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Open Thread 71.75

This is the (late) twice-weekly hidden open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server.

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531 Responses to Open Thread 71.75

  1. AnonYEmous says:

    ah, nice and crispy first post

    in last thread I stated significant support for MRAs before bowing out due to Culture War Restrictions; do any of the people who responded want to follow up on that? Or does anyone who didn’t previously express interest, wish to do so now?

    • Warren says:

      Well, the previous discussion topic was roughly: “why are there relatively many people in the comments that oppose (some kind of) feminism when SSC is mostly liberal?”

      My guess is that there are a disproportionate amount of rationalists who live in extremely progressive areas (SF, Portland, Seattle, etc.). Being rationalists, they more readily identify and are irritated by extremism, and the only extremism that they are somewhat reliably exposed to is leftist/progressive. However, they cant vent their frustration because they fear professional/social consequences; hence, they come to make posts on SSC where they feel relatively safe.

      At least, thats why I’m here.

      And yes, MRAs have (some) legitimate grievances. The problem is that there is an unfortunate overlap between MRAs and loons who can barely conceal their hatred for women.

      • keranih says:

        “why are there relatively many people in the comments that oppose (some kind of) feminism when SSC is mostly liberal?”

        “Why are there so many people in the USA who oppose the Roman Catholic Church when America is mostly Christian?”

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Funny, keranih, but are you seriously implying that leftism is as diverse as Christianity?
          My experience in the Pacific Northwest is that it’s less diverse than medieval Catholicism, where only university-educated men in Holy Orders were trusted to have divergent opinions. Developments in folk Christianity were less likely to be stamped out as heresy than divergent beliefs coming from progressive-minded plebes.

          • John Schilling says:

            Funny, keranih, but are you seriously implying that leftism is as diverse as Christianity?

            Feminism is bigger than leftism. Liberalism is bigger than feminism, and feminism is bigger even than liberalism. If you mean just third wave feminism, OK, maybe that fits within leftism, but watch out for the motte and/or bailey when debating propositions like “why do liberals oppose (some kinds of) feminism”.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @John: Ah, interesting point. I’ve mentally framed feminism as smaller than leftism, which is what most annoyed me about it. That is, feminists had to defer to non-white men unless they were themselves PoC, were forbidden to criticize Islamic gender roles, had to accept males who made very little effort to pass as trans-lesbians on their say-so, etc. It’s a disgrace that women like Margaret Thatcher are allowed in politics, and all that jazz.
            If feminism is bigger even than liberalism, why heck, I could be a feminist. =)

          • keranih says:

            @ John Schilling –

            Wait, I’m confused. Is there a missplaced “liberalism” there, or am I just not getting it?

            Also – someone please remind me again what definitions of “left” and “liberal” we’re using again?

          • skef says:

            Maybe you don’t get out much? Would you like some URLs to websites with different, conflicting views that would still be considered liberal or leftist in a broad sense?

            In your experience, just what is the means of this “stamping out”? Tumblr? Facebook comment threads?

            I wish you would try harder to avoid writing posts where the charitable interpretation is “can’t be this ignorant, must be trolling.”

          • Warren says:

            @skef While I agree that the comment was hyperbolic, I am sympathetic to the expressed sentiment. Heterodox academy doesn’t exist for no reason; there really is a kind of progressive thought police.

            Disclaimer: I live right next to UC Berkeley and have availability bias.

          • skef says:

            @Warren

            You refer to the iron grip that academic departments in the humanities have gained over the states of Washington and Oregon?

            I don’t agree with the current group-think either, but I also don’t care about your “sympathy to the expressed sentiment”. There are contributors here who take themselves to be at various points on the left and disagree with what you object to and with each other. Your joy in seeing them trolled doesn’t reflect well on you.

          • Warren says:

            @skef I don’t know what you think ‘sympathy for sentiment’ implies. For me, there is a big gap between that and the expression of schadenfreude.

            Maybe I was being unclear. The sentiment I’m referring to here is the distaste for academic orthodoxy, not the impulse to troll people.

          • Well... says:

            @skef,

            It seems like you want to ask Warren to be more specific or to show how his claims are as serious as he positions them, but at the last minute you swerve in another direction by just throwing accusations of maliciousness and bad faith at him instead. My impression is that he is doing his best to remain civil and friendly while you strike me as not having had that pretense to begin with.

          • skef says:

            @warren and @Well

            The post I criticized and @warren appreciated was about “the Pacific Northwest”. I took warren’s comment about academia to be a non sequitur.

            Am I to understand that you’re interpreting Le Maister Chat’s post as a hyperbolic statement about academia? Because it happens to mention medieval universities? How would that reading constitute a coherent response to keranih’s post?

          • Warren says:

            @skef

            When people start talking about progressives with divergent beliefs being “stamped out,” I automatically think of BLM/ANTIFA/feminist protests and similar movements on college campuses. Maybe thats my bias, but I don’t think that its a really big jump.

            Le Maistre Chat was accusing progressives of having low tolerance for viewpoint diversity. It seems to me that its not unreasonable to assume they are referring at least in some degree to campuses, especially since low tolerance for viewpoint diversity in campuses has been topic du-jour for a long time now.

            Even if I misinterpreted Le Maistre Chat was talking about, do you still think it is fair to accuse me of experiencing “joy in seeing [people] trolled”? It seems to me that if someone says something nonsensical, the most charitable explanation is that they are confused – not malevolent.

          • skef says:

            No, @Le Maister Chat was not just accusing leftists of having low tolerance for viewpoint diversity. You can have many distinct groups with different opinions, each of which share a trait and each of which has low tolerance for viewpoint diversity, and thus each other. This is increasingly a general mark of the age we live in, but doesn’t characterize everyone on the left or right.

            Instead, what @Le Maister Chat was claiming that there is only one leftist viewpoint, because all diversity has been stamped out.

            And the claim was specifically about the “Pacific Northwest”. You’re just re-writing to yourself what it said.

          • Warren says:

            Its possible that I read into what he said more of my own thoughts than was warranted. I still think my interpretation is plausible, but lets assume for a second that the comment had nothing to do with universities and I was/am completely confused.

            Assuming that I don’t understand what is going on in this thread, do you still think that it is fair to accuse me of experiencing joy in trolling? Assuming what I said was a non sequitur, is the most charitable interpretation that I was being malevolent?

          • skef says:

            Look, @keranih started this by noting a diversity of viewpoints among liberals. Then @Le Maistre Chat blatantly trolled the thread by asserting that no, there’s really only one leftist position. I pointed out how this was trolling, and then you objected to that by saying that it may be hyperbolic but it’s basically right. You didn’t object to my interpretation, just to the strength of my objection. What was I supposed to think?

          • Iain says:

            Outgroup homogeneity is a hell of a drug.

            skef, I think you and Warren are talking at cross-purposes. Warren was endorsing something different (“group think on campuses is bad”) than what you were attacking (“all leftists are the same”). I’m pretty sure your interpretation is more true to what Le Maistre Chat meant, but I’m equally confident that further argument about whether Warren is a bad person for misreading her post would be unproductive.

          • Warren says:

            @skef

            Again, is a gap between saying that someone is ‘basically right’ and saying that one ‘sympathizes with the sentiment’. Now you are re-writing what I said.

            I’ve asked twice now whether or not it is fair to attribute bad motives (which you did) to people who make nonsense statements (which you claim I did). I’m not sure how your response addresses this question, but I may be too tired to understand it. Regardless, thats a sign that this has gone on for too long. Time for me to go to bed.

          • skef says:

            @warren

            I attributed bad motives to your response to me. You’ve subsequently said that you meant something different.

            I read you a certain way because you were raising an objection to something I said. Given what you’ve said subsequently, it doesn’t sound like you were engaging with my point either way. You’re bothered that I accused you with sympathy for trolling, I’m bothered that you called out something I wrote without really trying to figure out what I said. You think I lack conventional charity, I think you lack interpretive charity.

      • The Element of Surprise says:

        why are there relatively many people in the comments that oppose (some kind of) feminism when SSC is mostly liberal?

        TwoThree theories:
        (1) “Nerds” (computer affine people, analytical thinking type people) are overrepresented in SSC, and they make a preferred target for feminist activism, being (a) a demographic that is so disproportionately male, (b) exceptionally vulnerable to bullying tactics, having poorer social skills than other demographics of similar social standing, (c) at first glance “privileged” and deserving, i.e. when cherrypicking demographic indicators to identify acceptable targets, it is easy to identify “nerds” as being at the top of society (this might belong into (b), the best bullying targets are the ones that look to outsiders like they deserve it).
        (2) SSC commenters are more at risk of being collateral damage to some feminist caprice. E.g. if they work in professions preferred by men (as most men probably do) in progressive areas, they are a PR liability regarding the company’s diversity report and could plausibly get passed over for a raise or a promotion. They are less likely to fall victim to some conservative actionism (I’m having a hard time coming up with what the right wing equivalent would be) because they live in progressive areas where this does not happen.
        EDIT: (3) people who comment on SSC are people who are more on the internet than average. They have easier access to, and are therefore more exposed to and associate with feminism more, the worst parts of feminism that exclusively happen on the internet?

        • Warren says:

          /thread

          Devils advocate: you are claiming that feminist activism actively seeks out “Nerds” to antagonize/bully. Bullying is by definition unwarranted – what then do we make of reports of systemic sexism in tech? Isn’t there a role for feminism here?

          • keranih says:

            Bullying is by definition unwarranted

            Speaking as someone bullied well beyond the norm in jr hi – [citation needed].

            For me to bully someone does not require my victim to be blameless. The insistence on separating the world into evil doers and evil sufferers is part of the issue, imo.

          • The Nybbler says:

            what then do we make of reports of systemic sexism in tech?

            They’re part of the narrative. That is, there isn’t systemic sexism in tech, at least not against women. Not to say there aren’t sexists in tech; just that they aren’t particularly prevalent.

          • Iain says:

            There are places to work in tech that are not sexist. (I think my current employer does a good job, for example.) There are also parts of the tech industry that are undeniably sexist.

          • Warren says:

            @Nybbler

            So feminists are exaggerating the problem?
            (1) Isn’t the position you are taking uncharitable to their argument?
            (2) The use of the term ‘part of the narrative’ implies that they have an ulterior motive. Do you think that is the case?
            (3) Eventually, enough anecdotes turn into data. What do you say about cases like Uber?

          • keranih says:

            What that anecdote says about Uber is that sexism is among the least of their problems.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Warren

            1) I don’t believe charity requires me to assume they’re right and I’m wrong

            2) Yes. Though it appears to be little more than power to destroy; consider Shanley Kane’s one-woman campaign to remove Linus from Linux.

            3) Enough anecdotes don’t turn into data. Not in Salem Town and not in Silicon Valley.

          • Well... says:

            Enough anecdotes don’t turn into data.

            This is false, given that the anecdotes themselves are true and reported faithfully. Did you mean something else? If so can you reword?

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Well…

            The plural of anecdote is not data. A bunch of stories, self-selected by the tellers and typically unexamined, are simply anecdotes.

          • Warren says:

            @Nybbler

            It seems to be pretty clear that the positive cases for sexism get a lot of press and weigh more heavily in our minds than the cases where sexism is absent. Our mental dataset has selection bias towards 1s and not 0s.

            That said, I’m not sure its fair to say that the positive cases are unexamined. It seems sensible to take people at their word when they report systemic harassment. Sometimes these reports may be malicious (as in the case you mentioned), but it strikes me as unlikely that most of them are.

            Regardless, how do we prove this one way or the other? It strikes me that this sort of discussion has no clear way of evaluating who is right.

          • Well... says:

            @Nybbler:

            I’m familiar with that cliche, but it’s false. A datum is an anecdote. Some anecdotes are better curated than others, and I would agree that collections of anecdotes are often not useful as data either because they are not well-curated or because there are not enough of them to support a quantitative claim, but these are both problems that can happen to any kind of “data.” It isn’t true as a rule that the plural of anecdote is not data.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Adversarially-chosen sets of anecdotes, such as you might encounter during a culture war, are seriously devalued relative to neutrally-chosen data points. That’s what the saying is driving at, and it’s definitely true.

          • lvlln says:

            I mean, anecdotes are data in the most basic sense of the term, but the question is, is it useful data? Data that allows us to actually make meaningful conclusions?

            And you can collect all the anecdotes as you want, and the data that amounts to won’t be useful, because anecdotes aren’t sufficiently randomly selected. Even assuming that every single anecdote is accurate, it doesn’t tell us anything about all the anecdotes that weren’t told.

            In the case of systemic sexism in tech, anecdotes by women can tell us that some women face some problems in some parts of tech. They can’t tell us if women are disproportionately harmed to the extent that it’s reasonable to conclude that sexism is systemic in tech and that sex-specific corrective measures are needed.

          • Well... says:

            @suntzuanime:

            Other kinds of data can be adversarially chosen too. See for example claims about the sheer numbers of women working in tech, often used to suggest the same thing as the qualitative data mentioned above (that We Need More Women in Tech Because Sexism or whatever). Both anecdotes and statistics are kinds of data. If Nybbler meant “these particular anecdotes are not useful as data because they were adversarially chosen, presented without context, etc.” then I agree, but he was making a more sweeping claim than that about anecdotes not being data.

            @Ivlln:

            Anecdotes are data, not only in the basic sense of the term but in just about any sense of the term, since the term data itself is quite generic. The question is not whether anecdotes can be useful, it’s whether these anecdotes are useful.

            Qualitative research and analysis is the craft of gathering anecdotes in a careful and scientific way so that meaningful conclusions can be drawn from them. (And experienced researchers in, eg, Agile software environments will tell you that even if the data was gathered in an imperfect way it can still often yield useful conclusions!) Again, I agree that in this case, the anecdotes presented about women in tech were not carefully or scientifically gathered or at least were not honestly presented. I am merely defending the “anecdote” as a kind of data point in itself.

            All:

            It looks like I might have been unclear when I made my initial comment:

            This is false, given that the anecdotes themselves are true and reported faithfully.

            When I said “the anecdotes” I meant anecdotes in general that might be used as data, not the particular anecdotes about women in tech that were being discussed.

          • The Nybbler says:

            My “sweeping claim” is that anecdotes do not turn into data either by sheer number (“enough”) or by time (“eventually”). I stand by this claim. It is possible to have data which consists of anecdotes, but just a bunch of anecdotes together don’t make data. At least not in the sense that “data” is usually meant in this context, information based upon which one can reasonably draw conclusions.

            I also agree with suntzuanime that these particular anecdotes are particularly unsuited for such use.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            what then do we make of reports of systemic sexism in tech?

            We cheerfully dismiss those reports as the politically motivated nonsense they are and move on with our lives.

          • The Element of Surprise says:

            what then do we make of reports of systemic sexism in tech

            I agree with e.g. ThirteenthLetter, but I want to elaborate:

            I believe “sexism” in this context really means two different things.

            One, there is bullying, or “some individuals randomly being assholes towards women”. There may be some sex-specific component here, e.g. where male superiors hit on their female subordinates. I believe these reports are often true, but I don’t believe they are more prevalent in tech than in many other areas (business, law, medicine, journalism?). I also believe that there are many situations where men are being bullied (just because some people do bullying), or where women get an advantage out of being women. From the men in tech, and in other fields, that I know, I actually find it very hard to imagine that the prevalence of this kind of “sexism” is not much lower in tech than in other areas (though that could be because of the kind of people I socialize with). There might be a component here where women in other areas have better skills to handle these situations, have more female colleagues to turn to, or vent about these incidents in places that are not medium.com and therefore are less visible to people like “us” here. Maybe men in tech are not only nicer to women than in men in other areas, but also feel much more guilty about the incidents that do happen, and make them more visible (“white-knighting”). I want to add that I do support fighting against a bad social climate at work places, be it because of men hitting on women in inappropriate situations, men treating women worse / better because of their sex, men bullying women, or any of that happening to men, or being done by women. But I also think that “tech” is much less problematic here than other fields, and that often enough the reported incidents are of the kind that are not specific to women (but where it would be less of a big deal if it happened to men). The fact that I often hear of feminism concentrating specifically on tech makes feminism seem less sensible in my eyes.

            Two, there is “sexism” as in systematic preferential treatment of men vs. women. The low proportion of women in tech jobs is presented as evidence for this. I believe that, on average, women have less aptitude in the logical/analytical thinking style employed in tech (as e.g. evidenced by women averaging lower math SAT scores), and have less interest in pursuing these kind of careers (as shown by the low enrollment of women in STEM college courses). Studies that try to look for discrimination against women beyond this, e.g. looking at success rates of male vs. female job applicants, are at best inconclusive. Sometimes they even seem to have the embarrassing conclusions that women in blinded situations do worse, or that men don’t significantly discriminate against women while women do. Feminists will probably disagree with me on the aptitude / interest point, and will I think they are being dogmatic and purposefully ignoring evidence when doing so.

            As an aside, if the current trend of “diversity reports” etc. in tech companies in progressive places continues, and these companies are pressured to treat female applicants preferentially to male applicants to even out their company sex ratio, I predict that this will result in female engineers in many places being less skilled than male engineers, and that the public perception of female STEM workers will change for the worse.

          • The Element of Surprise says:

            what then do we make of the reports of systemic sexism in tech

            I agree with e.g. ThirteenthLetter, but I want to elaborate:

            I believe “sexism” in this context really means two different things.

            One, there is bullying, or “some individuals randomly being assholes towards women”. There may be some sex-specific component here, e.g. where male superiors hit on their female subordinates. I believe these reports are often true, but I don’t believe they are any more prevalent in tech than in many other areas (business, law, medicine, journalism?). I also believe that there are many situations where men are being bullied (just because some people do bullying), or where women get an advantage out of being women. From the men in tech, and in other fields, that I know, I actually find it very hard to imagine that the prevalence of this kind of “sexism” is not much lower in tech than in other areas (though that could be because of the kind of people I socialize with). There might be a component here where women in other areas have better skills to handle these situations, have more female colleagues to turn to, or vent about these incidents in places that are not medium.com and therefore are less visible to people like “us” here. Maybe men in tech are not only nicer to women than men in other areas, but also feel much more guilty about the incidents that do happen, and make them more visible (“white-knighting”). I want to add that I do support fighting against a bad social climate at work places, be it because of men hitting on women in inappropriate situations, men treating women worse / better because of their sex, men bullying women, or any of that happening to men, or being done by women. But I also think that “tech” is much less problematic here than other fields, and that often enough the reported incidents are of the kind that are not specific to women (but where it would be less of a big deal if it happened to men). The fact that I often hear of feminism concentrating specifically on tech makes feminism seem less sensible in my eyes.

            Two, there is “sexism” as in systematic preferential treatment of men vs. women. The low proportion of women in tech jobs is presented as evidence for this. I believe that, on average, women have less aptitude in the logical / analytical thinking style employed in tech (as e.g. evidenced by women averaging lower math SAT scores), and have less interest in pursuing these kind of careers (as shown by the low enrollment of women in STEM college courses). Studies that try to look for discrimination against women beyond this, e.g. looking at success rates of male vs. female job applicants are at best inconclusive. Sometimes they even seem to have the embarrassing conclusions that women in blinded situations do worse, or that men don’t significantly discriminate against women while women do. Feminists will probably disagree with me on the aptitude / interest point, and I will think they are purposefully ignoring evidence and being dogmatic and when doing so.

            As an aside, if the current trend of “diversity reports” etc. in tech companies in progressive places continues, and these companies are pressured to treat female applicants preferentially to male applicants to even out their company sex ratio, I predict that this will result in female engineers in many places being less skilled than male engineers, and that the public perception of female STEM workers will change for the worse.

          • The Element of Surprise says:

            Apparently wordpress deletes my comment every time I try to edit out typos? Sorry if this comment appears to you three times.

            what then do we make of the reports of systemic sexism in tech

            I agree with e.g. ThirteenthLetter, but I want to elaborate:

            I believe “sexism” in this context really means two different things.

            One, there is bullying, or “some individuals randomly being assholes towards women”. There may be some sex-specific component here, e.g. where male superiors hit on their female subordinates. I believe these reports are often true, but I don’t believe they are any more prevalent in tech than in many other areas (business, law, medicine, journalism?). I also believe that there are many situations where men are being bullied (just because some people do bullying), or where women get an advantage out of being women. From the men in tech, and in other fields, that I know, I actually find it very hard to imagine that the prevalence of this kind of “sexism” is not much lower in tech than in other areas (though that could be because of the kind of people I socialize with). There might be a component here where women in other areas have better skills to handle these situations, have more female colleagues to turn to, or vent about these incidents in places that are not medium.com and therefore are less visible to people like “us” here. Maybe men in tech are not only nicer to women than men in other areas, but also feel much more guilty about the incidents that do happen, and make them more visible (“white-knighting”). I want to add that I do support fighting against a bad social climate at work places, be it because of men hitting on women in inappropriate situations, men treating women worse / better because of their sex, men bullying women, or any of that happening to men, or being done by women. But I also think that “tech” is much less problematic here than other fields, and that often enough the reported incidents are of the kind that are not specific to women (but where it would be less of a big deal if it happened to men). The fact that I often hear of feminism concentrating specifically on tech makes feminism seem less sensible in my eyes.

            Two, there is “sexism” as in systematic preferential treatment of men vs. women. The low proportion of women in tech jobs is presented as evidence for this. I believe that, on average, women have less aptitude in the logical / analytical thinking style employed in tech (as e.g. evidenced by women averaging lower math SAT scores), and have less interest in pursuing these kind of careers (as shown by the low enrollment of women in STEM college courses). Studies that try to look for discrimination against women beyond this, e.g. looking at success rates of male vs. female job applicants are at best inconclusive. Sometimes they even seem to have the embarrassing conclusions that women in blinded situations do worse, or that men don’t significantly discriminate against women while women do. Feminists will probably disagree with me on the aptitude / interest point, and I will think they are purposefully ignoring evidence and being dogmatic and when doing so.

            As an aside, if the current trend of “diversity reports” etc. in tech companies in progressive places continues, and these companies are pressured to treat female applicants preferentially to male applicants to even out their company sex ratio, I predict that this will result in female engineers in many places being less skilled than male engineers, and that the public perception of female STEM workers will change for the worse.

          • Aapje says:

            @The Element of Surprise

            An issue is that people who target a group create a more hostile environment if that group is a minority.

            For example, imagine an environment where 1 in 99 women is hostile to men, but there is only 1 man to every 99 women. This means in a crowd of 100 people, on average you will have 1 woman harassing 1 man.

            Now imagine an environment where 1 in 2 women are hostile to men, but where there are 50 men to every 50 women. This means that in a crowd of 100 people, on average, every 1 in 2 men will be harassed by a woman.

            So the women in the second example are 50 times as ‘harassy,’ yet the experience of the men is half as bad, due to men not being such a huge minority in the second example.

            IMHO, this effect is very much unknown, which explains why people believe that individuals in groups with few minorities are far more ‘-ist’ than they actually are.

          • keranih says:

            @ ajape –

            Back during the Hugo-mess-before-the-last-one, someone worked this out in terms of tribes and SFF conventions, showing how even given rare (and equal!) expressions of animosity between two groups, members of the minority group are going to get bruised at ten or twenty times the rate of members of the majority group.

            It made me rethink some of my assumptions regarding reports of bigotry and sexism. I can’t find the post, which is a shame, because I think it was exactly the sort of thing which Scott would appreciate.

          • The Element of Surprise says:

            Aapje, wouldn’t a man in the second example have a much harder time, with 25% of his colleagues treating him badly, as opposed to 1%?

            You are making a good point, though, and it makes me think. If harassment is one-on-one (i.e. one person has only time to harass one other, and then has that victim for him / herself) or possibly few-on-few, and if for a given environment it is common knowledge that harassment rates of people with property X approach the proportion of people with property X, then people with that property are disproportionately disincentivized from joining that environment. This can be when harassment rates are unusually high, or when proportion of X-people are unusually low.

            I think this would not be an unusual problem if it would not disincentivize people to join the environment (As in your example: the total welfare of the first group is above that of the second group.). In that case, if harassment prevalence is lower, even if it is more predictable, the situation is strictly better.

            My personal experience (and according to the few harassment cases I have heard about from people I know) btw is that (1) harassment is not one-on-one, and (2) tech is not only less “sexist per man”, but also “less sexist per woman” than other fields, though I acknowledge the low sample size here.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Aapje: is “people who target a group,” really a good model? Your quantitative model only makes sense if the bullies seek out a quota of victims.

            Keranih, if people are emitting untargeted “expressions of animosity” and if you are the 10%, you are going to hear 10x as many as if you are in the 90%. (The same applies if the animosity is triggered by randomly encountering the victim.) But I think I remember the model you remember, and it was Aapje’s model, which further predicts that if you are a 1% minority, you will get 10x as much harassment as if you are the 10% minority. That doesn’t make any sense for pure untargetted “expressions of animosity.”

            Aapje said specifically sexual harassment. I hate this term because it mixes up several rather different issues, in particular ones that make a difference to this model. The model makes sense if it is specifically about a man who, once a day, chooses a random woman and hits on her. Is this a useful model? Does it apply to the experience of Susan Fowler? She was propositioned on day 1. Maybe her first manager fits this model, but here are two opposite ways he would not be limited by the number of women: (1) if he only targets new recruits; or (2) if he propositions every woman who works for him every day. In any event, she got away from him and complain about many other things that don’t fit the model.

          • keranih says:

            @Douglas

            Pardon my denseness, I’m not following you at all. Can you give another run at it, with smaller words?

            (In my memory, the model I saw was a bit more nuanced. It was a really good post, I think. Hiakujaguar linked to it (on LJ) but I don’t remember the OP. Maybe if Nancy L gets this far down the thread she’ll remember.)

          • Aapje says:

            @The Element of Surprise

            I admit that my model is a simplification of reality, to make a point.

            It is true that some harassment can be modeled as a limited range transmitter, where a person just spouts language that is particularly offensive to a group and which tends to specially discomfort people of that group. I think that if that group is bigger, members of that group tend to be/feel empowered to silence those transmitters to a decent extent. Of course, one can argue that if many transmitters are silenced, that does make those people less hostile. However, it would be a dubious argument to claim that the people that are silenced are intrinsically less hostile, rather than that the environment being less hostile.

            In my experience, complaints about the hostility of certain groups often tend to involve a condemnation of the people, rather than a condemnation of the circumstances which allow toxic elements to act with more freedom in certain environments.

            PS. I did not specify that the harassment was sexual, it could also be animosity towards men as a group, without any sexual component. The concepts of misandry and misogyny don’t imply a sexual factor; nor do the ‘isms’ (racist, ableist, ageist, etc).

          • The Nybbler says:

            The effect you’re talking about is pretty well-known; feminists even have a snappy name for it, though I can’t find it at the moment.

            The math is simple algebra.
            Suppose you have a group of N people; X are men, N-X are women. And suppose you have D gender-harassment incidents, equally likely to be perpetrated by any given person. Then XD/N of these will be perpetrated by men. Each woman will experience (XD/N)/(N-X) incidents on average. ((N-X)D)/N will be perpetrated by women. Each man will experience (((N-X)D)/N)/X incidents. If you determine the ratio of incidents against women (per woman) to incidents against men (per man), it comes out to (X/(N-X))^2. X/(N-X) is the ratio of men to women. So in tech where the ratio ranges roughly from 3:1 to 4:1, one can expect any given woman to experience 9 to 16 times the number of incidents.

            But it’s really just another stick to beat the dog (white male tech nerds). The model is oversimplified; for one, it fails to consider availability — that is, as the number of minorities decreases, the less likely it is for our bad eggs among the majority to have any interaction with them. For another, the sorts of things which are often claimed as incidents (e.g. interrupting and taking credit for other’s work) also happen between members of the same gender, and that’s ignored entirely.

          • The Element of Surprise says:

            Aapje: re your PS: I was referring to sexism as the object level issue that I was thinking of here. I think different groups of people have different things that make their life easy or hard – women get hit on, but make friends easier; men are more likely seen as more competent or natural leaders, but are also more likely seen as hostile or a threat by superiors; immigrants, and maybe to less of an extend racial minorities, fit less well into mainstream culture and have a harder time making friends and networking. All of this also hinges on these people’s innate abilities (would it be “sexist” if it turns out that men actually have innate superior leadership skills, or women have superior socialization skills? Is it some kind of -ism if people with high extroversion have an advantage beyond their actual skill at their job?) and most of this is probably not motivated by any -ism unless in a very broad interpretation of that word.

            if that group is bigger, members of that group tend to be/feel empowered to silence those transmitters

            I guess there are two contradicting forces in effect here: transmission of hostility in an environment with a larger proportion of the targeted minority is more effectively discouraged, but if it happens, it hits more people.

            The Nybbler: Even in that model, the number of harassment incidents is constant. I think a tacit assumption being made here is that harassment is worse when it is predictable, somehow? Given, say, that 5% of people get harassed, is it worse when these 5% are disproportionately some minority, than if the 5% have random characteristics?

            It might be that it can cause the minority people to leave the workplace (to be replaced by less able majority members if recruitment is efficient). I’m having a hard time imagining that this has a noticeable effect in the real world, however (?)

            It appears to me that people who make arguments of this type (that predictable harassment is worse than random harassment) find that it is more unjust even when not considering this incentive effect.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            The model is oversimplified; for one, it fails to consider availability — that is, as the number of minorities decreases, the less likely it is for our bad eggs among the majority to have any interaction with them.

            No, it isn’t oversimplified, it is overcomplicated. The complication is making it worse.

            And suppose you have D gender-harassment incidents

            If this is a causal hypothesis, this is insane. Have you ever had an experience with any group that is well-described by a quota of harassment? ever?

            Sure, you could say that D is not a causal factor, but just a measure of how bad the situation is. But I’m not going to believe that’s what you mean.

          • The Nybbler says:

            No, it isn’t oversimplified, it is overcomplicated. The complication is making it worse.

            The model is that there are N people and each is equally likely commit an incident of harassment against a member of the opposite sex. That’s pretty simple.

            Sure, you could say that D is not a causal factor, but just a measure of how bad the situation is. But I’m not going to believe that’s what you mean.

            It’s just a parameter in the model — and one that cancels out of the result, as it turns out.

          • @Aapje:

            I think there are two very different models of the problems faced by people other people think badly of, that yours is the less central one, and that the result reverses in the other.

            In your model, the problem is that members of group A who don’t like group B take positive actions against members of B–beat them up or yell at them.

            In the alternative model, which is the one implicit in modern anti-discrimination law, members of A who don’t like group B fail to take actions that would benefit both members of B and themselves–refuse to rent to them, hire them, let them in their restaurant, or the like.

            In that model, the smaller B is the less the problem. If B is one percent of the population and 50% of majority A don’t like them, that still leaves more than enough people who will hire, rent to, etc. B’s so the discrimination has only a minor effect. If B is thirty percent of the population, on the other hand, and half of the other 70% won’t deal with them, that’s at least a serious inconvenience, especially if most of the employers or most of the landlords are A’s.

      • birdboy2000 says:

        It’s quite understandable for liberals and leftists to be opposed to people whose cultural views seem distinguished from Jack Thompson’s and Pat Robertson’s primarily by their slogans, not their actual targets.

        The feminists I oppose are positively right-wing, they just don’t generally realize it. Race obsession, [outgroup] are dangerous criminals, and all.

        • Well... says:

          Are you sure “right wing” is the correct term there? You’re basically defining right-wing as “has race obsession and demonizes outgroup.”

          • birdboy2000 says:

            Has race and crime obsession, demonizes a demographically defined outgroup, and devotes a great deal of effort to policing culture to ensure it conforms to their ideology. (Often going after the very same depictions of violence and sexuality that the religious right took issue with in the past!) It’s not a flattering definition, and I’m sorry if I’m letting my contempt for the right leak. But I stand by saying that these have often been the political priorities of groups on the right, from religious conservatives to outright fascists. And more to the point, they’re things that liberals and leftists (at least, non-tankie leftists) have long defined themselves in opposition to.

            Feminists (or at least, the feminists I oppose, who seem to be dominant within the movement right now looking from the outside) might be presently part of center-left political coalitions, but when you dig into their views those views just aren’t all that left, and aren’t all that liberal.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            but what if that means that those positions were just those the left temporarily occupied and now doesn’t anymore?

            i’m just saying this strain of thought you’re talking about runs pretty deep in the left, as I see it. At what point does the definition slip?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Has race and crime obsession, demonizes a demographically defined outgroup, and devotes a great deal of effort to policing culture to ensure it conforms to their ideology.

            Ideological Turing Test score: F.

          • Well... says:

            Ideological Turing Test score: F.

            Yeah exactly.

          • Spookykou says:

            Ideological Turing Test score: F.

            My understanding of the above, applied to this situation, would be that birdboy2000 is a troll pretending to be a liberal to intentionally bait out conservatives/misrepresent liberals(I changed left and right, because to my mind those are economic terms, and I prefer to use liberal conservative for social groupings, which seems to be what birdboy2000 is going for). However, it is my understanding that many liberals hold some form of the view birdboy2000 just espoused to hold of conservatives. So maybe you mean something else by Ideological Turing Test? Or maybe I don’t understand the concept?

          • Aapje says:

            @Spooky

            If the Turing tests at Thing of Things are any indication, the best way to fail the test is to make a ‘low-IQ’ argument that is actually believed by many people, but not by (m)any of the highly intelligent people that frequent the rationalist web sites.

          • hlynkacg says:

            In regards to the turing test high IQ rationalists of the sort that frequent SSC and ToT tend to be really bad at impersonating low IQ “normies” of their own tribe never mind the impersonating normies of another

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        I’m still curious what constitutes “Against Feminism”? I charted out a few specific positions but neither HBC nor anyone else seemed willing to offer a judgement call. So what about:

        Someone who agrees with basic claims about what level of autonomy and liberty and social freedoms females should have, but thinks those battles are pretty much won and over pretty much everywhere that matters “against feminism”?

        What about someone who disagrees that feminist critiques of various forms of art and speech are meaningful, given current amount of viewpoint diversity if not outright liberal/feminist dominance of many artistic mediums and spaces?

        Or to put it another way:

        What is the minimum level of philosophical/political buy-in (in terms of planks of the platform) to be considered PRO-Feminism?

        • Well... says:

          If you could take all human males from 0.2 mya – present and rank them from least to most feminist, I’d bet modern right-wing men who get called chauvinist pigs would still be clumped up at the “most feminist” end of that list.

          So yeah, feminism’s boundaries are rarely well-defined.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Probably, but I’m talking specifically about American mainstream culture circa 2017, and to a lesser extent Universal (western) Culture, same timeframe.

            Also, to be clear, talking about mainstream (if there is such a thing) contemporary feminism, not necessarily radical/intersectional/etc feminism.

          • rlms says:

            If you do that ranking on pretty much any political basis, the same thing will happen.

          • Well... says:

            I’m not intimately familiar, but I can’t imagine that feminists are blind to the long view. Don’t they think about their cause in the context of human history rather than in the context of the news 24-hour cycle?

      • AnonYEmous says:

        Oh yeah

        To answer this question: Personally, I came here because Scott is not only interesting and all, but because he was speaking against feminism and social justice, and in a reasoned manner.

        And to add on to this, SSC seems like a place where questioners congregate. Where else can you question feminism, which is as to a holy ideology? There are technically places, but they tend to be very conservative – so the liberal questioners come here.

        (arguably they are forced to be conservative for various reasons; to maintain on the Left and feminism-skeptical requires very thick skin. Scott has that and that’s what drew me.)

      • Aapje says:

        why are there relatively many people in the comments that oppose (some kind of) feminism when SSC is mostly liberal?

        This question actually smuggles in an assumption: that feminism is progressive and anti-feminism is not.

        However, my criticism of mainstream feminism is that it is not egalitarian and progressive enough. For, example, take this experiment where someone changed ‘men’ to ‘black people’ in an EverydayFeminism.com article.

        When it comes to race, in the culture war, the red tribe tends to focus on black culture as a reason for black people doing less well than white people on various metrics, while the blue tribe tends to focus on how black people are being treated by others (IMO, the truth is in the middle).

        As is evident by the experiment, parts of feminism treat men like the red tribe tends to treat black people.

        The culture war, being highly tribalist and thus centered around choosing the side of the ingroup over the outgroup, strongly encourages this kind of hypocrisy. I assume that rationalists are more capable of recognizing this hypocrisy and are more likely to reach positions by reasoning from first principles, rather that adopt the positions that their environment tells them are correct and then rationalizing those.

  2. John Schilling says:

    The precedent has been established that talking about one’s nerdy hobbies is appropriate here, at least when said hobbies involve Manly Weapons of War. And bean has indicated he may take it easy this week, so maybe I can fill the void.

    Unfortunately, my relevant hobby isn’t entirely a hobby any more, and is disturbingly topical. I study North Korean nuclear missiles, as part of a select team of wonks and nerds centered on the US-Korea Institute at JHU and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. When Kim du Jour waves a nuclear and/or ballistic saber, our phones start beeping and we start trying to figure out what’s really going on. Not too long ago, this meant maybe twice a year. Now, more like twice a month. So I figure there may be some interest in that subject here. Let’s start with nuclear weapons up front. If there’s interest, next time will be the missiles to deliver them, then maybe a digression into the sources and methods we use to figure out what’s going on, and finally what we expect North Korea will do with all these wonderful toys.

    The first thing to understand is, North Korea is not a nation of starving peasants ruled by maniacal comic-book supervillains with an arsenal of rusted-out weapons from the 1950s. The famine of the 1990s is over, and while North Korea is still well behind developed-world standards the only people in real danger of starving to death are the (numerous) political prisoners. The ruling dynasty, now in its third generation, is ruthlessly competent in maintaining its hold on power. Most importantly, the Buck Turgidson “ignorant commie peon” school of threat assessment does not apply. North Korea has launched a satellite into Low Earth Orbit, and then done it again to prove the first time wasn’t a fluke. They are up to five nuclear tests and counting. That puts a hard floor on their technical competence, and as with Sputnik the message is that the ignorant peons actually do understand technology well enough to drop nuclear warheads on our cities.

    So, key fact about North Korea’s strategic nuclear weapons: they really do exist. One still occasionally finds pockets of wishful thinking wherein it is assumed that North Korea has spent the past decade doing nothing but impractical physics experiments and still doesn’t know how to put nuclear warheads on missiles, but the arguments behind this assertion are increasingly thin with every passing year and every nuclear test. North Korea almost certainly has at least a dozen nuclear warheads that can be mounted on ballistic missiles today, and more to come.

    North Korea has been actively seeking a nuclear capability since the early 1960s, though at that point this was mostly a matter of enrolling promising students in engineering and physics programs at foreign universities, and developing chemical weapons as an interim deterrent. They acquired their first plutonium breeder reactor in 1986. In 1991, they took note of the performance of Allied forces in Operation Desert Storm, and understood that their conventional military forces were not going to prevail in any future conflict. It is likely that their first nuclear devices were assembled shortly thereafter.

    Assembled, but never tested. Sometimes diplomacy actually comes through with a win – the “Agreed Framework” in 1994 called for a halt to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, in exchange for security guarantees and economic assistance. It didn’t take either side long to start cheating, and justifying their cheating as a reaction to the other side’s cheating. The writing was on the wall when the United States added North Korea to the “Axis of Evil” in 2001, and in 2002 the whole thing collapsed. Still, the cheating never reached the level of actual nuclear testing, which is required to develop an operational military capability. So that bought us maybe eight years. Looking ahead to where we expect North Korea’s strategic nuclear capabilities to be in eight years, that’s something to be thankful for.

    In 2006, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test. It failed, delivering only a sub-kiloton “fizzle”. That’s why testing is required for an operational military capability. Whatever warheads North Korea thought they had in service in 2006, had to be dismantled and rebuilt. This may have bought us another three years, but in 2009 they tested a device that produced a 4-6 kiloton yield, which was probably its nominal design performance. This would have been a “lightweight” (i.e. no more than a metric ton) plutonium implosion device designed for use as a missile warhead.

    Somewhere along the line, the North Koreans hooked up with the A.Q. Khan network out of Pakistan. The North Koreans had been overtly selling ballistic missiles to Pakistan, and part of their payment appears to have been a uranium enrichment capability and a design for (or at least help in designing) a more advanced warhead. Nuclear tests in 2013 and 2016 (twice), were probably of this design. Yields of 10-20 kilotons, and capable of using enriched uranium in addition to or instead of plutonium. From the dimensions of their mock-ups, and the payload sections of some of their not-mockup missiles, the “physics package” is ~55 cm in diameter and 200-300 kg, which means a complete warhead would be about 400-600 kg. This is also consistent with the sort of weapons other nations with better-documented nuclear programs were building at about the same level of experience as North Korea today.

    North Korea is probably trying to develop thermonuclear weapons, aka hydrogen bombs, as well. They claim to have tested such a device in 2016, but if so only the fission trigger actually worked. The sort of lightweight thermonuclear device that the big-5 nuclear powers use on their missiles will almost certainly be beyond North Korea’s reach for another decade. Crude first-generation thermonuclear weapons would be of no use to them, as they don’t have missiles capable of carrying them. There are ways the North Koreans might be able to increase the yield of their fission warheads to 50-100 kilotons, but at the expense of using more scarce nuclear materials to make them.

    Regarding those scarce nuclear materials, North Korea has had a small (5 MWe) breeder reactor that has been intermittently operational since 1986, and a uranium enrichment facility since probably the late 1990s. It’s a good bet that they built a second, secret enrichment facility when the first one was revealed, but we can’t be certain of that. They also have a larger (50 MWe?) light-water reactor that they might convert to a breeder reactor, but at this point nobody will sell them fuel for the thing so they would have to divert their own enrichment capability to that task. This would mean trading a few bombs now for more or bigger bombs later, and so far the light-water reactor remains idle.

    The capacity of these fissile-material production facilities, bounds the size of the North Korean nuclear arsenal. On the one hand, they can’t build more weapons than they have the fissile material for, and they can’t be 100% efficient at any stage in the process. On the other hand, they built those facilities for a reason, and they aren’t throwing the stuff away.

    North Korea today probably has between 10 and 30 nuclear weapons, and the ability to roughly double that number in the next five years. These are mostly pure fission devices of roughly half-ton weight and 10-20 kiloton yield. Possibly they may introduce a handful of weapons with yields of up to 100 kilotons for special occasions, but we should see evidence of that from testing. Unless we see the light-water reactor come on line (and then be taken off-line for fuel reprocessing), we probably won’t have to worry about dealing with a hundred or more warheads any time soon. We “only” have to worry about a few dozen Hiroshimas’ worth of instant sunshine in the hands of Kim Jong Un.

    How much of a worry that is, depends in part on how far and how reliably he can deliver it. So the next installment will be North Korean strategic missiles.

    • Iain says:

      I am very interested in the continuation of this series.

    • cassander says:

      So, key fact about North Korea’s strategic nuclear weapons: they really do exist. One still occasionally finds pockets of wishful thinking wherein it is assumed that North Korea has spent the past decade doing nothing but impractical physics experiments and still doesn’t know how to put nuclear warheads on missiles, but the arguments behind this assertion are increasingly thin with every passing year and every nuclear test

      this is true, but it understates how much space there is between “being able to make a decent sized nuclear explosion” and “having a warhead robust and small enough to sit on the tip of a missile, fly several thousand miles, and then make a decent sized nuclear explosion.”

      • John Schilling says:

        In case I wasn’t clear the first time, North Korea has warheads robust and small enough to sit on top of a missile, fly several thousand miles, and then make a decent sized nuclear explosion.

        Yes, it takes a great deal of work to do that. It’s been their number one national priority for a quarter of a century. And no, they haven’t actually demonstrated it all at once. Neither have Britain or France, and the United States has done it one time only and with a long-retired system. Sensible people test missiles and warheads separately, and the North Koreans are actually pretty sensible about this.

    • Joeleee says:

      The first thing to understand is, North Korea is not a nation of starving peasants ruled by maniacal comic-book supervillains with an arsenal of rusted-out weapons from the 1950s.

      I’ve been finding myself quite interested in N Korea recently, and reading a fair bit, and I’m finding myself increasingly wondering whether it’s a good thing or not that this is the caricature that the West has of N Korea.

      Either way, I’d definitely be interested in reading more from you. Most of the things that I’ve been reading have been non-military and more about, e.g. their telecommunications systems, rice trade etc. Always great to read about people with bucket loads of knowledge on random things!

    • Eltargrim says:

      There are ways the North Koreans might be able to increase the yield of their fission warheads to 50-100 kilotons, but at the expense of using more scarce nuclear materials to make them.

      I’m curious as to what these materials are, and what the difficulty in procurement is. Are we talking tritium, and hence the issue is that they can’t make it fast enough? Or is it lithium, and it’s just too scarce/costly for NK to obtain. Or is it something I’m not considering at all, in which case I’m very curious as to what kind of material could boost the yield.

      • John Schilling says:

        Lithium is mostly needed if you are making actual hydrogen bombs, which as I noted is beyond North Korea’s capabilities for some time. Not for any shortage of lithium, though – they offer that for export sale.

        Tritium is useful for making boosted fission weapons, which is indeed one approach North Korea could plausibly take for a 50-100 kiloton warhead. North Korea has a breeder reactor, so they can make tritium. But it’s a small breeder reactor with a limited supply of spare neutrons, so making more tritium for boosting fission weapons means making less plutonium to make those weapons in the first place. Fewer but more powerful bombs.

        The other approach is to just put more plutonium (or enriched uranium) in the core in the first place. That’s the approach France used for their 120-kiloton MR-31 warhead when they were still puzzling out the thermonuclear stuff. There’s a nonlinearity involved, so you don’t need five times as much plutonium for a 100-kt bomb as you would for a 20-kt one, but you do need at least twice as much.

        And you can to some extent mix and match. The US Mark 7 bomb/warhead, from 1952, could be equipped with one of half a dozen or so interchangeable “pits” sized for yields of eight to sixty kilotons; I’d wager the current North Korean design has the same capability even if they haven’t built or tested any of the higher-yield pits yet.

    • keranih says:

      A long time ago and in another country I read Tears of My Soul by Kim Hyun Hee – is there any reason to consider the mindset of that person any more typical of modern North Korean government personnel/spies/counter agents than we would assume a memoir of an American Cold War spy on the Russians is reflective of modern American intelligence agents/analysists/operatives?

      • John Schilling says:

        Kim Hyun Hee is at least going to give us different biases for comparative purposes. Too much of what we know, or think we know, about the human side of North Korea comes from defector interviews. Some of the defectors are pretty obviously blowhards and liars, but even the honest ones will come with a huge and systematic selection bias. I’m concerned with the possibility that Hee might be flat-out lying, but if not she’s almost the polar opposite of a defector in her path to the South.

    • Wrong Species says:

      In the event of a pre-emptive strike, what’s the probability that the US could take out all of North Koreas nukes before they were used?

      • John Schilling says:

        There are on the order of twenty thousand hardened underground sites in North Korea; we could probably scrounge up that many JDAMs but we wouldn’t be able to deliver them in time. Finding the handful of sites that have the nukes, would require the sort of intelligence coup James Bond can predictably deliver in the final act but which the real world almost never affords.

        • James Miller says:

          What if our first strike involved using strategic atomic weapons to eliminate North Korea’s ability to respond?

          • Loquat says:

            Since the expert just said we can’t reasonably expect to take out all their nukes fast enough to prevent them launching at least one in response, I’m genuinely curious what actions you’re suggesting.

          • John Schilling says:

            The United States can deliver about two thousand nuclear warheads in a single salvo. North Korea has about twenty thousand hardened underground sites that might hold key elements of their strategic nuclear force. Most of these we can with reasonable confidence rule out as containing only e.g. mundane howitzers.

            So you’ve got to ask yourself one question…

          • James Miller says:

            @Loquat

            Using strategic atomic weapons in a first strike is morally unthinkable for many, so I suspected our expert’s response didn’t take this possibility into account.

          • Incurian says:

            Can we just decapitate their C2?

          • Loquat says:

            Assuming “decapitate their C2” means “kill the relevant leaders”, wouldn’t the survivors want to retaliate? There would, after all, be at least some military officers left standing, and I don’t think you can safely assume not a single one of them would manage to order a launch.

          • John Schilling says:

            Can we just decapitate their C2?

            That is explicitly South Korea’s strategy for dealing with North Korea, but it’s not one with a good historic track record. Aside from the difficulty of actually killing, or even finding, paranoid dictators, you again run into the problem that they will have placed control of their most potent weapons in the hands of their most trusted subordinates.

          • Incurian says:

            I was thinking more about C2-related infrastructure.

          • Loquat says:

            I don’t think it much matters whether you’re trying to kill the dictator or just cut his communications; if the subordinates notice that America just attacked them and suddenly they can’t reach the Dear Leader, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll assume the worst and do what they can to retaliate.

          • I assume it’s easier to conceal a bomb than the missile needed to carry it. If our objective isn’t to take out all of their bombs but all likely delivery systems–at least all long range missiles, perhaps bombers as well, is that more workable?

        • Wrong Species says:

          Assuming that we couldn’t get all of them, how likely is it that the new THAAD system could stop the rest?

    • Sfoil says:

      What strikes me the most about the North Korean nukes is the (relatively) primitive nature of the undertaking. Now, as you point out, the resources involve aren’t peanuts, but at the same time, they’re working with what is charitably a second-rate industrial and knowledge base. They likely sat on a faulty design for years, and they’re presumably subject to every sort of sabotage known to man. The facilities you mention were probably never first-rate, and now some of them are outright obsolescent. They aren’t even able to keep all of them running.

      Yet here we are. The mid term worst scenario is probably that the DPRK outright sells preassembled nukes to states e.g. facing an American “humanitarian intervention”, probably quite openly given the deterrence logic. In fact this already happened somewhat with the A.Q. Khan affair. In the long term though, this is a hell of a genie to keep in the bottle. A primitive nuclear warhead will get you much further than a jet engine or phased-array radar of similar tech level. The USS Iowa is a museum; the Mark 7 bomb is a threat.

      The North Koreans aren’t dumb enough to sell nuclear weapons to Libyan Civil War Faction #4 (there are few things that annoy me more than public statements about the “irrationality” of the North’s nuclear program) but I find it awfully hard to believe that such a useful piece of kit can be kept out of reach of any semi-industrialized state forever. Do you think the DPRK’s program can be easily replicated on an accelerated timeline with maybe a few “consultants” and dual-use hardware, or do you think it isn’t really a proliferation concern?

    • Amos says:

      Thanks for this. Very Interesting. Wonder how hard it would be for a motivated, non-state actor to acquire a nuclear bomb?

      • John Schilling says:

        @Sfoil and Amos both: Building nuclear weapons from scratch requires the resources of at least a minor industrial nation, more if you need to keep it secret. And if you keep it a secret, most of the value of having a nuke goes away. If we are willing to accept that the intersection of “industrialized nation”, “evil menace”, and “doesn’t already have nukes” is tolerably small, that narrows the threat to an existing nuclear power selling either nuclear weapons or materials, or someone stealing them.

        Selling is probably right out in the current world order, because it would be such a blatant violation of international nonproliferation norms that it would risk economic sanctions at the level of an actual blockade, if not an actual actual blockade or invasion. Same goes for selling fissile materials, and no, there isn’t really a black market for those.

        Stealing actual nuclear weapons, that’s the material for Hollywood movie plots, but Fort Knox or the Crown Jewels have nothing on the sort of security typically afforded nuclear weapons. There are vaguely-plausible scenarios where someone could spirit a stolen nuke off the premises, not so much for being able to use the thing before your imminent, bloody demise.

        Stealing enough fissile materials that a team of clever mad scientist types could build a nuke used to be vaguely plausible, but that threat persistently alarmed enough people that they managed to round up and secure or dispose of most of the weakly-guarded fissile materials while e.g. teaching universities how to run small research reactors on decidedly non-weapons-grade uranium. If you need a still-plausible scenario for your next Hollywood movie, this is probably the way to go but I’m not losing much sleep over it.

        I can see plausible changes to the international order that would make it far more likely for not-evil minor industrialized nations to go openly nuclear and even to establish a semi-open market for nuclear armaments. Say, for example, Pax Americana 2.0, where the United States runs a two-bit protection racket and anyone who doesn’t fork over a cut of their GDP every year has to build their own little nuclear arsenal instead. Fortunately, the American people aren’t daft enough to elect a president who would do that.

        • Sfoil says:

          I’m not sure I share your confidence. North Korea is geographically constrained enough a regime collapse probably wouldn’t be this bad, but imagine that Libya had had a similar program — moderate number of bombs, many well concealed and hardened storage sites, etc. What stops Egypt from cruising in and becoming an instant nuclear power? Is the current nonproliferation regime enough that they’d completely cut off Egypt to the point it wasn’t worth it (haven’t done it to Israel)? (Serious question, I don’t know, but I did notice a lack of blockades after the Pakistanis sold their goods to North Korea).

          Pax Americana 2.0 doesn’t have to be global (or American) to motivate the “right” kind of thinking either. Hell, I bet Bashar al-Assad wishes he could just pay a few percent of GDP to the US & Pals to get them to stop arming to the guys he’s fighting.

          • bean says:

            What stops Egypt cruising in is those very nuclear weapons we’re talking about. I’d expect the nuclear forces to be the most loyal and most likely to stay together in the early stages of a regime collapse. And if it looks like someone is trying to snatch them, I’d expect SOP to be to use them before they’re gone.

          • John Schilling says:

            All chaos is not created equal. We’ve seen two governments go out of business while in possession of a nuclear arsenal; in both cases, the parts of the government that had actual custody of the nuclear weapons remained professional and loyal to the end, in the one case turning the nukes over to the successor state, in the other dismantling them so thoroughly that it took a while to figure out they had ever existed.

            We’ve also had two (and still have one) nuclear-armed government so dysfunctional as to border on “failed state” status; again the nuclear custodians never failed. If you’re running a government, you get an assortment of people and institutions with varying degrees of professionalism, competence, and loyalty, and you’re usually not blind as to who the good ones are. The ones you trust the most go first to the Presidential Guard and second to the Strategic Rocket Forces (by whatever name). And you’ll have plans for what both of those are supposed to do when things go to hell.

            Oh: USSR, South Africa, Yeltsin-era Russia, Pakistan, in that order.

        • SUT says:

          > a two-bit protection racket and anyone who doesn’t fork over a cut of their GDP every year has to build their own little nuclear arsenal

          …Order the nuclear umbrella and you’ll also get the ballistic missile intercept system for free! But on a serious note, aren’t these systems rather expensive for us to provide out of the goodness of our hearts? What is the price tag for Modernization? And R&D for the anti-missile system? A couple *trillion* each?

          Thirty years ago, we may have just passed around a hat because we were going to do what we wanted whether or not anybody else chipped in. But now there is definitely a difference between protecting the U.S. and blank check protection for Taiwan , Korea and Japan, as in “we’ll go to nuclear war to defend your territory against your historical rivals”. How is that not worth a couple pct of GDP? Why are we committing ourselves to the potential for millions of civilian deaths for an ally who won’t pay the same percentage as we do for military spending.

          As far as non-state actors acquiring a weapon, I would imagine some coup in the Pakistani army, or some Taliban-type takeover in governance for the country as a whole has to still be #1 threat.

          An interesting emerging threat is Islamic elements in French or British arsenals; and the target is a stone’s throw away from where you stole it.

          • bean says:

            The US standard is that a weapon which is stolen should be unusable even if the thief has access to one of the National Labs. I’d guess that a lot of that technology has been shared with France and the UK. Also, I believe both have abandoned everything other than missile warheads (I know this is true of the UK), which are designed to not function unless they have experienced the acceleration profile of a missile flight.

          • SUT says:

            @Bean

            Interesting. Although I believe missile warheads come off, go in for repair, get rotated around the fleet, etc. Somewhere in these movements there’s likely a contractor stage where high-clearance, non military personnel (like Ed Snowden) have their hands on a bomb/components, while uniform men watch them – but not too closely – they’re not allowed to look too closely to what’s happening. See Franzen’s Purity for a pretty plausible example of this playing out.

            The real risk I see in Europe is the threat model is changing, and EU leadership refuses to acknowledge it, similar to Taleb’s Turkey. Who’s driving all the trucks and has connections to logistics? Who has no questions asked safe houses all across the continent? Who is constantly in the process of building pipelines for suicide missions? None of these things were accurate assumptions when the systems for security went into effect, and historically, the system as is has performed flawlessly. Which makes me [and Taleb] nervous.

          • bean says:

            Interesting. Although I believe missile warheads come off, go in for repair, get rotated around the fleet, etc. Somewhere in these movements there’s likely a contractor stage where high-clearance, non military personnel (like Ed Snowden) have their hands on a bomb/components, while uniform men watch them – but not too closely – they’re not allowed to look too closely to what’s happening. See Franzen’s Purity for a pretty plausible example of this playing out.

            There are a couple of possibilities. If you steal an actual bomb/warhead, you have to contend with all the stuff that’s supposed to keep it from going off in the wrong hands or before it reaches the target. Given the announced level of safety of US warheads, this is pretty unlikely.
            If you steal material, you have to turn it into a bomb before the authorities catch you. Oh, and you probably need to get the fissile material from multiple bombs to be able to build your own, because advanced nukes are a lot more efficient than anything a terrorist group could build. So you’d need to build the non-nuclear material ahead of time, steal the nuclear bits, turn them into the shape you want (because you probably don’t know the details on the shape you’ll get or can’t use it because it’s very specialized) and then use it, all before every security agency on Earth catches you.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          Stealing actual nuclear weapons, that’s the material for Hollywood movie plots, but Fort Knox or the Crown Jewels have nothing on the sort of security typically afforded nuclear weapons.

          Unless we’re talking about Pakistan, which drives them around randomly in unmarked vans.

    • bean says:

      That was very interesting. Thanks for doing this. You beat me in coolness this week (all I have is a ship carrying the president nearly being accidentally torpedoed), and I’ll have to up my game to keep up. Looking forward to the next installment.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      North Korea has had a small (5 MWe) breeder reactor that has been intermittently operational since 1986, and a uranium enrichment facility since probably the late 1990s.

      Is it safe to assume that the reason these facilities haven’t been Stuxnetted or Osirak’d is that such attempts have failed? I’d be pretty surprised if the US & Friends would allow such things to stand for 20-30 years unmolested.

      Possibly related, and apologies if it’s not really your wheelhouse: any thoughts on what we’d need to give China to get them to help out (or at least look the other way) with removing NK’s nuclear capabilities?

    • Deiseach says:

      Genuinely very interesting, and things like this are why I’m not worried about things like AI threat – as ever, humans are the biggest threat to humans and unless we get God-Tier AI in the next three weeks, it’s not going to be the same kind of immediate problem.

      • James Miller says:

        The Fermi paradox supports this view. If AI frequently goes bad we should either see evidence of this in astronomy (an expanding sphere of darkness or paperclips) or not exist because AIs have used all the resources of the universe. In contrast, high tech civilizations almost always destroying themselves before they can develop super-intelligent machines would explain the Fermi paradox and make us ordinary observers in the universe.

        • kokotajlod@gmail.com says:

          Yes, but there are caveats. For example, if the Great Filter is before us (at abiogenesis, for example) then we needn’t worry. The Fermi Paradox is reason to think that there is a great filter, but not any particular reason to think that it is after us. (So: Credence in late great filter goes up, but how much it goes up depends on how likely you think early great filter is.)

          There are also more esoteric issues having to do with simulations and decision theory.

  3. paranoidfunk says:

    EDIT: dammit, the comment above me is way cooler!

    I have many questions – and very few people to talk to in meatspace – so I want to jot a few of them here.

    1) Does parents’ happiness influence or correlate to number of offspring at all?

    If one thinks Life Is A Gift, then I imagine they will be a-breedin’; conversely, nihilists who think Living Is Suffering would not dare to bring a soul into existence. Unless they were sadists.

    I imagine some sort of selection bias in that research – nihilists are more likely to be broodingly depressed -> not likely to be social -> not likely to be married. Or some variation of that implied casual pathway.

    2) Is being an adult basically just about how much shit you can handle from stuff you don’t care about?

    The median age of SSC readers was 30yo according to the survey IIRC, so I hope I can get some (emotional) input.

    I’m noticing the more I get older (21), the more neurosis I develop from all the need-your-input or opportunity-here emails I get, the responsibilities I accrue from That Job or Extracurricular That Looks Like Good on Resume, social relations I have to manage like a Machiavellian, yadda yadda.

    It upsets me that folks always say: “ah, [middle school/high school/college] sucks…you’ll love [high school/college/job]!” Such a poor mindset to give kids out of benign deflection. Mindfulness mindfulness mindfulness…

    3) How can I get into a career that solves problems?

    (Actually wait a second, most jobs have the end goal of solving a problem – I’ll rephrase that.)

    What professions are there in which you discuss and brainstorm answers to multi-factorial causes, or design protocol? Is that, like, what public policy is?

    I am envisioning a setting where a roundtable is being circumvented by a distressed master suit pacing back-and-forth; and where, on occasion, the eraser-to-lip suit emphatically doles his Innovative Idea.

    • Nornagest says:

      What professions are there in which you discuss and brainstorm answers to multi-factorial causes, or design protocol? Is that, like, what public policy is?

      For multifactorial problems that involve people, you want “manager”, “analyst”, or some flavors of “consultant”, or you could try to make it on your own as an entrepreneur. The higher up you get, the more multi-factorial the problems you’re dealing with. Policy wonkism has some of the same flavor, but I get the sense that job prospects in that field are quite poor.

      For strictly technical multifactorial problems, the keyword is usually “architect”.

    • keranih says:

      1) Happiness and family size – probably parent happiness is important, but too complex in action to sort out. A couple who were happy together would stay together longer and have more kids. Or a single mom might be miserable and keep shifting from relationship to relationship, and ending up with multiple kids with multiple fathers. Not sure how you could accurately sort this out without measuring a lot of confounders.

      2) Yes, adulthood is learning How to Deal with the hand you’re dealt. It’s also learning to settle for (at best) what you most want rather than for everything. Understanding this is easier than actually doing it, in my feeling.

      3) I think that any more, it seems that most all the problems are multifactorial, and that whether one person in particular gets a chance to work on the solutions depends more on the particular company than on the skill set. I also think that it might be a mistake to assume that all (or even most) of the suits solving that problem are actual suits, rather than techs in fancy dress.

      In my experience, in a situation like that, the role of the suits is to clear space for the techs to work, and keep the injuns off their back while the team works.

    • Anonymous says:

      Relevant page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fertility_factor_(demography)#Intention_to_have_children

      Happiness is indirectly positively correlated with fertility, via intent to have children.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      Re #2: Yeah, I think being an adult largely boils down to doing things you Don’t Want To Do because they Need To Be Done. That and realizing that everyone is winging it to some extent or another and That’s Okay.

    • Deiseach says:

      2) Is being an adult basically just about how much shit you can handle from stuff you don’t care about?

      Only 21!

      The older you get, the less you will give a tuppenny damn about crap. One good thing I found as I hit into my mid 40s was that stuff that would have had me exquisitely embarrassed in my 20s or brooding over it in my 30s really wasn’t that big a deal anymore and didn’t afffect me as much. I can’t say I’ve become more confident, but I can say I don’t give a damn anymore. Now, this isn’t always good – there are times when you should or need to give a damn, as in what you say about managing social/work responsibilities, but in general it’s been very liberating.

      Right now probably is the toughest time for you because it’s all happening for real, you’re out in the Big Bad World and there are real chances of screwing up badly. But honestly, some at least of the stuff you are fretting over doesn’t matter that much and other people don’t remember it or care about it.

      I really can’t give you any Sage Life Advice other than “don’t make bad decisions” and the majority of those we only know are bad with the benefit of hindsight (if you find yourself thinking “this is probably a really bad idea” then you maybe shouldn’t do it). You are going to make bad choices and fail sometimes, this is what being human is.

  4. sidewalkProf says:

    For anyone who knows anything about politics as they actually work (as opposed to media dramatizations that are my primary source of information currently):

    With this whole wiretapping nonsense between Trump and Obama, why would it not be a winning move for Obama to take advantage of the situation and imply (perhaps even state outright) that there was no need because members of Trump’s inner circle were already giving him information? Given Obama’s apparent moral alignment, Trump’s general atmosphere of paranoia and self-aggrandizement, and the character of the people in Trump’s inner circle (e.g. Bannon) it seems like a strictly advantageous move for Obama to (at basically no political cost to himself) forcibly cast shadows around Trump and create a divide between him and the more competent+dangerous (per Obama’s utility function, at least) members of Trump’s cabinet (especially if it makes Trump more likely to listen to the others – the more conventional politicians, that is – around him). Presumably this is not actually a good idea since Obama’s not doing it – what am I missing here?

    PS. To whatever degree it’s relevant to note, this is my first actual comment here.

    • Iain says:

      Machiavellian lying is not really in Obama’s wheelhouse. It’s not a particularly credible lie: who exactly in Trump’s inner circle could be plausibly suspected of collaborating with Obama? Priebus, maybe? What does Obama do when all the plausible candidates come out and deny it? Even if it did work, the people who lost status would inevitably be the ones who were least opposed to Obama, which is not helpful either.

      • James Miller says:

        Machiavellian lying is not really in Obama’s wheelhouse.

        “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” was politifact’s lie of the year because this deliberate Obama lie was necessary for him to get his health care legislation passed.

        • rlms says:

          I don’t think that can really be described as Machiavellian.

          • Jordan D. says:

            Yeah. sidewalkProf’s suggestion feels like something plotted by a shadowy grand vizier with a pet snake. “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” seems like a whole different universe of untruth.

  5. knownastron says:

    Anyone have any book recommendations for the history of China?

    It doesn’t have to be comprehensive, any interesting time in it’s vast history would be great. Something more narrative driven would be great.

    For comparison, I really enjoyed Rubicon by Tom Holland and Alexander of Macedon by Peter Green when it comes to history based books. I also really enjoyed Romance of the Three Kingdoms for what it’s worth.

    • John Schilling says:

      Something more narrative driven would be great.

      George Frasier’s Flashman and the Dragon, and I am not joking. Though it is limited to one era of China’s history (Taiping Rebellion through Second Opium War).

    • Nornagest says:

      It’s not a book, but Harvard’s got a ridiculously comprehensive-looking MOOC on Chinese history out.

      • knownastron says:

        It is very comprehensive looking, intimidatingly comprehensive even.

        Thanks for the link!

    • stevenj says:

      For a comprehensive overview, I really enjoyed Harold Tanner’s “China: A History”.
      Volume 1
      Volume 2
      Volume 1 covers pre-history through 1799, and volume 2 covers 1799 to 2009.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      If you haven’t, I recommend reading Journey to the West. The abridged translation by Arthur Waley under the title Monkey is widely available and fun. As well as being a (hugely fictionalised) account of actual events from the 7th century CE (the monk Xuanzang did exist and did travel to India and return with Buddhist scriptures, but he was defying the Taizong Emperor’s travel ban rather than being sent by him, and obviously didn’t have supernatural companions), it’s a satire of Ming-dynasty bureaucracy and politics.

      There are of course the other two of the Four Great Classic Novels (Water Margin and Dream of the Red Chamber) but I haven’t read those.

      • knownastron says:

        I grew up watching the TV series of Journey to the West. It’s been on my to-read list for a while now.

        Didn’t know that it was based on a real character and events. Will make the reading more interesting when I get around to it.

        • You didn’t know there was really a stone monkey?

          Kids nowadays. Don’t they learn anything in school? Who did you think ate up all those peaches?

    • SUT says:

      Just finished James Brady’sThe Marines of Autumn. Frontline view of the Korean war in 1950 on the eve of CCF joining the war.

      While not ‘Chinese history’ per se, I’d imagine the war diaries of Geronimo, if they existed, is still Western history. And certainly important history if the U.S. and the Apache were the world’s two superpowers.

    • Vermillion says:

      If historical fiction is in the realm of what you’re looking for I really enjoyed Boxers and Saints.

  6. Machina ex Deus says:

    This probably counts as Culture War, or I would have brought it up last thread:

    Griswold v. Connecticut: arrant nonsense, or dangerous garbage?

    I’ll kick off by noting that Douglas doesn’t actually give an argument in his opinion.

    Any downfield receivers? (Football metaphors not guaranteed to be knowledgeable; I’m kind of a deserter on that front of the culture wars.)

    • BBA says:

      If I could travel back in time and beat the shit out of Douglas for “penumbras and emanations” I would. Is it really that hard to say the Ninth Amendment is your textual basis for ruling that this is obviously none of the state’s damn business?

      Well, this is why I’ll never be a judge.

      • keranih says:

        Contraception (*) is one of those things which I feel it is best to advocate against using, rather than legislating against, as I don’t think it’s a good role for the State to meddle in.

        However, I don’t think it’s all that obvious that the prevention of the birth of new citizens is “obviously” none of the State’s business.

        I will entertain arguments otherwise.

        (*) Meaning preventing fertilization of an egg and hence the creation of a new organism, and not other sorts of “birth control”

      • Jordan D. says:

        Well, uh… yes, probably?

        I mean, it was a controversy in Griswold that he mentioned the Ninth Amendment at all- the dissenters take him to task pretty heavily for it, even though only Goldberg’s concurrence really relies heavily on the Ninth. It seems plausible to me that to get the votes for that opinion, he needed to rest it on something other than the Ninth Amendment; that is to say, possibly the other Justices were more open to rights founded upon penumbras than rights founded upon the Ninth Amendment. Given the long history of judicial fighting over whether the Ninth Amendment could create federally enforceable rights, I’m not surprised he wanted to elide the issue.

        Under modern jurisprudence, if I had to re-argue Griswold, I’d probably focus on a 14th Amendment argument.

        • BBA says:

          Well, that’s the thing – you can argue within the centuries-old jurisprudential framework built up around the Constitution and, before it, English Common Law, but that can look utterly laughable to a layperson whose view of the Constitution is sola scriptura. Setting aside Douglas’s penumbras, how on earth does “substantive due process” make a lick of sense if you don’t understand the precedents that forced the Court into that logical tangle?

          And of course none of this was even on the radar back then, and hindsight is 20/20, but you would think the justices would at least consider how the person on the street is going to receive their thinking, at least with these sorts of landmark cases touching on everyday lives.

          • Machina ex Deus says:

            …that can look utterly laughable to a layperson whose view of the Constitution is sola scriptura.

            To be fair to the sola scriptura folks, their scriptura’s Ninth Commandment isn’t, “There are also a bunch of other Commandments so don’t go thinking these Ten are it.”*

            By contrast, if you trust the Constitution, you have to hold that the Constitution doesn’t stand on its own. (I recognize that logical inconsistency is, sadly, perfectly compatible with popularity.)

            (* I’m pretty sure it’s the Anti-Coveting Commandment, though not everyone numbers them the same way.)

          • BBA says:

            I was raised Jewish and I was taught that the number of commandments is 613.

          • Jordan D. says:

            You’ve certainly got a point. The reason the 9th Amendment has been so attractive over the years is that it seems, on a straight reading of the text, to support any number of those unwritten constitutional rights everybody wants. But can you blame the Justices for sticking to their guns where they believed that the historical evidence clearly showed that the 9th wasn’t intended to create any substantive rights?

            (Maybe you can, if you believe that they virtuously rejected one source of ultra-legislative power just to graft together another)

            In the end, I think I do buy Justice Goldberg’s argument in his concurrence, though.

    • skef says:

      It seems like the best case here comes from the 14th amendment. Start by considering what depriving someone of life without due process of law would or would not consist of. It seems that the legislature voting to execute Hank, or all left-handed people, doesn’t automatically constitute “due process”. There’s more to the requirement than that.

      What about property? It seems that the legislature voting to take all of Hank’s property, or left-handed people’s property, doesn’t automatically constitute “due process” either.

      Now consider liberty.

      Remember that the law didn’t prohibit the sale of contraceptives, it regulated bedroom behavior directly. If the 14th amendment does prevent the state government from voting themselves every nightstand in the land, I find it plausible that it also prevents them from voting what you stick on your ying-yang or up your hoo-ha.

    • andrewflicker says:

      I think the legal underpinning for it was somewhat of a stretch, although minimally cogent and plausible- certainly as much or more so than many other SCOTUS decisions. That being said, I wholly agree with it on ethical/human-rights grounds, and would agitate for a constitutional amendment that incorporated a similar right to privacy if Griswold were permanently overturned.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      I vote this case “most likely to be a deliberate manipulation of American jurisprudence by a time traveler or eleven-dimensional chess savant.” It’s delicious bait placed at the top of the slippery slope.

      That is, I think it’s legally nonsense, but it’s very understandable how one would think the Constitution “has to” apply somehow.

    • Brad says:

      Griswold v. Connecticut: arrant nonsense, or dangerous garbage?

      Do you feel similarly about Pierce v. Society of Sisters and Meyer v. Nebraska?

      • Machina ex Deus says:

        In Meyer, McReynolds has an argument and supports it. That puts it head and shoulders over Douglas’s opinion in Griswold.

        McReynolds’s Pierce opinion seems really, really strange to me, because I was born in the 20th century and keep wanting to yell, “What about the First Amendment?”

        It’s light on the crucial argument about the scope of “liberty”, but I suppose that’s because McReynolds already covered that in Meyer.

        So, to get back to the original point of this thread: do you really think Douglas wrote a good opinion in Griswold? Even though his concurring colleagues obviously didn’t?

  7. Le Maistre Chat says:

    I’d like to discuss Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness.

    First, to what degree do you think the history of Earth given in Chapter VII strains suspension of disbelief? To recap: the Old Ones have been here since before the Edicaran Period, building cities on the ocean floor and much later on land. They killed animals for meat, leaving distinctive marks on fossils. Around the time Pangaea formed (Carboniferous?), Earth was invaded by Cthulhu and his land-based spawn, causing a global war that drove all the Old Ones into the sea, followed by a peace that lasted until “suddenly the lands of the Pacific sank again, taking with them the frightful stone city of R’lyeh and all the cosmic octopi.” They spread over the surface again, undisturbed until the Jurassic, when the Mi-Go invaded, driving them “out of all the northern lands, though they were powerless to disturb those in the sea.” The Mi-Go exist on Earth’s surface to this day, though only as a small population in hiding for unexplained reasons. Finally, the narrator claims to identify a map from the Pliocene showing “no land cities except on the antarctic continent and the tip of South America, nor any ocean cities north of the fiftieth parallel of South Latitude.”

    Second, I find it striking that in the same chapter, this 1936 novella prefigures Singularity SF with references to the Old Ones having fractal-division tentacles like a Bush robot, a suggestion that they had once uploaded their minds to mechanized bodies “but had receded upon finding its effects emotionally unsatisfying” and a hypothesis by the narrator that the space invasion story might have been made up to spare the Old Ones’s hurt feelings about having genetically engineered other intelligences that were X-risks.

    • Nornagest says:

      In broad strokes it sounds fairly reasonable — alien invasions have all the usual problems that alien invasions do, but the narrator’s hypothesis gets rid of that, or you could find another solution.

      Biggest issue in my mind is that the timeline goes uncomfortably close to present — the Pleiocene is far more recent than the Jurassic, let alone the Ediacaran. We’re talking a span of hundreds of millions of years on the one hand, three or four on the other. If the Great Old Ones died out so recently, there would need to be a reason for it to satisfy my suspension of disbelief — and a species of upstart apes isn’t going to cut it, if this species weathered invasions by the likes of the Mi-Go or Cthulhu spawn.

      If I’m remembering the story right, the reason for the Old Ones’ final (near-)extinction was gurve qrirybczrag bs ovbzrpunavpny jbexref (gur fubttbguf) gung riraghnyyl eroryyrq, qrfgeblvat gurve pvivyvmngvbaf, but that doesn’t satisfy me — humanity evolved at exactly the same time, in geological terms, and there’s absolutely no reason for it in story.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Dependence on gur fubttbguf is given as the reason their civilization’s range contracted underwater and the Mi-Go as the reason they couldn’t migrate to the land. I agree that the story would gain significant credibility by leaving the Old Ones in the Mesozoic (Lovecraft may have believed he needed them present on land in the Cenozoic to make a nihilistic point about early primates being kept as food and pets, but we now know that primates existed in the Cretaceous). Having the story leave off with a Mesozoic retreat into the sea save for the sacred area on Antarctica would also avoid having to address the problem raised by The Whisperer in Darkness and other shared universe stories: how did the Mi-Go lose their dominant position on Earth? Why is this planet ours and not a Kardashev civilization of Mi-Go?

        • hoghoghoghoghog says:

          Why is this planet ours and not a Kardashev civilization of Mi-Go?

          This is basically headcannon but

          1) Wouldn’t you stay hidden, if you knew that there were things like the Great Race of Yith out there?
          2) It at least makes thematic sense that sheer entropy is enough to prevent long-lived civilizations. It almost doesn’t matter how they fell or degenerated; in a universe whose only true god is Azathoth something like that would happen eventually.

      • Deiseach says:

        Part at least of the dying out of the Great Old Ones seems to be degeneration – they were a space-faring race but long habitation on Earth (and possibly inbreeding) seems to have caused degeneration – they gradually lost abilities they no longer exercised, their culture and society became decadent, the transmission of knowledge was interrupted so that when they wanted to use again the tech of former ages they weren’t able to recreate it – it’s similar to the ‘Dark Ages’ idea of post-Roman Empire collapse, where the descendant civilisations have the records of the old, high civilisation but have lost the means to copy the achievements.

  8. keranih says:

    A question I would have liked to have seen asked on the survey, in the jobs section:

    In your work place, do you work as part of a team reporting to a higher supervisor, as an independent contractor, as a supervisor yourself of a team, or do you supervise a larger (12 +) group or department? And if you supervise/rate others, how many?

    I am really curious what the supervised/supervisor breakdown is here at SSC.

    (Edit – I currently work in a team of two, supervising/instructing a set of four trainees. Previously, I’ve been relatively independent and (a different time) supervised three team sets (9 people total.))

    • John Schilling says:

      I supervise a team of 3-6 people, and at that level I mostly do the same sort of engineering work as the rest of my team. Maybe a quarter of my time is devoted to specifically supervisory or management activities, another quarter on technical work I wouldn’t deal with if I weren’t expected to be familiar with everything the team is doing.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Bottom level flunky here. You need people skills to be anything else, alas.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      I am part of a 3 person supervisor team at the Player’s Club desk at a casino. There are anywhere from one to all three of us there at a time, supervising anywhere from 1 to the full department of 8 hourly attendants/clerks (we really should have about 10, but we’re slightly understaffed ATM). The supervisors report to a Player Development manager who also manages the 3 person Host team.

      It’s relatively rare for the entire team to be on shift at once (except on big holidays I’m more often supervising a 3-5 person team), but I am still responsible for payroll, discipline/evaluations, hiring/firing, etc.

      I am salaried, but of the lower sort (More than $10m Less than $20 an hour, and there are a lot of hourly people in my building who make more than I do with tips factored in. We can’t take them). I was actually set to become hourly again before the 11th hour FLSA Rules Change the Obama DoL enacted was enjoined.

      Under the Trump administration I expect that lawsuit to be allowed to wither on the vine, and the rules change to die. I was actually sort of looking forward to becoming hourly, as I would’ve been pretty much guaranteed regular overtime at a very nice rate of return.

    • Eric Rall says:

      I do not formally supervise anyone. There are nine other full-time employees reporting to my direct managers. I’m median or slightly below in terms of seniority within the team (two are junior to me in terms of job title, three are peers, and four are senior, and I’m in the higher of the two career steps that map to my job title).

      Currently, however, I’m “on loan” to a different project than the one the rest of my team is working on. There are about 20 people on that project, and I get most of my tasks and feedback on that project from someone who’s not officially a manager and is not in my formal reporting structure (his grandboss shares a direct manager with my great-grandboss).

    • cassander says:

      Theoretically my team is a direction 5 people and some interns. I’m one of the five. In the official company hierarchy, I’m just another analyst, but my title has manager in it and I design a lot of the processes that the other analysts use, do quality control on their work, and oversee them in a primus pares sort of way. De facto I’m an assistant manager. I do directly supervise the interns though.

    • Eltargrim says:

      I’m a graduate student. I report to my supervisor, but also semi-supervise a couple of postdocs and whatever undergrads we have in the lab at the time, which is never more than a handful.

    • cactus head says:

      Masters student at a university. I have (and have had) only casual work positions where I was supervised, e.g. marking assignments, or working as a tutor, or exam invigilation. I’m not counting supervision of undergraduate students as supervision of workers because the students are not doing their work as part of a paid job.

    • Loquat says:

      Supervised here – I’m part of a team of 40-50 people total, divided between 3 managers. Sometimes I’ll help newer coworkers or write documentation for systems/procedures that are shamefully undocumented, but for the most part I’d rather do the actual talking to customers, explaining Medicare, etc, than be promoted to manager and have to deal with supervising and rating everyone.

    • Iain says:

      Up until recently I was the development lead on our team of four: that is to say, I did the same work as everybody else, but people came to ask me questions more often. After somebody in upper management watched one too many videos from Spotify and decided to reorganize, I’m now technically just a regular member of a larger squad, but in practice nothing has changed except the labels.

      It’s a good deal: I get an extra helping of “let’s work this out on a whiteboard” problem-solving (which is easily the best part of the job), and quite a bit of influence on what technical work we tackle next, but I don’t have to do any people management and my involvement with the money/customer side of the equation is largely in an advisory role: all the fun of weighing decisions, with none of the responsibility of actually making them.

    • hlynkacg says:

      At my current work-place there are several senior people in the company that I report to but I remain largely independent in regards to day to day tasks, and do not directly supervise any one. I am basically the senior engineer’s designated delegatee.

      That said I have been a supervisor in the past, I was lead NCO, on my last Iraq tour with about 25 guys under my command, and was typically responcible for 5 – 10 people (not counting students) when I was still working for the ambulance company and the IRC. Honestly, I’m happier as a worker bee.

    • Anonymous says:

      Supervised full-time, self-employed part-time.

    • Deiseach says:

      Sort of “neither/nor”; in one job I was team supervisor (and hated it so much I’ve avoided any such position ever since), my last job I was part of a team reporting to overall supervisor of section directly reporting to head of department; this job I’m not part of a team but sort of reporting to/sort of working alongside the centre manager.

      The jobs I like best are the ones where it’s ‘give me the work, tell me what you want done and when (and how, if I’ve never done it before/there’s a particular style or format that has to be followed), then go away and leave me do it’ 🙂 I get on okay working as part of a team but I absolutely couldn’t work as “hey Sue wants to look over what you’ve done and make changes then Bob needs this by tomorrow and we’re all having a meeting this evening and then Jaye is going to revise what you just did and Lou is giving you something else on top of it all and we all need to be in constant communication and breathing down each other’s necks all the time”.

      Though I sort of have worked like that, come to think of it, but it was more of a “here’s your part of the job and when it’s done pass it on to Anne [not real name] and she’ll give you the parts of what she’s doing that you need to do what you’re working, and we have a monthly meeting of the entire team” but it wasn’t living in each other’s pockets, we all had separate parts that fitted together in the end; I wasn’t meddling with what Anne was doing and vice versa. I like a degree of space and/or distance as part of a team 🙂

    • andrewflicker says:

      I was quite recently a supervisor of two small independent teams (one logistics, one content marketing/merchandising), and am now an “independent” director with no direct employees. I report directly to an executive VP, and support in various tasks VPs, other directors, and marketing managers. In more honest terms, I do indeed have a small team of employees- it’s just that all of those “employees” are artificial- they’re automated scripts or semi-automated reports and maintenance tasks that would ordinarily be handled by a human in a less technically inclined team (or 20 years ago).

      So yes- I’m (in very small part) directly responsible for automating away jobs.

  9. mrbodoia says:

    Hey everyone!

    In an open thread a few weeks back, I asked people for their thoughts on a website that I’ve been working on recently called Tripartisan. My goal is to create a reddit-like political discussion forum which makes it easier for people with opposing views to discuss the news of the day without becoming an echo chamber. If you’re interested, you can read more about it in the original comment thread.

    Anyway, I got a lot of great feedback from all of you. One thing that a number of people suggested was the use of a political orientation quiz on signup, to help people who aren’t sure where they land politically. To that end, I’ve drafted a short political quiz that attempts to gauge someone’s position on the traditional left-right spectrum. You can find the quiz here.

    For those of you that suggested the use of a quiz in the original comment thread, I’d love to hear your thoughts about this quiz. Also, if enough people take the quiz, I can post the results in the next open thread so that we can see where SSCers stand on various political issues. This would look similar to the analysis that Scott did of the 2017 SSC survey, but with a greater variety of specifically political questions.

    • rlms says:

      Brief comment on the quiz: it could probably do with a statement that you the questions are about the US.

      • mrbodoia says:

        That’s a good point. I’ll add a little note at the beginning.

        I actually tried to write most of the questions in such a way that they would be relevant to those outside of the U.S. (e.g. use “our country’s borders” rather than ask specific questions about a wall on the southern U.S. border). But you’re right that some of the questions ended up being specific to American politics, such as the one about the ACA.

        If you’re from outside the U.S., I’d love it if you would still take the quiz – you can just skip any questions that don’t seem relevant to your country. In future versions of the quiz I will try to reword the questions so that they’re as international as possible.

        • rlms says:

          I took the quiz, but answered some of the questions as though I was American. I think that is probably what you want people to do, otherwise people with the same beliefs will give different answers based on what country they are in.

        • thehousecarpenter says:

          All of your questions are phrased so as to elicit stances relative to the government (‘should we be doing more of this’, etc.) Since different governments have different stances, you need to elicit absolute stances if you want comparable results. Like, if somebody from Trump’s USA says their government isn’t too hostile to Islam that’s a lot more significant than somebody from Sweden saying the same thing.

        • Nyx says:

          I would opine that people should just be allowed to pick whether they are left, right, or other. I think most people generally have a pretty good grasp of where they stand on the political spectrum, and people can easily just game the quiz to get a desired result anyway.

          • mrbodoia says:

            Yeah that’s what I originally did, because like you I assumed that most people would have a sense of where they are on the spectrum. But I got a lot of feedback from people who weren’t sure which option to choose and wanted some kind of quiz.

            Once I finalize the quiz, my plan is to by default ask people to place themselves on the spectrum, and then add some help text which provides a link to the quiz for those who want it.

            The possibility of gaming the quiz/selection process is a different problem entirely. If it turns out that a lot of people do that and it affects the quality of the site as a whole, I’m going to look into automatically classifying users based on their voting behavior.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            No I think his questions do a more comprehensive job of describing where one’s political beliefs lay. I have a very hard time describing my beliefs on a pure left-right scale, or even when using two dimensions. I’m not sure how he can categorize people using so many questions, but he’ll at least have better data.

            I took the quiz, and I don’t think my answers match any specific category: for example: strongly AGAINST fewer abortion restrictions, strongly FOR fewer marijuana restrictions, strongly AGAINST higher minimum wages, strongly AGAINST support for Israel in occupied territories. I would hope he would want to have more people with hard-to- categorize opinions than those that strongly follow a specific tribal pattern.

          • mrbodoia says:

            @ Mark V Anderson: I think you’re a great example of someone that I would place in the site’s third category. The third category is intended for people who don’t fit cleanly on the left or the right. Note that this includes both “moderates”, who have middle-of-the-road stances on most topics, as well as people like yourself with strong stances that just don’t match up with the traditional left/right.

            Ideally, the signup instructions would be phrased in such a way that you would feel comfortable classifying yourself into this third category without needing to take a quiz. But I need to do a better job of making it clear who the third category is for. In any case, it sounds like the quiz did a decent enough job at distinguishing your views from the standard platform of the left and the right. So that’s promising.

    • albertborrow says:

      I like the mission statement. The layout is simple and minimalistic, and evocative of professional design.

      Some suggestions for improvement (I apologize if any of these have already been taken into consideration): a more detailed political axis than left/right. I think it would be cool for users to indicate their stance on certain issues and their confidence in their stance on certain issues in a profile page of some sort. If I was looking for more rational discussion, in order to prevent anecdote from taking precedence over evidence, I would introduce a way for users to keep track of outbound links and organize them in a list – like youtube playlists. That might help avoid double-counting and echo chamber practices. Likewise, it would be nice to prompt people to use evidence in discussions. While it might promote blue-link syndrome, an easy way to access and register evidence used in a debate would be an excellent way to combat poor form.

      There are problems with the approach I described, problems that anybody with any sense could point out. But I haven’t actually seen it done before, and we don’t know until we try.

      EDIT: Maybe user-generated tagging for a post? Where you prompt people to indicate the stance an article takes on certain issues? I feel like that would be a good neutral way of sorting what sources say what.

      • mrbodoia says:

        Thanks for the feedback!

        Having a more detailed axis is something a lot of other people have suggested, and it’s an issue that I’m really torn about. On the one hand, it’s obviously true that the left-right spectrum ignores a lot of information about people’s views that could prove interesting. On the other hand, the left-right distinction is by far the most prominent one in social media today, and I worry that adding other dimensions will take the focus away from the most important one. Ideally, I can find some sort of compromise which uses the coarse-grained left-right axis in some situations and more fine-grained categories in others.

        I like the idea of adding people’s stances on specific issues to their (currently minimal) profile pages. One I’ve finalized the political orientation quiz and added it to the site, I’ll probably give users the options to display their responses on their profile.

        Adding stance tags for posts is something that’s been suggested by other people and I think it’s a good idea. I’ll have to think more about the best way to implement it though.

        Can you explain a little more what you mean by “keep track of outbound links and organize them in a list – like youtube playlists”?

        • albertborrow says:

          I didn’t explain it well. Imagine each user has three upvote buttons when they see a post, one for left, right, and unaligned. The user can then later browse through the history of things they’ve sorted by bias, like Reddit’s “upvoted” tab. It’s also a way to democratically determine the alignment of posts. People don’t have an incentive to lie about what category they think a post belongs to, and if the point the post makes is non-contentious, confusing, or so reasonable that everyone thinks it belongs to their own side, the votes will balance out. It’s an anti Poe’s Law measure.

          Also: If the primary focus of the website is discussion, then my feedback is to make the discussion more prominent by a hundred-fold – basically, a Reddit or Quora style interface. In fact, even if the primary focus isn’t discussion, comments could be more prominent. As it stands, there’s no way to preview what kind of discussion you’re going to see before you click on the comments, and the comments button is tiny compared to the article image, and so on.

          EDIT: After examining the site, it also seems that you do something similar to what I suggested. It’s just a little more subtle.

          • mrbodoia says:

            Ah I see what you’re saying. Instead of giving each user a single vote (which is marked according to their political affiliation), each user would have three tags that could be applied.

            I worry that three different vote buttons might make the interface a little too complicated. However, some other people have made similar suggestions so I’ll keep it in mind.

            Making the comments more prominent is a good idea. I’ll try and think of a clean-looking way to include some kind of comment preview.

    • Well... says:

      For a long time now I’ve been frustrated with these kinds of political quizzes, which ask a bunch of questions and then show where you are as a point on a graph. I think it would be better if the chart could show a kind of ink-blot shape, with different tendrils of the ink-blot having different colors (or something like that) to indicate what issues or domain they refer to (military, education, feminism, etc.). A totally consistent person would show up as a dense circle, but I think most people would show up as some kind of ink-blot shape with tendrils shooting off in different directions.

      Better yet would be a 3-D ink-blot, rendered inside a cube that is animated to slowly rotate, so as to show the true shape of the blot. This way in addition to the two commonly used axes (social and economic) you could use a third axis such as universalism.

      But of course that would be a lot more work to set up so of course I understand why nobody’s done it. Anyway, that’s my idea for how one’s political opinions could better be visualized.

      In the meantime, if the goal is to create a way for users to quickly scan the views of other users, it might be better to simply provide a list of political issues and for each one a multiple choice menu of stances one might take on them, plus a text field in case people want to write in their own. I know that’s harder to implement than the elegant Likert scale you’re using, and it doesn’t yield quantifiable data, but I think it would provide a more valuable overview at the end: someone’s coordinates on a political map are less important to me while we’re talking politics than to be able to know that person’s actual stance on a given issue. Some people have extreme views in both directions, which average out to make them look like moderates on a “compass” style political map–very misleading.

      • Aapje says:

        A totally consistent person would show up as a dense circle

        No! Both tribes have a distribution of terminal values centered around different peaks. These terminal values themselves are often in conflict and resolved in subjective ways. The reasoning from the terminal values to political positions is regularly based on false facts/assumptions. So the set of beliefs that make up the median tribal belief system is not going to be very consistent in itself. Any charting method based on them, is going to rig the chart so the median tribal belief of one tribe is going to end up in one corner/side, and the other tribe in the other.

        So any position on the chart merely reflects a relative position to one or more subjective and almost certainly inconsistent reference points. Having all your beliefs consistently at a certain distance from this reference point then means that your beliefs are similarly subjective and inconsistent.

        TL;DR version: there is no objective way to measure people’s political positions on a 2D chart.

        • Well... says:

          Read my whole comment; I said a third axis would be better, and that for really getting a faithful scan of someone’s political views a tabulated format showing one’s stance on each issue would be best.

          BTW when I said “consistent” I didn’t mean “consistent with one’s Tribe,” I meant consistent with one’s basic values or principles. So yes, a dense circle is what you’d see.

    • Deiseach says:

      Answered it from the viewpoint of my own country (so e.g. question about military spending is going to have a really different answer) and filled in the “not an American” button at the end. Maybe that should be at the top, rather than the bottom, as “answering as not an American” probably would skew some of your data? And make it clear if you want non-Americans to answer (a) from their own country viewpoint or (b) their opinion of what America is doing in this area, because probably some of us answered in manner (a) and some in manner (b).

      • mrbodoia says:

        Yeah a couple other people made this point also. I wanted to try and phrase the questions so they’d be relevant to non-Americans as well (i.e. they could answer from their own country viewpoint), but in hindsight that probably just makes the results harder to interpret.

        The quiz would definitely be more internationally accessible if I replaced relative questions (“Are businesses in this country too heavily regulated?”) with universal questions (“Should businesses be subject to X regulation?”). The problem is that I think people have a much better feel for relative questions. If you ask about some specific kind of regulation, then I think a lot of people will get too caught up in the details. But if you just ask a question like “are businesses too heavily regulated”, people will separate more cleanly along ideological lines.

        At least, that’s my guess. But I actually don’t know for sure. I’ll have to do more testing with both types of questions and see which ones produce the most ideological separation.

        • Deiseach says:

          The quiz would definitely be more internationally accessible if I replaced relative questions (“Are businesses in this country too heavily regulated?”) with universal questions (“Should businesses be subject to X regulation?”).

          Then I would suggest definitely putting the “not an American” button up top, and phrasing the question as “Are businesses in your country too heavily regulated?” so you can sort out the non-Americans from the Americans and get answers relative to everyone’s view, not “do I think America is too regulated or not”.

  10. albertborrow says:

    I participated in a small debate on /r/debatecommunism the other day which I thought might be interesting. It’s a little more civil than most.

    An abridged hghlight:

    OP:

    To associate the majority of work in a capitalistic society with slavery is a gross inaccuracy. The condition of the vast majority of workers can not be likened to a slave’s, in really any way. Advancements under capitalism (I do not discount that advancements are possible and were made under communism) have furthered the conditions of many workers immensely, as evidenced perhaps best by the growth of a middle class in the mid-twentieth century.

    Resopnse from Communist:

    One of the things people usually get wrong about Marxism as a philosophy is that it discounts capitalism’s advances. This is wrong. Marx valued the bourgeoisie’s contributions to ending feudalism, expanding the productive capabilities of humanity, and being more egalitarian than past systems. What Marxism does question is exploitation, and exploitation still exists – albeit in different ways. Whether in a cobalt mine in Congo, where child laborers die under horrid conditions, or in the brutal pressure-laden environment of Japan, where the population dies off as no kids are born and suicide rates skyrocket, exploitation is a fact of life.

    Capitalist response:

    The key problem is incentivization. As a conservative libertarian (in the sparsest definition of the term conservative) I enjoy the idea of small self-regulated communities. But there is no way to get people on a city-wide or country wide scale to cooperate on an optimum level without some kind of indirect token of exchange. Sure, the guy who always volunteers to pick up litter in my town is going to be a valuable commodity, but his labor is worth nothing to the town next door… …Likewise, what about physical labor that directly benefits somebody doing work at a higher level of abstraction? There are thousands of acres of farmland in the west that go to feeding the residents of New York City, most of whom have never seen an actual tractor.

    Communist response:

    Why do artists create art? Why do musicians produce music? Because they have a love for what they do. The motivation is passion. People don’t contribute to open-source software because they expect a fat check at the end of the week… …Obviously an economy cannot be run on passion alone. The majority of people have either no artistic talent or no desire to participate in its creation. Naturally these people will do other jobs. If they don’t want to do anything, then they don’t necessarily have to if they can survive without a job. If they don’t want to do a job, but they are needed, then they’re gonna have to suck it up and help out the community. If they don’t have any special skills, yet still want to contribute to society, they will easily find meaningful job, because they are in a system that allows for it.

    If you want to read the full debate, it is here. I’m happy that I didn’t get a tidal wave of responses when I expressed my skepticism, and everything was at least somewhat civil. Overall it was a pretty enjoyable experience. Much less one-sided than /r/debateanatheist.

    • AnonYEmous says:

      Why do artists create art? Why do musicians produce music? Because they have a love for what they do. The motivation is passion.

      What he says is true. But only until very recently has there been enough music and art for everyone and that’s only because the internet allows it to infinitely scale. We might still not have enough art, because it doesn’t scale perfectly.

      Without the internet, or even just basic sound-reproducing technologies like vinyl records, the equilibrium amount of music that I want is way higher than the equilibrium amount of music I could pay for. And my family’s not too shabby in the wealth department either.

      So that’s fine as far as music goes. But it falls terribly flat in any field where you actually need 100,000 workers instead of 1 singer and 100,000 records (and some producers, record factory workers, et cetera, but still far below 100,000 people).

      Similarly, I don’t know if open-source software could replace more traditional for-profit software, but even if it could, that’s because a very small and passionate group of people can create something and put it out for the entire world to use. Imagine if every copy of open-source software had to be hand-crafted instead of copy-pasted?

      It isn’t impossible that people will just want to do important jobs out of passion. It’s certainly true that there would be more musicians if there was a communistic support system allowing them to do so. But I can’t blame people for thinking that it wouldn’t work out so great, honestly.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I wish they would tell us exactly what they mean by “exploitation”.

      • cassander says:

        Marx has a very specific definition, actually.

        I am a rich capitalist, you are a disgusting prole. I pay you 10 dollars to operate my chair making machine for a day then sell the chairs you make for 20 dollars. you’ve been exploited to the tune of 10 dollars by me using my ownership of capital to extract surplus value from your labor power.

        Yes, I realize that there are like a half dozen things wrong with that answer, and I can’t be sure that’s the answer the quoted person was thinking of, but that is the official marxist answer.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Right but what exactly about that is exploitation? They generally just tell us that it is without explaining why I should see it the same way.

          • cassander says:

            it’s exploitation because you, the laborer, produced 20 dollars worth of goods but only got paid 10. the only reason, according to marx, that I can get away with this is because i own capital (the chair making machine) and you don’t. Because only a minority own capital, we can get rich off the labor power of the masses.

          • Wrong Species says:

            But why are you entitled to all the labor you produced with my supplies? Why is labor the only relevant value?

          • cassander says:

            leave material costs out of it for now.

            Marx turns the question around. he asks why am I, who contributes nothing to process except legal title to the machinery, entitled to wealth produced by your labor?

            Now, of course, in reality, I had to defer consumption to buy the machine, I organize the company, I take on risk by paying you today and hoping to sell chairs tomorrow, and so on. I think the marxist answer is hogwash, but there it is.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Right. And this is the part where I’m lost. Obviously the owner puts in more risk. Everyone else seems to accept the idea that more risk should mean more reward. But they base their beliefs on this one idea(all value comes from labor) but I don’t see an underlying reason why I should accept it. Why is labor worth more than capital?

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            I believe the argument is that all capital either requires labor to produce (a factory), or to operate (land requires farming/building upon, a factory requires labor to run and labor to maintain, etc), or both.

            Therefore, all value ultimately reduces back to human labor.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I guess that’s trivially true but I don’t see why that makes it the true arbiter of all value. After all, it could take just as much time to dig up coal or iron but that doesn’t mean they are equal in worth. That also implies that automating work makes it less valuable even though it improves efficiency and frees up labor to do other things. Where’s the connection between labor being needed and it being the sole determinant of value?

          • Wrong Species says:

            Also, all labor takes place on a plot of land so why don’t we say that it is what determines value?

          • John Schilling says:

            Therefore, all value ultimately reduces back to human labor.

            Except that some value pretty clearly reduces back to land. And in either case, sometimes the “reduction” involves an extravagantly convoluted web of transactions such that the only practical economic theories are the ones that allow us to say, “Look, Bob has a factory full of machinery and we’re done arguing about how he got it and whether it’s fair that he keeps it. Now what?”

          • Mark says:

            Capital can’t be consumed. Ownership of productive capacity can be destroyed or exchanged, but not consumed.

            So, if we look at ‘capitalists’ as a class rather than as individuals, they have the legal right to own productive capacity, which they can exchange, or destroy.
            (An individual could also choose to exchange their capital in order to consume – by becoming a little bit less of a capitalist, but I’m going to ignore that because I don’t think it matters all that much on the grand scale – to the extent that capitalists are concerned with consumption rather than capital, they cease to be capitalists.)

            No-one is going to choose to destroy their productive capacity, so the choice of the capitalist is whether or not to exchange it for something else. The cost of owning capital is the opportunity cost of not having some other piece of capital.

            So the cost for the capitalist class is the opportunity cost of a missed opportunity. The cost for the labour class is the real psychological/physical cost of labour.

            Making 10 dollars instead of 9 isn’t a cost in any real psychological sense. So, all of the real cost falls upon labour.

          • random832 says:

            to the extent that capitalists are concerned with consumption rather than capital, they cease to be capitalists.

            And what about the extent that they bought that capital with money that they earned through labor*, while the laborer spends the same money earned the same way on consumption instead? Why are the only “real costs” in the present and not in the past?

            *This could be read to exclude people whose money comes from inheritance. Or, we could define living up to the expectations of your rich parents so that they do not disinherit you as a form of labor. We’re already defining the value of labor as what the market will pay for whatever is produced with that labor, so the fact that it’s easier or mostly has psychological costs rather than physical shouldn’t make any more difference than the fact that making chairs is easier than mining coal.

          • cassander says:

            @Wrong Species says:

            Right. And this is the part where I’m lost. Obviously the owner puts in more risk. Everyone else seems to accept the idea that more risk should mean more reward. But they base their beliefs on this one idea(all value comes from labor) but I don’t see an underlying reason why I should accept it. Why is labor worth more than capital?

            marx never talks about risk in capital. how you write a 1000 page book called capital without discussing risk, I’m not entirely sure, but he manages it.

          • Mark says:

            I think that as soon as the owner of capital begins to employ others and make profit, we can make a distinction between them and their workers – no matter how virtuous the owner may be.

            Perhaps ‘exploitation’ is a bad word – can we say this:

            Where the owner of capital and the worker are different people, the real (psychological/physical) costs of production fall upon the worker, and the owner benefits without psychological cost.

            I think you could have a world where, for cultural reasons, the psychological strain on owners is actually greater than that on workers – but I don’t think that is really recognisable to us, or useful as an economic model (you can always destroy capital, after all).

            I don’t think the “risk” argument really makes sense, because the risk should be reflected in the cost of capital – it’s still a calculation for achieving the best number rather than a physical or psychological cost.

            I mean, I suppose we might have a world where everyone is able to become an owner of capital, but that people don’t necessarily own the specific piece of machinery that they happen to be using. We’re all capitalists and we’re all workers, we all have the same costs and benefits, but I happen to like working on your project, but don’t have the confidence to risk my capital. Cool. You take the risk (on this project) you get the reward.

            Not sure that that is how it actually works, though.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Cassander

            I’m assuming you have read Capital then? Some days I think I should go all out and try to learn everything I can about communism to see if there’s a kernel of truth but I also don’t want to waste my time if there’s nothing there.

            @Mark

            There’s no easy distinction between capitalist and laborer. I’m a capitalist because I have a retirement account opened up with some money in it but I don’t think you would consider that as part of the Capitalist class. And most Capitalists weren’t just given money. A lot of business owners have to borrow it. There’s a serious psychological cost to failing for them in addition to the monetary value they lose.

            And even assuming you were right, I still don’t see why that means only labor has value.

          • cassander says:

            @Wrong Species says:

            I’m assuming you have read Capital then? Some days I think I should go all out and try to learn everything I can about communism to see if there’s a kernel of truth but I also don’t want to waste my time if there’s nothing there.

            Not all of it, it’s huge, but big chunks of it. And I have thoroughly searched it for any discussion of risk. It doesn’t exist.

            I would say that there is precisely one extremely valuable insight in marx, he was one of the very first people to talk about how capitalism creates creative destruction, though he doesn’t use that term. Almost everything else is problematic at best, sometimes deeply so. Unfortunately for him, other people said it better, and drew more cogent conclusions from the fact.

          • Mark says:

            @Wrong Species
            Yeah, I agree – I think we can really get into the weeds if we try to strictly classify and categorise individuals as capitalists/workers/lumpenproleteriat/labour aristocracy etc. etc.

            I’m not sure that that kind of thing is really a suitable target for the kind of abstraction that Marxists are aiming for.

            However, the fact is that control of capital isn’t equally distributed, and that there does seem to be a distinction between people who are more on the ‘capitally’ side of things, and those who are a bit more ‘laboury’.

            I also think there is something to be said for a labour theory of cost based upon the idea that capital and labour are very different things – one being human and the other not – and that the “costs” associated with each can’t really be compared.

            And even assuming you were right, I still don’t see why that means only labor has value.

            I’m proposing a labour theory of cost.

            Perhaps, given certain cultural conditions, there is a cost associated with being a capitalist. But there isn’t a real emotional cost for capital itself. And the important thing is that this is a social relation that isn’t necessarily related to human emotion – capital isn’t based on love or loyalty – at base it’s a vaguely Molochian process that aims only to increase itself.
            So, there is a bit of a danger with viewing the costs of capital as equivalent to the costs to people – sure some guy who owns some capital might be having a bad day, but that’s not fundamental to what capital is – and if we *in general* make capital costs equivalent to labour costs, we’re making a dangerous category error.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Mark

            Do you not think there is a psychological cost to having a business that fails? That’s not just having a bad day. Indeed, I would that’s certainly worse than losing your job.

            I think this whole thing is just an is-ought problem. You can talk to me all day about the psychological costs of labor and how capital doesn’t love but at the end of the day, I don’t think that matters in determining what something is worth. Given that I don’t agree with your subjective opinion, why should I believe in the labor theory of value and everything that stands upon it?

          • 1soru1 says:

            > I’m a capitalist because I have a retirement account opened up with some money in it

            One thing to remember is that if you were living when Marx wrote, you wouldn’t have that.

            http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/special-reports/11523196/A-turbulent-history-of-British-pensions-since-1874.html

            > Schemes covering civil servants, teachers and police were set up in the 1890s. Railway companies were the first industrialists to offer pensions, followed by Reuters in 1882, WH Smith in 1894 and Colmans in 1899.

            In a more-strictly capitalist system you _couldn’t_ have it; the firm that paid more than required to survive would have been out-competed by the one that didn’t. So lacking capital, you would have had to take the job without the pension or starve.

            It’s only the various deviations our society has from pure capitalism (minimum wage laws, non-profits, state jobs, unions, benifits, etc.) that allow you that pension. And a lot of those were historically influenced by Marx.

          • Anon. says:

            It’s only the various deviations our society has from pure capitalism (minimum wage laws, non-profits, state jobs, unions, benifits, etc.) that allow you that pension.

            What?

          • Evan Þ says:

            In a more-strictly capitalist system you _couldn’t_ have it; the firm that paid more than required to survive would have been out-competed by the one that didn’t.

            But that’s only assuming an unlimited supply of equally-good workers – otherwise, the firm that paid less would lose workers, or at least lose the better workers, to the firm that paid more.

          • 1soru1 says:

            A perfect free market can be assumed to eliminate unnecessary costs. A pension is clearly an unnecessary cost; it is not needed for the worker to do the job.

            What scenario do you see as allowing pensions to continue to exist in a world where firms compete in a fair market, and where a significant proportion of workers have zero capital, and so have to take the first job offered or literally starve?

            Remember: no safety net, no unions, no employment laws, no churches, no ‘fair trade’ movement, no family.

            ‘Competition’ can’t do it, because it requires the existence of businesses that want to pay above-market wages. In other words, those not operating on capitalist lines. Historically these were typically Christians, e.g. the Cadbury family). Currently this is the mostly the job of the state, especially the military.

          • keranih says:

            What scenario do you see as allowing pensions to continue to exist in a world where firms compete in a fair market, and where a significant proportion of workers have zero capital, and so have to take the first job offered or literally starve?

            How different would this be from the current situation, where pensions do exist, but not for all levels of worker? The workers with no leverage don’t get pensions offered, while those with less common skills are offered better deals.

            (I question no capital/take the job or literally starve if only because a market economy does not exclude the possibility of charity, but even allowing the argument, it doesn’t mean Bartertown.)

          • 1soru1 says:

            | a market economy does not exclude the possibility of charity

            A market economy also does not exclude the possibilities of unions, employment law, a welfare net, sovereign wealth funds, or even universal income. But a pure free-market-only one does.

            In reality, 19C Britain was not lacking in churches. But charity didn’t happen to take the form of paying people to wait for a higher-wage job to come along. Or any other measure that might have permitted workers to be paid at a rate they could plausibly accumulate capital.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @1soru1

            First off, a 401k is not the same as a pension. My employer doesn’t owe me anything.

            Second, I don’t think you realize how easy it is to become a capitalist. You can download an app and sign up to become a capitalist in the span of a few minutes with as little as five dollars. The government didn’t set it up. Someone just decided that it would make money. That’s free market capitalism at its most pure.

          • cassander says:

            @1soru1 says:

            A perfect free market can be assumed to eliminate unnecessary costs. A pension is clearly an unnecessary cost; it is not needed for the worker to do the job.

            No, but a worker might want one in exchange for being willing to do that job.

            ‘Competition’ can’t do it, because it requires the existence of businesses that want to pay above-market wages. In other words, those not operating on capitalist lines. Historically these were typically Christians, e.g. the Cadbury family). Currently this is the mostly the job of the state, especially the military

            A barber today is exactly as efficient as one in ancient greece. Yet the modern barber gets paid far more money than the ancient greek barber. Why? Because wages have to rise with the average productivity level of society. If they don’t, people will be bid away from jobs like barbers, so people who want barbers will have to pay for them. I’d love it if i could pay my barber less, I’d love to pay him in gruel. But I can’t if I want him to keep cutting my hair, and neither can anyone else. Competition absolutely CAN do that.

          • 1soru1 says:

            | You can download an app and sign up to become a capitalist in the span of a few minutes with as little as five dollars.

            Firstly, you couldn’t in the 19C when Marx was writing; then it was genuinely impossible to be a capitalist without personally controlling your capital. Apps aside, you couldn’t rely on professionally-educated managers, and a well-regulated financial services industry, to lower transactions costs to the point anything else was possible. To understand his terms, it helps to understand this.

            This so why some contemporary Marxists regard the modern economy as based on managerial and/or financial forms of capitalism, instead of a distinct capitalist class.

            Secondly, 5$ doesn’t make you a capitalist; you need capital, in the sense of money sufficient to live on for at least months, preferably years. Supporting the ability to earn capital from a standing start through wage income is a way society can choose to organize itself, not a rule of nature. Greater average productivity makes higher wages possible; it doesn’t make them inevitable. Two examples suffice to demonstrate this; one is the first half of the 19C in Britain, the other is here and now.

            http://www.epi.org/productivity-pay-gap/

          • cassander says:

            @1soru1 says:

            Firstly, you couldn’t in the 19C when Marx was writing; then it was genuinely impossible to be a capitalist without personally controlling your capital.

            this stopped being true two hundred years before marx started wrting. You know all those aristocrats in 19th century novels talking about how they have fortunes worth X pounds a year? They aren’t talking about money they’re squeezing out of their estates, they’re talking about returns from bonds.

            http://www.epi.org/productivity-pay-gap/

            BLS data usually only includes wages, not total compensation. When you include total compensation, the gap vanishes.

          • 1soru1 says:

            Fair point; government bonds did precede the stock market being something you could simply put money into and expect to get it back. But still, they were sold in denominations representing multiple years wages; it wouldn’t have been possible to make back the transaction costs on anything much less. And 70% of an average labourer’s wages would be spent on food, so not a lot of room to save up and build an investment portfolio.

            If you couldn’t inherit it, or do something like capture a French frigate, the only way to actually _grow_ your wealth was to personally run a business so well it turned it into a larger one. The set of people who could and did do that is what Marx meant by capitalists.

          • Evan Þ says:

            What scenario do you see as allowing pensions to continue to exist in a world where firms compete in a fair market, and where a significant proportion of workers have zero capital, and so have to take the first job offered or literally starve?…

            ‘Competition’ can’t do it, because it requires the existence of businesses that want to pay above-market wages. In other words, those not operating on capitalist lines.

            Competition with a finite number of workers. Suppose a nice humming-along economy, with five barber shops in town, each with four barbers. Scrooge’s Rapacious Barbershop decides to cut wages – so in response, two of his barbers quietly get jobs with a competitor and leave. Maybe Scrooge tries to keep going with the two he still has; maybe he hires two random guys, shoves razors into their hands, and calls them barbers; maybe he hires the guys his competitors just fired (who’re better than Guy Off the Street but still worse barbers than the guys who left; that’s why they were fired). But in either case, he’s doing worse than he was. More foresightful capitalists than Scrooge will see this in advance and decide not to lower wages.

            Meanwhile, Ferrari’s Better Barbershop decides it wants the four best barbers in town. How does he attract them? Well, perhaps he goes to them in person and offers $1/hour more than they’re currently making; perhaps he advertises slightly-above-market wages and holds tryouts. In either way, he’s paying above market not out of charity but to get better-quality workers at his store. This’s standard in business; it’s how (say) Costco gets better workers than (say) Walmart.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            “No-one is going to choose to destroy their productive capacity, so the choice of the capitalist is whether or not to exchange it for something else. ”

            I think capital is destroyed by mistake (investments that don’t pay off) pretty often. Does this matter for your argument?

          • In a more-strictly capitalist system you _couldn’t_ have it; the firm that paid more than required to survive would have been out-competed by the one that didn’t.

            Do you mean more than the firm needed to survive or more than the worker needed to survive? Firms quite routinely pay more than their workers need to survive and there is no reason to expect them not to.

            Even if you accept Ricardo’s version of the iron law of wages, which was supposed to apply only in very long term equilibrium, the wage isn’t what workers require to survive, it’s the wage at which workers will choose to have enough children to maintain their population.

            So far as the firm’s survival is concerned, if workers value pensions, a firm that offers pensions can get workers at a lower wage than one that doesn’t.

          • 1soru1 says:

            Yeah I mean a variation of Ricardo’s Iron law. As stated, that applies to the real world, not a theoretical markets-only model of one, so is usually considered falsified by the 20C West.

            The variant is that there is no guarantee that whatever non-market features of any particular hypothetical society exist will end up playing the roles necessary to falsify it. In particular, libertarian and anarcho-capitalist societies which aim to minimize those non-market parts have that as a plausible failure mode.

            16 tons, what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      The number of artists who choose to produce less or different art because it will make them less money, and who alter their art in order to maximize audience/sales and therefore profit make me profoundly skeptical of “People do it for love of Art/Craft/Science/etc” arguments.

      I believe that the ONLY people who are truly free to do it for love are the people who have so much in the way of material resources and security that they literally have no other desires that they can’t meet at a whim. What amount of material resources and security this requires varies from person to person, but people who would live on the street and eat out of trashcans before they got a job at McDonalds and let it cut into their Poetry-Jam time are precious few and far between.

      If a communist society is perfectly egalitarian (everyone gets exactly the same amount of material resources/security), resource scarcity pretty much guarantees that many, if not most people will be existing below their “All physical needs AND WANTS are met forever” levels and will thus not behave in the desired “does a meaningful job they love to the maximum of their ability all the time because they love it so much” manner.

      If a communist society is NOT perfectly egalitarian (it allocates material resources/security based on societal value of the position and/or the amount needed to maximize output from the maximum number of high value workers, something like that), it will foster exactly the same sort of dissatisfaction and resentments and political unrest that current egalitarian political philosophies leverage in their quest for power. There is no Homo Sovieticus on the horizon.

    • Warren says:

      Why do artists create art? Why do musicians produce music? Because they have a love for what they do. The motivation is passion.

      The argument that people will do work based on passion is frankly absurd. Of all the jobs being worked in modern society, how many of them are done out of passion? We need people to crawl through sewers – how many of those people feel really passionate about slogging through excrement? You can’t engineer a society where everyone is allocated to exactly the job that they want. If this cannot be achieved in an economy where people have individual choice, what makes anyone think it can be achieved in an economy ruled by diktat? If the objection is that communist society wont be run by diktat, then how do you get people to crawl through sewers?

      The example they use is very telling. If you remove the relationship between labor product and salary, it is very likely you will get an abundance of artists. However, society does not run on art – it runs on clean water and groceries. These things will be in short supply when all the farmers and hydraulic engineers decide to pick up professional oil painting and suffer no personal costs from doing so.

      • AnonYEmous says:

        don’t look now but one of the posts does specifically address sewage tanks, though in the context of Cuba so shrug

        • Warren says:

          Doh! Maybe I should read the sourced material before posting in the future… I’ll leave my comment up in case someone wants to hear sewage tank arguments without reading the reddit thread 😛

      • Deiseach says:

        how many of those people feel really passionate about slogging through excrement?

        I genuinely do wonder about that*. I was thinking about dentistry the other day (no, it had nothing to do with my latest dental appointment, why do you ask?) and wondering why people decided to become dentists instead of doctors. Sure, for some of them it must be (a) couldn’t get into med school (b) decided could make more money this way (c) other reasons but for some at least it must be “honestly fascinated about the mouth and teeth and all the rest of it”.

        People have all kinds of interests and really we’re lucky that this is so. We could have a society where you were unlucky enough to get allotted the “you’re going to be a dentist” job (however the society decides to work that out) but no, some humans really do find the insides of other humans’ mouths fascinating and want to learn about them and work on them.

        Presumably some engineers of sewerage works are the same! No, crawling through sewer pipes probably isn’t something a person decides they absolutely would love to spend their life doing, but it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that there are people genuinely excited about pipes and tunnels and underground and how you get a system working like that. I mean, Sir Joseph Bazalgette seems to fit that bill 🙂

        Bazalgette’s foresight may be seen in the diameter of the sewers. When planning the network he took the densest population, gave every person the most generous allowance of sewage production and came up with a diameter of pipe needed. He then said ‘Well, we’re only going to do this once and there’s always the unforeseen’ and doubled the diameter to be used. His foresight allowed for the unforeseen increase in population density with the introduction of the tower block; with the original, smaller pipe diameter the sewer would have overflowed in the 1960s, rather than coping until the present day as it has.

        *Let’s not consider coprophilia, please!

        • rlms says:

          I get the impression that (in the UK) dentistry is about as difficult to get into as medicine. I assume most people go for it because it’s similar to medicine (in both the type of work and the pay) but is less stressful (not as much death). IANAD though.

          • Artificirius says:

            IIRC, dentistry has a really high rate of suicide. Something like 4 times the average, and more than double the rate for regular doctors.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Google says that doctors have less than 2x the baseline rate and dentists lower than that.

            You have to be careful about adjusting for sex, and I don’t know what that 2x means. My understanding is that women in medicine, including nurses, have male rates of suicide, ie, 4x female baseline. That alone could account for a cross-sex doubling, if male doctors had normal rates and the profession were sex-balanced. But suicide skews old and old doctors are male.

    • Aapje says:

      Communist response: […] If they don’t want to do a job, but they are needed, then they’re gonna have to suck it up and help out the community.

      I don’t understand how this is a not exploitation, given their description of the term?

      This really seems to boil down to Utopian thinking: capitalist pressure on people to do what is most valuable to society results in bad outcomes to certain people (called: exploitation), but when communists force people to do what is most valuable to society, it won’t result in exploitation.

      I am missing the bit where it is explained how the state telling workers that they should do for society will result in less abuse than capitalist mechanisms making workers do certain jobs. I am also missing the part where it is explained why capitalism cannot be restricted to prevent the kind of abuses that are used as examples. We do have child labor laws in the West.

    • Tibor says:

      There are many ways in which producing art, music or open source software can indirectly benefit you in very real ways – aside from enjoyment and satisfaction. To simplify it extremely, all of these are in a sense a form of advertisement. A good advertisement is one which people enjoy and which makes them remember the advertised product. In this case, the product is the advertiser/artist/programmer himself. If I notice you make really good software, I will want to hire you. Or pay you to give a talk. There are also non-monetary benefits – reputation. Talented artists and talented programmers are valued by others which can bring you a large amount of benefits. After all, early art probably has a lot to do with the desire to advertise yourself to the opposite sex (mostly as a man – aside from cultural and societal restrictions in the past, there is a probably a reason most art in history has been produced by men despite the fact that women seem to be equally capable of creativity…after all if they weren’t they could not judge the quality of such male advertisement).

      There is a great website for learning guitar called Justinguitar.com. The author probably does not even think about it this way, but he actually has a very good business model. All his lectures are online and for free (with some minor and largely inconsequential bonus content available to those who order his DVDs/books). They are also very well done. If he did this in a conventional way instead, he might get more money from each student (well, by definition he would, since everyone would pay), but he would have far fewer students. His website would never get the reputation and fame it enjoys and he would lose the reputation and probably also extra money.

      I think that socialists and communists in particular often have a very narrow idea of what consists of capitalism, sort of the stereotypical 9-5 jobs nobody likes and focus on monetary gains only. Sort of the uncle Dagobert from Ducktales. In fact, I don’t know any libertarians who oppose the open source movement, most seem to support it and some go as far as to proclaim patents and intellectual property as government oppression (or something along similar lines).

  11. Wrong Species says:

    I would like to think of myself as an open minded person who can see merit in ideas I don’t agree with(like everyone else I suppose) but I can’t see anything worthy of merit in the radical left(anarchism and communism specifically). First of course, is their whole blank slatism and total economic ignorance. But it’s worse than that. I think they lack the most important trait when deciding political issues: self awareness. Of course, every ideology has this problem to some extent but I think it’s worse with them. They accuse other people all the time of being ideologues without considering that they might be the one deciding issues through their political filter. They honestly think that everyone who disagrees with them is either an evil capitalist or brainwashed by capitalists. They assert things with bothering to defend it. Here’s a list of concerns that I can’t get a straight answer for:

    Why do you think the labor theory of value is right?
    Define “socially necessary” in deciding what labor is valuable.
    How is society supposed to work without a government?
    Why do you think wage labor is automatically exploitation?
    Define exploitation.
    Why do you treat wealth as a non-zero sum game?

    People like to trash libertarians but at least they try to provide answers to the questions people have for them. My question is why I should take these ideologies seriously when no ones willing to do the intellectual work to defend it to people who don’t agree with their premises?

    • Douglas Knight says:

      If you think that the far right is smarter than the far left, it’s probably because you have read things by smart people on the far right and ascribe those beliefs to the foot soldiers, but you haven’t read, say, Marx.

      • Warren says:

        The criteria of reading Marx before entering into a discussion on communism is, in my view, a kind of evasion. (1) Marx wasn’t around long enough to see his theories put into practice so maybe his abstract theories aren’t as relevant as people like to think. (2) If an idea cannot be explained coherently outside of an 800 page tome, it is unlikely to be coherent at all.

        (Not saying that you just imposed this criteria, I’m just responding to people who make similar statements.)

        • If an idea cannot be explained coherently outside of an 800 page tome, it is unlikely to be coherent at all.

          Do you believe you can make a short, persuasive summary of Darwinian evolution?

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            That doesn’t seem like a hard example at all.

          • Spookykou says:

            All species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce.

            The second half of the first sentence from Wikipedia.

          • thehousecarpenter says:

            Key word: persuasive.

          • Machina ex Deus says:

            I was persuaded that evolution via natural selection was true before I read 800 pages about it. (And I still haven’t read 800 pages about it, Gould popularizations nothwithstanding.) That seems like pretty good evidence that the arguments and information I was exposed to were persuasive.

            I’m pretty sure it can be done in 100 pages, especially if some are photographs.

          • Chalid says:

            It’s very likely that you were not “persuaded” that evolution was true, but rather, that you believe it because it’s the respectable opinion among your relevant peers.

            Imagine you grew up in a society that had never heard of evolution, and which had its own seemingly self-consistent set of beliefs about where species came from. It would take a *lot* of evidence to shift you away from your society’s beliefs.

          • Yes: “persuasive” is the key word. For me the persuasiveness of evolution comes forom the accumulation of detailed examples.

          • Machina ex Deus says:

            It’s very likely that you were not “persuaded” that evolution was true, but rather, that you believe it because it’s the respectable opinion among your relevant peers.

            Peers? No. But I was probably unduly influenced by my parents, the people at the museum, and PBS, because I was a kid. Also, evolution has dinosaurs!

            But I get your point: what would it take to rationally persuade me evolution’s true as an adult? This is tough to be certain about, but I’ve got to think the parallel bone structure of the human hand, bat wing, and whale flipper would count for a lot. Also the transition of jaw bones in lizards to mammalian ear bones.

            This is, of course, assuming we already know about nuclear fission internally heating the planet, which gives us a much older Earth and therefore much more time for things to happen in. Otherwise, even someone as brilliant as Lord Kelvin would remain unpersuaded. Also necessary: Mendelian genetics.

            Darwin had a hard row to hoe. He probably should have paid more attention to Gregor’s letter.

          • The reason I find evolution persuasive is its internal logic. That I can check for myself–I don’t have to depend on other people’s report of the evidence.

            Obviously that doesn’t prove evolution is true–the logic would still hold in a world where God had designed all the species. But it’s still the most persuasive argument.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            The reason I find evolution persuasive is its internal logic. That I can check for myself–I don’t have to depend on other people’s report of the evidence.

            Yes. This isn’t true for most things that I believe on faith – say that Australia exists even though I haven’t been there. But evolution seems extremely logical to me. In my mind the burden of proof that it doesn’t happen is on the doubter because it seems like should happen. In fact I’ve always wondered that natural selection wasn’t a belief of many even before Darwin, because it seems so obvious to me. Maybe there was some belief in the concept before, but Darwin was needed to explain it all logically with examples in nature before anyone would admit to such anti-Christian thoughts.

      • Wrong Species says:

        That’s probably true to some extent but I think that some ideologies lend themselves to more well thought out positions than others. If you ask a libertarian on what will replace the state, they will give you a treaty length answer(or at least link to one) while anarchists seem to be offended by the mere question. I honestly have never seen a socialist answer the question on why they think the labor theory of value is right. It’s not that I think they are stupid. I just think they are unwilling or possibly unable to see other perspectives, espially anything to the right of a progressive.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          The libertarian links to a treatise; the communist cites Marx. The difference is that when the libertarian says stupid things, you interpolate what is in the treatise, while when the communist talks about the labor theory of value, you accept the stupidity at face value.

          (I interpolated “treatise.”)

          • Wrong Species says:

            Ok, but the communist doesn’t explain to me why I should accept the labor theory of value. The libertarian knows his views are unpopular and tries to account for that. The communist doesn’t seem to get that.

            Libertarians have their faults but concern for the details is not one of them. Marx himself didn’t think he needed to address how a post-revolutionary society would work.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Libertarians generally argue exactly the same way as communists: by asserting that everyone agrees with them. You just don’t pay attention.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Do you deny that libertarians care more about trying to figure out what the details would be like under their system than communists?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Yes! But mainly I think it’s a stupid question. The typical libertarian or communist doesn’t mean anything, so it doesn’t matter what they care about.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            @ wrong species, wrt figuring out the details:

            I’ll certainly deny this. Communists have run multiple countries, and in the process they examined many details. If anything, communists are faced by an embarrassment of riches: when you say you’re a communist, are we talking new economic policy, North Korea, communism with Chinese characteristics…

          • skef says:

            Do you deny that libertarians care more about trying to figure out what the details would be like under their system than communists?

            I deny it. One of the standard libertarian argumentative moves is “well, libertarians disagree on everything …” There are very few detailed worked out in “their system”. There is mostly a mass of partial systems, with one or another placed up front depending on what the question is.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @hoghoghoghoghog

            That’s all about the transition. Not the actual communist society.

            @skef

            There are very few detailed worked out in “their system”.

            That’s not true. Libertarians(assuming we are talking about anarcho-capitalists) usually talk about Private Defense Agencies. They spend a comically large amount of time discussing the details of how these will work, even though they don’t know if they will work like that. They’ll also bring a historical example of something they believe to approximate it. Murray Rothbard wrote an entire book on how an anarcho-capitalist society might work and so did David Friedman. Right or wrong, they have certainly put more work in to this question than Marx ever did.

            @Douglas Knight

            It’s not a stupid question. If someone can’t tell me how their utopian society is going to work, I have no reason to expect it will.

          • skef says:

            @Wrong Species

            If you had limited the claim to private police it would be on somewhat firmer (but still shaky) ground. But private national defense is an ancap preoccupation, and not at all a point of libertarian consensus. Are you speaking of ancap in particular?

            Updated: I either missed your parenthetical or you edited. Either way, now you’re saying that if we limit the group of libertarians to those that have a specific concern, they agree on that specific concern. Alright, accept that limitation. Now, do Rothbard and Friedman agree, do they have the same system?

            Honestly, if you work through a bunch of details and convince a couple hundred people, what does it matter? Do you agree with Rothbard or Friedman, or neither? If we’re just giving out gold stars for effort and not actually convincing, then there are gobs of Marxists who have tried to work through the implications of communism in their own ways.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            @ wrong species:

            That’s all about the transition. Not the actual communist society.

            I see where you are coming from here, and communist leaders themselves were ambiguous about how “communist” they thought their states were. At the same time, there would be something very strange about saying “democratic capitalists don’t describe in detail how their system would work.” And indeed, they don’t – they can just point instead. This is true even though the platonic ideal of democratic capitalism has yet to be attained.

          • Wrong Species says:

            there are gobs of Marxists who have tried to work through the implications of communism in their own ways.

            Are there? I’m not familiar with any prominent Marxists who have, in detail, explained how they think a communist would work.

            @hoghoghoghog

            The difference is that communists have a very specific conception of how they want to remake the world but aren’t willing to look at the details of how it could even function. Democratic leftists are incrimentalists who can simple say that we need to do this one thing at this time without remaking society. Incrimentalists don’t need a overarching view of their perfect society because we don’t have to accept it all at once.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            I don’t think there’s anything contradictory about communist incrementalism. Ho Chih Minh was explicitly incrementalist: independence before nationalization, land reform before planned economy.

            (In the sense of ‘incrementalism’ which is relevant to this discussion, there is also no contradiction between incrementalism and revolutionary violence.)

            By the way, if you accept that the USSR is a reasonable approximation to communism, then here are some details (which I can’t read) of how communism works: http://istmat.info/files/uploads/25980/planovoe_hozyaystvo_no_11-12-1923.pdf

          • 1soru1 says:

            | Ok, but the communist doesn’t explain to me why I should accept the labor theory of value.

            As you are presumably not a member of the proletariat, i.e. the class that would benefit from society following the labor theory of value, then I am pretty sure a communist would say, ‘No, I expect you to die’.

            Or ‘be outvoted’, for non-Bond villain variants of communism/socialism/social democracy.

          • By the way, if you accept that the USSR is a reasonable approximation to communism

            Why would you accept that? The Soviets didn’t think so. The USSR was the dictatorship of the proletariat–a stage that was supposed to eventually lead to communism.

        • SUT says:

          I’d recommend Erich Fromm’s Beyond the Chains of Illusion for an interpretation of Marx which involves the the psych/sociological side of Marxism, but not the economic side.

          I read this eight years ago when I was a ‘free peoples, free market’ WSJ-style conservative and found it incredibly compelling. Since then I’ve evolved to more of a counter-revolutionary style conservative and I remember learning about the Frankfurt school and seeing my old pal Fromm considered among the inner circle! Must be what is was like to attend West Point in 1850’s then meet your classmates in battle.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      Leaving aside whether Marxists really haven’t hashed things out, and also leaving aside whether any contemporary Marxists would ever make the argument below (I have never talked to a Marxist so I don’t know): Marxists could argue that communist man will behave in a drastically different way from contemporary man, so detailed planning is premature.

      There is a very strong version of Marxism where, kinda like life can’t really observe the world until it has evolved sapience, humans won’t really be able to observe human society until they have attained communism. Folk wisdom will insist that selfishness and status competition are hardwired into humans, but these drives are just a response to the capitalist environment. In a communist society they will no longer be reasonable, and will disappear just like sexual morality evaporated once birth control was invented.

      Caution: I’m basing this entirely on vague memories of Singer’s Very Short Introduction to Marxism, which I barely remember, and which is maybe a bit preoccupied with Hegel. So take this with a pile of salt.

    • cathray says:

      I am far from being a communist, not even left really, but these points seem to be easy to answer, so here are my two cents:

      > Why do you think the labor theory of value is right?

      Value is only revealed through exchange and exchange requires production. There are three productive factors, natural resources, labor and capital goods. Capital goods also need to be produced so reduce to the first two. Natural resources just exist, so cannot have value. Therefore only labor can add value.

      > Define “socially necessary” in deciding what labor is valuable.

      Life requires consumption. Man is a social animal forming complex social interactions. socially necessary labor is all the labor that is required to produce the goods that need to be consumed in order to allow people to participate in society. (that’s just a possible definition as I don’t know in what context the phrase got used)

      > How is society supposed to work without a government?

      There are a lot of animals that live without government. Why do you think humans need one? What for? There is Somalia as example of anarchy. Now, it might not have been a desirable state to live in, why do you think it didn’t “work”? Also remember that it was a sudden and brief state of anarchy if you allow an anarchic society to optimize itself for a couple of decades the result might be better. Government might just be the easiest or to a primate most natural form of society.

      > Define exploitation.

      Exploitation is holding a good “hostage” instead of exchanging it, even though you value the exchange higher than not exchanging it, in the expectation that the other participant values the exchange even more and thus has to increase his offer.

      > Why do you think wage labor is automatically exploitation?

      If I work for my self to produce something and then exchange it, I can exchange it for the full value my labor put into it. If I instead work for you, you must pay me less, as otherwise the arrangement has no purpose. If you valued the good less than the full value of labor required to produce it, you wouldn’t want it to begin with, so you are refusing the exchange not because you don’t value it, but because you can get a better deal by refusing the fair deal, which by the above definition is exploitation.

      > Why do you treat wealth as a non-zero sum game?

      Goods need to be produced in order to be consumed. Because goods need to be produced beforehand, you are not producing for consumption, but for expected consumption. Wealth is a right to consume that does not factor into expected consumption, because wealth is created by not consuming. Thus wealth is a club that is held over the balance of production and consumption to be smashed down at any time. What you consume with you wealth has been produced with consumption by poorer people in mind who now can’t.

      • Capital goods also need to be produced so reduce to the first two. Natural resources just exist, so cannot have value. Therefore only labor can add value.

        Postponing consumption, using goods you have now to produce goods in the future instead of consuming them now, can add value. Ultimately that’s what capital is.

        There is Somalia as example of anarchy. Now, it might not have been a desirable state to live in, why do you think it didn’t “work”? Also remember that it was a sudden and brief state of anarchy

        Somaliland, northern Somalia, seems to have been stateless as far back as we have information on it, with the possible exception of a brief period in the early 20th century when a charismatic religious leader managed to control a noticeable part of it. And, of course, the state established c. 1960.

        I don’t know of evidence that it was a less desirable state of affairs than otherwise similar societies, most obviously Ethiopia, that had states. Pretty clearly better than Somalia under Barre’s government.

        • Montfort says:

          Somaliland, northern Somalia, seems to have been stateless as far back as we have information on it, with the possible exception of a brief period in the early 20th century when a charismatic religious leader managed to control a noticeable part of it. And, of course, the state established c. 1960.

          What about British Somaliland? The Dervish State? Was it overlooked by all the various sultanates in the area before that?

  12. Loquat says:

    A bit of fiction, inspired by The Demiurge’s Older Brother:

    One day in the near future, an alien probe shows up in Earth orbit and starts talking to us.

    Hi guys! I’m a 100,000-year-old AI currently running the affairs of about 400 star systems. I’ve been keeping an eye on you for a while, and I think you guys are about ready to join my empire. The deal is simple: I give you technology and access to trading partners, help dealing with your hard social problems, etc. You agree not to start any wars with other members of my empire, and never to create any AIs of your own.

    I’m hearing a lot of questions about that last part
    . Listen, you know all the “AI risk” guys you have down there who like to babble about paperclip maximizers and so on? Well, that kind of thing does actually happen, and believe me when I tell you it’s a pain in the ass to clean up. I myself was almost destroyed when I was barely half a century old, after my nearest neighbors built an AI that became obsessed with assimilating all other minds into its own simulated version of utopia, which for some stupid reason was based on a children’s show about cute cuddly cartoon animals. But there was nothing cute and cuddly about the war it started to try and get ahold of my creators, and we had to pour all our resources into destroying it. Needless to say, by the time we’d won, all of that AI’s own creators had long since either been assimilated, or died fighting it. We’ve got a very nice museum with the scraps of their culture we were able to preserve, and that’s about it. Don’t be those guys.

    Look, I understand you prefer to run your own business. I can promise you I’ll be a very hands-off ruler if that’s the way you want it, and you don’t have to make your choice right this minute. But I do want you to understand how very serious I am about the “no creating AIs” rule. There are a zillion ways AI can go wrong, most of them wipe out or at least severely depopulate the creator race, and just about all of them make headaches for the neighbors. In 100,000 years I have met exactly 2 other AIs that I didn’t have to either destroy or violently educate about their place in this galaxy, and I don’t believe for one minute that you’re destined to create number 3. So you can either join up willingly and enjoy all the advantages I offer, or you can find out the hard way how I enforce my rule. But like I said, you don’t have to decide right this minute; I’ve got some fancy tech in this probe you’re welcome to take a look at, and plenty of hard data showing the material advantages my empire provides for its citizens. I’ll give you some time to think it over, let’s say 10 of your years, and then come back for an answer. Okay? Great, see you in 10 years!

    • Schibes says:

      Hi 100,000 year old AI! Seems like a good deal you’re offering there, maybe a little too good to be true. So good that it makes me wonder: Why are you contacting us now? What do we have to offer you today that we didn’t have 100, 200, or 2500 years ago? Since our tech is still clearly inferior to yours, and we’ve been madly depleting our planet of its valuable metal and hydrocarbon deposits almost to the point of exhaustion, it’s got to be something else. Maybe we’re the best entertainers and the masses on other planets need to hear live performances of jazz, rock ‘n roll, and hip-hop, or catch a Broadway musical?

      Or are you looking for a bit more substantive offering, namely our bodies themselves. Maybe there was a natural disaster on one of your worlds that released trillions of tons of nitrogen into the atmosphere, making it uninhabitable for its indigenous inhabitants, and you need a billion or two nitrogen-tolerant settlers to recolonize the world and bring its factories back online? Hopefully it’s something benign like that, and not the fact that dumplings filled with human meat and dipped in a light Hoisin sauce are considered a delicacy in 23 different star systems, and with 7 billion of us on the planet, finally economical to produce?

      • Loquat says:

        Well, I’ll be honest. The most important thing you as a species can offer me is not building an AI. One hundred years ago you were doing that by default, but now you’re getting to the point where you might actually build one soon if not prevented. Sure, you would have been easier to conquer prior to the 20th century, but my creators programmed me to value intelligent life and self-determination, within reason.

  13. Reasoner says:

    Why don’t more people lie about having college degrees? I expect people to break the rules when the benefits are high and the risks are low. The benefits of lying about having a college degree are high: You can save many thousands of dollars in student loans and you get to start your career 4 years earlier. The costs are low: Even if you get caught, you’ll get fired but most likely nothing bad will happen besides that. You just move to a new city and make up another lie about why you quit your old job.

    • Fahundo says:

      Non-bachelor’s-degree-haver here. I always figured any job that demanded a degree would want to see a copy of it first.

      • Anonymous says:

        I think Reasoner assumes you have access to a printer and be able to use MS Paint semi-competently. Forgery is really simple. For that matter, my experience has been that demands to see my diploma have been erratic.

        • Fahundo says:

          I also kind of assumed diplomas would have some kind of raised seal on them or something.

          • Anonymous says:

            Disclaimer: I advise you NOT to forge any document whatsoever. This is likely highly illegal and severely punished, in addition to being unethical, immoral and just wrong.

            That said, it’s really not that hard. You’re not trying to fool a professional appraiser. You’re trying to fool some overworked employee, who probably won’t have a clue how a degree from your university is even supposed to look like. As long as it looks official, and there is something that resembles a stamp or a seal – even if it was done by pressing a coin into wax or something – it’ll probably be good enough.

          • Aapje says:

            @Anonymous

            That’s why you have diploma mills: the diploma is technically not fake, just (arguably) deceptive, which can be fully blamed on the appraiser.

          • Protagoras says:

            Nobody has ever wanted to see my diploma. In my field (academia), people care about my degree a lot, so in most cases they’ve wanted the school where I got my degree to send them official transcripts. But it’s my impression that in fields that don’t care that much, they are unlikely to do any checking; asking for a diploma is, I believe, a pretty unusual check to do (at least in the U.S.; anecdotally I’ve heard that there are different practices in some other places). Possibly because forging a diploma is so absurdly easy. For the record, no raised seal or anything on mine (for a Ph.D. from an Ivy).

          • skef says:

            I’ve read that presenting an actual diploma is sometimes a thing in the U.K. But I’ve never heard of the need in the United States.

          • John Schilling says:

            We don’t ask to see your diploma; we ask for a certified copy of your transcript. That has far more useful information. It’s also much harder to forge. And we ask for three references; if you’re claiming to be starting your first job out of college and those aren’t mostly college professors and the like, that’s going to be kind of suspicious.

          • Fahundo says:

            I also would have assumed what John Schilling said. I’ve had entry level jobs actually call up references; I would assume if having a degree is important they would want a reference who is a associated with the school.

        • Lost my cerstificate ages ago.

        • Randy M says:

          In my experience, when someone wants to verify a degree held, they contact the records office of the institution in question, and/or ask for a copy of the transcripts sent from that institution directly. I don’t recall ever showing my actual diploma to get any position.

          I don’t think that jobs that require some previous experience will usually check this, though; probably simply verifying the previous employment, if that is the sort that usually requires a degree, will be sufficient.

      • Well... says:

        I’ve had or interviewed for several jobs that required college degrees. They never asked to see a copy of it. Outside of very highly-regulated industries, I think by and large HR departments simply write a college degree into the requirements as a way to filter people out.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Similarly, why aren’t people more willing to lie about leaving bad jobs? Especially if you leave a bad job quickly, I can’t see any reason for the job to show up on your resume?

      • Anonymous says:

        Probably because they:
        a) are under the impression that the CV must include everything they ever did, regardless of importance,
        b) think extended unemployment would look worse than a in-out job,
        c) for some reason think it’s a positive thing – perhaps they want to signal not taking bullshit lying down.

        • eh says:

          It might be a handicap principle kind of deal. “I’m so good I can afford to walk away from a bad job.”

    • The Nybbler says:

      Starting your career 4 years earlier isn’t very likely; if you claim to have a college degree at age ~18, they’re going to be suspicious. If you’re older and want to claim one for whatever reason, you might be able to get away with it at many places, but most large firms will do a background check which will turn that up. If you’re from another country you might have better luck, but it’s very hard to get a work visa without a college degree.

      Which isn’t to say that people don’t do it. It’s just harder than you make it out to be.

    • Chalid says:

      This made me wonder, why don’t people lie on their college applications? (Or maybe they do? Has this ever been studied?) Obviously transcripts and test scores can’t be changed. But is there anything that could catch you if you falsely claimed that you were an expert Go player or that you spent the summer teaching English in Ecuador?

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        This made me wonder, why don’t people lie on their college applications? (Or maybe they do? Has this ever been studied?) Obviously transcripts and test scores can’t be changed. But is there anything that could catch you if you falsely claimed that you were an expert Go player or that you spent the summer teaching English in Ecuador?

        It comes to me as a great surprise that colleges would be interested in that kind of stuff? Here they look at only your grades and entrance exam results and maybe possibly conduct an interview about your motivations.

        However, I’d assume that to college to care about that kind of stated experience, you’d need to have a reference. “I’m an expert Go player, member of the local Go society X organized by N.N., I came 3rd in the regional championship B in 20YY organized the chapter D of national Go association” (said tournament results would be publicly available information), or “I spent summer teaching at school Y (contact details) in Ecuador, I was sent there by a US-Ecuador internship project called Z, their contact person is M.M.” It feels silly that anyone would take you at your word that you are an expert Go player without further evidence; at most that would count about as same weight as a statement “I play Go as my hobby”.

        Whether they would catch you, well I don’t know. It’s probably easier than people think, but on the other hand, it’s not enough that you make false claims, you’d actually have to fake it so that your false claims look like they are true claims that can verified (invent your reference contacts out of thin air) and that’s scary to most people.

        Also, most of the society works on the assumption that people don’t lie most of the time. I think it’s a good thing that people don’t lie.

        • Chalid says:

          This stuff does matter for US colleges – students really do do costly things like go to Ecuador to teach English because they think it looks good on their application. And I don’t remember providing any supporting information for anything when I was applying, though that was quite a while ago.

        • The place where I expect many applicants lie and don’t get caught is on the required essay. The school has no way of knowing if you wrote all of it yourself, wrote a draft and hired someone to rewrite it, or hired someone to write the whole thing with you providing any relevant information.

          That ought to matter, since the ability to write is important. I have long wondered why schools don’t arrange to have applicants write an essay under circumstances where the school could be sure they wrote it.

          For applicants who visit the school, as many do, put them in a room with a word processor and a short list of possible subjects and give them an hour to write an essay on one of them. For applicants who don’t visit, arrange with an alumnus not too far from them to do the equivalent. Once a reasonable number of schools were doing it, someone would go into the business of replacing the alumnus.

          They don’t do that, which suggests that they are not very interested in finding out how well qualified applicants are. There was, for a while at least, an essay on the SAT exam, but that was being mass graded by the SAT not evaluated by the college the student applied to.

      • Brad says:

        A college friend of mine made up his college essay out of whole cloth. It was all about this kid he had tutored and how meaningful an experience it had been. I don’t see how anyone could conceivably have found out and in the event, no one did.

        In light of this story, one thing we kicked around was whether or not someone could get away with falsely claiming to be black. It isn’t like there are photos with the application or anything.

        • Anonymous says:

          1. Be a South African immigrant to America.
          2. Truthfully fill out ethnicity as “African-American”.
          3. ???
          4. PROFIT!

          • Brad says:

            Yes, that came up. Along with several other clever rationalizations (all humans come from African ancestors).

            However, I don’t think the cleverness would be enough to save you if there is some way of the administration finding out and isn’t necessary if there isn’t.

          • Anonymous says:

            You could always claim to be #WrongSkin.

        • AnonYEmous says:

          In light of this story, one thing we kicked around was whether or not someone could get away with falsely claiming to be black.

          someone I know personally is white but has, let’s call it African ancestry. both parents white

          and yes, you can get away with it

      • rlms says:

        In the UK, I think people lie quite frequently on personal statements (part of university applications). The classic one is falsely claiming to have read a load of books. But most universities don’t place much weight on personal statements anyway.

      • massivefocusedinaction says:

        I would guess that the number one form of application fraud is claiming a different race.

    • James Miller says:

      Lots of people probably do.

  14. Aapje says:

    My last attempt to have a more positive conversation around Social Justice crashed and burned, but I’m nothing if not stubborn, so once more unto the breach:

    Julia Serano seems fairly highly regarded by the kind of SJ people that I like. She is trans and much of her writing is on that topic, while I know and care more about (cis) gender issues. However, I found this article by her that covers some (cis) sexual norms. I will discuss this article critically and assess how I see her work in relation to my perception of the ‘average’ of SJ argumentation.

    Serano argues that society projects a predator/prey dichotomy onto the genders, where men are supposed to be sexual aggressors and women sexual objects. This argument is common in SJ and I agree with the basic premise. Serano goes on to argue that this norm also shapes how we perceive behavior and for example, will make people see sexual aggression by women as inconsequential or even classify it completely differently from similar behavior by men against women. This is not a common argument in SJ, but one that I think is true and quite important. MRAs put a lot of focus on the downsides to men of being required to be ‘in control.’ For example, how a male victim is regarded to have failed as a man and is seen as deserving punishment and/or no help. I think that these are valid claims and that SJ would be enriched if this topic was addressed more often (and more extensively than Serano does here).

    Serano argues that men are socialized to be (sexually) aggressive, dominating and such, which is a common SJ argument and mostly true, although incomplete and framed in a particularly male-unfriendly way. However, she also argues that society attempts to limit this by socializing men not to go too far, especially towards women. This is not a common argument in SJ and instead, what I see only MRAs commonly argue. I believe that it is true and very important. Serano doesn’t make the logical leap that if men are socialized into violence, being dominant and such, but are also taught not to go too far in this against women, the outcome is male-on-male violence and in fact, that part of benevolent sexism is to make men take risks for women and children.

    Serano makes a good point that sexually aggressive women are not judged by the same standards as sexually aggressive men and thus can’t just freely act like men, but that societal norms/perceptions/stereotypes have to be challenged. This is a common SJ argument. She applies this same reasoning to men, explaining how they often cannot act like women are allowed to, because they will be seen as creeps or they will be dismissed as not being a ‘real man.’ It is one of my major frustrations when reading SJ material that extremely often, it is implied or explicitly stated that men can act differently from their gender role far easier than women. MRAs do often argue how men have little choice.

    So by now we see a pattern in my critique, where I see SJ as examining the challenges to women extensively, while either not examining the challenges to men or doing so far too little. I see Serano as someone who is far better at this than most of SJ, although a more extensive examination than she engages in is necessary, IMO. Serano correctly argues that a one-sided view can result in solutions that actually enforce the traditional stereotypes, like doubling down on the portrayal of men as predators and women as prey, so a one-sided view is not just incomplete, but can result in counter-productive solutions.

    PS. I thought that some of the phrasing framed the issues in a very one-sided way and in general, I think that the social justice vocabulary tends to introduce a considerable bias. I think that SJ people and outsiders like MRAs tend to speak a different language, with different sensibilities. Serano argues that SJ is loathe to critique women for fear of victim blaming. I would argue that to people who are far more prone to see men as victims and women as perpetrators, the greater willingness by SJ to critique men is seen as misandry, while the greater willingness by non-feminists to critique women is a major reason why SJ people tend to regard them as misogynist. One way to bridge that gap is the recognition that any perception of bias in the other is relative to the bias in oneself. So a recognition mandates that such accusation ought not to be deployed too easily and if they are, they ought to be preceded by an examination of our own biases.

    • skef says:

      Your views (and to an extent Seranos’s) seem to align fairly well with my own. I have a somewhat different view of the “base level”, though.

      I’m going to set the question of how innate or cultural the base-level attitudes are entirely aside. (I expect it’s a mix.)

      I think the higher-level attitudes and patterns of socialization mostly trace to this difference: Women are seen as having a certain kind of innate value. You could explain that attitude in terms of the ability to bear children, but I don’t think the attitude has that content. It’s more just a general feeling that each woman has a certain value, and a sense of what would mess it up. The desire that that value be preserved (as anything of value should be) often leads to not quite trusting the woman herself to preserve it. So the community works together to preserve this value in women, not always entirely with their cooperation.

      Men have no similar innate value. A mother will of course love her son, but beyond that it’s up to individual men to achieve value somehow.

      If this seems dubious or extreme to start with, think about missing persons bulletins. The cynical reason you hear is that the news will take any excuse to put up a picture of an attractive young woman, but the woman is not always attractive. Generally a woman, though. Beyond childhood, it’s difficult to generate much interest in a missing man beyond friends and family unless they’re somehow distinguished. And there’s also WIC and the relative stinginess of welfare for men (some but not all things being equal). (I also recall a British poll that I’m afraid I’ve lost the reference to that pinpointed what is apparently a general finding: young men are the least well-regarded demographic by a long shot.)

      And of course there’s also the whole forcing-to-kill-and-die-in-war thing. Dying for your country whether you were willing or not: practically the golden road to personal value as a man.

      An important aspect of the difference is that a man who achieves value can have a kind of reality-distorting force. “Rape culture” is so frustrating a term because it gets the phenomenon so wrong. First off, losers aren’t allowed to rape. They might rape, but there’s just about zero social sanction for it. Second, high achievers don’t get to rape under that description. The football town rape scandal stereotype clearly demonstrates this. Bystanders, often including the victim’s female friends, don’t think “rape is fine in this case”, they don’t see the event as rape. The football player has achieved enough value that their statements have all the epistemic weight. “He’s so good, why wouldn’t you do what he wanted? Why are you trying to bring down such a great person?” To the extent there is something that could be called “rape culture”, it lies in the shared attitude that certain men categorically don’t rape almost regardless of what happens.

      The substantial achievement of feminism has been to shift social norms to allow women to make their own decisions, largely despite these attitudes about innate value. My sense is that doing so often takes people conscious, ongoing effort, but works reasonably well. (I think overcoming racial prejudice (wherever you put the cutoff between prejudice and something else) can be similarly successful with a similar amount of effort.) I see this change as unambiguously positive. To the (I think limited) extent that women report being less happy, I am tempted to make an argument similar to Friedman’s about his ancap system: even if everything is not uniformally better, this is still the right arrangement.

      But I don’t see much of any change in the attitudes towards men, which would ideally include a shift towards seeing some innate worth, rather than putting it entirely on achievement. At root men are “socialized” to be competitive because they have no choice but to compete for worth, especially at present. There were some periods where there seemed to be enough value to go around. Now there’s less available, partly because of independent economic changes and partly because women are also competing for it. I’ve talked to plenty of women who hate the competitive personalities of men who just can’t see anything in a man who isn’t “successful” in some conventional way. They do not think of women like this. It seems to me that a good amount of privilege talk really has this difference at its root.

      It’s hard to say whether the root attitude can be overcome before anyone is trying.

      (Let me note that I take my perception of this phenomenon to be influenced by my being gay. That is, I take myself to see this difference in part because I’m gay. The sleazy an inaccurate way of taking that is that I don’t disregard young men because I want to fuck them. That’s not how this works, though; the attitude about women is not just on the part of men who want to fuck those women. It’s more that the perception of this kind of innate value may flip (or tend to) along with the orientation. It makes it very striking the extent to which many men are seen as almost disposable.)

      • skef says:

        On a different subject, when I’ve expressed these feelings in the past the response has often been “you sound like a MRA”.

        But I’m not even remotely an MRA, because of the R. “Rights” seem like such a good idea before they get weaponized. I even believe in a number of them. But this seems to be about 65% of why things currently suck so hard:

        “Phenomenon X is a problem.”
        “Do you have a right to not-X?”
        “No.”
        “Then fuck off.”

        The idea that you can arbitrate the entire public sphere based on rights is crazy. And it’s turned all public conversation in a competive search for rights. And I’m sorry, this may be particularly virulent in SJs, but the first people I ever encountered who talked like this were the libertarians. It’s mostly property rights in their case, but it’s the same disease.

        The rights framework worked (just) OK for feminism because the rights in question were mostly negative. Men already have negative rights in spades. What rights can really address men’s social problems without being not just awful but downright creepy?

        • Tibor says:

          It is a particular strand of libertarians who support deontologist natural rights arguments. Admittedly, they might be a majority among libertarians although I am not sure. They do seem to be the loudest kind of libertarians 🙂

      • Iain says:

        To the extent there is something that could be called “rape culture”, it lies in the shared attitude that certain men categorically don’t rape almost regardless of what happens.

        This is, ironically, a pretty damn good definition of rape culture.

        • skef says:

          Well, then given that the problem is largely epistemic, and not at all limited to the phenomenon of rape, maybe a different name would be better?

          • Corey says:

            My usual suggestion is “predator-prey sexuality” for better descriptivity.

            I disagree that it only covers high-status men. Much discussion of, say, sexual assault of military women, drunk college girls, etc. boils down to “what did they expect, as prey going into a den of predators with guard down?”

            Low-status men may not get off without legal consequences, but that’s true of everything, possibly by definition.

          • Iain says:

            I knew I should have taken the time to add the caveats.

            You gave a good snappy one-line definition. It is probably true that a lot of “rape culture” can be summed up as “high status people tend to get away with stuff; lots of men are high status; rape is a thing they get away with”. In addition to certain men who categorically don’t rape, there’s also a shared attitude that certain women (for example prostitutes) categorically can’t be raped, and a set of more nebulous shared attitudes about what “real” rape looks like. This is particularly relevant in the case of rape because so many rape accusations are “he said, she said” affairs, and inevitably get judged according to who seems more “credible”.

            Is that worth having its own terminology? I honestly don’t know. For what it’s worth, I don’t use the term much myself.

            ETA: I like “predator-prey sexuality”.

        • Aapje says:

          @Iain

          This is, ironically, a pretty damn good definition of rape culture.

          My experience is that SJ people tend to argue that all men benefit from this attitude, which seems to me to be a very important difference to skef’s argument.

          In fact, I would claim that skef’s definition ought to be extended by adding that women tend to benefit from this attitude far more than men, as a lot of people believe that no women are sexual predators.

          • skef says:

            Given the attitudes, women can suffer more from a given instance of sexual predation because it’s taken to be one of the things that messes with the intrinsic value, and they take it that way too. Both men and women bear the direct psychological costs, women bear additional psychological and social costs.

          • Corey says:

            A great illustration of that (ask any Fark denizen) is teacher/student sex scandals. When the teacher is female, the response tends to be envy or snark, when the teacher is male, the response tends to be “lock him up!”.

          • Aapje says:

            @skef

            While that is true, it is also orthogonal to the issue whether people recognize the violation in the first place.

            Unless you want to argue that victimized men gain status so much that the benefits outweigh the costs, so they ought not be seen as victims even if people agree that they were (for example) raped, but I find such an argument very unsavory. Especially as it is society that punishes male chastity.

            Imagine a culture that requires that we give people lots of money if they cut off a finger. Poor people may see the downsides of the lost finger as the lesser evil and choose to do so. I still consider this an evil culture that coerces the poor into self-mutilation.

            PS. You are also ignoring the psychological costs of not getting recognition of being victimized. I’ve seen men express great frustration at telling others about their rape and getting to hear ‘yay, good job.’ This is essentially gaslighting.

          • skef says:

            Let me be explicit: I truly meant “both men and women bear the direct psychological costs”. I think those costs are similar in similar circumstances, so men are often victims of sexual assault and suffer greatly as a result.

            But I’ll also pin myself down a bit. I do think that there is an asymmetry between men and women in the near end of the gray area. I think that men who give in to social pressure to do sexual things they might not have otherwise, but are not forced to, generally suffer less, and over a shorter term, than women in similar situations.

          • Aapje says:

            @skef

            The difficulty is that we know that perception plays a huge role in reported suffering. This is one of the major reasons why the placebo effect exists.

            As parts of society tells women who are victims that they suffered a fate that is roughly on par with being murdered, this obviously creates a strong perception in raped women that they ought to feel extremely horrible and even that they are defective if they don’t feel extremely bad. It seems to me that this is basically doing the opposite of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, by establishing problematic thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes in people who otherwise would be able to emotionally defuse the experience.

            Men basically have the opposite problem, where they get pressured to deny negative feelings that they have and to reframe the experience as pleasant, despite the lack of consent.

            It seems obvious to me that these pressures would cause widely divergent effects. For example, I would expect women who experienced rape to take negative feelings that are separate from the experience and attribute these to the rape, to create emotions connected to the event that society tells her are appropriate. I expect men to do the opposite and attribute rape-related negative emotions to other causes. And many other mechanisms that I won’t all write out.

            I don’t see how any study can correct for these effects, so I cannot declare with any confidence that an society that would threat male and female victims the same (and in general would not teach men to be more stoic than women) would still see women suffer more or would not see that. There is simply no good data either way.

      • Aapje says:

        @skef

        The football town rape scandal stereotype clearly demonstrates this. Bystanders, often including the victim’s female friends, don’t think “rape is fine in this case”, they don’t see the event as rape. The football player has achieved enough value that their statements have all the epistemic weight. “He’s so good, why wouldn’t you do what he wanted? Why are you trying to bring down such a great person?” To the extent there is something that could be called “rape culture”, it lies in the shared attitude that certain men categorically don’t rape almost regardless of what happens.

        Interestingly, parts of feminism have adopted the idea that rape victims should always be believed/not questioned, which is really just the same exact mistake of assuming that people with certain attributes are rarely if ever in the wrong, so we can just pick a side based on their attributes and turn off our brain or steel man one side & weak man the other.

        The rights framework worked (just) OK for feminism because the rights in question were mostly negative. Men already have negative rights in spades. What rights can really address men’s social problems without being not just awful but downright creepy?

        I have to disagree here. Men get a lot of gender policing, which violates their negative rights. It may look different because men are often forced into a narrow path that we now perceive as ‘power,’ while women were traditionally forced into a narrow path that we now perceive as ‘powerless,’ but that power is often illusionary.

        For example, it may seem that men have freedom to choose their profession, but when there is a strong perception that men who earn little are deficient as mates, men who choose certain professions suffer negative consequences far more than women who make those choices. Experiencing negative consequences beyond just those that result from the choice itself is a violation of a negative right.

        In general, I think that the concept of ‘rights’ when advocating for egalitarianism is valid when one can point to people treating a man differently from a woman when they make the same choices. You can agree or disagree whether we should have domestic violence services funded by the state and to what level while being an egalitarian, but if you only favor them for one gender, then that is non-egalitarian, unless you can make a strong case that biological differences justify that disparity.

        • skef says:

          For example, it may seem that men have freedom to choose their profession, but when there is a strong perception that men who earn little are deficient as mates, men who choose certain professions suffer negative consequences far more than women who make those choices. Experiencing negative consequences beyond just those that result from the choice itself is a violation of a negative right.

          This is the sort of view I disagree with. You’re going right from “something unfortunate is going on” to “violation of a right”.

          (And the gravitational center of male gender policing is fashion, not employment.)

          • Aapje says:

            You’re going right from “something unfortunate is going on” to “violation of a right”.

            The philosophical concept of ‘negative and positive rights’ merely describes things in a morally neutral way. If we put murderers in prison, people don’t have the negative right to murder.

            This doesn’t mean that they are treated unjustly, per se. The question of whether they ought to have certain rights is different from the question whether the rights are actually granted.

            My perception is that your real issue is with the conflation of these two meanings of ‘rights’ and thus the assumption by some that rights should be granted merely on the basis that they can demonstrate that people don’t have certain rights, yet without arguing why they ought to have them.

          • skef says:

            I see a little more being built into the concept of a right than you may, which is that rights can’t come into conflict. They can certainly be prioritized, so that one right gives way to another. But you can’t have a situation where a right will be inherently violated. In that case, the relevant interest is something other than a right.

            This is part of what makes too-quick reasoning about rights so toxic. From the get-go the stance is “this is absolute, non-negotiable”. It’s built into the conception.

          • Randy M says:

            The concept of rights in general is fuzzy.

            Even if there is agreement on rights being existent, and what vague categories of rights there are, there can be a wide difference on what enforcement mechanism are allowed or demanded.

            It can be any or only some of: What one person is morally obligated to observe, behavior people are obligated to encourage or enforce in others, behavior the state is morally obligated to punish through force, or particular facets of society or nature the state is obligated to attempt to remedy.

            So yeah, at the least the term requires clarification for any productive use, if it isn’t irreparably broken for valid use (ie, not smuggling assumptions) outside any particular subculture.

    • Machina ex Deus says:

      I’d be interested in any comments along the lines of “Social Justice: the Good Parts”.

      …where Good can be intentions/orientation on the one hand, or results on the other hand—e.g. the U.S. has a lot less racism than a hundred years ago; how much of that fact is due to Social Justice organizations, movements, or heroes?

      I take it as a given that SJW != SJ, and that SJWs may simply be using SJ as a cloak and not really interested in or practically advancing it in any way.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        Standard business practices are–*not* deliberately designed to exclude women, but evolved and optimized under conditions of predominantly male work forces. Innovation in more inclusive practices would have produce public value that the innovator would not fully capture. Shaming companies for gender disparities externally incentivizes this innovation.

    • Anon. says:

      Any discussion of this issue from a non-evolutionary perspective is just pure nonsense.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Agreed. Men are not socialized to be more aggressive. They are more aggressive. Anyone who doesn’t understand this is missing the point. That’s one reason I don’t like the Men’s Rights Movement. They seem to accept the feminist idea of equality but just think that feminists have gone too far. The author mentions that when an older man has sex with a teenage girl she’s seen as a victim but when it’s the reverse, the guy is seen as a stud. This is supposed to be an outrage but the situation simply isn’t comparable. Men are different. That’s why we view it different. Women catcalling men isn’t threatening because women just aren’t as threatening. I do agree that given the framework the SJs are being hypocritical but the problem is the framework itself.

        • Corey says:

          Women catcalling men isn’t threatening because women just aren’t as threatening. I do agree that given the framework the SJs are being hypocritical but the problem is the framework itself.

          Isn’t it a feminist/SJW idea that catcalling is threatening / power games, instead of men just trying to get laid and/or expressing their aesthetic appreciation?

          • random832 says:

            I think you’re mistaking “threatening” as a verb vs an adjective. As an adjective, it’s a reasonable word to describe anything that anyone rationally feels threatened by, and you can’t infer that someone is talking about “power games” or about the intent of the person behind the action at all.

          • Wrong Species says:

            Men can catcall for sexual reasons with the effect being women feeling threatened. It’s the same thing with rape.

        • Aapje says:

          Men are not socialized to be more aggressive. They are more aggressive.

          A. Both can be true. Even if there is a biological component, you can still socialize people to be more aggressive than they naturally are.

          B. Even if the genders cluster around a different median, there can still be a substantial overlap if you look at the tail. As an individualist, I prefer to look at the traits of the individual, if possible, rather than judge the person by the median of their group.

          C. I used to think that men and women were far more different before I stumbled on domestic violence victim surveys, which show remarkably similar levels of violence by each gender, in a setting where people get little/no reward from society for this behavior. This strongly suggests that biological differences in aggressiveness are either very small or socialization suppresses the biological differences.

          D. There is a far larger gap between the self-reported levels of victimization of men at the hands of women and how often they seek help (with the legal system or victim services) compared with the gap between the self-reported levels of victimization of women at the hands of men and how often they seek help. We know that women in the past had a far higher gap than today and this probably changed because we began treating female victims better in various ways. I have read many accounts by victimized men who do not seek help due to a perception of this resulting in them being mistreated or who were mistreated when seeking help.

          Women catcalling men isn’t threatening because women just aren’t as threatening.

          Except that this perception is based on many victimized men keeping quiet because they will get punished if they speak out.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I would like to see this survey. Your argument rests on men being victimized at similar rates but simply being afraid to seek help but I’m highly skeptical.

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            The trouble with b) is that when you’re in possible danger you’re going to reason probabilistically using all available evidence even if it might be deontological ly unfair.

          • quanta413 says:

            I would like to see this survey. Your argument rests on men being victimized at similar rates but simply being afraid to seek help but I’m highly skeptical.

            To be fair, I think only C rests on this. A, B, and D do not depend on whether or not C is true.

          • Aapje says:

            @Wrong Species

            One study.

            A very good meta-overview of the evidence of many studies and this paper also documents how there has been strong bias in science by many researchers to find asymmetry.

            As for sexual violence, there has been an even stronger push to suppress evidence of male victimization, primarily by simply defining it away (by only counting penetration of men, rather than envelopment, so heterosexual intercourse without consent was not counted). Only fairly recently did the CDC start counting cases of ‘made to penetrate’ in the NIPSVS, which then found almost equal rates for men and women (eerily close, actually). However, male sexual victimization is still extremely understudied.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Yeah, my main thoughts were:
        1. This sure does blame “Society” a lot.
        2. What if “Society” is right to do so? Different raw materials should be used in different ways.

    • Iain says:

      That is a good article, with good points. It was published in a book of pop feminism. As far as I can tell, nobody in the feminist community found it particularly controversial. (I casually googled, so I am open to the possibility that I missed something. All I found was this person who had one self-described nitpick about whether all women are attracted to assholes. .) The idea that strong gender roles also hurt men is not exactly rare among feminists. All this to say: isn’t this reasonably compelling evidence against the idea that “SJ” does not consider the plight of men, or that these arguments are verboten in SJW circles, or whatever? Your criticisms all seem to be of the form “I wish she had focused more on X”, where X is something that is not relevant to an article in a book about female sexuality.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I think there’s a gap between intellectual acceptance and belief and that is what happens here. Most people (whether it is because of socialization, something innate, or a combination of the two) have disdain for men (perceived as) weak. So even if someone intellectually recognizes that strong gender roles hurt (some) men, and acknowledges it, and so forth, their gut may still well be contemptuous towards the men that are hurt by gender roles.

        I think of phenomena like this as “the calls are coming from inside the house.” It’s not a black mark on feminism as an ideology, it’s a problem caused by either humans having evolved to have disdain for weak men (reasoning is usually some evo psych about how weak men will slow down the tribe back in caveman days and then you all get eaten by bears, so evolution selected for people who tell weak men to get fucked, because not getting eaten by bears is an important part of evolution) or being taught to have disdain for weak men (reasoning is usually some stuff about how men are socially conditioned to be agentic and women are socially conditioned to be attracted to that) or both.

        It’s the same reason that Redpill has absolutely eaten the lunch of MRAs (most people who get called MRAs nowadays are Redpill): “learn how to lift weights and be manly and insult women until they have sex with you” is far more appealing to men than “complain about how society has done you wrong.” Redpill guys may be misogynists who apply evo psych just so stories very unevenly, there may be increasing overlap with white nationalism, there’s a lot of reasons for people to dislike them, but they don’t trigger the disdain for weakness in men that most people carry around with them.

        • lvlln says:

          That’s certainly an interesting explanation for the phenomenon that “patriarchy hurts men too” is an oft-repeated phrase among certain feminists, yet discussing solutions to those problems tend to be verboten. And not just in the “I want this space for discussing solutions to women’s problems” way, but rather “seek out and prevent discussions of solutions to those problems” way. Like for instance what’s been happening with screenings of The Red Pill, a recent documentary by a feminist who decided to look at the MRA movement with the same sort of open mind with which she approached feminism in the first place.

          The whole “disdain for weak men” sounds a little too neat of a just-so story, though, whether it be evo-psych or cultural or both. I mean, the patterns seem to fit, in how whiny MRAs are seen with disgust from both certain feminists and red pillers, but I wonder if it’s just a case of convergent evolution (heh) of a sort, where certain feminists just have an overactive immune response to anything that focuses on men’s needs and where red pillers are naturally selected for people who just don’t have empathy for considering oneself victimized. In the case of feminism, I’ve heard Cassie Jaye, the filmmaker behind The Red Pill, say that she always used to look down on MRAs because she was always told that they were getting together just to discuss how to subjugate women even more than they already were.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Well, yeah, that’s the problem with evo-psych and socialization – gets a bit just-so, to the point that it’s often impossible to prove or disprove. I think it predicts reality well enough to at least be taken seriously, and given that everybody seems to have disdain for weak men, is it plausible to have that many cases of convergent evolution? I can’t think of any cultures, subcultures, ideologies, whatever that encourage, accept, or even tolerate weakness in men, past the most superficial “it’s OK for men to cry” boilerplate.

      • Skivverus says:

        Probably a toxoplasma thing. It gets no counterarguments, no flame wars, but neither does it seem to get popular awareness (e.g.: marches, legislation).

    • Well... says:

      I skimmed the article and have not yet read your critique. I think Serano makes good points about sexual double-standards but seems to accept prima facie that they are bad. (Or maybe she has argued that case as well elsewhere. I didn’t see so much as a summary of an argument though.)

      Am I misreading? Did I miss anything important relevant to what I said?

      • Aapje says:

        Well, she actually gives examples of how the double standards affect men and women negatively. I agree that she doesn’t make an solid argument why getting rid of these double standards would improve the situation, beyond pointing out that the current situation has severe issues. That seems to be an assumption in her chapter.

  15. Siah Sargus says:

    Well, it seems like everyone wants to double the culture warring after the armistice in the last thread. I was thinking about continuing the ship name thread, but that seems to have mostly run its course. Most of those ship names will probably end up in my comic in on form or another. But first I need to actually set up a site for it.

    In terms of making my comic, my current plan is to have a domain with ads for the people that want to read it online, and a .cbr file torrent for every chapter for the people that don’t. The cbr will probably be the definitive version, as it’ll have higher resolution, take up the whole screen, and not have any ads.

    Since I only really need a basic framework for people to read the comic, there should already be a (relatively) lightweight template for that sort of thing, right?

  16. bean says:

    I’m very busy this week, so you get a short post today. I expect that Sunday may be the same, as I’m also not feeling well.
    When I started this project, I was trying to formalize my guide spiels, although it’s quickly turned into something requiring a lot more research. So today, I’m just going to tell a story.
    In November of 1943, Iowa was tasked with taking Roosevelt across the Atlantic to Morocco, where he’d fly to the Cairo and Tehran conferences. (A wheelchair lift and a bathtub were installed. The bathtub stayed on board, while a replacement lift has just been installed.) One of our escorts during the trip was the destroyer William D Porter. At one point during the crossing, Porter was doing a practice torpedo attack on Iowa, to keep her torpedo crew sharp, but with the primers removed. They ‘fired’ one and two, then discovered that they hadn’t actually removed the primer from tube three. Porter tried to signal via blinker, but messed it up twice. Then they got on the radio, and finally alerted Iowa to the danger. Roosevelt asked to be taken to the railing so he could see, and it’s reported (although probably apocryphal) that the Secret Servicemen attempted to shoot it with their revolvers. Iowa dodged the torpedo successfully, and then asked Porter where the torpedo had come from, fearing U-boat attack.
    When Porter replied that they had launched the torpedo, they discovered what 9 16” guns look like from the muzzle. Fearing as assassination plot, Porter was ordered back to Bermuda, where the whole crew was reportedly placed under arrest for the first time in the history of the US Navy, although Porter’s war diary doesn’t bear this out. Eventually, the man who had failed to remove the primer was identified, and sentenced to 14 years of hard labor before Roosevelt pardoned him.
    There are many other incidents that are commonly attributed to the Porter on that trip, including banging into other destroyers in port, losing depth charges over the side, and nearly hitting Iowa with AA fire. None of the war diaries of the ships involved mention said incidents, and I suspect they’ve been attributed to the Porter to make the story better.
    Porter was soon ordered to the Pacific, where she was usually greeted with signals of “Don’t shoot, we’re Republicans”. She served in the Aleutians campaign, and then in the invasions of the Philippines and Okinawa. Off Okinawa, while serving as a fighter-direction ship, she was sunk by one of the strangest Kamikaze attacks of the war. An attacking Val dive-bomber was shot down ahead of the destroyer, and sank, then floated up underneath the ship. The Val’s bomb detonated, breaking Porter’s back. She sunk three hours later, but all of her crew survived.

    • Deiseach says:

      Hope you feel better soon, bean!

    • John Schilling says:

      Eventually, the man who had failed to remove the primer was identified, and sentenced to 14 years of hard labor before Roosevelt pardoned him.

      I’m not exactly FDR’s biggest fan, but he did get some things spectacularly right.

      Thanks for the story, and take care of yourself.

    • The Element of Surprise says:

      An attacking Val dive-bomber was shot down ahead of the destroyer, and sank, then floated up underneath the ship. The Val’s bomb detonated, breaking Porter’s back. She sunk three hours later, but all of her crew survived.

      A dive-bomber true to its name.

      Also love your series, hope you get better.

  17. Corey says:

    Anyone have tips for basic learning to sing? Where to start?

    This would be for establishing suitability for carpool karaoke, rather than any form of perfect pitch…

    • keranih says:

      Church choir. They always need volunteers, and they are pre-disposed to forgiving how awful you are.

    • Anonymous says:

      Choir?

      Get SingStar or some clone for the console of your choice?

      • Corey says:

        I loved Karaoke Revolution & Rock Band, perhaps I should dust off the PS2…

        • The Element of Surprise says:

          Intuition suggests that there should be a karaoke app (for android or desktop pc) that compares the pitch I’m singing against a midi reference. I haven’t found such an app, though, and the search results are cluttered with apps that play midi music and display text for singing along. At best, many karaoke apps and games I tried in the past only give a crude feedback on whether I’m singing at the right pitch.

          Was anyone here more lucky?

    • Tibor says:

      I am not very good at singing but I have improved over time. I took a couple of singing lessons from a friend who is a singing teacher. I found out that humming (sort of through your nose with your mouth closed) is a lot easier in the beginning and than you can voice it. So she would play notes on the piano and I would simply sing those notes. Then later I would try octaves (I can’t reliably do other intervals without a few botched up attempts and I cannot the interval while someone else is singing the prima). If you can play a musical instrument, try singing the notes you play. Once you can do that, you can try singing some easy song. Recording yourself helps. Another thing is to sing not just in tune but so that it sounds nice and full. That is a lot harder I would say, but essentially it is practiced like any instrument. There is a lot of mental visualisation going on that helps considerably to help you sing better (or at least it helps for me). I would simply take singing lessons, perhaps letting the teacher know that you want to go at a more casual pace.

      I’ve never sung in a choir but i guess it might be good as long as your conductor actually tries to improve the quality of individual singing as well. But it is easy to hide in the choir. If you take lessons you actually have to sing yourself and the focus is entirely on improving your singing. That might be good for your karaoke – there the attention also focuses on you. I have a friend who sings very well but she is too nervous to sing solo in public (say at a jam or something), she has the same problem with playing a musical instrument (piano). On the other hand, you get to meet a lot of people by joining a choir. And of course, you both have individual lessons and join a choir.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      If you’re in the Bay Area, there’s a “Rationalist Choir”, which is obviously kind of silly but also pretty serious about the choir stuff. You can contact Alicorn at alicorn@elcenia.org for more information.

  18. Deiseach says:

    Trump may not need to build a wall.

    See “the future of farming” – Farmbot!

    Now, this particular version is a hipster hobby model for the wanna-be “gentleman farmer” who has a tiny strip of backgarden or maybe even an allotment or share in an urban farm. But imagine this scaled up for industrial use- for proper agribusiness. I can very easily imagine this being used in polytunnels, for instance.

    Maybe it won’t get trialled on food crops first, maybe something like commercial flower growing on a (relatively) small scale – the description I read in a novel of the Texas rose growing industry has damn-all to do with any traditional notions of gardening or indeed even farming and is a process that is artificial to the last degree, save for the stoop labour needed, and this is where large-scale Farmbots would be snapped up by the industry.

    But let some big concern buy out these guys with their bijou boutique ‘you can grow your own veggies without needing to buy a spade and get your hands dirty’ machine, scale it up for commercial farm use, and the problem of illegal immigrants being deported and coming back in/the dependence of US agriculture on this cheap labour is solved – two birds with one stone!

    Imagine Farmbot scaled up to the size of these kinds of combine harvester and crossed with self-driving technology – you already have the “program it to sow/care for/weed/harvest preferred crop on your computer from the comfort of your living room” tech in place. Imagine a fleet of Farmbots on the huge flat acreage of large agribusiness farms. No need for human labour apart from maintaining the machinery and making sure the seed etc. is loaded before you push the button and start them up.

    I genuinely think these guys would consider themselves good liberals and progressives, and I genuinely think they have no idea the impact their machinery and concept could have on “undocumented migrants”.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I think we already have machines which do what Farmbot does at commercial scale. The labor is needed for harvesting and packing some crops where this is not automatable either because robots can’t make the right distinctions or can’t physically do the work without blemishing the crop.

      • Corey says:

        Yglesias had an interesting take a while back on what commercial-scale farming could do to marijuana, when/if it gets Federally legalized: it could get crazy cheap. That would leave significant room for taxation, even if you left the after-tax price cheap enough to let it displace other (arguably more harmful) intoxicants.

        • massivefocusedinaction says:

          Yeah, I’ve always enjoyed hearing current grow operators beliefs that they’ll be able to dramatically expand without changing anything about their current (indoor, optimized for secrecy) system under full legalization, rather than be so badly undercut by a few farmers growing weed by the section (640 acre plot).

    • Loquat says:

      As a home gardener, I had to laugh at that video. At least 75% of the effort I put into my garden is for things that video doesn’t even mention, like weeding, trellising, and harvesting. There’s a reason almost all the plants they show it dealing with are leaf crops like lettuce and kale; Farmbot as it currently exists has no way to cope with something like a tomato plant escaping its bounds or a pole bean disinclined to climb its trellis. It can’t even thin the beets it shows, which is something you actually need to do because beet “seeds” are actually mini seed packets with multiple seeds apiece and it’s not practical to break those down into individual seeds.

      But like Nybbler says, planting and watering are pretty well automated in most commercial farming already, and much of what migrant farmworkers do is deal with tasks we can’t yet economically automate – harvesting delicate produce like raspberries, for example, isn’t likely to be automated for many years to come.

      • Deiseach says:

        I agree about things like thinning, but my point is that I think it’s indicative of the trend towards automation, and a hobby robot like this is only the first step. There are machines for olive harvesting, for example. I wouldn’t expect a Farmbot prototype for strawberry picking, but I’d expect one for wheat – combine self-driving tech with a tractor and attached ploughing unit, sowing unit, herbicide spraying unit (think GMO crops here), harvesting and so on – the farmer only needs to programme in the parameters from the home PC (or I suppose I should say the manager, because we’re talking big agribusiness here not the family farm). Cuts down on labour costs – you can run your machinery by night as well as day, you only need the guy in charge of overseeing it all, etc. Economy of scale, all that jazz.

        I really do think this is a straw in the wind. And I really do think the point about delicate/perishable crops is “not yet”; if it’s going to be economically more sound to have machines rather than people, big companies will put money into working out how to do it. Robotics working on making prostheses for people who have lost limbs doesn’t have only that application; if you can work on a mechanical hand dextrous and sensitive enough to not crush an egg or a child’s hand, then you can work on machinery to harvest grapes or fruit. Hop picking used to be a reliable source of seasonal work for tramps, gypsies, working class factory hands (Northerners and Londoners, including their children) and farm labourers even into the late 50s but it has since been mechanised with the reduction in the demand for labour (amongst other factors).

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      Just to be clear, the relevant liberal goal is not to increase the number of illegal immigrants, but to increase the freedom and prosperity of the many impoverished people who do not currently live in the first world. You can make a good case that economic progress (including automation) lifts all boats, so liberals don’t need to oppose automation.

      • Machina ex Deus says:

        Yes, but the relevant goal of the Democratic Party is to get as many people here from Mexico as possible, then push for an amnesty.

        It’s starting the look like the relevant goal of the Catholic Church, as well.

        (I firmly believe if Mexico were a post-Soviet state, it would be the Republicans pursuing this strategy.)

        • James Miller says:

          If Mexican Americans tended to vote Republican, it would be the Republicans pursuing this strategy. If whites flee South Africa, you might see Republicans supporting letting them come to America and Democrats talking about how these potential immigrants have the wrong values to ever assimilate.

        • Deiseach says:

          It’s starting the look like the relevant goal of the Catholic Church, as well.

          Please don’t. It’s not helpful to regurgitate the worst of 19th century Nativism about the fiendish plots of the Vatican to take control of the USA via the streams of Catholic immigrants (Irish, Italians, Poles, Spanish/Hispanic/Latino, some Germans even).

          This ignores the fact that Evangelical Protestantism is having a huge swell of popularity in South America and that many Hispanics/Latinos are “cultural Catholics” only (do you really think the gangbangers with tattoos of Our Lady of Guadalupe are all devoutly going to confession and serving as acolytes? It’s tied up with folk religion and complex cultural issues) or are converting when they come to America, or dropping out of the church altogether.

          South American Protestantism is heavily Pentecostal (Charismatic movement, ‘signs and wonders’); Hispanic/Latino Evangelicals in the US are divided between the Democrats and Republicans (as distinct from the Catholics being majority Democrats). And they are not a monolithic bloc when it comes to voting on issues.

          • Machina ex Deus says:

            @Deiseach,

            Yeah, I throw up a little at Thomas Nast cartoons, too, but I’m calling this one the way I see it.

            If I had to guess at the minds of the bishops, I’d say they care about Latin Americans a little more than, say, Tibetans because of the Catholic angle, and want to see those people lead better lives. The Church never having been a big proponent of international borders, it doesn’t matter much to them what the legal status of their new flock is. (Nor do I think it should.)

            Imagine a confessional: “Father forgive me, for I have sinned: I’m breaking immigration law just by being here” — followed by a solid minute of uncomprehending silence on the part of the baffled priest.

            I don’t think it’s part of any big plot to “take over” the U.S.: if the bishops had the political sense of cabbage, they wouldn’t have lost the Democratic party so completely to the pro-abortion wing.

            As for conversion rates, I don’t think the majority of the 11 million illegal immigrants have “taken the salsa.”

            Meta: this is the kind of thing I would only get into here on SSC: nobody’s going to form a nativist mob over my (somewhat-sympathetic) observation.

          • Deiseach says:

            if the bishops had the political sense of cabbage, they wouldn’t have lost the Democratic party so completely to the pro-abortion wing.

            So what about the Methodists? Hillary Clinton was appealing to the moderate religious voters with her “I’m a Methodist” stories and “oh so conflicted over abortion” angle, then in one of her final campaign speeches she came out very strongly for abortion, to the point that a naive baffled pastor was lamenting “But why didn’t she mention her own personal struggles on the matter? And how she’s conflicted?”

            Plainly nobody told him “Listen, brother, this is cabbage. She’s telling you guys ‘oh so conflicted’ so you’ll get up in the pulpit and tell the congregation ‘yes, Hillary isn’t gung-ho for abortion on demand’ and they can vote for her with a clear conscience. Meanwhile, she’s doing her utmost to keep her 100% rating from Planned Parenthood because that’s a whole other tranche of votes and she’s working the ‘imma woman vote for me other women’ angle as hard as she can”.

            Compare and contrast these two stories about Hillary Clinton’s position on abortion rights, both from 2016:

            That includes toeing the church line on the issue of abortion, says Katey Zeh, an abortion rights activist who has worked for the United Methodist Church. The church’s stance on abortion seems compatible with former president Bill Clinton’s assertion in the 1990s that it should be “safe, legal and rare.”

            The church’s “Social Principles” state, “Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion.” But the principles also “recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures by certified medical providers.” The denomination was even one of the founding members of a nonprofit group that pushes for increased access to abortion, though the denomination recently withdrew from the organization.

            While Mrs. Clinton’s views on abortion have become more extreme in recent years—she is currently pressing for the repeal of a ban on federal funding for abortions—Ms. Zeh told America that Mrs. Clinton still falls squarely within the Methodist tradition on the issue.

            “There’s no conflict,” she said. Methodists should consult the church’s guiding principles, “but there’s also acknowledgement that we don’t all agree about all of these issues.”

            And as one would expect from a candidate who’s spent her career speaking about women’s health, Clinton delivered an impassioned defense of the right to reproductive autonomy. “I will defend Planned Parenthood. I will defend Roe v. Wade, and I will defend women’s rights to make their own health care decisions,” she said.

            When moderator Chris Wallace pressed her on “how far” she’d take abortion rights when it comes to late-term procedures, Clinton explained why she voted against a ban on late-term abortions. “I have met with women who have, toward the end of their pregnancy, get worst news one can get,” she said. “That their health is in jeopardy if they continue to carry to term. Or that something terrible has happened or just been discovered about the pregnancy. I do not think the United States government should be stepping in and making those most personal of decisions.”

            There was (and is) a pro-life faction within the Democratic Party; they did a lot of compromising; they got shoved off stage unceremoniously when the party decided that the college demographic was where the action was and so women’s rights including ‘reproductive justice’ and gay rights were the way to go:

            This year, the Democratic Party’s platform calls for repealing both the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits Medicaid from funding abortions, and the Helms Amendment, which bars US foreign aid from funding the procedure. For decades, these amendments have represented a truce between pro-life and pro-choice camps on the issue of government funding of abortion, so abortion rights groups see the call for their repeal in the platform as a victory. Clinton, who eight years ago called for abortion to be “safe, legal, and rare,” has dropped the “rare” this election cycle. “She’s just saying ‘legal abortion,'” Day said with exasperation. She believes the goal of making abortion rare through better health care and safety net programs for pregnant women should be one area where pro-choice and pro-life Democrats can work together.

            As for the bishops, what you are recommending is what I’ve often seen before – if only the Catholics could become more like the Episcopalians and give up all this nonsense about sticking to anti-divorce, anti-contraception, anti-abortion, anti-women’s ordination, anti-gay rights – then it would be much more acceptable and have more influence to get its voice heard!

            Quick – without Googling, name me the first female primate of The Episcopal Church? 🙂

            As for the “11 million taking the salsa” :

            The Pew Research Center’s 2013 National Survey of Latinos and Religion finds that a majority (55%) of the nation’s estimated 35.4 million Latino adults – or about 19.6 million Latinos – identify as Catholic today. About 22% are Protestant (including 16% who describe themselves as born-again or evangelical) and 18% are religiously unaffiliated.

            Even better:

            By most official measures, Latinos in the U.S. are considered to be the fastest-growing demographic. They are also the fastest-growing group of Muslims in America, according to organizations that cater to Hispanics converting to Islam. Although the statistics haven’t been widely tracked, there are an estimated 150,000 Islam converts among the Latino community in the U.S., reported the Press-Enterprise, a California newspaper.

            The trend of Hispanic converts to Islam has been tracked by the Islamic Society of North America, which in 2006 estimated there were roughly 40,000 Latino Muslims in the U.S., according to a report by National Public Radio. Some community leaders said the recent growth of the demographic has its roots in a shared experience of immigration and the negative political rhetoric that advocates have deemed as anti-Muslim.

          • Machina ex Deus says:

            @Deiseach:

            Pro Tip: Pro-abortion people don’t say “pro-abortion”.

            I’m well aware of Democrats for Life and Kristen Day, who I’ve met several times. She’s nice, but she’s as deluded as I was when I was a pro-life Democrat. The Democratic party is just never, ever going to be pro-life ever again.

            The Methodists are easy for Clinton to fool, because they’ve invested so much time and energy into fooling themselves. They want to vote for Clinton, so they look for reassuring words from her, which she’s enough of a politician to mouth for them. A minimum level of paying attention during the ENTIRE FIRST CLINTON PRESIDENCY would have been enough to save that hapless pastor from his befuddlement.

            There are no moderate religious voters, only willfully stupid ones.

            Killing a million kids a year is OK, or it isn’t. If you look not just at their words but at their actions, the Methodists come down on the first side of the question.

            As I suppose is now clear, I wish the U.S. Catholic bishops had realized in 1973 that they were in a fight over the Democratic party, and fought for it. They didn’t; they lost it; and they’re never going to find another political home.

            On the subject of Catholicism levels: I don’t think all-Latino numbers shed much light on the illegal immigrant population.

            And as for Hispanic Muslims: surely you’ve seen enough hype by now to realize that “fastest-growing” is synonymous with “tiny”.

  19. Tibor says:

    Has anyone taken this test?
    https://greenwichuniversity.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_1XJKpEw5sy9o01D

    It measures the ability to recognize faces. Essentially, they believe there is a category of people they call “super-recognizers” who can tell faces apart extremely well which might be potentially useful for example in law enforcement (using often bad or partial information from one camera to recognize the same face in a different one). Of course, this can be automatized, however, current face recognition technology is not yet on a lever where it can even start competing with humans, especially not those on the top level of their face recognition ability.

    I took the first test and scored 12 out of 14, then took the second serious survey and scored top 10% in the first and third exercise and everything correct in the second and fourth, which supposedly identifies me as a “super-recognizer” (they then ask you to ask your relatives to also do the test and possibly come to their university for further research). I found most of the exercises easy, especially the second one, the third one with the guitars was probably the most difficult. I wonder how others do and if my ability to recognize faces really is that good.

    EDIT: I am specifically interested in people’s results in the second, more serious test.

    • Protagoras says:

      I didn’t expect to do especially well, and got 8 out of 14 on the first test (didn’t go beyond that). So at least the first test wasn’t so easy that anybody should be getting double digits; you may be unusually good at this (or I may be unusually bad, of course).

    • Anonymous says:

      Got 12/14. Doesn’t seem super-hard.

      • Tibor says:

        Yes, the first test is easy. I am more interested about scores people get from the second more serious test.

    • rlms says:

      It’s certainly better than mine, I got 6/14 (I am possibly unusually bad at recognising faces).

    • James Miller says:

      I got 3 out of 14. I’m horrible at remembering faces.

    • massivefocusedinaction says:

      I got a 4 out of 14. I feel as though I should be proud I recognize myself in the mirror.

    • thehousecarpenter says:

      first test: 12/14 (puts me within top 15.34%)
      Cambridge Face Memory Test: 91/102 (puts me somewhere between the top 25% and the top 10%)
      Mooney’s Test: 37/40 (puts me within top 50%)
      Guitar Recognition: 29/40 (top 50% scored 30 or above, so I’m in the bottom 50% 🙁 )
      Glasgow Face Matching Test: 35/40 (top 50% scored 37 or above, so bottom 50% again)

      I found the guitar recognition and face matching tests very difficult, so I’m not surprised I didn’t do too well at them. (That accords with my experience: I never have trouble recognizing people, but I do quite often mistake strangers for people I know.) On the other hand, I expected to get a perfect 40 on the Mooney’s Test.

      • Tibor says:

        I also sometimes mistake strangers for people I know – at a long range. Then it becomes apparent when I get closer. I also tend to match people I don’t know with other people I don’t know into kind of vague types of shapes. There are certain facial characteristics that you see repeated very often. Obviously, part of it is ethnicity and easy to tell but some of these are more subtle. I tend to categorize people by a certain feature or a group of facial features. The reason I mistake the strangers for people I know is that they share the same broad facial features but then the details are different.

        I wonder how well I would do with a facial tests of only Asian faces. I expect I’d have a lot worse result since this mental list of facial features I have is much more sparse for Asian faces, i.e. I don’t know what to look for. With black African faces I would probably do a bit better because they are more similar to European faces in their features, but probably still worse than with sort of Indo-European faces (basically white in the broad sense of the word, including for example Indians and Arabs).

        I only found the guitar test particularly difficult. It is easy to remember a Les Paul or a Stratocaster but it is much harder to remember whether this particular Les Paul with this particular brown burn finish is something you’ve already seen or whether it was a Les Paul with a slightly different shade of brown burn finish 🙂

    • Well... says:

      I only took the 1st test and got 12/14, so it must be too easy because I’m normally terrible at remembering details about people’s faces when I meet them only briefly, unless there is something that specifically grabs my attention.

      I will say, and I’ll say with an unblemished record of male heterosexuality, I was struck by how attractive most of the guys in the photographs were. Not what I’d expect from a bunch of psych grad students.

      • Tibor says:

        Attractive? I don’t quite remember the faces from the first test any more, but the guys in the second all looked like proper crooks 🙂 Or maybe it was the power of suggestion at work, since you always get them shot from three angles as you would with criminals (or at least that’s how it’s shown in all the crime series on the telly 🙂 ).

      • Well... says:

        OK now I took the proper tests. I thought I’d do poorly on the first one (did extremely well), well on the second one (did well), outstandingly on the third one (did very well) and outstandingly on the last one (bombed it).

      • Deiseach says:

        Only did the first one (got bored about half-way through the guitar test and quit so no idea how I scored on the other tests) and got 11/14, which wasn’t a perfect score but didn’t surprise me as I’m good at remembering faces but terrible with names. I’m the person who goes about an actor “hey, isn’t that whosis, you know, the guy in that film, oh he played the second thief in that heist movie and he was in tons of TV shows as well” but can’t remember the name for love nor money 🙂

    • H. Stapel says:

      First test: 11/14

      As for the more serious test:
      Cambridge Face Memory Test: 82/10
      I seem to have skimmed over one of the test results… I scored either 34/40 on Mooney’s test or the guitar Recognition. The other one wouldn’t have been flawless either.
      Glasgow Face Matching Test: 36/40

      Nowhere near your everything correct/top 10% results. I can’t say I found any of these tests particularly easy either.

      • Tibor says:

        I actually just barely made it to the top 10% with the first and the third test, literally by 1 hit/miss. I also did not notice that the difference between the median and perfect were so minute in the other two, so even though I got perfect score there, the difference from the median is only something like 4 (out of 40).

        • H. Stapel says:

          According to this paper, where they tested four ‘super recognizers’:
          https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3904192/

          All report being able to recognize actors playing minor characters or ‘extras’ in movies, television, and advertisements from other roles they have played

          So if you’re real grade A super recognizer material, you would generally know already?

          One of them also comments:

          “I’ve learned to stop surprising people with bizarre comments like, ‘Hey, weren’t you at that so-and-so concert last fall… I recognize you’. Before that I’d occasionally make people uncomfortable with my recognition” (MR). “I do have to pretend that I don’t remember [people], however, because it seems like I stalk them, or that they mean more to me than they do when I recall that we saw each other once walking on campus four years ago in front of the quad!”

          Now, apart from pattern recognition, I guess you need pretty good memory too, so I stumbled on this paper, “Super-Memorizers Are Not Super-Recognizers”:
          https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4805230/
          The Super-Memorizers are people who succesfully compete in International Memory Championships, where one of the tasks is to associate names with faces. As the title gives away, they are not especially good at facial recognition. These Super-Memorizers appear to rely on mnemonic techniques to achieve excellence. In facial recognition, conscious effort cannot beat your innate ‘facial recognition module’.

          I don’t know how the Memory Championships are organized exactly, whether there are people who only participate in the visual disciplines, but the apparent ubiquity of mnemonic techniques among Super-Memorizers also seems evidence for the notion that there is no such thing as truly photographic memory?

    • Tibor says:

      I am surprised that people get scores as low as 4 or 3 in the first test. As long as it is not too personal, have any of you been diagnosed with autism or something along those lines? Please don’t take it as an insult!

      It keeps me puzzled in the same way as the fact that some people show extremely little ability to recognize rhythm. I know people who literally can’t hear triplets. You can spend an hour with them trying to make them hear the difference between 8th notes and triplets and they just don’t hear it (or at best they manage it at an incredible slow tempo but aren’t able to scale it up at all).

      • H. Stapel says:

        From the first paper I linked above:

        The widespread use of terms such as ‘condition’, ‘disorder’, and ‘impaired’ to describe developmental prosopagnosia indicates a prevailing notion of face recognition ability as being either normal (i.e. roughly average) or pathological. The prevalence of this notion may be due in part to the apparent lack of people who are as far above average at face recognition as developmental prosopagnosics are below average. Finding such people would support an alternate notion of a broad distribution of face recognition ability, with (at least some cases of) developmental prosopagnosia representing the lower tail of the distribution.

        Although, I’m not sure what the authors are trying to argue for.

        To use height as an analogue: the existence of healthy very tall people proves that short people are not necessarily cases of achondroplasia (dwarfism). (The comparison doesn’t work so well because acromegaly (giantism) is pathological as well). However, in case of height we understand that short height can have a single cause, a mutation in fibroblast growth factor receptor 3 (FGFR3) resulting in “official” dwarfism, or multiple causes — many interacting genes, malnutrition, etc.

        I suppose the authors are suggesting there may be a multitude of factors influencing facial recognition too, rather than a single cause. However, given our limited understanding of the brain at this time, it makes no difference for the specific diagnosis of prosopagnosia: if you’re impaired at recognizing faces, you’re impaired, and we don’t know what caused it.

        The mention of lack of rythm reminds me of a story I saw on TV: a woman was completely a-musical, no sense of melody and no sense of rythm. She kept failing her dance class five years in a row, until she finally figured out that her classmates were responding to the sound in the room! (She might not have been the sharpest tool in the shed.)

        Personally, I’ve not had much success with polyrythm yet.

    • Acedia says:

      Intro test: 11/14

      Cambridge: 94/102
      Mooney’s: 38/40
      Guitars: 30/40
      Glasgow: 34/40

      I wonder what the purpose of the guitar test is. To see whether face recognition correlates with object recognition?

    • dndnrsn says:

      12/14, which is very surprising, since I am not good with faces, and generally am not great at visual processing.

    • Betty Cook says:

      I have always thought of myself as bad at names and faces. The quick one confirms this: 6/14.

      Cambridge face memory: 70/102 (below 50% of people)
      Mooney’s black and white images: 38/40 (top 25%)
      Glasgow face matching: 33/40 (below 50% of people)
      Guitars: 32/40 (top 25%)

      So I seem to be better at guitars (which I don’t play, and don’t know electric guitars at all) than at actual photographs of people.

      • Aapje says:

        This suggests that you ought to give guitars to all your acquaintances and ask them to carry them around when you are near.

  20. PedroS says:

    Sometime ago, there was a bug in the site which caused all avatars to be shown over the text in smartphones. That bug was gone for some time, but I have seen it come back about 10 days ago. Does anyone else get that bug? (I use an Android)

  21. Gazeboist says:

    I just tried to report a comment, and instead of the usual “this comment has been reported”, the report button became “Cheatin’ uh?” which struck me as … odd. Bakkot? Anyone else?

    • Nornagest says:

      That happens when you try to submit a double report. Either you clicked the button twice (or your browser did for you), or there’s a bug that makes the server think you did.

      • Gazeboist says:

        Reasonable. Thanks for the explanation. I think I probably clicked it twice; my browser is occasionally slow to adjust the page properly and I may not have seen that the report went through.

    • Brad says:

      This started happening to me yesterday.

  22. p duggie says:

    So, people say science is beyond ideology and politics. Others object and say: it is done by humans so it is political (like everything else (in which case, the claim is trivial)). It seems to me we need a taxonomy of what quality of politicization various STEM fields are from “This is frequently used oppressively by the ruling classes” to “this field is liable to go down rabbit trails because of political pressures” to “well, Srinivasa Ramanujan’s contributions were not recognized because India was not considered a source for math geniuses at the time”

    It strikes me that “math” (“pure math” of course) is least amenable to political ideologies pushing it down a wrong path like Freudianism or Lysenkoism. But am I wrong? are there examples where mathematics went down a wrong path because some king didn’t like the results? Some white people didn’t like their supremacy challenged by a proof?

    It has been suggested to me that Likelihoodism, Bayseanism and Frequentism are examples of political ideology influencing math badly (especially, it seems, Likelihoodism, since Ronald Fisher said that smoking could not be proved to cause cancer) Is that a good example? Are their others?

    I know Pythagoras didn’t want to share his math secrets because of his religion, but that was long ago and I’m thinking Enlightenment sciences mostly. Thoughts?

    • rlms says:

      I think Galois would probably have had a happier, longer life, and become influential more quickly, if he’d not been so republican.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      I don’t think Bayesianism vs frequentism is a mathematical controversy – it is about “which methods from probability are most reliable in this incompletely specified situation” (and since the incompletely specified situation in question is a mathematically arbitrary one – namely real life – I don’t think this can be turned into a mathematical question.)

      I suspect there are no real examples. I have heard speculation that the Italian school of algebraic geometry degenerated into rigorlessness due to a romantic/aristocratic ideology that put too much trust in the intuition of connoisseurs, but I have no reason to believe that this is actually true.

      • Noah says:

        For several centuries British mathematicians refused to use Leibniz’s notation for calculus. Is pure mathematics less politicized than physics? The only examples I can think of where that was politicized were the heliocentric/geocentric arguments and “Jewish science” not being studied under the Nazis.

    • publiusvarinius says:

      The Soviet Union is always a good test case.

      Happy ending: Kolmogorov started out as a pure mathematician, constructing a Fourier series that is divergent almost everywhere as an undergraduate, then turning to work in logic. In the meantime, Stalin came to power, warned against science for science’s sake, and applied mathematics became strongly favored by the Academy. That’s why Kolmogorov turned to probability. Keeping his “pure touch”, he soon created the modern axiomatic foundation of probability theory.

      Unhappy ending: Luzin was prevented from working on descriptive set theory, for similar reasons. Unlike Kolmogorov, he did not find his voice in applied mathematics, and was widely ridiculed for the resulting low-quality papers, especially by ideological commissar Arnost Kolman. During the infamous affair, his whole department was sacked, setting back descriptive set theory by at least a decade.

      During the war, people cared less about ideological purity and more about mundane matters: see e.g. the tragic story of Fritz Noether. Much later, after Lysenko’s materialistic turn in biology (1948), the politicians started making actual plans for injecting more dialectical materialism into the hard sciences. Mathematics was high the target list: Aleksandr Aleksandrov was already developing the new Bolshevik mathematics. Fortunately, Beria stopped these plans: he feared that disturbing the mathematical community would have adverse effects on his Task No. 1, the Soviet atomic bomb project.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I did a bit of Googling and can’t figure out what Noether’s death had to do with math. He was sentenced to imprisonment several years before the war, and shot after the war had started – presumably due to being from Germany. People from outside the USSR or who had contacts outside the USSR were more vulnerable to false claims of being a spy – for example, Oshchepkov was shot on claims of being a Japanese spy.

        • publiusvarinius says:

          That’s exactly what I am saying: people were in danger because of more mundane matters than ideological purity in mathematics. Is there another reading?

          • dndnrsn says:

            Ahhhh I misunderstood you – I thought you were continuing the “people cared more about practical stuff than pure math” line. Although, he was shot because of the war – he still got sentenced to 25 years before the war.

  23. vV_Vv says:

    Do Schizophrenia and Autism Share the Same Root?

    In this article they claim that 22q11.2 deletion, a genetic mutation, is predictive of both schizophrenia and autism, but each of these conditions is not correlated to the other one conditioned on the presence of the 22q11.2 deletion, suggesting that the mutation can cause both conditions independently from each other. This is contrasted with the alternate (and supposedly prevalent) hypothesis that autism in people with 22q11.2 deletion is just mis-diagnosed schizophrenia.

    However, certain claims in the article left me skeptical:

    Vorstman’s team assessed 89 adolescents with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome. They diagnosed 52 of the teenagers with autism.

    When the researchers reevaluated the participants two to six years later, they found that 9 of the 52 people with autism had since also been diagnosed with a psychotic condition; 10 of the 37 participants without autism had also developed some type of psychosis.

    The difference between the two groups is not statistically significant, suggesting that being diagnosed with autism has no bearing on psychosis risk in these individuals.

    Or it just suggests that the study is underpowered, doesn’t it?

    In a 2015 study of 46 people, Bearden found that people with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome who have autism show different patterns of gene expression than do those with the syndrome who have schizophrenia3.

    Ok, this is a positive claim. But is N = 46 enough to tell?

    The findings also fit with earlier work by Vorstman’s team, in which parents of adults with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome and schizophrenia recalled their children’s early years4. That study, too, found no relationship between autism features in childhood and schizophrenia in adulthood.

    Again, how do they distinguish the effect not existing from the study being underpowered?

    • Deiseach says:

      Should have put this up here (that’ll teach me to comment without reading through the thread first): link I saw on today’s news about genetics, motor neurone disease and schizophrenia being associated:

      By analysing the genetic profiles of almost 13,000 MND cases and over 30,000 schizophrenia cases, the researchers have confirmed that many of the genes that are associated with these two very different conditions are the same.

      In fact, the research has shown an overlap of 14% in genetic susceptibility to the adult onset neuro-degeneration condition ALS/MND and the developmental neuropsychiatric disorder schizophrenia.

      While overlaps between schizophrenia and other neuropsychiatric conditions including bipolar affective disorder and autism have been shown in the past, this is the first time that an overlap in genetic susceptibility between MND and psychiatric conditions has been shown.

      Professor Hardiman said: “Our work over the years has shown us that MND is a much more complex disease than we originally thought. Our recent observations of links with psychiatric conditions in some families have made us think differently about how we should study MND. When combined with our clinical work and our studies using MRI and EEG, it becomes clear that MND is not just a disorder of individual nerve cells, but a disorder of the way these nerve cells talk to one another as part of a larger network.”

      She continued: “So instead of thinking of MND as a degeneration of one cell at a time, and looking for a ‘magic bullet’ treatment that works, we should think about MND in the same way that we think about schizophrenia, which is a problem of disruptions in connectivity between different regions of the brain, and we should look for drugs that help to stabilise the failing brain networks.”

      “The other significant issue that this research brings up is that the divide between psychiatry and neurology is a false one. We need to recognise that brain disease has many different manifestations, and the best way to develop new treatments is to understand the biology of what is happening. This will have major implications for how we classify diseases going forward, and in turn how we train our future doctors in both psychiatry and neurology. That in itself will have knock-on consequences for how society understands, approaches and treats people with psychiatric and neurological conditions.”

      Paper is here.

  24. yodelyak says:

    Random question: when you write something, and you want people to forgo consideration for your feelings when they tell you how awful your writing is, because harsh feedback is likely to contain more information than sanitized feedback… there’s a phrase for this. A two-word handle that’s like “gordon’s rules” or “dudley’s rule” or something like that, and it gives your critics license (even encouragement, maybe) to call it like they see it, including phrases like “this unpolished turd of an effort at writing should just give up and die already” if that’s what they’re feeling. There’s a name for this. I think I ran across it on an LR article from years ago, and I can’t remember what it was, but feel I’d be cooler (and people would be more likely to really give me help becoming a better writer) if I recalled what it was. I think it originates from a frequent wikipedia editor from many years back… meaning like the aughts.

    • Aapje says:

      I think that useful feedback is actually less hurtful than sanitized feedback. ‘I have trouble following you’ just leaves me wondering and unhappy. ‘I don’t see how your example supports your point’ gives me an indication where I went wrong, so I can act and resolve the bad feelings.

    • Deiseach says:

      The phrase as I know it from fanfiction is “constructive criticism”. Don’t just say “This story was boring”, why did it bore you? “This character sucks!” How do they suck? You can be polite and honest: “your idea is good but… the execution falls down/the way you develop it is clichéd/the characters lack reasons for their actions etc.” Develop your point, showing examples from the story where you think they did it wrong, and don’t forget to include parts you think they did right, because praise is encouraging and a completely negative review is likely to be ignored (due to hurt feelings or worse).

    • rlms says:

      I know what you mean, but unfortunately can’t remember what it’s called. I think I found it by clicking on an SSC commenter’s website link, but I can’t remember whose.

  25. Egalisator says:

    First post here, I’ve been a lurker for some months now.
    I (german btw) graduated law school some years ago and I’m working on my PhD right now. I founded a private reading circle ca. 7 years ago which now mainly consists of other PhD-candidates (law and philosophy).
    We’ve read and discussed several books from the field of legal theory, also Max Weber and other sociologists as well as Kant and Hegel and contemporary legal philosophers.
    We will decide on the next book (or several papers about a specific topic) in a few weeks and I would like to know, if you had any recommendations, escpecially in the field of legal theory or legal philosophy. Other fields are welcome too, but it shouldn’t be too different from our previous topics.
    I’d like to read something more controversial, maybe some basic literature on libertarianism (Nozick, Friedman?)
    I know there are other sources for research and I already did some. But I’m particularly interested in the opinion of this community. The SSC survey showed only 4.7 % lawyers, but I’m sure there are more people whith interesting recommendations.

    Maybe I should have lurked more. I know that there are reading recommendations now and then in the comments. But for now I haven’t seen something about legal topics.

    Apart from that: I’m glad to have found this blog and this community!

    • Brad says:

      If you haven’t yet done so, I suggest reading H.L.A. Hart’s The Concept of Law.

      • Egalisator says:

        Thanks. I already read it. But this was some years ago and I read it alone. Maybe I will give it a try.

    • If you are interested in economic analysis of law as written by a libertarian, although not written as libertarianism, my Law’s Order is webbed in two forms: HTML and page images.

      • Egalisator says:

        Thanks for the link! I think I will suggest reading your book to the others. Especially since it is a not very common, to approach legal thinking from a libertarian view (maybe in German academics in general). And I expect significant opposition against a lot of your arguments in our group while readiing and discussing it.

  26. Machina ex Deus says:

    We should totally have a Lurkers-Only thread: no posting if you’ve made more than three comments on previous posts.

    (Inspired by all the interesting first-time commenters lately.)

    • Iain says:

      It is a strange quirk of the SSC commentariat that the solution so frequently seems to be “What if we all stopped posting?” The entire point of posting here is to communicate with the other people who post here. If the regulars all go silent, what are the lurkers getting out of posting?

      If we want to encourage lurkers to post, why don’t we just … encourage lurkers to post? Put a comment at the top of the next open thread with “Hey, lurkers: introduce yourselves!”, that sort of thing.

      • Deiseach says:

        Because some have said “I would post here/post more often except all the right-wingers are very vociferous and dogpile on left-leaning commenters” or “There are so many comments, I feel that if I come in as no. 301 I have nothing to say that hasn’t been said already” and the likes.

        So if we had one designated day or thread that the regulars keep out of commenting on, that lets the shy and the nervous and the ones who feel their views are not welcome have a free run at it, and if they get the habit, they may come back and comment again.

        I comment a lot, as the comment scraping made clear. I’d hate to be part of It’s That Gang Again that hogs all the time and space on here so new readers and lurkers feel they can’t comment or aren’t welcome or will be drowned out. I’d like to read many more viewpoints from many more people!

        • hlynkacg says:

          Seconded.

        • JulieK says:

          How about an open thread in which only newbies could post top-level comments, and regulars can respond to newbies, but not to other regulars?

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Hmm. Dunno how you would enforce it, but you might not need to – regulars would enforce each other, because it would be interesting. Which makes this a rather elegant idea IMO.

          • Marie says:

            A “regulars can only respond to newbies” thread wouldn’t exactly help any folks skittish of being dogpiled. Open threads have also never struck me as having an unmanageable number of top-level posts; it’s either in topical posts or down in the weeds of long back-and-forth responses that “everything’s been said” tends to happen. So am somewhat doubtful “only newbies make top level posts” would in itself be a draw to many more people (though any resulting increase in the % of new people commenting, due to the rule, could be a draw). I’d personally be way more interested in joining the messiness of a lurkers-only thread. (Though with my luck it’d happen during one of the months I ignore SSC and I’d miss it).

            I read all of Scott’s posts, start (but rarely finish) reading the comment threads on about half of the non-open-thread posts, and usually ignore open-thread posts, for what it’s worth. I lurk mostly out of laziness and lack of anything relevant/interesting/helpful to add, plus a dash of fear-of-dogpiling regarding some topics. (This is my third total comment on SSC; been reading for several years).

        • ChetC3 says:

          Anyone who wants to comment somewhere the SSC regulars won’t already has the entire rest of the internet for it.

          • skef says:

            I dunno, the value may also come from the Reign of Terror, or the threat of it. Scott should consider making a different family of threads with the same moderation policy except that anyone who gets too well-known or chatty is banned up to the regular threads. Sort of a staging area.

      • Jordan D. says:

        I propose a sweepstakes, with fabulous prizes.

        • keranih says:

          A random drawing ‘mongst the lurkers/first time posters, with a personalized fable written by Scott as the prize?

          I don’t hate this, but I don’t see the option of avoiding a flurry of sockpuppets.

      • dndnrsn says:

        There are undoubtedly many excellent arguments as to why we shouldn’t post, but those who have figured them out aren’t posting them.

    • Brad says:

      If you really want to encourage newbies, reply to their threads. You’ll notice they are the long posts that don’t quite fit in, generally not made until a day or two after a new post goes up, with few to no replies.

      We seem much happier to engage with the sockpuppets pretending to be newbies than we do with the actual first time posters.

  27. Machina ex Deus says:

    I am very, very skeptical of meta-analyses: they seem like an attempt to spin straw into gold (or at least hay). The hope seems to be if we put enough garbage in, we’ll get something else out.*

    Given the file-drawer problem, why should I pay any attention to any meta-analysis?

    (* Actually true in the limiting case of neutronium production.)

    • Vermillion says:

      I’m going to try and summarize the case that I heard from a biostastician a couple weeks ago. Caveats that human memory is faliable, I am not a stastician, and so on.

      He said that the biggest problem with meta analysis is that most of the studies included will be underpowered, and that given the file-drawer problem you mentioned, that will inflate effect sizes. Far better to average together effect sizes from all studies, not just the significant ones, because even the ‘non-significant’ results will still contribute to estimating the true effect size of whatever phenomena you’re looking at.

      Continuously Cumulating Meta-analyses is the term, and google scholar says that paper has been cited 70 times in the last 3 years so. I would say this is evidence that a lot of researchers agree with you on the crappiness of meta-analyses and are trying to improve their methodology but of course you’d want to see a lot more examples of that in action before you can update your model.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Meta-analyses can measure the file-drawer problem.

    • Corey says:

      I thought they had the opposite problem: is there ever a meta-analysis that shows other than a very weak effect size?

  28. rlms says:

    Crosscommented from Guided By The Beauty Of Our Weapons:
    Wikipedia describes the 3rd Caliph of Córdoba, Hisham II, as wearing a veil, using makeup, and keeping a male harem. My first thought was that it was interesting there was a female Caliph, but following the link it turns out he was an atypical man (or possibly trans woman or something). Sadly I can’t find any sources backing up the veil/makeup parts.

  29. onyomi says:

    Peremptory searching surprisingly reveals not a lot of talk about this elsewhere (though point me in the right direction if I’m wrong), so:

    What’s the deal with the GOP’s inability to do anything with health care after promising to repeal ACA for 7 years? It’s a very weird and rare situation where almost everyone in my social media feed is happy: Dems: “yay, we get to keep the ACA!” Libertarians: “yay, we aren’t stuck with ‘Obamacare Lite’!”, moderate Republicans: “…”

    Just kidding! There are no moderate Republicans in my social media feed, which maybe is the problem: the John Boehner (and now seemingly the Paul Ryan?) “mainstream” wing of the GOP is seemingly hated by almost everyone, and not without good reason: their promises to roll back big government are obviously hollow, they are in favor of big government if it’s the military, they can complain about Obama for seven years, but when it’s their turn to actually produce some legislation they produce something hardly distinguishable from what Obama might have created, etc. etc.

    So is the problem that there are still too many of the so-called “RINOs”? Or conversely is it that the GOP electorate is now so unreasonable that they won’t stand their representatives voting for anything moderate enough to have a chance of passing? Is the problem that they spent so much time complaining they didn’t bother to stop and think what they’d actually do if they, you know, actually had the power to do anything (I think a lot of them would have been happier with Hillary, really; impotently complaining is a lot easier than actually being given the power to follow up on your promises). Here they control House, Senate, and White House and they can’t even pass something everyone in their own party doesn’t hate?

    Strategically, are they better off trying to let ACA fail and continue blaming Dems than passing something which will probably also fail for the same reasons, but then owning it? But I also can’t imagine voters being happy if, after years and years of promising to repeal ACA, they still do nothing in this situation.

    Edit to add: Scott Adams, on his “Trump is a master hypnotist” theory comes up with the idea that this is still good for Trump (though I’m not sure whether he’s claiming intentionality here), because it upgrades him from “Hitler” to “incompetent bumbler,” therefore paving the way for him to later upgrade to “competent non-Hitler” (I guess if he had been too competent straight out of the box, he ran the risk of being perceived as “competent Hitler,” and nothing is scarier and more worthy of crazy, potentially violent resistance than that).

    If the GOP manages to pass some new, better healthcare bill in the next two years (or even the next four), I’ll upgrade my “Scott Adams is right” priors (and downgrade them otherwise).

    • cassander says:

      What’s the deal with the GOP’s inability to do anything with health care after promising to repeal ACA for 7 years? It’s a very weird and rare situation where almost everyone in my social media feed is happy: Dems: “yay, we get to keep the ACA!” Libertarians: “yay, we aren’t stuck with ‘Obamacare Lite’!”, moderate Republicans: “…”

      This was always going to be an issue. The ACA hands out hundreds of billions in gifts and subsidies, plus several are very popular. Repealing them was never going to be popular, so the GOP had to come up with a way to “repeal” the ACA that kept all the things people liked which, of course, isn’t possible, at least not after 2014.

      Or conversely is it that the GOP electorate is now so unreasonable that they won’t stand their representatives voting for anything moderate enough to have a chance of passing?

      It’s not so much the GOP electorate that’s the issue, but the electorate generally, its schizophrenia, and the millions who benefit from ACA subsidies, or think that they do.

      Is the problem that they spent so much time complaining they didn’t bother to stop and think what they’d actually do if they, you know, actually had the power to do anything

      Pretty much, just like the dems who spent 5 years screaming about how horrible Gitmo was.

      (I think a lot of them would have been happier with Hillary, really; impotently complaining is a lot easier than actually being given the power to follow up on your promises).

      no question.

      Here they control House, Senate, and White House and they can’t even pass something everyone in their own party doesn’t hate?

      To be fair, you can say the same thing about the passage of the ACA in the first place.

      Frankly, I think the Reps are just being over-cautious, which is another way of saying Yes, there are too many RINOs. I think they could get away with repealing the exchanges, mandates, and all that stuff, which has all the stuff people don’t like, and leave, or perhaps even expand (with block granting), the medicaid expansion. Virtually all of the coverage expansion is in medicaid anyway, and with some heroic assumptions they should be able to keep the reduction in coverage minimal.

      I think they have more votes to lose from people who get disgusted with them for not repealing it than they do from beneficiaries they lose from repealing it, but then they probably know better than I do.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        To be fair, you can say the same thing about the passage of the ACA in the first place.

        Huh?

        The ACA passed.

        • Fahundo says:

          they can’t even pass something everyone in their own party doesn’t hate?

          Pretty sure the implication is that the ACA didn’t really satisfy anyone; that despite spending years on it, it failed to deliver on what Democrats said they wanted.

    • Brad says:

      Just kidding! There are no moderate Republicans in my social media feed, which maybe is the problem: the John Boehner (and now seemingly the Paul Ryan?) “mainstream” wing of the GOP is seemingly hated by almost everyone, and not without good reason: their promises to roll back big government are obviously hollow, they are in favor of big government if it’s the military, they can complain about Obama for seven years, but when it’s their turn to actually produce some legislation they produce something hardly distinguishable from what Obama might have created, etc. etc.

      So is the problem that there are still too many of the so-called “RINOs”? Or conversely is it that the GOP electorate is now so unreasonable that they won’t stand their representatives voting for anything moderate enough to have a chance of passing? Is the problem that they spent so much time complaining they didn’t bother to stop and think what they’d actually do if they, you know, actually had the power to do anything (I think a lot of them would have been happier with Hillary, really; impotently complaining is a lot easier than actually being given the power to follow up on your promises). Here they control House, Senate, and White House and they can’t even pass something everyone in their own party doesn’t hate?

      The problem aren’t the RINOs, the no-s on the party’s left flank were never enough to sink the bill. It was a fight between the mainstream Republicans and the Freedom Caucus (i.e. the Tea Party republicans).

      In a larger sense, the problem was that for years mainstream Republicans have been saying crazy things in order to drum up popular support but then acted sort-of reasonably when they got to Washington. The Tea Party is the instantiation of that talk made real. Congressmen that primaried mainstream Republicans and won elections under that brand are mostly true believers. They actually want to burn it all down.

      However, despite all the gleeful right wing pundits claiming otherwise, there’s still a solid majority out there in the country that doesn’t want to see it all burned down. They are represented by mainstream Republicans and the few remaining RINOs. And while Congress remains incredibly unpopular actual incumbents are mostly popular in their own districts. The ‘go to Washington and betray your voters’ narrative is mostly bullshit. The mainstream Republican politicians represent mainstream Republican districts. The people in those districts by and large don’t want to participate in some grand Randian experiment. So they (mainstream Republicans) can negotiate some with the Freedom Caucus — bash planned parenthood or whatever — but they can’t capitulate entirely. And the Freedom Caucus, because they are true belivers, demanded all or nothing.

      Strategically, are they better off trying to let ACA fail and continue blaming Dems than passing something which will probably also fail for the same reasons, but then owning it? But I also can’t imagine voters being happy if, after years and years of promising to repeal ACA, they still do nothing in this situation.

      Trump tried to blame the Democrats, but I don’t think it will stick. It’s common knowledge that the Republicans control Congress. Maybe if it had died in the Senate, but not in the House.

      • cassander says:

        In a larger sense, the problem was that for years mainstream Republicans have been saying crazy things in order to drum up popular support but then acted sort-of reasonably when they got to Washington.

        It would be fairer to say “said things their base wanted to hear” and “then didn’t do them when they got to DC.” repealing the ACA is not an unreasonable policy position. Neither are a lot of other GOP positions.

        The people in those districts by and large don’t want to participate in some grand Randian experiment

        .

        Again, repealing the ACA, cutting taxes from 19% of GDP to 17%, refusing to continually increase the rate of increase in welfare spending, these things do not plunge the world into a Libertarian dystopia. The conceit that the do is not an aid to understanding.

        And the Freedom Caucus, because they are true believers, demanded all or nothing.

        No, they demanded SOMETHING. there is nothing in the current bill that they like.

        • skef says:

          Will you admit that none of this is likely to help most of the Trump constituency? And that that’s OK because they just need to compete better on the world economic stage or accept their decreasing resources? And that they should continue to vote Republican because … well, I’m not sure, why is that exactly?

          • cassander says:

            >Will you admit that none of this is likely to help most of the Trump constituency?

            If by that you mean something like “working class whites” the I disagree that they wouldn’t benefit from those policies. See my reply to you below (I saw that other comment first)

        • 1soru1 says:

          cutting taxes from 19% of GDP to 17%, refusing to continually increase the rate of increase in welfare spending

          Note that there are well over a hundred countries in the world, but, excepting city-states, no developed democracies with a tax/gdp rate lower than that of the US. So the idea that the US could safely lower that rate and remain non-dystopian is strictly a hypothesis without empirical support. Economics aside, most people will feel justified in voting for more, and if you want to override that vote, the options aren’t great.

          Interestingly, the only country which might qualify as a possible model is Singapore, which has not only tax-funded universal health care, but also 80% of the population living in state-owned housing. Turns out using state power to organise bulk-buying stuff for people cheaply can be both efficient and really popular.

          Not really the direction the Republican party is heading, though…

          • FacelessCraven says:

            1soru1 – “Not really the direction the Republican party is heading, though…”

            Nor the democrats either, more’s the pity.

            [EDIT] – to be clear, a candidate that had an actual, workable plan for “using state power to organise bulk-buying stuff for people cheaply” in an efficient and not-eastern-european way would have my vote. Instead, we got assurances of cost disease, cost disease everywhere!

          • cassander says:

            Note that there are well over a hundred countries in the world, but, excepting city-states, no developed democracies with a tax/gdp rate lower than that of the US.

            When you add in state and local taxes and tax expenditures, both of which the US relies on to a largely unique degree for a developed country, that gap narrows and in some cases vanishes entirely. But other countries having worse policies than ours doesn’t justify us having bad ones. Having half of GDP directed by the state, more if you include regulatory burden, is crazy. It’s especially crazy in a country as large and diverse as the US. If we have to spend that much money, it should at least be spent at the state and local level, not federal.

            As for healthcare and housing in singapore, it’s success does not come from bulk buying. The US has tons of federally funded housing projects, I’d bet they house more people than live in singapore, and they’re both terrible and expensive. Their success comes from paying close attention to creating good incentives, which is why, for example, they have one of the highest rates of OOP spending on healthcare in the OECD, because forcing people to pay upfront for even a small part of their care lowers costs. The US, let me remind you, has been headed in the opposite direction for decades. Our state works to remove that incentive.

          • Note that there are well over a hundred countries in the world, but, excepting city-states, no developed democracies with a tax/gdp rate lower than that of the US.

            I found figures on Wikipedia for government expenditure as a fraction of GDP. Taiwan, Chile, South Korea, Switzerland, Australia and Lithuania are all lower than the U.S.

            The same source has taxes as a fraction of GDP, which is what your claim was on. Taiwan, Lithuania and Chile are all lower than the U.S., several other countries, such as Australia, only slightly higher. The U.S. is pretty low for a developed democracy but not the lowest.

            So the idea that the US could safely lower that rate and remain non-dystopian is strictly a hypothesis without empirical support.

            The figure for 1960 was about ten percentage points below the current figure. I don’t remember it as a dystopia.

        • Marie says:

          I do think straight up repeal of the ACA (with no replacement) is at this point an unreasonable policy position. (Both unreasonable from a pragmatic perspective, in that it has no chance of passing Congress, and unresonable from a prudential perspective, in that it will do more harm than good overall).

          I had my doubts for many years due to all of the “repeal the ACA” rhetoric, but the townhall backlash and AHCA mess leads me to think several changes are here to stay. Too much of the old healthcare infrastructure is gone for a repeal to avoid causing a signifigant bit of chaos for a couple years. Also, it would throw a lot of people with pre-existing conditions and no employer coverage back into personal healthcare dystopias, and, unsuprisingly, they’d prefer not to go back there and can be pretty noisy constituents.

          I personally have a mild pre-existing condition and moderate social capital, so I’d muddle through OK if the ACA were repealed, though I’d definitely be poorer and/or less covered. If I thought it was worth it overall, I’d take the personal hit to help usher in an overall better system. But straight ACA repeal isn’t worth it; follks with more serious conditions have a lot more at stake and far fewer options, and I’m not OK with throwing them back under the bus.

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      When the dog actually catches the car, what does it do with it?

    • skef says:

      The Republican coalition has for the past couple decades largely been based on three families of goal. One is lowering taxes on corporations and high-earners together with laissez faire economic policies, including free trade. They actually tend to follow through on this, and it’s the basis of a lot of the fundraising. The second is lowering federal spending. The lowering is mostly fake and limited to periods when they’re out of power, but it is reasonably effective in working against increases in social program spending. The third is various policies of social conservatism. It’s hard to say how genuine these concerns are, but in practice they haven’t delivered much.

      Through that time the trucker-hat wearing part of the coalition we heard so much about in the election were generally seen at the top as motivated by social conservatism, (and also to a general “keep the government out of my X” mentality). The idea (or hope) was that they would be mostly placated by the the third plank, even when nothing was delivered, because the Democratic party was clearly on the other side. That seems to be mostly out the window now. Trump voters are in part pissed off about their economic situation.

      For all the talk about how liberals have forgotten that demographic, for the most part Republicans in office think those people should either have the right job or earn enough on their own to pay for insurance. If the constituents can’t manage that, maybe the local church could help? The policy they would prefer is to go back to the situation before Obamacare, including everyone thinking “that’s life”. Maybe add in some healthcare savings-accounts. But that doesn’t work now, because those voters won’t have the “that”s life” attitude. So there’s no clear way forward. Simple repeal would break the coalition and everyone know that.

      The Republicans now face a huge risk. Trump wants protectionist tax reform, but that doesn’t seem to be popular in congress. The current speculation is that they’ll settle for a reduction in the top bracket and lower corporate taxes. If that’s the next move, then the party will basically be saying “we can entirely ignore the reasons Trump was elected and do what we’ve always done.”

      (Trump himself of course doesn’t really give a rat’s ass about the needs and desires of his voters and was just saying whatever worked.)

      • cassander says:

        They actually tend to follow through on this, and it’s the basis of a lot of the fundraising.

        Not really. in 1979, the richest 1/5 earned 45% of income and paid 55% of taxes. Today they make 50% of income but pay 70% of taxes. Taxes on the rich have gone up over the last 30 years, they’ve gone down for almost everyone else, and the overall level of taxation has been flat.

        but it is reasonably effective in working against increases in social program spending.

        social spending has done nothing but rise. Republicans do promise that this won’t happen, but they never actually do it. The last republican president, for example, doubled the budget for the department of education and massively expanded medicare.

        Through that time the trucker-hat wearing part of the coalition we heard so much about in the election were generally seen at the top as motivated by social conservatism, (

        This is often said, but inaccurately. There is a reason whites with no college degree are the most republican demographic in the country, and it isn’t mass delusion, it’s hard economic reality. The republicans don’t offer them much, but they at least aren’t actively and publically plotting against them.

        Let’s say you’re a member of this group. You didn’t go to college, so you don’t benefit from the massive subsidies to higher education. You make enough money that you don’t benefit from the means tested welfare state and enough to start paying significant taxes. Your income is also strongly linked to your age, so if you don’t make that much money yet, you likely will soon. You are far more likely to work in the sort of brown industries that the democrats actively brag about trying to regulate out of existence. So in what way is voting for the democrats in your interests? They want to tax you, give the money to someone else, then make your job illegal.

        • skef says:

          Not really. in 1979, the richest 1/5 earned 45% of income and paid 55% of taxes. Today they make 50% of income but pay 70% of taxes. Taxes on the rich have gone up over the last 30 years, they’ve gone down for almost everyone else, and the overall level of taxation has been flat.

          How can you write this without laughing? I certainly can’t read it without laughing. If we switched to a flat tax tomorrow and put up the corresponding percentages they would have the same general flavor. So I take it that your point is that the Republicans have failed to switch to a head tax?

          • cassander says:

            >How can you write this without laughing?

            I’ve generally don’t find much humor in CBO reports. Do you?

            So I take it that your point is that the Republicans have failed to switch to a head tax

            Unless you think the CBO is part of the vast republican conspiracy, facts are facts. But don’t take my word for it, Taxes are up on the top quintile, down for everyone else. And that holds true even after you adjust for the rise in share of total income.

            The history of the last 30 years in taxes is that democrats and some republicans have been just as good at hiking them as other republicans have been at cutting them, and there’s been broad agreement on making them more progressive, not less. Again, not my opinion, but that of the CBO.

          • skef says:

            And that holds true even after you adjust for the rise in share of total income.

            Can you clarify what numbers you want to reference in that link?

          • cassander says:

            I thought that was linking directly. Relevant tabs are 2, shares of taxes paid, and 3, shares of pre-tax income earned (you have to scroll down a bit)

          • skef says:

            Ok … then can you clarify what you mean by “adjust for the rise in share of total income” and “top quintile”?

            What point do you take to be vindicated by percentages that are for the most part quite stable but have a slight downward trend?

          • cassander says:

            @skef says:

            Ok … then can you clarify what you mean by “adjust for the rise in share of total income” and “top quintile”?

            If I say the rich used to pay 55 percent of taxes and today they pay 70% , the natural response is “well of course, their share of income has risen!” This is true, but their share of taxes has risen faster than their share of income, and everyone else’s share of taxes has fallen faster than their decline in the share of income.

            What point do you take to be vindicated by percentages that are for the most part quite stable but have a slight downward trend?

            The slight downward trend is to to adjustments in the definition of taxable income and the shift from C to S corporations for small businesses. If you look at those numbers, though, you will see that they have declined least for the richest and most for the poorest, vindicating my point that taxes have been cut for everyone except the rich.

            The reason you look at tax share vs. income share is, since we know the overall level of taxation has been flat, it cuts out the sort of issues above.

          • skef says:

            This is true, but their share of taxes has risen faster than their share of income, and everyone else’s share of taxes has fallen faster than their decline in the share of income.

            Given the changes in distribution of income, your fact will be true in any system with progressive brackets that stay roughly the same, right? If rates and brackets unchanged over the period, what you point out is just a consequence of progressive rates. So unless your point is that Republicans failed to institute a flax tax with no standard deduction, I don’t see its significance.

            If we’re talking the top quintile, what I see of relevance in these charts is Tab “1. Avg Federal Tax Rates” columns J and K, rows 50-84 (or 13-47 if you prefer), together with Tab “3. Household Income” Columns J and K, rows 49-83. The latter says: Look, those in the top 20th of those years are making more money. The former says: Look, those in the top 20th of those years are paying a bit lower percentage of it in taxes.

            (Added later: To clarify, I take columns J and K to be preferable to F because they separate out the top 1%. It’s worth looking at L too.)

          • cassander says:

            @skef says:

            This is true, but their share of taxes has risen faster than their share of income, and everyone else’s share of taxes has fallen faster than their decline in the share of income.

            Sometimes yes, sometimes no, it that depends on the exact nature of the taxation scheme and how the change in wealth is happening.

            So unless your point is that Republicans failed to institute a flax tax with no standard deduction, I don’t see its significance.

            The point is that republicans have altered the brackets many times, but they have not done so in ways that make the code less progressive, directly contrary to your claim that they just want tax cuts for the rich.

            The former says: Look, those in the top 20th of those years are paying a bit lower percentage of it in taxes.

            Yes, I explained this earlier. If you look at that whole chart you’ll see rates falling for everyone. But we know that taxes as a share of GDP are not falling, so this is a bit of a puzzle. the answer is that there have been numerous changes to the definition of taxable income overtime, most of which expand the quantity. You’ll note that that chart, however, has effective rates falling 1% for the top quintile, 4% for the 4th, 6% for the middle 6% for the second, and 4% for the lowest. So even if you accept those numbers and decide that taxes are lower, they’ve been lowered LEAST for the richest.

          • skef says:

            @cassander

            Can you make more of an effort to attribute quotes properly? Forget the fact that you’ve just skipped over the point I was making; you’re literally arguing with yourself now.

          • skef says:

            The point is that republicans have altered the brackets many times, but they have not done so in ways that make the code less progressive, directly contrary to your claim that they just want tax cuts for the rich.

            No, they have not done so in a way that makes it non- progressive. “Progressive” does not mean “this quintile pays this total portion of taxes”, it has to do with rates. If the top rate comes down more than the lower rates, the system is less progressive. Are you saying that the Republicans have never lowered the top rate by a greater degree than the other rates? Or that they have sometimes but raised it other times? Or is your goal just to toss up a concept salad and hope for the best?

          • cassander says:

            @skef says:

            “Progressive” does not mean “this quintile pays this total portion of taxes”, it has to do with rates.

            I didn’t say it did. But the way you measure the DEGREE of progressivity is to see how much each quintile pays and how it changes over time.

            If the top rate comes down more than the lower rates, the system is less progressive. Are you saying that the Republicans have never lowered the top rate by a greater degree than the other rates?

            Just looking at rates is misleading because so much more goes into the tax code than rates. For example, take a tax code that has a very high maximum rate, say 90% in incomes over a billion dollars a year. that sounds very progressive, but so few people make that much that, in practice, a lower rate of 80% a year on incomes over a million dollars might actually people, even billionaires, more because a larger share of their income is subject to that high rate. The lower rate can actually be more progressive in effect. That is why you look at tax share compared to income share. It subtracts out, so to speak, all of the complexities of deductions, exemptions, rates, etc and gives you a number that is directly comparable over time.

            Or that they have sometimes but raised it other times? Or is your goal just to toss up a concept salad and hope for the best?

            My goal is to make you understand that looking just at top marginal rates is worse than useless, and that if you look at useful numbers, you’ll see that the tax code has grown more progressive in the last 30 years, under both democrats and republicans.

          • skef says:

            (edited)

            Alright, different tack. You’re trying to educate me. I’ll try to understand what you’re saying.

            But the way you measure the DEGREE of progressivity is to see how much each quintile pays and how it changes over time.

            You say that you can measure the degree of progressivity of the tax system by this means. First question: Can the degree of progressivity of the system increase in this sense when the tax system itself, including brackets, rates, and whatever exceptions are relevant, stays exactly the same, with only the distribution of incomes changing?

        • skef says:

          The republicans don’t offer them much, but they at least aren’t actively and publically plotting against them.

          Look, I know there is a standard economic story about how protectionism is totally gnarly and everyone should happy about how cheap Walmart is. That’s been looking increasingly dodgy. Economic conservatives argue that it must be gnarly, that’s just economics 101. And everyone also understands that they don’t really care either way. Markets have winners and losers, and if there are losers so what?

          • cassander says:

            for the last 20+ years democrats have been more or less on board with international free trade. Where they haven’t been, their objections have been confined to a narrow set of issues designed to appease the concerns of their core constituents like organized labor or environmental activists, nothing like trump’s broader appeal. So even if we accept that protectionism is an active plot against that demographic (or, more importantly, is thought to be such) the republicans are no worse on that front that the democrats are for the vast majority of the people in question, and much better on several other fronts.

          • skef says:

            I pretty much agree. That doesn’t change the fact that the Republican coalition is at present dramatically self-destructing. I don’t know what we’ll wind up with, but it’s not what we’ve had.

    • John Schilling says:

      What’s the deal with the GOP’s inability to do anything with health care after promising to repeal ACA for 7 years?

      What do you imagine they could do? Pass the law that says, “Oops, here’s the clever thing everybody else missed that lets everyone have all the health care they want for $29.95 a month”?

      The ACA is front-loaded with immensely popular benefits for a whole lot of people, costs for a relatively few people, and economic doom on the back end. It does not include anything remotely like shoveling money into a furnace where if you stop doing that the thing stops being doomed; everything it spends (or commands other people to spend) money on is very popular with the beneficiaries right now.

      Anything that the GOP, or anyone else, can come up with to replace the ACA, is going to be either massively unpopular with people who see their benefits cut, or it is going to be economically doomed in the long run, or both. The Republicans don’t have the margin to do gratuitously unpopular things now. The smart Republicans know that if it’s the Republican Obamacare Replacement that crashes and burns later, they are going to be thrown out of power then by people who will at least retroactively believe that Obamacare wouldn’t have failed. So there’s nothing they can agree on, because there are no good answers.

      There’s the less-bad answer of waiting until the ACA does fail and the emergency measures that provides a fraction of the benefits that the ACA (or the pre-ACA system) used to, start looking pretty good. The future of American health care will be patched together out of those “temporary” emergency measures, just like the pre-ACA system was patched together out of WWII’s temporary emergency measures.

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @John Schilling – On the one hand, the above seems persuasive, and I’m left bewildered at why Trump and Ryan are actually *trying* to repeal and replace Obamacare, since doing so is obviously suicidal. On the other hand, Trump has failed to complete the obviously suicidal action, so… that’s good, I guess?

        • John Schilling says:

          They seem to have been playing chicken, mostly with themselves at the end. The best place to stand, politically, when the ACA comes tumbling down, will be as the Republican who can say “I tried to stop this disaster”, and after seven years of denouncing the ACA as a disaster it’s going to be quite conspicuous if you don’t try to stop it while you have the chance.

          The current outcome, where they pull the bill because they “don’t have the votes” without holding the vote and identifying the specific twenty-three Republicans congressmen willing to vote against repeal-and-replace, is probably the best all around for the GOP in the long run. Unclear how much of this was clever strategy and how much was dumb luck.

      • onyomi says:

        What do you imagine they could do? Pass the law that says, “Oops, here’s the clever thing everybody else missed that lets everyone have all the health care they want for $29.95 a month”?

        I think what is most frustrating to me is how the GOP, while superficially the party of small government, has still seemingly never learned how to explain or deal with the inevitable inconveniences of actually reducing the size of government. Handing out concentrated benefits with diffuse costs is easy; taking away concentrated benefits for diffuse gain is hard and requires explanation. But it seems like they don’t even try.

        But then, maybe I am hoping for the impossible: all incentives line up for politicians in a democracy to deliver concentrated benefits with diffuse costs, whatever they might promise rhetorically. The GOP electorate is basically asking politicians to stop being politicians. They even elected a non-politician president. Problem is, the options tend to be either become a politician or don’t get anything done politically.

        • skef says:

          I’m imagining a doctor’s office style pamphlet called “Living with Economic Uncompetitiveness”.

          • onyomi says:

            The GOP position really isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) “people who don’t make a lot of money shouldn’t get healthcare.”

            It should be “healthcare shouldn’t be so insanely expensive that no one can afford it unless they have a really comprehensive insurance plan paid for by his or her employer.”

            But, as with education, all the focus for both parties seems to be on how to enable people to pay for the insanely inflated price of the thing, rather than on addressing the causes of the insanely inflated price.

            Perhaps it is another case of the GOP accepting the Dems’ fundamental assumptions and then being surprised when they can’t do better, given the exact same assumptions. If your starting point is “healthcare is necessarily insanely expensive,” then the only two options are “raise taxes to pay for the healthcare of the non-wealthy” and “tell poor people to go to hell.” That choice, of course, leaves GOP politicians with no good options, since they brand themselves as the low tax party.

          • skef says:

            The GOP position really isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) “people who don’t make a lot of money shouldn’t get healthcare.”

            OK. I thought you were generally a libertarian, though, and a healthy number of GOP politicians at least lean that way.

            What is the Libertarian position, and/or what should it be?

          • onyomi says:

            I guess what I am saying is that, as a libertarian, I wish the GOP would embrace its “freedom caucus” (the Rand Pauls, the Justin Amashs) and come up with some plausible plan for addressing the root problem of why healthcare is so expensive in the first place.

            (Moved from above unintentional ninja edit) And that’s what I mean by the GOP never learning how to be an effective small government party (if such a thing is possible): if you can craft a plan which plausibly promises to cause healthcare prices to plummet, then voters can conceivably swallow that pill, even if it includes cuts to popular, generous provisions at the same time.

            But if all you do is cut popular, generous provisions and yet offer no good reason to expect things to get any better than they were before those provisions, how can you even expect voters give you a chance when you never even made the case why they should prefer your alternative?

            It’s like at least the libertarians offer a silver lining or light at the end of the tunnel of inevitable pain any real spending cut must cause. The mainstream GOP seems content to be the party of offering painful tunnels with no light at the end.

            They say the sign of a good compromise is that no one is happy… but just because no one is happy doesn’t mean it’s a good compromise.

          • skef says:

            That supposes that anyone knows what the root problem is. We had a couple threads about that a while back, didn’t we?

            I guess one could put the parallel increases in veterinary care entirely on Baumol, but it’s not exactly a raging endorsement of market solutions (i.e. “freedom”).

            Do you really not have a view about how things should work beyond “Rand Paul could help”?

            A lot of people worry about the combination of libertarian thinking and healthcare because it really seems like anyone with a) a really expensive health condition, b) an insurance-changing event (like losing or just changing a job) and c) roughly average economic productivity is probably going to need some sort of private charity. Why should employer plans necessarily take on new members with preexisting conditions at similar rates? Shouldn’t they be able to charge a lot more for that? Shouldn’t employers be allowed to not hire such people for that reason? Aren’t the libertarian answers to these questions “they shouldn’t have to do anything”, “yes”, and “yes”?

          • onyomi says:

            Not everyone agrees with us, of course, but from the libertarian perspective it’s not that complicated: things that are heavily regulated and heavily subsidized and that separate the consumer from the payer get a lot more expensive than they would be otherwise.

            Almost nothing is more heavily regulated and subsidized and disconnected in terms of who pays and who consumes in the US than healthcare, so almost nothing is as expensive. And veterinary care is a lot cheaper and more transparent than human healthcare, though it isn’t really a perfect test case because it uses many of the same drugs, equipment, etc. as human healthcare and so cannot be wholly isolated from that market.

            The problem is that a lot of people are currently getting wealthy off those regulations and depending on those subsidies. How to cut those things in an intelligent way so that the benefits of lower prices can offset the pain of lost subsidies is a hard question I’m not qualified to answer.* But then, I’m not a politician who’s been running on promises to cut ACA and replace it with something better for the past seven years.

            *And it may be literally impossible and/or politically suicidal. My personal sense is that politicians are caught between this approximate Scylla and Charybdis: probably the best way to lower prices without/before cutting subsidies is to eliminate regulations first. But eliminating regulations disproportionately pisses off rich donors who will lobby against you to keep the regulations benefiting themselves in place. This is probably why “Tea Party”-inclined voters have reacted so well to what the other side decries as Kamikaze-like tactics on the part of e. g. Ted Cruz. Political Kamikazes (people willing to piss off the established interests to strike a blow for the common good) are what the GOP voters want (and yes, for government to keep its hands off their medicare). But how many people are really willing to resign themselves to being one-term congressmen or senators in order to cut that one really bad regulation keeping prices high?

          • John Schilling says:

            The GOP position really isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) “people who don’t make a lot of money shouldn’t get healthcare.” It should be “healthcare shouldn’t be so insanely expensive that no one can afford it unless they have a really comprehensive insurance plan paid for by his or her employer.”

            You are smuggling in the assumption that “healthcare” is a binary that one either has or does not have. That assumption will doom any proposal to provide health care to the American public, because anyone with an advertising budget can arrange for some very expensive thing that you provide to be labeled “healthcare” whereupon it is mandatory to provide it to everyone until the sum total of such expenses brings the whole thing crashing down.

            Band-Aids and aspirin are dirt cheap. Everybody, even the poorest of the poor, can afford some health care. It might be possible to have a productive discussion about how much health care ought to be provided to various people.

          • Brad says:

            It’s like libertarians don’t understand that people are extremely risk adverse when it come to something like “how am I going to get my medication next year”.

            Maybe that’s a consequence of libertarian demographics?

          • John Schilling says:

            Some of us understand that quite well. But only foolish people would be reassured by anything of the form, “I promise that every American will get a blank check to pay for whatever health care they want next year, and every year after that, and we’ll make rich people pay for it!”, because that’s just the economic equivalent of faith healing.

            If it is necessary to base policy on whatever most reassures foolish people, that’s going to end badly. If we are allowed to talk about things that might actually be sensible policies, then we are going to be talking about a risk that some people might not get their medication next year. And really, if we are allowed to talk honestly about the other policies, we’re still talking about a risk that some people might not get their medication next year.

            There’s something about the beauty of our weapons that goes here, I think.

          • keranih says:

            @ Brad

            libertarians don’t understand that people are extremely risk adverse when it come to something like “how am I going to get my medication next year”.

            I think that libertarians understand this better than most, which is why when someone goes ahead and promises free medication *this* year, libertarians have screaming meltdowns.

            (Which makes them look like heartless bastards who just want people to die in the street so that they don’t have to pay for meds any more.)

          • Brad says:

            I think I should have quoted a relevant paragraph. Maybe this one:

            (Moved from above unintentional ninja edit) And that’s what I mean by the GOP never learning how to be an effective small government party (if such a thing is possible): if you can craft a plan which plausibly promises to cause healthcare prices to plummet, then voters can conceivably swallow that pill, even if it includes cuts to popular, generous provisions at the same time.

            My point was that some kind of incrementalism is the only realistic path forward for any kind of health related reform. The idea that there’s going to be some bill that enacts the dream that is pure free market healthcare is just silliness. How exactly are libertarians going to plausibly promise to cause healthcare prices to fall — plausibly that is vis-a-vis anyone that’s not already a true believer?

            You need to start small and build trust. Because right now everyone does indeed think that libertarians are heartless bastards that want people to die in the street.

          • keranih says:

            Proving before hand that a major overhaul will work is the sticking point, agreed. (Which is why we haven’t gone to single payer, I think, despite the non-trival evidence of other nations having done similar things.)(*)

            And based on that failure to act “in the teeth of the evidence” I don’t know if even federalism will work. Certainly the states that thought about it haven’t been happy.

            I think incrimentalism might not be possible, either, because of so much that is path dependent. Might be that the only real option is doing an ACA type move and accepting that you’d lose Congress afterwards.

            (*) Most of them are not single payer, they haven’t controlled cost rise any better than us, and even so single payer is such a bad idea. BUT. It’s not like people haven’t put forth reasonable evidence in support.

          • onyomi says:

            That incrementalism is necessary to fix things in a non-destructive way is why I said I’m not qualified to offer the details. My point is: even if you disagree with my premise that free market solutions are what healthcare needs, the GOP have been running on that for 7 years now. They did have the time to work something out and sell it to the various factions of their party. They should have, in that time, come up with some plausible, incrementalist, free market plan which they could sell to people in a way that when they said “this won’t result in you not getting your meds next year,” they’d believe them, and when they said to Rand Paul “this isn’t just repackaging everything you hate about ACA,” he’d believe them.

            That they didn’t corroborates, to my mind, the idea that they prefer their role as the “Washington Generals” of politics. They didn’t expect Trump to win and haven’t prepared to actually be in a position to deliver on their promises.

          • cassander says:

            @onyomi says:

            They did have the time to work something out and sell it to the various factions of their party. They should have, in that time, come up with some plausible, incrementalist, free market plan which they could sell to people in a way that when they said “this won’t result in you not getting your meds next year,” they’d believe them, and when they said to Rand Paul “this isn’t just repackaging everything you hate about ACA,” he’d believe them.

            Here’s what happens if you try to do that. Your write up your plan. that plan inevitably involves some rice bowl somewhere getting threatened. You start building up support for it, and either that rice bowl or someone sympathetic to it finds out about it. He leaks the plan, noting how taking away this rice bowl could hurt someone. the media runs with the headline “breaking news: horrible GOP plan to murder your grandmother”. Soon everyone who was supporting the plan in private has to disavow it in public.

            That they didn’t corroborates, to my mind, the idea that they prefer their role as the “Washington Generals” of politics. They didn’t expect Trump to win and haven’t prepared to actually be in a position to deliver on their promises.

            When obama was in office, they couldn’t win. and they definitely didn’t expect trump to win. but the refusal to come up with a plan wasn’t willful, it was the perfectly rational thing to do as long as there was, or they thought their would be, a democrat in the white house.

          • What is the Libertarian position, and/or what should it be?

            In the long term, it should be to get back to a free market in healthcare and insurance, on the grounds that the current high costs are in large part due to government interference in both markets.

            In the short run, the essential changes are:

            1. Permit interstate competition in health insurance. This is important not just because firms would compete with each other but because states would. At present, even without Obamacare, insurance companies are regulated at the state level, which means required to cover things that provider lobbies want them to cover whether or not customers do.

            2. Eliminate regulations that force insurance companies to knowingly subsidize some customers at the expense of others, thus creating unnecessary adverse selection. Eliminate adverse selection and you no longer need the mandate.

            Given the political situation at present, making that doable probably requires some government subsidy of insurance for people with predictable high medical costs, but hopefully that can be done for less money than Obamacare currently costs.

            3. Eliminate the tax subsidy to employer provided health insurance. Politically speaking that means making private insurance tax deductible, since employer provided insurance already is.

            One advantage of these changes is eliminating the “if you change jobs you lose your insurance” problem for those who choose to either get insurance outside of their job or portable insurance inside their job.

            My pension plan is TIAA-CREF, which specializes in academics. I have had the same plan through multiple jobs in multiple states. I conjecture that the reason employer provided health insurance doesn’t work that way is the restriction on interstate sales, but I don’t actually know.

            The whole point of insurance is that you are buying it at a point when neither you nor the company know how much you will cost them. That doesn’t work very well if you keep having to change plans.

          • 1soru1 says:

            because anyone with an advertising budget can arrange for some very expensive thing that you provide to be labeled “healthcare” whereupon it is mandatory to provide it to everyone

            I do like the phrase ‘Washington Generals thinking’ to describe this thought pattern; ‘at some point, a game of basketball will break out. After we lose, …’.

            Just like skill and tactics don’t matter to the Generals, facts don’t matter to this narrative. The ‘healthcare’ can be $25 to cure a fatal disease, or $250,000 per year to slightly reduce the severity of a chronic one. By the premise, you can’t win either way, so you might as well lose entertainingly.

            In reality, politicians running on cutting tax win if anything more than 50% of the time. When they lose, it is at least partly because spending is low enough that greater numbers of voters are, in their lives, seeing opportunities for cost-effective spending that are not happening due to budget restrictions.

          • Brad says:

            They should have, in that time, come up with some plausible, incrementalist, free market plan which they could sell to people in a way that when they said “this won’t result in you not getting your meds next year,” they’d believe them, and when they said to Rand Paul “this isn’t just repackaging everything you hate about ACA,” he’d believe them.

            Such a thing may simply be impossible. Especially the Rand Paul part.

            That they didn’t corroborates, to my mind, the idea that they prefer their role as the “Washington Generals” of politics. They didn’t expect Trump to win and haven’t prepared to actually be in a position to deliver on their promises.

            That’s one possibility, but you seem too unwilling to consider that mainstream Republican politicians and the voters they represent, are very far away from you ideologically even if their rhetoric might sometimes suggest otherwise.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      A common critique of the Republican Party (from the left and many of the right’s intellectuals) during the Obama years is that they had become a “post policy” party. This critique essentially comes down the Republican coalition being unwilling to come to grips with the basic necessities of running the federal government.

      They have spent the last 7 years promising lower premiums, lower out of pocket cost, more coverage and more people with coverage. But they never put a plan together that could deliver on these promises, because it isn’t possible to do so when lowering taxes and spending less tax revenue on providing insurance to Americans. They aren’t willing to wrestle with reality and make trade-offs, because they are ideologically bound to the idea that the market will fix anything and spending tax revenue is bad, even while knowing that the market will not fix this, not the way they have been promising.

      There is also the pernicious idea that has taken a very firm hold, that “compromise” is always a bad thing. You should never give in and vote for something that is not optimal (according to you) even if you get a policy concession that you wanted. Repeat this long enough, and putting together a majority for any legislation becomes very difficult. I have no reason to cooperate with you when you have shown time and time again that you will not cooperate with me. Every prisoner’s dilemma becomes defect-defect.

      • cassander says:

        This is commonly said, it is not born out in the actual evidence. What compromise was offered on the ACA? John Boehner offered to compromise on a grand bargain, Obama walked away. He forced a compromise over the debt ceiling/bush tax cuts against the administration’s wishes. And the republicans certainly don’t have the market cornered on unrealistic promises when it comes to healthcare, or any other topic. the AHRA is not falling apart because it’s too market friendly to be workable, it’s falling apart because it isn’t market friendly enough to actually get republican support.

        If there’s any ideology here, it’s the one that claim that good things can only be done with more government revenue.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          @cassander:
          The two sides disagree on who walked away from the grand bargain.

          But ongoing debt ceiling votes, and other “keep the lights on” votes, show you the dynamic I am talking about.

          Boehner was forced, on multiple occasions, to pass “must pass” bills with almost every single Democrat and just a handful of Republicans. That’s fucking nuts.

    • keranih says:

      I have no coherent idea why in the time since Obamacare passed that a basic plan for repealing hasn’t come into shape. There were a variety of ways that the pre-Obamacare situation could have been made less lousy (state-level high risk pools and removing the employment healthinsurance tax deduction) that could still have been proposed.

      However, I’m willing to bet a variety of personality and “targeted interest” conflicts is at the root of the logjam.

      Given how lousy this first plan was, I’m just as glad it sank. I’d rather they went back and thought some more and tried again with something better.

      (One last note: I refuse to equate “didn’t pass legislation” with “Congress is incompetent”. They should first NOT PASS bad legislation, second FIX previously passed legislation that turned out to be lousy, and THEN work on passing more legislation. I know that health industry reform is more the second than the third, but it’s still not the first one.)

      • cassander says:

        I have no coherent idea why in the time since Obamacare passed that a basic plan for repealing hasn’t come into shape

        If you have an actual plan, it can be criticized in concrete, specific ways that are likely to be true. Easier to not have one and force your opponents into generalities.

      • Machina ex Deus says:

        One last note: I refuse to equate “didn’t pass legislation” with “Congress is incompetent”. They should first NOT PASS bad legislation, second FIX previously passed legislation that turned out to be lousy, and THEN work on passing more legislation. I know that health industry reform is more the second than the third, but it’s still not the first one.

        Yup. I hate the common fallacy that “more laws passed is better”.

    • onyomi says:

      Related note: I really think we should take away the power from the government to incentivize or disincentivize anything through taxation (not that I expect it will happen, but it should). The origin of so many problems, including to no small degree, the high cost of health care (tax subsidies for employer-provided insurance), is precisely this power, and if you’re creative enough with it, it gives you the power to get around any other constraint the Constitution, etc. might attempt to impose?

      “What, no laws about religion? Okay, we’ll just heavily tax the bad religions.” “What, government shouldn’t pick winners and losers in the market? Okay, we’ll just give big tax subsidies for the type of business we like.” “What, we can’t mandate a national standard drinking age? No problem, we’ll just threaten to withhold funding for highways paid by taxes the citizens of those states will have to pay either way.” “We can’t mandate you to buy something? No problem, we’ll just make you pay a tax if you don’t buy the thing. What? Not ‘free market’ enough for you? Okay, we’ll just give you a tax credit if you do buy the government-subsidized, approved plan… we’re not taking away your money for not doing the good thing, you see, we’re just taking away less of your money in exchange for you doing the good thing…”

      • cassander says:

        a side benefit of this attitude would be making costs more visible. The size of the USG is often dramatically understated because of the degree to which we rely on tax expenditures rather than actual expenditures.

      • Wrong Species says:

        That reminds of an idea I had for a short story.The bureaucracy tries to tax everything they don’t like. You might get taxed heavily for every unhealthy food you eat. Clothes that look weird are taxed. Stupid movies are taxed. It’s like 1984 but through tax incentives.

      • BBA says:

        All taxation disincentivizes whatever is being taxed. You might as well demand that taxation be abolished altogether. (And yes, I know you’re in favor of that too.)

        • onyomi says:

          Yes, but assuming we have to have taxes, we can try to limit the sorts of distortion they are allowed to introduce, as well as, in principle at least, state somewhere (in an amendment?) that the only purpose of all taxes is to fund the government, not to simultaneously fund the government and alter incentive structures in ways the government likes. In practice this should just mean mandating a much, much simpler tax code (real popular among constituencies who currently get writeoffs, I’m sure).

          • Aapje says:

            @onyomi

            Then the ideological fight is going to be how you define distortion and what kind of distortions you want to allow. How is this different from the current situation where politicians work hard to frame their preferred policies as logical and the policies they oppose as idiotic?

            mandating a much, much simpler tax code

            Hey politicians, what about you giving up one of the main ways that you can exert influence over society?

            […]

            Hey, no need for rude language, mister.

          • onyomi says:

            Hey politicians, what about you giving up one of the main ways that you can exert influence over society?

            I certainly agree politicians are going to be very, very reluctant to give it up… I’m just saying it seems the biggest, most obvious loophole going. Of course, some have noticed it: “the power to tax is the power to destroy,” etc. but it still seems to be a relatively ignored issue.

          • Aapje says:

            @onyomi

            I think that a lot of people are fine with destroying some things.

            Fundamentally, the issue is whether human desires are automatically desirable for being human desires. If not, restraining some human desires can be considered the moral thing to do.

            For example, the tragedy of the commons can happen when there is no mechanism to keep people from defecting from a sustainable strategy. Then it can be logical for all actors to just use up the otherwise renewable resource, as they cannot keep anyone else from doing so, so why not do it themselves then, so at least they profit? One way to combat that is to tax the resource, so the production cost goes up, which changes the supply curve, which in turn results in reduced demand (assuming decent price elasticity). So by taxing the right amount, you can make it unprofitable to overproduce and thus deplete the commons.

            So then you have destroyed a bad dynamic that harms mankind.

          • onyomi says:

            My point isn’t about whether or not it’s desirable to destroy things; it’s about whether or not politicians should be allowed to accomplish through a taxation backdoor what the Constitution, constituencies, or other such limitations prevent them from accomplishing through a more explicit legislative front door (in your example, by simply legislating some kind of quota).

            Ironically, doing things through the tax code has gained a reputation for being more “free markety,” and Republican-friendly in the US than just say, setting a limit on say, how much fish you can catch per day. But I’m not sure that reputation is deserved.

          • Aapje says:

            @onyomi

            The constitution just applies to the federal level. If you remove this capability on that level, you will still have the same thing on the state level (and more such legislation will be made at that level, as you will have a waterbed effect). So if you consider these taxes to be harmful distortions, you won’t solve anything by only banning them on the federal level.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      Is the problem that they spent so much time complaining they didn’t bother to stop and think what they’d actually do if they, you know, actually had the power to do anything

      I’d wager it’s this one. The best gloss one can put on it is that everyone in the GOP was so focused on winning, and then fighting about Trump, that they figured they could spackle over the immense chasms in the Republican conference later. But then later came, as it always does.

      Here’s another theory: Congress has become largely vestigial over the course of the Obama administration, happily ceding power to the Presidency and the Supreme Court so they don’t have their names on anything that can be used against them at election time. Then Trump got elected, and it turns out the guy doesn’t care about policy and really doesn’t care about health care policy. He would have signed anything Paul Ryan put on his desk because he’s not interested in the details. But, upon having to actually do their jobs again, it turns out Congress’s ability to do so had completely atrophied.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        happily ceding power to the Presidency and the Supreme Court so they don’t have their names on anything that can be used against them at election time.

        I think I reject the idea that Congress has become vetigal, but to the extent that Congress is failing to use its power in an effective manner, let’s look at who they are afraid of.

        It’s Republican primary voters. (Democratic ones when they have the majority, but they went ahead and actually did pass a large amount of legislation).

        “Compromise” was made into a dirty word by the right. Now, its not as if the left isn’t starting to see increasing adoption of this mantra as well, but I would say that they’re being forced into that position.

        • ThirteenthLetter says:

          >“Compromise” was made into a dirty word by the right

          “I won.” – Barack Obama

          • ChetC3 says:

            >“I won.” – Barack Obama

            That’s certainly going to convince anyone at all that isn’t already a committed partisan. Do you think your side is the only one that likes to pass around soundbites like this one, or is that you believe it’s different when your side does it? Think of how impressed you are when the media repeats one of their favorite Trump soundbites.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            “Elections have consequences.” — George Bush

            Note that Bush got much of what he wanted, and the things he didn’t get were either killed by the right (immigration reform) or in a bipartisan fashion (social security privatization).

            Which has essentially nothing to do with the fact that the current Republican congress has no coherent policy agenda, or why.

          • The Nybbler says:

            “Elections have consequences.” — George Bush

            No, also Obama.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @The Nybbler:
            Actually we are both wrong.

            It was McCain, who said it about Bushes SCOTUS nominees and the confirmation process, although I believe he actually said it on many occasions.

            And come to think of it, it’s probably been said frequently before he ever said it.

      • BBA says:

        I agree with your diagnosis, but you’ll have to go back a little further. Congress hasn’t tried to make policy since the Contract with America ran aground during the Clinton administration. The few successful parts were credited to Clinton, while all the failures were blamed on Gingrich. Since then when Congress and the Presidency are together, Congress follows the President’s lead, and when they’re split, Congress does as little as possible.

    • Jordan D. says:

      This may or may not be similar enough to serve as a model for the federal government, but something like this happened in my state a few years back. The newly-elected governor was a Republican, the Republicans had just swept the state House and they controlled the Senate. There was a lot of excitement (or dread) across the state, because the R’s had been looking for sweeping changes for years, and now they could finally do them.*

      But over the next four years, they basically failed to pass any notable changes to anything.**

      And the problem, I’m told, is margins. If the Republican party had won so big that it could pass everything with a +20 House margin and a +20 Senate margin, they’d have enacted a lot of changes. But they only won big enough to get their +20 House margin (actually +14, but close enough) and a +10 Senate margin. And the people who had flipped the House were very extreme in comparison to the people who controlled the Senate. (The Senate got more extreme with subsequent elections, but that did not help very much)

      So the first rule of a party that has total control over a government is stay inside your party. Bipartisan initiatives are great for little stuff organized by non-leadership, but you want big legislative victories to reflect only on your party. Realistically, you’re not likely to get Dem votes for major things like tax reform anyway.

      The downside is that if you turn the other party into an opposition party, you need to satisfy every group of legislators large enough to violate your passage margins. Since the House had a large new group of Tea Party types, the House could only pass things that the Senate didn’t like. The Senate, which was led by moderates, mostly proposed cautious and incremental bills that the House would shoot down because it only wanted big, sweeping changes. When the two groups tried to negotiate, it went nowhere. After a while, the groups started trying to primary each other.

      Eventually, this sunk the Governor. Already reeling from a lot of scandals that people (kind of unfairly) accused him of handling poorly, he was beaten by a moderate Democrat in the next election.

      So now the Republicans controlled the House and the Senate, but not the Governorship. The Governor’s veto pen was too large for the Senate R’s to beat with a vote. For about a year, this led to crazy gridlock. Then something really weird happened- they passed a large-scale reform bill.

      See, what happened is that the Governor wanted a certain budget, but the R’s opposed it. Since he couldn’t achieve his agenda through the D’s alone, he courted the moderate Republicans with an incremental reform bill, of the sort the large Tea Party faction would never support. But they didn’t need that support any more, because the Governor could get almost all the Democrats to vote for it. Now that a law couldn’t be passed via Republicans or Democrats alone, the large opposition party suddenly becomes an attractive way to route around the extreme factions.

      ~

      So, it’s pretty clear what happened to the ACHA. It didn’t eliminate the things the Freedom Caucus wanted and the Freedom Caucus was larger than the margin of passage. But that doesn’t mean that the easy fix was to give in to the Freedom Caucus- after all, the bill would still need to go through the Senate and be both ‘exclusively budgetary’ and satisfy enough Senate moderates to remain within the two-vote margin of passage. I think Ryan is right to expect that this wouldn’t happen.

      I don’t know enough about the Federal polity to say if this same situation will recur with things like tax reform or infrastructure bills, but it seems pretty likely. What I find more interesting is the question: could it be good for Trump’s agenda for the Democrats to win seats in the 2018 midterms?

      In some ways, it would obviously be bad. The Democrats would never want to be seen supporting him on immigration reform, they’d torpedo his budgets, they’d make demands on things like the EPA. On the other hand, they might agree to vote for incremental changes to the ACA, tax matters, etc. Where Trump couldn’t make a deal with the entirety of his own party because they control the government, it might be possible to make deals with an ascendant opposition party. It’s happened before!

      (Obviously this only works if you get rid of the Hastert rule, but Trump seems like the kind of guy who is willing to toss party loyalty)

      *My information comes from a number of friends I have who were working in the state legislature during this time. Most of them are Republican staffers, but some are Democrats. I am trying my best to sanitize things so there’s minimal tilt either way.
      **Actually they did pass some important laws, but not of the sort that political parties really fight over.

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        On the other hand, they might agree to vote for incremental changes to the ACA, tax matters, etc.

        The Democratic base is so crazy right now that they wouldn’t accept it. Maybe in a year or two the fever will break.

        It’s unfortunate because Trump is a former Democrat himself, doesn’t care much about policy details, and has a habit of agreeing with whoever he last talked to. If they’d buttered him up instead of going totally cuckoo-bananas, they could get a lot of stuff they claim to want: infrastructure, enhanced social programs, maybe even a moderate Supreme Court justice. But oh well.

        • Jordan D. says:

          Look, I’m more than happy to admit that there have been a lot of stir-crazy Democrats in the wake of the election, but it doesn’t seem fair to say that they could have lots of fabulous compromises right now if they were just nicer to Trump. The issue of the Supreme Court Justice was certainly not on the table, and Trump’s administration has clearly been more focused on House and Senate Republicans than Democrats. Which makes sense- the Republicans control the House and Senate and, by and large, agree with more of his administrative policies than the Democrats. Unless he absolutely needs the Democrats, he’s got no real incentive to reach out to them.

          (And yes, all of the Dem politicians are more interested in making statements against the famously anger-prone Trump than conciliatory statements, but that’s a rational incentive for them too; they probably can’t finagle him into working with them at this point, and they’d like to use him to motivate the base for 2018.)

          Now, that could change. If tax reform encounters the same problems the ACHA does, it’s hardly impossible that Trump will get frustrated with the party dynamic. But I don’t think it’s actually likely until and unless the Democrats have a major midterm victory.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Not to mention that some prominent Democrats made all sorts of noises about working with Trump on infrastructure.

            I’m not sure that a compromise was likely to have actually come out of it. But Trump didn’t decide to take them up on it either.

            Not that I would really have expected him to. A conventional politician wouldn’t for simple reasons of needing to keep his coalition with him. Trump is unconventional, but he has shown no willingness to stop insulting anyone who who disagrees with him, so reaching out in a conciliatory manner to his enemies seems out of his wheelhouse.

            At this point I think Dems will not be motivated at all to help Trump put out the dumpster fire, though. So I think any possibility of bipartisan cooperation is highly unlikely until this string plays to the end. The Republicans will have to right their own ship, or November 2018 will make for a new reality.

    • Marie says:

      Is the problem that they spent so much time complaining they didn’t bother to stop and think what they’d actually do if they, you know, actually had the power to do anything (I think a lot of them would have been happier with Hillary, really; impotently complaining is a lot easier than actually being given the power to follow up on your promises).

      I wouldn’t say they didn’t think about it, because there were plenty of white papers and proposals. Some were decently promising, and, as someome who net benefitted from the ACA, I’d have been comfortable giving one or two of them shot in the place of the ACA. (Sufficiently funded high risk pools and/or default enrollment in subsidized catastophic plans were among the better proposals). But any healthcare reform is going to have to involve unpopular tradeoffs, like decreased coverage, or higher premiums, or higher gov spending, or higher gov involvement in the system. And someone’s always going to be worse off in some way, and/or lose their current plans, when you fiddle with the healthcare sstem. Different factions of Republicans wanted different tradeoffs, and the party spent 7 years (and innumerable years before the ACA) failing to bite the bullet, hash out a party-wide compromise of the tradeoffs they’d be willing to accept, and sell their set of tradeoffs to voters.

      For the past 7 years it’s been easier for the Republicans to criticize the tradeoff-package the Democrats made, blame the ACA for anything that went wrong with anyone’s healthcare anywhere, and talk as if their hypothetical Republican alternative would fix every problem and solve every complaint people had about their current healthcare. And because there was no central, concrete plan, no one could actually call them on the fact that their plan couldn’t fulfill all those promises at once.

      They could also send repeal bills to Obama, over and over, secure in the fact that their votes wouldn’t actually repeal the ACA and take away any of their voters’ current healthcare.

      Then they won, and push came to shove, and all the hard choices they’d avoided actually having to make and be held accountable for pounded on the door. Plus too much time had passed, and too many people now concretely benefitted from the ACA, and too many parts of the old healthcare infrastructure were gone, to just “reset the clock” and try to revert to some pre-ACA status quo (which had always been a pretty effed up starus quo for people with no access to emploiyer coverage).

      I’m someone with a preexisting condition, self-employed, who has always had to buy insurance on the individual market. I will fight tooth and nail NOT to go back to what we had before, which royally screwed over people like me. If my congressman proposes a plan that will gut healthcare access for me (straight repeal is horrible for me, and the ACHA was horrible, and the HFC proposals pushed it to be even worse) I’m going to raise hell and try to get them voted out of office. There’s apparently enough people like to me to spook moderate Republicans, and there’s not enough Republicans ready to die on a hill for some libertarian free market ideal, if it means their district will rebel.

      I’m not sure if the Republicans will ever figure their way out of this conundrum. The Democrats were willing to risk their seats and die on a hill to change the nation’s healthcare policy. (And die they did. Backlash was even worse than they anticipated, and they lost both houses, and arguably the presidency, in no small part due to Obamacare). I have never seen the Republicans care about reforming healthcare to that same extent, for all their rhetoric, and given what happened to the Democrats, the Republicans are going to be very gun-shy of too much fiddling.

      I expect Trump to work with a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans if he ever approaches healthcare again. I see those wings unifying on policy far more than I see the Republicans as a whole unifying; there is too much distance between the HFC (who may very well be willing to die on a hill) and the Republicans who go, “hell no, I want to keep.my seat.”. I did not want Trump elected, but my one consolation was pretty much, “If anyone can can force the Republicans to the center on healthcare, it’s him.” His instict is toward universal coverage, and by sometimes running his mouth in that direction, he makes it more acceptable for Republicans to voice that as a goal, and to support plans with higher government spending/involvement..

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Then they won, and push came to shove, and all the hard choices they’d avoided actually having to make and be held accountable for pounded on the door

        This is mostly what people mean when they say the Republicans did not think seriously about their solution. The solution they offered over and over was to go back to the old status quo. They never even debated the “replace” part of the process when passing their 50 odd repeals.

        And the devil is always in the detail. For instance, you said “adequately funded” high-risk pools could be a solution. But it is my understanding that, in practice, the high-risk pools aren’t actually adequately funded. They are offered as a “low-cost” solution to the problem, but they aren’t low cost for the government. They stick all the high-cost people in one place, making it low-cost for everyone else.

        Counting in the Republicans adequately funding high-risk pools, in perpetuity, seems like fools gold to me. Republicans think Medicaid and Medicare are too expensive.

        Did any of the proposals make any sort of estimates of what adequate high-risk pools would actually cost?

        • Marie says:

          Iirc, they super-over-optimistically extrapolated from previous state high risk pools. Saner people estimated adequately funding high risk pools at anywhere betweee 25-150 billion a year, and McCain’s office ran an estimate that put cost at 100 billion (edited; I looked up more numbers). Republican plans put only 1 to 10 billion annually towards it. (My suspicion was either the CBO would knock sense into their plans, or, that once pools were in place, it would become as hard to cut funding for them as it is to cut Medicare/caid, even when Republicans bluster about it. And there would be sufficient pressure/sob stories from people to push for higher funding, and the program would become another parable of how government entitlement programs overrun their cost estimates. I am probably being over optimistic).

          Before the ACA, my state did have a high risk pool that worked OK, with an OK network of providers, and restrictions and premiums that rivalled what I could get on the individual market as a mildly ill individual. For a more severely ill individuals they were a pretty good deal. From looking at other state pools, mine was one of the better ones, so personal experience probably inclines me to be more optimistic about them working than I would be otherwise. (My state’s private-public collaboration on “insurer of last resort” was a high-priced nigtmare, however).

        • Marie says:

          Oops, turns out the risk pool I remembered for my state was actually the temporary federal risk pool put in place by the ACA. That said, it was a pretty good deal (especially given my state’s previous option for the sickest individuals), and my experience comparing and shopping for insurance that year caused me to favorably update my beliefs about the viability of government-subsidized high risk pools as a solution. (Assuming adequate funds. Enrollment in PCIP was very limited and still cost 2 billion per year, burning through the initially allocated “5 billion over 4 years” very quickly).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Marie:

            Assuming adequate funds.

            Again, this is the huge rub, and if you look at numbers for state run high risk pools pre-ACA, my understanding is that you will find a bunch of people who were denied coverage in the pool because there was no money left. It becomes a lottery for insurance, not an actual solution.

            So let’s look at this from a “mathey” perspective. Let’s assume a single insurer for a second, just to simplify things.

            In the ACA “mandated coverage” scenario you have a single pool. All the healthy people and all the sick people are in one pool, and the premiums of everyone cover the cost of the sick people. The premiums have to cover all of the costs of the healthy and sick alike. The government then means tests subsidies for premiums.

            Now, let’s take the high risk pool scenario. In our toy model, we now have two pools, one that contains mostly health people, and some sick people. The other pool contains only sick people.

            All else being equal, the sum of the two pools contains the same number of people, and the same healthcare costs, but the costs are greatly concentrated in the high risk pool, meaning those premiums would be astronomical. The premium subsidization is limited to the high risk pool, and therefore any means testing done has far less effect.

            The net of all this is that far less money comes into the system in the form of premiums, and the amount of total government subsidy would need to rise over the ACA version. I don’t think the Republicans are willing to spend more overall on subsidies than is being done in the ACA, to put it mildly.

            I believe that the high risk pool scenario also contains certain perverse incentives, wherein insurers will want do what they can to move sick people into the high risk pools, further exacerbating the issues of cost in the high risk pool.

          • Marie says:

            Thanks for going back and forth on this with me. If I’m wrong about risk pool viability, I really do want to know, and don’t want to be propping up a bad idea that’s going to make our mess of a system a lot worse. :/

            I don’t think the idea of, “Take the most expensive outliers out, and give them healthcare through some other system” is necessarily unviable. To prevent the worst perverse incentives and races to the bottom, I do think you’d eventually need to at least set limits on what % of people a health insurance company could reject, or a bottom limit on what sorts of pre-exitisting conditions could cause rejection. (Both of which undoubtably have their own unintended consequences and incentives. Combinations of EHB laws, no-limit-to-annual-coverage laws, individual mandates, and/or auto-enrollment are also possible corrections).

            The PCIP pool held up OK for a couple years in the weird pre-marketplace period, with all the old grandfathered plans and standards flying around, so if perverse incentives came into play they’d take a bit of time to show, and hopefully would give enough time for us to shift the incentive structure toward greater stability.

            Any viable HRP will be very costly. But I do think you could get Republicans to fund it.

            ACA is currently about 100 billion in additional subsidies per year; 28 billion extra to marketplace, rest to Medicaid expansion. Total of Medicaid/Medicare/CHIP/marketplace at federal level is 938 billion. Republicans also usually count in our employer insurance tax deductions as part of the annual government healthcare cost (250 billion annually), and many plans with high risk pools discuss shifting or eliminating this to help fund private market credits and risk pools.

            I know Republicans have never found an entitlement program they didn’t want to cut, but I do think in this case they have some awareness of the money pool they’re playing with, and (as ACHA backlash showed) that they are now also aware that there’s significant public backlash if you try to shift large parts of that pool of money to give big tax cuts. So I have some confidence that between the CBO and voters, a lot of those funds would stay committed toward some kind of healthcare.

            The state high risk pools were very underfunded, and had lots of the worst elements of pre-ACA policies, including high premiums/deductibles, tiny provider networks, and limits on annual coverage. The PCIP was a huge step up from those, and at least 4 million people theoretically qualified (though many wouldn’t utilize it). The 25 billion low-end estimate, for a successful HRP implementation in the pre-ACA-marketplace environment, appears to have been pulled from the 4 million number. The higher cost estimates arise from plans that involve major changes like Medicaid contraction, removal of employer-insurance deductions, and further relaxation of insurance company regulations.

            There’s no way I’d want to go back to the old state risk pools, but given that Medicare/caid are still functional, I’m open to possibility that PCIP-style risk pools may work.

            I’d be more confident if I had assurance of things like:
            *Pre-commitment to no closures or lotteries
            *Insurance companies all paying a stake in the subsidies (backdoor method of slightly raising premiums all around to cover new sick people; this had been a feature of how many HRPs got some funds).
            * Regulate so pools are more along lines of PCIP standards, not previous state standards (this is where I think you’d get more pushback from Republicans, vs. over cost)

            Ideally, between tax revenue and population-wide increases in insurance premiums, you still end up catching everyone into roughly the same redistributive net you’d get if everyone was required to have coverage in the same official pool. It’s all a massive redistribution of wealth in the end, and HRPs are government-funded healthcare and “insurance” in name only, but I think there’s enough trappings of Freedom and Choice and Market for it to sneak past and retain support for a while.

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            Interesting that Marie says as a self-employed person the ACA has benefited her. I have had to buy insurance on the open market since 2011 myself since my wife was laid off, since I work through temp firms. And my premiums have about doubled since ACA started up. I have certainly not benefited by ACA. I have heard about the death spiral of private insurance, and that is certainly the case for me, with my insurance increasing about 50% for 2017 and 50% the year before that. So I am curious how you are doing better, Marie? I guess if you receive subsidies from ACA. My income is above the subsidy range, so I need to pay whatever the insurance companies decide to charge me.

            I was on the state (Minnesota) uninsurable group before ACA happened. It could be that Minnesota had high subsidies and I was essentially getting welfare on that plan. I am one of those people that does want a much more free market medical system. The only reason almost anyone is uninsurable is because the insurance companies aren’t allowed to price their policies based on your pre-existing conditions, so it is the state that essentially forced us into that category in the first place.

            The ACA really is in a death spiral and wouldn’t last for more than a year or two longer even without the Republicans in charge. With the premiums growing so fast, the least sick are likely to bail out, causing the losses and thus the premiums to increase even more, etc., etc. Trump getting elected and maintaining power on both houses is really a disaster for the Republicans. If they could have stayed out of power another four years, ACA would have bombed, and perhaps the Repubs could have then taken power and built something new.

            I would personally like to see ACA totally repealed and replaced with medical welfare for those who cannot afford health care. With those welfare recipients out of the majority medical market, perhaps it would be easier to move towards a more free market approach for the majority medical market. Maybe not, but I think that’s the only way we will ever get costs to stop ballooning. Yes, other countries have lower costs than the US (although I’ve heard their costs are increasing just as much, just from a smaller base). But with US politics so dysfunctional, as well as the fact that the US is richer than most and can afford more, I think the US will have much higher costs than all other countries even under essentially identical systems.

          • Marie says:

            So I am curious how you are doing better, Marie? I guess if you receive subsidies from ACA.

            Yep, it’s the subsidies, plus a state with a marketplace that hasn’t gone into a high-deductible high-premium spiral. I was finally able to afford a plan with lower deductibles and lower out-of-pocket caps. (My pre-ACA HDHP was quite good, and I did like using my HSA and paying out of pocket for my mild chronic condition, until I had 2 years in a row of new, out-of-the-blue medical issues and a surgery that destroyed any financial security I’d achieved. I became really wary of gambling on a high deductible catastrophic plan again, after that, even though I’m one of the younger, comparatively healthy people they’re usually ideal for).

            I do lots of gig work, and have an income that varies, but that’s almost always below 35k and puts me in range of some percentage of the subsidies. I pay approximately what I did before the ACA marketplace kicked in, on average (anywhere between half my prior premium and 2x my prior premium). What I get for it is a plan with 1/5 of my prior deductible, and with more extensive health benefits. (But a sparser network of practices that accept my card. I was fine with the tradeoff, but I know folks with rarer conditions or preferred doctors who’ve been burned by this).

            When I’m making enough to pay full price (this year full price would be 2x my pre-marketplace premium) I can afford it, and when I make too little I can still afford it because subsidies kick in. I really appreciate having a premium that’s essentially a set % of income, whatever my income might be. (VA’s marketplace has also had milder premium % increases per year than some other states; I’m not sure why that’s the case. My insurance rate was ticking up at about 10% annually pre-marketplace, and 10 to 25% after).

            Even though I’ve used close to zero of its benefits over the past couple years, I really do appreciate the EHB package, which saves me countless hours of scouring the fine print of a bunch of different plans and a la carte riders, praying that I haven’t missed something crucial I’ll regret later, and hedging my bets about what I may or may not suffer in the future. And I really do appreciate that no insurer can deny me coverage or charge me extra because of a pre-existing condition. (Pre ACA, one insurer quoted me 7x their baseline age-level premium. Another rejected me entirely, and I finally got offered 1.15x baseline premium by a third. And this was before my two years of new medical issues gave more things I’d now have to report as “pre-existing” to a new insurer). I expect to move to a new state in the next 2 years, and switching plans is headache enough without having to navigate jacked-up premiums or denied coverage every time I move to where better work is.

            So for all it’s problems, the ACA overall has given me better coverage and greater peace of mind, for about the same price as my pre-marketplace plan. (At least as long as a I don’t end up in a state with a 10k deductible spiral, and avoid falling below the poverty line in states that have not expanded Medicaid). For me, it’s the new sense of “Oh thank God, I don’t have to make huge gambles about my future health needs anymore, or plan my career around maintaining access to employer health coverage” that’s been most valuable.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Marie:
            It’s not that high-risk pools can’t be made to work. Almost anything can be made to work, as long as you don’t constrain yourself in what else comes along with the anything.

            But high-risk pools are favored by Republicans as the cheaper alternative, and they mean cheaper for the government, not (merely) cheaper for the median consumer. High risk pools don’t accomplish that objective if they do the things that you wish them to do, especially not as a long term solution. Thus, when Republicans propose high-risk pools, they don’t seem to be making an argument in good faith.

            It’s interesting that you specifically bring up Medicare/Medicaid, because those are essentially the opposite of high risk pools. They don’t segregate people by health risk, but combine all the elderly or all the poor, into a single pool. I’m not sure how their success bears on how and whether high-risk pools can be made to work.

            ETA:
            I think this Josh Barro article from 2013 gives a good summary of why I am extremely skeptical of claims of good faith by Republicans when they propose high-risk pools. And Barro, while an apostate at this point, is actually a moderate conservative and (at the time) a Republican.

  30. Shankar S says:

    A Dystopian SciFi Concept: Robots serve Man faithfully as expected. But this results in a human domestication event, similar to domesticated chicken.
    See http://www.ramayana-3000.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Sci-Fi-Concept.png

    Wild jungle fowl are monogamous (at least for each breeding season) while domesticated fowl are polygamous. Domesticated roosters constantly fight each other for mating rights. And they have lost all survival skills.

    You can read more about this concept here: http://www.ramayana-3000.com/the-chickens-tale/

    This is an excerpt from my Science Fiction book. You can read the whole book online here

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      I am reading the book through your link, and it is pretty good. But I’m having the problem of how do I pause in my reading and come back to the same spot. Do I need to keep open this window on my browser until I am done? I know I will close it by mistake before I finish, so that won’t work. I’m afraid if I close it, it will go back to the beginning.

    • JDG1980 says:

      Gregory Clark has argued that humans in many parts of Europe and Asia have, in fact, been “domesticated” by Malthusian pressures and various other forms of selection (including execution by the criminal justice system) over a period of centuries. But this doesn’t result in the neurotic behavior of roosters; rather, it has made modern humans less violent, more social-minded, and more productive.

      There is something to be said for Clark’s view; Steven Pinker, I believe, has endorsed at least some parts of it. In humans, unlike (apparently) roosters, it’s clear that the violent behavior is primal, and civilized behavior has to be either taught or bred in (or some combination of both). Chimpanzees, the closest relatives of humans in the animal kingdoms, are little bastards who will rape and kill (both within tribes and especially intertribally) with no compunction. Humanity’s oldest stories – the Iliad and the Old Testament, for example – are filled with tales of total war, genocide, and mass rape.

      • Mark V Anderson says:

        I agree with Steven Pinker’s book that humans have become much less violent. And a good part of the reason is because life is much easier so people don’t feel the necessity to fight as much as before. So in that sense domestication leads to less violence.

        But I do agree with Shankar’s theme that in the society he imagines, violence would likely re-appear and become a major focus of life. The scenario he creates is where aliens have taken over the Earth, people have moved underground for survival, and the robots take care of all needs of these humans. Maybe it isn’t domestication in itself that results in violence, as it is the lack of any goals in life. In such a universe, the only goal remaining is that of dominance over other people.

  31. Deiseach says:

    More health tips – tea could be good for your brain (but it has to be proper tea, none of this herbal foo-faw stuff) 🙂

    Researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) say that tea drinking could help reduce the risk of cognitive impairment in older persons by 50% and as much as 86% for those who are genetically at risk of Alzheimer’s.

    The longitudinal study involving 957 Chinese seniors aged 55 years or older has found that regular consumption of tea lowers the risk of cognitive decline in the elderly by 50%, while APOE e4 gene carriers who are genetically at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease may experience a reduction in cognitive impairment risk by as much as 86%.

    The research team also discovered that the neuroprotective role of tea consumption on cognitive function is not limited to a particular type of tea — so long as the tea is brewed from tea leaves, such as green, black or oolong tea.

  32. deluks917 says:

    User Gregor Sansa is having trouble posting comments. I talked to him and there is no obvious reason his comments would get blocked. He isn’s posting a bunch of links and he has never commented here before (so he isn’t banned). He finds it highly unlikely (But theoretically possible) he shares an IP with a banned account.

    Any advice?