the source of anxiety is ultimately social conventions (and worry over not meeting them) or the attitudes of other people. With avoidance it’s an increased sensitivity to the latter that is at root. Along the lines of my “opposite of OCD” note in the last open thread, this could theoretically put AvPD on the other end of an axis from sociopathy.

            Note that “avoidance” sounds misleadingly like shyness, but that isn’t really a good description of what people labeled with the condition actually do. In experiencing a relatively higher emotional reaction to other people’s attitudes, an avoidant personality is more just overwhelmed by social interaction, which sometimes leads to “acting out”.

    • Well... says:

      You might not be the first one asked along when coworkers are going out to lunch, but at least they’ll (all else being equal) respect you and consider you smart. You benefit from the natural assumption that a guy who doesn’t say anything is lost in his deep thoughts and is therefore wise/profound. “Better to remain silent and have people assume you’re a fool…” and all that.

      (Outside of jokes with my wife) I’m not autistic, but I definitely wish I was better at keeping my mouth shut, being comfortable with silence, and not sharing every dumb thought that enters my mind. Most social interactions I look back on fill me with some level of embarrassment, rightly or wrongly. Consider yourself lucky.

      • skef says:

        You benefit from the natural assumption that a guy who doesn’t say anything is lost in his deep thoughts and is therefore wise/profound.

        That’s being pretty charitable to conventional thinking. The most common label attached to people who avoid conversation and don’t offer a different story in the form of facial expressions is “arrogant”.

        • Creutzer says:

          And if you don’t avoid conversation, but don’t contribute much to it, you annoy some people, such as me. (At the same time, I myself would like to be good at talking less.) I don’t know how widespread this sentiment is (though anecdotally, some have told me they share it), but it’s another little piece of evidence that not saying much is a socially safe option.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There are no socially safe options. Conversations are minefields seeded with hunter-killer drones, and if you avoid them entirely people will shell the mountaintop you’re hiding on. This is why social skills are so important; if you congenitally lack them, you’ll constantly be getting bits blown off.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I don’t know if this true. If you’re quiet, people will generally just forget you are there. But if you’re smart, it doesn’t take a lot to show it. Being able to coherently defend your beliefs is enough to mark you as above the average person.

    • Joeleee says:

      Yes, this is definitely an issue for me. The other outcome is that people are often surprised when they find out I have thought about something or have an opinion about something, because I never spoke about it. I’m trying to be more talkative and accept a certain amount of awkwardness/anxiety but it’s not necessarily an easy task.

    • I get this completely, but cant offer much help. It might be useful to offer small samples to guauge reaction. It might also halp to put things in a self deprecating way. … I’m a yettible X geek…since what people who dislike intellectual dislike about it is often the perceived status grap.

    • dndnrsn says:

      OK, I might be misinterpreting, but – if the problem is awkward silences, why not just find ways to get the other person to speak? Most people love talking.

    • Randy M says:

      I’m probably a bit too sensitive to both wasting people’s time, and being thought stupid and/or boring. For instance, when someone listed a ranking of comments by commenters a few threads ago, I calculated how many that came out to per thread for me; being about four per thread on average, I was somewhat reassured that I wasn’t wasting people’s time too much here. Spoken conversation is probably the same way.

      Some advice that may or may not help is to realize that while people like hearing interesting things, a lot of people just really like talking about themselves, so just being the guy who asks a couple questions allowing others to go off on their hobby horses and nodding along will get you appreciated. People are usually happy to talk about mutual acquaintances, travel, work, hobbies, etc. if given the chance.

      (Edit: Well, dndnrsn said the same thing. Sorry for wasting everyone’s time with the redundant post. [meta-joke])

    • Vermillion says:

      So I’ve devoted quite a bit of thought to interacting with others, how communities are built and maintained and what it means to build satisfying relationships. I can’t say I’m an expert but I have grown into a much more social person now than I was in my teens and early 20s. This was a deliberate reinvention; I think I was starting from a different point than you rlms, but in the same ballpark. I realized I was happier around other people than not (at least some of the time) and I wanted people to like being around me too. I’d say I make friends pretty easily these days and have managed to do so a lot over the years while changing hobbies, jobs, schools and cities. So now without further adieu:

      Verm’s guide to making words good

      I think it’s helpful to see conversation as a kind of a game, where the players each take their turns and ‘winning’ if everyone enjoys themselves. I don’t mean a debate, with points are scored and so forth, only that you should try to look at these interactions as fun in and of themselves. With that mindset your goal is to be able to play well enough to keep the game going when it’s your turn. It sounds like you’re worried about not contributing to the experience, so you’re not playing at all. While this means you’re not making any errors, you’re also making the other players work harder to pick up your slack, and that can lead to some resentment and avoidance that you’re picking up on. You don’t have to be Agassi, but it’s not that hard to keep a volley going for a minute or two. So let’s talk about a couple different settings for playing with varying time frames and intensities.

      Short duration, low stakes
      e.g. 2 minute elevator ride with workmates, waiting for a bus, chatting with someone in the service industry while they perform that service.
      This can be a great place to practice the conversation game. Winning here is a pleasant interaction that doesn’t extend beyond the time allotted. The weather is a popular because anyone can talk about it (unless they work in a bunker I guess), for any length of time. Failure modes: silence, picking a topic that’s too long, too hot, or both.

      Medium duration, low stakes
      Group lunch at work or school, happy hour with acquaintances. 15 min – an hour
      The sweet spot here is either one or two topics that can be discussed at length without it getting heated or lots of small topics some which can get more serious but won’t take over the table. Topics will hopefully be geared to things that everyone can contribute to, but this does not mean you have to have much or any preexisting knowledge or interest in the topic to play. Asking general clarifying questions of the experts, or building on someone else’s answered question is a great way to spend your turn here. Failure modes: silence, or conversely dominating the conversation. Remember you can always say, ‘I haven’t really made my mind up on that yet, what are your thoughts [name]?’

      Long duration, low stakes
      e.g. Networking, night out a bar, dinner party were you know one person. 2 hours+
      Probably one of the most challenging arenas and without a game plan this will get draining fast. Make some goals ahead of time like, I’m going to spend 2 hours there and talk to 5 different people. Decide when and how much food and drinks you’re going to get, this is especially important if you’re a nervous eater/drinker. The goal here is to have several short and medium duration interactions with different people and relatively smooth entrances and exits between them. Never enter a conversation in progress without listening for at least a minute first, then you can offer an opinion or ask a question of one of the current players without worrying that it will flub. Continue engaging in that topic till it’s run its course then either start a new one or shake their hand (one on one) or say, ‘very interesting, thanks for talking with me about [blank]’. Failure modes: Silence, not going in the first place because you know you’ll hate it. Everyone hates networking, but with a little effort it can be less than terrible and everyone will appreciate that.

      Short duration, high stakes
      e.g. Any talk with an authority figure, surprise run in with a friend. ~5 minutes
      Another tough map, especially since you generally have to improvise through them. The main goal here is get to the important information as quickly and efficiently as possible, and to discuss them seriously. You seem like a pretty empathic person rlms and unlike low stakes conversations that should serve you well here. Acknowledging the other persons emotions here is key, unlike a low stakes talk where that can derail the game, but understand you probably won’t have the space to do more than say that you’re hearing them. Often that’s enough. Failure modes: silence, trying shift to a low stakes topic ‘The doctors say it’s terminal.’ ‘Man crazy weather this week’.

      Medium duration, high stakes

      e.g. A first date, a party with friends, family holidays. Hour+
      This is where your play-style will really be grown. Conversations should ideally flow like they did when stakes were low, the major difference is the stakes will likely rise as time goes on and managing those transitions can be tricky. Pay attention to bids from your partners: if they say something personal and vulnerable, try to follow their lead. Or see if they’ll follow you. Empathy, patience, and a good memory can help you get the highest score here. Failure mode: Transitioning too fast, or not at all.

      Long duration, high stakes
      e.g. Talks with your partner, close friends, family. A lifetime
      This is the endgame, and to me anyway one of the fundamental parts of life. Share thoughts, emotions, hopes and dreams, learn who they are and they you. Enjoy as long as you can.

  9. @Corey:

    I’ll meet you in the latest OT and ask that you post the Official Libertarian Stance Towards The Poor

    I don’t think there is an Official Libertarian Stance Towards the Poor, or much else. Perhaps you are thinking of a different ideology.

    I can give you my views as one libertarian. Poor people are poor due to a mix of reasons, ranging from ones not at all their fault, such as being born in a poor country of poor parents, through ones almost entirely their fault, such as losing their first three jobs due to being unwilling to come to work on time.

    Helping poor people is often a meritorious act, but risks having negative effects–for instance by persuading them that being visibly in need of help is a more successful tactic than helping themselves. It is thus probably done best at a local level, by individuals for individuals they know, by churches, and the like.

    The major thing reducing poverty in the world is economic progress, which is helped by institutions of secure property rights and free markets; the shift towards such institutions–China is the big example–is much of the reason that extreme poverty has become much less common over the past few decades. The biggest thing the U.S. could do towards reducing world poverty is to be much more open to poor immigrants–the traditional policy abandoned in the 1920’s. Unilateral free trade would also help.

    Government policies in a country such as the U.S. sold as helping the poor are quite likely to hurt them, as do many policies pursued for other reasons. The poverty rate in the U.S., definition held constant, stopped falling at about the same time that the War on Poverty got fully staffed and funded.

    Is that sufficient, or do you need more?

    • Hetzer says:

      The biggest thing the U.S. could do towards reducing world poverty is to be much more open to poor immigrants–the traditional policy abandoned in the 1920’s.

      Government policies in a country such as the U.S. sold as helping the poor are quite likely to hurt them, as do many policies pursued for other reasons.

      These two statements seem contradictory to me. What makes immigration from poor countries different from other government programs designed to help the poor?

      I don’t claim to have a deep understanding of the subject, but I did find this short lecture compelling:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPjzfGChGlE

      Is Roy Beck overlooking something here? His reasoning looks sound to me. Looks to me like the impoverished world population is growing too fast for immigration to be a realistic solution, and that allowing mass immigration from the third world poaches the people most capable of reforming their own countries and enriching their countrymen where they already are. Also, I often wonder if the large amount of legal and illegal immigration to the US from Latin America acts as a pressure release valve that keeps social alienation and disaffection with the corrupt and cartel-infested governments in Latin American countries from building to a point where a revolution could take place and create a more accountable government in countries like Mexico and Honduras.

      Random aside: I’d also be interested in an exploration of how colonialism helped and/or hurt impoverished countries economically. I see colonialism almost universally denounced as an immoral and evil attack on sovereignty, but don’t really know about the economic side of it, or how e.g. historic European colonialism in Africa compares to modern-day Chinese colonialism in Africa.

      • Quoting me:

        The biggest thing the U.S. could do towards reducing world poverty is to be much more open to poor immigrants–the traditional policy abandoned in the 1920’s.

        Government policies in a country such as the U.S. sold as helping the poor are quite likely to hurt them, as do many policies pursued for other reasons.

        and Hetzer responds:

        These two statements seem contradictory to me. What makes immigration from poor countries different from other government programs designed to help the poor?

        Immigration from poor countries isn’t a government program designed to help the poor. The government goes to some trouble to reduce it. Insofar as there is any political pressure for it the motive is not helping the poor but getting workers to pick crops and do other labor intensive work.

        Looks to me like the impoverished world population is growing too fast for immigration to be a realistic solution, and that allowing mass immigration from the third world poaches the people most capable of reforming their own countries and enriching their countrymen where they already are.

        I specified *poor immigrants*. Letting in skilled immigrants benefits us and them but might well harm people in the countries they come from.

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Another key difference between immigration and other programs – and especially key in libertarian eyes – is that the people immigrating (poor or otherwise) are volunteering to do so. An anti-pattern here would be if the government is forcibly bringing foreigners onto home soil with the explicit intent of making the immigrants’ and natives’ lives better.

          Skilled people would likely harm their country of origin by immigrating, but by the libertarian argument, so might unskilled people (I suppose the risk is smaller per immigrant, but there are also more unskilled people). Either way, the fact that it’s voluntary is important. One predicted consequence of that is that if a person, skilled or unskilled, would prefer to immigrate if the choice is left to them, it is because they prefer the destination’s legal system over the origin’s; they prefer it because their efforts in their preferred system make them better off than their efforts in the other system.

          In a framework where more rights is considered being better off, letting them immigrate is trivially better for them. In a framework where free markets are considered being better off, letting them immigrate makes the people in the destination better off by giving them better access to what the immigrant makes, and makes the people in the origin better off by giving them needed information (the state of affairs there is bad enough to actually drive people to leave), which increases their incentive to make their own country more attractive.

          If they instead sought to simply bar immigration, the predicted result would be a lot of people staying where they are, being unhappy about it, and producing commensurately less value for themselves and others.

      • The Nybbler says:

        > that allowing mass immigration from the third world poaches the people most capable of reforming their own countries and enriching their countrymen where they already are.

        This line of reasoning strikes me as rather ugly. It implies the Western world should refuse to accept immigrants who would enrich both themselves and their new countries, in the hope that by condemning them to life in the third world (probably under some charismatic kleptocrat), eventually they or their descendants can improve their home country. And nationalism in this case works both ways; just as it’s not the West’s job to help every potential immigrant at its own expense, it’s also not the West’s job to look out for the long-term benefit of the third world at its own expense. So whether you look at it from an individual or national perspective, it’s bad.

        • Randy M says:

          And nationalism in this case works both ways; just as it’s not the West’s job to help every potential immigrant at its own expense, it’s also not the West’s job to look out for the long-term benefit of the third world at its own expense. So whether you look at it from an individual or national perspective, it’s bad.

          One can have a version of nationalism that directs their own country to look out for itself first and foremost, but to do so in ways that don’t impoverish other countries. Kind of like how one can be in favor of businesses being run for the benefit of their own employees and shareholders, so long as the company doesn’t inflict negative externalities on third parties.

          Saying we’d be condemning them to life in the third world is rather loaded, and seems unfair since unless we imported entire populations, someone is going to be left in those countries, and if we take the top ranks in ambition and/or intelligence those countries will have slower road to their own prosperity. Unless you think the smart are more intrinsically worthwhile morally, that seems worse consequentially.

    • sohois says:

      Not Corey, but I wanted to ask a question of this:

      It seems like it would be good to separate two definitions of ‘poor’ in this instance. On the one hand there is absolute poverty, which is typically defined as living on less than a dollar a day. This would be the type of poverty your penultimate paragraphs address

      The other type of poor would be relative poverty, such as an American or European on a very low or minimum wage, welfare or similar situation. Such people may still be far wealthier than the middle classes of many developing nations yet still feel themselves to be in a very poor state. Aside from prescribing local aid, what would be libertarian policy for such people? Such people will always exist, and for many there is perhaps a hard limit on their earnings caused by their IQ. What policies would a libertarian suggest local institutions use to help out such people?

      • IrishDude says:

        Such people may still be far wealthier than the middle classes of many developing nations yet still feel themselves to be in a very poor state.

        There will always be those who are relatively poor compared to others. Even the 1st world middle class are relatively poor compared to billionaires. My suggestion for people who are relatively but not absolutely poor, and find themselves unhappy comparing themselves to others, is to change their frame of reference.

        Stop comparing themselves to the wealthy in their own country and start comparing themselves to the absolutely poor in 3rd world countries. To facilitate this, they could read more world news about poor people in Zimbabwe, start donating a tiny portion of their already small income to help reduce diseases like malaria, and in general connect themselves more to those who are absolutely poor. This can create a new anchor for comparison, making them more appreciative of what they have compared to the absolutely poor.

        The relatively poor can also look more internally and compare themselves to themselves. If they make $7/hr and get a raise to $8/hr, that reflects an absolute improvement in their own standard of living, and focusing on this rather than that their neighbor makes $12/hr can improve their feelings of well-being.

        It’s the half-glass full/half-glass empty idea, and if people can learn to focus more on what they have than what they don’t, they’re likely to feel better about their lives. I don’t know the best policy to achieve this, but I’d like to see private charities try a variety of ideas to inculcate this way of seeing the world (in addition to inculcating other positive values).

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          Another strategy is to think less in terms of how much money they’re getting per unit time, and more in terms of how much utility they’re getting. A fellow looking glumly at salaries for an engineer in the middle of the US compared to salaries on the coasts would do well to notice the difference in living expenses. A large house in San Antonio may cost much less of the engineer’s time than one in San Jose.

          (The engineer may have fewer amenities, entertainment, etc. in San Antonio than in San Marcos, but (1) San Antonio’s no slouch at any rate and (2) if enough people think likewise and move there, any discrepancies start to melt away.)

          • Brad says:

            This seems to come up again and again. I’d love a really thorough look at how cost of living differences (in the US) actually work out in practice. With deep dives into various baskets of goods and services, revealed preferences, and a leavening of anecdotal stories to keep it readable. Does anyone know if such a thing exists as either a long form article or book?

          • Randy M says:

            This is a black box, but it is pretty depressing interesting.

            edit: This is better, maybe.

          • psmith says:

            I’d love a really thorough look at how cost of living differences (in the US) actually work out in practice. With deep dives into various baskets of goods and services, revealed preferences, and a leavening of anecdotal stories to keep it readable.

            Holy fucking same. This would be really interesting in its own right, and the discussion of which baskets of goods to use and why would get at a lot of mighty interesting philosophical questions. Hell, if nobody comes up with anything better, I might do this myself.

            This has some obvious limitations but is an interesting start.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Brad

            Not as far as I know. The parts are around; you can find cost-of-living measurements for various categories of goods and services. Plenty of anecdotal stories. But I haven’t seen anything putting it all together recently (and it would have to be recent to be relevant, I think).

          • random832 says:

            @Paul Brinkley

            (2) if enough people think likewise and move there, any discrepancies start to melt away.

            And the cost differences don’t?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            I wrote: If enough people think likewise and move [to San Antonio], any discrepancies start to melt away.

            @Random832 wrote: And the cost differences don’t?

            I would expect them to, aye. So also would nearly any libertarian. Eventually, the cost of living in some formerly cheap locale would rise until it was motivating people to move elsewhere as fast as it attracted others to move in. It might be more expensive than a San Jose; it might still be less.

            Of course, things would practically never achieve full equilibrium; various things are constantly occurring that make this locality more attractive than that one for this or that set of people. In the perspective of poor people, just as any people at all, this is a benefit, as it all constitutes new information for them to work with and exploit in order to seek their most preferred place to live.

        • Aapje says:

          @IrishDude

          My suggestion for people who are relatively but not absolutely poor, and find themselves unhappy comparing themselves to others, is to change their frame of reference.

          I suspect that this unhappiness is caused by core psychological mechanisms, that are strongly linked to our morality (our beliefs about unfairness, mainly, that are so strong to override self-interest in economic experiments).

          So your suggestion seems quite non-viable. I also question your belief that people are generally capable of changing their desires substantially, rather than their behavior. At the end of WW II, famine in my country led many people to eat tulip bulbs and sugar beets. They changed their frame of reference of what acceptable food was, to survive. Yet they didn’t actually come to enjoy it and quickly switched back to more enjoyable food once the food supply improved. You can find the same in many other cases, like homosexual people who have hetero marriages due to social norms against homosexuality. They don’t seem capable of actually developing a desire for hetero sex, given the high levels of unhappiness of people in these situations.

          Finally, to make people believe this, you have to counter the perception that there is unfairness in society that makes them poorer and the richer richer, than in a more just society. From my perspective, this perception is (partially) correct and you would need to lie to people to achieve your desired outcome. This reminds me of the utilitarian dilemma of whether it is just to engineer a human that enjoys abuse and exploitation. From my perspective, this is unjust.

          • IrishDude says:

            Through introspection, I know it’s possible to change your frame of reference and it’s possible to cultivate gratitude. I catch myself being envious occasionally, and I actively work to remind myself of what I have. My family started a semi-regular ritual to go around the dinner table and say something we are thankful for, and this habit has made us more appreciative of what we have.

            Sure, if someone’s intransigent then they won’t change any habits or ways of thinking. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. However, for those who are interested in seeking ways to be more content, there are techniques that can be taught and learned. I read some Dalai Lama books when I was younger that helped me, for example.

            As to people thinking that others having more is unjust, I’d like to point to this tweet. The pie isn’t fixed and I’d say most rich people, particularly in first world countries, got their wealth by growing the pie and making other people better off. If people had deeper understanding of economics and how win/win trades work, they might see many wealthy people in a different light, as people to appreciate and not scorn. Let’s hold our scorn for the cronyists/looters and those who enable them.

          • IrishDude says:

            Another anecdote on teaching/learning gratitude: when I was a kid, we had a song we’d always sing as a family that reminded us to appreciate the people in our lives regardless of our material circumstances. It was an effective way to make gratitude a focal point. A youtube link for the song, and here’s the lyrics as we sang it:

            “Oh we ain’t got a barrel of money
            maybe we’re ragged and funny
            but we travel along, singing our song
            side by side

            Through all kinds of weather
            what if the sky should fall
            just as long as we’re together
            it really doesn’t matter at all

            We’ve all got our troubles and sorrows
            they’ll be the same tomorrow
            so we travel along
            singing our song
            side by side”

            It certainly helps to learn gratitude when it’s taught to you by your parents.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            IrishDude, that strikes me as emotionally much better than thinking about how other people have it worse.

          • Finally, to make people believe this, you have to counter the perception that there is unfairness in society that makes them poorer and the richer richer, than in a more just society.

            Or you have to stop promoting that perception. Which, if the perception is wrong, means not lying.

            A lot of people intuit human interactions as a zero sum game. The implicit assumption is that there is a fixed pool of stuff, so if you have lots of stuff that means I have less. Seen from that standpoint, if someone else is much richer than I am, it seems like it is his fault that I am poor, hence unjust.

            That way of looking at it makes no sense unless you start with the assumption that everyone has the same claim to getting stuff and not much sense even then, since keeping the rich from getting rich might end up making the poor poorer instead of richer. Stuff doesn’t just appear, it gets made, and your making more doesn’t automatically result in my making less. The claim of injustice requires some justification, which in most cases I don’t think it gets. Part of the problem is that people want to feel that whatever is wrong with their lives is someone else’s fault, so are likely to be very uncritical of arguments telling them so.

            Perhaps the best refutation of that attitude, if not the most effective, is to reverse the argument. If it’s wrong that another American is much richer than you are, then by the same principles it is wrong that you are much richer than the average inhabitant of India or Africa. How do you make an argument that implies that the rich American should give you his money and doesn’t imply that you should give most of yours to poor people abroad?

          • skef says:

            Let’s hold our scorn for the cronyists/looters and those who enable them.

            If the “relatively poor” could change their attitudes with the ease you’re suggesting, why can’t the relatively wealthy put up with some redistribution, especially of a form that leaves them relatively wealthy, just a little less so? This talk of “looters” — why isn’t that just an attitude problem on your part?

          • The Nybbler says:

            If the “relatively poor” could change their attitudes with the ease you’re suggesting, why can’t the relatively wealthy put up with some redistribution, especially of a form that leaves them relatively wealthy, just a little less so? This talk of “looters” — why isn’t that just an attitude problem on your part?

            For one thing, it won’t happen. Redistribution just begets more redistribution… tax the rich, feed the poor, until there are rich no more. Not “poor no more”. No matter how much redistribution there is, more will be demanded.

            For one thing, because there’s a difference between accepting a condition of relative poverty and accepting that it’s OK for other people to make your position worse in order to make theirs better. I’m not nearly as blase about how easy it is to change one’s attitude towards the former, but the latter is totally different.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            @ Nybbler:

            Just a quibble, but

            Redistribution just begets more redistribution… tax the rich, feed the poor, until there are rich no more.

            This is theoretically possible, but it’s worth noticing that it has never actually happened, even in countries with decades and decades of socialist control.

            Communist systems did abolish the rich, but not through a gradual process of trying to help more and more difficult-to-help poor people.

          • The Nybbler says:

            This is theoretically possible, but it’s worth noticing that it has never actually happened, even in countries with decades and decades of socialist control.

            Because there’s pushback. Never does the pro-redistributionist say “that’s enough redistribution; poor people, if you can’t make it on what you’re taking now, it’s your problem”.

          • cassander says:

            @hoghoghoghoghog says:

            >This is theoretically possible, but it’s worth noticing that it has never actually happened, even in countries with decades and decades of socialist control.

            Um, every communist country? Zimbabwe, Uganda, Argentina? Probably South Africa eventually.

          • IrishDude says:

            @skef

            If the “relatively poor” could change their attitudes with the ease you’re suggesting

            I don’t think I suggested that changing your attitude could be done easily or without effort. Can you point me towards where I implied this? Digging a 5 foot hole isn’t done with ease, but it’s possible for most people to do so if sufficiently determined.

            I think changing an attitude, particularly a deeply ingrained one, takes discipline, practice, and desire to change. It’s like learning a new skill, where if you want to get good you need focus and intentional practice. It helps to have good role models and to be well-informed.

            why can’t the relatively wealthy put up with some redistribution, especially of a form that leaves them relatively wealthy, just a little less so?

            Echoing David, should the middle and lower classes in the first world, who are relatively wealthy compared to the 3rd world, be okay with forced redistribution of their incomes to 3rd world folk? I’m certainly supportive of voluntary redistribution.

            This talk of “looters” — why isn’t that just an attitude problem on your part?

            Aapje said “you have to counter the perception that there is unfairness in society that makes them poorer and the richer richer, than in a more just society.” Well, rich people can become rich in a just manner or an unjust manner. It seems to me a just manner would be those that become wealthy by making other people better off and an unjust manner would be those that become wealthy at other people’s expense (looters). Entrepreneurs that sell highly desired products and services at affordable prices and become wealthy would be an example of the justly wealthy, while corrupt/authoritarian government officials and crony businesses siphoning off the country’s wealth would be unjustly wealthy. Praise the former, scorn the latter seems like a reasonable attitude to me.

            EDIT: For the record, I rarely scorn people because it’s a negative emotion that’s usually unproductive, but the rare times I feel scorn for people who are wealthy it’s for the looters.

          • skef says:

            @IrishDude

            I’m just pointing out that to the extent that attitudes are flexible, many complaints or worries can be met with “you would feel better if you changed your attitude”. So if the wealthy are bothered by redistributive taxation, they can just work to be less bothered by it. In particular, those people bothered by involuntary redistribution might put some effort into being less bothered by it.

            I take it there are broadly two responses to that suggestion.

            The first is that involuntary redistribution is unjust, and therefore not the sort of thing one should get used to. If one is not a strict libertarian this argument is question-begging, but I’m not even sure how relevant that is. You weren’t particularly arguing that the poor are poor entirely due to their own actions, you were suggesting that merely being relatively poor isn’t necessarily that bad, and having a balanced attitude towards it might lead to more contentment. Similarly, those in favor of redistribution might suggest to libertarians that living in a broadly capitalist welfare state with redistribution, and especially having some capitalistic success, isn’t really that bad, and accepting the welfare state part of the arrangement might lead to more contentment.*

            The second argument would be that the wealth disparities of capitalism are ultimately best for everyone, while involuntary redistribution is not, so accepting the latter would be counter-productive for everyone. From a non-libertarian standpoint this is also question-begging. Many countries have achieved some balance between the two forces, and the view that chucking one out would make everything materially better is as yet still a fringe position. From an outside standpoint, libertarians might simply be wrong about this in the way that you take the poor to be looking at their situation in the wrong light.

            * Aajpe has argued that this could lead to greater and greater distribution. Given the loss aversion asymmetry I’m not sure that’s inevitable. But of course, that’s just as good an argument in the case of the poor. What is worse, from a capitalistic standpoint, than contentment? What if people were so good at it that they decided they didn’t need quite as much? Good lord, we would all be ruined …

          • IrishDude says:

            I’m just pointing out that to the extent that attitudes are flexible, many complaints or worries can be met with “you would feel better if you changed your attitude”. So if the wealthy are bothered by redistributive taxation, they can just work to be less bothered by it. In particular, those people bothered by involuntary redistribution might put some effort into being less bothered by it.

            Sure, being less bothered by things that are outside your control can be a good coping strategy. Stockholm Syndrome can be productive for hostages:
            “From a psychoanalytic lens, it can be argued that Stockholm syndrome arises strictly as a result of survival instincts. Strentz states, “the victim’s need to survive is stronger than his impulse to hate the person who has created the dilemma.” A positive emotional bond between captor and captive is a “defense mechanism of the ego under stress”.[4] These sentimental feelings are not strictly for show however. Since captors often fear that their affection will be perceived as fake, captives eventually begin to believe that their positive sentiments are genuine.”

            So, if you’re bothered about having your money involuntarily redistributed to others, you might instead try to think of it as just doing your duty to help your fellow man. If you really believe it you might even feel good about paying your taxes and come to think that’s what you really want to do, that it’s not an involuntary act.

            Michael Huemer has a really nice talk on the psychology of authority that I highly recommend watching all of, but since it’s 1 hour 20 minutes long I’ll suggest focusing on a short snippet, from 9 minutes 30 seconds to 12 minutes 30 seconds, on cognitive dissonance about the state and ways people might resolve that. (Bonus footage from the link: David Friedman makes an appearance at the 1 hour 14 minute mark!)

            Myself, I’m able to both find the involuntary redistribution through the state unjust and not feel in a tizzy about it. I can’t change it, so there’s no use crying over spilled milk. That’s an attitude that comes somewhat naturally but is also one that I’ve had to cultivate.

            EDIT: Your comments on how people should accept involuntary redistribution and that capital welfare states aren’t that bad is somewhat addressed in this response I had to Aapje in a prior open thread.

          • Aapje says:

            Let me clarify:

            I believe that pretty much all inequality produces unfairness exactly because I believe in capitalist principles (it’s extremely hard for people to decide what others need), as well as ingroup bias. So a rich person will procure better education for their children if they can, will help their friends/family more than others, will underestimate the charity that is needed to help the poor, they will make laws that create barriers to social mobility, etc, etc. So poverty and wealth become highly self-perpetuating in a laissez-faire system, which I consider very unjust.

            I also believe that eliminating all inequality produces unfairness & bad outcomes because then people are no longer rewarded for their hard work and people are not pushed to do what is best for others by capitalist mechanisms.

            So either extreme is bad and you need a position between them. I also believe that people become more discontent if you get further away from the optimum, as they see both extremes are very unjust.

            I think that relatively little inequality is better, especially in modern society for reasons that I won’t bother getting into to keep this post short(er).

            IMHO, society becomes better if we improve the balance. There is nothing wrong with teaching people to be happy with what they have in principle (like there is nothing wrong with teaching people that they should be happy to pay taxes, because it makes our society work). However, it shouldn’t be assumed that their unhappiness is purely their issue to solve, rather than a reflection that the society is too far away from the optimum.

          • I want to emphasize one of your premises, Aapje. I think that free-market capitalism must necessarily kill free-market capitalism if left entirely to its own devices. I see no game-theoretic ways in which that could be avoided. Wealth doesn’t just buy more consumer goods; it also buys more political power, more barriers to entry, more social and educational advantages, etc. And I don’t think you can just say “Let’s pass a law against those things” because that existing political inequality won’t allow that to happen in the first place. And even if you had a dramatic rupture such as a revolution that tried to establish an equal political sphere amidst continuing economic inequality, there are plenty of ways for the new system to become corrupted over time.

            In other words, real life is like a monopoly game where the person with the most assets on any particular turn also gets to rewrite one of the game’s rules each turn.

            So, inequality of outcome must inevitably lead to inequality of opportunity without a constant vigilance and redistribution away from that.

            Game-theoretically, the only two stable states of human society seem to me to be political and economic aristocracy or political and economic equality. The classical liberal idea that political equality could be paired with economic inequality strikes me as absurd on its face for game-theoretic reasons…and I think people as early on as the sans-culottes in the French Revolution have realized this.

          • cassander says:

            @citizencokane says:

            >I want to emphasize one of your premises, Aapje. I think that free-market capitalism must necessarily kill free-market capitalism if left entirely to its own devices. I see no game-theoretic ways in which that could be avoided. Wealth doesn’t just buy more consumer goods; it also buys more political power, more barriers to entry, more social and educational advantages, etc. And I don’t think you can just say “Let’s pass a law against those things” because that existing political inequality won’t allow that to happen in the first place. And even if you had a dramatic rupture such as a revolution that tried to establish an equal political sphere amidst continuing economic inequality, there are plenty of ways for the new system to become corrupted over time.

            If this is true, it’s not capitalism killing capitalism, it’s some system of government killing capitalism.

            >In other words, real life is like a monopoly game where the person with the most assets on any particular turn also gets to rewrite one of the game’s rules each turn.

            Except people die, fortunes are divided, and heirs are idiots. If this process were as pernicious as you claim, every Kennedy alive today should be richer than Papa Joe was. This isn’t the case. Nor is it true for the Roosevelts, the Adams, or any other american dynasty.

            >So, inequality of outcome must inevitably lead to inequality of opportunity without a constant vigilance and redistribution away from that.

            Define “equality of opportunity”. Suppose admission to the ranks of “the elite” is based purely on your score on “The Test”. The kids of the rich are relentlessly drilled by their parents to do well on the test for most of their lives. Poor kids, not so much. Assuming rich kids do better on the test is that a society with equality of opportunity?

            >Game-theoretically, the only two stable states of human society seem to me to be political and economic aristocracy or political and economic equality.

            The point of capitalist is precisely that it ISN’T stable, that dynasties are always rising and falling. This is, in fact, what’s good about it, because when you do something really well, you build up a dynasty that perpetuates whatever that good thing is. And when it stops being good, the dynasty falls apart.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Game-theoretically, the only two stable states of human society seem to me to be political and economic aristocracy or political and economic equality.

            Aristocracy is obviously reasonably stable over long periods, but political and economic equality seems highly unlikely to be. Somebody is going to be enough better at something that they end up better off. If you handle this by redistribution, then either those doing the redistribution will be politically superior, or if you have everyone doing free-lance distribution, those better at concealing their wealth will be better off.

          • Aapje says:

            @citizencokane

            So, inequality of outcome must inevitably lead to inequality of opportunity without a constant vigilance and redistribution away from that.

            How do you stabilize a system that runs out of control when left to its own devices, because there is more positive feedback than negative feedback? You add resistance to the positive feedback and introduce or strengthen the negative feedback.

            As the environment is dynamic and highly complex to a level where we cannot depend on static solutions, we also have democracy that allows corrective changes to be made and where ‘1 man, 1 vote’ inherently dampens the influence of a small elite.

            @cassander

            Define “equality of opportunity”. Suppose admission to the ranks of “the elite” is based purely on your score on “The Test”. The kids of the rich are relentlessly drilled by their parents to do well on the test for most of their lives. Poor kids, not so much. Assuming rich kids do better on the test is that a society with equality of opportunity?

            This is why ‘we’ provide state-funded drilling of every kid, even for poor parents, called education. When this was introduced, it led to the downfall of the old stratified class system. We see the caste system in India also disappearing gradually, mainly because of this.

            The classical liberal idea that political equality could be paired with economic inequality strikes me as absurd on its face for game-theoretic reasons

            I disagree, limited economic inequality can only exist when we do have a limit on political inequality (I prefer to phrase it this way, as 100% political equality is just as non-achievable as 100% economic equality).

            Except people die, fortunes are divided, and heirs are idiots. […] The point of capitalist is precisely that it ISN’T stable, that dynasties are always rising and falling. This is, in fact, what’s good about it, because when you do something really well, you build up a dynasty that perpetuates whatever that good thing is.

            The more safety nets there are for the elite and the less support there is for those on the bottom, the harder it is for dynasties to rise and fall. What you get is some very capable people building up a dynasty, then generations of generally ever more mediocre people not ‘perpetuat[ing] whatever that good thing is.’ This is similar to how (economic) monopolies often enjoy periods of rent-seeking before the conditions become so bad that their customers revolt. The harder it is to revolt, the longer the monopolies can maintain rent seeking and thus retard progress. The same is true in politics.

            This is why it’s important to have laws/regulations that destabilize economic and political dynasties, so it is hard for them to survive when they stop being good.

          • cassander says:

            @Aapje says:

            This is why it’s important to have laws/regulations that destabilize economic and political dynasties, so it is hard for them to survive when they stop being good.

            It would be desirable to have those rules, but I see very little evidence that governments are prone to write rules that actually accomplish that goal, and lots of evidence that they accomplish the opposite.

          • Aapje says:

            @cassander

            I would suggest that you may consider many of these outcomes of the rules that we do have as the default, so you fail to appreciate exactly how different our society would be without them.

            It is true that modern Western governments tend to have a lot of legislation that is for other purposes and that some of it does strengthen dynasties. In my experience, libertarians tend to have a bias where they believe that this is more common than it is, while they tend to undervalue how the system counters dynasties.

            One of my criticisms of the current state of affairs is that I think that the currently dominant ‘third way’ politics is mostly too kind on dynasties, but I don’t believe that merely reducing regulations is the answer. It’s more about finding a better balance.

    • Poverty has multiple forms and government intervention can be just about anything. For instance, if there is someone who is disabled and unable to work, and the government give $127.54 a week, that would seem to be alleiviating their poverty. …at least it would be odd to argue that if a charity gives them $127.54, that works, but if the government does the same, it doesn’t.

      • …at least it would be odd to argue that if a charity gives them $127.54, that works, but if the government does the same, it doesn’t.

        But not so odd to argue that a local charity, perhaps a church, or a relative, will be better able to distinguish between cases where it helps and cases where it hurts, between, for example, the person who is really disabled and the person whose supposed disability is either not wanting to work or wanting to work covertly and still collect welfare payments.

        Anne Sutherland wrote a very interesting book largely about a community of Romani in Richmond California c. 1970. A routine tactic for getting welfare was for the husband of a couple to pretend to be feeble minded.

        • 6The main difference between the libertarian solution to poverty (which is also the conservative solution, not a third way) and the liberal solution is that private charity can be arbitrarily withdrawn in a way that state welfare cannot. You supplied an example where that would be a good thing, but it is equally possible to cherry pick examples where it, for instance the charity withdraws aid from a deserving person because there is something about the individuals lifestyle they don’t like. Basically not entitled to assume that a charity will make a completely correct objective decision.

          If you had a way directing resources towards the deserving poor and away from the undeserving poor, you would have a genuine third way. As it is, you are relying on the reader putting a higher valuation on avoiding payments to the underserving poor than on supporting the deserving poor. That is, on having conservative values.

          I’ll see your Romani and raise you an Atos, a tale of vulnerable people being made subject to intense anxiety as the result of a cost cutting drive.

          • Matt M says:

            What makes someone “deserving” of charity?

          • Brad says:

            @Matt M
            I don’t mean to be totally snarky because there is genuine good being done–but I think the joy of getting to answer that question is a big driver of charitable donations in the first place.

          • Matt M says:

            Which is sort of my point. It almost sounds like AncientGreek is treating “deserving” as some sort of objective fact of the universe, rather than a highly subjective and variable personal opinion.

          • Speaking of subjective personal opinions, on what tablet does it say that you deserve every cent of your pre tax salary? Hint: scepticism is a universal solvent.

          • IrishDude says:

            @TheAncientGeekAKA1Z

            I like Frederick Douglas’ thoughts on the matter of who has the right to one’s earnings:

            Why should I be a slave? There was no reason why I should be the thrall of any man. Besides, I was now getting, as I have said, a dollar and fifty cents per day. I contracted for it, worked for it, collected it; it was paid to me, and it was rightfully my own; and yet upon every returning Saturday night, this money – my own hard earnings, every cent of it – was demanded of me and taken from me by Master Hugh. He did not earn it; he had no hand in earning it; why, then, should he have it? I owed him nothing. He had given me no schooling, and I had received from him only my food and raiment; and for these my services were supposed to pay from the first. The right to take my earnings was the right of the robber. He had the power to compel me to give him the fruits of my labor, and this power was his only right in the case. I became more and more dissatisfied with this state of things, and in so becoming I only gave proof of the same human nature which every reader of this chapter in my life is conscious of possessing.

            To make a contented slave, you must make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and as far as possible, to annihilate his power of reason. He must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery. The man who takes his earnings must be able to convince him that he has a perfect right to do so. It must not depend upon mere force: the slave must know no higher law than his master’s will. The whole relationship must not only demonstrate to his mind its necessity, but its absolute rightfulness. If there be one crevice through which a single drop can fall, it will certainly rust off the slave’s chain.”

          • The Douglas passage isnt a refutation of my point, it’s an example of the problem. He states a certain view of desert and ownership as if it is objective fact, and then proceeds to rant emotively about the consequences. But no model of desert and ownership is implicit in the laws of physics, not even the libertarian one. And emotive ranting gives the game away that he is talking about subjective value, not objective fact, since emotive ranting is how everyone defends their subjective values.

          • The Douglas passage isnt a refutation of my point, it’s an example of the problem. He states a certain view of desert and ownership as if it is objective fact, and then proceeds to rant emotively about the consequences. But no model of desert and ownership is implicit in the laws of physics, not even the libertarian one. And emotive ranting gives the game away that he is talking about subjective value, not objective fact, since emotive ranting is the way people always advertise their subjective values.

          • But no model of desert and ownership is implicit in the laws of physics, not even the libertarian one.

            Implicit in the laws of physics is a pretty high standard, but there are facts of physical reality that support the libertarian position:

            1. It’s much easier for me to control my body than for you to control my body.

            2. I have a lot of information relevant to what is in my interest that is not easily available to others.

    • JDG1980 says:

      I can give you my views as one libertarian. Poor people are poor due to a mix of reasons, ranging from ones not at all their fault, such as being born in a poor country of poor parents, through ones almost entirely their fault, such as losing their first three jobs due to being unwilling to come to work on time.

      But what if the reason they are unwilling/unable to come to work on time is that their genetics make them that way? How is that any more their “fault” than any other accident of birth?

      • IrishDude says:

        If it’s 100% genetics and 0% free will then it’s not their fault (I assume free will explains >0%, not sure what you think). It’s not the fault of those who were born with better ‘showing up to work’ genes either. So it seems to me the person who doesn’t show up to work should bear the most responsibility for their actions.

      • @JDG1980:

        I had a long comment many posts back on the general issue you raise. The short version is that if you take the strong version of the argument “you don’t deserve to be the person you are, therefor you don’t deserve anything on account of being that person,” then nobody deserves anything, good or bad. You don’t, after all, deserve to be a human rather than a mosquito or a rock. Hitler didn’t deserve to be Hitler, Saint Joan didn’t deserve to be Saint Joan, so Hitler and Joan are equally (un)deserving.

        My response is that “desert” is not being predicated of the potential you before you were embodied but of the actual human being you now are.

  10. scherzando says:

    I’ve recently read Worm through Arc 8. I get the impression lots of people around here strongly recommend it, but so far I’m not wild about it. The writing hasn’t impressed me, though it certainly has gotten better since the beginning, and the plot has ranged from quite enjoyable to “I know there are superheroes but some stuff still has to make sense” to “How many chapters can this fight scene go on for?

    (Also I’m just a bad audience for superhero/villain stuff in general because I just end up rooting for the Muggle civil society people, which goes about as well as reading children’s detective novels while identifying with the interfering parents.)

    Anyway, my point is not to disparage the book, but to ask whether, given all this, people recommend that I keep going – I’m always urging people to give Buffy two full seasons before passing judgment, and if I can likewise expect this to get much better, I’ll read on. But if it’s more of the same, and something that you either like or you don’t, I’ll just leave you with some (half-serious) ideas for crossover fanfic:

    [Beware Buffy spoilers ahead]

    – A crossover with Viktor Pelevin’s Life of Insects where every so often a chapter ends, we zoom in on one of Skitter’s bugs, and in the next chapter it’s treated as a person, while also still kind of being a bug
    – A crossover with Buffy where Skitter starts to perceive insects’ suffering, and it turns out there is enough of this that she teams up with Dark Willow to try to destroy the world
    – A crossover with Animorphs where Rachel is Rachel

    edit: Also, how do Pact and Twig compare? I know they’re different universes, but are they thought to be better/worse/similar/different?

    • Montfort says:

      Based on what you say, probably not. The writing does continue to get better, but the most noticeable improvements have already happened. The plot gets even more cape-centric and there are some upcoming fights/conflicts that got a bit long for me. I think the part you might like best hasn’t happened yet, but you’d have to go through a lot of the things you don’t like to get to it.

      Pact’s pacing is very uneven as a consequence of real-life events the author had to deal with. The worldbuilding was pretty cool, but I’d sooner say the work was interesting than really good (I did enjoy it, but less than Worm). It is considerably shorter, and (I would say) darker in tone than Worm – despite its length, you could definitely get some “but it gets worse” fatigue. Not sure if you’d like it or not, but my impression is that it really works for a minority of readers and is not especially noteworthy for others.

      Twig is still ongoing, so it’s harder to say, but I think the individual arc pacing is better, and arcs are more contained. The parts that are written already are almost episodic. There are some shifts in the overarching plot that (so far) appear a bit meandering, but maybe it’ll be brought back together in a meaningful way. That’s just a hazard of serial writing, though, I suppose.

    • rlms says:

      I think the prose continues to get better, I’m not especially sensitive to bad prose so I don’t know how much it improves. The plot escalates massively, in ways that make Worm different from most other stories in the genre (any details about those ways would be massive spoilers). But if you actively dislike the fight scenes, you probably won’t like the rest of it.

      I thought the setting in Pact was very interesting, but the plotting was a bit too relentlessly dark and there weren’t as many good characters. If you like urban fantasy stuff it might be worth a try. I don’t like Twig that much (I’m not up to date with it though) but generally I think it’s thought to be better than Pact and possibly better than Worm.

      • scherzando says:

        It’s not so much a matter of actively disliking the fight scenes as being easily bored by them. And skimming such a large fraction of the book while trying to keep an eye out for important plot points and unusually awesome moments is probably no way to read it.

        Thanks to everyone for the advice.

    • Protagoras says:

      I read Worm to the end, and enjoyed it, but like the others I’m going to go with don’t keep going. From what you describe of what bothers you about it, I don’t think you’ll become less frustrated as you go along.

    • albertborrow says:

      It depends on what you want to make sense. Most of the mysteries are resolved in the next batch of arcs, a lot of things are revealed by new perspectives. If you want to understand how powers work on such a detailed level that you could recreate them, or demand rigor in physical sciences more than you would from, say, HPMOR, then you will be disappointed. If you want everything to wrap up and have a consistent explanation at the end, then you will be surprised.

      What is confusing you?

      Fights and batches of conflict almost unilaterally get longer. If that disappoints you, or you’ve been skipping over the fights from lack of interest, just give up and read Twig.

    • shakeddown says:

      I’d recommend stopping. I enjoyed Worm but the overly long fight scenes kind of got to me, and they get *much* longer later (compare the first and second endbringer fights). If the upsidese don’t make up for the downsides so far they’re probably not going to – the upsides get slightly better, but the downsides get moderately worse and would win out for you.

      I preferred Worm to Twig by a significant margin – I enjoyed the characters in Twig but found the plot confusing, and where Worm had a wide variety of powers, Twig just feels like everyone’s bonesaw.

    • Jiro says:

      There are lots of characters and random elements thrown in which you see for a very short time, which is annoying.

      There are also a couple of plot devices which excuse people acting in weird ways, which may also be annoying: Nal jrveqarff pna or rkcynvarq nf 1) n frghc ol Pnhyqeba hfvat Pbagrffn’f Cngu gb Ivpgbel, 2) n frghc ol gur Fvzhetu, be 3) nf gur funeqf vagresrevat fb gung crbcyr jba’g jbex gbtrgure be jba’g qb guvatf vapbairavrag sbe gur cybg. Guvf hfhnyyl znavsrfgf nf rvgure Jbeq bs Tbq (yvxr jura Jvyqobj rkcynvarq gung uneqyl nalbar hfrf favcref orpnhfr bs Pnhyqeba), sna rkcynangvbaf gung lbh pna’g qvfcebir, be bppnfvbanyyl na va-fgbel zragvba. Nyfb, fhpu cbjreshy ragvgvrf ner fb cbjreshy gung gur fgbel onfvpnyyl erdhverf gurz abg hfvat gurve cbjref cebcreyl. (Ernyyl, lbh unq Gbuh ng gur raq bs gur fgbel naq vg qvqa’g pbcl Rpuvqan’f cbjre+Inyrsbe’f cbjre naq fgneg znxvat pncrf snfgre guna Fpvba pbhyq xvyy gurz? Naq gur fgbel jbhyq unir raqrq jvgu Fpvba jvaavat vs ur unq whfg jvcrq gur evtug crbcyr’f zrzbel.)

      Nyfb, gbb tevzqrec, rfcrpvnyyl jvgu gur Fynhtugreubhfr Avar nf jryy nf gur raqyrff qvfnfgref naq qrnguf. Naq gur Vairefr Avawn Ynj frrzf gb nccyl gb gur Fynhtugreubhfr 9000.

      But you have to read it if you want to read the fanfiction around it, which can be quite good and doesn’t always have the same tone.

  11. sty_silver says:

    I want to understand advanced probability theory on a deep level. What is the best free source to learn from? I was recommended Information Theory by David MacKay, but I wanted to ask for other thoughts before committing to it.

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      I have not read MacKay in detail myself, but I have copy, and looking at the table of contents it looks like that major part of the book is about information theory and coding. Another half is about Bayesian inference (apparently including networks) and neural networks. The chapter about probability and entropy and such looks good short-ish “next tier” treatment after e.g. an introductory probability theory. Another plus is that it’s available as a free pdf on author’s website and many of the exercises have solutions.

      However, while everything above is very useful (I have the copy of pdf myself because I intend to read the information theory part someday; I’ve been told that information theoretic viewpoint on all that stuff would be pretty enlightening), mostly the topics covered in the MacKay book are all slightly different, more applied topics (with the necessary prerequisites) than what is usually meant by “advanced probability theory”. A course on that would include stuff like measure theory, Kolmogorov axioms, in-depth treatment of random variables and expected values and multivariate normal distribution, laws of large numbers, central limit theorem, random walks and processes and like. The probability part of MacKay’s book appears to be more about the modern (Bayesian) probabilistic models.

      (In the case it’s really the probability theory theory you are after:) Unfortunately I didn’t read that stuff in English, so I tried looking for equivalent course materials archived on MIT OpenCourseWare:
      MIT 18.175 Theory of Probability and MIT 6.436j Fundamentals of Probability on MIT OCW seem pretty canonical graduate level courses. (Notice that one is by math department and other by CS.)

      However, before delving into those, you probably should make sure you have some introductory understanding on the topics. On OCW these three courses seem quite usual examples what that would entail.

      All of those course page also list textbooks (some of them also pdf lecture notes and exercises), but I’m not familiar with them.

      But on the other hand, if you are not actually dead set on understanding deep theory for the deepness’ sake, MacKay might actually be a more interesting book to read.

      • sty_silver says:

        I am pretty dead set on understanding the theory, which is why I also thought the book might not be quite what I was looking for.

        Your links seem to fit better, however there doesn’t seem to be a proper script (?). I don’t really want to learn from lecture slides (or videos, unless they’re really hd and I really like the presentation).

        • nimim.k.m. says:

          I am pretty dead set on understanding the theory, which is why I also thought the book might not be quite what I was looking for.

          The problem is that “theory” can mean many different things to different people. MacKay is probably a good resource on the theory of doing information theory and Bayesian inference, which is very theoretical for e.g. programmer who reads “hacker’s tutorial to machine learning concepts” type of content that are popular on the internet (I used to be that guy until I advanced far enough in my formal school curriculum).

          Your links seem to fit better, however there doesn’t seem to be a proper script (?).

          Yeah OCW isn’t usually the best primary resource, I personally use it to search it for additional material… however, in some cases the long list of pdf notes actually forms a nice skeleton of a textbook if one would attach them to together… but I mainly linked there so that you could take a look at the syllabyses (syllabii?) and exercises, and maybe some of the books mentioned are cheap enough.

          In addition to the three undergrad courses already linked, this one looks like an okay text book on the topics on the same level. If you haven’t done a similar content before, I recommend starting from something like that (and not the graduate level courses) because IMO it’s probably a bit nearer to what statistics is in real life and as a motivation for the higher level stuff.

          If you actually do have a grasp of undergard level probability and statistics: I did a bit more googling and here: http://math.mit.edu/~sheffield/fall2016math175.html is a list of links to several graduate level “textbook”-like lecture notes. They all look like more or less okay, but given my grades this subject I’m not maybe really the best judge… (and another warning: in my intro probability class everybody else thought the lecturer’s notes were terribad except for me — I liked them).

          However, in a math-y subject like this it does not really matter that much which references you are using (if they are not abysmally bad): the important part in learning is not reading some text, but doing the problems. In that regard, all the MIT undergrad courses seem to have a good number of them.

          The difficult part when self-learning is when you get stuck with the problems, because in university you have instructors there to help and provide answers. As a substitute I recommend https://math.stackexchange.com/ and https://stats.stackexchange.com/

          • sty_silver says:

            Alright, Thanks! I’ll have a look at all recommended books/scripts and see which one I can work with best.

          • nimim.k.m. says:

            See also littskad’s post, I’m not familiar the particular texts but topic-wise think it’s good advice.

        • rlms says:

          If the MIT 18.175, you could also try the IA Probability course from the original Cambridge, see here for lots of stuff and here for book-style lecture notes (being added to as the course progresses). Feel free to ask me about anything on the first three example sheets, as they are fresh in my mind.

    • littskad says:

      I am a professional probabilist (i.e., a mathematician who specializes in probability). Modern probability theory (since Kolmogorov, essentially) is measure-theory based, so if what you really want is a deep understanding of the mathematical theory, you’d need to start there. Terence Tao’s “An Introduction to Measure Theory” is available free online, and he generally does a good job at getting at the intuitions behind the rigorous theory while including the necessary detail, but there are a lot of other possibilities.
      If you’ve already got a basic understanding of measure theory, and are ready to look at probability theory proper, I really like David Williams’ “Probability with Martingales”, which gives a very readable and interesting introduction to (discrete-time) martingale theory (including, for example, rigorous treatments of conditional expectations, stopping times, discrete analogues of stochastic integrals, etc., as well as rigorous proofs of standard convergence theorems, the strong law of large numbers, etc.)
      With that in place, you can really start looking at anything you want, and you’ll have some idea what’s going on.

    • Are you already familiar with fundamentals? I started on MacKay a few months ago, but I wasn’t good enough yet, so I am now going over some more boring MIT probability open couresware stuff.

      • sty_silver says:

        I don’t really know, because I don’t know what constitutes the fundamentals. I had one course, partially about probability, at my university, where I learned about finite and discrete spaces, random variables, distribution functions, and a bunch of specific distributions. I generally get the sense that the level taught at my university might be relatively low, though, e.g. I borrowed a script from Oxford to learn about Set theory because my university doesn’t teach it afaik.

        So far the material I’ve begun to read [on probability] isn’t too hard, but I also didn’t go with the MacKay book.

  12. Odovacer says:

    What would you do for a living if you were evil or amoral?

    If I had more charisma, I’d be like Nick Naylor in the film version of Thank You for Smoking; a PR-guy for causes/industries. I think it would be great fun to spin things, and manipulate facts in deceiving ways, e.g. to go on talk/news shows and really fluster well-meaning opponents. I’d also work for whomever would hire me, pro-oil, anti-oil, PETA, the dairy industry, whomever. Kind of like a Trump character, but more well-spoken. I think it would be a lot of fun, plus probably well-paying.

    A clip here from the movie:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrxRCTUt6OY

    However, I don’t quite have the presence to pull that off, so as a scientist I would just become an evil scientist to any country that would have me. I’d do crazy experiments without regards to humanitarian conventions on animals or humans to find out how to accurately genetically edit things for increased intelligence, strength, agility, etc. We actually can do that in the case of muscle mass, but it hasn’t been artificially done in humans yet.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Patent law.

      Back in high school I could read legal opinions a lot more easily than scientific journals. And while I never placed I managed to get into the semifinals at the Princeton constitutional law moot court twice. I doubt that I would have had trouble getting into a JD/PhD if I had done applied (and done the requisite studying / testing obviously: I’m not a legal savant).

      But it’s almost precisely the opposite of what I want to do. Restricting scientific knowledge is as close to pure evil as I can conceptualize. Science should exist for it’s own sake and be pursued as freely to the fullest extent possible. Profits may drive us to expand our knowledge, but seeking profit through impeding the search for knowledge is disgusting and wrong.

      • James Miller says:

        What if the best way to promote scientific discovery involves restricting scientific knowledge? Finding something “disgusting” should be a huge warning sign about your capacity to rationally analyze a situation, especially one far removed from food, sex, blood, disease, or poop because it’s unlikely that our ancient, inborn sense of disgust is useful in such a situation.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          To some extent, yes that is true. There is probably some amount of patent law which incentivizes more research than it prevents.

          But modern patent trolls look nothing like that. Sitting on a pile of random small molecules or genes, waiting for someone else to make one of them useful, isn’t helping advance science. If anything it’s lowering the financial incentives for researchers, since it adds “win an ugly lawsuit” to the costs of monetizing their research.

          [I]t’s unlikely that our ancient, inborn sense of disgust is useful in such a situation.

          I disagree.

          Cheats have existed long before the human species evolved, it’s hardly a new phenomenon to leech off someone else’s hard work. As the origin of the word ‘leech’ handily demonstrates.

          I would be very surprised if feeling anger and disgust towards a swindler was maladaptive.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Disgust may be a useful reaction to cheaters, but if it leads you to pay too much attention to them, it is maladaptive. In particular, I think you are wrong on the facts. I think that patent trolls are negligible. I also think that the patent system is net negative, but for other, more complicated reasons. (Here is a factual claim that I think is pretty strong: in some fields the patent system is net positive and in others net negative. If you accept that then you shouldn’t make sweeping claims about it.)

    • The Nybbler says:

      Probably embezzlement or some variant, the idea being to make the most money with the least effort and risk. Perhaps I’d have gotten into high-frequency trading and siphoned off some (well, a lot) of funds to my retirement account. Yeah, not very exciting, I know.

    • James Miller says:

      As a tenured college professor: same job with about half of the effort.

    • I think I would do about the same things I now do. Off hand, I can’t think of any things I would like to do but don’t because they are wicked.

      Part of that reflects the fact that I’m pretty happy with my life as it is. The only thing seriously wrong with it at present is that I am getting older and will eventually die, and being wicked wouldn’t solve that.

      If I imagine being amoral at a much earlier stage of life, the only thing I can think of that it would have affected would be my willingness to be unfaithful to a lover or wife whom I felt obliged to be faithful to.

      • James Miller says:

        The only thing seriously wrong with it at present is that I am getting older and will eventually die

        I hope you have signed up for cryonics. I’m with Alcor.

        • I have a long argument against cryonics. Why did you sign up? What is your reasoning for it?

          • James Miller says:

            I don’t want to die. I think within the next 50 years if civilization doesn’t collapse we are going to get super-human AI or extremely smart humans and this will supercharge scientific progress meaning we will almost certainly have the ability to revive a person within 70 years if the information in the brain is still there. I think all I am is information and so it should be possible for me to be revived if that information is preserved. I suspect that there is lots of redundancy in the brain so it wouldn’t be necessary to preserve everything in my brain for me to be brought back. I think Alcor is likely to survive at least 70 years conditional on civilization surviving. (I was recently made an adviser to the board of Alcor.) Here is an audio interview I did with the President of Alcor.

          • Assume we have all the near magic nanotech that gives rise to eternal life and a repair of the human brain.

            So we reverse engineered the human brain. All we have to do now is replace those algorithms running on slow chemical reactions with electronic ones and we have a speed increase of 10,000. That’s singularity-tier tech, and all bets are off on what happens next.

            This is the tech that will also allow lots of interesting things, like immediate accurate gender change and what not, plus eternal life. Human society, if it would exist, would be something utterly different. With renewable tech, that tech is allowed to everyone on earth. Doesn’t everyone want to live forever, and is willing to do whatever it takes to get that tech? Would breeding be heavily regulated, and would it even make sense to ask a question like that? Who’s deciding who gets revived or who stays and who breeds?

            With all those changes, try calculating the probabilities of “returning” to something that makes sense.

            There will be so many possible changes to your chemical system that makes up the brain that this comic isn’t close. Why is that particular arrangement of memories useful, compared to all the other allowed possibilities with greater tech? Mostly its a deeply ingrained genetic fear of death.

            And if your worried about eternal existence, parallel universe theory already has your back. There is already an infinite amount of you doing the exact same thing.

          • James Miller says:

            @TheBearsHaveArrived

            Doesn’t everyone want to live forever,

            I have found when discussing cryonics that lots of people don’t.

            Who’s deciding who gets revived or who stays and who breeds?

            This could be a problem but with so few people having signed up for cryonics, my reasonable hope is that the powers that be would ignore the patients at Alcor and so the people who run Alcor would be free to revive as soon as they have the capacity to do so. Alcor wouldn’t need permission to revive, it would just have to not be stopped. I do, however, put a large weight on Eliezer being right about AI’s potential to destroy us, and this is a big reason to be pessimistic about cryonics. I’m only optimistic about cryonics conditional on civilization surviving.

            If the universe has an infinite number of me, then what I do has zero measure on reality so I should ignore this possibility when making decisions.

          • Deiseach says:

            There seems to be work going on which addresses one of the objections I have to cryonics, i.e. thawing out tissue without harm or loss.

            A long way from thawing out a brain, but on the road there – unless (as I think might happen) thawing out a brain is a lot tougher than thawing out a heart and getting it functioning again.

            I’m not convinced by cryonics, and I do think that those who to date have been frozen or had their heads frozen are out of luck – past and current processes caused too much damage, not even for a “magic tech will be invented which will read the engrams and upload the reconstructed personality into cyberspace and/or an android body”.

            But there does seem to be some solid work being done now so that those who choose to freeze in the next thirty-fifty years will have a better chance of perhaps actually being thawed out.

          • The Element of Surprise says:

            What about (possibly destructively) reading the relevant information from brains and simulating them? If civilization doesn’t break down in the meantime, we should be there in a few decades.

          • >What about (possibly destructively) reading the relevant information from brains and simulating them?

            One problem with that is we don’t know how subjective experience arises from physical matter well(or perhaps we do and its buried in Darpa stuff). Perhaps replacing carbon with silicon and potassium with electron gates can give the same information, but an entirely different emotional life that isn’t at all the same.

          • James Miller says:

            @The Element of Surprise

            Yes I would be happy with becoming an emulation, but at age 50 I fear that without cryonics I have a good chance of not living long enough for the tech to be available.

    • I would have the time of my life in the medical industry. Jacking up prices, blaming a shadow child company, selling even more useless variants of antidepressants. Being a con artist in the pharma industry is easy to get away with.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Sleazy televangelist of some sort.

    • Anonymous says:

      What would you do for a living if you were evil or amoral?

      Forgery, and fraud (electronic and non).

    • FacelessCraven says:

      Build a career making and selling high-end pagan ritual items.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Oddly enough, just tonight I heard a pagan talking about how pagans are making soap rather than athames, but it would be great to be able to buy an expensive pagan-made athame.

        There are no coincidences.

        I bet the explanation for the soap is that there’s much less initial investment.

        All this being said, I think there’s a lot more money to be made in sketchy financial products. Possibly sketchy magical financial products.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I know weapons are a contentious topic, but there must be people in SF&F fandom making athames along with every other sort of blade mentioned in literature.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            There are pagans in fandom, but they’re a pretty small minority. Also, I don’t know whether my button sales are a strong marker of anything, but pagan buttons used to sell reasonably well but that market evaporated a decade or more ago.

            On the rationalist side, I used to think of fandom as much more pagan and libertarian that it probably actually is. Pagans and libertarians are more common there than in the US generally. (What I know about is US fandom, and mostly middle Atlantic.)

            However, I now believe that the typical fan has pretty ordinary political and religious beliefs.

          • @Nancy:

            It’s possible that your observations of the button market reflect the rise of paganism as a competitor to fandom and the SCA, a different place for people with those views to socialize with each other. One couple I know dropped out of SCA in part, I am pretty sure, for that reason.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Your argument is that there’s a pagan subculture which is strong enough to not need fandom? Or that pagans get less of what they need from fandom and leave? Or?

          • My argument is that there is a pagan subculture which is independent of fandom (and the SCA), although I’m sure there is some overlap. That subculture provides the same benefits to participants that are the reason some people are in fandom or the SCA, so draws people out of those alternative providers.

            I’m thinking of a couple I knew well. They stopped coming to Pennsic a long time ago but went, I assume still go, to pagan events.

  13. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Variant spellings

    http://www.chabad.org/kabbalah/article_cdo/aid/380679/jewish/KABBALAH-CABALA-QABALAH.htm

    Any thoughts about which spelling has the best kaballistic significance? By the standards of cabbala, does numerology in other languages even count? Is there a word for a semi-reliable social signal like the k (Jewish)/c (Christian)/ q (occult) distinction?

    • shakeddown says:

      I like K. C makes it sound like Cabal, which sounds like a local thing the town witch council came up with instead of a universal truth underlying the universe. Qabalah has a bit of this, and also sounds french.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Cabal is actually derived from [damnit, I’m not in the mood to choose a spelling].

        https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/cabal

        • William Newman says:

          Some readers might also be amused by the nominative determinism or whatever described in

          http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1468/1468-h/1468-h.htm

          During some years the word Cabal was popularly used as synonymous with Cabinet. But it happened by a whimsical coincidence that, in 1671, the Cabinet consisted of five persons the initial letters of whose names made up the word Cabal; Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley, and Lauderdale. These ministers were therefore
          emphatically called the Cabal; and they soon made that appellation so infamous that it has never since their time been used except as a term of reproach.

    • JulieK says:

      > By the standards of cabbala, does numerology in other languages even count?

      No.

      > Is there a word for a semi-reliable social signal like the k (Jewish)/c (Christian)/ q (occult) distinction?

      “Shibboleth?”

      > [damnit, I’m not in the mood to choose a spelling].

      Just copy-paste this: קבלה

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Thanks.

        I’d have thought that shibboleths were supposed to be reliable, but maybe they’re just supposed to be good enough to base a decision on about who to include and exclude.

  14. shakeddown says:

    Does anyone have a good explanation for why modafinil makes you thirsty/pee a lot?

  15. IrishDude says:

    Interesting NY times article about how Uber used a tool to ‘greyball’ authorities, making it difficult for drivers to get entrapped in police stings (or get attacked by rival taxi companies). Snippet:

    “At the time, Uber had just started its ride-hailing service in Portland without seeking permission from the city, which later declared the service illegal. To build a case against the company, officers like Mr. England posed as riders, opening the Uber app to hail a car and watching as the miniature vehicles on the screen wound their way toward him.

    But unknown to Mr. England and other authorities, some of the digital cars they saw in their Uber apps were never there at all. The Uber drivers they were able to hail also quickly canceled. That was because Uber had tagged Mr. England and his colleagues — essentially Greyballing them as city officials — based on data collected from its app and through other techniques. Uber then served up a fake version of its app that was populated with ghost cars, to evade capture.”

    It will be interesting to see if more companies in the future use greyballing as a way to exit the political system.

    • Brad says:

      I’m somewhat surprised that Uber and AirBnB executives have AFAIK managed to avoid ever landing themselves in jail on contempt charges in some or other place.

    • Deiseach says:

      Okay, but what if someone is working in the city office and legitimately wanted to hire an Uber to get to/from work?

      One technique involved drawing a digital perimeter, or “geofence,” around the government offices on a digital map of a city that Uber was monitoring. The company watched which people were frequently opening and closing the app — a process known internally as eyeballing — near such locations as evidence that the users might be associated with city agencies.

      Mary from Accounts Receivable in the Finance Section of City Hall wants to get a lift home because it’s raining. Uber won’t take her request so she has to hire a taxi. That makes Mary less likely to be sympathetic to Uber and more likely to say “yeah, ban them!”

      • The Nybbler says:

        Compared to having SWAT teams arrest your drivers and passengers, having a few city employees less sympathetic towards you is small potatoes.

        I realize that in these civilized times we’re just supposed to meekly accept the laws and the government’s interpretation thereof, and that any particular enforcement of them (no matter how apparently over-the-top) is merely our just desserts for violating the strictures of our betters. And if we don’t like that, we should meekly petition the government for a change rather than finding a way around or even flagrantly violating them. Only problem is that doesn’t actually work; the laws are the way they are because those who have the power to make them that way want them that way; the system is highly resistant to change through it’s own processes. Even when the processes work, they take massive organizations and decades of time, as Thoreau points out, “a man’s life will be gone”.

        • John Schilling says:

          I realize that in these civilized times we’re just supposed to meekly accept the laws and the government’s interpretation thereof,

          You are supposed to understand that some laws are sufficiently clear that you are going to be laughed out of court – even the court of public opinion – if you argue over “interpretation thereof”.

          You are also supposed to understand that breaking laws, even unjust ones, even for the noblest of causes, will eventually get you arrested. Rosa Parks got her ass hauled out of that bus seat and into the Montgomery jail; she didn’t get a $60 billion IPO. But history will probably remember her more fondly than it does Travis Kalanick.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Parks was convicted of a minor offense and paid $14. When she was defended by the NAACP, they were considered a civil rights organization.

            The government has come up with an effective answer to civil disobedience: escalation.

            The Uber drivers and their passengers are attacked by masked police officers. They then take the car and arrest the driver; the driver has to pay hundreds of dollars to get the car back. Then even if Uber manages to get a deal, the arrested driver is out in the cold because they can’t pass the now-required background check. And if Uber attempts to do anything about this situation, all the upstanding citizens get upset that Uber is enabling criminals.

            Lots of laws are clear, but who gets laughed out of court depends on status rather than clarity of the law. When my car was unlawfully impounded by a city, the courts didn’t care. Yeah, I got out of the ticket, but no compensation was available for the tow and storage fees. Which I was required to pay in cash despite the law clearly stating that municipal impound lots are required to accept credit cards. Whether you get the protection of the law depends a lot more on who you are than what the law says.

          • Creutzer says:

            The “no compensation was available” part makes it sound like there was no provision in the law for such a compensation. Which would certainly be a problem, but a different one from the courts just not caring about a nobody.

      • IrishDude says:

        Mary from Accounts Receivable in the Finance Section of City Hall wants to get a lift home because it’s raining. Uber won’t take her request so she has to hire a taxi. That makes Mary less likely to be sympathetic to Uber and more likely to say “yeah, ban them!”

        I don’t think Mary should have an issue getting an Uber. From your quote, there are two criteria to getting greyballed: geography (e.g., being located at city hall) and ‘eyeballing’ (frequently opening and closing the app). If Mary isn’t in enforcement then she’s not eyeballing and won’t be greyballed.

        • Deiseach says:

          But she is located at City Hall and Uber have that area down as suspicious geography. I haven’t much of a good opinion of Uber at the best of times and this kind of tomfoolery makes me less sympathetic to the argument that they’re just trying to provide a service and they gain markets by competition. No, they want to make money and they’re gaining markets by trickery and deception.

          • The Nybbler says:

            No, they want to make money and they’re gaining markets by trickery and deception.

            Obviously they want to make money. But tricking and deceiving government officials whose cozy long-standing cronyist arrangement with taxi companies is threatened seems to me to be laudable rather than contemptible.

    • BBA says:

      I’m going to continue rooting for injuries.

      (I will idly note that Uber is a boring government-licensed car service here in the City of New York and has been since they started operating here. Sure this goes against their corporate philosophy of “the law doesn’t apply to smartphone apps” and their behavior everywhere else on the planet, but Paris is worth a mass.)

  16. Jordan D. says:

    So, I was hospitalized for a week last week. Some of you may recall my apparent pneumonia a few threads back; it turns out in fact that it was indeed a heart problem, with my heart’s ejection fraction at 15%. After a quick heart catheterization showed my blood vessels are clear and tests revealed no thyroid problems or arrhythmia, the present best guess is that, sometime around Christmas, a virus caused my heart to grow three sizes that day. I am presently back at home on a strict diet, taking beta-blockers and a diauretic, and with a shirt that will give me an electric shock if my heart stops working. After a few days on the medication, my resting heart rate has gone from 130 to the mid 80s, and I’m hopeful that the worst may be past.

    But I did want to write a little bit about my experience with the hospital, which I would describe as “an unceasing nightmare populated by the nicest people I’ve ever met”. First off:

    The Hospital – After my general care provider advised me to get myself to the ER, I called around and got advice on the best hospital in the area, which was a shiny new hospital across the river that had replaced a much older institution a few years back. This was a good first step- everything at this hospital was new and worked well, but all of the doctors and hospitalists had been around for decades.

    1) The ER – I went to the ER at about 10 A.M., along with a packet sent by my doctor explaining my situation. After a few quick screenings, they took me back to a bed at 3:30 P.M. and put an I.V. in. The doctor did several EKGs and considered doing an echocardiogram, but opted for a CT scan instead. After the scan, he gave me a preliminary diagnosis- it looked like pulmonary interstitial infection, so he called for me to be admitted for a bronchoscopy on Friday. At around 8 P.M., a room opened up and I was taken up.

    2) The Pulmonologists – Over the next few hours I saw three different doctors, none of whom were sure whether or not a bronchosocopy was appropriate. They took me off foods or liquids, just in case. They also put me on an embola and about four bags of saline IV, on the basis that this would help with the heart rate thing. At about 4 PM on Friday, the senior pulmonologist showed up and decided that my scan looked a lot like the after-effects of infection rather than something serious, and that the better plan would be to put me on antibiotics and wait 8-12 weeks to do another CT scan. I agreed, as I would have agreed to kill a man for a sandwich at that point.

    3) The Cardiologists – At some point over these two days, the hospitalist decided that the high heart rate needed further investigation and called for an echocardiogram. The tech was uncomfortable doing an ultrasound while the heart rate was so high, but did so. It showed a leaky valve, engorged heart and very bad fractional ejection rate. Cardiology had me transferred down to their floor within hours. Cardiology’s first course of action was to start beta-blockers and begin removing fluid through IV diuretics. After about three days of this, I was scheduled for a heart catheterization, the thought of which terrified me. I spent days having nightmares about it.

    4) The Heart Catheterization – Yeah so this turned out to be a really, really easy procedure. I spent most of the time exchanging jokes with the nurses, although in retrospect morphine does not really make me any funnier.

    5) Recovery – it didn’t take long to recover from the operation, but I was kept in the hospital for two more days to continue to figure out a medicine regimen and get more fluids off. I was also given a diagnosis of diabetes at this point, although it didn’t make much difference because my blood sugar remained absolutely normal throughout the entire hospital visit and required no insulin. Frankly, when you’re worried about your severe heart failure, it’s hard to care a lot about what feels like piling on.

    6) Discharge – Finally, I was discharged yesterday.

    Notes:

    1) Everyone in the hospital was really nice. The doctors were available, open, and thorough. The nurses were always seconds away, polite, and really managed to make you feel like they wantedto help you. Bedside manner: A+.

    2) Nonetheless, I got almost no real rest. First, hospital beds are technological works of art, but they’re not comfortable at all. Second, with about two brief pauses at night and noon, there’s somebody in to test or stick or poke you every thirty minutes. As a man who fears needles, the blood draws every morning at 4:30 were especially good at keeping me awake. It’s also never dark in a hospital room; there are always monitors, and the television screen’s sleep function doesn’t really turn it off. Lack of sleep lent my week-long stay a kind of dreamlike quality, where I never really had a discrete sense of time.

    3) I.V. Tubes – not a lot of fun. They don’t hurt, of course, but they feel wrong, wrong, wrong, and it only gets worse as time goes on.

    4) Food – The hospital food was surprisingly okay. It wasn’t good in any conventional way, but honestly I’ve been to plenty of conferences that have done worse. My only complaint is that I kind of wanted pears every day, but they only had peaches. Canned peaches are the worst fruits to exist, so this can only be malevolence.

    5) Noise – One of the big advantages to this new facility is that the doors and walls were soundproof. Literally- if the door was closed, you couldn’t hear an alarm going off on the other side. Unfortunately, the people who would duck in and out of the room at all hours often did not close doors properly, and so I would need to force my way up and over to close it to block out the sounds of cries and alarms from down the ward.

    6) Hygiene – I love showers. I didn’t always know that. But then I went a week where I had to be towel-bathed instead and I could hardly shave, and now I understand that warm water running down my body is the best thing in the entire world, sex and alcohol be damned.

    7) Television – The hospital beds all had televisions, but it was frills-free. I don’t regularly watch shows, but I think I’ve seen so much Chopped at this point that I’ve become a better chef through osmosis. Except I ALSO saw that South Park episode making fun of that idea, so never mind. As a man with a lot of books and a tablet you’d have thought I’d have had better options, but it’s hardto hold those upright with tubes in your arms, and the television is so much easier.

    Altogether I am very grateful to the staff of the hospital and I hope sincerely that I do not see them again.

    • skef says:

      One thing I occasionally try to convince people of, and generally fail, is the value of getting used to sleeping with a sleep-mask. Not “getting used to” in the sense of always using one, but just using it enough so that it doesn’t disturb your sleep so you can use it when you want to.

      Once you do — and it isn’t difficult — you basically have portable darkness for sleep. You can walk into a hospital, for example, with your mask and a small bottle of ear-plugs (which you might also try first to see if you need to get used to them) and have some hope of rest. The “cost” is looking silly to some people for a while.

      • shakeddown says:

        Would also recommend this (except that getting used to a sleep mask makes it mildly harder to get to sleep without one for a few days when you inevitably lose it).

      • Montfort says:

        Or another strategy – get used to sleeping in dim to moderate light and you’ll rarely need the mask in the first place.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Sleep masks and earplugs are great. Seconding this. I always wear a sleep mask – I’m very sensitive to light when I sleep, and a sleep mask is better than blacking out the windows.

        @Jordan D.

        It is good to hear that you are OK and they’ve figured it out. Your experiences in hospitals seem to be along the same lines as mine – the personnel are competent and friendly (I’ve only encountered one hospital nurse who wasn’t) but the overall experience is terrible.

        • My experience in hospitals, twice in the past six years, is somewhat more positive than either of yours. The personnel were pleasant and appeared competent. The only real unpleasantness was a consequence, the second time, of the requirements of the problem–I don’t like catheters. It’s possible that my hospitals were, for one reasons or another, quieter than yours, possible that the continual interruptions were less frequent or that they bother me less.

          The most negative thing I can think of is that both of my surgeons were nice and interesting people I would like to have had a chance to socialize with later, but were apparently too busy for that to be practical to arrange.

    • Polycarp says:

      My experience in the hospital (an excellent university teaching/research hospital) a couple years ago was similar to what you describe. I would give high grades to all the doctors and nurses.

      Except: there was one doctor who was apparently in charge, during the night, of arranging everything for the surgery which was to take place the next day. I asked which antibiotics they were planning to give me during the surgery and was told that they were planning to use a fluoroquinolone antibiotic (levofloxacin) which has a weird potential side-effect that I was worried about. In rare cases it can lead to tendinopathy. I said that I wouldn’t consent to that because I have a rare connective tissue disorder, and I suspect that people who suffer from this disorder probably have a much higher probability of experiencing this side effect than the normal population. As far as I know, there have not yet been any studies to verify my suspicion, but I didn’t want to risk it.

      Instead of resting the night before surgery, I had a couple of long conversations (between 2 and 4 a.m.) with this doctor who was hellbent on getting me to consent to the use of this particular antibiotic. (I imagined that there was a Dr. House in the background who had sent her to get my consent by hook or crook.) In the course of these conversations she simply made stuff up (lied to me) about what research did or did not show. I suspect that she hadn’t read any of it. But I had, and I called her out on it over and over again. (The decision was complicated by the fact that someone had written in my chart that I was allergic to penicillin, which was an exaggeration of something I reported about a mild reaction I once had.) I simply refused the levofloxacin.

      When I met the team of doctors that were going to perform the surgery in the morning, they had no problem with my decision. (And all went well.)

    • Deiseach says:

      I’m glad they finally sorted things out for you, it sounds like quite an adventure! A Grinch virus at Christmas – very appropriate, if unwanted!

    • Feel better bro. Around the same time I was in the hospital to get metal put into my left leg, following a tib spiral fracture from a skiing accident. From the sound of it, your situation may have been more dire (heart issue), whereas mine has probably been more painful (severe fraction and ortho surgery). It’s all rotten, really makes you appreciate your normal health huh?

      I’m still lying here with a boot on, and the pain from screws in my bone is now manageable without narcotic painkillers.

      As someone who works out 10 hours a week though, I’m going insannneee.

      How are you holding up?

      • Jordan D. says:

        Oh jeeze, that does sound way more painful. I’m with you on the working out, though- I got wiped out by walking around some stores for an hour today and it’s really frustrating thinking “No, I need to be able to do more than that.”

        Still, I’m really hopeful that I’m recovering, and I hope you are too!

  17. The original Mr. X says:

    So, since recent discussions have revealed a hitherto-unsuspected (at least to me) population of SSC military history buffs, I thought I’d ask a question which has been nagging me for a while now: why did the Japanese armed forces commit so many atrocities in WW2? I’ve never heard that their previous actions in WW1 or the Russo-Japanese War were particularly atrocious, so what changed after 1918 to make them that way?

    • Protagoras says:

      An excellent question. They didn’t actually do very much in WWI, but in dramatic contrast with their later behavior, during the Russo-Japanese war the Japanese were far more considerate than was usual for military forces toward the native Korean populations they dealt with. Maybe it made more difference who was emperor than historians have usually claimed, and Emperor Showa deserves to be compared to Hitler more often than he is? Unfortunately, Japanese decision making was deliberately opaque throughout the imperial era, and things are further muddied from records being destroyed just before the end of WWII, so I think it’s hard to know for certain.

    • Eric Rall says:

      That’s a good question and I don’t know for sure, but there are three things I suspect of contributing, in declining order of importance:

      1. Japan’s political and military leadership came to be dominated by militaristic nationalist movements (roughly analogous to Naziism or Italian Fascism) during the 20s and 30s. These movements believed and promoted racial superiority doctrines justifying imperialism, as well as a fairly radical reinterpretation of historical Samurai codes of honor, both of which were deployed to justify atrocities (e.g. “It’s our right as conquerors to sack this city” or “These POWs have disgraced themselves by surrendering and thus forfeited their rights”). Japan’s leaders in the 1910s are also often described as nationalist and imperialist, probably fairly, but I get the impression that they were “Teddy Roosevelt” imperialist, not “Leopold II of Belgium” imperialist like the leadership of the WW2-era and the later interwar years.

      2. Japan was engaging in what might be termed Ponzi-scheme conquest: ruthlessly looting recently conquered territories in order to pay for the next round of wars. Nazi Germany did pretty much the same thing in Europe. It’s an inherently brutal process, and when you start fighting enemies you can’t quickly conquer and loot, the obvious thing to do is to ramp up the brutality in your previous conquests. In WW1 and the Russo-Japanese War, Japan was engaged in a more conventional strategy of conquering bite-sized chunks of territory, paid for with ordinary war taxes and government debts, followed by a peace settlement and a long period of consolidation.

      3. Japan was on the “good guys” side in WW1 (both the winning side and the same side as most English-language observers), so any atrocities they did commit would get less attention then the same atrocities would get from a “bad guy” country.

      • Protagoras says:

        I definitely think point 2 may be on to something. 1 and 2 could be mutually reinforcing, of course, and both of them are also compatible with my suggestion that maybe Emperor Showa deserves more blame than he usually gets.

      • Nornagest says:

        Japan was engaging in what might be termed Ponzi-scheme conquest: ruthlessly looting recently conquered territories in order to pay for the next round of wars.

        I’ve heard of this sort of thing before, but I can’t quite make the economics work out in my head. Most of a nation’s wealth isn’t in easily lootable commodities; sure, I’ve seen the photos of rooms full of looted European artwork too, but it’d take an awfully big pile of silver candlesticks and family portraits by mediocre artists to pay for even one Panzer IV, and you need a lot more than one to conquer France. And you still need to sell all that stuff to someone. Selling it to your enemies is implausible, selling it to the people you just shot and stole it from is impossible, and your domestic market will saturate sooner or later.

        More of national wealth is in fixed assets — land, natural resources, infrastructure — and in the people working on them. You’ll have smashed some of that on the way in. And you can easily redirect the output of basic production, like food or fuel, but it takes a long time relative to a war’s tempo to get a munitions plant up and running, or even to retool a piano factory to make Mosquitoes. Brutality can only make it go so much faster.

        • Eric Rall says:

          I know the most specifics about Germany’s conquest of France in WW2. A lot of the looting was of goods with direct military or industrial utility: trucks and trains seized to be used for military logistics, factories seized and retooled for German military production, etc.

          There was a fair amount of looting of silver candlesticks and the like (or precious metal stockpiles in banks and government treasuries, which were still a big thing in the time period). Some of this was personal opportunistic sticky-fingeredness by the various senior political and military people involved in the occupation, but there was also official looting of precious metals. As you say, these would need to be sold to someone, and the domestic market will eventually saturate, but in a way this works similar war bonds: people will accept the gold, silver, or bonds because they expect them to be redeemable at some point in the future for something they want (money they can spend in a post-war economy). Gold and silver have a big advantage over bonds in that they can be redeemed in any post-war economy, while bonds can only be redeemed if the issuing government still exists and is still willing and able to redeem the bonds.

          Gold, silver, and artwork can also be sold to neutral markets, at least early in the war before the blockades and embargos tighten up.

          Then there’s “looting” in the figurative sense of taxing the bejesus out of ongoing economic activity, or in outright forced labor because you can only tax so much before people find ways to avoid it. The classic Nazi German examples here are forced labor in the camps, and seizing large portions of the grain harvests in occupied Soviet territories.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The degree to which looting of art (especially stuff that couldn’t be melted down and stashed in a vault in Switzerland) was basically so that Goering or whoever could have nice stuff for their mansions is pretty astounding.

        • John Schilling says:

          Most of a nation’s wealth isn’t in easily lootable commodities […]

          More of national wealth is in fixed assets and in the people working on them. You’ll have smashed some of that on the way in. And you can easily redirect the output of basic production, like food or fuel, but it takes a long time relative to a war’s tempo to get a munitions plant up and running, or even to retool a piano factory to make Mosquitoes.

          First, note that the Germans had substantial success in e.g. getting munitions plants up and running on short order. IIRC, almost half of the medium tanks they had available for the invasion of Russia in 1941, had been made in Czechoslovakian factories since 1938. You might like to think people won’t just meekly keep making weapons for their brutal Literally Nazi conquerors, but empirically, they will. Production yield drops maybe 50%, but 50% of an industrial nation’s productivity is a pretty big deal.

          Second, instead of talking about “a nation’s wealth”, look at the specific nations in question. Japan was and is a modern industrialized nation with more factories and skilled workers than it knows what to do with, but very little in the way of food and fuel and raw materials. The nations Japan chose to conquer, were specifically the nations that produced those basic commodities that Japan needed. In particular, the reason Japan went all-in on World War II was the US-led oil embargo.

          Oil is an eminently lootable commodity, and e.g. the Dutch had already done the hard part of drilling wells and setting up infrastructure.

          • Protagoras says:

            I think you exaggerate how industrialized WWII Japan was; it wasn’t like modern Japan. And they didn’t actually seem to do the greatest job with the looting. Manchuria did not yield the resources that they needed, so far as I can tell because they weren’t very good at getting the resources out, and that problem seems to have continued as they grabbed more territory. Which seems, admittedly, to have just encouraged them to try to fix the problem by grabbing yet more territory instead of recognizing that their approach didn’t seem to be working all that well; no doubt the sort of thing that led bean to describe Japanese policy of the era as “insane.”

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Japan’s political and military leadership came to be dominated by militaristic nationalist movements (roughly analogous to Naziism or Italian Fascism) during the 20s and 30s.

        As a further question, do you (or anybody else) know why this was? Japan obviously didn’t have any lost territories to get embittered over like Germany did, and AFAIK they weren’t in the position of Italy, where the Allies promised a lot to get them into the war and then failed to deliver. What was the factor that led to militaristic nationalism becoming so popular in the higher echelons of government?

        • Protagoras says:

          There was a lot of unrest and people pushing for democratic or other reforms. Emperor Showa and his inner circle mostly tried to deal with this by tying themselves as closely as possible to the military and relying on the military to deal with other threats (it was a little more complicated than that; sometimes factions in the military were pro-reform, but Showa resisted them usually by relying on the more conservative elements in the military). So, again, I’m leaning toward blaming Showa.

    • JayT says:

      The Japanese were known to be pretty brutal in the Sino-Japanese Wars, weren’t they?

      • Protagoras says:

        Second Sino-Japanese war was part of the same conflict as WWII for the Japanese. First Sino-Japanese war admittedly had the Port Arthur massacre, but that seems to have stood out for having been the only incident during that war, and the scale is highly controversial; death toll perhaps in the thousands, if that, so having one incident like that in a war hardly makes the Japanese look particularly bad compared to typical wartime behavior of the time.

    • bean says:

      One theory that springs to mind is that they were on their best behavior during the Russo-Japanese war because they thought (somewhat correctly) that it was their ticket into the ranks of world powers. Also, they had more or less gone insane during the 20s and 30s.

      • Protagoras says:

        “They had more or less gone insane during the 20s and 30s” is not so much an explanation as a restatement of the question. Why did that happen?

        • bean says:

          That, I don’t really know. I’m in the middle of Downfall, but it doesn’t explain why the system was the way it was.

        • bean says:

          I’ve looked into this more, and I think I have a partial answer. Part of it was due to the Japanese practice of first allowing, and then requiring that cabinet members be serving officers. This gave the military veto over the government. The other aspect is the rise of government-by-assassination. Yamamoto was apparently sent to Combined Fleet to keep the Army from killing him.

    • cassander says:

      The same reason the russians did, because we’re talking about people that weren’t all that far removed from pretty hardcore feudalism, peasant armies that hadn’t yet had bourgeois norms soak into their bones for a generation or two and, thus, given the opportunity, acted like feudal armies traditionally did.

      Granted, it’s sort of a tinpot theory, but I think there’s something to it.

      • dndnrsn says:

        This doesn’t mesh with the fact that the Japanese and the Russians both behaved better in WWI than in WWII, as did the Germans. The Germans were pretty soaked in bourgeois norms, and they behaved monstrously in the east, and towards the Jews everywhere.

        • cassander says:

          German Policy in the east was monstrous, I’m not certain if the actual conduct of german soldiers was anywhere as bad of that as russians or japanese soldiers.

          As for WW1, i said “given the opportunity to misbehave” but that was lazy of me. The opportunity, in this case, was the conquest of large areas of enemy terrain that gave them both plentiful victims and distance (both physical and other) from central authority.

          • dndnrsn says:

            German troops, both Waffen-SS and Heer did a fair bit of shooting of Soviets trying to surrender and plenty of rape of women. Their treatment of POWs actually taken prisoner was worse than the Soviets – a higher % died. Ordinary Heer troops participated in mass killings of Jews.

            The Heer did a great job postwar of blaming everything on the SS and the Nazi party, but I don’t see any reason to say their behaviour was better than the Soviets or the Japanese.

            In comparison, the Germans were fairly well-behaved in the West – I’ve seen one author (Keegan?) state that the German army of WWII was better-behaved in the West than that of WWI. The vast majority of slaughters of civilians and POWs in the West were done by Waffen-SS troops, and even those were small potatoes by the standards of the Eastern Front or the Japanese occupation of China. Western Allied POWs were kept in conditions vastly better than Soviet POWs were. German troops were even better-behaved regarding Jews in the West than in the East: in the East, they participated in mass shootings, whereas in the West, it seems that often they preferred not to be directly involved in deportations.

          • cassander says:

            >German troops, both Waffen-SS and Heer did a fair bit of shooting of Soviets trying to surrender and rape.

            The trouble is “a fair bit”. That’s unquestionably true, but it’s hard to say if it was on the level of what the germans and japanese did.

            >Their treatment of POWs actually taken prisoner was worse than the Soviets – a higher % died.

            Because they were ordered to be starved to death by higher ups, not because ordinary soldiers beat them up for fun.

            >Ordinary Heer troops participated in mass killings of Jews.

            the einsatzgruppen did the bulk of that work.

            > but I don’t see any reason to say their behaviour was better than the Soviets or the Japanese.

            the occupation of almost everywhere that wasn’t poland or russia, for one.

            I want to be clear, I’m not endorsing the “clean wehrmacht” myth. That is a myth, the wehrmacht definitely had dirty hands. The question is how much dirt, relative to the Russians and Japanese. The wehrmacht, at the very least, seems capable of restraint at least some of the time. The russians raped the women of female concentration camps they “liberated.”

          • dndnrsn says:

            @cassander:

            The trouble is “a fair bit”. That’s unquestionably true, but it’s hard to say if it was on the level of what the germans and japanese did.

            It’s not the sort of thing records have been kept of.

            Because they were ordered to be starved to death by higher ups, not because ordinary soldiers beat them up for fun.

            Are we describing the Japanese, or the Soviets? In the USSR, the mistreatment of POWs seemed largely to take the form of POWs being put in prison camps basically similar to the prison camps Soviet citizens got put in.

            the einsatzgruppen did the bulk of that work.

            The Einsatzgruppen had their numbers increased with reserve police units being attached, and local Heer units generally cooperated, sometimes participating. The Einsatzgruppen would not have been able to function without the Heer going along with it.

            the occupation of almost everywhere that wasn’t poland or russia, for one.

            If you exclude Poland and the USSR, yeah, their behaviour was better, but that’s like saying “if you ignore the three years he was a fugitive robbing banks and getting in shootouts with the police, he was a law-abiding guy.” There’s a clear reason for them treating French civilians better than Polish, or Canadian POWs better than Soviet: they didn’t think the French and Canadians (or, at least, the white gentiles – accounts of how Jewish POWs were treated differ, not sure about aboriginals, and the Canadian army had barely any other minorities) were subhumans.

            I want to be clear, I’m not endorsing the “clean wehrmacht” myth. That is a myth, the wehrmacht definitely had dirty hands. The question is how much dirt, relative to the Russians and Japanese. The wehrmacht, at the very least, seems capable of restraint at least some of the time. The russians raped the women of female concentration camps they “liberated.”

            Is it a credit to the Wehrmacht (the Heer, really, given that the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine were not involved in atrocities to any large extent – the Luftwaffe didn’t much care about civilians, but the no air force really did) that the worst things done were done by the SS, or by civilian bureaucratic functionaries, or in the cases of the starving POWs, were based on orders from above? No more than it’s a credit to the Waffen-SS that the worst things done by the SS were done by the non-military branches.

    • dndnrsn says:

      First, one explanation I have read is that the Japanese army was an especially brutalizing one for the men in it. Discipline of an especially violent and humiliating fashion was common, between officers and other ranks definitely, and I would guess between noncoms and enlisted men too. It also appears that beyond discipline, stuff that might be best called “hazing” was especially common. This probably applies to their treatment of both POWs and civilians.

      Second, as Eric Rall notes, the Japanese had a particularly high level of contempt for POWs. While the Germans treated Soviet POWs extremely badly (seeing them as subhumans not worth the resources of feeding), and the Soviets treated Axis POWs quite badly (political and resource reasons, mostly), the Japanese – who by and large expected their men to engage in futile charges instead of surrender – appear to have viewed the act of being a prisoner in and of itself as shameful. I don’t know if this would carry over to civilians.

      Third, with regard to POWs, and to a lesser extent with regard to civilians, resources are a factor. Leaving aside how your captor views you, the more able your captor is to escort you to the rear, the more likely you are to survive being taken prisoner (if it is a combat situation of the “throwing your hands up” type, as opposed to a negotiated surrender of an entire unit). This is why surrendering to an infantry unit in WWII was usually safer than surrendering to an armoured unit, and airborne units appear to have had a worse reputation for killing prisoners than other infantry units. Once captured, the better your captor is able to feed you, the more likely you are to survive: both in terms of your being less likely to starve in a camp, and your captor being less likely to decide to shoot you so you don’t cut into their food. Considering that the Japanese war effort in general suffered from resource shortages, and at the best of times the logistics for their land forces was not great – and it would only get worse as the war went on – it’s pretty obvious the effect this would have. This one applies mostly to POWs, but would apply to civilians in cases of “they get the food or we do.”

  18. Mark says:

    Something I find strange:

    This might be a bit out of date now, but there used to be a load of people who argued, on evo-psych grounds, that manly/evil men were great because women liked them, and, at the same time patted themselves on the back for having the psychological strength to confront this dark reality.

    If you think that female choice is an important factor in human evolution, can that really be called a dark vision?
    It’s bordering on naive.
    I mean, Genghis Khan doesn’t have 2 billion descendants cause he was just so hot. The most important factor in men being able to breed has to be the ability to get along with other men. So, if manly men are good, it isn’t because women like them – it’s because men like them.

    (Personally, I find it unlikely that attractiveness can be that beneficial. If we were living in a small group and one man were particularly attractive, and he didn’t go along with the social flow, presumably we’d just kill him.)

    • shakeddown says:

      I’m not sure what you mean. Are you saying the idea that evil men are admirable because women find them attractive isn’t dark (because it implies female choice has a large influence on evolution), or just that it’s naive (because the examples typically given relied more on getting along with other men)?

      • Mark says:

        I think that evil men being successful because women like them is less dark than evil men being successful because they kill those women’s families and rape them – but, perhaps more dark than the actual reality that the important factor is not evilness, but how well you can get along with other men (or perhaps that’s darker)

        So – I guess what I’m saying is that *if* you think that evilness is important, it’s naive to think it’s important because that’s what women find hot.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Spiders Genghis is an outlier, and should not be counted.

    • >Personally, I find it unlikely that attractiveness can be that beneficial.

      What? Most things related to attractiveness have specific health functions. Good teeth means you can eat for years. Holes in the face indicate the immune system at work…though acne is a strange puzzle, with people who don’t otherwise get sick often can have bad cases. Symmetric body that isn’t too deficient in muscle….or perhaps way too much, which requires lots of calories to maintain. Height is good for male to male conflicts(though it backfires in agricultural societies, where for work the shorter the better) Breasts/Buttocks are great fat deposits for the starvation months.

      There is probably really only one thing on human males that’s a case of pure sexual selection, and we put the gorillas to shame on that one.

      There are certainly glitches in the system. Maybe there isn’t any reason why facial feature X or Y is sized that way besides sexual selection heuristics being wacky. But the system of attractiveness is a physical health indicator works well enough. My guess is something strange happens with male/female facial differentiation that throws the whole system out of wack a bit.

      If that man was unusually attractive, in a hunter-gatherer society, he is *probably* in great shape, and is a good hunter.

      You probably underestimate how often women cheated(rightfully so) on their ugly husband from an arranged marriage they didn’t choose to get into.

      • shakeddown says:

        Aren’t breasts an encumbrance thing (basically, a human peacock tail)?

        • Ok, just why breasts are they way they are *is* an interesting topic that’s been thought of endlessly.

        • Loquat says:

          I doubt that; breasts large enough to actually encumber the bearer are pretty rare. You might have seen statistics like “17% of women say they don’t go to the gym because their breasts are too big”, but most of those are actually just embarrassed at the prospect of their breasts bouncing around in front of strangers, not physically incapable of exercise.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Large bouncing breasts can be quite painful. Why do you think you know what those women experience?

          • Loquat says:

            Because the survey I read about asked, and apparently embarrassment or not having a decent sports bra were the main reasons cited.

            But the comment I’m responding to claims that breasts are so very inconvenient that they’re like a peacock’s tail, which is just laughably wrong for the vast majority of women.

      • Mark says:

        Two groups – men and women.
        Which do you think is more obsessed with penis size?

        Larger male penis size may well have come about because of “bro-selection” – it’s a display to other men.

        There is a limit to how far height can be generated by sexual selection because of social/physical conditions – natural selection. Well, the biggest factor for natural selection for any (large) animal on this planet is how well humans tolerate them. Why should it be different for humans themselves?
        http://cogweb.ucla.edu/Abstracts/Boehm_99.html

        • skef says:

          “Larger” than that of other primates, I take it?

          Here’s a cute working theory:

          Sexual pleasure is the primary driver of sexual intercourse. I will assume that human female sexual pleasure is at least partly a driver of who the woman in question has sex with (i.e. that the whole question doesn’t amount to competition among men). (There might also be links between the pleasure experienced and fertilization, although there’s not much evidence for it.)

          What’s a big evolutionary change between other primates and humans? Brain size. What is one big thing that brain size complicates? Delivery. What reduces the risk of delivery? A larger vaginal canal. What could a larger vaginal canal reduce? Sexual pleasure in relation to a given penis size.

          Hence, general evolutionary upward pressure on penis size to match.

          Added: Naturally, I am not the first person to think of this.

    • Anonymous says:

      This might be a bit out of date now, but there used to be a load of people who argued, on evo-psych grounds, that manly/evil men were great because women liked them, and, at the same time patted themselves on the back for having the psychological strength to confront this dark reality.

      That’s incoherent. The attraction towards Dark Triad types probably comes from their propensity towards success. After all, psychopaths are overrepresented among CEOs and politicians (and prisoners). This was probably even more pronounced in the past, when times were more violent and less lawful. Exhibiting traits normally associated with a tribal chief, a merchant prince, a warlord – is plausibly attractive, because these are resource holders, and resources are very useful for having surviving offspring. The psycho- and sociopaths aren’t necessarily great. They just act like they own the place, and that gives them the benefit of doubt.

      • Mark says:

        I think that selfish people can only prosper in quite unusual social circumstances. Let’s say your cousin is a psychopath, and you live in a community of about 20 people. Do you think that being a psychopath is going to benefit him? Or do you think he’s going to have to work harder than everyone else to cooperate, or end up with an arrow in the back?

        Psychopaths only prosper when we decide to allow them to prosper, or where our social interactions are so anonymous as to make it impossible to identify them. That hasn’t been the situation for the vast majority of the time that humans have been doing their thang.

        Never mind the law, think about how important the family is. Less important in a mass society – but that isn’t where we originally come from.

        • Anonymous says:

          I don’t know about you, but “charismatic and ruthless” describes a lot of tribal warlords to me, especially the successful ones. They don’t have to be selfless. They just have to pretend they are to some degree.

          • Mark says:

            I’d be interested to see if psychopaths are overrepresented in the upper echelons of the military.
            I would guess that there are more high ranking psychopath lawyers than there are high ranking psychopath soldiers.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      There’s a critique of evolutionary psychology that says that evopsych is all “just so stories” and not proper science. That because the ancestral environment is largely not directly observable, evolutionary psychologists can freely BS about what pressures our ancestors were subject to without fear of falsification as in the rest of science.

      I don’t think this is entirely fair when aimed at evopsych researchers: after all, the same logic could just as well condemn any application of science to evolutionary history from paleontology down to genomic studies on aDNA. But I do think it’s a fair criticism of the sort of lay speculation you’re giving here.

      • Mark says:

        They always say that 80% of women have had offspring, but only 40% of men. The suggestion being that the men with the best pick up lines have been boffing multiple partners throughout the ages, while little billy-no-game had to go without.

        I would say that the disparity in death by violence between men and women probably has more to do with it – that’s not quite as (sexually) exciting though, and probably doesn’t help when trying to manipulate anxious and atomised saps.

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          You should probably look at the state of research in the field before you dismiss that idea entirely.

          There’s been a fair amount of research on this topic over the last two decades. While a number of studies like this one have suggested that low diversity of the Y chromosome is due to widespread polygyny there are plausible alternate mechanisms (e.g., purifying selection on the Y chromosome).

          Sex-biased migration and differential survival in adulthood are largely rejected as explanations in either case. They have an effect on diversity, but under realistic parameters both are minor.

          TL;DR: This is a real effect which is actively being studied. I’m not confident that polygny is the right explanation, but am very confident that male death in war is the wrong explanation.

          *Sorry Dave, I’m using the colloquial here not ripping on AnCaps.

          • Mark says:

            ” am very confident that male death in war is the wrong explanation”

            I don’t see how it is possible to distinguish (genetically) between polygyny where a load of males are sitting around twiddling their thumbs (because women have chosen the more handsome partners) and polygyny where a load of males are lying dead in the ground.

            I checked the paper linked, and it doesn’t really explain this point –
            (“However, demographic factors of this kind (e.g., lower male survival during adult life or delayed male versus female age of maturity) are unlikely to have a major effect on the relative effective population sizes of X-linked and autosomal loci [26].”)

            Could you give the dumbed down explanation of how you’re making this determination?

            Here is what I consider to be likely:
            (1) More of less monogamous cultures where all of the men are occasionally wiped out by losing in war and the women are carried away by the more successful *group* —–> could possibly test this because the wiped out males would still be contributing to female descendants though no contribution through Y.

            (2) Different rates of survival for men vs. women either due to illness, accidents, or war/violence (violence most likely).

            (3) Cultural features of mass (rather than tribal) society (big man/king) complex religion.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            I’m more of a molecular geneticist / biochemist than an evolutionary or population geneticist, so the math is very difficult for me to follow. I wish I had paid more attention in Diff Eq back in undergrad.

            But the model they use in the above paper comes from Hammer’s reference 26 if you think you have a better chance of understanding where the numbers come from.

        • Anonymous says:

          They always say that 80% of women have had offspring, but only 40% of men.

          The 80/40 figure is just an arbitrary point that fits. The research only suggests that twice as many women as men reproduced. It could be 40/20 for all we know.

          The suggestion being that the men with the best pick up lines have been boffing multiple partners throughout the ages, while little billy-no-game had to go without.

          No, the suggestion being that polygamy existed and was the norm throughout prehistory. It was only substantially outlawed in the Christian lands, and not that long ago, and everywhere else either still practices it, or bans it for like a hundred years or two. “Pickup lines” meaning “women being free to choose mates” is a horrible anachronism.

  19. Since we have some naval experts here, I have two related questions.

    As I understand the relevant history, the Japanese plan prior to the Pearl Harbor attack was that they would attack the Philippines, the U.S. would respond by moving the Pacific Fleet west, and the Japanese would sink it. They abandoned that plan for fear that the U.S. wouldn’t play, that the Japanese fleet had become strong enough so that the U.S. would wait until the battleships of the Atlantic fleet came west. But in fact, at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, the U.S. was still operating under plans that called for a movement of the Pacific fleet west in response to an attack on the Philippines.

    My first question is whether that account is substantially correct.

    Assuming it is, my second question is what would have happened if the Japanese had acted on their earlier plan, the U.S. Pacific fleet had come west, and the two fleets met. I assume that at least the Yamato would be in action, possibly the Musashi, depending on when the attack occurred.

    I see three wild cards, two of which favor the Japanese. We did not know what the Yamato was. We did not know of the existence of the O-92 torpedo. The third is the role of aircraft carriers, which at that point neither side had good information on.

    Japanese cruisers carried torpedos and the tubes were reloadable, with the result that they could put a lot of torpedos in the water. The O-92 had a much longer range than any other torpedo of the time, which meant they would be in range long before the U.S. ships thought they were.

    Any guess what would have happened?

    • John Schilling says:

      The Japanese put a lot of thought into how to win a decisive clash of battleships. Their specific plan, “Kantai Kessen” was ridiculously complex and would have gone off the rails from the start, but the same is true of the US “Plan Orange”. Ultimately, admirals on both sides would have been trying to bring their battleships together in one grand East Asian Jutland, improvising as they went. And you correctly note that Japan brought some advantages to the table early in the war. I’ll add superior night-fighting tactics and doctrine, before the US properly debugged its early radar systems.

      So it’s certainly possible they could have fought and won their Decisive Battle, sinking most of the US Pacific Fleet’s battleships in Japanese or Phillipine waters. After that, well, we already know what happens when the Japanese sink most of the US Pacific Fleet’s battleships.

      • Protagoras says:

        The Japanese did like their absurdly complex plans. Yamamoto seems over-rated to me; sure, he recognized the importance of aircraft carriers at a time when a lot of others were still battleship obsessed, but his plans were as complex as any of the other Japanese admirals, and with similarly questionable results. He came up with the plan for Midway that involved splitting up into widely separated groups. If the Japanese had kept their forces together for Midway, the reduced need for radio chatter would have meant that the Americans would probably have known less rather than more about what the Japanese were up to, and more concentrated AA and more ships able to do scouting in the area near the carriers might have enabled them to protect their carriers a bit better.

      • After that, well, we already know what happens when the Japanese sink most of the US Pacific Fleet’s battleships.

        Harder to refloat them from the bottom of the Marianas Trench.

        Also, are you assuming that in such a battle the carriers wouldn’t have also been lost?

        • John Schilling says:

          Japanese targeting policy in the buildup to the Decisive Battle would most likely have been the same as at Pearl Harbor – the objective is to degrade and destroy the enemy’s battle line, and if you can sink some aircraft carriers too that’s fine but aircraft carriers are not part of the battle line. The idea that the Japanese considered it a great failure not to have sunk the American carriers at Pearl is, I think, wishful hindsight. But at least it was plausible that they could have sunk carriers at Pearl; it’s all one harbor so you just need a few Kates to retarget their torpedoes. Once at sea, the 30-knot carriers don’t sail in convoy with the 21-knot battleships and the latter were going to be the torpedo magnets.

          Which brings us to your second point: The battleships refloated at Pearl were the old 21-knot types that played a key role in prewar planning but were too slow to keep up with the ships that would win the battles we actually fought. If they hadn’t been sunk, we might have planned our first operations around a 21-knot battle line. Once they were sunk, at Pearl or the Phillipines, refloating them just gives you some more nice-to-have shore bombardment platforms.

    • bean says:

      My first question is whether that account is substantially correct.

      It is. I think that the general consensus is that Pearl Harbor wasn’t really a fundamental change so much as an extension of their efforts to wear down the Americans before the decisive battle. They’d always planned to sink as much as they could by torpedoes and air power. It was just applying the air power farther forward. One of their admirals seriously suggested abandoning some of the carriers after the strike for logistics reasons. They were seen as expendable if the results were good enough.

      Assuming it is, my second question is what would have happened if the Japanese had acted on their earlier plan, the U.S. Pacific fleet had come west, and the two fleets met. I assume that at least the Yamato would be in action, possibly the Musashi, depending on when the attack occurred.

      Depends on when and with what the US comes. The Yamato would have been annoying, but I’d rate it similar to a SoDak in terms of combat power. We had at least 3 modern battleships for each of theirs. Long Lance was a serious problem off Guadalcanal, but we dealt with it there, and I’m not sure that it would have been that much worse in a normal War Plan Orange world.

  20. thenoblepie says:

    I’m not sure how to approach this. I need your help. I got into a fight with a friend of mine who I would describe as xenophobic if I were less charitable, so let’s just say that he is very concerned with non-European immigrants making their way to the continent, especially the ones with a Muslim background. The argument got a bit ugly. To mend things, I proposed that we would both give money to a charity that addresses his concerns but also does so in a manner that increases the well-being of those he is concerned about. So, if you wanted to give money to curb immigration to Europe, but also do something good for the people affected, who would you give money to? Refugee organisations active in Syria? Microloans to business owners in those regions?

    • multiheaded says:

      Semi-serious answer: the YPG, because they are very good at removing ISIS while not performing (almost any) atrocities themselves.

    • Aapje says:

      Many refugees are outside Syria, in neighboring countries. People who oppose refugees coming to Europe generally support refugees being giving refuge in surrounding countries. AFAIK the UNHCR does a lot of work to aid refugees ‘over there’:

      https://donate.unhcr.org/gu-en/syria/

    • Sandy says:

      So, if you wanted to give money to curb immigration to Europe, but also do something good for the people affected, who would you give money to?

      The Turkish government, though I don’t know how you would do that.

      • aNeopuritan says:

        The Turks were Islamic State’s most important ally until recently, and use the threat of flooding Europe as leverage.

        • Sandy says:

          I’m aware, but the Turks seem to have settled on a cash-for-border-control deal, given that they used that leverage to bilk Europe out of 3 billion euros.

      • shakeddown says:

        Even if you could, the bottleneck on Turkish government efforts is probably political will rather than limited money, so it probably wouldn’t matter.

  21. Anon. says:

    I’ve been playing the new Torment a bit. Pretty disappointing overall, but the setting has great potential.

    • Matt C says:

      I’m 4 or 5 hours in and I’d give it a B. But my expectations weren’t too high to begin with.

      The writing itself is decent. Some of it is try-hard and some is infodumpy, but overall I’m content with it. (NPC names, so far, are not good–eeesh, guys.)

      I’ve only fought the first combat, and it was kinda fun. I’d prefer a little more combat, but too few is better than yet another copy-paste fight every 2 minutes. I like combats having different little one-off environmental options, which the tutorial says I can expect. I suspect once I learn the systems combat is going to be too easy, but it’s a story game, this isn’t so bad. I like the cypher mechanic that pushes you to use your consumables instead of sitting on them all game.

      The setting is good so far and I’ve enjoyed some of the little discoveries.

      That said, the game hasn’t really grabbed me. My mysterious history and discovery quest is . . . ok. My trusty sidekick Aligern the Hardened Nano Who Fights With His Demons is . . . ok. Some games pull me in. This one, I’m pushing my way along. It’s not bad, mostly, but there’s nothing excellent about it either. Worth a play through, not something I’m going to dig out for a replay years from now.

  22. onyomi says:

    Imagine a genie uses time travel/body switch magic to suddenly turn you into Zhu Yuanzhang, Louis XV, Kim Jong Il, or some other ruler with relatively absolute authority. You are allowed to use your superior intellect, morality, and/or knowledge of history and political philosophy to be a better ruler than these guys, but you are not allowed to say “invent” the computer in 18th c. France, assuming you have the know-how (also, now you have the requisite knowledge to function as, e. g. a 14th-c. Chinese person).

    Keeping in mind all these practical constraints, will you actually be able to do better than these guys? A lot better? Or just a little better? Could you make 18th c. France a better place than it was and yet also avoid “le déluge”?

    If I try to turn 14th c. China into ancapistan or a liberal democracy right away then of course I am going to be assassinated by all the people benefiting from the current ruling ideology and system. But can I push things gradually in that direction? Or, if I want to stay alive, do I end up being as bad or worse than these guys (and if I really care about staying alive, I might actually have to be worse in the sense that I am not as talented or experienced, most likely, as Louis XV or Kim Jong Il at keeping track of and placating all the people who might like to see me replaced).

    • Sandy says:

      The Revolution and Napoleonic Era saw pretty sweeping changes in France within a relatively short time frame, so you might be able to do better with Louis XV than Kim Jong-Il. The problem with trying that in 20th century North Korea is that you don’t have Napoleon’s armies or France’s wealth, and your territory is largely the plaything of Great Powers who have their own agenda and will not take kindly to any sudden changes.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      With Louis XV, I think it would with hindsight be quite easy to rule better than he did: put your weight behind the movement to reform the French tax system and make it more efficient, and try not to get mixed up in expensive wars (at least until you’ve completed said tax reform).

      • onyomi says:

        Yeah, I mean, it would be better to conceive of it as being some sort of generic autocrat, since hindsight of specific historic circumstances would give one an advantage one could not reasonably expect any ruler to have.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          To be fair, it doesn’t take special clairvoyant powers to know that being able to raise money more efficiently is a good thing for a government. Aside from common sense, there was the example of England and the Netherlands, both of which had punched above their weight in wars against Louis XIV due to their superior financial systems.

      • Deiseach says:

        With Louis XV, I think it would with hindsight be quite easy to rule better than he did

        Yeah, the problem is remember what happened the reforming Russian Tsars. The revolutionary forces were not satisfied with the slow pace of reform and wanted to burn down the whole system anyway, and by removing the oppressive control of their predecessors, this left the revolutionaries a lot freer to achieve their ends (instead of rotting in Siberia).

        Expensive wars are also in part a matter of your enemies/allies deciding that while you’re occupied overhauling your internal affairs now is a perfect time to start carving off bits of territory.

        Looking quickly at the Wikipedia article, Louis XV wasn’t actually that bad by comparison; indeed, it’s rather like the reforming Tsars – by handing back conquered territory he weakened France’s influence and power and made it a target. Most of the problems seem to have been entrenched ones he inherited due to (a) the long reign of his great-grandfather whom he succeeded, the Sun King (b) the intriguing during the period of the regency (c) getting dragged into the War of the Austrian Succession.

        Ideally, I’d say go earlier and replace Louis XIV who was the one centralising power and taking on the nobility; that gives you the opportunity to put in place all these tax reforms while at the same time growing power and influence.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Yeah, the problem is remember what happened the reforming Russian Tsars. The revolutionary forces were not satisfied with the slow pace of reform and wanted to burn down the whole system anyway, and by removing the oppressive control of their predecessors, this left the revolutionaries a lot freer to achieve their ends (instead of rotting in Siberia).

          That was pretty much what happened during the French Revolution as well, although during Louis XV’s reign I don’t think revolutionary ideologies were particularly strong. Certainly they weren’t so strong that making the tax system more efficient would have led to the country’s implosion.

    • James Miller says:

      I want to become Roman emperor Diocletian because I know how to solve one of his biggest problems: inflation. Rather than imposing price controls as he did, I will recognize that inflation is caused by too much money chasing too few goods and so I will sell imperial assets (mostly land) for coins, and put the coins in a vault, and keep doing this until we have price stability. Then I start a eugenics program for smart people determined by a non-verbal intelligence test that everyone in my empire has to take.

      • onyomi says:

        This is one of those areas where I tend to think I might genuinely be able to do better: the many, many instances of historical rulers trying to institute policies which better understanding of economics would have told them were obviously a bad idea.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Governments now should have a better understanding of economics, and yet they institute policies that are obviously bad ideas…

          • onyomi says:

            Though I think modern governments manage to avoid some of the most obviously ridiculous errors (like being surprised when minting huge new quantities of money results in increased prices), to the extent this is true, to what extent is it because

            a. economists still disagree a lot
            b. economists still don’t know a lot
            c. politicians don’t know what economists would recommend

            or

            d. politicians are prevented/dissuaded from doing what economists would recommend by some realpolitik exigencies

            I think all of these are a factor in most cases, though free trade seems to be a mostly clear example of d resulting also from the issue of people being wrong in predictable ways.

            For example, it seems almost all economists of all ideological persuasions agree free trade is a good thing, but apparently the human mind is also strongly predisposed to think protectionism is a good thing. Therefore, the free trade case must be made again and again and again… and still often loses.

            But then again, maybe it’s not, primarily, that the politicians and people are ignorant, but that free trade, while better for everyone overall, is still inferior politically, precisely because it is a bad policy in terms of the exigencies described in the video: it doesn’t give you the power to distribute favors in exchange for support.

            (Usually I think the above two factors combine to avoid cognitive dissonance: politicians don’t want to do things which will make them lose power and influence but also don’t want to believe that’s the only reason they are doing things; therefore, they conveniently, and probably unconsciously, find whatever arguments may exist for the politically expedient economic position to be much more persuasive).

            Typically I use this as an argument against democracy: diffuse costs, concentrated benefits; but there is an extent to which it seems to just be a feature of politics in general, given that there’s actually no such thing as an “absolute” ruler so long as he depends on others to carry out his will. But maybe democracy makes it worse by increasing the number of people who must be placated before the actual good ideas can be allowed.

          • dndnrsn says:

            de Mesquita and Smith would say democracy is better, because it increases the number of people who must be placated, in the form of life being at least semi-OK for them. Do autocracies have an actual good track record?

          • 1soru1 says:

            That is the underlying principle of neoliberalism under democracy; use your skill, judgement and knowledge of market economics to select policies that produce outcomes that is are as good for as as many people as possible, and then expect those people to vote for you.

            The more true knowledge you have, the more your policies work, the more people have good outcomes, and so the more vote for you.

            The counter-strategy is populism, where you make explicit strong promises that have understandable results, without worrying whether those results will turn out to be the case.

            It’s probably an eternal dilemma, there will always be always problems and solutions, and those can either be paired together by the best understanding possible, or by the understanding people actually have.

            In theory neolliberalism works fine, and in some cases it works in practice as well. Except it has one small flaw; it is incompatible with a capitalist free market economy. A free market, more or less by definition, can’t be predicted by experts; otherwise the expert would be richer and the market would be different. That lack of predictive ability means sooner or later the illusion of expert omniscience is lost.

            And then the populists take over.

      • Deiseach says:

        so I will sell imperial assets (mostly land) for coins, and put the coins in a vault

        Mental image evoked 🙂

        Then I start a eugenics program for smart people determined by a non-verbal intelligence test that everyone in my empire has to take.

        Augustus tried that; didn’t take any better than such a programme would take nowadays when we’re discussing “why aren’t smart/better-educated people having kids?”. Women who didn’t want to bear children had access to contraception and abortion, infanticide by exposure was a social custom, and men who preferred sex with courtesans/boys to impregnating their wives aren’t going to get with the programme; you’re more likely to end up on the wrong end of an assassination attempt.

        • James Miller says:

          Augustus tried to get rich women to have more children, and you are right that this didn’t work out. I would focus on the bottom 90% of society and offer cash rewards to smart couples who had lots of children.

          • Deiseach says:

            I would focus on the bottom 90% of society

            Who are already having plenty of children. Isn’t the idea that the smartest get to the top? That the rich in power probably are the best, they’ve certainly got the education, they probably have a better chance of living longer and access to such medical technology as exists, and they’re trained in ruling and running the society.

            What you need is the creation of a middle class and a eugenics programme won’t get you that on its own; the smartest goat herd in Pontus is still a goat herd, unless some rich aristocrat acts as a patron and takes him off to the big city to get educated and introduced into society.

            Augustus, who more or less created the Empire, wasn’t trying “to get rich women to have more children”, he was trying to get the men, the members of the Equestrian Order and the Senators in particular, to have kids. This was the stratrum from which the ruling class was drawn; moreover “As well as holding large landed estates, equites came to dominate mining, shipping and manufacturing industry. In particular, tax farming companies (publicani) were almost all in the hands of equites”.

            These were the people who filled the administrative and military posts in governing the empire, and Augustus wanted more of them to ensure the survival of the empire. And like the well-educated professional classes of today, they weren’t reproducing. One of the dodges to get around the penalties Augustus introduced was for men to become betrothed to girls much too young to marry, so the engagement (and lack of childbearing) would go on for years.

          • James Miller says:

            @Deiseach

            If the poor were having lots of children then society was in a Malthusian trap and my giving money to the smart poor would make it more likely that the children of smart parents would survive. I could also do matchmaking by encouraging smart men and women to marry. I would provide free education to smart children, and eventually have them take over the administrative state. It would be like China’s exam civil service system but with eugenics. I would also introduce the scientific method and attach status and riches to people making scientific and mathematical discoveries. I would be careful, however, to make the army believe that they were by far the most important institution.

          • I think the argument is that the bottom 90% includes some smart people who had the bad luck to be born poor–social mobility exists but is far from perfect. If you could somehow identify the smart ones, getting them to have more kids and helping them to keep those kids alive would be much easier than getting rich people to have more kids.

      • dndnrsn says:

        What happens when your immediate underlings don’t like what you’re doing? What happens when some high-verbal, low-visual intelligence governor gets pissed off that you’re using a test that benefits keen-eyed barbarians? Beware March 15!

        • James Miller says:

          My eugenics policy won’t harm my army, and they are all I really have to care about to keep power. I will market it as a way of replacing my smart Greek slaves/freedman with even smarter servants. As long as I don’t spend more than a few percentage points of my budget on the program, I don’t think it will cause me any political trouble.

          • Deiseach says:

            My eugenics policy won’t harm my army, and they are all I really have to care about to keep power.

            A good point, as long as none of your rivals commands a better one.

            I don’t think it will cause me any political trouble

            The smart ambitious non-Romans in the administration and a lot of the smart ambitious Romans in the administration overseas will spend a lot of time plotting how to replace you with someone more amenable to their interests, if they don’t fancy becoming Augustus or Caesar themselves. The smart non-Romans will want to liberate their countries from under the yoke of Rome and they may decide the first step on this path is via assassination or replacing you with a puppet.

            I will market it as a way of replacing my smart Greek slaves/freedman with even smarter servants.

            This is going to cause immense resentment. The influence of “smart Greek slaves and freedmen” in Rome was allegedly notorious (if we can believe the admittedly axe-grinding accounts of historians of the time and after) and they were seen as using their influence and position to milk as much money out of the system as possible and lord it over native free-born Roman citizens who should by right be in those positions of influence. Replace that with “and now I am creating a personally-loyal-only-to-me client base of free barbarians who are going to be even smarter and have more power and influence” and don’t be surprised to find your guard suddenly declaring The New Emperor at the sword’s point. Think of the murmurs about possible abuse of the H-1B visa programme and think how a proposal that “The USA is going to sponsor foreign nationals to encourage increased childbirth among the most highly intelligent so their offspring can come here to take the jobs American employers say they can’t fill otherwise” would be received; do you imagine Imperial Rome is going to be any happier about “I want our subject peoples to have lots of smart babies who can take over in the administration of the Empire”? If your advisors aren’t pointing out “And these smart babies who get good jobs running our government when they grow up may seize control of the Empire”, then they’re not doing their jobs.

            What you are talking about is creating a Mameluk class of imperial civil service/business class via breeding not slave-raiding, but the downside of that is the possibility that they rise up and seize power for themselves, which means no more Empire.

          • dndnrsn says:

            How do you pay the army? Do you exempt those in the army from the intelligence test? Etc.

          • James Miller says:

            @dndnrsn

            I don’t change how I deal with the army, but I would want them to take the intelligence test, but I stress that even if they do poorly they are still the most important people in the Empire.

          • dndnrsn says:

            So you don’t pick your military leaders, from whatever the noncom equivalent was on up, based on intelligence? Or, do you sort the military, so that the smart guys end up in specialist positions and the dumb guys end up in the frontline combat units? That has never worked great…

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Then I start a eugenics program for smart people determined by a non-verbal intelligence test that everyone in my empire has to take.

        I don’t think the Roman state had the resources for that kind of project.

        • James Miller says:

          Yes they did. A simple IQ test is repeating a sequence backwards, and I’m sure I could come up with better. I have my massive administrative state give the same test to everyone, and then I provide extra incentives for smart couples to have children and for smart people to marry each other. I could create a colony of 10,000 really smart but poor teenagers in a nice area, let them live tax free, offer free education, and provide a financial incentive for them to have lots of babies.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            ” I could create a colony of 10,000 really smart but poor teenagers in a nice area,”

            not to rain on your parade like all these guys are doing, but smart + poor? not a combination that tends to stick.

          • James Miller says:

            @AnonYEmous

            It probably mostly did back then do to the general lack of social mobility outside of the army.

          • Deiseach says:

            What then do you do with your smart babies? What do they do when they grow up?

            As I said, if you integrate them into your administration, you are going to incur massive resentment from those who consider those jobs to belong to them ‘by right’ due to their status in society. If you want them to succeed in trade etc. they have to break into the existing networks and guilds.

            Unless you do something like adopt the Chinese state civil service exams where anyone can apply and jobs are awarded on merit, you are going to have a lot of smart kids who got educated and now depend solely on you for support and backing, and when you die that’s the end of their careers.

            And as I said, Augustus tried the “give incentives for smart people to marry, give incentives for smart people to have kids” and it didn’t work because as is constantly pointed out – if you want to reduce population levels you increase the level of education (including the education of women). Augustus had laws that unmarried people could not inherit even if left legacies, and even those penalties didn’t get the rich and upper class having loads of kids.

            Human nature is very resistant. How do you know your colony of smart but poor teenagers is still in existence, rather than that the guy you put in charge of overseeing it closed it down, is pocketing the money you send to keep it going, and is writing you fake reports about how well everything is going?

      • cassander says:

        The reason diocletian didn’t do that was because he needed the money in his treasury to pay his army and ever expanding bureaucracy. Watering down the currency wasn’t something emperors did for fun, they did it because they desperately needed more cash. And you can’t cut back the army or the bureaucracy, because if you do, they’ll revolt under someone who promises them a huge donative (which he’ll pay for by watering down the currency).

    • Jiro says:

      Juan Carlos of Spain (without time travel) managed to be handed a country by a dictator and turned it into a democracy.

    • dndnrsn says:

      I’m gonna give basically the same answer I did for the “fix Zimbabwe” thought experiment: unless you are replacing someone who was unquestionably incompetent/crazy, it’s likely you’ll fall into a lot of the same pitfalls.

      Let’s say you end up in the body of some random monarch. Are you going to try to improve the quality of life for people in your realm, or try to ensure that your son, grandson, etc stay in power? Those two things don’t necessarily coincide.

      EDIT: Perhaps the problem is not a lack of knowledge, or a lack of the right people at the top? Perhaps the problem is people?

      I’m going to recommend The Dictator’s Handbook by de Mesquita and Smith again, for a look at why leaders behave the way they do.

      If you’re not allowed to invent the computer, are you allowed to propagate the message “boil your water, wash your hands, and don’t shit upstream of where you get your drinking water, because it will make the ghosts angryyyyyyy“?

    • The Nybbler says:

      For Kim Jong Il, I think my best idea would be to try to change it into a “regular” autocratic dictatorship. Ease up on the cult of personality; leave any worshipfulness attached to Kim Il Sung. Use the nuclear threat to extract aid from the West once, but actually stick to the deal and start normalizing relationships (except with the South, which is probably plain impossible in the short to medium term).

      • Wrong Species says:

        I think you would probably want to keep the cult of personality at first, just as a check against some general deciding to murder you in your sleep.

        • Deiseach says:

          a check against some general deciding to murder you in your sleep

          Or somebody arranging to have you knocked off via poisoning in a Malaysian airport because you were too soft on reforming the revolution and might even yet be a credible successor.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Unfortunately I think the best time to end it is upon accession to power. Trying to end it after being the subject of it seems much more difficult. Somehow I’ll have to convince the generals that they’re better off with me alive.

        • nimim.k.m. says:

          There are less drastic methods to deal with that. Most autocrats have managed with encouraging a substantially more restricted form of reverence to “lawful monarch” and regular politics

      • John Schilling says:

        Use the nuclear threat to extract aid from the West once, but actually stick to the deal and start normalizing relationships

        How does that work, exactly? “Give me $$$, or I’ll nuke your cities”, followed by “never mind all the nuclear weapons I still have and that gross violation of international norms; let’s be friends”? Not going to happen. To the very limited extent that North Korea has ever been able to secure economic aid by nuclear saber-rattling, the cost was to lock in a decidedly abnormal relationship for at least a generation. Extorting “aid” by military force is Not Normal, and is not going to be normalized.

        Besides, that’s not what nuclear weapons are for. The House Kim family atomics are for regime preservation and for preserving the territorial integrity of (north) Korea, period. They are not to be bargained away for merely economic advantage, and for good reason. If you’re going to parachute yourself into the Kim Dynasty’s throne room, understand that no matter sincerely you plan to “stick to the deal”, the western allies cannot be trusted.

        If you take that job, you’re riding the tiger to the end of your days. A vindictive western world looking for cheap victories on one side, your own suspicious generals and politicians on the other. Have fun.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I’m talking nuclear blackmail like Iran (“Give me money and I decommission the nukes, don’t and I build more”), not like real-world North Korea; as you suggest that would involve giving up the nukes. If you make it an absolute requirement that the nukes stay, there’s no way out for Kim Jong Il. I don’t think Libya is necessarily the pattern for all such disarmaments.

        • Deiseach says:

          understand that no matter sincerely you plan to “stick to the deal”, the western allies cannot be trusted.

          First they’ll sell you the parts and machinery for making weapons, then they’ll use that as proof you are going to use those weapons and they’ll invade you.

        • John Schilling says:

          I’m talking nuclear blackmail like Iran (“Give me money and I decommission the nukes, don’t and I build more”)

          Iran didn’t have any nuclear weapons to decomission(*); neither did Libya when they normalized relations. Agreements to not build nuclear weapons are easier to negotiate than agreements to dismantle them; consider verification. So you’ll have to go back to the early 1990s or so to try for that sort of deal.

          And the other side of the deal with Iran was not “give me money”, but rather to return money that was already rightfully theirs and then allow them to trade freely with the rest of the world. Trade agreements are much easier to negotiate than extortion payments, but North Korea doesn’t have the export potential of Iran’s oil and it doesn’t have nearly as much money frozen in foreign accounts to be returned, so this won’t get you much.

          Really, we already know what sort of a deal North Korea could negotiate under those constraints, and Actual Kim Jong-Il already got that deal. It lasted about a decade, it wasn’t transformative, and I’m not clear on what you are proposing to do differently.

          If you make it an absolute requirement that the nukes stay, there’s no way out for Kim Jong Il.

          Except the one where he remains securely in power in a nuclear-armed North Korea for the rest of his natural life, which you may recall actually worked pretty well for him.

          Iran doesn’t have a more powerful neighbor right next door with a government whose policy is to extinguish the Islamic Republic of Iran and annex all of its territory. Iran also doesn’t have a reputation for human rights violations so dire that pretty much the entire rest of the world wants to see that state extinguished and its leaders hung (or worse).

          I get that you’ll stop the human rights violations as well. Nobody will believe you, or forgive you. You are not only volunteering to ride the tiger, you are making it your first policy to denounce bit, bridle, and saddle as cruelty to animals and do away with them.

          *Or if they did, everyone on every side of the deal agreed to pretend otherwise, which is harder with North Korea.

      • soreff says:

        Hmm – just how absolute was Kim Jong Il’s power?
        He was in the special position of having South Korea right on his doorstep…
        Could he simply have surrendered North Korea to the South?
        (ok – it wouldn’t be simple – he has to at least placate enough of his generals
        to keep from being immediately killed – but I’d think he’d have enough power
        to do it…).

        • John Schilling says:

          He’d also have had to either placate China or break the US-Seoul alliance first. We already know how China reacts to having the United States Army and its allies just over the Yalu.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      I love this game!

      General remark: a lot of absolute rulers could have avoided a bunch of trouble by preserving the nobility. Restraining them looks nice from a modern perspective but you don’t get parliamentary England or even the Polish-Lithuanian republic without entrenched nobility.

      Kim Jong Il: Transitioning to Chinese-style single party dictatorship doesn’t seem impossible, and would be a huge improvement. The advantage being that you can keep the ruling cabal on the inside, so they probably won’t murder you.

      Phillip II: Probably you can’t do anything about the Inquisition (since I don’t think the real Phillip II was so into it either) but at least you can let the colonies trade with each other. And if industrialization were legal in the colonies the indios might wind up in a much better situation (since being a wage slave is much better than being a serf).

      Suleiman the Magnificent: This one is really hard, you need to come up with a source of revenue for the empire and the ruling class that doesn’t involve conquering stuff, and trade won’t cut it since the maritime route to the indies is about to be discovered. Politically there is very little civil society to fall back on. I think you’re just screwed honestly.

      George Washington: make abolition of slavery a test case for federalism. In the ensuing chaos and civil conflict, the US degenerates into another crappy authoritarian post-colonial regime, but don’t worry: you’re an offshoot of the world’s most effective political tradition, and you’ll get to democracy eventually.

      Any post-emancipation Romanov: you won’t be able to solve the agrarian problem without private ownership of land. Problem is, the peasants have a strong tradition of communal land ownership and they are going to hate it if you try to change things. They may also choose to ignore kulaks’ property rights. Possibly make all land tradable except for x acres in each village which stays communal to get people used to the idea, then once the peasants have one foot in the money economy they’ll be amenable to selling the remaining communal land and splitting the proceeds?

      • Sandy says:

        For Suleiman, I’d say you should probably push through trade routes to India and China via the Gulf of Aden? It seems like a major problem for the Ottomans was the dwindling of their power over Mediterranean trade after Europe discovered the New World.

      • JDG1980 says:

        With Suleiman, wasn’t his biggest mistake generally considered to have been choosing Selim the Sot as his heir when he had better options available?

      • cassander says:

        The romanovs are too easy. All you have to do is not go to war before about 1925 or so for any reason. Then have Lenin killed, just to be safe.

        • hoghoghoghoghog says:

          Not an expert or even an enthusiast, but two impressions from Pipes’ book:
          1) Lenin was a master of political jujitsu at a level that just should not be possible outside the Foundation series. Nonetheless killing him would not solve the problem because
          2) Romanov Russia was 90% of the way to communism anyway. Stupidly weak bourgeoisie, weak property rights and not much desire for them outside a very narrow slice in the political center, indifferent adherence to rule of law

          • nimim.k.m. says:

            >Romanov Russia was 90% of the way to communism anyway.

            That’s quite unhistorical reading. At least the particular form of communism ending at the top could very well viewed as a combination of accident of history and Bolshevists having more luck with their leaders. If you manage to stay out of wars that you lose, probability of coups like what the Bolshevists pulled off is far more unlikely. As an added benefit, you might avoid WW1, which would be net benefit for the whole humanity (or at least millions of Europeans).

            Regarding middle class: Russia was industrializing quite well prior to the WW1. The middle class would have got stronger over time. The agrarian problem and the tradition of despotism instead of rule of law is more difficult problem to tackle but movement towards that can also be tried.

            However, that makes me think that maybe Russia could be mostly improved if you don’t get to swap with the later Romanovs but some earlier ruler, say, in 18th century, and try to get the serfdom abolished earlier, or at least manage it better so getting rid of it will be easier later on.

          • Deiseach says:

            Your problem with Russia is that you had a reforming leader who was on the model of an absolute ruler: Peter the Great.

            He tried dragging Russia into modernity by Westernising as much as he could, with limited success; so you had an aristocracy who adhered outwardly to the reforms, were crazy for French culture to the point that they were proud of speaking good French amongst themselves and bad Russian when they had to communicate with their inferiors, but who still liked and depended on having vast estates of serfs, over whom they retained and exercised their traditional rights and powers, who paid the rents so they could live the Western life-style in St Petersburg, and who weren’t any too eager to give up their powers as would have been necessary to truly modernise and reform Russia all the way down.

            Peter the Great also laid the seeds of the downfall, with his treatment of his son, disregard of his grandson (who would eventually succeed him) and the consequent disinterest in his male heirs’ about ruling Russia, much less the modern Russia Peter had striven to create. This left a power vacuum where those opposed to modernisation could thrive and where everyone was out for himself, and so by the time the Romanov dynasty is established, things are out of joint and ready to be toppled over.

          • cassander says:

            @hoghoghoghoghog

            >1) Lenin was a master of political jujitsu at a level that just should not be possible outside the Foundation series. Nonetheless killing him would not solve the problem because

            Killing Lenin probably doesn’t make the romanovs any safer, what it does is ensure that even if everything falls apart, you get something besides communism in charge afterwards. and that’s almost certainly better.

            2) Romanov Russia was 90% of the way to communism anyway. Stupidly weak bourgeoisie, weak property rights and not much desire for them outside a very narrow slice in the political center, indifferent adherence to rule of law

            Definitely not. 1913 was probably the best year in the history of russia, relatively speaking. Dewitte and Stolypin and worked out most of the big barriers in the economy, and russia was industrializing faster than any country in the world. Between 1870 and 1890, Russian economic growth was miserable, about ~1% a year. Per capita growth was basically zero. Between 1890 and 1913, Russian GDP grows 10% a year, and per capita growth goes from nothing to 2% a year. That’s the same rate as germany and the US, twice the rate of the UK. They had a long way to go, and were growing from a much lower base, but they were headed in the right direction.

          • James Miller says:

            1913 was probably the best year in the history of russia

            Needs signal boosting. Should be on a button, t-shirt, or sign in the White House.

          • onyomi says:

            “1913 was probably the best year in the history of Russia”

            Assuming this is correct, it seems to support the rather chilling idea that, if you happen to find yourself the dictator of a poor, developing nation, you’re probably safer when everyone is too hungry to revolt than in a period of rapid growth and attempts at reform.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Onyomi:

            Yes. The ideal situation for a dictator is probably for the masses to be able to achieve an OK-if-you-squint standard of living if they work really hard. That way they’re not going to figure that they have nothing to lose, but they’re not going to have the energy to oppose you, and they’re not going to get the idea that they could have more if they demanded it.

            If the dictator has the security forces onside, other power brokers onside, the people are poor but not starving, and there’s relative order in the streets, that is a recipe for being able to stay in power.

          • cassander says:

            @onyomi says:

            >Assuming this is correct, it seems to support the rather chilling idea that, if you happen to find yourself the dictator of a poor, developing nation, you’re probably safer when everyone is too hungry to revolt than in a period of rapid growth and attempts at reform.

            I’ve often put a similarly dark musing as “hungry people revolt, starving people surrender.” But in general, there’s definitely a J shaped curve for stability in these sorts of situations. Autocratic with everyone beaten down and poor is relatively stable, democratic and prosperous is more stable, but between the two points the stability is lower, not higher, something Gorbachev failed to learn from his predecessors. .

        • dndnrsn says:

          Russia had reasons beyond “guy at the top made a bad call” for backing Serbia after Serbian-military-affiliated assassins killed Ferdinand. When shit gets real in 1914, how is “hey, guys, just cool down, we’ll let Austria-Hungary get its revenge on the Serbs, let’s just wait another 11 years” going to run?

          • Protagoras says:

            Yeah, the leaders of every country in the build up to WWI, including Russia, insisted that they had no choice what to do in response to the crisis, in contrast to their foreign rivals who obviously had fewer constraints and could have prevented the tragedy by choosing to be less aggressive. For self-interest if for no other reason, Russia should have had the courage to opt out of the ridiculously destructive course they insisted was being forced upon them; I’m not interested in the miniscule differences between how hard it would have been for them to do that vs. one of the other parties who could have done the same. Russia standing by the Serbs wasn’t particularly good for the Serbs, and obviously was no good for Russia. And if your country is so concerned about “looking weak” that they are making bad decisions, guess what? It’s too late, you already look weak.

          • dndnrsn says:

            If it was so obviously bad for Russia, would they have done it? They clearly had a reason to think it was in their interests – that of Russia, or that of themselves (the rulers). We’re living in the timeline where the rulers of Russia were overthrown and eventually murdered by leftist revolutionaries due to losing a war. Perhaps in the timeline where the Russian rulers were eventually ousted due to a lack of faith in the leadership by the military, popular unrest over failure to support other Slavs, etc, “Russia should have stood up for Serbia” is something people say.

            By some accounts where the Russian government went wrong was banning vodka and losing the tax revenues. Their war effort was pretty bumbling in places – the defeat at Tannenberg was entirely avoidable.

          • Protagoras says:

            I’m not denying that the Russian leadership thought it was their best option. Since this was essentially the same leadership that bungled its way into the Russo-Japanese war, and then badly mishandled it, I feel comfortable second-guessing their assessments.

          • cassander says:

            basically, yeah. You throw up your hands and say “look, the serbs started this one, you can’t just go around murdering royalty.” then cut a deal with austria and germany to take some compensation elsewhere, cuban missile crisis style.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I think what it comes down to is the ultimate problem of autocracy: contrary to the Death Eaters, the best way for an autocratic leader of any stripe to stay in power, and to ensure their kid/hand-picked successor ascends to the throne, is not always to do what is best for the state, nation, their people as a whole, etc.

            Now, yeah, it was a bad call for the royal family to get involved. But it looked like a good call. It was far more obvious that getting involved was a bad call for the subjects – even a successful campaign against Germany and Austria-Hungary would have been enormously costly.

            As it actually happened, the royals fucked both their country and themselves.

      • cassander says:

        >Phillip II: Probably you can’t do anything about the Inquisition (since I don’t think the real Phillip II was so into it either) but at least you can let the colonies trade with each other.

        Don’t even have to do that. Just give your dutch provinces the right to trade, and you’ll both prevent the biggest problem you had ( the dutch revolt) and profit by taxing them for the privilege. Plus you get to be king of people who are actually good at the seafaring thing, and can use them to fight the french and English.

    • John Schilling says:

      or some other ruler with relatively absolute authority

      Ah, so you mean a fictional one?

      Snark aside, this is the real catch. There are lots of places in history where, if you drop me in with Actual Absolute Authority, I could almost certainly do better than the historical figures in charge. But those historic figures, even if nominally e.g. Divine Right Absolute Monarchs, did not in practice wield truly absolute authority. Some orders they might theoretically give, would get them strangled in their bed at night.

      A much wider range of orders would get them enthusiastic feedback about how their orders will be fulfilled and it will be glorious, later that their orders were fulfilled and that it was glorious, and later still that, yeah, if we had carried out your orders it would have been glorious but we thought it was a stupid idea so we didn’t, OBTW the enemy army that we told you had fled home in retreat is actually a day’s march from the capital.

      How much of historical leaders’ failures was due to their own incompetence, and how much to real constraints we don’t now recognize they were under, is a hard problem for historians.

      • JDG1980 says:

        How much of historical leaders’ failures was due to their own incompetence, and how much to real constraints we don’t now recognize they were under, is a hard problem for historians.

        This is true, but on the other hand, many absolute rulers throughout history made stupid decisions that clearly did originate with them. Hitler is perhaps the most obvious example; neither the army nor public opinion demanded a two-front war or the Holocaust. If Himmler got out of line, he and the SS could have easily been made to suffer the same fate as Rohm and the SA, and for the same reason (the mainstream army brass didn’t like uncontrollable loose cannons and would be happy to help get rid of them).

        I’ve read numerous books on Henry VIII, and his regime seems full of unforced errors. Repeated changes in England’s religious policy caused far more havoc than was necessary. He should have picked “Catholicism without the Pope”, full-fledged Calvinist-style Protestantism, or an Elizabethan middle way, and stuck with it. As it was he wavered between the three, resulting in civil unrest and executions (which caused further unrest) each time.

        • Deiseach says:

          Henry VIII is a great example. He liked to flatter himself he was the Big Cheese but in reality the contending sides fighting for power and influence in his court were able to play him like a fiddle. Consider Wolsey first, whom Henry relied on and then turned against, your opinion may waver on More, and then Cromwell who rode the tiger’s back until he inevitably fell.

          Those who most successfully appealed to his vanity and flattered him were able to cozen and manage him; see his last wife, who saw off an attempt to have her executed by playing the “little woman” card: oh husband, I’m only a poor ignorant woman who knows nothing of religion and was only trying to divert you by having a discussion, but if you tell me this is the right answer, well that settles it!

          Elizabeth should have been a son and had twice his brains which she probably got from her mother’s side of the family (and I say that as someone who doesn’t like Elizabeth ).

          Oddly enough, Henry started out with seemingly great natural talents and everyone had high hopes of him; you have to wonder what happened to change that, or was it a case that when his father and brother were alive, he was under sufficient control that only the shiny exterior was seen, and when he was free to act as he wanted then the reality made itself known?

          • Protagoras says:

            Historians seem to think that a lot of his physical decline, and maybe his mental decline as well, might be traceable to his jousting injury. And maybe there were other injuries; he seems to have not been one to avoid risk, and of course head injuries, or infections, can have lasting, sometimes progressive effects. Or maybe he was just overrated in his youth because he was athletic and good looking.

          • Deiseach says:

            Or maybe he was just overrated in his youth because he was athletic and good looking.

            I’d tend to agree with that, except that he was also praised for being intelligent and open-minded. I think probably it was mainly the contrast between handsome young Henry who was extravagant (but that was initially seen as magnanimity, a positive trait in a king) as contrasted with his father, who was definitely smart but was also seen as cold, cunning and tight-fisted.

            See how he handled the Dissolution of the monasteries, managing the worst of both worlds – I don’t know if it’s true but I did read that the proceeds of the seizure of the direct wealth plus selling off the property was all blown in a year on his ultimately futile campaigning on the Continent (the French wars). While the Court of Augmentations administered the seized lands on behalf of the Crown, firstly some at least of the property had to be kept to support the ‘new’ Church and its ministers, and secondly a lot of the spoils were sold off to the wealthy, which meant the prospective wealth in lands and buildings went to the nobility instead of being kept in the hands of the king.

            I think Henry was that type that, as long as you’re agreeing with them or going along with them, they’re very genial and sunny and expansive and agreeable, but at the first hint of disagreement or simply they can’t get their way, they turn nasty and look for a scapegoat to blame for their own failings or just for “I wanted this, I didn’t get it, somebody must pay!”

      • onyomi says:

        This raises another question in my mind, which is how to measure political power, since no non-fictional rulers actually wield “absolute power,” “absolutism” notwithstanding.

        Criteria which come to mind for me would be how much you can get how many people to do on your say so while needing the approval and support of the fewest people. A theoretical super charisma AI with power level 100 out of 100, for example, would be able to get everyone in the world to jump off cliffs without question simply by commanding it.

        By these criteria the first candidate for “most politically powerful person who ever lived” (which is different from “most influential,” which would probably go to Jesus or Mohammed or Siddhartha Gautama) which comes to my mind is Mao Zedong. After all, he basically singlehandedly started the Cultural Revolution, directly affecting the actions of several hundreds of millions of people at a time when everyone thought his influence was waning and it wasn’t, seemingly, what the rest of the political leadership wanted. And he mostly got to let his wife take the fall for it, too, though it’s not clear what would have happened had he lived longer.

        Hitler, of course, also comes to mind especially because, while he didn’t have direct influence over so many people, the people he did have influence over he was arguably able to get to do more horrific things–things which, absent political power we’d hope most psychologically normal people wouldn’t do, i. e. the Holocaust.

        This is also maybe my theory of why Hitler is still so ridiculously popular as an object of fascination for e. g. History Channel TV shows: humans have a fascination with power, probably due to the “underlings pay more close attention to the moods of the chief than vice-versa” principle, and someone who was able to get people to do that must have had a lot of power, whatever else you can say about him.

    • Anonymous says:

      >ctrl+f hitler
      >1 found, upthread

      Simple rule: Don’t start a new war when you’re still not finished with a previous one.

      Other than that, I’d try my damnedest for Sealion to succeed. I’d delegate to generals more. I’d try to have at least as much luck with surviving assassinations. Full technology sharing with the Japanese, ASAP, too.

      Now I’ve got a craving to play Hearts of Iron (whichever) again.

      • Protagoras says:

        It is not clear that there was any way to make Sea Lion work. It is also not clear that delaying Barbarossa would have done any good; the Soviets were very busy preparing for war, and giving them still more time to prepare could easily have worsened rather than improving the situation. There might have been some tiny chance of finding a better way to deal with France; the tendency of the Vichy forces to not actually fight when challenged by the Allies in Operation Torch, while certainly not a huge factor, did create problems that Hitler certainly didn’t need at that point. I don’t know if either of immediately trying to annex all of France after the initial victory, or at the other extreme just resetting to pre-WWI borders and letting Petain rule over (nearly) all of France in exchange for Petain’s more enthusiastic support in the war, would have been possible. But the actual halfway compromise didn’t work out very well either, so perhaps one of the more extreme alternatives should have been tried.

      • James Miller says:

        After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor a Hitler that had my knowledge of the future should have declared war on the Japanese, and told the Americans that he would sell his navy to America and make peace with Britain so that the entire German and British navies could be used against the Japanese. Keeping America out of the European war and giving Manstein total control of the German armies in the east might have been enough for Germany to draw against the Soviets while keeping a huge chunk of Soviet territory.

        • John Schilling says:

          and told the Americans that he would sell his navy to America and make peace with Britain so that the entire German and British navies could be used against the Japanese.

          The Americans had already precommitted to the destruction of the Nazi regime, and they didn’t need what was left of the German navy in 1942, so no. But if you’d like to give the Americans a time-out so they can defeat the Japanese and shift their navy to the Atlantic before they take you on, they might go for that. They’ll still be doing lend-lease to Britain and Russia in the meantime, of course.

          More generally: Any plan where you leap into the mind of an Evil Dictator and say to the world, “Hey, I’m totally on your side now and I’m just going to do some quiet reforms / fight our common enemies”, will fail to convince the dictator’s enemies that you are their friend but will succeed in convincing the dictator’s friends that you cannot be trusted.

          • James Miller says:

            Any plan where you leap into the mind of an Evil Dictator and say to the world, “Hey, I’m totally on your side now and I’m just going to do some quiet reforms / fight our common enemies”, will fail to convince the dictator’s enemies that you are their friend but will succeed in convincing the dictator’s friends that you cannot be trusted.

            But this is exactly what Hitler did with Stalin, and what Stalin did with the U.S.

          • John Schilling says:

            We can see how well it worked for Hitler, and it was done to Stalin. That was I think crucial to establishing the minimal level of trust that let the alliance hold together for four years.

            If Stalin had gone to Churchill with a proposal to double-cross the Nazis in exchange for unchallenged dominion over postwar Germany and Eastern Europe, Churchill would have had little choice to agree – but I’m guessing the relentless march towards US intervention would have ground to a halt. Let those damn fool Europeans and their tangled web of realpolitik alliances sort out their own bloody wars.

        • cassander says:

          John is right about not being able to cut a deal with the Americans and Brits. The better plan is to try to rope the japanese back into attacking the russians. That’s a hard sell, becasuse they just got done getting their asseses handed to them by second rate soviet units and signed a non-aggression pact, but the japanese apparently considered an attack against russia even without any german prodding, so maybe the IJA was delusional enough to go for it given the right push. The japanese couldn’t actually accomplish much against russia, but they might just tie down enough soviet troops to allow the germans to, if not win the battle of moscow outright, at least prevent the devastating counterattack that followed, prevent a whole lot of german casualties, and change the whole shape of the eastern war.

          That said, there’s no amount of cleverness that can win the war for germany after October 9th, 1941. At that point, all the cleverness in the world only ensures that Little Boy falls on Berlin instead of Hiroshima.

          • James Miller says:

            That said, there’s no amount of cleverness that can win the war for germany after October 9th, 1941. At that point, all the cleverness in the world only ensures that Little Boy falls on Berlin instead of Hiroshima.

            What about having German subs capable of hitting U.S. coastal cities with nerve gas shells, letting the U.S. know that you could do this, but not actually doing it as a form of deterrence, all the while shouting that you want eternal peace with the U.S.

          • cassander says:

            The amount of damage those subs could inflict would be minimal, and I can’t think of anything more calculate to inspire 1940s american to nuke you back to the stone age.

          • Protagoras says:

            The reference to the Manhattan Project is more than a little confusing, as we are discussing scenarios where the Americans aren’t attacked, so what exactly leads to American nuclear weapons being used on Berlin? But, sure, assume the Americans would eventually get involved. Still, if German cleverness and Japanese help have delivered a Soviet collapse by 1943 (and it seems like it would either produce that early or not at all), that’s at least two years the Germans have of not having to worry about the Eastern front and being able to devote all their attention to dealing with Britain. Maybe enough time to make Sea Lion practical, in which case where do the planes carrying bombs to hit Berlin fly from? Or, if Sea Lion is too far fetched for you, if the Germans turn some of the resources freed up from the Eastern front to greatly improve their air defenses and submarine forces, that would also make it a lot harder for any weapons to reach England, or be used in attacks launched from England. And early on the U.S. was producing nuclear weapons extremely slowly; any hypothetical strategy of sending, say, multiple nuclear armed planes in hopes at least one would get through would require considerably faster production of nuclear weapons, which it took quite some time for America to achieve. By then, the Germans might have figured out how to make their own, and given enough time perhaps even how to make ICBMs.

            Nuking an enemy “back to the stone age” as cassander put it was something 60s America had the capacity to do; maybe late 50s America, but certainly not late 40s America.

          • cassander says:

            @Protagoras says:

            >But, sure, assume the Americans would eventually get involved.

            That was my assumption, yes.

            >Still, if German cleverness and Japanese help have delivered a Soviet collapse by 1943 (and it seems like it would either produce that early or not at all), that’s at least two years the Germans have of not having to worry about the Eastern front and being able to devote all their attention to dealing with Britain.

            I should have been clearer, I’m not at all sure that they could deliver a soviet collapse, though I agree that it would probably have to happen by 43. I think it’s possible, but I think it’s likelier than they just achieve more of a stalemate where neither side has the reserves to really punish the other or push them back, think the fighting around kursk writ large. This is a big boon to the germans, they get a lot more russian territory to exploit, have time to improve/re-gauge the rail system, build proper air bases, etc., but it’s not enough to win the war outright.

            >Maybe enough time to make Sea Lion practical, in which case where do the planes carrying bombs to hit Berlin fly from?

            You can’t make sea lion viable in two years, or any number of years, because while the germans are building up their sea and air forces for it, the UK and US are building up theirs as well, and they have both more industrial capacity and a large head start.

            >Or, if Sea Lion is too far fetched for you, if the Germans turn some of the resources freed up from the Eastern front to greatly improve their air defenses and submarine forces, that would also make it a lot harder for any weapons to reach England, or be used in attacks launched from England.

            Again, I don’t think that’s a fight they can win, especially if we’re assuming the US Navy either isn’t busy in the Pacific, or is merely fighting a holding action there.

            And early on the U.S. was producing nuclear weapons extremely slowly; any hypothetical strategy of sending, say, multiple nuclear armed planes in hopes at least one would get through would require considerably faster production of nuclear weapons, which it took quite some time for America to achieve.

            In real world history, rapid production of nuclear weapons took time mostly because of post-war budget cuts, not technical inability. The manhattan project’s chief engineer offered to supply the invasion with 15 bombs, and that was in november.

            You do raise an interesting point, though, about how to organize delivery of nuclear weapons in heavily contested airspace. That basically wasn’t an issue in Japan because the japanese were saving their last planes, gas, and pilots to fight the land invasion, and the B-29 flew too high for them to really stop anyway, but the germans could have put up a tougher fight.

            My first instinct is to keep flying raids of several hundred planes, with the nukes tucked into whichever planes were statistically the safest. The other planes are decoys, but you load them with some bombs anyway, for morale purposes, to ensure the planes maneuver together, and to bomb targets of convenience.

            It’s not a very efficient use of resources though. My next thought was you go the other way. B-29s fly too high for AAA, so you can effectively suppress air defenses by sending individual combat boxes out alone to attack as many places as possible as often as possible. Because each box could contain a nuke, they have to sortie against each one as if it does, and once the defenders in an area are sufficiently weakened by exhaustion, you can send in a box with a nuke to press home.

            Then I realized given the costs of a successful nuking, the germans would almost certainly resort to kamikaze tactics to stop them. Trading an Me109 or two and a presumably not well trained pilot for a B-29 and 11 crew is good math for the germans. given such attritional calculus, the way you have to make it work is a single element (4) of B-29s, with a nuke, some sort of fighter director radar, and the comms to use it. They’re preceded by a wave of fighters and conventional bombers whose job it is to attack airfields and either force the luftwaffe up or destroy them on the ground. If they succeed, the B-29s press home, if they fail, or it looks questionable, the B-29 turns around and heads for home, then they try again the next day.

            >By then, the Germans might have figured out how to make their own, and given enough time perhaps even how to make ICBMs.

            In the real world, it took until the early 60s to do that, and that was without the possibility of a nuke getting dropped on anything that looked suspiciously like a nuclear or rocket research facility.

            >Nuking an enemy “back to the stone age” as cassander put it was something 60s America had the capacity to do; maybe late 50s America, but certainly not late 40s America.

            You are correct, I was being hyperbolic and lazy. What I really think would happen is that once the nukes start dropping, hitler either negotiates or, if he refuses/the allies refuse to negotiate with him, his generals kill him rather than see germany destroyed. You are correct that threat of the nuclear weapon in 1945 was not that the US currently had the power to obliterate you at the push of a button. The threat was the implication of being able to do with one plane and one bomb what used to take hundreds of planes and tens of thousands of bombs. And that’s before we even consider the tactical use of nuclear weapons.

          • Protagoras says:

            Why can’t you make a Sea Lion in two years, after an Eastern front victory? Though it’s true that Germany didn’t have the boats, those could be built quickly. As I understood it, the main delusional component of Sea Lion was the requirement of total German air supremacy guaranteeing the safety of forces crossing the channel, at a time when the actual situation in the air was that the British had a slight edge. With three times as many resources going into aircraft for the West, and three times as many going into subs to cut off British supplies (both easily achievable levels of increase with the resources that would have been freed up by victory in the East), it is not clear to me why a sufficiently clever Germany could not have created the air supremacy situation they required within a couple of years. Or at least if they could delay American involvement; I believe you are also underestimating the logistical problems the Americans would face in bringing their own resources to bear, but I do admit that if the Americans started going all out in supporting the British too early, the additional American planes could once again put the required air supremacy out of reach.

          • cassander says:

            @Protagoras says:

            >Why can’t you make a Sea Lion in two years, after an Eastern front victory Though it’s true that Germany didn’t have the boats, those could be built quickly.

            Navies can’t be built quickly, but even if you assume that a sufficiently strong air force would obviate the need for a navy with heavy surface units (note the allies apparently didn’t think this, and brought battleships to all their landings) the brits and americans spent 41-43 massively building up their air forces in the UK to pound germany. .

            >at a time when the actual situation in the air was that the British had a slight edge.

            the luftwaffe had a slight edge in 1940. It was way, way behind by 43, particularly if they wanted to go on the offensive, which is a lot harder than defending german air space.

            >With three times as many resources going into aircraft for the West, and three times as many going into subs to cut off British supplies (both easily achievable levels of increase with the resources that would have been freed up by victory in the East),

            I actually just bought a book that looks at what share of the german war economy was devoted to airpower and, consequently, how much more they could have produced. I’m skeptical of its claims, and I haven’t read it yet so I’m not endorsing it, but if it’s even close to right the germans couldn’t have tripled their production of aircraft and submarines.

            >it is not clear to me why a sufficiently clever Germany could not have created the air supremacy situation they required within a couple of years.

            First they have to stop british bombing, then they have to establish supremacy over UK airspace, which is far, far harder than stopping british bombing. Sure, they could do it if the americans stay out completely, but if the US is involved, they just can’t.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        If I was Hitler, I’d know when to stop, i.e., after annexing Czechoslovakia. Don’t provoke war by invading Poland.

        (Also, no Holocaust, but I think that goes without saying.)

        • Protagoras says:

          Well, if you are giving yourself perfect foreknowledge of how the Allies will react. Hitler didn’t have that; he made risky moves, hoping for the best, and they worked until they didn’t. I don’t see how someone armed only with the information Hitler had available to him could conclude with certainty that his previous moves were perfectly safe but that Poland specifically was the step that would be going too far.

          • JDG1980 says:

            I don’t see how someone armed only with the information Hitler had available to him could conclude with certainty that his previous moves were perfectly safe but that Poland specifically was the step that would be going too far.

            The Allies’ decision to act at that point wasn’t completely arbitrary. Until 1939, all of Hitler’s foreign policy actions could be justified at least halfway plausibly by the principle of national self-determination. The remilitarization of the Rhineland, the Anchluss with Austria, and the conquest of the Sudetenland all affected regions that had large ethnic German populations.

            Starting in 1939, Hitler started embarking upon additional conquests that had no such justification. He took over the rest of Czechoslovakia, then Lithuania, and then proceeded to invade Poland after the UK and France had specifically guaranteed its security. At this point, war was inevitable, and Hitler should not have needed 20/20 hindsight to see it coming. The Allies declared war on Hitler only when it became clear that his conquests didn’t have any natural boundary and would only be curbed by force.

            If Hitler had been a rational statesman then there would have been no World War II and no Holocaust, and we wouldn’t have to endlessly hear nonsense about the evils of “appeasement”.

        • Evan Þ says:

          But with Germany’s economy repeatedly on the point of failure, and only saved by repeated infusions of foreign cash – first from Austria, then from Czechoslovakia, then goods shipped directly from Russia – would backing down from Poland lead to Germany simply collapsing a year or two later? In a lot of ways, the Nazi state was a Ponzi scheme which couldn’t just pack up and settle down.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Let’s say you are transported into Hitler’s brain, whenever. Doing a lot of things right would involve directly going against the Nazis system up to that point. In the mid 30s, do you just say “hey guys looks like we’re going to abandon militarism; starting a war that will lead to our cities getting pounded into rubble is a bad call?” Do you drop the antisemitism? Do you drop the racial policies in the East and thus try to avoid alienating people who are not necessarily unhappy to see the Soviets go?

        More practically, assuming you can’t change the general shape of the system, and the general essence of National Socialism, and the goal is “win the war” instead of “not become history’s greatest monster.”
        -Fire Goering’s fat, morphine-addicted ass.
        -Centralize labour and production more. Stop building several different models of everything. Stop building huge shit just because. Stop having several different guys in charge of the war economy, feuding with each other (but this veers dangerously close to challenging the way Hitler did things, and challenging the fact that in a dictatorial system it is smart to keep any one underling from gaining too much power).
        -Mobilize the economy as much as possible as early as possible.
        -Keep the Italians in line by any means necessary. Having to bail them out in North Africa turned into a disaster. Having to bail them out in Greece delayed Barbarossa.
        -Don’t switch from one objective to another in 1941 and 1942. Consider momentarily that parts of Russia get cold. Don’t split Army Group South. Stay away from Stalingrad.
        -Don’t declare war on the US. If Germany hadn’t, the US public would have demanded an overwhelming focus on the Pacific.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      Charles II of Spain: don’t be mad and impotent.

    • I’m not sure Lincoln qualifies as a ruler with relatively absolute authority, but if he does, I think the answer is pretty straightforward. You let the Deep South states go, assuming all of them want to. You still have Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.

      The slave interest is now much weaker in the House and Senate, so you should be able to craft some version of the gradual abolition of slavery without a war, possibly a buyout. You no longer have to maintain the fugitive slave acts so the seven state confederacy has a free northern border for runaways to escape across, which makes maintaining slavery more difficult. You avoid the enormous damage and destruction of the Civil War and its sequel. The Union is much stronger than the reduced Confederacy. Some or all of the states that seceded may eventually decide to rejoin.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Except that, if the Fugitive Slave Act is repealed or even substantially weakened, the Upper South very well might secede then. And having already winked at one secession, it’ll be much harder to draw a Schilling point there. There’re definitely some radical abolitionists who’d consider “no union with slaveholders” a huge victory, but AFAIK the average Northerner had a very different view – to say nothing of the slaves who’d still be suffering just as much under the Confederate flag as the Union.

        • BBA says:

          Lincoln wasn’t an abolitionist in 1860, but he was strongly opposed to the Fugitive Slave Act. That’s why he won the election and why the South seceded. I would posit that, even if Lincoln were to let the South secede without a fight, they’d end up going to war against the North within a few years over the fugitive slave issue.

        • I was assuming that the Fugitive Slave Act goes after the point at which slavery has been abolished in the Union, including the upper south.

          • Evan Þ says:

            And I should’ve been clear that I’m sure the Upper South would secede as soon as Lincoln tried to do that. Remember that gradual emancipation failed in Delaware during the OTL war; do you really think it would get anywhere close to happening in Virginia or Kentucky?

      • 1soru1 says:

        With slavery under the protection of a legislature prepared to subsidize it to any extent necessary, it survives until the development of destructive brain surgery and later psychopharmacology makes it profitable. Whereupon is spreads to everywhere except Japan and some of the Scandinavian countries.

        In the 21C, opposition to slavery is considered something like opposition to capitalism; a stage some college students go through.

        • Deiseach says:

          the development of destructive brain surgery and later psychopharmacology

          Not even necessary. The theory of “natural slaves”, the development of an underclass, and some form of compulsory “workfare” for your bread dole where there are public slaves (probably under a different name – rebranding is the go-to choice where negative public perceptions need to be changed, see Sellafield to Windscale to Sellafield).

          Currently prisoners in some American states are used for all kinds of labour, including manufacturing* – extend that to non-prisoners et voilá! As you say “opposition to slavery is considered something like opposition to capitalism; a stage some college students go through” – it represents a useful revenue stream, it gives the otherwise idle and useless a function in society, it contributes to public order and a peaceful society because what would all these unskilled, unemployable people do if left free to their own devices, public slaves can be semi- or even fully-skilled and get ‘on the job’ training and the most intelligent, willing to work hard and learn slaves can earn for themselves and manumit themselves, so what is the problem here? It’s not like people are flogging, raping and murdering their slaves anymore than they flog, rape and murder their working animals or pets! (And if anyone does that, they can be prosecuted under the same laws of animal abuse).

          This part of the Wikipedia article reminds me rather grimly of the arguments over abortion and legal personhood:

          According to Marcel Mauss, in Roman times the persona gradually became “synonymous with the true nature of the individual” but “the slave was excluded from it: servus non habet personam (‘a slave has no persona’). He has no personality. He does not own his body; he has no ancestors, no name, no cognomen, no goods of his own.”

          * I would have thought Jerry Brown might like to do something about this rather than passing laws banning paying travel expenses for public officials visiting American states that are insufficiently LGBT-enthusiastic, but I suppose he knows best which side his bread is buttered when it comes to what is and is not vote-grabbing.

      • cassander says:

        Even more subtly, you offer Lee Command of the northern armies BEFORE fort sumpter and before virginia seceded, not after, as a way of re-assuring the remaining slave states that you aren’t out to get them. Then, even if there is a war, it’s a much shorter war.

        • Matt M says:

          I’m unconvinced this would do much. Three possibilities:

          1) Lee, seeing the writing on the wall, refuses the command
          2) Lee, when ordered to march federal troops through Virginia en route to putting down South Carolina, says “lol no”
          3) Even if he does, the reaction of the remaining slave states is “well guess that guy Lee is a traitor” rather than “well Lee is in charge so surely this is all kosher”

          I guess 3 leads to the “shorter war” theory if you assume Lee’s reaction to this is to enthusiastically embrace his new northern allies… which also seems questionable.

        • John Schilling says:

          1) Lee, seeing the writing on the wall, refuses the command

          As I understand cassander’s plan, the writing on said wall is meant to be “We REALLY DON’T WANT A WAR. We just gave command of our army to someone who is very much disinclined to lead a war against you, because he’s very nearly one of you. There ISN’T GOING TO BE A WAR, unless you all go far out of your way to make one. In which case, you will fight alone and you will lose”.

          That sounds like the sort of thing Lee would have been on board with. Which means your possibilities 2 and 3 never come up unless the CSA so blatantly forces the issue that Lee (and Virginia) would be on board with that too.

          • Matt M says:

            The South did not go far out of its way to make a war even in our standard timeline. Lee being in command changes nothing in regards to the deep south wanting to secede and/or the confrontation over Ft Sumpter. There is no particular reason to think that Lincoln OR South Carolina behaves any differently in this alternate timeline – the only question is what Virginia does. My understanding (and this is more relevant to cassander’s post below, but forgive me for only wanting to reply once) is that Virginia and the border states were generally supportive of the deep south’s right to secede, and somewhat sympathetic towards their concerns that the election of Lincoln was step one in a plot to eliminate slavery by force. Even though they did not think the situation quite as bad to necessitate secession themselves, they were *very much* against the idea of Washington mobilizing the federal army to put them down by force – and especially so such that the federal army was planning on marching through their own farms on the way there. I’m not entirely sure the fact that it’s Lee leading the march changes this sentiment to any significant degree…

          • Rob K says:

            @Matt M.

            Obviously history involves a lot of simplification, but “X state thought Y” kinda misses the key point that each state in the south had its own factional struggles over what it was going to do, more or less under the control of the local elites depending on the state.

            In Virginia, the attack on Sumter radically transformed the political lay of the land. Crucially, my understanding is that it was popular more than elite response that mattered – fairly widespread enthusiasm for the secessionist cause outside of the parts that later became WV pushed the moderate leaders off the fence. This is relevant here because I’d expect Lee as general to have been more persuasive to elites. That being the case, I don’t really see a reason to think this would have changed things.

            Also, Virginia’s terms for staying in involved claims (indefinite security of slavery below the Mason Dixon line in current and future territories) that there’s no reason to think Lincoln (1) would have accepted himself or (2) could have gotten his party to accept.

            tl;dr I don’t see a reason to think this would have worked.

          • cassander says:

            @matt

            Lee being in command changes nothing in regards to the deep south wanting to secede and/or the confrontation over Ft Sumpter.

            THe point isn’t to change the attitude of the deep south, the point is to change the attitude of the shallow south that didn’t secede until after fort sumter and had more than half of the south’s population.

            . Even though they did not think the situation quite as bad to necessitate secession themselves, they were *very much* against the idea of Washington mobilizing the federal army to put them down by force

            Yes, they didn’t want them (the north) to go stop down on us (the south). But if Lee’s in charge, it’s not nearly so black and white, particularly for virginia, which is what matters most. Then Fort Sumpter isn’t well meaning, if over enthusiastic, good ole boys sticking their thumb in lincoln’s eye, it’s those inbred upstarts insulting the dignity of our good General Lee.

          • Rob K says:

            @cassander this also seems to me to be reading Lee’s popular sainthood backwards in time.

          • cassander says:

            @Rob K says:

            The point isn’t that lee’s personal charisma was so amazing in 1861, you’re right, it wasn’t. What matters is putting a southern slave owner in charge of the war effort, and especially a virginian. Virginia seceded by a very narrow margin, sway just a couple votes and they stay in the union and it’s a much shorter war. And given that Lee was offered the job a few days after secession, it might have made a difference if he’d been offered it a few days before.

        • cassander says:

          @matt

          1) Lee, seeing the writing on the wall, refuses the command

          That’s possible, but asking before Virginia secedes makes it more likely he’ll say yes, and him saying yes makes it less likely virginia and others will secede. And he doesn’t even have to sign up right away for it to have an impact. If Lee accepts conditionally on Virginia not seceding and Lincoln makes that know, might be enough to reassure people.

          2) Lee, when ordered to march federal troops through Virginia en route to putting down South Carolina, says “lol no”

          That would not be in keeping with his character. And why would he do that, assuming virginia hasn’t seceded?

          3) Even if he does, the reaction of the remaining slave states is “well guess that guy Lee is a traitor” rather than “well Lee is in charge so surely this is all kosher”

          If all Lee does is keep Virginia in the Union, that’s an enormous win. Virginia was the largest confederate state with fully 1/5 of the south’s white population. They also had the south’s biggest industrial center, the Tredegar Iron Works, which would produce something like half of southern artillery during the war. The confederate states without Virgina were vastly weaker.

          @John Schilling

          I’d say the message is more about lincoln signaling that he’s not one of those crazy blue tribers radical abolitionists who wants to use the war as an excuse to extirpate slavery. He’s saying “How could I possibly do that? If there’s a way, one of you slave owners is going to be in charge of the damn thing. He’s got your back, there’s nothing to worry about. Those Alabamans are just acting nuts. But I don’t have to tell you guys about how screwy those borderers are, amiright… ”

          It’s also a signal to the more mercenary politicians that this newfangled new republican party wasn’t going to ice them out of the spoils now that it was in office.

          • I think the key question is whether some form of gradual emancipation could have been made acceptable to the slave states that didn’t secede.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @David Friedman, I agree, and I don’t think it could’ve been.

          • Emancipation happened without a civil war in a variety of other places. Why would it be impossible in the U.S. minus the deep south?

          • cassander says:

            @DavidFriedman says:

            >I think the key question is whether some form of gradual emancipation could have been made acceptable to the slave states that didn’t secede.

            Why does that question have to be resolved in 1861? In 1861, we don’t need to come up with a grand bargain to solve slavery. That would be nice, but it isn’t easy. What’s easier is preventing the war that’s about to break out.

  23. Deiseach says:

    Hello and welcome, sports fans, to this week’s test of FiveThirtyEight’s predictive prowess and can they give me, a long-suffering Liverpool fan (but that is redundant) any hope for today’s match?

    In half an hour’s time Liverpool versus Arsenal will be kicking off and so let’s check how the results of today’s Premier League matches lined up with FiveThirtyEight’s predictions. Where they gave one team a much higher chance than the other of winning (e.g. 75% to 8% as with United versus Bournemouth), I’m going to count a win as correct prediction and a loss OR draw as incorrect prediction. So with no more ado:

    Win:
    Man Utd 75%, Bournemouth 8%
    Draw 17%

    RESULT: 1-1 DRAW – PREDICTION INCORRECT

    Win:
    Stoke 51%, Middlesbrough 20%
    Draw: 29%

    RESULT: WIN FOR STOKE (2-0) – PREDICTION CORRECT

    Win:
    Leicester 52%, Hull 21%
    Draw: 27%

    RESULT: WIN FOR LEICESTER (3-1) – PREDICTION CORRECT

    Win:
    West Brom 51%, Crystal Palace 22%
    Draw: 27%

    RESULT: WIN FOR CRYSTAL PALACE (0-2) – PREDICTION INCORRECT

    Win:
    Watford 35%, Southampton 26%
    Draw: 29%

    RESULT: WIN FOR SOUTHAMPTON (3-4) – PREDICTION INCORRECT BUT VERY CLOSE

    Win:
    Swansea 42%, Burnley 31%
    Draw: 27%

    RESULT: WIN FOR SWANSEA (3-2) – PREDICTION CORRECT

    Win:
    Liverpool 43%, Arsenal 33%
    Draw: 24%

    RESULT: NOT PLAYED YET

    So out of six matches, that makes three correct predictions, one incorrect but very close (that Southampton-Watford match seems to have been a belter and they played 4 minutes of extra time, so Watford could have got a last-gasp equaliser right up to the very end), and two incorrect. Making it about 50-50 that the footballing fates will align with a Liverpool victory as they predict 🙂

    Also, Leicester’s second win in two games since sacking the manager. Since it’s a very short time for a new boss to make that much of a difference, it looks like the players really weren’t happy under Claudio Ranieri this season, for whatever reasons.

    EDIT: The United/Bournemouth game also seems like it was all kinds of entertaining, but not exactly for footballing reasons 🙂 The Guardian’s liveblog:

    Full time: Manchester United 1-1 Bournemouth

    That is one of the oddest games of football you will ever see.

    • Deiseach says:

      And FiveThirtyEight are vindicated! Result: Liverpool 3-1 Arsenal 🙂

    • Polycarp says:

      This comment has nothing to do with football or 538, so skip it if you want. Deiseach, you appeared in a dream of mine a few nights ago. Don’t worry, it was not at all creepy. Everything about the dream was very vague, but it somehow involved a woman who was dealing with some people in need. The woman was extremely compassionate, caring, sympathetic. I don’t remember what you looked like, and I don’t remember anything else about the dream — I just knew that the lady was you.

      • Deiseach says:

        Dear Polycarp, flattering as that may be, if the lady was caring, compassionate and sympathetic, she most definitely was not me!

        Now, if anyone dreams of an impatient, brusque, eye-rolling ‘why do I have to put up with this crap?’ representative of officialdom – that makes it more believable!

  24. 3rd says:

    It’s Blogroll Quality Control time!

    Suckling Pigs – “Fredrik deBoer” link is broken. He has removed his blog.

    Camel Hair Brush Bunch – SMBC is looking pretty lonely. I think Existential Comics is a good fit.

    My favorite E.C. comics:
    001 – A man takes the “death by teleporter” argument seriously
    008 – Philosophy pun
    079 – Philosophy jokes in an office setting
    098 – Couldn’t be rational without a Harry Potter comic
    151 – In which stoics are tested
    404 – Very existential

  25. Here is an interesting question.

    What cognitive bias makes coaches predictable?

    I think another question is worth asking. The games of Poker, Chess, and Go are all best off resorting to a computer to make the decision. Do coaches already receive all their plays from an algorithm? If not, then why not? At this point, I doubt intuition makes a better play then the poker plays of football placed in a computer by smart data scientists.

    Are coaches too stubborn to receive every play from the best iphone football app around?

    • AnonYEmous says:

      I mean, Chess and Go are open-information games, and Poker has very well-established probabilities. How would you even go about deciding what probabilities football has? It’s not even like there are a set number of plays or anything. At the very least, you would need to develop the application yourself – if a third party does it, they could at any moment sell the data to an NFL owner for a lifetime’s supply of cash money (probably right before a Super Bowl game).

      it’s not impossible, but it would need to be a very, very good application, with data on the skills of all the opposing players and all the team players – which are constantly changing.

      • Oh sure, the football program wont be as predictive as those games due to more unknowns. But still, why would the human brain do significantly better?

        All that happens is that the uncertainty function to the plays become higher, not that people are actually better at predicting outcomes.

        And if its really close to impossible to make a good program, or at least a significantly more useful one, I *really* expect coaches to just be winging it and BS’ing their capabilities in the first place, not that people have any specific advantage.

        • nimim.k.m. says:

          Oh sure, the football program wont be as predictive as those games due to more unknowns. But still, why would the human brain do significantly better?

          Psychology? The athlete might perform differently if they know they’ve been selected by a coach they trust because the coach trusts them to perform well, instead of some impersonal algorithm judging only by their past performance statistics?

    • Well... says:

      Recent research suggests that the strongest decisions are made by well-organized teams in which humans and computers make decisions collaboratively, outperforming supercomputers on their own. For example, when a bunch of average chess players (with scores, say, around 1600) using their smartphones’ built-in chess computers have a good work process, they beat both supercomputers and Magnus Carlsen.

      • shakeddown says:

        How does this work? What advantage does this group have over a supercomputer (or a single 1600 human with a supercomputer)?

        Also, what about a bunch of average chess players with phones vs. Magnus Carlsen with a supercomputer?

        • Deiseach says:

          Also, what about a bunch of average chess players with phones vs. Magnus Carlsen with a supercomputer?

          Something along the lines of maniacal laughter and the Villain Speech going “Fools! You fell into my trap so predictably! You thought I was here for a simple game of chess? Ha! Bow down before your new Overlord, the fusion of perfect machine intelligence with superior human intellect – The Grand Master!!!!!

        • Well... says:

          http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S240587261630017X

          It’s less about the superpowers of individual human or AI participants, and more about how well the system supports effective collaboration between humans and AI.

      • Protagoras says:

        I’m also confused. I thought that usually the studies had indicated that the combination of human+computer performed worse than computer alone (because humans are bad at knowing when to overrule the computer). But I suppose there could be reasons why a group of humans might not make the same mistakes as individual humans. Still, I would like to see more info about this research.

        • I think that result *was* true for awhile, but I am not sure human+computer teams outperform pure computers anymore. That was probably a (very) temporary result.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          I think the studies you are talking about are pretty stupid. I think that they consist of telling the physician: “trust me, this thing is super-human,” and the human failing to usefully collaborate for the first 10 minutes. One problem is that the physician doesn’t actually care about winning. A second is that he doesn’t believe the assertion. A third is that even if both were true, he doesn’t have an opportunity to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the computer. Chess is different.

          Luke gives two citations: Leli & Filskov 1985 1 2; and Goldberg 1968 1 2 3. I wrote the above before reading the studies. My guess pretty well matched L&F. But Goldberg had a much more serious study, with 4 weeks of training.

        • Well... says:

          See my response to Shakeddown.

    • Deiseach says:

      All that happens is that the uncertainty function to the plays become higher, not that people are actually better at predicting outcomes.

      To quote Jurgen Klopp on Liverpool’s recent result:

      ‘If you had asked me on Wednesday if we could win I would have said no. On Thursday, I would have said maybe.

      ‘But on Friday I knew we could win. The performance tonight should not be a surprise.’

    • Deiseach says:

      Are coaches too stubborn to receive every play from the best iphone football app around?

      The thing is, the algorithm presumes that each player is playing at their very best in optimal conditions according to the rules of the game. I doubt an algorithm would have forecast, say, yesterday’s “Zlatan said Mings totally stuck his face in my innocently out-stretched elbow”, for one.

      Your best player has an unfortunate slip and has to be taken off. The ref is having a nightmare of a game. Your team are over-confident they can beat this bunch of minnows and consequently have conceded two soft goals and are now scrabbling to equalise while the opposition decide to park the bus for the remaining fifty minutes.

      Physical sports are not exactly comparable to things like poker or chess; poker depends on the initial dealing of the cards and from there you can apply strategies; chess has a long history of working out the best plays from various positions and it’s not so much being able to apply novel strategies as it is being able to hold positions in your head and extrapolate several moves ahead faster than your opponent.

      On the contrary, even the best algorithm can’t forecast “our first choice goalie will crock himself before the game by dropping a jar of salad cream on his foot”.

      And what is the best play or formation, anyway? Christmas tree? Diamond? Tiki-taka? Gegenpressing? Total football? (Yeah, if you’re Cruyff…)

      If the teams are unequal in talent or capability, then it won’t much matter if Coach Smith pulls up the best plays from the best apps on his smartphone if his players simply cannot pull them off due to not being fast enough or strong enough or whatever.

  26. Deiseach says:

    Possible improvements in computer hardware:

    Sanvito described the breakthrough as “very exciting”. It has been detailed in a paper published in the Nature Communications journal.

    “[It] is of huge interest to the scientific community, who have demonstrated very slow progress to date with the development of molecular magnets that can operate at room temperature. When a magnet is small its magnetic properties degrade rapidly with temperature.

    “In this paper, we have shown that a drastic improvement in the high-temperature properties of magnetic magnets can be achieved by engineering the molecules to be as rigid as possible,” Sanvito said.

    He added that the discovery offers real potential for very powerful quantum computers, which “may one day revolutionise computation as we know it”.

    • The Nybbler says:

      My first impulse is to groan, on the grounds that we seemed on the brink of getting rid of rotating rust (magnetic media) entirely and thus seek times and rotational latency with it. But I’m a glass-half-empty, leaking, and contaminated kind of person.

    • rmtodd says:

      So they’ve found a way to (in principle) make hard disk media with a lot smaller magnetic grain size. Will that actually let people make disk drives holding 1000 times as much data? Not so fast.

      Sure, the smaller grain size will cut way the heck down on the distortion caused by random differences in where the grain boundaries are, the so-called “media noise”. But that’s only part of the problem, and possibly not the hardest part. You’ve got the size of the read/write head to consider. Either they figure out how to make that 1000 times smaller, or they have absolutely awful intersymbol/intertrack interference (ISI/ITI). Even with the current generation media and heads, you get a lot of ISI/ITI: the head is so small that even when it’s directly over one particular bit on the media, it’s picking up a signal not just from that bit but from the other bits nearby on the track and the bits on the adjacent tracks. The drive has to use advanced signal detection techniques to try to sort out this mess and figure out what each bit was, and this is a very nasty signal processing problem. In fact, optimal ISI/ITI detection was shown a few years back by a couple of guys at Hewlett-Packard to be NP-hard. And now you’re talking about having to cancel out not just interference from the nearest two adjacent tracks, but dozens of adjacent tracks? And do that at gigabit/second data rates? Good luck with that.

      Of course, the head size affects not just reading, but also writing. Even with today’s highest density drives, the heads are large enough that when they write to the disk they affect not just the current track they’re writing but an adjacent track as well. These drives have to be careful to always write data tracks in the correct order so that the already-written data doesn’t get stomped on by writing another track next to this track (shingled magnetic recording). This would be even more of a problem for the really high-density drives we’re contemplating here.

      Then there’s the servo problem — how do you make sure that the head stays precisely above the track you want to read and doesn’t wobble over other tracks? I don’t really know anything about servo design, but the guys who do are probably getting headaches just thinking about what it’d take to go to 1000 times higher density.

      So in summary: if this technology ever gets used in actual disk drives, you’re probably not going to see drives holding 1000 times as much data. You might not even see drives that are 10 times bigger.

  27. jasonmurphy says:

    Wowwww… Tooo many comments. Thank you Google Guess I have to read’em one by one 😀