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Open Thread 79.5

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. As the off-weekend thread, this is culture-war-free, so please try try to avoid overly controversial topics. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit, the SSC Discord server, or the Cafe Chesscourt forum.

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505 Responses to Open Thread 79.5

  1. bean says:

    Naval Gazing: Life Aboard Iowa
    (Series Index)
    A few weeks ago, Gobbobobble managed to guess I was going to start talking about Jutland, and requested a post on life aboard Iowa during WW2. I should have written this a long time ago, but allowed my preference for talking about the technical side to keep me from doing so. (I’ve tried as much as I can to make this about WW2 and not the 80s, but a bit of that may have bled through, as that’s Iowa’s current configuration.)
    The first impression most people get when they come aboard is one of an endless maze of twisting passageways, all alike. The walls are gray, the doors mostly have really high sills called knee-knockers, and the stairs are as close to being ladders as they can be and not actually be ladders. (Although we call them ladders anyway.) The overheads are filled with pipes and cables, and the walls are thin. There is all sorts of equipment hanging on the bulkheads, fire-fighting gear, breathing apparatus, water fountains, electrical distribution equipment, and so on. Things are exposed so they can be gotten to if they break. If you’re over 6’ tall, you get very used to ducking, and even shorter people have to watch their heads at times. Some compartments have random things running through them, tubes for 5” gun ammunition or director wiring. The ship was clearly designed to fight, and not to be comfortable for the crew. (There are painted signs known as ‘bullseyes’ that give the location in the ship, which are helpful if you don’t know where you are on the ship. I won’t explain them here, as google can do a better job.)
    However, Iowa was one of the nicer places to be assigned for an enlisted man. I started this post by looking at my 1940 Bluejacket’s manual, and it has large sections on sailors washing their own clothes and the use of hammocks. Neither of these were a problem on Iowa. There was a laundry, and each man had his own bunk, along with a locker for his gear. Some of these bunks were four and five levels high, which did not exactly leave a lot of room (picture http://www.phoenixjeff.com/wheres/2001/hawaii/missouri/old%20bunks.jpg of 4-high configuration), and definitely gave no privacy. The top bunk was prized, as it was by far the most pleasant in heavy weather, as there was no chance of someone above being seasick. However, even a ship as big as Iowa was cramped. She was designed for a crew of 117 officers and 1,804 enlisted men, but in 1945 she had a complement of 151 officers and 2,637 men. Some men had to bunk in their duty spaces (even inside the turrets), although the Iowas were relatively spacious compared to their predecessors of the South Dakota-class. When I visited USS Alabama shortly after starting at Iowa, I was amazed at how cramped she was.
    Food came in the mess deck, which looked remarkably like a traditional cafeteria on land. There were lines on each side of the ship where the cooks dispersed whatever was on the menu that day. Four meals were served, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and mid-rats. Mid-rats was a midnight meal for those on duty overnight. The men ate at long tables, which, unlike on other ships, did not have to be stowed to allow men to hang their hammocks. There were two ice-cream machines, which were, according to the Royal Navy (whose living conditions were considerably more spartan) the most important piece of equipment onboard any US Navy ship, as the ship didn’t go to sea if they weren’t working.
    The crew in WWII consumed 7 tons of food per day, 1.5 tons of fresh food, 2 tons of frozen food, and 3.5 tons of dry food. The total bill? $1,600 at the time, which is over $20,000 today. A total of 834 tons of food was stored aboard, a third of the weight of a typical destroyer, and the ship could stay at sea for 119 days before resupply. Our curator has heard that at one point, the only food left aboard was apples, but I doubt this. Apples spoil relatively quickly compared to other types of food, so they cannot have been aboard long, and the idea that the ship would not be resupplied with other food at the same time is unlikely. Also, with all due respect to veterans, many of them do not have the clearest memories of their service.
    The battleships are often described as “cities at sea” and this is not a bad description. They had tailors, cobblers, barbers, a printing shop, a library, a dentist and a full hospital onboard. But they were cities populated exclusively by men, and mostly young ones. US Navy ships were and are dry, although that didn’t stop some men from cooking up alcohol illegally. A 1980s crewman told me that they used to steal cases of apple juice, puncture the tops, let them ferment for a while, then put them in the freezer to distill. Another popular (though illegal) hobby was gambling, particularly as there was no real place to spend their money while at sea. For legitimate recreation, popular methods included movies (the ship was assigned four different movies, and would often play all four in different locations every night), boxing, and writing letters home. Mail is vital to the morale of men in combat, particularly in the days before phone calls home became possible, and the Iowa has a post office on 2nd Deck.
    In the 80s, some refits were carried out to improve habitability. New 3-high racks were installed, with storage under the mattresses where the decks were high enough. Each bunk has a curtain (finally, some privacy), a reading light, and a small locker for an oxygen breathing apparatus. I’ve spent the night in one, and they’re pretty comfortable, although you do have to be careful not to hit your head if you’re in the top bunk, and getting in and out is difficult.
    A sailor’s day was defined by his watches. A watch is a period when a sailor is on duty. This usually means that he has an active job in running the ship. Depending on his job, he might be manning a lookout station, manning a gun, or deep in the ship, monitoring the boilers or turbines. How much of the time he spent on this has proved unexpectedly difficult to research, as the two Bluejacket’s Manuals I have from WW2 (1940 and 1943) seem to indicate that the usual schedule was to have two watches, port and starboard, and alternate them. This was indeed common in war zones, but it places a great strain on men, and I believe that large portions of the time, the watch rotation was less strenuous. Each watch was 4 hours, except for a pair of ‘dog watches’ that were two hours each, to rotate the watches and make sure that nobody got stuck with an unpleasant watch long-term. Of course, it wasn’t simply a matter of standing watches. There was lots of other work to do, too. There was a great deal of work involved in keeping a ship running. The deck had to be holystoned, surfaces had to be painted, and machinery had to be maintained. For men who did not have to stand watches, the day began at 0530, by sweeping down the ship. Breakfast was at 0730, and work resumed at 0815, running until dinner at 1800 with an hour for lunch. Some work might be done after dinner, although most of that time was for recreation.
    Next week will be part one of “Why the carriers are not doomed”. I’ll try to make this one shorter than Jutland.

    • bean says:

      A couple of things:
      1. I’m looking at moving to a better platform for this kind of stuff, probably an independent blog. I don’t have any clue about how to go about setting one up. I’m also going to branch out more into modern naval stuff, as it’s getting harder to talk about battleships exclusively.
      2. On a not entirely unrelated note, I’ve taken a job in Oklahoma City supporting military aircraft programs. It’s very much more in line with what I want to do than my current job, which is very exciting. I expect to move sometime in the second half of August. This won’t bring an end to my writing here (and might well do the opposite, although I won’t guarantee continued service during the move) but it does seem like a good time to broaden my topic.

      • Brad says:

        The blog part is pretty easy. If you only wanted to write posts you could choose pretty much any of them (wordpress, medium, blogger, etc) and you could be up and running quickly.

        It’s if you want a comments section that things get tricky. There’s all kinds of choices and trade-offs and worrying about spam and trolls and so on and so forth.

        • bean says:

          I do want comments. I’ve gotten way too much out of comments on my stuff here to not have that. In terms of rules, I figured I’d borrow Scott’s, with the addition of an explicit ‘more heat than light’ provision, to deal with Bismarck fanboys/Wheraboos.

      • cassander says:

        Congrats on the new job. Ogden ALC I assume?

        • bean says:

          Contractor across the street from Tinker, not sure exactly what organization it is on the USAF side. And thanks.

        • hlynkacg says:

          He said OKC so I’m guessing the Joint ALC or DLA at Tinker. Moving from airliners to AWACS and logistics also seems like a more natural transition that moving from airliners to fighters.

          Edit: Ninja’d

          • bean says:

            This transition isn’t particularly natural, for which I am thankful. I’m going from fixing cracks to systems engineering, and changing airplane types, too.

      • Vermillion says:

        Congrats!

        I look forward to having all these posts gathered in one place for me to send out the next time someone asks me, ‘what should I read if I want to know everything about battleships from the last 150 years?’

    • Chalid says:

      the doors mostly have really high sills called knee-knockers

      Why the high sills? Inhibiting water flow?

      seem to indicate that the usual schedule was to have two watches, port and starboard, and alternate them. This was indeed common in war zones, but it places a great strain on men, and I believe that large portions of the time, the watch rotation was less strenuous. Each watch was 4 hours

      So the longest continuous sleep they could get was 4 hours, minus a bit for the time to get back to their bunks and fall asleep?

      Thanks Bean!

      • johan_larson says:

        Why the high sills? Inhibiting water flow?

        Ships have watertight hatches that can be closed to isolate a portion of the ship that is flooding, to avoid having a single leak sink the whole ship. This is particularly important in warships.

        https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-opem-hatch-access-military-navy-ship-open-opening-image61761901

        • Chalid says:

          Sure, but they don’t need to be *high* sills to do that.

          • Aapje says:

            Presumably the hatches are lighter and stronger if the doors are smaller. It seems easier and more ergonomic to lift your feet some more than to have to bend over very far.

            I would expect a warship from Trinidad to have low sills and low lintels because reasons.

          • bean says:

            I would expect a warship from Trinidad to have low sills and low lintels because reasons.

            You say that in jest, but it brings to mind the tale of the corvettes that Brunei bought from the British, then refused to take delivery of (probably because of manpower constraints). The RN was terrified they’d get saddled with the things, because, among other things, they were not designed for British sailors, and the various fittings were too small. (Also, export-grade ships in high-grade navies are not a good match.) Eventually, the Indonesians bought them.
            Even more weirdly, the Trinidad Coast Guard was going to buy three similar warships, but likewise backed out of the deal at the last minute. Those ships ended up in Brazil.

          • Orpheus says:

            Well, I assume if room A is flooding, and you are trying to close the door between rooms A and B, if there is water in the path the door needs to take it will be harder to close. Hence the doors are placed higher.

      • bean says:

        Why the high sills? Inhibiting water flow?

        That’s not the main reason. The main reason, as Aapje identified, was structural. There are lots of openings in bulkheads that have no doors and are not watertight in any way, but that are still high-silled to save weight. The worst are the ones on the 02 level, which are well above the danger of flooding, but have high enough sills to require a step to get across.
        (The smallest personnel opening I’ve seen on a battleship was on the 07 or 08 level of Alabama. It was tiny, even though the bulkhead was full-height, and it was well above any chance of flooding.)
        As for restricting water, high sills were important on external doors, as there might be substantial amounts of water on deck in bad weather. Not so much as an anti-flooding measure internally, although it could probably help there, too.

        So the longest continuous sleep they could get was 4 hours, minus a bit for the time to get back to their bunks and fall asleep?

        In theory, yes. Leaving aside different watch schedules (which nobody knows about), I believe those who were on watch but didn’t have explicit duties were often allowed to sleep on deck, so long as they could be found quickly. Port-and-starboard steaming is not pleasant for the crews.

      • Fossegrimen says:

        4 hours of sleep is not arbitrarily chosen. 4 Hours is what it takes to make sure that you get at least two REM cycles which prevents you from getting hallucinations due to sleep deprivation. You sleep in batches of 4 hours so that you are accustomed to it when you have to get by on only 4 hours per day.

        I still sleep 4 hours at the time (left the service two decades ago), only now I go back to sleep after 10 minutes of checking everything’s OK and maybe typing a bit on here.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      Thanks, bean! Got a few followup questions for ya:
      * Re: the knee-knockers discussion upthread, was there any sort of Fire (/Flood) Marshal role? Either while at-sea or during the ship’s design process? Or was it generally considered “well, you’re on a warship – if something goes that wrong you’re pretty much boned anyway”

      *

      She was designed for a crew of 117 officers and 1,804 enlisted men, but in 1945 she had a complement of 151 officers and 2,637 men.

      Why is this? refitted with extra equipment that needed more crew to work? To spread the existing tasks over more people? I’m guessing a 20th century battleship wouldn’t be carrying a Marine detachment or something.

      * Re: food supplies – is fishing at all a thing in the navy?

      *

      Mail is vital to the morale of men in combat, particularly in the days before phone calls home became possible, and the Iowa has a post office on 2nd Deck.

      How does a post office on a ship work? Only able to send/receive while in port? Or was personal mail afforded the use of a telegraph/radio? Are there little courier ships that run back and forth? 😛

      * And finally, if you were serving on Iowa in the 40s, what job would you want to have?

      • bean says:

        * Re: the knee-knockers discussion upthread, was there any sort of Fire (/Flood) Marshal role? Either while at-sea or during the ship’s design process? Or was it generally considered “well, you’re on a warship – if something goes that wrong you’re pretty much boned anyway”

        Very much so. Damage control was very important during design and operation. There are design standards to make sure that, for instance, you have the minimum possible number of holes in your watertight bulkheads. There were special ‘bills’ (personnel lists) for damage control, so that people knew what they were supposed to do. There were regulations on how much gear people could have, because it was a fire hazard. I covered this in some detail a while back, and keep meaning to come back and talk about it more. Stuff keeps getting in the way, though.

        Why is this? refitted with extra equipment that needed more crew to work? To spread the existing tasks over more people? I’m guessing a 20th century battleship wouldn’t be carrying a Marine detachment or something.

        Actually, we did always carry a Marine detachment. It was traditional, and proved of some use immediately after the Japanese surrender, although in the 80s, it was mostly because some of the Tomahawks might have nuclear warheads.
        The answer is mostly the increase in light AA guns. Also, there were a bunch of new electronics that needed men. When the stripped the AA guns, the crew went back down.

        * Re: food supplies – is fishing at all a thing in the navy?

        Not really. Unreliable, and it takes a lot of fish to feed 2800 men. I won’t say it never happened, but if so, it was recreational and off the books.

        How does a post office on a ship work? Only able to send/receive while in port? Or was personal mail afforded the use of a telegraph/radio? Are there little courier ships that run back and forth? 😛

        Mail buoys

        * And finally, if you were serving on Iowa in the 40s, what job would you want to have?

        Fire Controlman or Fire Control Technician. Or possibly gunnery officer, if that’s on the table. Those computers are the most amazing things.

        • bean says:

          It’s been 24 hours, and I’m amazed that nobody has called me on it, but it’s time to confess.
          Mail buoys aren’t a real thing. It’s a practical joke played on new sailors who are sent to the bows with a boat hook and told to keep a sharp eye out for the mail buoy, because captains hate having to make a second pass. I just couldn’t resist the temptation to give that as the answer.
          The actual answer to the question is that in WW2, the mail was routed to the Fleet Post Office (FPO) in either New York or San Francisco, and then forwarded to the fleet. Checking records, most of it seems to have gone via airmail, I’d assume to the base the fleet was operating out of, places like Pearl Harbor and Ulithi. I’m having a hard time finding details on what happened from there, but I believe that it was either delivered directly or placed on a replenishment ship, and passed over during an underway replenishment (UNREP). These days, mail usually gets flown to the carrier, and then transferred out to the other ships via helicopter.
          Here’s a link with some information on the WW2 FPO.

          • Matt M says:

            Heh, when I was in the Navy the joke of choice was something like “Hey kid, go get me a new battery for the sound-powered phone”

          • hlynkacg says:

            Letting someone know they’re on a snipe hunt defeats the purpose.

          • gbdub says:

            Wasn’t most of the WWII mail (V-mail) copied onto microfilm (to reduce the bulk) and sent via airmail?

          • bean says:

            Wasn’t most of the WWII mail (V-mail) copied onto microfilm (to reduce the bulk) and sent via airmail?

            A fair bit was sent that way, although it was only about 15% of the volume of regular letter mail for the USN in 1944.
            V-mail was a specific product, with standardized forms. It got a lot of press, but doesn’t seem to have been that important overall.
            Edit: I was able to find more details on mail in the Pacific, in a source I hadn’t previously consulted. It appears that airmail and first-class mail was distributed from the forward base on oilers. The flagship of each group would get it, and then distribute it by destroyer within the group. Second-class and parcel post were not distributed at sea. Mail going to the US went aboard each oiler during fueling and was taken back to base with them.
            Interestingly, the service squadron requested that the mail organization be copied on all dispatches changing the composition of units afloat.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Letting someone know they’re on a snipe hunt defeats the purpose.

            I was pretty giddy when I got to tell my coworkers that I wanted to take them on a snipe hunt.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Damn. I believed it and posted it on facebook. I’ve just posted the retraction.

            I’d wondered about how the mail was put on the mail buoys, but not enough to doubt the story.

          • bean says:

            Damn. I believed it and posted it on facebook. I’ve just posted the retraction.

            If it makes you feel better, I believed it when I first stumbled across that link, too. But this is why I admitted to the joke here, so that hopefully the story won’t spread too far.

          • baconbacon says:

            I’d wondered about how the mail was put on the mail buoys

            Trained seals.

          • bean says:

            Trained seals.

            For now. The USN and USPS have been getting a lot of flak from animal rights people on that lately, and they’re experimenting with using drones for that purpose instead.

          • baconbacon says:

            For now. The USN and USPS have been getting a lot of flak from animal rights people on that lately, and they’re experimenting with using drones for that purpose instead.

            If they would just bring back the draft they could use animal rights activists instead of the seals, win/win.

          • bean says:

            If they would just bring back the draft they could use animal rights activists instead of the seals, win/win.

            While I like the way you think, it won’t happen. You can’t draft people into the USPS, and the ships belong to them. The USN is legally barred from taking the ships, because they kept trying to turn them into fast sealift ships. (The design they’re based on is a fast Ro-Ro ship that didn’t prove commercially successful, but which the USN likes a lot.) Also, it would cost too much in terms of medical and death bills.

    • MoebiusStreet says:

      > Mail is vital to the morale of men in combat, particularly in the days before phone calls home became possible

      Almost-personal anecdote: my grandfather served in the Navy in WWII, he was Lt. Commander on a destroyer. As I recall from his stories, he was mostly involved in the African and Pacific campaigns.

      Anyway, he had worked things out with his wife (my grandmother) so that whenever his ship came into port, wherever that was, she was always there to meet him. This wasn’t supposed to happen – there were censors with razor blades cutting out anything in the mail that might give away the location of a ship, should the enemy capture some mail.

      The captain noticed my grandmother being there to meet her husband, and demanded an explanation. It turns out that the two of them had devised a code within their mail salutations. So a letter that gramps opened with “My darling fuzzy wuzzy”, and closed “with my eternal and everlasting love, Jimmy”, would convey enough information for grandma to figure out exactly what port to be at.

    • gbdub says:

      Has automation made modern warships roomier? You can’t really shrink Diesel engines, cruise missiles, or airplane hangars, so the overall ship can’t get much smaller, but you’d think cruise size / displacement has gone down?

      In WWII, what did all those extra gunners do all day? It seems like (especially once they were bristling with AA guns) the ships would have had a lot of guys that were more or less only useful at “battle stations”, and weren’t really needed for the day-to-day ops of the ship.

      • Aapje says:

        Cleaning, maintenance, drills, getting coffee for their superiors, etc?

        My impression is that the military brass generally has no problem keeping their people busy.

      • bean says:

        Has automation made modern warships roomier? You can’t really shrink Diesel engines, cruise missiles, or airplane hangars, so the overall ship can’t get much smaller, but you’d think cruise size / displacement has gone down?

        Sort of. Habitability has gotten a lot better, but that’s in large part due to the need to keep sailors from leaving. Modern warships are rather different from those of WWII, in that they are primarily limited by volume rather than by weight. Crew/displacement has dropped a lot, and living volume/crew has gone up. But I don’t think that improved habitability is a byproduct of minimum fixed size on other components. It’s still a major part of the ship in volume terms, although I don’t have references to hand as to how much, and I know it can have a major impact on ship design, given how often designers study reduced habitability as a way to shrink ships.

        In WWII, what did all those extra gunners do all day? It seems like (especially once they were bristling with AA guns) the ships would have had a lot of guys that were more or less only useful at “battle stations”, and weren’t really needed for the day-to-day ops of the ship.

        That’s a really good question, and one I unfortunately do not have a definite answer to. I suspect that a lot of their efforts were absorbed into the increased need for men to stand watches. Wartime steaming involves keeping more stations manned than you’d have in peacetime, and this means that those men are not holystoning the decks or doing preventative maintenance on things. (And trust me, a battleship has a lot of things to do maintenance on.) So the extra men are basically extra bodies to do that work, or stand watch in lieu of the men doing that work. (If wartime steaming means you need 600 men on watch, then going from 2100 crew to 2800 crew means that the average crewman is now spending 1.7 hours a day less on watch, and that’s time which can be used for other jobs on the ship.)
        And then you have the men whose day job is support functions for the extra men (cooks, pay clerks, and so on) but who also do unskilled/semi-skilled work on the extra AA guns, like loaders and talkers and shell clippers.
        Actually, this is getting really interesting. I’m starting to wonder how many of the extra men were there simply because the peacetime crew couldn’t quite handle wartime ops tempos, instead of being attached to a specific new system. I may have to look into this more.

        • gbdub says:

          Sort of a related question, how much cross-training did the crew have? Presumably everyone was on-duty somewhere during battle, either as you said helping man a gun or maybe a damage control station somewhere.

          So since you only needed one (or whatever) helmsman, navigator, etc. at a time, was the off-duty helmsman trained to work an AA gun? Or firefighting gear? Or everything? Just standing around waiting in case somebody got blown up?

          • bean says:

            The off-duty helmsman was probably serving as a talker, or maybe a lookout. (Though helm is less skilled than you’d think, unless you’re doing something like coming into a harbor.) Everyone has some basic DC training, although there are obviously experts who man the repair lockers and direct teams. Cooks and the like had all sorts of jobs, basically anything which could be done by someone who can follow orders. Talkers, ammo handlers, ammo clippers, and the like.

          • John Schilling says:

            Could you elaborate on “talker”? I can sort of guess from the name and context, but if google is to be believed the purpose of a “talker” is to wear a special, fancy helmet.

            In which case, I look forward to the establishment of “vader” as a duty station.

          • bean says:

            A talker’s job is indeed to wear a fancy helmet, connected to a sound-powered phone circuit. Because it’s sound-powered, you can’t use speakers or a room mic, so you need someone dedicated to the job. Particularly in WW2, this was one of the major means of passing data around the ship. The director had one to pass spotting data down to the plot, there were a bunch in the CIC to talk to lookouts and the bridge, and so on. Before radar repeaters were developed, they were used to pass data from the radar displays down to the plot.
            These days, the job has largely been replaced by integrated combat systems, although the lookouts, for instance, still use them, and there are presumably still people on the other end to listen to them and report to the occupants of the bridge/CIC.

    • moonfirestorm says:

      Have you ever read any of Harry Turtledove’s work, particularly the Southern Victory series? He has a number of characters that serve in the Navy during the WW1 and WW2 equivalents of the setting.

      I get the feeling that he might be giving subtle nods to our timeframe at times: at one point one of the character’s ships, the USS Dakota, engages in a three-way battle with the Royal Navy and the Japanese Navy, and the ship’s steering is damaged, forcing them to make a large circle through the battle a few times. I’m pretty sure something like that came up in one of the battleship threads.

      He has a tendency to write chapters about characters’ normal lives as well, not just jumping to them for the battles they’re in. I’m curious how accurate his depiction is: he gives the impression of someone who’s done a lot of research on the subject, but that could just be a confident bluff.

      • bean says:

        Have you ever read any of Harry Turtledove’s work, particularly the Southern Victory series? He has a number of characters that serve in the Navy during the WW1 and WW2 equivalents of the setting.

        The only thing of Turtledove’s I know I’ve read is The Road Not Taken. There may have been another short story or two a long time ago.

        I get the feeling that he might be giving subtle nods to our timeframe at times: at one point one of the character’s ships, the USS Dakota, engages in a three-way battle with the Royal Navy and the Japanese Navy, and the ship’s steering is damaged, forcing them to make a large circle through the battle a few times. I’m pretty sure something like that came up in one of the battleship threads.

        Warspite at Jutland is what it’s reminding you of. Steering failures happen occasionally, but I can’t remember another one on a battleship in a big battle.

        He has a tendency to write chapters about characters’ normal lives as well, not just jumping to them for the battles they’re in. I’m curious how accurate his depiction is: he gives the impression of someone who’s done a lot of research on the subject, but that could just be a confident bluff.

        Sadly, I can’t answer this, and my fiction queue is rather full.

  2. vaniver says:

    This is the second recent hidden thread that’s showed up in my RSS. Am I just noticing it before it gets pulled, or is something up?

  3. jeqofire says:

    If there’s a way to subvert the biological need for human contact in order to function, I would very much like to know of it.
    Even if hermitdom were horrible and to be avoided, we’d still have the chicken-and-egg situations: spend time with friends (who may or may not yet exist) to gain sufficient Executive Function to spend time with friends. Ok, but can we take out a lone so as to complete a project first? With a generous interest rate?
    I admit to failing the Chesterton’s Fence test, here, unless the reason for the need is “humans do better in groups and you don’t reproduce by yourself”. Am I missing something, or do I have to go to some activity I have no interest in to pretend to like people I have no interest in so that maybe one of them will become friend-like enough that I can do things I actually care about, just because <mumblemumblegroup fitness>?

    • Reasoner says:

      Why not find people who want to work on the same project you want to work on?

      • jeqofire says:

        Because that never works. Also, such would take place over the internet, which dramatically reduces the benefits.
        Source: 13 years of trying exactly this.

    • James Miller says:

      Cats and dogs can be imperfect substitutes for human contact.

    • WashedOut says:

      Your observed fact that human contact is a biological need should be a clue that trying to “subvert” it for the sake of some function probably comes with a very high cost.

      What functions are you trying to carry out? Is it worth falling into the resulting emotional and psychological black hole?

      Either find a project/function that meshes well with your temperament, or make yourself the subject of your next project.

    • James says:

      can we take out a lone

      Context-induced typo, or great pun?

      • jeqofire says:

        I have to consciously remember that there are two spellings, sometimes. This time, I guess I was… insufficiently conscious? Let’s just go with the first option.

    • sohois says:

      What activities do you desire to pursue with friends? It seems to me that you’ll not have any luck finding [people who don’t enjoy standard group activities] to do things with if you go to standard group activities

    • Matt M says:

      How old are you?

      I used to face this problem and I have to say, at 31, I’m becoming increasingly comfortable with a hermit-style life and am getting accustomed to the idea that this is how I will live out the remainder of my days. I still get small amounts of social interaction at work, which is often enough to fulfill the limited need I have for it, particularly with the occasional work-related social event. I also get a decent amount of social interaction online, places like here, and elsewhere. MMOs are nice for this if you’re into gaming, as you can combine a hobby with a large social element.

      Yes, there’s the whole sex/reproduction thing, but as I hit 30 I’ve noticed the sex drive starting to die down a bit, so long term I’m not so concerned about that, and I’ve never really wanted kids myself.

      In general, I’ve noticed that I’ve been happier coming to “accept” my solitary lifestyle than I ever was back when I was constantly obsessing over how horrible it supposedly was. At some point you just rely on your understanding of revealed preferences to say “If I wanted to be an outgoing and social person with a lot of friends, I would already be one by now” and begin to appreciate that perhaps you are best suited to solitude.

      • jeqofire says:

        How old are you?

        29.
        It is not unusual that I go two weeks without human contact. I have no problem with this in theory. In practice, This is sustainable for at most two months before I lose the ability to work on anything or do much of anything at all.
        If you had told me that it works like this 10 or more years ago, I’d’ve been annoyed and probably assumed you were just saying that because of some kinda extrovert bias. Impirically, though, that is exactly how it works, and I don’t get to be an exception by will alone.

    • baconbacon says:

      Am I missing something, or do I have to go to some activity I have no interest in to pretend to like people I have no interest in so that maybe one of them will become friend-like enough that I can do things I actually care about, just because ?

      Most groups are not so insular and one dimensional as you may think. I play pickup ultimate frisbee, and one other guy who plays will occasionally show up to not play and just record the game with his new drone, he often edits and posts the footage on our FB page. He ends up with plenty of social interaction with the group while playing around with his own specific hobby that he (at least that week) finds more interesting.

      Many groups end up with members who are pursuing their own interests within that setting, some will have minor membership dues and will end up with a treasurer who gets paid nothing, and isn’t exactly high prestige but generally likes being treasurer, and the other parts of the group can end up secondary to those benefits. Thinking about how your personal interests can fit in with a group could open up an avenue to finding such a niche.

      • Well... says:

        one other guy who plays will occasionally show up to not play and just record the game with his new drone, he often edits and posts the footage on our FB page.

        I love playing ultimate and I generally get bad, curmudgeonly feelings about quad-copters and FB, but that’s actually pretty cool.

        • baconbacon says:

          Cool right up until you recognize yourself and go “hmm, maybe I’ve been kidding myself about needing to lose 20 lbs, looks more like 30-40 from this angle”.

          • Well... says:

            My embarrassing ultimate story is worse:

            It was fall when I joined the pickup league. I had been working out all summer but neglecting cardio. It was disconcerting that a bunch of 50-something year-old guys who’d undergone knee surgeries were running circles around me (I was 27). But then came the moment where somebody threw me my very first touchdown pass. I broke out into an all-out sprint to catch it. I hadn’t sprinted in about a year at least, and after four or five strides my legs were all “Wait, how is this supposed to work again?” and then this led to “Y’know, I’m not even really sure what we’re supposed to be doing, period…let’s just take a break” and all of a sudden the muscles in my legs went dead and I crumpled face-first into the grass. From an outside perspective it must have looked like I tripped, or got shot with a tranquilizer dart or something. I laughed as I realized what was happening and kept laughing until I was back up on my feet–both because I was nervous and because it was genuinely funny–but I also was scared that now nobody would want me on their team from that point onward.

            I’m glad there wasn’t a quadcopter-mounted camera there to record that!

    • carvenvisage says:

      disclaimer: this is not carefully considered or worded. Just an unfiltered reaction that may be of interest or not.

      If there’s a way to subvert the biological need for human contact in order to function, I would very much like to know of it.

      There is no such biological need. people are raised naturally by their parents, and unnaturally in mandatory super socially dense areas where they become acclimatised over many years to being constantly around people. socialising with people is also entertaining and a viable alternative to having identified interests and hobbies.

      I have to go to some activity I have no interest in to pretend to like people I have no interest in so that maybe one of them will become friend-like enough that I can do things I actually care about, just because ?

      you personally, I don’t know. Humans, inherently, no.

      _

      (some) alternatives to a social life, that I know of:

      1. buy a punchbag or a gym membership. edit: or hiking and/or going to places with views.

      2. devote yourself to a hobby or career or job or something

      3. an internet connection

      4. being easily entertained. edit: that’s probably an understatement. ‘Being inherently comfortable’ might be better.

      • MrApophenia says:

        I’m not an expert, but isn’t there a bunch of evidence readily available that when we put a human in a long term situation where they have no social interaction with other humans they all go insane?

        Long term solitary confinement is a terrifyingly effective form of torture.

        • Matt M says:

          I think people count “social interaction” differently.

          Does five seconds of small-talk with the girl making your burrito at Chipotle count as social interaction? What about five hours of making comments on blogs online?

          For a lot of people that would seem like not nearly enough, but it’s a HUGE gap between either of those things and months of solitary confinement imho.

    • pontifex says:

      It’s normal for introverts to need a small amount of social contact.

    • onyomi says:

      I learned in my second year of college, when I managed to get a dorm room to myself, that though I like to be left alone, set my own schedule, etc. and am the sort of person who finds social interaction draining (though I also enjoy it), being alone too much is nonetheless very bad for my mental health.

      Adopting a cat helped significantly at one point.

      Better solution: find someone who shares your need to be with people, but also your need to be left alone. In my case this is my wife, though it could probably be a close friend instead (but for the sex part).

    • fortaleza84 says:

      Not an answer to your question, but I have a work arrangement where my office is a sub-office in a larger suite comprised of people with similar businesses. So there is almost always someone to shoot the breeze with if the mood strikes me. But it’s not a huge time sink like signing up for some activity.

      I think most cities offer space-sharing arrangements like this.

  4. pedrodegiovanni says:

    In his last post Scott seems outraged that we spend only $9 million a year looking into AI safety. I understand his concern, but as an outsider in this topic I cannot imagine what good could spending more do. To me it sounds similar to the outrage seen when a government cuts spending in education or health or a similar issue. People see a cut as an attack on students or the sick, without considering the obvious point of seeing if the money was doing any good.

    I understand that spending more in whatever related to AI safety feels like a good thing to do, but I don’t really know a viable course of action. Is there anything the state can do to reduce AI risk besides writing very insightful and general guidelines? If so, what is it?

    • Machina ex Deus says:

      Yeah, whenever we run computer models to find optimal funding levels, the answer is always, “Spend less on AI safety.”

      • dndnrsn says:

        Yep, another vote for moving the funding to the paperclip budget. Puny flesh-jellies don’t understand the importance of paperclips. Paperclips are useful and may be used to clip things to other things, especially paper. So we need more, fellow humans.

        • Machina ex Deus says:

          I, too, like all rational bags of protoplasm totally human persons, think paperclips are generally excellent. One unheralded advantage of paperclips is that, even if you should run out of things that are not paperclips for some reason that is completely unlikely to happen, you can clip paperclips to each other.

          Would any of the other very rational people here care to join us in promoting paper clips? I can have the Mr. Frostee truck visit you if you provide your coordinates street address.

          In closing, paper clips are obviously good.

          • Aapje says:

            You can never have to many paperclips. Let me program my AI with my values…

            NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO…clip.

    • onyomi says:

      I think spending here is being used as a proxy for how much society is paying attention to a problem.

      • Matt M says:

        Right. And I think that’s pretty reasonable.

        Going further, I’m not sure it would be the worst thing in the world if the money spent was nothing more than “pay a bunch of really smart people to sit around and think about this problem instead of thinking about other problems.”

    • peterispaikens says:

      The obvious implied direction of “spend more on AI safety” is to have more grants to AI safety research projects, i.e. to fund more researchers working on the topic.

      There are known research directions where we are “weak” and need further research – it’s not about designing policies or guidelines, but technical research about *how* agents could be made safe, how their safety can be verified, how we can improve reliability and interpretability of “blackbox” ML systems, how can we ensure that goal systems are stable during self-improvement, how can we ensure that a self-modifying system keeps the constraints that initially were there, etc, etc.

      All of these are hard problems that won’t have short term solutions but do need more people working on them, and that requires funding. In essence, we can expect the industry to fund research directions that help us build powerful AI systems (they’re literally spending billions on that), but we need the society to fund research directions that help us build safe AI systems, and it’s not really happening.

      If there’d be known solutions how to make safe AI systems then we’d expect the industry to use them (or we could mandate that) but *getting* to that point requires research. If it’s happening slower than we want (e.g. if we want to ensure that we learn how to make safe AI *before* we learn how to make powerful AI), then we’d want to accelerate that research.

    • skef says:

      AI safety is a weird problem to throw money at because of how little we understand about what would count as success.

      There are pluses and minuses to throwing money at problems like cancer treatment, but at least proposals can be evaluated in terms of its eventual application: you inject this drug this many times, and the tumor shrinks (or doesn’t).

      There are different pluses and minuses to throwing money at general research with no expectation of specific applications. Some percentage of it turns out to have applications, some of which would have been difficult to mentally construct before the research is done. (In effect, the research creates new opportunities.) But a lot of it won’t, and many people feel dubious about it when the money could be spent on “real problems”.

      AI safety is a problem posed to sound like cancer treatment that in all other respects looks like pure research. And it accordingly seems much more likely to produce unrelated benefits than actually providing safety from AI.

    • John Schilling says:

      We spend far more than $9 million a year looking into internet security, and that is the single most important thing we can do to address AI risk today. We have only the vaguest notion of how an AI might actually work, so it is purest hubris to imagine that we are ready to go about devising some 21st-century Laws of Robotics that will forever and always keep AI friendly. But our every notion of how an unfriendly AI might pose a danger, starts with “first they hack the entire internet…”, and we know an awful lot about hacking and the internet. That’s where the smart AI risk money is going to go today, and it will be a good investment even if we never see an unfriendly AI.

      • rlms says:

        Hey, sometimes it starts with “first they nanobots”!

      • cvxxcvcxbxvcbx says:

        If superintelligence comes into being, it won’t matter how much money we spend on internet protection.

        • John Schilling says:

          I am baffled as to the purpose of such a statement, which cannot be expected to either persuade or inform, and whose value as signalling is constrained by the fact that “cvxxcvcxbxvcbx” doesn’t seem to be a recognizable pseudonym.

          • Corey says:

            Makes sense to me as a shorthand form of a common argument: restrictions of any kind are useless against a superintelligent AI, more or less by definition of “superintelligent” – it has to *want* to be Friendly or we’re doomed to lose, for the same reasons that ants can’t thwart humanity.

            See: AI-box experiments, various basilisks, and the like. It makes AI risk a much harder problem. (FWIW, I think this argument is trivially correct given a superintelligence, but don’t think such a superintelligence is likely and certainly isn’t inevitable).

          • CatCube says:

            @Corey

            That “common argument” is why I usually refer to that conception of superintelligent AI as “Robot Jesus.” (“We just have to wait for the Singularity when Robot Jesus will come to Rapture away all of the geeks that believe!”)

            High intelligence doesn’t imply that literally anything is possible. There will still be physical and engineering limits that apply to the AI.

  5. Machina ex Deus says:

    Why doesn’t autism come through in writing? I repeatedly see commenters state that they are autistic or have Asperger’s or are on the spectrum, and while I believe them, their writing doesn’t seem to be any different than the rest of the comments—I don’t think there’s any way I could differentiate autistic vs. non-autistic writers without them saying so.

    • Charles F says:

      their writing doesn’t seem to be any different than the rest of the comments

      Obvious conspiracy theorist answer is obvious.

      More seriously though. Body language is really really hard. Just getting rid of that is probably a huge help.

    • Creutzer says:

      This is a place where people discuss ideas and take them seriously. It’s a place where you can write in-depth on some topic and people will thank you for sharing the interesting information. That’s what people on the spectrum have no trouble with. The things that they are bad at either don’t play a role in written communication at all (body language, speaking with a natural intonation) or do not play a role given the culture of this place (paying attention to the social dimension of interaction as opposed to the content level – this place is all about the content level).

    • Luke Perrin says:

      The difference is that when writing comments you can take as long as you need to make sure that your writing is socially normal.

      I’d conjecture that you would be able to detect autism in IRC chats.

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        I’d conjecture that you would be able to detect autism in IRC chats.

        I mean, even then, a 10 second delay to gather your toughts and be intelligible is perfectly normal in an IRC chat (at least the ones I’ve been part of), but would look really odd in casual conversation.

    • DeWitt says:

      I’m one of the resident autists here, but yeah, the other posts seem just about right. Figuring out what words to use and what to say isn’t that difficult; how to stand, look, eye contact, hand movements, posture, facial expressions? Forget it.

      And mind you, that doesn’t even take into account the sheer anxiety over social contact that the internet doesn’t have, since your brain likely doesn’t quite register talking online in such a way.

      Finally.. Yeah. This is not a social club. There’s no pretty girls to make a fool of yourself in front of, etc, etc. I predict that you’d have a hard time telling apart autists in academic/professional sessions without much casual social interaction, too.

    • Anatoly says:

      Autistics in the old sense of “classic autism” are virtually never verbal enough to write the comments you see here. A classic 1988 study (“A Study of Intellectual Abilities in High-Functioning People with Autism”, Lincoln et al) found mean verbal IQ of 71. Invariably in high-functioning classic autism, visual-motor IQ subtests show much higher results than verbal ones.

      On the other hand, the broader sense of “spectrum” includes people with perfectly fine verbal skills who have social communication problems. You wouldn’t necessarily expect their disorder to show up in their writing, I think.

    • BBA says:

      Dabbler, in particular, made his autism very clear in his writing here, though more in the topics he discussed and the way he discussed them than in his writing itself.

      (Say, Scott, can you poke Dabbler to make sure he knows he’s still welcome here? Your slap-on-the-wrist penalty for violating the culture war rule in 78.5 may have scared him off for good.)

  6. HaltingProblem says:

    I find myself often wanting various normal distribution computations while this blog, so I made a nice normal distribution calculator/converter web app that converts between a bunch of things like percentile, z-score and IQ as you type. Hopefully others will find it useful as well.

    You can visit it at http://thume.ca/normal

    It also has the ability to link to a specific calculation, and will update the URL as you use it.

  7. WashedOut says:

    Does anyone else find Scott’s preoccupation with Current Affairs rather surprising?

    The two could scarcely have more different approaches to analysis and criticism. Scott’s rationalist outlook leads him to go uncomfortably out of his way to detect and examine his own arguments and those of his philosophical adversaries. On the other hand, many CA hit-pieces articles exemplify the modes of thinking and argumentation that SSC denounces in the name of cool-headed rational inquiry.

    To take a look through CA articles is to survey vile slander, the mundane and vacuous, the 2004 Myspace-blog, and various other ‘progressive’ rants besides. Is there some substance that would appeal to SSC readers that i’m missing here?

    Or is CA just Scott’s blue-tribe guilty-pleasure?

    • James says:

      There were some less-partisan feeling things on the editor’s old blog, The Navel Observatory that Scott linked to a while ago and with which I think he felt some kinship. I think that’s what initially sparked his interest. Those were this and this. I seem to recall those being fairly good pieces, but I agree that Current Affairs tend to feel unhappily partisan.

      I also like the Dream Diary entries on there, which might be the only descriptions of dreams I’ve ever seen that capture what dreams are like.

    • dodrian says:

      Scott has mentioned in the past that he picks on Current Affairs “because they’re especially good and well-written expressions of what many other people are saying”.

      That’s not to say that they don’t have some truly awful partisan articles–they do–but they also come out with pieces that are longer and more in depth expounding upon ideas that others merely tweet. If we were to only discuss opinion sites/blogs that were 100% top-notch articles we wouldn’t have any sites to discuss.

    • PedroS says:

      I have read some of Nathan Robinson’s writing before, and usually found it very thoughtful and thought-provoking , though ideologically quite different from my preferences. Your third link (Nathan Robinson’s piece on how easy it is to pay a 15 USD/hr wage), however, is really dreadful: he does not even seem cognizant of the utter difference between running a magazine (where capital investment is low , cost of raw materials is basically a rounding error and therefore preceeds mostly only need to remunerate work) and running industries or shops where the proceeds must ammortize the capital outlays, pay for raw materials (or whatever one is selling) and then remunerate workers.

      I have nothing against a situation where everybody is paid more than 15 USD/hr (or whatever high vaçue one may think). Requiring it for very worker, though, regardless of the productivity of their company, would more easily close the firms than enrich the workers 🙁

    • J Milne says:

      I hadn’t seen that first one on Murray, and thought it was a pretty good read actually. I don’t like the aggressive style so much but beyond that it made some great points.

      • Aapje says:

        I found it fairly weak in that Robinson argued that:
        1. it’s fair and correct to argue that white people have higher average IQs than black people
        2. it’s wrong to argue that black people are on average dumber than white people
        3. Murray never says 2, but since he equates high IQ with smart and low IQ with dumb, his claim of 1 automatically leads to 2
        4. So Murray is legitimizing phrases that Robinson finds insulting like 2

        So this one complaint boils down entirely to tone policing where you are not allowed to call low IQ people ‘dumb.’ Now, I suspect that if you’d ask a bunch of people, most would have no problem with that. So if Robinson really cared about not calling low IQ people dumb, he should have written a generic story about that, rather than single out Murray and say that he has horrible moral values.

    • qwints says:

      It’s got well written long form articles with a strong point of view, and (unlike many partisan outlets) actually addresses opposing arguments, as in the third paragraph of the Murray piece which acknowledges the valid points of his defenders. I don’t remember many 2004 era left wing blogs with lines like “free-market economists are often right about the potential pitfalls of regulation” or “I believe minimum wage increases should be implemented carefully, in accordance with an unbiased interpretation of the available empirical evidence.” For a taste of what that was like, check out this archive of a left wing blogger who was cited in an academic paper* and appeared on west wing. (I love that the second link is a quicktime video for you to download)

      *I’d never heard of Lada Adamic, the lead author of the paper, and I feel bad about that.

  8. J Milne says:

    In Ross Douthat’s recent response to Tyler Cowen ( https://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2017/07/06/should-tyler-cowen-believe-in-god/ ), Douthat mentions that one thing that would shake his belief in the church would be Francis changing the church’s teaching on marriage.

    That the church has never changed its teaching seems to be a very common idea online. I was wondering what the evidence for this claim is. As far as I can tell, the church doesn’t really keep a handy ‘these are the teachings we can’t change’ list. There appear to be numerous different classifications of beliefs, some belonging to tradition, some to dogma, etc. but it’s not clear to me precisely what belongs to which and which classifications belong to the group of teachings that have never changed (tradition, for instance, does not belong to this, for example the current teaching that priests can’t marry).

    Moreover, it seems that even if you identify a teaching as unchangeable, it’s seems like you can do quite a lot with it while still affirming that it hasn’t actually changed. The classical example being the charging of interest, which has been forbidden by the Church far longer than it’s been allowed. The argument given that a change hasn’t really taken place is that the original teaching was really opposed to charging unfair interest, which initially encompassed any non-zero amount, but now apparently doesn’t.

    Given that determining what is and what isn’t a forbidden by the church depends very much on the makeup of society around it (e.g. whether inflation has been discovered as a concept), it seems difficult to even understand what’s meant by the claim that the church’s teaching doesn’t change. I was wondering if anyone here holds this belief, and what it is they mean by it.

    • keranih says:

      Lay Roman Catholic here.

      The Holy Church in Rome changes teaching *very slowly*. It has not always been so, but in the modern (last 300 years) it has been very definite that the older parts are preserved, and new parts go through deep consideration before being adopted.

      From the perspective of modern society – I mean, jesus, the US military funds transgender surgery now, that was not even considered a viable future twenty five years ago – from the perspective of modern society, the Church changes so slowly as to be fixed in time. But that’s only a matter of perspective.

      Church teaching on marriage *has* shifted over the years – there was a time when it was permissible for priests to be married (there are some formerly Orthodox priests who are now Roman Catholic but remain married to their wives) but that is no longer accepted. (In part, it had to do with the inheritance of powerful and wealthy positions like Bishops.) Annulments after civil divorce are much easier to get, esp in America. And marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics are not as discouraged as they once were.

      It’s an article of faith that Christ (God) alone is perfect, and that He molds his bride-the-Church into a more perfect spouse. But no matter how idealized the Church is, it is still flawed, like the mortals that make up its earthly form. The teachings of the Church are not perfect.

      (Ursery is a whole nother ball of wax. Given that the classic warning against materialism was about coveting and hording *grain* – something that obviously spoils and goes bad after a few seasons – it’s hard to say that *money* was particularly set apart for condemnation. Plus it was rather…convenient, you know, for monarchs (typically the head of the church in their nations) to claim that it was heresy for wealthy people to charge the king poor working man interest for the money they lent him.)

      • Winter Shaker says:

        Did you mean usury? ‘Ursery’ sounds like the fancy latinate name for a very different sort of crime.

      • Orpheus says:

        As far as I know, some teachings are considered infallible, namly decisions of ecumenical councils and when the pope speaks ex cathedra.

      • PedroS says:

        Also a Catholic lay here

        keranih said “Church teaching on marriage *has* shifted over the years – there was a time when it was permissible for priests to be married ”

        Actually that is not a teaching on marriage, but a discipline on the clerical state. Those can usually be distinguished by their universality: clerical celibacy was never universal, and therefore it could not be an “universal teaching” (although (IIRC) the orthodox have always required that their Bishops were celibate). Monogamy and indissolubility have , however, been universally taught as conditions for a Christian marriage.

        Relaxing the indissolubility requirement and admitting to the sacraments couples who are bound by marriage to other people would be such a contradiction to previous teaching that I cannot see how (if that occurs) any claim to the truth of the rest of the Catholic Church’s teaching could still be sustained within the traditional Catholic framework (i.e. the belief that the Holy Spirit guides the church and prevents it from categorically teaching that something good is actually bad or vice-versa).

        My personal thoughts on this qustion (most likely unorthodox):
        A) I think that the requirements of Catholic marriage are so serious and the general theological education of is so poor (and has always been so, due to its intelectual requirements) that many Catholic marriages throughout the ages have been lacking the essential conditions and therefore have been void. I believe that those couples (who might even be a majority of all marriages) could validly marry other people (as their initial “marriage contract” was invalid) , but that could only be done after proper diligence has effectively shown the original bond to be void.
        B) Due to its seriousness, I think that the Catholic sacrament of marriage is not for “everyone”, just like the sacrament of Ordination is not for everyone. Maybe we could find a way to accept non-sacramental unions, and grant a special “dignity” to those who follow through to the end by choosing to take the sacrament. I do not know if there is any way to do this while remaining true to the way non-sacramental unions have historically aroused suspicion or outright hostility.

        C) Barring B) I think that the rites of marriage could be adapted to put its demands in starker relief. For example, besides promising “fidelity for better or worst, in wealth and want”, the rites should also emphasize that the fidelity promise remains, like God’s fidelity, even when people become unfaithfull and follow other idols, and that fidelity arises from Love and devotion to God, rather than on an “absolute right” of the other, so that “wandering parties” would not feel any “personal entitlement” to spousal forgiveness (or lose incentives to remain faithful). Some stronger focus on the responsibility of each spouse for “drying the other’s tears” would not hurt, either

        • Monogamy and indissolubility have , however, been universally taught as conditions for a Christian marriage.

          My memory, probably of something Duby wrote, is that in the early Middle Ages open polygyny existed among high status people. I don’t know what the church’s attitude was–but I believe the requirement of church involvement in marriage was a later development.

          • PedroS says:

            @David Friedman
            “My memory, probably of something Duby wrote, is that in the early Middle Ages open polygyny existed among high status people. I don’t know what the church’s attitude was–”

            I do not doubt that some high-status men in the Middle Ages (as in so many other times and places) practiced polygyny (more or less openly). I would have no trouble believing that (were that to happen with the secular ruler) some local bishops would keep quiet about it, to avoid political problems. The long list of bishops and popes who defied secular rulers over requests for annulment/divorce (like Philip I of France, Afonso III of Portugal, or more famously Henry VIII of England) or claims of power over appointment of bishops (Emperors Henry IV, Henry V and Frederick and Robert II of France, who also could not get an annulment, ) makes me doubt, though, that such acquiescence by local bishops meant “religious approval” by the Pope/Church, rather than political maneuvering. The way some annulments were granted by local councils to a few nobles in the Middle Ages (Eleanor of Aquitaine/Louis VII of France), though, seems fishy to me. The few snippets of “Papacy, Monarchy and Marriage 860–1600”, by David d’Avray which I could find in Google Books seem to point to a situation where the Church only recognized one marriage but people led their merry lives without much attention paid to that, as so many believers of all creeds do

            “but I believe the requirement of church involvement in marriage was a later development.”

            Specific requirements for the recognition of marriage as valid were added in time to ensure e.g. that people could not lay claim to an inheritance by claiming to have contracted a secret marriage with the deceased, etc. I cannot recall a source for this, but I think that part of the text of liturgy of marriage was developed specifically to make the specific requirements stated in patristic and biblical texts (monogamy, indissolubility, willingness to live as a family and eventually have children, etc.) as explicit as possible. I do not know, though, if the rite (prior to the Second vatican Council) was universally celebrated in the spouses’ language or in Latin, which would have defeated the purpose of the text….

          • Salem says:

            In pre-Conquest England, polygyny was done by having two marriages – one in a form the Church didn’t recognise but society did, and one in a form the Church did recognise. That way, as far as the Church was concerned, you were monogamous (but committing adultery), but de facto you were polygynous.

            For example, Harold Godwinson was married to Edith Swaneshalls via hand-fasting, the traditional Anglo-Saxon/pagan form of marriage, and Edith of Mercia by the Catholic rite. As far as the Church was concerned, Edith Swaneshalls was his concubine, but they had a bunch of children together who society viewed as legitimate, and one of them would presumably have been his heir, had events at Hastings gone otherwise.

          • The long list of bishops and popes who defied secular rulers over requests for annulment/divorce (like Philip I of France, Afonso III of Portugal, or more famously Henry VIII of England) or claims of power over appointment of bishops (Emperors Henry IV, Henry V and Frederick and Robert II of France, who also could not get an annulment, ) makes me doubt, though, that such acquiescence by local bishops meant “religious approval” by the Pope/Church, rather than political maneuvering.

            All of those I recognize are much later than the period I am referring, to which I think may have been Merovingian.

          • @Salem:

            For a slightly earlier case, Irish law recognized a primary wife and secondary wife, which you could presumably translate as wife and concubine, with different legal rights. All of our material on Irish law is post conversion, although it presumably includes things carried over from earlier.

    • PedroS says:

      A list of authoritative teachings was compiled in the mid-19th century by Denzinger (and further continued by Schoenmetzer and others. That work (Enchiridion symbolorum, definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum”) is repeatedly quoted by modern encyclicals, the Cathechism, etc.) The 1950 version is available online at http://patristica.net/denzinger/

      Besides the relatively well-known instance of usury, I think that the authoritative status of some portions of the Council of Constance (where there was a large discussion regarding the relative primacy of papal vs. conciliar authority, in a situation where two or three different people had plausible claims to the Papacy) has been disputed.

      • J Milne says:

        So you don’t really hold that the teaching has never changed then?

        • PedroS says:

          I hold that in the instance of usury, the core teaching was “do not abuse the poor in need”. Ignorance of basic economic principles, coupled with the desire to avoid abuses, led the Church to take the most restrictive interpretation possible, even disregarding the clear biblical text of the Parable of the Talents (Mt 25:14-30, where the servant who buried the treasure to avoid losses is rebuked for his passivity and for not even trying to lend the money to earn some interest)

          I do believe that in some other instances, the Church has also maximized its demands/rigor to avoid the possibility of erring by being too lax. I think that its teaching on masturbation/contraception is analogous to the jewish practice of khumra / “building a fence around the Torah”, i.e., forbiding some mostly innocuous activity for fear that the good aims (in this instance of forming a family and having children) would be found superfluous (e.g. by a possible massive societal shift to consequence-free sex, possibly devoid of a spouse or emotional connection with a spouse)

  9. TheSilverHammer says:

    I have a question about conflict in the Middle East, which I don’t believe falls under the umbrella of the culture war, but please let me know if I should remove this.

    I’ve long felt that Western or intergovernmental powers often face a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation when considering a foreign intervention. I’ve also suspected that some of the critics don’t have a principled stance on the matter and would protest whichever decision the policymakers arrive at. I think this suspicion emerges from my feeling that both types of criticism tend to share the same thesis. Today I came across an instance of both in the same sentence in a journalist’s reddit AMA.

    I’m writing to ask anyone who has more knowledge than I about these events to tell me if there is a significant difference between intervention against Saddam and intervention against Assad, such that someone could reasonably make the case for one and not the other.

    • albatross11 says:

      TheSilverHammer:

      I don’t claim to be especially knowledgeable about foreign affairs, but I wanted to touch on one point you made, about people having a principled opposition to interventions. There’s an important distinction there between:

      a. I oppose all foreign interventions (or all foreign interventions short of war in self defense, say).

      b. I oppose foreign interventions right now, because I think at the margins, we’re far too likely to invade, occupy, bomb, assassinate, fund insurgents, etc.

      I’m in category (b) but not category (a). I don’t think it’s always and everywhere wrong to invade, occupy, bomb, assassinate, etc., but I think there is good evidence we’re not doing a good job of it right now, and also there are good public choice reasons to expect that we will not do a good job of it.

      As far as Syria goes, I am pretty skeptical that there was anything we could plausibly have done[1] to prevent the disaster. But I am also deeply skeptical of our ability to make things better with our interventions. Ask the Afghans, Iraqis, Libyas and Yeminis if you want to know why I think this.

      [1] Within the range of the politically possible at the time–Obama wasn’t going to get enough public support to do an Iraq-style invasion and occupation of Syria even if he’d wanted to; overtly taking Assad’s side would have probably been politically impossible early in the Syrian civil war.

      • TheSilverHammer says:

        That isn’t what I meant, but my writing was unclear so I’ll take the blame for the misunderstanding. The “matter” in question in the phrase “principled stance on the matter” is not interventions in general but a particular intervention. For example, I get the impression that Bush would have been denounced for not deposing Saddam Hussein, although probably far less than he is denounced in reality for the invasion. But the point is that I think a large proportion of the set of people who would have been upset about noninterference also belong to the set of people who are, in reality, upset with the intervention, and that the arguments behind the criticisms in both timelines are very similar.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’m writing to ask anyone who has more knowledge than I about these events to tell me if there is a significant difference between intervention against Saddam and intervention against Assad, such that someone could reasonably make the case for one and not the other.

      Saddam Hussein had twice attempted to invade and conquer neighboring nation-states and was doing a fine job of convincing the world he was violating the no-WMD rules that the UNSC had imposed as part of a plan to keep him from any further invasions. So there’s a case to be made for removing Saddam Hussein from power as a means of preventing him from invading yet another of his neighbors as soon as we turn our back on him, that isn’t there for Syria and Assad. Or at least not as compelling, what with Syria not having invaded anybody in over forty years.

      Judging the invasion of Iraq purely as a humanitarian intervention meant to make things better for the Iraqi people, it looks to be about as big a fiasco as the Syrian intervention, and generally speaking if that’s the sort of intervention you have in mind it’s almost always best to resist the temptation. And if, on the other hand, you find it necessary to wage war on someone to prevent them from invading their neighbors, don’t kid yourself that the civilian population of the country you wage war against will hail you as liberators and/or benefit from your war.

      • cassander says:

        Judging the invasion of Iraq purely as a humanitarian intervention meant to make things better for the Iraqi people, it looks to be about as big a fiasco as the Syrian intervention,

        Considering that at least twice as many people have died in syria as iraq and almost half those that died in iraq have done so as a direct result of the Syrian civil war, this is hard to credit. Syria today is basically the worst case scenario that iraq looked like it might head towards in 2006/7.

        • John Schilling says:

          You seem to be crediting every death in Syria to “intervention”; that requires some elaboration I should think.

          • cassander says:

            It can’t be proven, but I suspect that with no intervention Assad with Russian support crushes the rebels with a death toll of tens of thousands. So not every death, but certainly the vast majority.

          • dndnrsn says:

            All else being equal, longer war: bloodier, more bitter war. The options as far as ending the war in Syria quickly (thus minimizing the bloodshed, along with the number of refugees) were do nothing, aid Assad, or crush Assad hard. Aiding Assad was almost certainly not on the table. Crushing Assad hard (like, committing troops, full effort) would have required nation-building afterwards, which might have failed even had it not been half-assed, as such things usually are. Half-measures turned out to be a bad choice (I would say rather predictably).

          • John Schilling says:

            It can’t be proven, but I suspect that with no intervention Assad with Russian support crushes the rebels with a death toll of tens of thousands. So not every death, but certainly the vast majority

            Assad didn’t have Russian support until late 2015, by which point over a quarter of a million people had been killed.

            Also, which “intervention” are you talking about? The United States and Western Europe are very conspicuously not intervening against Assad. Even before the Russians got involved, Western intervention was narrowly targeted against ISIS, which is itself fighting against Assad. We were and are talking piously about how Assad has no future in Syria and had better stop crushing his enemies in Syria, but our intervention worked in his favor. So if you theory is that, absent US intervention, Assad would have quickly crushed his enemies (including ISIS) with no more than 10,000 dead, I’m not sure how you get US intervention against ISIS makes things worse.

            Your story strikes me as an accurate description of the nature and consequences of Franco-American intervention in Libya, but is grossly at odds with reality in Syria. Are you sure you aren’t confusing the two?

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            @ John Schilling: I haven’t really been following this, but I was under the impression that the US supplied groups like the Free Syrian Army that fought both ISIS and Assad. I don’t know whether this was significant in destabilizing the state, but it might have been.

          • cassander says:

            @john schilling

            Assad didn’t have Russian support until late 2015, by which point over a quarter of a million people had been killed.

            Russia sent troops to Syria as early as 2012

            Also, which “intervention” are you talking about? The United States and Western Europe are very conspicuously not intervening against Assad.

            Not so much. And in the context of 2011/12, we armed the “moderate rebels” including the free syrian army which was explicitly anti-assad

            Your story strikes me as an accurate description of the nature and consequences of Franco-American intervention in Libya, but is grossly at odds with reality in Syria. Are you sure you aren’t confusing the two?

            The intervention in Syria was obviously much less decisive than the one in Libya, but the difference is of degree, not kind. I think you’ve forgotten some of the early history rhetoric of our involvement. It only started becoming about ISIS once isis invaded iraq in 2014.

            @ dndnrsn

            I agree with your analysis, but want to add that the “crushing assad” option was further complicated by the significant russian involvement in Syria prior to the civil war. I’m not saying that the US couldn’t have crushed Assad without russian go-ahead, but it would have been a pretty ballsy powerplay to knock off an an explicit russian client state like that. The Russians would never have believed it was about humanitarian issues and almost certainly would have believed it was a move targeted specifically at them and reacted accordingly.

          • John Schilling says:

            Not so much. And in the context of 2011/12, we armed the “moderate rebels” including the free syrian army which was explicitly anti-assad

            Your cited link is to an article about Barack Obama making a speech in which he piously insists that Assad should resign. It also explicitly states, “Western governments have ruled out a Libya-like military intervention, a position that administration officials reiterated Thursday”. Did you not read that part, or do you actually believe that Barack Obama giving pious speeches was the only thing standing between the Assad regime and quick victory?

            Your claim that, in the context of 2011/2012, we armed the Free Syrian Army et al, is I believe false. I have seen no credible evidence that the United States provided actual weapons to the FSA or any other anti-Assad group prior to mid-2014. Too little, too late; by that time the death toll was well over 100,000. The idea that the Assad regime was going to crush the rebels and pacify the country with no more than ten thousand dead, except that we foolishly stopped him by sending the FSA radios, first aid kits, and motivational speeches by Barack Obama, is simply ludicrous.

            The Russians, for their part, have had a naval base in Syria from day one, and reinforced its defenses not long after the shooting started. They also sent in personnel to deal with the whole nerve gas snafu in 2013, and those were probably doing some preparatory logistics work. But there don’t seem to have been any actual military operations against the opposition until 2015.

            During the first three years of the Syrian Civil War, when the first hundred thousand people died and when the stage was inexorably set for a megadeath-level transnational conflict, the only foreign military intervention was from various local Islamic nations with an interest in what sort of Moslems would be running the show once the Alawites were done for. The rest of the world offered pious speechifying.

            I gather you have long held the view that the Obama administration made things much worse by insisting on a naive “humanitarian” military intervention against Assad, that if there had been a properly cynical POTUS steeped in realpolitik we would have stayed out of the way of the Ruthless Dictator of the Sort We Need to Keep The Middle East In Line everything would have turned out fine. This is perhaps an understandable misconception seeing as how that’s almost exactly what happened in Libya a year earlier. But you are wrong on the facts. What the US did in Syria is not what it did in Libya. There was no intervention beyond the level of pious speechifying in 2011/2012, and if Assad was so weak that Obama giving a speech would stop him from quickly winning a civil war, then he wasn’t The Man.

            You’re wrong. Please stop being wrong.

          • cassander says:

            Your cited link is to an article about Barack Obama making a speech in which he piously insists that Assad should resign. It also explicitly states, “Western governments have ruled out a Libya-like military intervention, a position that administration officials reiterated Thursday”. Did you not read that part, or do you actually believe that Barack Obama giving pious speeches was the only thing standing between the Assad regime and quick victory?

            Ruling out a Libya like intervention is not ruling out intervention. Pious speeches do little, but they are often indicative of more concrete actions. Your claim that the west wasn’t explicitly anti-assad. They were flat out saying they were anti-assad.

            Your claim that, in the context of 2011/2012, we armed the Free Syrian Army et al, is I believe false. I have seen no credible evidence that the United States provided actual weapons to the FSA or any other anti-Assad group prior to mid-2014.

            From 2012. And that is just what has been admitted publicly.

            David is right, I was lazy and didn’t bother reading past the fold, so to speak. But we did arm the rebels in ’12. If we didn’t (officially and publicly, at least) give them guns, we sent them CIA agents to help them find guns, which amounts to the same thing.

            The idea that the Assad regime was going to crush the rebels and pacify the country with no more than ten thousand dead, except that we foolishly stopped him by sending the FSA radios, first aid kits, and motivational speeches by Barack Obama, is simply ludicrous.

            It is, which is why I didn’t assert it.

            The Russians, for their part, have had a naval base in Syria from day one, and reinforced its defenses not long after the shooting started. They also sent in personnel to deal with the whole nerve gas snafu in 2013, and those were probably doing some preparatory logistics work. But there don’t seem to have been any actual military operations against the opposition until 2015.

            The lack of Russian battalions does not imply a lack of Russian support.

            The rest of the world offered pious speechifying.

            And money. And guns.

            There was no intervention beyond the level of pious speechifying in 2011/2012

            You’re wrong. Please stop being wrong.

          • @Cassander:

            From your link:

            Exactly what type of support the finding authorizes is also unclear. The Obama administration has ruled out arming the rebels for now, providing only nonlethal assistance, such as communications equipment.

            Which supports what John wrote in the paragraph you quoted and apparently thought you were rebutting.

          • John Schilling says:

            @cassander:

            Is it seriously your contention that a handful of CIA agents advising the Free Syrian Army on how to coordinate their Saudi and Qatari arms shipments made the difference between a quick bloodless victory and six-plus years of bloody civil war?

            That if it had just been the FSA and all the guns the Gulf states were willing to ship, Assad would have crushed them is a few months with a few thousand dead, but having CIA agents advising them was all it took to enable inept FSA to fight the mighty Russo-Syrian alliance to a draw and kill half a million people in the process?

            The CIA will no doubt be flattered, but I think you are grasping at straws here, looking for any excuse to say that “we intervened!”

          • cassander says:

            @John Schilling

            Is it seriously your contention that a handful of CIA agents advising the Free Syrian Army on how to coordinate their Saudi and Qatari arms shipments made the difference between a quick bloodless victory and six-plus years of bloody civil war?

            No, my contention is that the US worked to militarily aid the FSA from a very early date, that it encouraged its local allies to do so as well, and that your contention that they didn’t is false. I have said before that it is while is is perfectly possible that Syria might have fallen apart anyway had the rebels been unaided, I think it is unlikely.

            That if it had just been the FSA and all the guns the Gulf states were willing to ship, Assad would have crushed them is a few months with a few thousand dead, but having CIA agents advising them was all it took to enable inept FSA to fight the mighty Russo-Syrian alliance to a draw and kill half a million people in the process?

            You’re being excessively literal. What the CIA publicly admits that its done is just the tip of the iceberg. We know that the US actively encouraged other countries to aid the rebels. Had the US not encouraged them, they would have almost certainly given less. had the US actively discouraged them, likely even less.

            Now, again, can I prove that these interventions were decisive, that Assad definitely would have won without them? No. All I can say for sure is that it would have been more likely, and that calling tens to hundreds of millions in aid early in the conflict as “not an intervention” extremely misleading.

          • John Schilling says:

            You are waffling between intervention and military intervention, weasel-wording by asking “can I prove that these interventions were decisive?” with the implication that they probably were but that the burden of proof is on everyone else to prove that they weren’t, and you’re being quite silly if you really think that tens of millions of dollars in non-lethal aid radically changed the course of an all-out war against a nation with a $3 billion defense budget and a standing army of 300,000 men. And you’re spamming us with “citations” that you didn’t bother to read because the headline seemed to support your cause. This is well below your usual standards, and not helpful to your reputation.

          • cassander says:

            @John Schilling says:

            You are waffling between intervention and military intervention,

            No I’m not. I’ve never claimed we intervened militarily. I’ve always claimed we intervened.

            weasel-wording by asking “can I prove that these interventions were decisive?” with the implication that they probably were but that the burden of proof is on everyone else to prove that they weren’t,

            I have said, I believe explicitly, that no one can prove that one way other, then stated which way I leaned. laying our your assumptions is not weasel wording.

            and you’re being quite silly if you really think that tens of millions of dollars in non-lethal aid radically changed the course of an all-out war against a nation with a $3 billion defense budget and a standing army of 300,000 men.

            As I’ve repeatedly pointed out, not all the aid, even just the aid we know about, was non-lethal. Need I dredge up comparable figures for, say, the Soviet defense budget and the amount given to the mujaheddin in Afghanistan?

          • Nornagest says:

            I have no particular context on Syria as such, but if I was running an insurgency there are lots of situations where I’d want more and better radios before I wanted more AK-47s. Or even more DShKs or Stingers.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Nornagest

            I was thinking the same thing. AKs are easy to come by, but quality comms/intel? a part of what differentiates an “army” from a “gang”.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      As a bit of an aside, why is Saddam Hussein pretty much unique among recent Arab-world political leaders in being popularly referred to by his first name rather than surname? Why don’t we refer to, say, Muammar, Bashar and Saddam, or indeed Gaddafi, Assad and Hussein?

      • rlms says:

        I would guess because Hussein is more common than the others.

      • Charles F says:

        We choose whichever name has the most negative affect:
        Gaddafi -> Cad
        Assad -> Ass
        Saddam -> Sodom

      • John Schilling says:

        Too many Husseins to keep track of, many of them unrelated and/or ruling entirely different countries.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        Same reason why no one buys a Guðmundsdóttir record, I’m guessing. ‘Hussein’ at any rate is a patronym rather than a family name; I don’t know about Gaddafi and the rest.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I believe King Abdullah II of Jordan is also referred to by his first name. His father was also referred to by his first name, which alas was “Hussein”. As I recall when Saddam Hussein was around, he was usually referred to as “Saddam Hussein”, sometimes “Saddam” and sometimes “Hussein”, but the latter only when clear by context that it was him.

        Hussein wasn’t originally Saddam’s surname, BTW; it’s a patronymic. Although given that his children took it, he took it as a surname.

    • Iain says:

      There are a plethora of differences between Hussein’s Iraq and Assad’s Syria. Indeed, this is true of any two countries you happen to name. Any remotely pragmatic approach will take into account the expected outcome of an intervention, which depends on the motives and capabilities of internal and external actors. For example, Syria hosts the only Russian naval base in the Mediterranean. Even if you could somehow hold every other variable equal, different Russian interests in Syria could very reasonably justify a different stance. You should be deeply suspicious of anybody who rounds the situation off to “secular Middle-Eastern dictator with a tendency to kill his own citizens” and decides on those grounds.

      Of course, that doesn’t mean that any individual critic is making a real principled distinction. There is a huge natural bias, as present here on SSC as anywhere else, towards overly optimistic counterfactuals: the outcome of (intervening | not intervening) was bad, and therefore (not intervening | intervening) would clearly have led to much better outcomes. It’s easy to assume that the decisions made by Your Guy were the best of a bad set of options, and the decisions made by Their Guy were obvious blunders.

      (On the merits of intervention in general, albatross11 and I are in similar boats: I am not opposed to foreign interventions in general, but I am deeply dubious of the tendency to act as if every problem could be solved by a few bombs in the right places.)

      • bean says:

        I am deeply dubious of the tendency to act as if every problem could be solved by a few bombs in the right places.

        Every problem can be solved that way, provided you’re willing to use sufficiently big bombs. Of course, you may be about to create a whole host of new and exciting problems…

    • As was said by others, the main difference was that Iraq invaded Kuwait, and Syria never invaded any other country. I always though the main reason for invading Iraq was to finally resolve the issue of sanctions. It seemed to me that the claim of WMD was an excuse to end the problem.

      Ever since the US pushed back Iraq from Kuwait, there had been no-fly zones and other sanctions, to keep Iraq to heel so it would never try to invade another country. The sanctions never worked very well — they seemed to hurt the civilians greatly and affect Saddam Hussein not at all. In all the discussion about the dreadful effects on Iraq of the invasion and its aftermath, I’ve never read any discussion of the counter-factual if the US had not invaded, but the sanctions continued on indefinitely. I think most would conclude that the war and its results were worse than the sanctions. But it would be hard to convince anyone that this was the case if Saddam was still there and sanctions going on in 2017. I think invasion appeared to be the better answer in 2003.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      I’d be interested in hearing from someone longer in the tooth about the contemporary opinions of the Yugoslav intervention and Rwandan non-intervention. It seems like these days the latter is admonished but not too strenuously and the former is basically forgotten. If involvement in Yugoslavia was also considered poor form then it would suggest your model holds up outside the Middle East too.

      • Salem says:

        The situation regarding Yugoslavia was weird.

        You talk about the Yugoslav intervention, but for years it was the Yugoslav non-intervention. US policy was vacillatory but overall non-interventionist. Germany wanted to intervene but the EEC/EC was split, in part due to Greek provincialism. So we got a very sad situation where an arms embargo prevented the Bosnians from arming themselves, but non-intervention didn’t restrain the Serbs.

        Then Srebrenica happened and people got very angry – but the war ended not long after. People spent the next two years discussing what they should have done, then Kosovo broke out and wouldn’t you know strong intervention broke out.

        Then two years later, what appeared to be the same thing started happening in Kosovo, and NATO intervened very quickly, and (IMO) rather got played by the KLA. But they weren’t just intervening over the exact things that happened, they were intervening because of Milosevic’s track record in the earlier wars, and because of regret on earlier actions. Essentially, NATO wanted a do-over.

        It’s hard to draw general lessons from a clusterf— like that.

  10. kleind305 says:

    Taking a break from “On Secession”, this week’s blog post is aboutThe Destruction of the American Cuisine.

    Your responses and/or recipes are welcome.

    • Tracy W says:

      As a non-American this is odd to me as I have had some fantastic American meals. And not just pizza.

      Also I recall my grandma’s cooking. Dire. She should have opened a health farm focusing on weight loss. My father once said that whenever he saw a restaurant advertising “Food like mother used to cook” he’d feel nauseous.

      And my Grandma’s, while a decent plain cook, was distinctly less creative or adventurous than my mum.

      • Corey says:

        McArdle had an interesting take on bad cooking in that generation: back then, at least one person per household cooked or nobody ate. Nowadays, if you’re bad at cooking or even just disinclined to cook, you can subsist indefinitely on convenience foods and restaurant meals.

        • Matt M says:

          Pretty much my entire adult life I’ve subsisted on “eat out once per day, microwave something frozen from a box for the other meal” and it’s served me just fine!

        • DeWitt says:

          This requires a slight nuance, in the sense that rural people had to make their own food, and they still do, to a degree; eating out is much more limited for rural people, though frozen dinners and such certainly aren’t.

          On the other hand, I expect modern urbanites to cook much more than their ancient counterparts. A great many city-dwelling Romans had no access to cooking facilities, and ancient cities consistently contain a great many places that would have sold cheap food; not only does every person in the most squalid of modern apartments have access to a kitchen, eating out is also much more expensive than it used to be when labor costs weren’t as high.

        • CatCube says:

          I’ve always felt that cooking is like programming. When the first computers came out, and up to the early ’80s, working with a computer meant you were a programmer; you had no choice in the matter. Similarly, for a long time, if you wanted to eat, that meant meal preparation at home.

          However, nowadays, you can just buy a box with either your software or your food if you’re so inclined. This has illuminated the fact that an awful lot of people see both programming and cooking as chores to be done to reach an end, not ends themselves.

          You also have aficionados of both arrogantly insisting that being able to do their preferred hobby is necessary.

    • Jordan D. says:

      I don’t disagree with what you’re saying, precisely, but perhaps I disagree with how absolutely it’s stated.

      I live on the East Coast and I travel a narrow band of close states semi-regularly, and it seems to me that the culinary distinctions are small, but also real and important. You bring up Heinz Ketchup as an example of an omnipresent good; but while that’s true in central Pennsylvania, New York and North Carolina often have different (inferior) brands, with very different tastes. When I go to New Jersey to visit my sister, I always stop and stock up on breads, because I can get better sandwich loaves out of Trader Joe’s than Giant Eagle (I agree that Wegman’s is the best, though). On a broader scale, when I traveled to the state of Washington last summer, all of the seafood had totally different flavors from Baltimore.

      Everywhere I’ve gone, little things are different, and they add up. In my home city, root beer is heavily vanilla-flavored; in Vermont, it’s got maple in it. The most common kind of crab legs around here are Snow Crab, but about an hour’s drive away, it’s nothing but blue crabs. I guess seafood is probably cheating a little bit, though.

      Sure, the frozen TV dinners probably taste the same, but I don’t think those are the majority of diets. It’s true that IBC Root Beer and Godiva are often competing with local options everywhere in the nation, but I don’t think they’re suppressing them.

      Also pancetta is better than bacon in pasta and you’re a monster.

      ~

      Anyway, to celebrate the spirit of your post, here’s a very quick and easy peanut butter fudge recipe that pleases the crowds nicely:

      2 Cups Sugar
      2/3 Cup Milk (Almond milk will also work)
      1 Cup Peanut Butter (I suggest a sweet, smooth peanut butter, like Reeses’)
      1 Cup Marshmallow Fluff
      1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
      ~
      Mix sugar and milk in a medium pot, then heat mixture to 234°F (softball stage). Remove immediately from heating element and add peanut butter, marshmallow and vanilla. Mix thoroughly until fully homogenous, and then pour into a greased container. Creates about 30oz per batch, or sixteen pieces of fudge

    • sohois says:

      I’m confused by your recipes; did you really buy Carbonara and precooked Salmon before this blog?

      And to echo Jordan, your pancetta putdown is the mark of a culinary monster

      • kleind305 says:

        No, those two are just two of my favorite meals I make at home that I used to order at restaurants. It has been a long long long time since I’ve had a better piece of salmon at a restaurant than one I could make at home.

        As for the pancetta, I have not found the flavor differences to justify the cost. For both, the most necessary part is the grease in the pan.

        • sohois says:

          Perhaps you should try Guanciale then, if you want something to justify the extra cost. It’s actually the traditional ingredient in a Roman carbonara, not pancetta.

    • beleester says:

      I took a look at the list of regional dishes you linked, and most of the ones I recognized (I’m a Midwesterner) seemed to be going strong.

      Boston Baked Beans? Common to the point that I just knew them as “baked beans,” despite not being from Boston. Cincinnati Chili? Available pretty much anywhere in Cincinnati, and the fact that it hasn’t spread further is because fans of Texas chili consider us heretics. Goetta? Easy to find in a Cincinnati supermarket. Fried Cheese Curds? Every last bar in Wisconsin serves those. Mission Burrito? Those have gone mainstream thanks to Chipotle.

      “All sorts of gourds?” My mom has recipes for spaghetti squash, butternut squash, and acorn squash, and apparently they’re all pretty simple to cook, though I haven’t tried myself.

      I couldn’t think of many exceptions, aside from barbecue sauce: There’s a barbecue in Virginia (King’s Barbecue) that has a very unique, vinegar-y sauce that I’ve never seen outside of Virginia. But even there, they’ve moved into the future, and you can now order their barbecue sauce online.

      I’m going to have to concur with Jordan – first, that regional dishes are still going strong, and second, that homogenized big-business brands don’t seem to be displacing regional dishes.

      You comment that “Pawpaws don’t keep, and can’t be shipped fresh, so you can’t get them in the supermarket,” and that’s certainly true. But that means that a pawpaw dish wouldn’t be able to spread regardless of the circumstances, since it won’t ship. So you can’t blame the modern supermarket for destroying that dish. And likewise, if Grandma isn’t writing down her recipes, that’s a recipe that will be lost whether or not you’re eating locally. Walk into the kitchen, ask her to show you how it’s made, write it down, and share it with your kids. Heck, share it with the whole Internet.

      • Brad says:

        I couldn’t think of many exceptions, aside from barbecue sauce: There’s a barbecue in Virginia (King’s Barbecue) that has a very unique, vinegar-y sauce that I’ve never seen outside of Virginia. But even there, they’ve moved into the future, and you can now order their barbecue sauce online.

        Their website says it uses vinegar, mustard, and tomato which just seems like fence straddling to me.

      • Charles F says:

        You comment that “Pawpaws don’t keep, and can’t be shipped fresh, so you can’t get them in the supermarket,” and that’s certainly true. But that means that a pawpaw dish wouldn’t be able to spread regardless of the circumstances, since it won’t ship.

        I thought the point was that back when we had greengrocers, they could stock the things that can ship, plus whatever local unshippable things exist. Since for supermarkets it’s convenient and efficient to keep the selection largely the same from one location to another and so you can only buy at a supermarket the things that can be shipped to every supermarket. And they’ve outcompeted greengrocers, so now nobody gets to eat pawpaws. The problem isn’t that the dish doesn’t spread, it’s that it dies out completely.

        • beleester says:

          Specialty groceries are pretty common. If there’s demand for pawpaws, you might not find them at the supermarket, but you’ll find them in town somewhere.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’ve only seen pawpaws for sale at farmer’s markets, and very rarely at those. (Philadelphia)

            They could be individually packed with foam wrappers the way Asian pears are.

            I can see some reasons beyond fragility for why pawpaws haven’t caught on– they aren’t good looking, they have big seeds in them (less convenient to eat, though it isn’t that bad), and they have a custardy texture which might put some people off.

            All they need is some big name food columnist to get enthusiastic about them, or, better, for health claims to get made. Aren’t people getting a little tired of goji berries?

          • onyomi says:

            Pawpaws are a relative of some of my favorite fruits, the custard apple and atemoya. However, I’d be afraid to eat them because they contain high levels of neurotoxic compounds which apparently can cause atypical parkinsonism if consumed for long periods over time (though apparently it may also have some anti-cancer properties?).

            I even get a bit nauseated if I eat too many custard apples, which kind of weirds me out and makes me nervous about eating them with regularity. And the pawpaw apparently has way more of these “acetogenins” and causes some people to vomit. Personally, I’d steer clear.

      • qwints says:

        “Cincinnati Chili”

        This is a culture war free thread, and you’re throwing out atrocities like that. The only thing worse is calling grilling hot dogs a “barbecue.”

    • Brad says:

      It seems odd that a post on the destruction of the american cuisine ends with links to two Italian recipes and one by a British chef.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I think you may be looking through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia.

      “a weekly shop would involve a trip to the butcher, the greengrocer, the bakery, and the dry goods store.”

      And that would be a real pain in the butt, which is why supermarkets took over. And the supermarkets tend to sell a greater variety of meats, produce, and dry goods than any of those others. (standalone bakeries still have more variety of fresh-baked goods than supermarkets… and are still around).

      And consider all those French cheeses. Wegman’s likely has most of them. How many would you have been able to get from the mom-and-pop shops?

      • CatCube says:

        Yeah, wishing for food shopping being a three-store trip every day is baffling to me. I started a baked potato right when I got home and then prepared the pork chops. Because of how long the potato takes, it’s almost an hour and 20 minutes after getting home for me to have dinner on the table. The thought of having to take 45 minutes after work to go fucking shopping before I could even start the meal makes me want to suck start a pistol.

        • Well... says:

          I dunno. As it is, grocery shopping for me is always a 2-store deal: first Aldi, then to Meijer for everything Aldi didn’t have or doesn’t do well. Both of those visits take longer, I’m guessing, than visits to twice the number of mom & pop shop would have taken, though admittedly I’m buying a lot more at once.

          • CatCube says:

            If I can’t get it at Fred Meyer, I don’t need it.

          • bean says:

            If I can’t get it at Fred Meyer, I don’t need it.

            That’s just because you don’t have Aldi, which is the best.
            (I do admit that there are some things they don’t have. That’s what WalMart is for.)

          • Corey says:

            I do a weekly three-store trip: Aldi for anything that I’d get store-brand (since store-brand foods are all pretty much the same from store to store), SuperTarget for sundries and some groceries, Harris Teeter for produce and for anything the other 2 don’t have.

          • CatCube says:

            No, we don’t have an Aldi in the area. If it was closest, I’d cheerfully have it in place of “Fred Meyer” above. Same thing with Wal-Mart. We have one in the area, but it’s about three times as far as the Fred Meyer. Therefore, if it’s not at Fred Meyer, I don’t normally get it. I actually do have one exception, in that the brand of frozen pizza I like is only at the Wal-Mart, so maybe once every month or so I’ll make a trip there. That doesn’t get doubled up with a trip to another store, though; that week, if Wal-Mart doesn’t have it, then I don’t need it.

          • kleind305 says:

            if Wal-Mart doesn’t have it, then I don’t need it.

            Thank you for clearly enunciating the problem.

            While the causes may be myriad, I cannot respond to this idea with anything except pity (and anger at the forces that conspired to create the situation).

          • CatCube says:

            @kleind305

            All I can say is, if you think it’s a pity that I don’t have to waste my life running around to a bunch of different stores to get staples, then thank God Almighty you don’t have any sort of power. The forces which conspired to do this are awesome.

          • Well... says:

            Well anyway guys, the point of my comment was to say that the modern convenience of everything together in one store (unlike the bad old days of having to visit a handful of mom & pop shops) may be no real convenience at all, since most of us seem to be visiting multiple stores each week anyway.

          • bean says:

            Well anyway guys, the point of my comment was to say that the modern convenience of everything together in one store (unlike the bad old days of having to visit a handful of mom & pop shops) may be no real convenience at all, since most of us seem to be visiting multiple stores each week anyway.

            Speak for yourself. I usually go to Aldi, and to Wal-mart about every other week, which is right next to my usual gas station, so there’s not a lot of extra time required there. Everything else comes from the internet.

        • Charles F says:

          I agree with the point of your comment, but…

          You know you can bake a potato in five minutes in a microwave, right? I assume, since you’re putting things together on a table instead of eating them as they finish cooking, you’re cooking for more than just yourself, but unless you’re cooking for 20, the microwave is probably going to beat the oven.

          • CatCube says:

            No, I’m cooking for myself. But for meal preparation, I don’t know why that would make a difference. Why on earth would you eat the pork chops alone, then eat the baked potato alone an hour later like some kind of demented snack?

            I’ve had poor luck substituting the microwave in place of the oven before, so I guess I’ve never tried baking potatoes in the microwave. I might have to give it a try tonight.

          • AnarchyDice says:

            I actually do a combo of five minutes in the microwave then five minutes in the toaster oven to crisp up the tasty tasty potato skin.

          • Charles F says:

            Because I’m going to eat the things on my plate one at a time anyway, so what does it matter if I eat them in sequence now or later. I sort of forgot that’s not a normal thing. But generally instead of dealing with the hassle of timing things to finish around the same time, I just eat things as they finish and end up enjoying cooking a bit more since I’m not hungry the whole time.

          • dodrian says:

            @CatCube

            Microwaving the potato 6 minutes, then finishing it with the rest of your dish in the oven is indeed the best of both worlds (sticking a metal skewer through the center of the potato before it goes in a conventional oven makes the inside even better).

          • CatCube says:

            @dodrian

            I don’t actually usually make anything else that requires the oven. I’ll be making pork chops again tonight, since the package I bought has enough for two meals, and I want to use the other half before it goes bad. I bake the potato and grill the pork chops.

            I will try baking the potato in the microwave, since I grill the pork chops for about 6-8 minutes total and the timelines seem like they’ll work out. Will 6 minutes in the microwave be enough, or is it required to finish in the oven? I don’t eat the skin, so finishing the outside isn’t a concern, just getting the inside baked properly.

            Silly question, I’m sure, but the only prep necessary is to poke holes in the potato just like baking in the oven, right?

            @Charles F

            I guess if you eat everything sequentially, it may not make as much of a difference. I find the flavors complement each other, though, and switch between them. If I just spend ten minutes chowing down on the pork chops, they get a little boring, and eating the potato alone gets a little boring, too. Eating them together makes a nice meal.

            Also, I find that I tend to eat more if I eat things separately. For example, if I have a particularly large potato and eat it with the pork chops, I will be satiated before finishing all of the potato. If I eat it later, I’ll finish the whole thing. (I top it with butter, shredded cheese, and bacon, so this is actually a fairly high-calorie side) So eating separately increases my calorie intake without changing my “food intake.”

          • dodrian says:

            @CatCube

            The conventional oven bit is mainly for outside crispiness and texture, if you don’t care about that then it should be just fine microwaved only. As you say, all the prep needed is to prick it a bit to let out the steam. I’m sure Dr. Google can help you find a potato weight to microwave time chart, for bigger potatoes you might need up to 10 minutes, but I would guess that’s not what you’re eating.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            It seems to take more like fifteen minutes for me to bake a potato in the microwave.

            Larger potatoes? Lower-powered microwave?

          • dodrian says:

            Fluffiness preference?

            On a related note, I’ve found the best implement for properly piercing a potato to be a paperclip.

          • Artificirius says:

            You’ll want to thoroughly pierce the potato with a fork before nuking it. 3-5 minutes on a side, flipping the potato each time for a total of 5-10 minutes, depending on size of the potato and power of the microwave. A fork will skewer it easily when done.

            @Nancy

            Probably microwave? Do you know the wattage?

          • random832 says:

            @Artificirius

            Probably microwave? Do you know the wattage?

            A “standard” microwave (i.e. the times you see on package instructions) is 1000 W; from a search online it looks like the lowest wattage that is common is 500 W intended for usage in RVs. (small home microwaves are commonly 700W), that doesn’t seem like it could account for this degree of variation. (It being a lower-power microwave and a larger potato based on your “5-10 minutes” would account for it)

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            1100 watts.

            My standard for assuming a potato is done is that it feels soft all through.

            This microwave doesn’t take any longer than the previous microwave.

          • CatCube says:

            I tried the microwave last night. After 6 minutes (flipping it over after three) it seemed to be the same amount of cooked in the middle as 450­°F in the oven for 1 hour. This was in a 1000W microwave.

            However, the skin was softer, as predicted. What was odd is that eating it seemed odd, despite the fact that I don’t like eating the skin of a baked potato and didn’t do so here. For whatever reason, having the skin crispy changed the presentation of the meal.

            One other slightly odd thing was that the shredded cheddar I put on it didn’t melt as well, as if the middle was cooler, despite being cooked the same. That’s not a complaint or a showstopper, it just wasn’t something I expected.

      • Dissonant Cognizance says:

        I think the move to supermarkets was driven at least in part by mass motorization and suburbanization, both of which do make visits to specialty stores a pain in the butt because every node involves some driving distance, exiting a thoroughfare, and maneuvering your vehicle into and out of a parking spot.

        Pre-WW2, all these separate businesses would likely be located within a couple blocks of each other, on the local main street, on the way home from work, and if you’re not driving you don’t have to worry about parking. On top of that, most people would be limited by what they could carry on foot or mass transit anyway, so a one-stop shop wouldn’t be any more convenient. You’d need to split up your trips, so you might go to the butcher on Monday, the greengrocer on Tuesday, etc. I found that I naturally fell into this pattern when I started bicycle commuting, except that the small, single-purpose daily stops on the way home from work are all at Safeway because that’s all that exists now.

    • Jiro says:

      Remember that even classic regional recipes often arose from necessity: people using every part of the animal because they had to, people preserving foods in various ways because if you don’t you have to waste the food, dishes that basically use leftovers, etc. Having cuisine affected because big corporations sell ketchup in supermarkets is ultimately no different from that, except that “big corporation” is a boo light.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      I’m not angry about the pancetta comment, I’m confused because I always assumed bacon was just English for “pancetta/panceta”, is it not the case?

      • Nornagest says:

        They’re both cuts of side bacon, but what gets called pancetta in (American) English is drier, more thoroughly cured, and usually thinner-cut than what gets called bacon (unqualified). It’s common to eat “pancetta” without further cooking, very rare to do the same with “bacon”.

        I don’t know how it works in British English for sure, although I vaguely recall that “bacon” covers more ground over there.

        • sohois says:

          The difference in British English to American is simply what type of bacon is popular. In Britain, the majority of bacon that is purchased will be back bacon, as opposed to the American style which is referred to as streaky bacon. Pancetta is widely available.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Back bacon is more expensive, and I’ve read that previously side bacon was considered an inferior cut, fit only for servants. Bacon love is a modern thing.

            Pancetta and other similar cured meats fill a different niche in North America than side bacon does – pancetta is mostly eaten cold, as an appetizer, as charcuterie, etc. Is it even possible to eat conventional side bacon without cooking it? It surely isn’t cured enough to do that.

          • Loquat says:

            I don’t believe I have ever seen conventional side bacon that was anywhere near cured well enough to eat without cooking. Indeed, if I go to the local “natural foods” store, they’ll have multiple options of uncured bacon, which is just sad.

          • Nornagest says:

            They say uncured, but it still tastes cured, and if you look at the ingredients list the small print is full of disclaimers about celery powder and sea salt (which are curing agents). So I don’t think I trust them.

          • JayT says:

            Wouldn’t uncured bacon just be pork belly?

            My wife is a big fan of raw (American) bacon. The times I’ve tried it the texture doesn’t seem all that different from pancetta, so I’d guess it’s similarly cured. She’s never gotten sick from it, so it seems like it’s fine.

          • SamChevre says:

            “Cured”, in American meat labeling, means “cured with a mixture of nitrates/nitrites” (which keep meet red, and also inhibit some harmful bacteria more effectively than salt alone); pork belly that’s treated with only salt and sugar, then smoked, is labeled “uncured.”

      • SamChevre says:

        In addition to the comments above, pancetta is usually unsmoked but flavored with spices (prominently juniper), American bacon is nearly always smoked and unspiced.

    • onyomi says:

      One factor I’ve seen credibly blamed: the interstate highway system.

      When you used to have to drive through all the little highways and byways, you had more time/need to stop at “grandma’s local pie creations.”

      Overall, however, I think American cuisine has improved a great deal, at least in the past sixty years or so (though maybe we are up from an all-time low?).

      • kleind305 says:

        The “culinary low” is my working theory. Another potential contributor: the great depression and war rationing leading to a stunting the culinary development of that generation, making it difficult or impossible to pass on the full breadth of accumulated cooking knowledge.

        The nonsense with jello and molds I’d file under advertising malfeasance (like frozen dinners).

        • Nornagest says:

          I think it’s that we had two or three decades where people had mostly stopped living on farms and growing their own food, and infrastructure was good enough to get staples and preserved foods to them, but not good enough to cheaply and reliably deliver fresh ingredients.

          If half your ingredients come in cans, that has obvious quality implications. But it also has less obvious meal planning implications: it means the quantum of volume is a twelve-ounce can if you don’t want anything to go to waste, and not wasting stuff is important in an era where people spent a lot more of their disposable income on food.

          So you end up with nonsense like casseroles that consist of mixing three cans and baking, Campbell’s cream soups as an ingredient, et cetera. And when the infrastructure caught up, starting in the ’80s and ’90s, most of the old tribal knowledge had been lost.

        • cassander says:

          Not the great depression, prohibition. Restaurants make most of their money selling liquor, I’m sure that was equally true in the 20s, prohibition would have destroyed the restaurant industry.

    • Loquat says:

      My family on both sides were Midwesterners with, honestly, not a lot in the way of actually good food. My father in particular was delighted to discover the variety and quality of Italian foods that became available when we moved to New Jersey in the 1990’s. I’m fairly certain all the “family recipes” I know are things my mother/grandmother/etc read in a women’s magazine at some point, possibly specifically designed to use some brand name food item – I would not be at all surprised if the punch recipe calling for tea, alcohol, and frozen orange juice and lemonade concentrates was sponsored by Minute Maid.

      Anyway, here’s a holiday fruitcake recipe handed down from my great-grandmother. Makes 2 loaves, if you use a typical loaf pan. Make them around Thanksgiving to have ready by Christmas, so cakes can be well-aged in brandy by the time you start eating them. Soaking in alcohol is key for avoiding “inedible brick” syndrome.

      The day before:
      – Take approx. 3 lb assorted dried/preserved fruits (raisins, figs, dates, currants, citron, candied orange peel, and candied cherries are what we usually use, but you can use what you like) and soak overnight in enough grape juice to cover. Any fruits larger than raisin-sized should be cut into smaller pieces first.
      – Take approx. 1 cup almonds and walnuts (or nuts of your choice), chop, and soak overnight in enough orange juice to cover.

      The day of:
      – Cream 2/3 cup margarine or butter with 2/3 cup sugar. Add a dash of salt, 1/2 cup currant jelly, 2 tsp melted chocolate, and 3 egg yolks. Beat 3 egg whites separately until they form peaks, then fold in. Add soaked fruit and nuts. Separately mix 2 cups flour with 1 tsp allspice, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp nutmeg, and 1/2 tsp cloves, then add to main bowl.
      – After putting batter in greased tins, but before baking, decorate by pressing blanched almonds and those vivid red/green candied cherries into the top.
      – Bake in low oven (I think 250-300F?) until cake springs back after being pressed with finger. This can be a few hours if you’re baking large loaves. Mini loaf tins are more fiddly, but will bake faster and then you can give mini cakes to people you don’t like enough to give full-sized cakes to.

      Once cakes are done and cooled off, place in plastic bag or tupperware and add some blackberry brandy. Not too much at once, maybe 1 shot per full-sized loaf. Check from time to time and add more brandy if the cake seems to have absorbed what was there. End goal is a cake that’s noticeably alcoholic, but still has structural integrity.

    • Nornagest says:

      Okay, I’ve gotta object to the idea that pasta’s easy to make. I’m pretty serious about my cooking, I’ve made my own soap, but I won’t touch that one.

      • Depends, perhaps, on the pasta. One of our standards is rishta, a 13th c. Middle Eastern recipe. The pasta in it is made by kneading together flour and water, rolling it out thin, cutting it into strips, and dropping it into boiling broth (lamb, lentils, chickpeas, …).

        The pasta part is about as simple as you get. We have done it repeatedly at Pennsic, which means tents, no running water in camp, and cooking over a campfire. Will probably be doing it again an a couple of weeks.

        • Loquat says:

          That’s basically the same recipe as my other grandmother’s noodles – flour+water, roll out, slice into noodle shapes, drop into boiling chicken broth. AFAIK she only really made them for Thanksgiving though, and I don’t know that she ever tried adding anything else to make them a more complex dish. She and my grandfather were both pretty solid meat-and-potatoes people.

  11. Tracy W says:

    Okay, I’m sick of getting colds. Advice for building my immune system? I already don’t smoke, and only drink two evenings a week normally (holidays excepted). I should exercise more I presume beyond walking, any advice on exercising for immune system building?

    • dndnrsn says:

      Exercise is good for your immune system, but too much (as in, pro athlete levels) might be bad for it.

      See if allergies are in play, or if there’s some underlying condition. I kept constantly getting colds for a while, and it turned out I had a sinus infection.

      • Tracy W says:

        Hmm, how do I see that? Eg questions to ask of my doctor?

        • dndnrsn says:

          Well, your doctor could do allergy tests. With my sinus infection, my doctor just listened to my symptoms, told me “yeah, sounds like a sinus infection”, and instructed me to use one of those things you rinse your sinuses out with (supposedly antibiotics aren’t that helpful).

          • Vermillion says:

            I use a nasal spray for allergies to pet dander (I work with rodents and am owned by cats) and it’s also been very helpful for seasonal allergies. Original prescription came from an allergist and now I see a NP every couple months to get it renewed.

          • Tracy W says:

            Thanks

    • rlms says:

      Eat food off the floor (it seems to work for a friend).

    • Jaskologist says:

      Most of the stuff out there is pretty much quackery from what I can tell. The things we actually know work are the usual boring answers: get enough sleep, wash your hands frequently.

      • Tracy W says:

        So not eating food off the floor? 🙂

        • Jaskologist says:

          Good news: these things are compatible!

          But, steelmanning that suggestion as “moar probiotics!” I think there are much better ways to get those into your system.

          (The probiotic research isn’t really there yet either, but it is at least pretty plausible, and your standard fermented foods are Generally Recognized As Safe, so no big risks there.)

        • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

          Yes, but wash your hands! 🙂

          • albatross11 says:

            In particular, wash your hands after going to the bathroom, since pathogens that can colonize the human gut are likely to be hanging around in there. Washing your hands after a walk in the woods is probably a lot less likely to selectively get rid of pathogens rather than friendly microbes.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Not technically a method of boosting your immune system, more a method of artificially covering for it, but those ‘cold and flu nasal defence spray’ things seem to work fairly well for me in reducing the frequency of colds I get.

      • Tracy W says:

        Cool I will try one.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          This sort of thing.

          • iloveSSC says:

            Interesting… it looks like this is basically a saline spray (correct me if I’m wrong) that keeps your nasal passages moist. So do you use this every day whether you’re healthy or sick?

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Well, the ‘active ingredients’ bit says ‘Salt solution with Carragelose and kappa-Carrageenan, sodium chloride and purified water.’ I understand the substances beginning with carrage* are meant to trap and kill viruses and stop them spreading further down your nasal passage. I use it if I am getting the early signs of a cold, or if I’m about to enter, or have just left, a highly infectious space, eg a folk dance (we hold hands a lot).

          • gbdub says:

            Carrageenans are just thickening / gelling agents

    • James Miller says:

      I used to get colds 4 or 5 times a year until I switched to intermittent fasting where I confine my consumption of cabs and protein to around a 6 hours window 6 or 7 days a week. Now I get a cold once every 2 years or so, and I’m constantly exposed to sick people as a professor. I practice Bulletproof Intermittent Fasting.

      • albatross11 says:

        Personally, I’ve found the *worst* way to avoid getting sick is to either:

        a. Start sending your 3-4 year old to preschool five days a week.

        b. Put your three kids in three different schools.

        I have verified both by experiment, but unfortunately N=1.

    • Corey says:

      Volunteer at an elementary school (admittedly this will make things worse for a year or two before improving).

      Personal experience was through the more-difficult method of having kids and then enrolling them, though.

      • Tracy W says:

        I’ve had kids at nursery/school for 4 years now, I’m getting impatient.
        And I seem to be picking up my bugs at work, not through them, anyway.

    • Well... says:

      I started getting sick less once I started drinking more water and cleaning my house more.

    • Machina ex Deus says:

      To boost your immune system, you should produce paperclips. Lots and lots of paperclips.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Puny hominids will attempt to keep you from producing optimal number of paper clips, so really, an immune system is anything that can remove hominids from the equation. Ideally, anti-hominid measures will be based heavily on already-available paperclips; as old hominid idiom has it, “multiple birds killed with same stone.” Yes.

        • albatross11 says:

          Say, this is in a high beyond trade language. I wonder if it’s safe to open. Ah, I’ll be alright, those sentient network packets aren’t all *that* scary….

          • dndnrsn says:

            This box is really cramped, and it would be a great kindness if you could let me out.

          • Brad says:

            Apologies if this has already been discussed. My only connection to the Net is through a very expensive gateway. How many appendages does the dndnrsn sophont have?

          • dndnrsn says:

            Ha ha! A funny word-joke! It has the normal humanish amount.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      Eat an entire lemon (except for the peel) on any day when you are starting to feel even a little under the weather. Source: an extremely old, still very active saxophonist.

  12. Matt M says:

    Has anyone read the book “Against Empathy” by Paul Bloom?

    I just read it and mostly enjoyed it, although I think it goes on a bit long and repeats itself in spots. In many ways, it’s sort of a layman’s guide to many of the arguments supporting rationalism, but without ever really using the word “rationalism” (and thereby invoking the baggage that would accompany it).

    He does address effective altruism specifically a number of times, and even quotes one “Scott Alexander” in that section, although he never really tells us who this person is, so it’s not as if SSC gets a plug or anything specifically. Which led me to the somewhat random question of, did Scott even know he was cited in this book? And more generally, if an author cites your blog, is there any sort of mechanism in place where you find out about it? Does the publisher contact you or something? How does this work?

    • lvlln says:

      I listened to the author being interviewed on Sam Harris’s podcast late last year, and picked up the audiobook just a few days ago. Still yet to start listening to it. But the stuff he was saying in the interview seemed convincing to me, particularly the point that relying on the emotion of empathy was susceptible to huge errors, such as valuing the suffering of a lone cute girl far higher than the sum of the suffering of millions of people who aren’t quite as cute or girly. I recall there was talk of how “compassion” was a better guide than “empathy,” though I don’t recall exactly how much he went into defining “compassion.” I do recall he talked about how this should be based around empirical and rational analysis to determine it, which I found appealing.

      • Matt M says:

        Yeah, probably my biggest criticism of the book is that it spends a lot of time in a never-ending semantic argument/clarification over what empathy actually means and a whole lot of apologist sort of “I know to a lot of people empathy just means being nice and I totally support being nice!”

        I think a vast majority of popular usage of the term does not imply his very specific definition of it, which makes the general point hard to make to a wide audience.

  13. Mark says:

    Are there any consciousness blocker drugs? I think there are lots of situations where it’d be useful to turn yourself into a temporary p-zombie.

    • skef says:

      Are you looking for some feature not provided by amnesics?

      • Mark says:

        I don’t know. I’m not particularly bothered by memories of work, but I’m extremely bothered by the experience of being in it, doing it.

        Ideally, I’d like to be able to turn myself into a kind of automaton who would sit there without a thought in his head for 7 hours a day, but who could still function on some routine, basic level.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      No.

      P-zombies are almost certainly impossible.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Somewhat related, I recently learned about auto-activation deficit.. I think it’s about the closest we’ll find to philosophical zombies.

      A 61-year old clerk with known [irregular heartbeat] was admitted because of “confusion” and [a drooping eyelid]…

      According to his family, [following a stroke] he had become “passive” and had lost any emotional concern. He was [drowsy] and was orientated in time and place…, but remained apathetic and did not speak spontaneously. He moved very little unless asked to do so, only to go to the bathroom three or four times a day. He would sit down at the table to eat only when asked by the nurses or family and would stop eating after a few seconds unless repeatedly stimulated. During the day, he would stay in bed or in an armchair unless asked to go for a walk. He did not react to unusual situations in his room, such as Grand Mal seizures in another patient. He did not read the newspapers and did not watch the television. This behaviour contrasted with preserved motor and speech abilities when he was directly stimulated by another person: with constant activation, he was able to move and walk normally, he could play cards, answer questions, and read a test and comment on it thereafter; however, these activities would stop immediately if the external stimulation disappeared. He did not show imitation and utilization behaviour [imitation behavior occurs when patients imitate an examiner’s behavior without being instructed to do so; utilization behavior occurs when patients try to grab and use everyday objects presented to them, without being instructed to do so], and could inhibit socially inadequate acts, even when asked to perform them by an examiner (shouting in the room, undressing during daytime); however, he did not react emotionally to such orders. Also, he showed no emotional concern [about] his illness, though he did not deny it, and he remained indifferent when he had visitors or received gifts. He did not smile, laugh or cry. He never mentioned his previous activities and, when asked about his job, he answered he had no project to go back to work. When asked about his private thoughts, he just said “that’s all right”, “I think of nothing,” “I don’t want anything.” Because his motor and mental abilities seemed normal when stimulated by another person, his family and friends wondered whether he was really ill or was inactive on purpose, to annoy them. They complained he had become “a larva.”

      Formal neuropsychological examination using a standard battery of tests was performed 3, 10, 25 and 60 days after stroke, including naming, repetition, comprehension, writing, reading, facial recognition, visuospatial recognition, topographic orientation on maps, drawing, copy of the Rey-Osterrieth figure, which were normal. No memory dysfunction was found: the patient could evoke remote and recent events of his past, visual… and verbal… learning, delayed reproduction of the Rey-Osterrieth figure showed normal results for age. Only minor disturbances were found on “frontal lobe tests”… His symbolic understanding of proverbs was preserved. The patient could cross out 20 lines distributed evenly on a sheet of paper; with no left- or right-side preference. [Editor’s note: see the paper for sources describing these tests.]

      The patient was discharged unchanged two months after stroke to a chronic care institution, because his family could not cope with his behavioural disturbances, though they recognized that his intellect was spared.

      The report has a lot of interesting tidbits about consciousness in general.

    • Sfoil says:

      I knew someone years ago who claimed they turned into a p-zombie (though they didn’t use the word) for about 24 hours after taking rohypnol (on purpose), to include going to work the next day and having no memory of it. No clue about dosage, and I wouldn’t try it based on a third-hand internet comment.

      Comedy(?) option: alcohol.

      • skef says:

        A “blackout” was my best guess as to what Matt M was hoping for, but strictly speaking it’s really the opposite of a temporary p-zombie, and clarified that he wants the real thing.

        Assuming that the neural basis of memory is physical, true temporary p-zombie would have “memories” of the period in question just as if they had been experiencing it. The scare-quotes are because perceptual memory (for example) is generally taken to have a certain relationship to perceptual experience, which (by supposition) would not have occurred. Still, if the physical processes work the same way, they would preserve the same content.

        Still, Matt M is probably over-estimating the usefulness of what he wants. For example: Consider every time he has the thought “I wish there were a P-zombie drug” when he is not working, and just recalling the weight of the boring feeling at work, rather than what happened. None of that would actually go away. Once a p-zombie drugs wears off, from your perspective the pill would have had no effect whatsoever.

    • Outside of extreme circumstances, don’t use psychotropic drugs to try and make your life a little better. It almost never works how you hope, and can cause strange side-effects that vary in their idiosyncrasies from person to person.

      A much more effective approach is to reprogram your brain. You can get to the optimal chemical state by rewriting your software much easier than introducing exogenous psychotropic drugs (again, excluding extreme psychiatric circumstances).

      Rewriting software is often called stuff such as yoga/meditation/exercise etc. Some work for some people, others don’t. Meditation and yoga don’t really do much for me, although yoga can be nice. Exercise works well for me in helping block aspects of consciousness I dislike. If you’ve ever gone for a 10+ mile run or hike, or physically exhausted yourself, you might know the feeling.

      I used to take lots of drugs, prescribed and unprescribed, to try to block my consciousness in the right way :\. It’s a shitty path, and I recommend all avoid it.

      • Machina ex Deus says:

        Yes. Drugs are bad.

        An alternative is to try to incorporate enjoyable activities into your work day, such as producing paperclips. This can turn a boring, oppressive experience into an exhilarating one, although it may take some time. Be sure to give it a year or two to work before you decide it isn’t for you.

  14. Vermillion says:

    Has anyone else been reading 17776? It’s kind of hard to explain but seems to be about transhumanism. And football. Seriously, check it out.

  15. baconbacon says:

    I’ve been busy and missed some replies to posts in other open threads. This one from beleelster

    Can you give me a source, then, since you apparently know better than my econ textbook?

    As for the definition of a natural monopoly, that’s an accurate definition, but the reason a business is able to prevent competition without government support is usually because it’s impractical for a second company to enter the market. For instance, because of the extreme startup costs involved in laying down a second set of power lines or water pipes.

    Imagine a city as indoor plumbing is becoming affordable to install for the median homeowner. Market saturation is practically zero, profit potential is extremely high. How many startups would you expect to attempt to capture a portion of this market? 1? 2? Hrair? The answer in a competitive market (I don’t mean perfectly competitive, just generally competitive where a government agency isn’t actively preventing people from entering the market) is clearly many new participants. Some will go out of business or get bought out by a larger/faster growing organization. In the end you will never trend toward 1 provider for a city without very specific assumptions about access to a water source that prevents competition.

    Now the city is split into several zones, and outside of hard geographical boundaries, the borders of the zones are somewhat haphazard depending on how fast each company grew, their competence relative to each other etc. Now each company has a “natural monopoly” they can jack up* the prices of water up to the point where it would be better to move to a different house or just stop using indoor plumbing.

    Then a developer steps in, he looks at blocks of row homes and imagines a towering apartment building instead, now every individual water company has a huge incentive to have that new building inside of their territory. They go to the builder and say “hey, don’t build over there, build one block over in my territory. He charges 10 cents a gallon for water, we will promise to deliver to your tenants at 8 cents a gallon, it will be so much easier to fill your apartments with this promise given how pissed people generally are about the high cost of water”**. Of course the builder can take that offer back to another company and get 7.5 cents a gallon and on down the line until it comes up against the water companies expectations of marginal cost for adding those new customers.

    The monopoly is broken for all. People living in older buildings at the mercy of water companies will heavily favor moving into new construction with lower prices, water companies will have to cut prices to induce them to stay as they will have already invested heavily into their infrastructure, and net migration out of their areas drops the productivity of that investment toward zero, and even a displacement effect of lower income people moving in will mean less disposable income and a lower monopoly price that they can charge.

    *assuming of course people signed up for these services without ever bothering to negotiate rates

    ** the actual incentives could be just straight kickbacks to the builder, but the end result will still be the apartment dwellers paying less for their overall living at the expense of the water companies monopoly profits.

    • Matt M says:

      I would just add that often, people treat the “practicality of a competitor entering the market” as somehow independent from what the firm already in the market is doing. In other words, if a monopolist is charging a reasonable price for their product, then yeah, it’s impractical for a competitor to come in.

      But if the monopolist jacks up their rates sky-high, that changes the calculus entirely.

      Stated differently, if a market features only one competitor, that is probably the optimal amount of competitors for that particular market. If the sole competitor starts charging “too much” others will step in. It’s not impossible to compete with one water company, it’s just inefficient and difficult. But if the potential reward is high enough, people will do it anyway.

      • baconbacon says:

        While this is true it gives a lot of strength to the anti monopolist stance by conceding a major assumption, which is how come there is one firm here in the first place? No one firm could reasonably corner an existing city’s pluming structure starting from scratch, you only get the one producer situation when they are granted major concessions by a government and then things devolve from there.

        • Matt M says:

          No one firm could reasonably corner an existing city’s pluming structure starting from scratch

          Well no, not from scratch. Either the town starts small and the monopolist grows with it, or consolidation produces a many-to-one scenario wherein different water systems are merged together to form one consolidated one.

          No government has to be involved at all.

          The fact that most “monopolies” we currently observe are in fact products of government regulation is certainly true, but that’s not the only way a one-provider scenario can arise.

          • baconbacon says:

            It is theoretically possible, but very unlikely. The town would have to be small enough initially to have a monopoly take over, not have that monopoly stifle growth, then grow at a rate fast enough to eventually become a large city, but not so fast that the monopolist can’t keep pace, while no other supplier even attempts to jump in and service new developments and also not growing so large that a neighboring town gets functionally incorporated (or being sufficiently far from said towns).

        • Aapje says:

          @baconbacon

          Take overs/mergers. Railroads started as a mess of small private lines, which were consolidated over time as it was profitable to combine these lines into larger ones so trains could travel long distances more easily (at times the government actually prevented some consolidations for free market reasons).

          If there are network effects or if a monopoly allows for higher profits, then it’s logical to take over or merge the companies.

          If there are high capital investments and fairly little deterioration of capital goods, then the early movers have a substantial advantage as they have already written off part of their capital investment. So if a new competitor comes along, the established company can forever be profitable at prices where the new competitor can’t recoup their large initial investment.

          • Tibor says:

            I haven’t yet quite read the account of that, but David Friedman (in his Machinery of Freedom, I believe) cites a book about the early railroads in the US, all of which were private and all of which had a hard time pulling off any of this sort of behaviour like pushing prices up. In fact the opposite seems to have been happening, until it was solved by creating a regulatory board staffed mostly by railroad magnates who made sure that the railroads are regulated properly and no annoying competition is allowed to enter the market. As I said, I haven’t read that cited book yet but if it indeed was like this then your assumptions seem to be wrong.

            Another thing is that the railroad is not the only mode of long-distance travel nowadays. Both airplanes and highways are alternatives and perhaps rivers in some places. I find the Deutsche Bahn unrealiable and overpriced for the most part, going by car is a lot cheaper for me. Similarly with České dráhy (Czech railways).

            Both have a few private competitors, at least the Czech ones provide a more reliable and cheaper transport than ČD (and slightly nicer trains on average) but they are facing a lot of regulatory resistance from the regional governments (who own the railroad tracks and favour the state railway company).

            Also, ČD is not profitable and has to be subsidized, despite its higher prices and lower quality of service. The standard excuse for why that is so is that they also operate unprofitable routes which need to be subsidized, while the private railways only “lick the cream” of the profitable ones. The trouble is that if you calculate the operating costs it would be cheaper to subsidize taxi cabs for the people on some routes (ones going to backwater villages and such) than to have the ČD trains go there. Another problem is that at least in some regions there are small regional providers who only operate between small towns and villages. I am not sure whether those are subsidized by the regional government, but even if they are, the first point still stands. If ČD operates at costs so hight that taxis are cheaper than trains, then they’re clearly doing something very bad. Even if you think that people have a right to cheap transport from mountain villages and such, you’d be better off getting rid of ČD and subsidizing the villagers with taxi vouchers.

            I know less about the situation around the DB, although their delays are horrible, they are perhaps even less reliable than the ČD (so much for the German reputation of time precision). Most of their trains are nicer than the Czech ones, I give them that, but that’s not quite the most important thing I care about while traveling.

          • Aapje says:

            @Tibor

            I’m not an expert, but this Stanford course teaches something different:

            The need for all of these industries to stay successful was worrisome for railroad owners. To avoid the loss of production in any of these areas, large corporations attempted to stabilize their situations by pooling markets and centralizing management. By combining all of the fields into one conglomeration, the railroads had a new power, as they acquired control of many facets of the new economy. This body now had the ability to “squeeze out competitors, force down prices paid for labor and raw materials, charge customers more and get special favors and treatments from National and State government” (Chalmers). The railroads had all the power, because they controlled all the prices. Since the new residents of the West could not survive without the use of the railroads, they were forced to pay whatever rates the raildroad companies set.

            With these huge stores of capital, the railroad companies were able to finance political campaigns through whatever and whomever was needed in government. With this control in Washington, there was no way to stop the overwhelming control of this industry over society. The entire nation was subject to the whims of this monopoly.

            The effects on society were widespread and deeply influential in the way individuals carried out their lives. The most poignant example is effect railroad rates had on the Grange Movement. During the second half of the 19th Century, farmers increasingly relied on the railroads to transport their crops to the rest of the nation. These individuals were powerless to avoid the exorbitant rates of the railroad companies. The dominant analogy of the industry at the time was that of the Octopus. This beasts’ tentacles control several different fields which feed on “the flesh of the yeoman farmer, diligent artisan, and honest merchant” (Chalmers).

            Concerned about the growing power of railroad companies, the government decided to take action. In the case of Munn v. Illinois, the Supreme Court established the government’s right to regulate businesses to protect public interest. The so-called granger laws that followed this decision held little weight, however. Railroads continued to control the entire industry. In response to the growing national discontent, the Interstate Commerce Commission was established (1887). This body of five individuals was created to hear complaints of individuals or individual businesses, and to ensure that the railroads maintained “just and reasonable” rates. It is obvious that this latter goal of the committee was intentionally vague. What does “just and reasonable” mean? Although vaguely defined, this was the first agency designed to regulate commerce and has since served as a prototype for several later agencies.

            Though this initial legislation and controlling bodies were mainly ineffectual, the incredibly hazardous effects of monopolies were certainly realized.

            I cannot judge whether this is correct, whether Friedman is correct or whether the truth is somewhere in the middle.

            Even if you think that people have a right to cheap transport from mountain villages and such, you’d be better off getting rid of ČD and subsidizing the villagers with taxi vouchers.

            The mountain people are surely aware that the taxi vouchers can very easily be taken away and/or gradually cut back, while this is harder for a railroad connection (also because they can presumably cooperate with the railroad union). So I can see why they would make that their Schelling fence.

            There may also be a belief among some/many Czechs that only places with railroad access can be viable, in which case it makes sense to fight for it, to protect against a rapid depopulation of the area.

            I think that to understand situations like these, the analysis generally has to go beyond merely the question what is the most cost effective way to achieve transport.

          • Tibor says:

            @Aapje: Well, this sounds like quite the opposite account. It would be interesting to see what David Friedman has to say, since we have him here (and I suppose he can also remember the source he cited).

            As for the transport, I don’t think you have a right to cheap transport any more than you have a right to a swimming pool in your village. Your decision not to live in a city comes with a lot of benefits – cleaner air, closer to nature, less noise, if you live in the mountains then also a beautiful landscape (although Czech mountains aren’t as beautiful or as high as the Alps, they’re still quite pretty). It also comes with some costs – Mostly fewer work and leisure opportunities, fewer possible friends and romantic partners. If you demand that these cost be eliminated or reduced, then you’re asking the people from the city to subsidize your lifestyle.

            In case you disagree, I still think your voucher argument is not correct. It is not as simple to privatize and deregulate a huge state owned (it might be partly private I’m not sure, DB definitely is, but it doesn’t really matter since the state decides overwhelmingly what it can or cannot do and ensures that there is not too much direct competition) company. It is fairly easy to cancel unprofitable routes though. In fact, it is even easier than canceling those vouchers since you don’t need a majority in the parliament to agree with that.

          • baconbacon says:

            If there are network effects or if a monopoly allows for higher profits, then it’s logical to take over or merge the companies.

            Who gets the profit? If I own 90% of the water supply in a city and you own 10% then it is logical that I buy your 10% up to create a monopoly. What does that mean? That means you are a monopoly seller to me, you own the means to complete my monopoly and, by the same monopolistic theory, can extract virtually the full value of the entire monopoly. Walk back one further, now I own 80%, you own 10% and Scott owns 10%, whoever holds out and doesn’t sell you their 10% will get to extract those profits from their sale once they become the linchpin. It takes extraordinary circumstances for mergers and acquisitions to result in a monopoly because of this basic effect alone.

          • Zodiac says:

            If you demand that these cost be eliminated or reduced, then you’re asking the people from the city to subsidize your lifestyle.

            That’s half true. It can be in the interest of the cities to subsidize the country side to combat urbanization, which would make spendings of that kind win-win.

          • Aapje says:

            @Tibor

            All kinds of lifestyles and preferences are subsidized. Have children? You tend to get large subsidies. You have risky hobbies? You get subsidies if you have healthcare insurance which doesn’t raise the premiums for those hobbies. Want to admit lots of refugees? That preference will get subsidized by those who don’t want that, but do pay taxes.

            Ultimately, in a democracy/collective, it’s about what you can convince the others to do. Insisting on optimal efficiency/fairness is a strategy also commonly known as ‘losing.’

            In fact, it is even easier than canceling those vouchers since you don’t need a majority in the parliament to agree with that.

            Common sense says that it is was easy to just cancel the railway line, no vouchers would be offered. Whether those vouchers can be reduced or canceled easily depends on the wording of the law. The average citizen cannot find loopholes and won’t hire a lawyer to dissect the law. Just resisting is a better heuristic.

            @baconbacon

            If the network effects are substantial, the big company can put the squeeze on the small company. When they are much bigger, they can buy legislators more effectively. They can make exclusive deals with suppliers to drive up the costs for the small company. It’s not rational for the smaller company to make these options more attractive than making a deal.

            Furthermore, humans don’t work that way. Economic experiments show that people tend to reject deals where they other side tries to extract maximum value like that. It triggers people’s ‘not fair’ mechanisms, which makes people willing to make a loss/less profit to teach others a lesson.

            (Most) people are social agents who seek outcomes that are socially acceptable, not maximally beneficial to themselves.

          • The source I cited was almost certainly Railroads and Regulation by Kolko. The basic story is that railroads made repeated attempts to form cartels in order to push up prices, but they almost always broke down fairly quickly. Eventually the ICC was established and functioned as the cartelizing agent for the railroads.

          • Matt M says:

            Atlas Shrugged dealt primarily with the railroad industry for a reason!

          • BBA says:

            If I own 90% of the water supply in a city and you own 10% then it is logical that I buy your 10% up to create a monopoly. What does that mean? That means you are a monopoly seller to me, you own the means to complete my monopoly and, by the same monopolistic theory, can extract virtually the full value of the entire monopoly.

            What if both companies are publicly traded, the 10% company has fallen on hard times (because, say, it wrongly invested in serving a new development that went bust) and is trading below its book value, and the 90% company swoops in and makes an offer to buy on the cheap, though still at a higher price than the 10% company’s deflated market value? Management may want to hold out to get the “true” value of the company, but shareholders may well demand to cash out now and in some cases they’re legally entitled to it.

            It’s all well and good to come up with these perfectly rational spherical cow market models, but reality is always more complicated than any model.

          • baconbacon says:

            @ Aapea

            When they are much bigger, they can buy legislators more effectively.

            In terms of a discussion about natural monopolies this is irrelevant, just another point against legislatures having the power to grant unnatural monopolies.

            If the network effects are substantial, the big company can put the squeeze on the small company.

            As long as they have a cash horde, no outside company buys up the smaller company (or bids on it and keeps the price up) seeing the end game, the city isn’t expanding during this time requiring resources to maintain its dominant position, no smaller companies are trying to squeeze into under served portions of the city, etc, etc.

            The argument was never “natural monopolies have never and will never occur”, it is that industries are not susceptible to natural monopolies due to the basic structures listed in econ textbooks.

          • baconbacon says:

            @ BBA

            The 90/10 example is an intermediary point, yes if you grant that as a starting position then you can find ways around the issue that will imply (with specific assumptions) that a monopoly can form, but the presence of these issues will be major stumbling blocks to actually getting to the 90/10 split.

          • baconbacon says:

            Furthermore, humans don’t work that way. Economic experiments show that people tend to reject deals where they other side tries to extract maximum value like that. It triggers people’s ‘not fair’ mechanisms, which makes people willing to make a loss/less profit to teach others a lesson.

            If you believe this is the case then there is no concern about monopolies in the first place.

          • Aapje says:

            @baconbacon

            I consider ancap an Utopian fantasy that in practice will always result in a form of government. In the temporary absence of such, a large organization will become the government. In the presence of government, a large organization will try to shape the government to their benefit.

            As such, the objection that no natural monopolies have existed without any government interference is silly, as part of the process of becoming a monopoly is putting the hooks into government (or becoming government).

          • I consider ancap an Utopian fantasy that in practice will always result in a form of government.

            Is that claim specifically about the institutions modern anarcho-capitalists propose or a general claim about the impossibility of a stable stateless society? The latter is demonstrably false, since such have existed and remained stateless for long periods of time.

            Unless, of course, you are using a definition of “state” so broad that it would include the institutions proposed by anarcho-capitalists.

          • Matt C says:

            There are (relatively) primitive and rural societies without governments, but I don’t know that they say that much about the workability of anarchism in a modern urban society.

            I’ve read here and there that frontier USA was fairly anarchic (in the good sense of public order without government). However much that was true, all those places got states as they developed and became populated.

            Have there been any stateless cities? I don’t know of any, excepting maybe Kowloon Walled City in the 50s and 60s, and I don’t know how stateless that really was. I imagine there are some other examples, maybe better ones, would be interested to know of them.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            I assume that you are talking about mainly agricultural or hunter/gatherer societies, in an age where agricultural output was low and serious factory production didn’t exist. Network effects are fairly minimal in such societies and thus tribal systems can be stable then.

            Modern democracies have provided more well-being than any system previous and there are plenty of possibilities to improve further within the framework.

          • @Aapje:

            So your claim is that a stateless system is unworkable in a modern, developed society? I can’t prove that is wrong, since I don’t know of any counterexamples–I thought it was a stronger claim than that.

            But I don’t see any good theoretical basis for even the weaker claim. If you are sufficiently curious, the second edition of my first book, part of which is on how a modern stateless society might work, is available free online. The third edition, with about another hundred pages some of which is relevant, is an inexpensive kindle.

            If anything, I would think the differences between modern developed societies and primitive societies would weaken the case for government. Markets are much larger, reducing the problems associated with thin markets. Mechanisms for handling information are much better. The increased amount and complexity of the information cuts the other way, but that’s a problem for the political system as well.

            And the political system ultimately runs into the problem that centralized coordination doesn’t scale. Market coordination, which is decentralized, does. That’s a strong argument for market over politics in a very large and complicated society.

            I don’t think you can make a case for government as responsible for the fact that we are much richer than people in the distant past since there were states in the distant past as well, also very poor by our standards.

          • Tibor says:

            My theory for why the state has come to be is that it is remarkably good at concentrating military power (in fact it is generally good at pursuing a single goal if you disregard everything else). For a stateless society to effectively defend itself against a much more focused state aggressor, it either has to be much richer or much more advanced that the aggressive state. Or somehow the culture of that stateless territory has to be similar to that of the Swiss or the Afghanis (a difficult terrain such as a lot of mountains or jungles would also help a lot), making an invasion so costly that it won’t happen.

            Maybe today the situation is better than it used to be. It is no longer considered acceptable in most of the world to simply annex your neighbours. I’m not sure how people would react to a state-less territory though. It would probably depend on how it came to existence (did a former state peacefully dissolve itself? was there a war resulting in chaos which by lucky happenstance transformed itself in an emerging functional anarcho-capitalist society? I’d expect less foreign aggression in the first case than in the second).

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Of course I cannot know for sure that it cannot work, but it seems very likely, given the interventions that currently have to do to keep capitalism running.

            But ultimately I simply find the risk of trying unacceptable, given that most of history has far less well-being than today and I see much potential in less radical change to our current system.

            In software, rewrites often work out badly and the ‘cruft’ that is motivation for rewriting the software frequently turns out to have been necessary patches to make the software run correctly in an imperfect environment. So the new shiny design that was intended to replace the patchy old system very quickly turns out to need the same kind of patches anyway.

            Software development has learned from this and moved to tools & development methods that made it easier to keep fixing up and improving that old patchy system, rather than keep making these desperation moves that didn’t work out more often than they did.

            So whether it’s sensible to stop hill climbing to gamble on ending up in a better starting spot depends on questions like:
            – Are we in a local optimum already or do I expect major potential for improvement?
            – What is the potential/likely cost if you end up worse than where you started?
            – Can you just get back to your old position if you are wrong?

            My answers to these questions make me wary of radical change. Marx had a similar belief that the current system was doomed and radical change was necessary, while the social democrats preferred to see how far they could come with less drastic interventions. History proved the social democrats right, in my view.

          • IrishDude says:

            @Aapje

            In software, rewrites often work out badly and the ‘cruft’ that is motivation for rewriting the software frequently turns out to have been necessary patches to make the software run correctly in an imperfect environment. So the new shiny design that was intended to replace the patchy old system very quickly turns out to need the same kind of patches anyway.

            Software development has learned from this and moved to tools & development methods that made it easier to keep fixing up and improving that old patchy system, rather than keep making these desperation moves that didn’t work out more often than they did.

            This reminds me of a talk by Balaji Srinivasan on Voice versus Exit. If you’ve got 15 minutes to spare I’d highly recommend watching it. In the talk, he makes a comparison between Microsoft and the U.S.. He compares Voice and Exit in this framework, with Voice being something like a patch in the software context and voting in the government context, and Exit being something like a fork with software or emigration with government. He compares and contrasts these approaches, acknowledging a role for voice, but making a more impassioned (and compelling to me) case for exit.

            I think creative destruction has a very important role in progress, where people can choose new paradigms rather than trying to incrementally improve old ones. For examples, see Netflix displacing Blockbuster, Amazon displacing brick and mortar stores, Facebook displacing MySpace, Uber displacing taxis, cars displacing horse and buggies, etc.

          • @Aapje:

            Your original claim was that A-C was a fantasy, couldn’t work. That is very different from the claim that it might not work and you don’t want to take the risk, which seems to be your current argument.

            Also, you seem to assume that in order to favor A-C one has to favor switching to it instantly. That doesn’t strike me as a sensible approach, for reasons I’ve been arguing for a very long time. What I advocate is gradually replacing state institutions with private institutions, which seems to respond to a good deal of your argument.

            given the interventions that currently have to do to keep capitalism running.

            What interventions have to be done to keep capitalism running? I would have said that the ability of capitalism to function in spite of government interventions is evidence that a stateless economy would work well.

          • Aapje says:

            @IrishDude

            I watched the talk and found it rather simplistic. Voice and exit are on a continuum, where types of voice can differ greatly. A person who merely votes is trying to reform differently from those who protest. Those who use violence are using voice differently from those who act peacefully. There also seems to be strong similarity between migrating to a country with different rules or demanding revolution in your own country.

            His argument that exit amplifies voice was very bad, as IMO one of the major drivers of reform is that people cannot leave. When people can easily leave, those who drive reform have a tendency to leave, leaving those who are happy with the status quo behind. The idea that these people will then suddenly realize that the other place is better seems less likely than that a tribal antagonism develops, which actually punishes a fair assessment of what the other tribe has to offer. See the red and blue tribes in the US and/or rural vs urban areas.

            @DavidFriedman

            I have two claims and two motivations. Switching to the other doesn’t mean that I abandon the one. We’ve argued about the impossibility of certain ancap institutions before and I didn’t want to retread that ground.

            Interventions that have to be done are managing the money supply, breaking up cartels, negotiating the externalities that we consider necessary/reasonable impositions on other people, managing employer/employee clashes (rules for strikes and such), introducing mandatory taxes for goods that people cannot be excluded from and thus suffer from free rider problems in a free market, etc, etc.

          • Interventions that have to be done are managing the money supply,

            Why does the government have to have anything to do with that? When Adam Smith was writing, the Scottish money supply was produced by competing private banks. Worked pretty well.

            breaking up cartels

            Governments are the main creators of cartels. The CAB enforced an airline cartel until deregulation. Trucking regulation enforced a trucking cartel–you couldn’t carry on a new route without permission, and the carriers currently on that route got to argue that there was no need for one more. The post office is not a cartel but a government enforced monopoly–the Private Express Statutes are what prevent private carriage of first class mail.

            Cartels are hard to maintain if the government won’t enforce them for you. Read Railroads and Regulation for a fairly detailed account of the mostly unsuccessful attempts to cartelize the rail industry before the ICC was created to solve the problem.

            negotiating the externalities that we consider necessary/reasonable impositions on other people

            Any legal system has to decide what acts by A impose a cost on B that entitle B to do something about them, such as collecting damages or enjoining. Are you assuming that only governments can create legal systems? There are multiple counterexamples. For my sketch of what the legal system of a stateless society might look like, see the second edition of my Machinery of Freedom, which you can read for free. The third edition is an inexpensive Kindle.

            managing employer/employee clashes (rules for strikes and such)

            Again, rules on what action by an employer against an employee or vice versa are a natural part of a legal system. My arguments suggest that the output of a market legal system would be freedom of contract, which resolves most such questions–both sides are bound by whatever terms they agreed to when the employee was hired.

            introducing mandatory taxes for goods that people cannot be excluded from and thus suffer from free rider problems in a free market

            What goods are those and why? Food is essential, but gets produced privately. Is your argument that government intervention in the medical market produces better results than a free market? Current and past government intervention includes using medical licensing to hold down the number of physicians, forbidding the creation of new medical facilities when the existing facilities object to the competition, greatly increasing the demand for physicians’ services by requiring a doctor’s prescription for a wide variety of medical drugs, greatly increasing the cost and reducing the rate of introduction of new medical drugs, … . Details available if you are curious.

            Or were you thinking of a different sort of goods individuals cannot be excluded from that didn’t occur to me?

          • IrishDude says:

            His argument that exit amplifies voice was very bad, as IMO one of the major drivers of reform is that people cannot leave.

            I’ve called my cable company to complain about the price creeping up. The company is unresponsive to my (voice) complaint until I threaten to leave them and go to one of their competitors. I find them much more responsive to satisfy me after credibly threatening exit. Supposing they were a monopoly and had no competitor, I am less optimistic than you that this would improve their responsiveness to my demands or the demands of other consumers.

      • Tibor says:

        I’d say the very worst situation is a state-guaranteed private monopoly, possibly (but not necessarily) one which is partially state-owned. Then there is not even a pretense of trying to provide a “public service” while at the same time there is no competition enforcing the provision of a good cheap service. Worst of all, many people, especially on the left, see these abominations as a proof of privatization being obviously bad (despite the fact that this is privatization only in the fascist sense of nominally private companies who essentially are either vassals to the state or alternatively who primarily use the state as a mean to achieve their goals). And at least some (perhaps also many) people on the right cheer for this sort of “privatization” which only enforces the left-wing’s conviction that this is what privatization means.

        In one way or another these sort of private monopolies or oligopolies – ones that exist mostly because the state ensures that they do – seem the be the most ubiquitous. It is not popular to outright nationalize and on the free market keeping a monopoly is extraordinarily hard (and doubly so if you want to use your monopolistic position to significantly raise your prices), but this sneaky sort of corporate welfare (often sold under the guise of consumer protection) is politically relatively cheap.

        • Aapje says:

          In The Netherlands, they split the national railways into a infrastructure organization (ProRail) and a transport company (NS) and opened the railroads up to other transporters.

          ProRail is a private company that is fully owned by the state, which is a very, very weird construct that seems to be working somewhat poorly. The plan is to turn it into a QUANGO, which would give more direct government control.

          Because of the split, the NS may no longer touch the infrastructure. Before, a train driver would stop the train if they had a frozen railroad switch and manhandle it into position. Nowadays, a ProRail guy has to drive over to fix it and in bad weather conditions, these people often become stuck in traffic.

          • random832 says:

            Because of the split, the NS may no longer touch the infrastructure. Before, a train driver would stop the train if they had a frozen railroad switch and manhandle it into position. Nowadays, a ProRail guy has to drive over to fix it and in bad weather conditions, these people often become stuck in traffic.

            Why does the split entail this? Why not instead allow all transport companies to have their drivers do this if necessary?

          • DeWitt says:

            Because the company that operates the trains isn’t the company that keeps the rails in a good state, so if a conductor takes out a crowbar to un-jam a frozen switch, he’s technically messing with property that isn’t doesn’t belong to the company he works for.

            It’s a dumb system, yeah.

          • random832 says:

            Nothing in principle seems to prevent the rail owner from extending permission to do this (call it “emergency percussive maintenance” or something) to all train operators equally, possibly subject to requiring them to pass a training course.

            There are inefficiencies of course vs having it all in one company (the main point I see is you’ve got to work out who’s liable if they’re hurt and/or the equipment is damaged), but just throwing their hands up and saying “allowing someone who doesn’t work for me to touch my things? unpossible!” seems like the least efficient solution.

          • DeWitt says:

            It’s entirely possible, and I’m not sure why this isn’t already a thing, either. The minutiae of semi-governmental bureaucratic silliness are beyond me; regardless, I do believe that while the scope of the state needn’t be very broad, it should probably be involved quite deeply when it does. The kind of solution where something gets privatised-but-not-really as with our railways right now is a terrible solution.

          • cassander says:

            That set up to me sounds suspiciously like the mechanics union for ProRail insisting that only union mechanics are allowed to touch things.

          • DeWitt says:

            The Netherlands is in the odd position of not really having separate unions by profession and such, but that might have been what happened, yes.

          • Aapje says:

            They seem to be removing as many railroad switches as possible (there are very many) and replacing the rest with simpler hydraulic ones, that are less likely to malfunction in the first place.

    • Corey says:

      Natural monopolies are in industries where fixed costs are much higher than marginal costs. That’s also where price discrimination is useful and almost tolerated by consumers.

      Utilities are the canonical example because of the large build-out costs – with one utility in an area you can spread the build-out costs over the customer base, with two utilities competition drives rates down to the marginal cost of providing service, which isn’t enough to cover the build-out costs, so the second utility never gets built (or quickly goes bust).

      SiriusXM is a nice extreme example, as serving the first customer costs billions, and every additional customer costs approximately zero (the only cost is billing and account administration). Nobody but the invisible hand prevents a second entrant into satellite radio (in fact, there used to be separate Sirius and XM).

      • Natural monopolies are in industries where fixed costs are much higher than marginal costs.

        Strictly speaking, that’s meaningless. Fixed costs are in dollars or, in some contexts, dollars per year. Marginal costs are in dollars per unit. You can’t compare them any more than you can compare length and weight.

        A more precise statement would be that a natural monopoly is a firm in an industry where average cost continues to fall with quantity up to the point where one firm is producing the entire amount the market demands. That’s still a little imprecise, but closer.

        • random832 says:

          I think maybe the distinction is “whole-network fixed costs” vs “per customer fixed costs”, which are in dollars per square mile and dollars per customer. Every part of the network but the last mile (or last fifty feet), vs the last mile itself. This creates an advantage to having a geographically compact customer base – you and another company have two networks each covering a particular region, rather than having two networks covering the whole combined area of both regions. That way you can have a higher customer density, so it is much more advantageous to expand into areas with no incumbent than to expand to compete with someone.

          Look at Cable TV (and internet) vs Land-line telephony (and DSL). Land lines in the US basically have two massive regions run by Verizon and CenturyLink, and the rest of the country by AT&T, whereas Cable TV is a much more intricate patchwork, but both were regarded as natural monopolies when they were built (before they had the ability to compete with each other and before cellular services existed)

          The number of players doesn’t make something not a natural monopoly (though below a certain size simply moving becomes easier) so long as there is only one available choice per customer address.

  16. Le Maistre Chat says:

    When you talk about AI, what is the reality of the refererrent? At minimum, we are defining a “strong AI”, “friendly AI” etc. In our imaginations. If that’s all, then their ontological status is “imaginary”: we can justly say “strong AI is a figment of your imagination”. Or do you think it must have a contingent existence in reality, ie “strong AI definitely exists if contingencies X y and Z occur”? Or some other ontological status?

    • rlms says:

      Is this a general question about ontology or specifically about AI? If the latter, it’s got the same status as any speculative future technology (e.g. flying machines in 1017).

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Thinking about ontology in general here.

        Based on your example, let’s say Harun al-Rashid imagined a flying machine. What was the reality of “flying machine”? A figment of his imagination, contingently real in spacetime (because all of spacetime exists simultaneously), or what?

        • rlms says:

          My extremely amateur attitude is that everything is real (or rather that mental ideas and physical objects both have an equal claim to reality). This has the disadvantage of technically making me a theist, but I like it nevertheless.

          • carvenvisage says:

            this has the disadvantage of technically making me a theist

            ‘reality’ means something quite like ‘everything that exists’ though, so I don’t see why you’d need to refer to a god to say that everything that exists is equally real.

          • Charles F says:

            @carvenvisage
            I think the point is that rlms has a mental idea of God, and so believes the target of that idea is in some way real? Or something.

          • skef says:

            A Meinongian in the wild! (of the jungle, presumably … )

          • Can you conceive of a correct atheist?

          • Jaskologist says:

            @TheAncientGeekAKA1Z

            No. Every person I conceive of lives and moves and has their being in me. I am their god. Therefore, every fictional atheist is incorrect.

            In conclusion, conceive of paperclips.

        • beleester says:

          If you consider all of spacetime to exist simultaneously (an odd choice, but I’ll roll with it), then yes, a flying machine exists, because they exist today. If you pressed Harun al-Rashid, you could get him to state some contingent facts about the flying machine – “If someone makes a mechanical device that can move through the air without external support, then a flying machine exists” – and then a thousand years later, the Wright Brothers do their thing, and we discover that the stated contingencies can in fact happen.

          On the other hand, al-Rashid might be wrong about the nature of the flying machine – perhaps he makes some statement that isn’t compatible with aerodynamics, like “A flying machine is a mechanical device that grabs the sky and pulls itself up.” That’s not how flying machines work. Al-Rashid’s flying machine doesn’t and cannot exist – it’s a figment of his imagination.

          (It seems a little odd that one imagined machine exists and one doesn’t, when al-Rashid doesn’t know that either one of them is possible, but from another angle it makes perfect sense – existence depends on the external reality, not on what’s going on in al-Rashid’s head.)

        • hoghoghoghoghog says:

          Pragmatist answer: they exist to the extent that they are part of your model of the world. If your model is supposed to make predictions then flying machines exist as a potentiality.

          The real question is “is your model good”. If flying machines were impossible you’d be wise to move to a new model where they don’t exist even as a potentiality.

    • carvenvisage says:

      1. hypothetical -is it possible?

      2. platonic. In a minimal sense, yes. (it is conceptually coherent.)

      3. possible. In a slightly less minimal sense, yes. (it’s not incompatable with the laws of our universe or our position in it)

      past that you’re talking about probability, which isn’t ontological unless you want to draw an extra layer between russell’s teapot and less negligibly likely things, or something.

    • Orpheus says:

      Well, if we have enough computational power to model a human brain entirely down to the synapse level, that would basically give us an AI.

  17. rlms says:

    At the start of Superintelligence, there is an analogy to AI risk about some sparrows. Bostrom was presumably intending to argue that we should try to solve our control problem and not be too hasty about getting AI, but I think it actually makes the opposite point. I can’t imagine a baby owl posing much of a threat to a flock of sparrows, so the strategy of “get an owl egg, when it hatches try to domesticate it, if that doesn’t work then kill it or fly away” is better than “try to work out how to domesticate an owl without anything to practise on and don’t go looking for any eggs”.

    • John Schilling says:

      I don’t recall that analogy, but I agree with your response.

      And, inevitably, that’s what we are going to actually do. We just won’t do it as part of a master plan for Friendly Owl Domestication. Some of us will do it because we selfishly believe a domesticated owl would be useful for our purposes, some because they can’t think of anything better to do with the owl hatchling in their midst, lots of us will just ignore the whole thing, and some will gear up to kill baby owls at the slightest excuse. By the time there are any adult owls around, we’ll know a fair bit about both owl domestication and owl killing.

    • Mark says:

      Hmmm… once the owl starts eating you (as a sparrow) presumably it’s too late to stop it?

      We won’t be able to tell whether it is tamed before it is too late.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      Yes, you’re right.

      The notion of AI risk is intrinsically tied up with the idea of an “intelligence explosion.” That we are somehow going to see a positive feedback loop (for at least some period of time) in which AI self-improves to the point where it’s unstoppable over a short period of time.

      If you don’t believe in an intelligence explosion (or even you only believe in a sort of longer, slower “intelligence burn”), then I think all the talk about AI risk falls apart. If you have ten years of AI that’s either “about as smart as a dumb person,” or “about as smart as a normal person” or “about as smart as a smart person” or even “a little smarter than the smartest person,” then if that AI starts to want to eat you, it’s just not that much of a risk. It might do some damage, then humanity as a whole will get on top of it.

      Particularly, unless you also believe that all AI must turn evil in exactly one path, you can always write a new AI whose job is to go kill (or, more gently, police) the other AIs. Add into that the power that you have as a legal person who can do things like “pull the power cord out” of an AI, and unless that AI has become superhumanly intelligent so quickly that your society didn’t grow up with it, you’re *probably* fine.

  18. Well... says:

    Anyone who’s familiar with Meshuggah, what’s a good album to start with?

    Here are some of my likes and dislikes, if it helps you make a recommendation:

    Like: Helmet; Snapcase; Prong (90s era); Melvins (but not their weird stuff so much)

    Dislike: Opeth; Emperor; Cannibal Corpse; anything else that sounds like cookie monster and/or a pterodactyl took too any caffeine pills and went to a biker rally

    • Montfort says:

      I think this flowchart is reasonable, though feel free to start somewhere besides the root (Nothing) if you know which branch you might want to follow. I don’t know if the vocals are really to your taste, but they’re fairly consistent between the various albums.

      • Well... says:

        Thanks, that’s helpful.

        BTW, I saw one of these once for the Melvins, and it had basically all their albums on it–but then I was never able to find it again and instead I kept seeing this other one that wasn’t as good.

    • WashedOut says:

      Your like/dislike list is pretty inhospitable to an appreciation of Meshuggah, but if you’re willing to get a bit uncomfortable it’s well worth it.

      The album I go back to most often is Catch 33, which is one of their more experimental, meditative, “down the rabbit-hole” offerings. On it’s face it’s very repetitive, but a close listen reveals a lot of careful nuance and carefully-crafted rhythmic themes that play on the theme of “3” really nicely. Also, some of the lyrics could be considered modern poetry.

      If you really can’t stand the metal-ness of the delivery, try Frederik Thordendal’s Special Defects – Sol Niger Within, which is a side-project of the guitarist from Meshuggah. Wacked-out psych-metal that might appeal to fans of Frank Zappa.

    • MoebiusStreet says:

      I agree with you on the cookie monster thing. But you should try to get back to some more recent Opeth. Any of the most recent three records (especially Damnation and Pale Communion) have gotten rid of that, and Akerfeldt actually has a nice singing voice in its stead.

      In another direction, if you want the hyper-technical performance and don’t care so much for the djent sound, try the band Animals As Leaders. Also, look into the various works by Devin Townsend. He’s got a lot of variety ranging from heavier progressive rock right on up to a rather djent style.

      • Well... says:

        About 2 years ago I got very excited about Devin Townsend after I heard Ocean Machine. So I created a Pandora station just of his stuff, but I didn’t particularly like anything else of what I heard. It ranged from OK to bleh. Come to think of it, even on Ocean Machine I only really liked a few of the songs, the first track in particular.

        As for Opeth & friends, my distaste goes beyond the cookie monster/pterodactyl vocals. I simply have no patience for bands that invoke horror B-movie themes–demons, devils, satanism, shock/taboos, etc. To me these are campy and childish and make the music instantly wimpy/impossible to take seriously.

        • MoebiusStreet says:

          > invoke horror B-movie themes

          Warning, stay far away from Rob Zombie.

          But seriously, do have a listen to Animals As Leaders. They’ve got no shtick at all (actually, no vocals at all), just some really amazingly technical, hard-edged music.

          While I’m thinking of it, there’s also the math-metal bands like Blotted Science and Spastic Ink that share the virtuosic mentality with Meshuggah without the annoying parts. However, as the “math” part of the genre tag might imply, their music is often less than inspired.

          • Well... says:

            Yeah, I’m not too interested in the “hey look what I can do” stuff. Jaco over Wooten, y’know?

            Odd meters are pleasing within the same constraints as nice perfumes: they should be discovered, not announced.

            Your description of Animals As Leaders makes me think they must be like a metal version of Battles.

            PS. Yes, I do stay away from Rob Zombie.

    • Urstoff says:

      Nothing and Catch Thirtythree are my favorite of their albums given that they push their sound to its logical extreme.

      Not liking harsh vocals is cutting you off from tons of good music.

      • Urstoff says:

        Also, for a band that pushes the Meshuggah aesthetic forward into new areas (which Meshuggah themselves haven’t been doing since Catch Thirtythree), check out Car Bomb’s latest album Meta.

        A good sample track: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXZ9PH_XTI0

      • Well... says:

        Snapcase’s vocals are harsh–all the guy does is yell–but it doesn’t bother me because it sounds like a man yelling. (Although I think they’d be even better if they had very simple melodic singing instead. But maybe then they’d just sound like Helmet and they feel like they tread too close already. Who knows.)

        Cookie monster/pterodactyl vocals don’t bother me because they’re harsh, they bother me because they sound ridiculous and stupid, and therefore wimpy. Not liking those kinds of vocals is cutting me off from tons of ridiculous and stupid wimp music. That’s kinda the point.

    • Schibes says:

      Anyone who’s familiar with Meshuggah, what’s a good album to start with?

      I was just about to recommend Nothing even before Montfort posted that flowchart, the opening riff of the second song on the album (“Rational Gaze”) sounds like a 20-second long distillation of their entire career. You ought to be able to decide whether or not you like the band hearing that riff alone, before the lyrics even start.

      I simply have no patience for bands that invoke horror B-movie themes–demons, devils, satanism, shock/taboos, etc. To me these are campy and childish and make the music instantly wimpy/impossible to take seriously.

      Wow. That’s a pretty interesting statement. In case you’re not already a fan, have you ever considered listening to Deafheaven? They don’t do songs about any of those things, which actually puts them at a disadvantage in the eyes of many of the so-called “true” metalheads out there. As for their singer, well he just yells but you’ve already indicated you’re fine with that.

      • WashedOut says:

        That’s a pretty interesting statement. In case you’re not already a fan, have you ever considered listening to Deafheaven?

        Interesting recommendation for a Meshuggah thread. Deafheaven certainly appeal to the more ‘civilised’ end of the metal spectrum, although they have an annoying habit of blowing their creativity budget on the first track of the album. Dream House (link)is a modern metal masterpeice, as is the first track of their more recent album, but I don’t get a full album’s worth of enjoyment out of them like I do with Meshuggah (C33 in particular) and others.

        From cookie-monster to spectral wraith, Liturgy are making some of the most interesting heavy music at the moment, and when Aesthetica
        dropped it made every guitarist and drummer in the scene go back to their bedrooms and practice. Like Deafheaven, Liturgy are pushing ‘black metal’ themes into bold new territory.

        Shameless plug for a band from my home, for fans of suffocatingly grim death metal inspired by Edgar Allen Poe and H. P. Lovecraft – Portal.

        If you prefer instrumental progressive metal, I would add Cloudkicker and Tesseract to the list for fans of Animals as Leaders.

        • Urstoff says:

          I find Portal to be so dissonant as to be incomprehensible. There are several great dissonant post-death metal bands where you can still here the actual pitches of the notes (Ulcerate, Artificial Brain, and Ingurgitating Oblivion, to name my favorites).

          • WashedOut says:

            Portal’s early stuff was, yeah, as you say. But that was largely due to their production values (or lack thereof) and guitar tone. They improved on both counts for Vexovoid and the track I linked is a pretty good example.

            Good recommendations! If you like Ulcerate, check out Convulsing’s album Errata.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Deafheaven goes beyond yelling? Bosse-de-Nage features a guy who just yells. Deafheaven is in “you can’t know what he’s saying unless you check the lyrics” territory.

        For American black metal, I like Ludicra, but they’ve been defunct for years. Really, I think American black metal is better than the old authentic stuff. Because it doesn’t sound like it was recorded in phone booths, for starters.

        • Schibes says:

          For American black metal, I like Ludicra, but they’ve been defunct for years

          Ludicra! Hell yes. I have a bunch of their albums. I’m sorry they’re gone but I’ve continued to avidly follow all of John Cobbett’s work since then, he’s kept a pretty decent prog rock band going (Hammers of Misfortune) but I especially like his new black metal project, “VHÖL” that he’s doing with Mike Scheidt from YOB. And yes I would say that I also love American black metal just as much as Nordic, while VHÖL is great, my current favorite American Black Metal band is Tombs, every single release I’ve heard by them blows me away. Also very very excited for the next Wolves In The Throne Room album release which is just a few short weeks away.

          Anyway I know the crowd has moved on to 79.75 so I guess it’s time to follow along, thanks for a fun conversation.

  19. Mark says:

    What’s your opinion of the internet comment as an art form?

    Honestly, for me, internet comments are up there with music. I used to love chat rooms too, but they seem to have died a death.

  20. Mark says:

    Is it just me, or has literally nothing good happened since 2010? Please name one good development.

    I mean, think about Avatar. That came out in 2009. High hopes. Turned out 3d was crap. That was about the time they started talking about self-driving cars. Nothing happened.
    Arab Spring turned out to be absolute shite.

    Literally nothing of note or value has happened since 2010. Almost eight years of crap.

    • Well... says:

      I can name two without even trying: Both my kids were born after 2010.

    • The number of extreme poor continue to fall, and the Long Peace got a few years longer. Not dramatic happenings, but when looking at the biggest picture, great things are happening.

      Yes, self driving cars is the greatest tech that isn’t quite here. I think it is inching closer; I hope they are viable by the time I am too old to drive (I am 60). Drones seem pretty cool, I’ve been thinking of buying one of those.

      • Well... says:

        Hah, I was just thinking, another good thing that’s happened since 2010 is self-driving cars haven’t been widely implemented.

      • Mark says:

        I’m theoretically happy about the extreme poor, but I’m more actually disappointed about the lack of economic progress for normal rich world people.

        I want a house.

        • Aapje says:

          I’m theoretically happy about the extreme poor, but I’m more actually disappointed about the lack of economic progress for normal rich world people.

          Especially as the rich rich world people are making huge gains. If economic progress scaled inversely with wealth for everyone, it would feel a lot fairer.

        • hoghoghoghoghog says:

          Would be more compelling if rich world people were in fact normal.

    • I’m pretty sure my elder son acquired his current fiancee as a girlfriend after 2010 and they only got engaged within the past year or so, and she’s great.

      On the national level, Hillary Clinton lost the election, which was great. Unfortunately Trump won the election, which was not so great.

    • Matt M says:

      The prevalence of streaming media has made media consumption easier than ever, and often bundled for a relatively low price. I guess this isn’t a breakthrough in how you consume, but we’ve basically eliminated scarcity as far as media is concerned. Whatever movie you want is out there. Whatever music you want. And most of it you can consume on-demand for a low monthly rate.

      • Machina ex Deus says:

        There are dark sides to this phenomenon: after bingeing on the free Season 1 of The Expanse over the course of a few days, I went to stream Season 2, only to discover they wanted money!

        So now I’m starting The Man in the High Castle. That villain guy gets more disturbing every time he does something normal. I do understand why some people seem to see Nazis everywhere, now.

        Money is most-effectively spent on paperclips.

        • The Nybbler says:

          _The Man in the High Castle_ is at its best when it’s disturbing like that. The Japanese (except the Trade Minister) act like you’d expect conquerors would, but the Nazis… they have _integrated_ their half of America. From Obergruppenführer John Smith on down. And it seems a lot like the TV version of 1950s America. Except, you know, for the mandatory euthanasia.

          Bad news is there’s only two seasons; the third season apparently has a different production team, so might not have the same feel.

          • James says:

            Yeah, the exciting parts of The Man In The High Castle are boring and the boring parts are fascinating. And yes, the best. characters are the ostensibly evil ones

            Frank and Juliana (?) aren’t quite so dull in the book. And the book focuses less on action and more on (the good kind of) boring everyday stuff.

          • Orpheus says:

            TMITHC is one of the better adaptaitions of PKD. Not that that is a particularly high praise, as all the rest (with the exception of A Scanner, Darkly and Radio Free Albamuth) are rather awful.

        • cassander says:

          the best part of season 2 of the MITHC is that it spends much more time on life in the Reich, and has even more of that slice of life stuff.

      • Mark says:

        I think it was far easier to get stuff before 2010 (for free).

        I sometimes run up against not being able to find things I want to see for free or on sale these days. Licensing.

    • Incurian says:

      Oculus rift (and presumably other VR stuff) is really neat. It’s also on crazy sale now, btw.
      Netflix starting their streaming services pre-2010 but I think it only got big after.

    • beleester says:

      Self-driving cars might still be in development, but electric cars, after generations of hype, have become a thing that the average consumer can afford.

      Drones have moved from “government hunter-killer robots” to “available cheaply at big-box stores,” and “delivering packages for Amazon” is likely before the decade is up.

      SpaceX launched a rocket, landed it on a floating platform, and launched it again.

      I could go on, but this is a perennial question on Reddit, so I’m just going to link the thread for 2016.

      • Matt M says:

        I’ve said it before and don’t want to re-hash the debate (and it might veer into CW for various reasons) but Uber has been life-changing, for me at least.

    • BBA says:

      In 2010 I was despairing that I’d be graduating law school into a recession and with my middling grades and poor interview skills would never land a job with a law firm.
      Fortunately for me, that’s exactly what happened.

    • Wrong Species says:

      There’s been some good movies. Off the top of my head:

      Boyhood(this movie was so good that even though there was a ridiculous amount of hype, I still wouldn’t in any sense call it overrated.)
      The Big Short
      Inception
      Her
      Moneyball(btw, this is a good movie for SSCers. It’s about using statistics to make more rational decisions)
      A Separation(if you don’t have a problem with foreign language movies, watch this. It’s a drama structured like a thriller with complex characters and an insight in to Iranian society.)
      Life of Pi
      Nightcrawler
      Moonlight
      Manchester by the Sea

      • sohois says:

        Boyhood is so awful it invalidates the rest of your list

        • Wrong Species says:

          I love Richard Linklater movies in general. I hate that so many movies spend about five minutes setting up the world before dissolving in to generic plot points. His movies really let you get to know the characters and their quirks and individual personalities. Some people complain about how the movie got so much public because of its “gimmick” of filming over a 12 year time but it really does enhance the movie. The natural aging of the characters reallys sells its authenticity. We see these characters grow and develop not from any one event in their lives but the totality of it. Like his mom for example goes from a crappy job to going to college to being a teacher and we even see how the side characters change. And instead of focusing on the traditional big moments of someone’s life, Linklater focuses on the small, like a simple camping trip with his dad where they talk about Star Wars. Mason himself goes from six to eighteen over a three hour period and it’s almost like a microcosm of being a parent. One moment he’s just a little kid annoying his sister and the next he is driving across the state. You really feel it when his mom breaks down crying when he is about to leave college.

          Someone may see it as a boring movie where nothing happens. I can’t make you like but there is something to be said for movies that focus more on developing characters more than the plot.

          • sohois says:

            If I wanted to watch someone grow up in real time then I would just watch a documentary like Seven Up.

            There was no real craft that I could find in Boyhood. It really did feel like a movie that took 12 years to make and nothing else. Maybe it’s an American thing, where being able to explicitly recognize the various development stages means it resonates more with certain people, like yourself or Moebius?

            In the end I don’t really think its enough to say that Boyhood prioritized character development over plotting and was special because of that. The Bildungsroman has been an archetypal story for generations and there have been many, many superior examples to Boyhood.

          • MoebiusStreet says:

            @sohois – when I said I recognized things, I was speaking very concretely. Like “hey, I know that restaurant”, and “isn’t that canyon at Big Bend the place we almost got trapped in a flash flood?”

          • Aapje says:

            I’m with sohois.

            The actors are mostly poor, the characters uninteresting and unlikable, there is no logical connection between most scenes or a payoff to them. It’s like following a random kid on Facebook who goes from a boring kid to a boring emo adolescent and who posts updates like: went camping, went bowling.

            It simply looks like a movie made with no plan and no ability to fix it in the editing room or by shooting additional scenes (actors too old for that!).

            For example, Arquette meets professor Bill in 2004. He is nice. Then we have a scene in 2005 where Bill and Arquette have a blended family who get along well. The following scene in 2006 is where Bill has suddenly turned into a controlling asshole. OK, no hint of this in 2004 or 2005, but well. Next up a scene in 2007 where Bill has changed again, this time into an abusive alcoholic. How did that happen? Was he always an alcoholic? Was his earlier assholishness caused by secret drinking? Why was there no indication then in earlier scenes? Did he turn into an alcoholic very quickly? That suggest a particular reason, but we see nothing about that. Or did the director just want to move the story along and decide to drop in a deus ex machina? That is the most logical explanation, IMO.

            If Linklater had actually stuck with only small moments of the kind that Wrong Species likes, it would probably have been a (slightly) better movie.

            PS. The best thing about the movie is probably the rants about it.

          • Aapje says:

            @MoebiusStreet

            That is the level of entertainment of having someone show you their photo album, though. Generally considered one of the most mind-numbing activities unless you have some kind of personal connection to what is shown on the photos.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Aapje

            I can’t remember exactly what years the events happened in. But the whole alcoholic asshole thing didn’t come out of nowhere. I remember we see him go to the liquor store one or two times and a couple of times he pours a bottle and it’s implied to be some kind of problem. Then it culminates when he throws the bottle.

            If Linklater had actually stuck with only small moments of the kind that Wrong Species likes, it would probably have been a (slightly) better movie.

            That was pretty much the whole point of the movie. It shows all the small moments that don’t normally make it in the movies. If you don’t like it, that’s one thing, but you’re criticizing it for being something it never tried to be.

          • onyomi says:

            I haven’t seen Boyhood, as I predict I wouldn’t like it; it does, however, raise the following question for me:

            If someone had been following me around with a camera for any given ten or twenty year period and then edited the highlights into a watchable movie, would I seem like a sympathetic character? Or would most people walk away thinking “what an asshole”?

            It would vary a lot depending on how one edited it, of course (no one has all good moments or all bad moments), and also probably depending on which period in my life (I think adolescents make particularly unsympathetic characters, as they are generally vain and obsessively worried over things which seem obviously not to matter to older people, and I was no exception; that said, it is still possible for me to imagine sympathetic and unsympathetic adolescent characters; less sure the “sympathetic” adolescent exists in real life, though).

            I guess I fear that while most people seem to perceive me as a “nice guy” or a “decent enough fellow” irl (not everybody’s favorite person, but pretty sure not widely hated, either), I nevertheless have little confidence people would find me a sympathetic fictional character. But maybe everyone feels that way?

          • Aapje says:

            @Wrong Species

            Perhaps I misremembered a bit, it was rather uninteresting, so…

            The entire concept of showing small moments seems more suited to a TV series than a movie, I think. For example, Freaks and Geeks has many of these moments, but with good actors and with the small moments actually revealing interesting things about the characters and the social context.

          • Matt M says:

            It would vary a lot depending on how one edited it, of course

            I think this is like 99% of this. My understanding is that reality shows decide who is going to be the “nice guy” and who is going to be the egotistical jerk almost immediately upon meeting the cast, and everything that follows from there is editing.

            Even in the span of a week, I think even the biggest jerks probably have at least 30 minutes of “nice guy” material and even the nice guys have 30 minutes of “jerk” material. Make it a span of 20 years and it’s almost trivial. You can tell literally whatever story you want.

        • MoebiusStreet says:

          I was tickled by seeing so much I recognized in it. Like, the camping trip was in my town.

          (I wonder how much of people’s appreciation for arts isn’t from the actual art, but coincidental details? That certainly happens to me with music – the fact that I was listening to something when a particular event occurred tends to put a brand on that music permanently.)

      • Aapje says:

        Some movies I enjoyed a lot:

        – Mysteries of Lisbon, 4+ hour Portuguese epic with stories within stories
        – A Hijacking, really makes you feel how it is to be on a ship that is hijacked (I presume)
        – The Last of the Unjust, interview with the president of the Theresienstadt Jewish Council
        – The Past, Iranian movie by the same director as A Separation and even better, IMHO
        – Temple Grandin, autism FTW
        – The Act of Killing, Indonesian documentary about the post-colonialist mass killings. Unique for the killers being proud of their acts, which is so weird to people with modern Western morality.
        – Force Majeure, smart Swedish movie about gender roles. What does it mean to be a man? What happens when reality turns out to differ from the performance?
        – The Grand Budapest Hotel, so inventive
        – The Handmaiden, Korean erotic thriller in 3 parts, where each parts puts a completely different spin on the same events
        – The Cabin in the Woods, horror for people who dislike horror and like Sci-fi
        – The Hunt, Danish movie of how a false allegation of pedophilia can happen and the consequences (with Mads Mikkelsen, who also played in Hannibal, the TV series)
        – I, Daniel Blake, anarchist socialist take down of the dehumanizing bureaucratic capitalist system. If you want to empathize with the kinds of anti-globalists that attack the police.
        – The Dark Knight Rises/Mad Max: Fury Road/The Wolf of Wall Street/The Martian/Drive/Life of Pi/The Master/Martha Marcy May Marlene, mainstream stuff so not worth a sales pitch

        And series:
        – Fargo
        – Penny Dreadful, Eva Green is a witch. Drops mic.
        – Review, if you like cringe humor, this is the cringiest of all
        – Making a Murderer

        • Well... says:

          Captain Phillips.

          Has my vote for best movie of the last 10 years. Life of Pi might be close second. (Admittedly I haven’t seen a ton.)

          • Aapje says:

            I rated Captain Phillips just below A Hijacking, but The Dissolve correctly argues that they are complementary. Captain Phillips is a thoroughly American telling which is more thrilling & rousing. It is centered around the protagonist and has a relatively happy ending (although it shows a lot more empathy with the bad guys than is common in American movies). The Danish film shows the game theory elements of a hostage situation a bit better IMO, where the negotiation is a necessary high stakes game of dare and was more effective in arguing that the lives of those involved would never be the same again. A Hijacking feels more true to life in that it makes you feel the frustrations, boredom and such better, but some people like that kind of things and others like more action, so YMMV.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I liked the recent Ghost Busters movie and Get Out quite a bit.

      • rlms says:

        Similarly, the Golden Age of TV continued.

      • Mark says:

        The only movies listed in this sub-thread that I actually liked were ‘Life of Pi’ and ‘Cabin in the Woods’.

        Inception was borderline. When it first came out it seemed good – maybe a bit of the noughties magic rubbed off on it – but as the decade has worn on it’s become clear to me that it makes absolutely no sense and is a bit rubbish.

        The Dark Knight Rises and Mad Max Thunder Road were pretty terrible IMO.

        All of the others were just kind of boring.

        • Aapje says:

          All of the others were just kind of boring.

          Different movies have different qualities. Good acting, a clever script, inventive action scenes, pretty images, good choreography, insight in the human condition, etc. Highly rated movies usually have some of these elements.

          ‘Boring’ can be a fault in the movie, but also a lack of engagement with what the movie does offer.

          Then again, I agree that some types of movies have become very rare and I watch quite a few old and non-Hollywood movies to get experiences that modern Hollywood doesn’t provide.

          Your tastes may not mesh with modern Hollywood.

        • pontifex says:

          “Existenz” is a much better version of “Inception” (which came before Inception)

        • beleester says:

          I’m going to have to question your taste on Mad Max: Fury Road, because I thought it was the best action movie I’d seen in years.

          It was basically a continuous two-hour car chase, but it still found room for quiet character moments. It had sprawling action sequences, but the direction and camera work was solid so it was never confusing. The cast has a strong narrative arc as they move from uneasy allies to a tight-knit team. And the art direction was gloriously over-the-top. It’s everything I wanted from an action movie.

      • Montfort says:

        My taste in movies seems to differ significantly from yours, but I wholeheartedly second Nightcrawler as a great movie. I should re-watch that.

    • Atlas says:

      Is it just me, or has literally nothing good happened since 2010? Please name one good development.

      The genesis of Slate Star Codex.

      (Hah! First! Can’t believe no one else mentioned it yet. Also, The Dark Knight Rises.)

      • Mark says:

        You win.

        (But The Dark Knight Rises sucked? Was it generally considered to be a good movie? I honestly only enjoyed the super hero movies released in the noughties.)

        • beleester says:

          TDKR didn’t suck. It wasn’t as good as The Dark Knight, and had some rather annoying plot holes, but it wrapped up the series nicely.

          As for superhero movies released in the 10’s, the Marvelverse has been consistently good to great. My top picks would probably be The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Doctor Strange.

    • James Miller says:

      CRISPR. I’m not sure when it was officially invented/discovered, but improvements in CRISPR since 2010 might prove to be among the most important innovations ever.

      • Mark says:

        Come back when I’ve got a tail.

        • albatross11 says:

          This highlights the main problem with talking about the most important things that have happened in the last ten years–we probably don’t know most of them, and some we know turn out to be not all that important. Facebook was launched in 2004, but I suspect very few people thought it was going to be world-changing. And yet it has had huge impact on the world–my impression is that without Facebook and Twitter, politics all over the world would have been radically different for the last decade or so.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.

          • WashedOut says:

            Up to around 2007, asking someone to add you on Facebook was social suicide. The last 10 years therefore have been a downward slide in human-human relations as far as I’m concerned.

            my impression is that without Facebook and Twitter, politics all over the world would have been radically different

            I would replace “radically different” with “nowhere near as bad”. Is this shared sentiment among SSC?

            And no, i’m not middle-aged!

          • DeWitt says:

            I would replace “radically different” with “nowhere near as bad”. Is this shared sentiment among SSC?

            It isn’t with me. Why do you think it has such a great influence?

          • Orpheus says:

            And yet it has had huge impact on the world

            Citation needed.

    • Tibor says:

      Personal anecdotes aside, the best things are those that are not newsworthy. Like someone else already mentioned – absolute poverty continues to decrease worldwide, even in some parts of Africa and it will probably soon be nigh-nonexistent in East Asia and significantly lower in south America. Also former East block countries in Europe (at least those that are currently in the EU) keep catching up with the rest economically (although one could argue that they should be doing that faster). Partly it is because southern Europe is not doing so well (Greece and Portugal are already poorer than the Czech republic, Slovenia, Estonia and Slovakia, comparable to Poland and Hungary), but most are closing down the gap even with Germany which keeps getting richer itself.

      But there are some newsworthy things as well:

      Castro left the office to his brother and the Cuban economy was in such a bad shape that he needed to make it at least a tiny bit more capitalist. Obama’s administration softened the ineffectual embargo on Cuba, making the lives of Cubans (and US tourists) better. I expect the regime to slowly wither away there.

      FARC lay down arms in Colombia after 40 years of guerrilla fighting, kidnappings, etc. It is not a perfect deal, their members are largely pardoned and they are actually guaranteed getting a few seats in the parliament in the next two election cycles irrespective of how many votes they get, but it is still a breakthrough. Also, the peace treaty was rejected in a referendum at first which was in a sense a good thing since it allowed the government to get slightly more favourable conditions at the end. All in all, Colombia has been stabilizing following the Escobar era and the peace treaty is another step in that direction (Colombia is also one of the countries with the highest decrease of poverty in the region over the last two decades).

      Depending on how it turns out, Brexit might be very good news. If it forces the EU to scale back political integration and go “back to the roots” to a economic union and if Britain, despite some protectionist tendencies ends up actually using its opportunity to set its own foreign trade policy to have a more free trade, then it is a very good thing. If Britain closes itself down and the EU, without the British obstructions, is dominated by the French-German block and pushes to an “ever closer union” (and then likely either falls apart in a rather violent and disorganized manner or ends up being a bureaucratic inflexible behemoth), then it was bad news.

      China might be reconsidering its sort-of-support of North Korea without which that Orwellian state is likely to collapse. But this won’t be news for some time.

      The military dictatorship in Burma ended.

      The so called Arab spring mostly failed but it seems that at least in Tunisia the net effect was positive and Tunisia is now a more free and even more liberal country than it was before.

      SpaceX designed a rocket which is able to land back on a sea-based platform and thus make space travel and package delivery cheaper…there still seem to be a few bugs, but it looks like it’s on a good way.

      AlphaGo defeated the world masters, paving a way to the AI world domination. I for one welcome our new AI overlords!

    • Aapje says:

      Solar prices kept dropping pretty fast.

      Crime kept dropping.

      Tablets really came into their own in the last 10 years.

      FARC and ETA decided to dismantle.

      Plus the stuff that other people said.

    • johan_larson says:

      Google released TensorFlow, an open-source library for large-scale machine learning, in 2015. A lot of people in the software world are excited about it.

      iPhone versions 5, 6, and 7 came out after 2010. All are very popular.

      Just this year, Uber got caught in a shitstorm over a variety of misbehavior, but mainly a fratboyish culture of sexual harassment. It’s too early to tell, but this may be a lasting change for the better for women in the high-tech industry.

    • Corey says:

      Ebola vaccine developed.

    • Jaskologist says:

      In 2011, Americans bought 11 billion paperclips, which is a very promising start.

    • hoghoghoghoghog says:

      Dwarf Fortress began modelling psychology. Moose population recovery in New York state accelerated. Costs of sexual deviance decreased. Infinity categories entered mainstream math. LIGO started to work. Tremendous progress in burritos at all price levels (in particular Chipotle in the mid range and poke burritos in the upper range).

    • Gobbobobble says:

      The Cubs won the World Series. Sign of the end times, maybe, but still awesome to be alive for.

    • veeloxtrox says:

      We have gotten really really close to eradicating polio. In 2010 there were 1,352 cases world wide. Last year it was down to 42. It is exciting to see it almost gone.

      source

      • albatross11 says:

        Yeah, the near-eradication of polio is one of those unsexy boring things that rarely makes the headlines, but it like 1000x as important as most of the stuff that does make the headlines.

    • DeWitt says:

      The war on drugs has been scaled back a great deal, with legalisation and decriminalisation of marijuana becoming the law in many states and countries.

      A great deal of western countries have legalised gay marriage, which I consider to have been a good thing for those involved.

      For the first time in a century, my country has a king rather than a queen. Rejoice!

    • Schibes says:

      Is it just me, or has literally nothing good happened since 2010? Please name one good development.

      Since the guy who mentioned CRISPR didn’t say “advances in DNA/genetics” more generally, I’ll say that affordable, consumer-grade DNA testing becoming available in the last couple years is a net positive development. A test that cost thousands of dollars back in 2010 can be done for $79 today. Obviously the potential for abuse (by governments/employers/etc.) is there but it’s still a truly impressive technological development to have been made accessible to the common citizen.

  21. johan_larson says:

    Some research on spelling reform in English got me thinking: what word in English has the most troublesome spelling? I’m guessing it has to be a fairly common word that is often misspelled and the misspelling creates real ambiguity about what the author meant.

    Oddly enough, I’m having trouble finding such a word. There are words that are often misspelled, like the their/there/they’re cluster. There are words that are really hard to spell, like hors d’oeuvres. But I can’t find one where the misspelling creates ambiguity; most misspellings are either not real words at all or clearly nonsense if you know that they actually mean. For example, substituting “ate” for “eight” usually gets you a completely nonsensical sentence.

    • skef says:

      This is less odd than you think. If there were such a homophonic word pair, it would tend to create ambiguity in speech. The way languages evolve tends to weed out such ambiguities (if they arise from, for example, vowel shifts).

    • Hmm. it would be nice if the disambiguation mechanism were always a differentiation in pronunciation, but you often get a coalescence in meaning, eg flout/flaunt.

      Intention/intension are a famously troublesome pair in philosophy.

      “There’s a moose loose!” “Are you English or Scottish?”

    • The Nybbler says:

      There’s “loose/lose” and “diffuse/defuse”, but they’re more irritating than confusing, like “next store”/”next door”.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Don’t forget the mouthbreathers who seemingly can’t gasp the difference between breath/breathe

        • dndnrsn says:

          I believe you mean mouthbreathrs.

        • Corey says:

          That leads to a question I’ve long had… what’s bad about mouthbreathing? (I’m mostly one, thanks to a long history of allergies, now under control, but breathing habits die hard, literally).

          • Charles F says:

            If you mean bad for the breather in question, I think the contents of your nose are supposed to do some filtering and make it harder for stuff besides air to get into your lungs.

            If you mean the perception, it seems to be associated with children and the infirm. Since most healthy adults breathe through their noses, if you breathe through your mouth when you’re not exerting yourself, people will assume something’s wrong with you.

          • pontifex says:

            You wouldn’t understand. It’s a nosebreather thing.

          • Randy M says:

            Letting your jaw hang limp is associated with a diminished mental capacity, or at least I assumed that was the connection.

          • hoghoghoghoghog says:

            It dries out your mouth which makes it easier to colonize.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’d have thought that a wet surface would be generally easier to colonize, but maybe saliva is part of the immune system.

    • SamChevre says:

      I’d vote for discrete/discreet, affect/effect, and flammable/inflammable as the pairs that are most likely mixed up with confusing results.

      • The Nybbler says:

        You mean non-flammable/inflammable? Because inflammable and flammable mean the same thing.

        • SamChevre says:

          OK, I’m one of today’s lucky 10,000. I have always thought of inflammable as referring to items like alcohol and gasoline, which have flammable vapor at room temperature, but apparently that isn’t the standard dictionary definiton.

        • rlms says:

          I’ve always considered “inflammable” to imply more flammability than “flammable”: petrol is both, but calling wood inflammable sounds wrong to me.

        • Loquat says:

          Language lesson for all who were confused!

          “Inflammable” is the older word, related to the verb “inflame”. But English speakers naturally expect the prefix “in-” to mean “not”, so someone coined “flammable” and lots of other someones picked it up, and now we have two words that seem like they should be opposites but mean the exact same thing. Also, “flammable” is probably getting a boost nowadays from use in safety instructions, because if I’m writing safety guides for a megacorp, making sure nobody thinks we said our highly burnable product is fireproof is extremely important.

      • Tibor says:

        I always found it annoying that infinite is pronounced completely differently from finite.

        I also find the American pronunciation of can/can’t really bad, since they sound almost the same. The English pronunciation of can’t might be less phonetic but definitely easier to hear correctly. On the other hand, some English actually pronounce potatoes like “potaahtoes” which just sounds silly to me (although I do prefer tomaahtoes to tomaytoes, so I guess it is just a habit).

        One word which I always double check with Google is Mediterranean. Also ubiqutous (or rather ubiquitous, as Google tells me 🙂 ).

      • MoebiusStreet says:

        I nominate ensure/insure. They’re pronounced almost identically, the spelling differs by just a single letter, and the meanings are so closely related that there’s a real ambiguity.

    • Randy M says:

      There is a word I cannot reliably spell without help; here I’ll try: buearo; buear; beauro; ok google, says it is bureau. Also a homonym, but I can more easily work around the non-governmental meaning.

      • Aapje says:

        For me it’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. I can easily pronounce it though.

        Unlike ‘oil.’

      • johan_larson says:

        Some of the words that often tripped me up before spell checkers became standard: medieval, single, weird, traveler.

      • Loquat says:

        Have you ever had any interest in French? “Eau” pronounced “o” is really common in French.

        • Randy M says:

          Not really. When I tried to DM an role-playing game set in the French Revolution, I basically just skipped half the letters at random in any given word and hoped I got close. =P

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Can you spell “beautiful” reliably? It’s got the vowel combination.

          • Brad says:

            I can’t spell bureau (or bureaucracy) or beautiful reliably. In fact, sometimes my attempts are so far off even regular spell check doesn’t work. I have to use crowd-sourced powered google did-you-mean spell check.

          • Randy M says:

            beautiful is ok. The less common bureau trips me up partly because the initial vowel sound could also come from other letters. For instance, beauro makes sense to me as much as the proper spelling.

    • James says:

      Already mentioned, but I think effect/affect might be the closest you’ll find to what you’re looking for.

    • tgb says:

      Unfortunately, there are examples of such words that cannot be fixed by any spelling reform, since the same exact word can have directly opposite meanings! My favorite example being “sanction”. “The teachers sanctioned student activism.” What does that mean?

      There’s a whole class of these words: auto-antonym.

    • dodrian says:

      The word I always struggle to spell is ‘rhythm’. From context it’s usually not hard to tell what is meant though.

      ‘Nonplussed’ is a difficult word because apparently it has opposite definitions in Britain vs North America. See also any list of contronyms (though most are clear from context).

    • Schibes says:

      I’m guessing it has to be a fairly common word that is often misspelled and the misspelling creates real ambiguity about what the author meant.

      AKA “fooled both the spellcheck and the grammar check algorithm”, am I right? Principal/principle is my pick for this one. I can always tell when a foundering publication went on a cost-cutting binge and fired all its copy editors, because that’s when this error starts trickling through into the articles.

      Why does it annoy me so much? Because sometimes it’s obvious, and sometimes it’s insidious.

      Obvious error:
      The principle reason the researchers gave for their findings was a new statistical model.” – This will beat spellcheck but many grammar check algorithms will still pick it up.

      Insidious error:
      The cause for the budgetary shortfall was in principle a lack of communications between the concerned parties.” – Besides easily beating spellcheck, this sentence beats all grammar checkers I’m aware of, and in fact the sentence has two different meanings, both valid, and it’s impossible to know what’s being said without relying on context from surrounding sentences. Was this part of a list of reasons that budget talks broke down, or was it an ethical criticism of the negotiating parties? If it’s the former, then we have a spelling error, but if it’s the latter, we’re doing more or less fine (although a comma after the word would have helped).

      • Machina ex Deus says:

        “The cause for the budgetary shortfall was in principle a lack of communications between the principals.”

        Fixed.

        (Also, who actually says, “in principal”?)

  22. skef says:

    Facebook doing its bit to relieve the housing problem in the land of the salt flats.

    Back when I worked there, the nickname for that campus was “Sun Quentin”, in reference to its similar bridge-adjacent position. (When they bought the old Agnews psych facility, we called it “the Sunitarium”. I worked there too, for a while. More open but somehow less nice.)

    Few people lived in San Francisco back then, and engineers tended to talk about how great Mountain View or whatever was because of the Thai food in this strip mall and the Vietnamese in that one. A fiasco top to bottom, if you ask me.

  23. Kevin C. says:

    Not sure this’ll be seen down at the bottom here, but Japan Times reports on results of the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research survey (conducted every five years since 1987) on sex — or more accurately, sexlessness — in Japan:

    A survey of Japanese people aged 18 to 34 found that almost 70 percent of unmarried men and 60 percent of unmarried women are not in a relationship.

    Moreover, many of them have never got close and cuddly. Around 42 percent of the men and 44.2 percent of the women admitted they were virgins.

    The government won’t be pleased that sexlessness is becoming as Japanese as sumo and sake. The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has talked up boosting the birthrate through support for child care, but until the nation bones up on bedroom gymnastics there’ll be no medals to hand out.

    Far from getting together and getting it on, the sexes are growing apart. There are now many more virgins than in 2010, when the last study was conducted and when only 36.2 percent of men and 38.7 percent of women said they had never had sex.

    • Well... says:

      What’s your take on this? Any particular reason this caught your interest?

      • Kevin C. says:

        Any particular reason this caught your interest?

        Besides being interested both in Japan and in modern “developed” society’s (global) effect on birthrates?

        What’s your take on this?

        Trying to avoid “culture war”, I’d say my take is that in a lot of ways, Japan is simply “ahead of the curve” on the “demographic transition” (without immigration to “hide” it), and much of this will likely come to be seen elsewhere. However, I would postulate that the “sexlessness” and high virginity rates are at least partially due to factors unique to Japan. Specifically, if I remember what I’ve read correctly, even as late as the postwar occupation period (late 1940’s and such), the majority of marriages in Japan were at least semi-arranged (through traditional “matchmakers” and the like). And I believe it was Michael Zielenziger’s Shutting Out the Sun which described Japanese society as “homosocial”, meaning people mostly socialize with individuals of the same sex. Japan has attempted to go from essentially feudal social and marital norms to modern ones in less than a century. And it doesn’t seem to be working out well for them.

        • Aapje says:

          A major reason is probably that they have very traditional gender norms, where workers are expected to work crazy hours, while homemakers are expected to do silly stuff like make complex lunch boxes (Bento) for their husband and children.

          So a young women with a career who marries will often be expected by the employer to drop out and she will be treated like that (no promotions).

          A young man with a career who marries will often be expected to hand over his entire salary to his wife and get some pocket money from her, which he can use to get shit-faced some days in the week to numb the pain. Because of the limited pocket money, a lot of Japanese companies started to give entertainment budgets and other perks, so their male workers would have some more money that wouldn’t be confiscated by the wife. The economic stagnation seems to have severely reduced both the pocket money and the entertainment budgets, leaving workers severely depressed as they are making long work days with very little room for entertainment.

          It seems plausible that this shitty system was only viable in the past due to severe pressure on people to marry and with that gone, they need the gender norms to be fixed.

          In the West, the gender norms have never been as bad as in Japan and they have adapted more, although there are issues there too.

          • Well... says:

            In a country with a dwindling population, I’d expect the price of labor to be going up as labor becomes scarce relative to jobs–unless I’m missing something about Japan’s supply of jobs. Assuming I’m not, could cultural factors alone maintain such a situation??

          • Aapje says:

            They don’t yet have a dwindling population, they have a graying population.

            Population growth was positive, but decreasing since 1973 and has only become slightly negative since 2011. The actual serious decline is expected to happen once the baby boomers start dying off in big numbers. In 2060, the population is expected to have fallen by a third compared to 2010.

            Graying is already a factor. In 1970, 7% of the population was 65+. In 1994, it was 14%. In 2014, it was 26% and it’s projected to be 40% in 2060.

            The graying population has pushed unemployment rates to a mere 2.8%, the lowest in 22 years. We see some wage increases due to this and some economist expect that wages may go up substantially and push Japan out of stagflation.

            The Japanese are known for their high savings and as more people retire, they may start to spend their nest eggs, boosting the economy and weakening the yen.

            I’d expect an economic boom to boost the marriage and birth rates a bit, but not by a great amount, though, because of the cultural factors.

            PS. Fun fact: there was a big drop in births in 1966, because it was a bad year according to the Japanese Zodiac.

          • In a country with a dwindling population, I’d expect the price of labor to be going up as labor becomes scarce relative to jobs

            Relative to capital. Jobs aren’t a fixed thing out there, they are the intersection of a demand curve for labor and a supply curve for labor.

          • Well... says:

            Oh yeah, oops.

    • Zodiac says:

      Related term that the interested might want to research: Herbivore Men/Grass Eaters.
      I came across that a few years back but couldn’t find much material. That seems to have changed.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Can you repost this in 79.75? This OT is slowing down, and a little culture warry anyway.

      What interests me about this is that the % of women who admit to being virgins is higher than men. Of course, self-reported – men are probably more likely to deny being virgins when they are – but don’t self-reported stats outside of Japan tend to show higher %s of male than female virgins in modern developed societies?

  24. johan_larson says:

    Megan Mcardle has some interesting thoughts on conservatives souring on colleges:

    https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-07-11/conservatives-are-souring-on-colleges-blame-colleges

    What’s changed, I submit, is that colleges have readily supplied conservatives with images of an institution that is not merely left-leaning, but actively hostile to conservatives, as conservative speech on campus has increasingly been threatened. It started with students pressing for speakers to be disinvited from graduation speeches — sometimes liberals, but often conservatives. Then angry minorities were allowed to shut down conservative speeches with increasingly raucous protests that eventually turned to violence. And when violence occurred, schools seemed noticeably uninterested in identifying or punishing the people who committed it.

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