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

OT86: Utopen Thread

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server. Also:

1. There’s a public beta of Less Wrong 2.0 up at lesserwrong.com. See also the overview of what’s going on and why one might want such a thing.

2. Probably there will be an SSC meetup in Berkeley on October 14. I’ll post more details later, but if it’s important to have a little advance warning, now you have it.

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873 Responses to OT86: Utopen Thread

  1. bean says:

    Naval Gazing: Fire Control, Part 1
    Series Index
    I’ve decided to re-write my post on fire control, which is the one that started this series off. First, the voice is very different from what I’ve used since. Second, a lot of people don’t share my tendency to read archives, and it was deeply buried in OT 69.25. Third, I was asked by the tour lead on Iowa to provide an essay on fire control to pass on my knowledge.

    The longest-range hit ever by a battleship at sea was approximately 26,400 yards (15 statute miles), made by KMS Scharnhorst on HMS Glorious in the North Sea. Glorious was making at least 17 knots at the time, and it only took Scharnhorst 3 salvos to make the hit. Iowa’s 16” guns themselves had a normal maximum range of approximately 40,000 yards (the exact value varies slightly depending on shell type and barrel wear) or 22.7 statute miles. Coincidentally, that is almost exactly the distance from where the ship is moored to Catalina Island, visible on a clear day. What made gun ranges like these practical?

    In the 1890s, naval gunnery was still limited to very short ranges, with 1000 yards being considered the outer limit of effective range. This was little better than had been possible a century before, despite massively improved guns, and stood in stark contrast to land-based guns, which had seen an order-of-magnitude increase in range during the same period. The problem was the movement of the ship, which made precise shooting as practiced on land totally impossible. There had been a few attempts to solve the problem during the 19th century, but none were particularly effective until that of Captain Percy Scott, RN, in 1898. Scott, captain of the cruiser HMS Scylla, replaced the traditional practice of attempting to sight the guns to be on target at the end of the ship’s roll (with the accompanying errors that this estimation caused) with continuously elevating the guns to keep them on target as the ship rolled. Continuous aim, as the technique was known, resulted in a sixfold increase in Scylla’s yearly gunnery score in 1899. This was revolutionary, but there were a few problems. First, it was only feasible on lighter guns, up to about 9.2”. Heavier guns could not be elevated quickly enough to track the ship’s roll, which, when combined with the recent improvements in rate of fire for light guns, made them much more powerful than the heavy guns for a short period. Second, it relied entirely on the skill of the crew, and had limited potential for growth. Third, it only stabilized the gun along the line of sight (level), leaving motion at right angles to the line of sight (cross-level, which is harder to compensate for, as it moves the gun in both elevation and train) unstabilized, a problem that wouldn’t be solved until the 1930s. Fortunately, roll is the most important motion of a ship, and level correction is adequate when firing broadside.

    To solve the problem of cancelling out motion for heavy guns, Percy Scott came up with a new solution, the director, which also solved several other problems. This was essentially a dummy gunsight, mounted high up in the ship and set up to pass firing data to a number of other guns, after compensating for the differences in position. This gave several advantages. The director crew was separated from the blast and smoke of firing, and all of the guns were fired from the same key, which gave a tight salvo and a predictable pattern, which was vital to making use of spotting (which we’ll come back to). However, to take full advantage of this, the closely related factors of target range and motion had to be taken into account.

    At short range, neither mattered much. The trajectory of the shells was flat enough that they would hit even with considerable errors in range (this was called the ‘danger space’, the range interval in which a shell falling long or short of the target would still hit) and the target did not move far enough in the short flight time to pose a serious problem. However, the quest for longer ranges (driven in large part by the need to outrange rapidly-improving torpedoes) forced solutions for both to be developed.

    Rangefinding was a matter of equipment. Several different approaches were tried, but eventually all navies converged on a fairly small binocular rangefinder (as opposed to stadiometers or using the length of the ship as a baseline). These work via essentially extending the baseline between the operator’s eyes, and letting them line up objects at the chosen range. The rangefinder then works out some trigonometry to find a range.

    There were still two problems to be solved once adequate rangefinders had been developed. First, the range that the rangefinder produced was not the one that the guns needed to shoot on, because the target was still moving. Second, getting the data from the rangefinder to the guns was a serious problem. The first problem was partially solved when it was realized that the range rate was independent of range, and only depended on relative courses and speeds. What were essentially specialized slide rules were developed to calculate the range rate and bearing rate (speed across), which were then multiplied by time of flight to get the offsets from the current positions to set the sights. The problem was that solution changed as the relative positions of the ships did, forcing constant updates. Also, the lack of feedback prevented cross-checking of the solutions.

    Data transmission was initially by voice, but the din of battle made this a poor method at best. The next step was to use a step-by-step transmitter, which moved a receiver a set amount with each pulse from the transmitter. This also had problems, because it would become misaligned if the transmitter turned too fast or if power was lost to one end, and any changes in the connections required realignment. On the gun itself, the receiver was not powerful enough to drive the mechanisms directly, so an operator would manually match the position the computer requested, known as the ‘follow-the-pointer system’.

    Even with all of these systems, hitting was still not assured. Errors in the solution, wind, and random chance all meant that some form of feedback was necessary. An observer, usually near the director, would watch the fall of the shells and estimate where the splashes were relative to the target, then relay those corrections to try and put the next salvo directly on the target. This practice was known as spotting. Spotting worked much better on a coordinated salvo than with individual guns, and the shells tended to fall into a more or less circular pattern. If that pattern was placed on the target, hitting was in theory just a matter of time. Elaborate rules were developed to make best use of spotting data in adjusting the solution chosen.

    Next time, I’ll cover Iowa’s system in more detail, showing what the early systems described here developed into.

    • m.alex.matt says:

      To beat you to the punch on this one a bit:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1i-dnAH9Y4

      I don’t know if the Iowa’s computers actually worked exactly like this, but it’s fascinating to see how it was done in general.

    • John Schilling says:

      The longest-range hit ever by a battleship at sea was approximately 26,400 yards (15 statute miles), made by KMS Scharnhorst on HMS Glorious in the North Sea.

      Or possibly by HMS Warspite on RN Giulio Cesare in the Mediterranean, at approximately 26,000 yards – in both cases with “approximately” covering hundreds of yards of uncertainty. Even if Warspite’s shot does turn out to have been only the second-longest, that’s still a remarkable achievement for a ship launched in 1913. Though unlike Scharnhorst, Warspite did not follow up by chasing down and sinking her wounded prey; the Italians had more than one battleship in the area, and the British were being cautious.

      But that’s a small nit on an otherwise fine article. I trust the tour guides on the Iowa will be giving a most excellent account of her fire control system for years to come.

      • bean says:

        Or possibly by HMS Warspite on RN Giulio Cesare in the Mediterranean, at approximately 26,000 yards – in both cases with “approximately” covering hundreds of yards of uncertainty.

        I knew that, but decided that this was not the place to thrash that out.

        But that’s a small nit on an otherwise fine article. I trust the tour guides on the Iowa will be giving a most excellent account of her fire control system for years to come.

        Much appreciated. You’ll have to go back and give me a report at some point.

  2. bean says:

    I did a recent count of the index, and discovered that today’s post was going to be the 50th of my Naval Gazing posts. (I had to exclude hlynkacg’s to make the count work. Sorry.) In honor of the occasion, I decided to write a new introduction, both to the series and to battleships.

    Introduction: Series
    I’m a former tour guide on the USS Iowa, a battleship now serving as a museum in Los Angeles. (I quit because I moved to Oklahoma, a place known for having no coasts.) Naval Gazing started when someone in an open thread asked about hobbies. I explained what I did for fun, and several people expressed interest in me talking more about battleships, so I kept going. I’ve gradually branched out from battleships to naval warfare in general, both dreadnought-era and modern. At the moment, with no actual battleship to play on, I plan to continue. I’m not former military, but I’ve been a serious military geek since elementary school. An index of the Naval Gazing posts can be found here.

    Introduction: Battleships
    The name ‘battleship’ comes from ‘line-of-battle ship’, the name given to the large ships of the Napoleonic Wars that fought in a line. It refers to a capital ship (the term for large warships which are responsible for sea control) with big guns as its primary armament and carrying heavy armor. Battleships in various forms dominated the seas from the 1860s (when the first armored warships appeared) until WW2, when aircraft development dethroned them. There are no battleships in service today, and the only battleships to see active service since 1960 are the Iowa-class, which are now serving as museums.

    Introduction: USS Iowa
    I talk a lot about Iowa, as she was (and still is) my ship. Often the principles under discussion are best illustrated with concrete examples, and those examples are usually drawn from her. But, to my surprise, I’ve never really done a post on her. A post on Iowa’s history is coming soon, but I thought I’d give a brief sketch of the ship here to give context for anyone reading the technical posts with no background knowledge.

    The USS Iowa is 887 ft. 3 in long, 108 ft. 2 in wide, and has a loaded draft (depth) of around 37 ft. Her hull number is BB-61, BB meaning that she’s a battleship and 61 being her number in the sequence of battleships authorized for the US Navy. (Not all 60 before her were built, as some were cancelled under the Washington Naval Treaty.) She weighs about 57,000 long tons fully loaded (ships are always measured in long tons, but it comes out to ~64,000 short tons), which is particularly impressive given her top speed of 33 knots (38 mph). The armor belt (on the sides of the ship) is 12.1” and the main armor deck is 6”. The design crew was 2100 men, but it rose as high as 2800 during WW2, and dropped to about 1500 during the 80s.

    She commissioned (entered service) three times: once in 1943 to fight in WW2, again in 1951 to serve off Korea, and lastly in 1984 as part of Reagan’s 600-ship fleet. She finally decommissioned in 1990, and has been a museum ship in Los Angeles since 2012.

    Iowa is armed with nine 16” guns in three main turrets, and initially had twenty 5” secondary guns in ten twin mounts for shooting at smaller ships and airplanes. Four of these mounts were removed in the 1980s to make room for new system.

    In WWII, she bristled with light antiaircraft guns, nineteen quad 40mm Bofors and fifty-two 20mm Oerlikons. All of these were removed before she reactivated in the 80s, due to their obsolescence in the face of modern aircraft. They (and the 5” mounts) have been replaced with four anti-missile Close-in Weapons System (CIWS) mounts, eight 4-round Armored Box Launchers for Tomahawk cruise missiles, and four quad launchers for Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

    • bean says:

      A couple of minor housekeeping notes. I’m suspending the air transport series for the time being. I have a bunch of Naval Gazing ideas, and currently plan to work through them. There’s one more (a full writeup of boarding methods) written and waiting for a spot, and anything my sister gets me. That said, I’m open to suggestions for both series.
      Also, if anyone is interested in guest-writing for Naval Gazing (or needs to get in touch with me for other reasons), my email is battleshipbean at gmail.

      • spkaca says:

        I am more interested in the ships than the planes, so this suits me. I think I’ve trawled through most of the archives in search of these posts. I would be interested to hear what you have to say about the economic side – how much capital ships like this cost to build and run over time, and just how rich a country had to be before it could construct & operate the kind of shipbuilding facilities needed.

    • bean says:

      It appears that the post on Iowa’s history is going to become a series of some length. I’m not sure how long yet. So far, it looks like I may have a full post on her career before she ever actually used her guns in anger, although in fairness that does include a rehashing of the Porter incident due to new information I’ve found.
      Why does this always happen to me? I set out to write a simple post on the best ship ever built, and soon find out it’s going to become an epic. Now if I can just find a way to make the ship talk…

  3. pontifex says:

    Fisker automotive: a serious Tesla competitor or not?

  4. Collin says:

    I’m searching for a Founder’s Fund-style mechanism for groups of employees. I need a mechanism by which employees can pledge x% of value gained in an exit event to a specific charity. Ideally it will be trackable as a group and legally binding.

    • Brad says:

      I’m not sure what you are looking for exactly. Hire a corporate attorney with start up experience and a tax partner and he should be able to draft up documents to match what you envision without too much difficulty.

  5. Emerald says:

    Does anyone else here live or work in Boulder, CO and is interested in meeting up? I know that there’s a Denver rationalist community, but it would take me over an hour and a half to get to their meetups by public transit, which doesn’t sound appealing.

    Edit: Here’s a temporary email address that people can reach me at if they don’t want to respond here: zbdnboaw [at] clrmail [dot] com. I’ll keep it open for at least one week.

    • Izaak says:

      I’d be interested in meeting up, but I’m fairly busy these days, so I might not be able to make it to every meeting. Still, I’d love to be able to meet up and I’d be shocked if there weren’t a higher-than-average rationalist population in Boulder.

  6. pipsterate says:

    There was a New Yorker article last week that reminded me of Different Worlds, it’s called How Science Saved Me From Pretending to Love Wine.

    Despite the title, it’s not actually mostly about the merits of wine. It’s about the way our preferences for certain foods and drinks are influenced by biological differences. Apparently when we say that people have different tastes, it’s sometimes true in a much more literal sense than we realize.

    I wonder how much difference in human personalities could be better described as difference in perception.

    • John Nerst says:

      Interesting article, if not terribly original (esp. with that personal story framing). The father seems a bit of a dick, honestly, that “what I like most is the greatest thing in the world and everybody who doesn’t like it as much is deficient”-schtick is offputting. Maybe there should be a “Worst Typical Minding” award.

      I’d have liked to know more about how that taste expert had saved marriages by showing that spouses “weren’t just picky or stubborn” when they didn’t like something, they actually experienced it differently. This is obvious to me now and it bothers me to no end when people seem to assume that everyone experiences everything the same way and can therefore unproblematically be judged for what they do (forgive me for repeating what I said in my “Different Worlds” comment).

      I gained my first real visceral understanding of this about ten years ago in a science museum. I had a habit of teasing my girlfriend about always complaining of being cold and constantly making cups of tea mostly not for drinking but for warming her hands. In the museum we sat down in front of a thermal camera and it showed our picture on a screen in front of us. I held up my hands and I could see them, with all five fingers, glowing bright yellow. Her hands were stumps. Faded reddish palms with seemingly nonexistent fingers. They barely gave off any heat.

      A silly example but it really made me understand, even though I should have before. The taste article made me think of other differences between us: we both like lemon juice in our water but she wants 5 to 10 times as much as I do. She actually craves vegetables. She’s warm in the morning, the only time I’m cold. I’ve finally been successful convincing her that when I want to sit in the shade during summer I’m not “being difficult”. Bright sunlight really does make my eyes hurt (weirdly only if it’s also warm, cold and bright is fine).

      I wonder how much difference in human personalities could be better described as difference in perception.

      A lot, I bet. Especially if you include higher-level perception of the kind intertwined with emotional judgment.

      I hope differences in taste and perception become more well known, and I particularly hope they’ll act like “gateway drugs” to realizing that people experience all kinds of things differently, including the high-level, abstract stuff. Some people perceive and are disgusted by inequality, others by being told what to do. Some see conformity, others rudeness. Some despise stupidity, others selfishness; some react to abuse of power, others to inefficiency. Some find prolonged eye contact overly intense, while to others it’s an essential part of human interaction.

      Etc, etc, leading to misunderstandings, bad faith and constant screw-ups on large and small scales.

      • donteverrunbad says:

        There seems to be sharp differences in the way people imagine the future. This manifests when trying to teach expected value or basic gambling theory, where some people just can’t visualize a set of future events being on a random distribution. A classic example is the serious blackjack player, who understands all the correct plays and odds, but still thinks that if other players at the table make a mistake then it can screw up his hand.

        I suspect that being low in the Big 5 personality trait “openness,” which is associated with black and white thinking and intolerance of ambiguity, makes it hard for people to imagine a distribution of future outcomes.

        • John Nerst says:

          Indeed. Difficulties with distributions, probability and values between 0 and 1 seems close to universal among humans, only a few managing to do it with training and discipline.

          “Being certain” is an example. Scott wrote a piece I don’t remember the title of some time about bayesianism, where he discussed the common idea that *any* doubt about a belief renders it suspect and unreliable. This is of course ridiculous but apparently fairly normal.

          • Yosarian2 says:

            I think that might just be a natural counter-reaction to the human tendency to be overconfident. If most people are overconfident (that is, if they think something is 99% likely to be true it’s only about 85% likely to be true, ect), then when someone admits that there’s a 10% chance that they’re wrong, it’s natural to assume that there’s actually closer to a 30%-40% chance that they’re wrong. And when dealing with most people that might actually not be a bad heuristic.

            The good news is that people are good at noting patterns around individuals as well, and if you’re well calibrated and consistently are about 90% right when you say you’re 90% right, then people who know you will likely adjust to that.

      • onyomi says:

        Some people perceive and are disgusted by inequality, others by being told what to do.

        For this reason I’ve been skeptical of those Haidt-esque categorizations where we say “conservatives have stronger disgust reactions,” etc. (I mean, maybe that is verifiable on some level if you’re showing them both pictures of vomit), because I feel like the reactions some people have to say, the idea the rich get better medical care, seems like literal disgust to me.

        Maybe some have just sublimated their disgust (or other emotions) to different levels, a la right is the new left?

        • John Nerst says:

          While I’m not sure disgust is exactly the right word, I’ve seen similar reactions, yes. A clearer example of mostly left wing disgust would probably be gmo:s or food additives etc.

          If right wing disgust is mostly about disease and sexual behavior, left wing disgust is more about poisoning and industrial/instrumental behavior?

  7. poignardazur says:

    Is ego depletion still a thing? The recent focus of SSC on Predictive Processing makes me wonder about how it could explain, well… the whole “can’t find the motivation to do things I really wanna do” thing.

  8. Atlas says:

    Anyone have thoughts they’d care to share on Blade Runner: 2049?

    • . says:

      No, but I did just watch the original and I noticed that the ground car has this dinky little windshield-wiper on it, and that this makes sense since it is self-driving and the human doesn’t need to see the road very well anyway.

    • timorl says:

      Just seen it yesterday with some friends. We all rather liked it, I personally think it captures the spirit of the original very well, both in visual, musical and story aspects, whie remaining orginal. So a very good sequel. It’s not rational fiction, so the protagonist is a bit of an idiot in some ways that the plot requires and there are a couple of minor plot holes, but it’s definitely not bad enough to be annoying.

      • Orpheus says:

        It’s a shame the original doesn’t capture the spirit of the book better.

        • Murphy says:

          Original original or directors cut original?

          For years i thought the directors cut was the Original original. Then I saw the theatrical release at a Bad Movie Night event and was shocked at how utterly awful it was in every way.

          • MoebiusStreet says:

            The Abyss is another good one for that. The theatrical release just makes no sense at all. But if you’re willing to sit out the whole director’s cut, it’s a really good movie.

          • Protagoras says:

            I didn’t think the theatrical release was that bad. For one thing, the theatrical release didn’t have the stupid unicorn dream which implied Deckard is a replicant (which he totally isn’t). Maybe the unicorn dream isn’t as bad as the voiceovers, but as far as I’m concerned it’s close.

          • Orpheus says:

            Both. I could forgive them cutting out Mercer and Buster Friendly and his Friendly Friends, but cutting out Rick’s wife and fake sheep is just a spit in the face of the book. It changes the entire character in a very bad (and cliche) way.

    • T3t says:

      (Grain of salt, since I read the book rather than watching the first movie, but a friend who I watched it with had seen the first movie without reading the book and came away with the same impression.)

      I thought it was a complete dumpster fire. I’m not going to touch on the stereotypical “bleak, dystopian future city” vibe, or pretty much any of the completely ridiculous “extrapolations” from technology, as that’s basically the source material’s fault, but pretty much everything else was bad too. Damn near every single conversation “beat” was punctuated by a close-up to somebody’s face, with accompanying dramatic music, which lasted for way too long. This was a major factor in how badly the movie dragged out. The characterizations were completely incomprehensible, for the most part. It’s not just that the characters were irrational, it’s that trying to build a consistent model of their behavior was a lost cause. The first two hours of the movie were incredibly tedious, largely because you have no idea what’s going on. Things just seem to happen – and this lack of direction is made worse by the aforementioned characterizations. If you at least had some idea of what was motivating anybody (beyond the villain, who was so cliche it descended into absurdity) maybe there’d be some chance at figuring out the end-game, but all they managed to do was stick in a poorly-foreshadowed twist to “wrap it up”, though it felt more like leaving a bunch of plot hooks for a sequel.

      • Atlas says:

        I’m not going to touch on the stereotypical “bleak, dystopian future city” vibe…

        While I’m certainly not suggesting your experience of the movie was “wrong” in any sense, it’s worth noting that this may be a case of something TvTropes has an entry on (that I frustratingly can’t remember the name of) where a work that pioneered a convention is seen as cliched by later viewers because it’s been mimicked so often. Blade Runner really played a huge role in defining the now familiar cyberpunk urban dystopia setting, and the sequel definitely tries to build on the aesthetics of the original film. Though again, it’s of course your right as a viewer to dislike it, find it cliched, etc.

    • Mr Mind says:

      I think that if you’re into Blade Runner, you’re not because of the clockwork plot or character developement. You’re in for the aesthetics, the bleak hopes and the unchanging wheel that grinds humans destinies.
      The identity switch plot is already old, so it’s a good thing they didn’t insisted on it…

    • johan_larson says:

      I watched it yesterday, and didn’t like it. It’s a dark, brooding, bleak vision about a crapsack world. The main character is a state-sponsored assassin who kills harmless old men going about their business. The film needed a few bright sparks of hope and more personable protagonist than Ryan Gosling was up to providing.

    • liskantope says:

      I just saw the new Blade Runner, but unfortunately I’ve never seen the original and I came in mostly unfamiliar with the setting. I found the dystopia so weird that I decided during the movie that I was better off just sitting back and enjoying the dazzling special effects, mildly intriguing characters, and good actors rather than thinking about the plot. This caused the movie to be an okay experience for me, although it still went on too long.

      Specifically, a lot of things about the Blade Runner universe leave me incredulous. Apparently humans have taken pains to create artificial intelligence which looks and acts as human as possible. In fact, the AI shown here is so 100% human that for all intents and purposes it should be treated as human (“If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…”). Except that these replicants are clearly much more powerful than humans, and apparently nobody was that concerned about this when they were being created. Especially given that it seems the main purpose for creating replicants was to use as slave labor, because as a society we’ve discovered that enslaving other human beings is wrong but apparently enslaving something we created to be functionally indistinguishable from human beings is fine — if we want to create slaves, why on earth would we make them look as human as possible? Just… none of it made any sense.

      • Nick says:

        the AI shown here is so 100% human that for all intents and purposes it should be treated as human … Except that these replicants are clearly much more powerful than humans, and apparently nobody was that concerned about this when they were being created.

        Are you kidding? Everyone was making fun of AI safety right up until they weren’t!

        • Betty Cook says:

          If you think about where we get the word robot from… As I remember, that bit of science fiction has them wipe out humanity. (And R.U.R. dates from 1920, just looked it up.)

      • Jaskologist says:

        In the Hyperion Cantos series, the “androids” (which are essentially replicants, created for slave labor) are blue-skinned specifically to differentiate them from humans.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Good movie, overall.

      It did a very good job respecting the first movie. The characters are a little weak in places, and it doesn’t really do much you aren’t expecting, but it is beautifully shot, the way the movie advances the technology of the first movie rather than inserting modern technology aged forward is really cool, and the plot is clean and fairly well constructed (although you do have to just accept a lot of what it tells you without questioning it). It definitely plays into the 80s aesthetic, so if 80s movies annoy you, you probably won’t enjoy it.

      About my only serious complaint about the movie is that it lacks the moral ambiguity of the first movie; the first movie took seriously the question of replicant humanity, whereas the sequel sort of takes it for granted, which weakens the first two acts of the movie. Spending some time addressing that would have made for a more interesting second act than what we got, and strengthened the villains, who, in the context of a movie which takes replicant humanity for granted, come across as evil-for-evil’s-sake.

      But yeah. On the whole, good.

      • Atlas says:

        About my only serious complaint about the movie is that it lacks the moral ambiguity of the first movie; the first movie took seriously the question of replicant humanity, whereas the sequel sort of takes it for granted, which weakens the first two acts of the movie.

        Indeed; we’ve had a really striking journey from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? to now. In Dick’s original novella, androids are ultimately different from (or even “worse” than) humans because they lack empathy, and we have a definitively human protagonist. In Blade Runner, we had, as you say, a real ambiguity about the humanity and morality of androids, and a protagonist who can be viewed as either human or a replicant. (Though I personally much prefer the human interpretation.) And now with Blade Runner:2049, the androids are wholly the “good guys” and we have a definitively android protagonist!

  9. johnswentworth says:

    Does anyone know of data or a study looking at the major categories of capital investments made by companies? Something like “X% of capital is invested in machinery, Y% is in real estate, Z% is in vehicles, …”.

    • spkaca says:

      This sort of information should be in the notes to a company’s annual report & accounts. Under UK accounting standards (the ones I am familiar with), if an entity has significant tangible fixed assets their total value will be shown on the face of the balance sheet (or Statement of Financial Position) and the total is then analysed in the fixed asset note. Typical categories are Land & Buildings, Plant & Machinery, Motor Vehicles etc. The categories aren’t fixed, it depends on the entity, so land and buildings (for example) might be split. The fixed asset note also shows the effects of depreciations/ revaluations. Many companies also have large non-tangible capital investments e.g. shares in other entities, software licences etc.

      • johnswentworth says:

        I’m looking for aggregated info across a large basket of companies. Pulling reports and aggregating them myself is the fallback plan, but it sounds like the sort of thing somebody would have done already.

  10. Wrong Species says:

    Let’s say that time travelers have been present throughout history. They didn’t cause any weird paradoxes and they never communicated with us. They were just observers who disappeared after they were finished watching whatever it was that they watched. When should we expect people to have first suspected time travel and how would it change it history?

    • AutisticThinker says:

      I suspect that time travel is likely to be impossible, highly regulated or multiverse-creating. Unregulated time travel (i.e. Israeli Defense Force travels back to 1930 with Uzis and Merkavas to prevent Nazis from ruling Germany while supermodern neo-Nazis do the same to make Germany Nazi) can easily cause complete chaos, even human extinction. However we haven’t observed this phenomenon. Hence I tend to believe that time travel is impossible, highly regulated or hard to detect using our present technologies.

      • onyomi says:

        Would you consider it a form of time travel if we had computers and sensors so accurate they could actually extrapolate back from any given state of the universe (perhaps in a particular location) to provide a rich picture of what came before at time n (or possibly even what will come after, though that seems like it would be harder)?

        If AIs become powerful enough to accurately predict the future, will that fact itself mess up human society since it will destroy the sense of free will or agency?

        I guess it won’t be “real” time travel unless one can interact with or even change the past and/or future (but that gets into all kinds of potential paradoxes I don’t understand), though I am personally hoping more for the “time scope” (something that lets you see a rich picture of the past without you actually being there or being able to change it, maybe in the way we now, for example, are seeing how stars and planets far away looked thousands of years ago).

        • AutisticThinker says:

          What you described about the past should not be considered time travel in the same sense that a photo of Churchill taken in 1935 does not make us travel back to 1935. That’s just an image broadly defined. With new technologies we can improve our imaging skills but what we get is still just an image. An image of an apple is not an apple even if it documents the position and velocity of every single elementary particle in the apple which is impossible anyway due to the uncertainty principle.

          I don’t think that free will necessarily exists at all in the sense of an indivisible entity. Nor does agency. However chemicals in me that do exist indeed push me to think and act which might generate agency or my own will. Free will is indeed free in the sense that it is independent of other people but not in the sense that it is independent of the atoms that together constitute a human.

          I doubt that AI will ever be able to predict the future accurately because it is hard to know what’s going on sufficiently far away from the AI itself. However these facts far away from the AI and us can affect the AI and us.

          I don’t think Grandfather Paradox is a real paradox because there is no reason why causality can not be violated. Causality is an arbitrary human dogma that does not have to hold at all. If you do travel back in time and murder your grandfather then he dies while you continue to exist. We can’t use logic to claim that something is physically impossible.

          • onyomi says:

            I doubt that AI will ever be able to predict the future accurately because it is hard to know what’s going on sufficiently far away from the AI itself.

            If it’s (hard to conceive of but) conceivable that a sufficiently advanced AI could extrapolate from the current state of the universe in a particular spot to the state of that same spot 1000 years ago, why is it not equally conceivable that it could extrapolate from the movement of the atoms in its immediate vicinity to the movement of the atoms on the other side of the planet, or indeed, universe?

            To push it a little further, is there any bit of the physical universe (except maybe the inside of a perfect vacuum?) an infinitely intelligent entity cannot use to infer the entire universe?

          • Murphy says:

            Because it would have to include the predictions of itself and other actors in a recursive loop.

            Plus chaos.

            If you know a set of basic parameters concerning the ball at rest, can compute the resistance of the table (quite elementary), and can gauge the strength of the impact, then it is rather easy to predict what would happen at the first hit. The second impact becomes more complicated, but possible; and more precision is called for. The problem is that to correctly computer the ninth impact, you need to take account the gravitational pull of someone standing next to the table (modestly, Berry’s computations use a weight of less than 150 pounds). And to compute the fifty-sixth impact, every single elementary particle in the universe needs to be present in your assumptions! An electron at the edge of the universe, separated from us by 10 billion light-years, must figure in the calculations, since it exerts a meaningful effect on the outcome.

            keep in mind that the electrons you need to account for include those being used to perform your computation. Or whatever other mechanism you use for computation.

            Lesswrong has a weird sort of almost-theology where people start willing to take the step to assuming a superhuman AI could have some impressive capabilities but then jump to assuming that a superhuman AI is literally omnipotent in every possibly way with no constraints of any kind, capable of wielding more energy than the all energy in the universe etc.

            No matter how powerful a computer you hook up to your sensors you really probably cannot tell everything about the universe from monitoring a piece of cake. The Total Perspective Vortex probably isn’t a danger. At a certain point sensor imperfections and noise prevents you from figuring some things out.

          • bbartlog says:

            The kind of arbitrary extrapolations you are describing are impossible because of a combination of the uncertainty principle and the already-mentioned chaos, which together amount to a kind of irreducible randomness, not only in terms of forward prediction but also in terms of backward reconstruction.
            Indeed one of the less-appreciated aspects of the Many Worlds interpretation is that it not only suggests a kind of infinite branching of futures, but it also implies that the current perceived state is the result of a variety of different pasts that could have converged to give rise to it.

          • Murphy says:

            Yep, beyond a certain point some information is just gone, beyond your grasp, swallowed in the background noise of the universe.

            it’s why I find it particularly bizarre when people on LW start talking about future AI’s resurrecting individuals. Sure, if your brain is on ice that’s not too far fetched.

            But some seem to believe that they’ll be reconstructable from a half dozen blog posts and a family photo. Which brings us back to a straight-up religion.

          • To push it a little further, is there any bit of the physical universe (except maybe the inside of a perfect vacuum?) an infinitely intelligent entity cannot use to infer the entire universe?

            Yes. Consider any case where the same outcome could arise from either of two different causal sequences. Observing that outcome doesn’t tell you which of the two occurred.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            Indeed one of the less-appreciated aspects of the Many Worlds interpretation is that it not only suggests a kind of infinite branching of futures, but it also implies that the current perceived state is the result of a variety of different pasts that could have converged to give rise to it.

            I’m glad I am not the only person to have thought of this.

            I’ve never quite known how to ask a real live actual Physicist about this, without sounding like I was full of woo.

          • PedroS says:

            Commenter Murphy quoted

            “If you know a set of basic parameters concerning the ball at rest, can compute the resistance of the table (quite elementary), and can gauge the strength of the impact, then it is rather easy to predict what would happen at the first hit. The second impact becomes more complicated, but possible; and more precision is called for. The problem is that to correctly computer the ninth impact, you need to take account the gravitational pull of someone standing next to the table (modestly, Berry’s computations use a weight of less than 150 pounds). And to compute the fifty-sixth impact, every single elementary particle in the universe needs to be present in your assumptions! An electron at the edge of the universe, separated from us by 10 billion light-years, must figure in the calculations, since it exerts a meaningful effect on the outcom”

            The original reference can be found in the 81st page of:

            Berry, M V, 1978, ‘Regular and Irregular Motion’ in Topics in Nonlinear Mechanics, ed. S Jorna, Am.Inst.Ph.Conf.Proc No. 46, 16-120

            https://michaelberryphysics.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/berry076.pdf

        • Nick says:

          I don’t think Grandfather Paradox is a real paradox because there is no reason why causality can not be violated. Causality is an arbitrary human dogma that does not have to hold at all. If you do travel back in time and murder your grandfather then he dies while you continue to exist. We can’t use logic to claim that something is physically impossible.

          (starting a different thread for this because comment limit)

          Can you elaborate on this? I don’t think I understand—it seems to me that murdering your grandfather means the conditions that gave rise to you won’t ever hold, so murdering your grandfather means you both do and do not exist.

          • Brad says:

            The most obvious solution is some kind of branching multiverse.

          • Nick says:

            Sure, Brad, but if going back in time branches the timeline, that’s a causal event, and it sounds like it solves the problem by totally closing off the conditions that actually gave rise to you—in effect, in a branching multiverse, it’s as though you’re not going back to the past but to an exact duplicate of the past. So it doesn’t seem to me like that’s the solution HFA (AT now?) had in mind.

          • Brad says:

            I think that’s exactly right. Going back in time either branches you into a different universe or destroys the timeline you started from, depending on how you want to look at it / how the universe works. It doesn’t matter if you kill your grandfather or not, there’s no going back to “your” timeline. At best you can hope for a reasonably close variant.

            The universe-acts-to-protect the timeline versions of time travel seem totally incoherent to me in comparison to one of the above versions.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Brad

            The idea that you destroy the timeline is the only one that actually breaks logic. That’s by far the least likely possibility. I’m not sure what’s so incoherent about the universe unable to cause paradox’s. Bizarre, sure. But it makes logical sense.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            In fact, we do know that parallel universes exist and David Deutsch proposed a version of time travel in which the resolution of the grandfather paradox is that both timelines exist with equal amplitude.
            Added: but this does end up being a “universe conspires” theory.

          • Brad says:

            To borrow a phrase the universe-conspires version is too spooky.

            In a branching or single timeline with destruction revision, time travel is just a patch on ordinary physics. The new matter appears in the new universe — because of time travel but it could also have been because of an *extremely* low probability congealing out of the pseudo-vacuum. Either way it wasn’t there and now it is. But other than that the rest of the universe works exactly the same way. We don’t have a situation where consciousness is somehow relevant to physics. Where a change that involves killing a human being is somehow treated by the universe as much more serious than a random atom in space decaying where it didn’t decay in some other timeline.

            Same thing with traveling forward in time. The matter just disappears at one point in time and reappears at another. In the meanwhile physics, chemistry, and biology all work exactly the same way they’ve always work. The state of the universe evolves on the basis of whatever energy and matter are around at the time it is doing the evolving.

            Narrative consistency is as AC says a human requirement.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Careful with seeing into “the past.” The Dead Past.

      • Wrong Species says:

        If backwards time travel was possible, it would almost certainly be the kind where it’s impossible to cause paradox’s. You go back in time to prevent the Holocaust and end up causing it.

        I always liked the idea of regulation because at first it seems absurd. Do we really expect them to be able to prevent all possible instances of time travel that would be known to us? But if you think about it, they are basically omniscient, so it becomes more feasible. That’s kind of my thought process for the hypothetical. These time travelers would be tourists who are forbidden from interacting with the locals and any possible transgression would be prevented. And they know it works because they can see for themselves. In that scenario, what’s the difference from our world?

        • AutisticThinker says:

          I believe a parallel universe scenario is much more reasonable than what you described. Time travel being impossible is probably even more reasonable.

          • Consider two alternative models of time travel. In model A, you go back in time, change something, and the whole time line that you started with vanishes, to be replaced by the time line resulting from your change. In model B, you go back in time, change something, and that switches you from one line in a branching universe (that you came to) to another line, the one resulting from your change.

            The same experiences are consistent with both. But almost everyone will believe the second, because almost nobody wants to believe that he has just wiped from existence everyone he knew, along with all the music, art and literature produced after the change.

      • Tarpitz says:

        However we haven’t observed this phenomenon. Hence I tend to believe that time travel is impossible, highly regulated or hard to detect using our present technologies.

        Another possibility is that time travel can only go back as far as the point at which the time machine was first switched on.

      • entobat says:

        Israeli Defense Force travels back to 1930 with Uzis and Merkavas to prevent Nazis from ruling Germany while supermodern neo-Nazis do the same to make Germany Nazi

        …man, I should reread The Guns of the South.

        • Lillian says:

          It’s still the most realistic “South wins the Civil War” story ever written!

          • entobat says:

            Not sure if you’re referencing the dust jacket on my edition here, but I love it. There’s a review from a history professor who basically says “This book is incredibly historically accurate”. I know what’s meant, but still…

          • Lillian says:

            What i mean is that all the myriad ways that have been proposed for the Confederacy to win the war, “time travelling Afrikaaners with AKMs” is still the most believeable.

          • engleberg says:

            President Buchanan spent 1859 folding like origami. If they’d shot Stanton before he stiffened the Cabinets resistance, that might have been enough all by itself. If they’d shot Stanton any time before Appotomax, the Federal Army would not have been supplied by a brilliant administrator who hated slavery, and that might have been enough by itself. If the South had seen the blockade coming and burned the right US Navy bases, that might have done it all by itself. The Southern militia tasked with enforcing slavery was well armed, well trained, blooded, experienced in decades of night actions, good at being mean to people, and might have won the war.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Just want to clarify, this is about a hypothetical world where the time travelers were seen by people, observing events in the background. They just didn’t interact. Besides that, the world is the same as ours.

      • Montfort says:

        Do the time-travellers make any effort to disguise themselves in period costume? I’m assuming from “didn’t interact” they stayed fairly far away from everyone, e.g. sitting in a forest with binoculars watching an important historical battle through binoculars. When they return to the present, do they make an effort to be alone, or do bystanders witness them literally disappearing?

        Those are some measures that could change the difficulty of identifying them as time-travellers specifically. But in general, to identify them as from another time, I’d say you have to 1) notice this as a pattern, not a one-off event, 2) know enough about foreigners to be able to reason about what they might be like (e.g. if you still think there’s a part of africa where peoples’ faces are on their stomachs, I don’t think you’re ruling out a region of asia where everyone wears weird clothes), 3) be more likely to attribute very unlikely events to human action rather than supernatural (and be able to predict the future would have an interest in observing the past).

        1) indicates a period with reasonably detailed written history and cross-cultural communication among intellectuals
        2) is some time after marco polo, I guess
        3) is around the scientific revolution

        But even with all three conditions met, it’s hard to get “time travelers” as the answer instead of “observers from isolationist castle in the sky we can’t see” without, say, talking to one of them. My guess is you’d have to catch them observing something you think they couldn’t predict or cause, like the earthquake of Lisbon. But I think for most events it’s more plausible that someone could predict them than that they could travel in time.

        • Wrong Species says:

          In my hypothetical, the time travelers aren’t making any effort to conceal what they really are besides not communicating. They don’t wear period costume, they aren’t hiding in forests and when they leave they literally disappear as if carried away by a Star Trek transporter.
          Also it happens regularly throughout history so everyone knows about it as more than a one-off. Assuming these conditions, I don’t think anyone would assume they were normal humans from a different part of the world.

          • Montfort says:

            Assuming these conditions, I don’t think anyone would assume they were normal humans from a different part of the world.

            I’m not so sure. The apparently supernatural nature of their appearance and disappearance would keep hypotheses on demons/angels/faeries/etc for a long time, but if someone concludes they are in fact regular humans, there’s no particular reason to assume they’re traveling through time instead of (well, really in addition to) space, albeit clearly in a weird way the natives don’t understand.
            Even today I’m not sure you could rule out a hidden base / aliens / etc. Time travel might be weakly indicated if they all come from the same time, and so all dress similarly and use similar instruments. The strongest evidence is still if they show up at events you think they couldn’t have predicted in advance, but this behavior could also be produced by better predictive capabilities or ways to cause the events in question.

          • Yug Gnirob says:

            They would be considered to be time travelers the moment they became a widely believable phenomenon; they would also be considered angels and aliens and the Illuminati. Their presence would change things immediately, as everyone would assume they’re there to watch important things; the believed merits of events would relate to whether time travelers were watching the beginning of it.

            …also you know someone’s gonna shoot a time traveler at some point. Steal their wallet and their clothes and whatnot.

          • Matt M says:

            They would be considered to be time travelers the moment they became a widely believable phenomenon

            Would they though? They’d look like humans, just with slightly different features, weird clothes, and speaking a foreign language. But people encountered others like that all the time. Aside from the pathologically crazy, foreigners in general could all be lumped into categories like that.

            I’m reminded of the episode of TNG where Data travels back in time to gold-rush era San Francisco, and manages to avoid suspicion by claiming to be French.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Montfort

            I considered aliens in disguise as a possible explanation but not humans from a different planet. Intuitively, it would make more sense to people in the past but it certainly would be more weird. I guess the biggest problem with that theory would be why the human aliens never contacted us. If they have some kind of Prime Directive, then they should be observing from space. With time travel, you don’t really need an explanation. They interacted with our world the way they did because that’s the way they’re supposed to interact with it. Also, if they were aliens surely they wouldn’t just pop in for certain events and then just disappear. Wouldn’t they want to do more observation and see the day to day life if they came all this way to see us?

            @Yug

            I can definitely see historians ranking the importance events by number of observers. And then the inevitable backlash when someone questions whether that is truly an objective measure of importance.

          • Yug Gnirob says:

            @Matt M

            and when they leave they literally disappear as if carried away by a Star Trek transporter.

            They’d be an unexplained phenomenon, and they would be immediately identified with whatever go-to explanation people have for those. For a reasonable number of people that’s time travel. The question was when does someone first suspect time travel, the answer is, very quickly.

            If we’re talking about when/if we get a general consensus that they’re time travellers, I would say that doesn’t happen until people develop time travel themselves, and even then there would be holdouts who say they’re angels or aliens and we’re just copying the look.

            (Since he said no communication from them, I assume they don’t talk at all, or wave, or move, or do anything but stare straight ahead.)

          • Montfort says:

            @Wrong Species, I didn’t mean through outer space, just teleporting somewhere on earth. Think a secret brotherhood of steel style mission – and if you can teleport that’s a lot more concealable than our boring old compounds that need entries and exits.
            Though they could be disguised aliens, too.

    • Peter says:

      A traveller opening the doors of their time machine, having a look around, then closing the door again, is going to disturb the air. Like the proverbial butterfly in the Amazon. So anything that happened because the weather was a certain way on a certain day may be different – this includes “the weather on such-and-such a day was pretty normal for that time of year, no storms or anything to muck things up”.

      The weather affects people’s moods, maybe not by a lot, but you don’t need a lot. Also, who’s out-and-about at what time, where they go, and thus who meets who, and potentially who falls in love with who. Also, it’s likely that differences in the weather will adjust whether people are in the mood for getting it on, how vigorously they do so, etc. which will affect which sperms meet which eggs. Scroll forwards a few generations, and anything that happened the way it did because of some specific person, could happen differently. What if Alexander The Great had died in battle (he was wounded several times) or didn’t die of disease at a young age? History could have been quite different.

      So, if each new trip into the past is another “roll of the dice” as far as the rest of the timeline goes, there’s potentially a disturbing consequence to this. Suppose some time traveller goes to watch the Mona Lisa being painted, and growing butterfly effects mean that this time around, the world gets unlucky with nuclear weapons, and everyone dies in a nuclear winter. That means that no-one gets to invent time-travel, and so that’s the final timeline, no more time-travellers to re-perturb things. Unless aliens from another planet come along and revitalise the timeline…

      (This is all based on a fairly strict “history-overwriting” time travel metaphysics, where the grossest paradoxes are “loose ends” – you go back in time, shoot your grandfather, now you’re a “loose end” from a previous version of the timeline. There’s also “closed timelike curve” time travel metaphysics where the time travellers were always there, there was no version of history that didn’t have time travellers – you can’t successfully shoot your grandfather, however you can be your own grandfather, you can get the plans for your time machine from your future self, etc. These have very odd implications for cause and effect, I suspect that if you’re strict, they have very odd thermodynamics, and are deeply paradox-laden. There are also inconsistent wibbly metaphysicses with special effects, like that fading photograph in Back To The Future, but with those, you just have to switch the relevant bit of your brain off and enjoy the film with the rest of your brain. Possibly among these is “the paradoxes just don’t happen, OK?” in which case, well, whatever the author wants.)

    • dodrian says:

      It would be first noticeable when you have a secretive* government organization with mass surveillance and the ability to track its people.

      The time travelers would be noticed when the organization is reviewing footage of notable events (riots, disasters, mass-protests, etc). When trying to track the people in the background they realise that there are a number who are simply unidentifiable. You might expect one or two people to be difficult to identify or track (and they’d be suspected as enemies of the state), but we’re talking tens or hundreds in a crowd who have no matching background, and whose movements can’t be fully explained. Maybe the organization gets lucky and catches one [de]materializing on tape. Or maybe it’s just a mystery until it’s noticed that some of these people are re-appearing at other events in timeframes that don’t match – either they haven’t aged in the years between two major events, or they’ve been caught on film at simultaneous events miles and miles apart- but slowly the organization begins to put two and two together.

      After the crazy theory of time travel gains some acceptance, top minds propose a way to make a test. They begin to falsify documents to make it appear that something major happened at a point in time in the near future. Doctored newspapers are locked up in safety deposit boxes to be forgotten and unearthed years down the line. Forged arrest warrants or death certificates are dropped into the appropriate archives. It’s something designed to entice or confuse future historians – an event that they’d want to send observers back to to clear up the historical record. And it’s in a place where the organization have their best equipment and agents…

      *secretive and successful in that the full extent of its abilities, efforts and reach don’t come to light in the future in a way that enables the time-travelers to prepare for it. I assumed that only a government organization would be powerful enough to pull this off, but I supposed it could be done successfully by a secret society

    • Murphy says:

      Bacteria, viruses, microorganisms. Hell, HeLa cells depending on how far in the future they’re from.

      There’s a lot of bacteria and viruses floating around. if some individuals were popping in and out of time dropping by interesting events throughout history it might not stand out at first but sooner or later after the invention of cheap sequencing technology someone’s going to notice the precise exact same minor pathogens keep popping up decades apart across the world with no novel mutations.

      If HeLa cells keep getting better at resisting decontamination and surviving in more and more hostile environments our theoretical time travelers may even introduce future versions of the HeLa cell line to the biosphere of the past leaving one hell of a puzzle for geneticists.

      http://discovermagazine.com/1992/dec/nolongerhuman171/

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        In The Witcher series of novels, one of the characters travels randomly between different worlds. In one she encounters a city full of people dying of plague and quickly leaves but not before a flea stows away in her clothing. When she returns to her world the flea finds a rat, which makes its way to a ship…

    • rahien.din says:

      Well, the use of time travel essentially abolishes any kind of technological limitations. For one, the ability to travel time would imply a rather high level of technological sophistication, a la Clarke’s third law. For two, once able to travel forwards in time, a society would gain access to all future technologies. For three, time travel allows for the correction of errors as though they never occurred. To invoke time travel is, practically, to unbound human technological sophistication.

      So if a time traveler wanted to visit our time without causing paradox or even being remembered, it’s entirely possible that they could accomplish it technologically. I think it would be extremely weird if we had noticed time travelers.

      • Wrong Species says:

        You’re right but once there has been a “mistake” in the timeline, it doesn’t matter how advanced your technology is. You have to keep it to keep the universe intact. And the time travelers wouldn’t see it as a mistake, it’s just part of history.

        • schazjmd says:

          If time isn’t linear, then the time travelers in the past will-be-always-have-been part of the times they visit, and that part of time never exist[s][ed] without time travelers in it. (This is obviously the perspective of a non-scientist, I just like thinking about it.)

      • rahien.din says:

        Come to think of it, this is a good argument against the existence of time travel.

        Absent any extenuating weirdness, if time travel allows for the propagation of technology backwards in the main timeline, then why should our present time be exempt? IE, why don’t the time travelers bring all the good tech back in time to us, and let us partake of it now?

        Either there is something unique about our time period that makes that a bad idea, or, time travel doesn’t exist.

        • Wrong Species says:

          It’s funny that you say that because I always thought that if time travelers existed we would have seen them but I think your comment above is a good argument for why we don’t. The reason we haven’t seen time travelers is because if they went back now, it would break the timeline. So the reason we don’t see time travelers is that we don’t see time travelers.

    • US says:

      Not an answer, just an observation, but if you consider these kinds of questions interesting you’ll probably really enjoy reading Connie Willis’ time travel novels (which were actually recommended to me by other SSC readers last year).

  11. AnonYEmous says:

    Hey, I recently received clicked through a link to Scott’s post about how Western / universal culture always wins (I’d read it before, it’s just that someone linked it so I read it again), and I wanted to give a perspective on what I think he’s missed.

    To put it simply: I think people always like the results of universal culture, such as low crime, good political system, freedoms, etc. But they don’t always like the means. This is the main issue with mass immigration into Western nations, or with people forgetting about Western (or, again, universal) values; too late do they discover that they lose out on the results of those things. Or at least, this is a very real possibility; it may not happen in specific cases. But I do think it’s important to keep in mind that, just because certain norms work, it doesn’t mean that people will adopt them.

    • Aapje says:

      To put it simply: I think people always like the results of universal culture

      That’s because ‘universal culture’ is defined as the culture that appeals most to people. So you are just begging the question here: if you give people a choice, most people will choose what most people prefer.

      The problem of course is that something like culture and social conformity exists, so you can have humanity being delusional about what is best for them and/or favoring their own well-being over that of the species. So they may self-destruct their culture by introducing things or others who eliminate the parts of their culture they really like or even self-destruct civilization by overusing natural resources.

      Perhaps culture can be well analyzed in terms of evolution/species. In nature, a great many species can coexist because there are a great many niches and the species are different. By virtue of their limited ability to shape nature, there is a limit to their growth, leaving room for others. In contrast, humans are so capable of shaping our environment that we create a far more uniform world which suits us (and doesn’t suit many animals, many of which go extinct or are left with small numbers).

      Then due to our high intolerance/desire for conformity, we cannot help but to create the same conformity in culture. However, a lack of diversity creates a lack of resilience to changes in the environment. During the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction, most dinosaur species died out, while mammals turned out highly successful in the new conditions. They were ‘waiting in the wings,’ which made it much easier to repopulate the world than if the species had to evolve from a much more primitive base to be suitable for the new environment.

      Something similar may be true for culture. Russian & Chinese communism coexisted with capitalist systems and so we could see which was better capable of solving problems. If there was just one, universal communist political system, people would probably have stuck with it far longer and it would have been harder to find a better replacement.

      If we do achieve worldwide, universal culture, wrong choices have the potential to be extremely destructive. This means that if we seek improvements, we either take immense risks of causing global damage that is hard to recover from or we become extremely conservative, causing humanity to stagnate in a local optimum.

      PS. Scott does not equate universal culture with Western culture.

      PS2. Note that this doesn’t mean that I’m advocating for the other extreme, but merely for not glorifying a goose step world of conformity.

      • AnonYEmous says:

        That’s because ‘universal culture’ is defined as the culture that appeals most to people. So you are just begging the question here: if you give people a choice, most people will choose what most people prefer.

        The point of my post is to state that people may like the results of something, but not like the process, and so the process is abandoned. Therefore saying that people love the results isn’t really a good argument as to why it will survive.

        • Free trade being perhaps the most obvious example. The arguments against it are easier to understand than the arguments for it, but wrong. That’s one reason why public discussion of trade issues is routinely conducted in terms of theories that have been obsolete for two hundred years–signaled by terms such as “unfavorable balance of trade.”

        • Aapje says:

          @AnonYEmous

          The point of my post is to state that people may like the results of something, but not like the process, and so the process is abandoned.

          They only ever dislike a process because they dislike some of the outcomes. You seem to have arbitrarily decided that outcome A-1 is highly desirable, while outcome A-2 is a comparatively small downside that people should accept so they get A-1. However, you seem to be assuming that people ought to strong favor A-1 over A-2 and/or not seek a process that gives A-1 without A-2. But why would they have your preferences?

          And I consider it more likely that what is actually happening is that people take A-1 for granted and only see the downsides (A-2), but don’t realize that by abandoning the process, they are giving up A-1. But in that case the real issue is ignorance of the full consequences of having the process, not that they dislike the process while realizing exactly what they are giving up by abandoning it.

          So, I think that your argument is muddled and you should be more accurate in your analysis.

      • entobat says:

        +1 for correct use of “begging the question”.

        • Lillian says:

          “Begging the question” is a poor translation of petitio pricipii, and it is strange to me that some people keep insisting on using it as such. The literal translation is “asking for the initial point”, but the meaning is best conveyed by calling it “assuming the premise”. To most people, even well educated ones, “begs the question” sounds like it should mean that an obvious question has been raised, not that the initial point is being asked for. I think the cause of mutual understanding is best served by going with the flow on this one.

          • yodelyak says:

            +1 to Lillian.

            I am hereby resolving to avoid the phrase “begging the question” and variants altogether.

            It beggars language, to use “beg the question” /
            whether tis used to beg, or to question.

            Probably better keep my day job.

          • entobat says:

            But if I can’t use poorly translated Latin phrases correctly, how will I know that I’m smugly superior?

          • Nornagest says:

            You can always use untranslated Latin phrases.

          • Aapje says:

            But then most people don’t recognize your cleverness, just your smugness. You need both ad captandum vulgus.

  12. leoboiko says:

    Has anyone had success with recovering attention span, focus etc.? What’s known to work?

    • J says:

      After being vegetarian for a few years I started to have brain fog that went away after I switched to a better B12 supplement.

    • maintain says:

      Noporn worked pretty well for me. I’ve stopped and started several times, and each time the result was the same.

      You said “recovering”, so I’m assuming you had a greater attention span at some point in the past. I urge you to at least consider that viewing porn could be what caused the difference.

      • leoboiko says:

        Thank you for the report! I’m honestly pretty skeptical of the idea; but I’m about to completely nuke my libido with transition hormones, so I’ll be doing fap abstinence one way or another. If that’s the cause, solving it will be easy =)

        • Well... says:

          I’m about to completely nuke my libido with transition hormones

          Why?

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Dude, this may be a CW-allowed thread, but have the good grace to keep it in the abstract. Don’t go stirring up shit about specific people.

          • toastengineer says:

            I suspect the above poster just misinterpreted the meaning of “nuke my libido…” as the libido suppression being the goal, not a side-effect. Or at least that’s my Hanlon’s Razor interpretation of it.

          • Well... says:

            toastengineer is on the right track, though I get the feeling I’m not misinterpreting anything so much as (hopefully) missing some key piece of information that’s for whatever reason obvious to everyone else.

            I am not clear on why someone would want to take hormones that would have adverse effects, especially not the adverse effects described. Isn’t the point of tweaking your bodily/cellular chemistry usually to get rid of the adverse effects of some existing imbalance?

          • @Well:

            I interpreted it as leoboiko about to take hormones in order to transition from male to female or female to male, and one anticipated effect of the hormones was to eliminate libido–presumably not permanently.

          • leoboiko says:

            @Well…: In case your handle is just ill-chosen and you’re actually being sincere: what others said.

            I have gender dysphoria, a condition that’s very likely biological (genetic, epi-, and/or uterine endocrine) and doesn’t really go away (for me, as it’s often the case, it’s been getting worse). It resulted in lifelong depression, persistent anxiety, emotional bluntness, and just general awfulness. The treatment for dysphoria has ridiculously high success rates, but one frequent side effect (for dysphoric XYs at least) is losing your sex drive (temporarily for some people and permanently for others, @DavidFriedman). However active and kinky my bi-poly sex life once was (before I went fully shut-in at least), the amount of hedons I get from not having dysphoria is a brazillion times higher, making the choice a non-brainer, really. This choice is made by everyone in my condition, by the way.

          • Well... says:

            @leoboiko:

            OK, makes sense in that case. Seems like an extremely rare thing which is why it wasn’t an obvious guess to me.

            Curious to know what you think my handle has to do with anything. (Nobody’s ever commented on my handle.)

            Anyway, does the self-control/lack of focus/attention span thing you asked about in the OP have anything to do with the dysphoria? Could they be linked in some way? I imagine that having gender dysphoria would turn life into an endless string of reasons to be distracted.

          • leoboiko says:

            @Well…: Sure it can! The secondary symptoms of anxiety and depression alone are enough to do significant damage to one’s attention span, probably, not to mention that constant buzz of discomfort. Being driven to distraction as a means of escape is a decent hypothesis; though heads-on, unusually desperate concentration is also a way of escaping from oneself, and it used to be the case that I’d stay endless days completely focused on a random book or topic of research purely as a means to plug into the Matrix.

            At any rate, I very much expect that treating dysphoria should make it easier to concentrate. The thing is, I’m working hard to address the secondary symptoms directly, too, because gender reassignment therapy is a slow process. Suppose your job makes you depressed; of course you should look for a new one, but changing careers takes time and effort, and in the meanwhile, it makes sense to do things that alleviate the surface effects of depression.

            I think I have some notion of how people go about dealing with depression and anxiety, but I’m finding it harder to locate reliable, scientific information on how to improve concentration, specifically (there’s too much vacuous self-help noise); so I figured Scott’s readership is a good public to ask for pointers.

            re: nickname: “Well…” is a discourse marker that I find easy to read as disbelief, dismissal or sarcasm.

          • Well... says:

            It sounds as though you’re taking the right steps and, if nothing else, have taken control of what happens to you, which seems like an important prerequisite to alleviating depression. (Lack of gender dysphoria is certainly no guarantor of lack of depression, after all.)

            When I came up with “Well…” it was as the name of my blog; the handle came afterward, when Scott mandated that handles be tied to WordPress accounts. I haven’t verbalized this before, but with “Well…” I had in mind the kind of speech marker you use when you’re about to disagree with someone but you’re going to do your best to disagree gently and in a calm, polite, reasoned way that they’ll hopefully be receptive to. Also, there’s a note of chuckle in there too because you know that they know that you’re in the habit of disagreeing with them. It was sort of me ribbing myself for always having a damn opinion on everything.

    • fortaleza84 says:

      What worked pretty well for me was living by certain rules, e.g. allowing myself to surf the internet for 15 minutes followed by 60 minutes of cleaning, organizing papers, paying bills, etc.

      This of course leads to another question, how do you get yourself to consistently follow rules every day. A general answer to this question would be a fix for obesity, alcoholism, drug addiction, and probably a lot of other societal ills.

      • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

        Babauta has a nice blog with tips for habit forming. (Maybe tackle someting easier than obesity, alcoholism, drug addiction first…)

      • HowardHolmes says:

        The key is to accept responsibility for your actions. Most people do not. For instance, your reply contains “how do you get yourself to…”. Note the abdication of responsibility. There is no you trying to get yourself to as if two people existed. You are the one, but you want to blame yourself for the failure.

        Show me an obese person who owns the fact that he would rather be obese than eat property. It is a choice made by one person. If a person is fat, it is because she wants to be fat. No one is forcing us to overeat.

        • fortaleza84 says:

          The key is to accept responsibility for your actions. Most people do not. For instance, your reply contains “how do you get yourself to…”. Note the abdication of responsibility. There is no you trying to get yourself to as if two people existed.

          It’s funny you should say that because one of the insights I had which helped me to personally conquer my akrasia problem was the realization that there are multiple factions in play in my brain with competing interests and desires.

          But anyway, I suspect your “key” is pretty much meaningless. Is there a clearly defined set of steps a person can take to “take responsibility for his actions”? Is there a test to verify that it’s been done?

        • Sabiola says:

          It’s not as easy as that. I’ve been obese, and to lose the fat I’ve had to learn a lot about ‘eating properly’ that I was never taught – and there’s a lot of misinformation around. The Hungry Brain explains it very well.

        • leoboiko says:

          Re: obesity: read this article on this very blog.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I would rather be obese than fuss with what I’m eating.

          You can find a lot of people in the fat acceptance movement who would rather be fat than diet. They wouldn’t call attempting to lose weight “eating properly”. Some of them have had very bad experiences with eating disorders.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            I would rather be obese than fuss with what I’m eating.

            Have you ever been thin in your adult life?

            You can find a lot of people in the fat acceptance movement who would rather be fat than diet.

            I could respect that if such people (1) accepted all the consequences of being fat; and (2) made efforts to prevent their obesity from inconveniencing other people.

            A lot of people in the fat acceptance movement refuse to accept that being obese is sexually unattractive; that it is deleterious to your health; that they need to book a larger airplane seat; that clothing will be more difficult to find and more expensive; etc.

      • Sabiola says:

        I don’t have a general answer, but for smoking and drinking I can recommend Allen Carr’s books about smoking and drinking. Those really did make it easy for me to quit.

    • MrApophenia says:

      Might be kind of basic, but sleep. I started making more effort to get a full 8 hours of sleep after a very long period of less, and I felt like I had given myself superpowers.

      • leoboiko says:

        I am in fact routinely sleep deprived (usually because until late night I’ve done basically nothing, and then I stay up to achieve something in a last-ditch effort to not waste the day). Any particular tips on changing sleep habits?

        • markk116 says:

          It’s hard to go to sleep at a set time when you’re used to very irregular sleep. It is in my experience far easier to wake up at the same time ever day and after you’ve done that for a while you’ll get tired at appropriate times too. I personally like “sleep as android” as a crutch in this, because it wakes me up when it detects that I’m sleeping lightly, not breaking rem cycles. This causes me to wake up feeling more refreshed. Good luck!

        • MrApophenia says:

          I have recently tried out melatonin and have been very pleasantly surprised. I have a sleep disorder where I have a very difficult time falling asleep on a consistent schedule, but once I am asleep I stay asleep (which separates it from most insomnia, in which people also have a hard time remaining asleep). Melatonin seems to work really well for me, since it basically just triggers the normal “hey, you’re feeling a bit sleepy” reaction I normally don’t get until very late at night.

          If your problem is just falling asleep, and not staying asleep once you get that way, melatonin might be worth a go.

          (Of course it might be pure placebo affect, but if so, damn, this placebo kicks ass.)

    • episcience says:

      Guided meditation really helped for me, both for executive function/agency issues as well as just ensuring I had the energy to be focused on what I was doing.

  13. AutisticThinker says:

    Selfism

    I believe selfism defined on Wikipedia is good as long as people do not harm each other while pursuing their own interests. The key reason why I support selfism is that it does frequently end up benefiting others if means to prevent people from harming each other are employed. Pursuing one’s own interests creates wealth while altruism rarely does that.

    SSC, what do you think about my ideas above?

    • . says:

      It is unclear to me that, on the margin, less altruism would be better. It seems to me that some points on the Pareto frontier are better than others, and that altruism can move us towards those points.

      I think that altruism is very unreliable, and that robust societies rely on incentives or coercion, rather than altruism, in order to move towards those points. But altruism is better than nothing.

      • AutisticThinker says:

        I agree that altruism is unreliable. Even though altruism is often better than nothing, I believe that a moral system mainly based on altruism is actually harmful by discouraging and usually shaming self-interests which cause us to lose their benefits.

        I’m perfectly fine with a moral system that considers selfism moral while a bit of altruism in addition to selfism is even better. At the same time harming others except for self-defense, altruism that harms oneself and self-harm should be considered evil. However any moral system that consider selfism evil is bad and any moral system that consider self-interest itself evil is obnoxious.

        • Jules says:

          It isn’t self-interest that’s “evil”, but disregard for the interests of others. If you’re going to enact significant change in the world, and don’t care about others’ well-being at all, you’re very likely to do harm.
          e.g. You’ll pursue the opportunities that others didn’t because they found them unethical, which is why society tries to enforce norms such as “don’t use subcontractors which employ children”.

          Also, the link between self-interest and wealth creation is far from self-evident:
          – “Pursuing one’s own interests” can mean slacking off or rent-seeking
          – Great creators frequently seem to care about something bigger than themselves

    • spork says:

      If you mean this as an argument for selfism being a fundamental ethical principle (“One should always benefit oneself”), then it is contradictory to argue for by saying that it benefits everybody overall. If you’re assuming that everyone benefiting overall is the real hallmark of ethical goodness, this makes you some kind of utilitarian with a quirky opinion about the best means to achieve maximum global utility.

      I say “quirky” but really, I think that opinion is empirically indefensible. If you take a selfist and, say, an Effective Altruist and compare the difference each makes to global utility, you might occasionally find that the altruist doing stuff that bites back and overall decreases utility, but those are clearly exceptions. A part of the point of the Effective Altruism movement it to rigorously try to forecast and avoid such mistakes. On balance, it’s crazy to think that the selfist beats the Effective Altruist in the degree to which they raise utility.

      If you want to be a selfist, I suggest just biting the bullet about good global outcomes. Sure, when I see a baby drowning in a shallow pond, I could help it without much inconvenience, but my inaction does not harm the baby. (The water is harming it, and that’s not my doing.) The altruist here would have almost certainly achieved more global utility, but your attitude should be: Fuck global utility, I’m a selfist.

      • AutisticThinker says:

        I do believe that selfism actually improves the global utility and it is the most reasonable way to improve global utility given the condition of humanity.

        Here is why:
        1.Most people haven’t even heard of Effective Altruism, let alone practice it. Instead there are many virtue seekers who disagree that harm and immorality are equivalent. Virtue seekers sometimes seek internal virtues while other people do not actually benefit from these virtue points. A selfist may not beat an Effective Altruist but they are likely to beat an ascetic, Communist or virtue seeker in improving global utility which is why more selfism is beneficial.

        2.Work and innovation are generally powered by selfism instead of altruism.

        3.When people stop seeking material goods due to Communism or a self-denial-promoting religion they tend to seek stuff that is much more exclusive such as power or exclusive access to sex.

        4.Altruistic ideologies frequently lead to persecution of people who are stereotyped as having less altruism than usual. That is an important cause of antisemitism and other obnoxious ideologies. By promoting selfism I have completely destroyed the ethical foundation of this weird moralistic “MUH EVIL MONEY-LOVING JEWS” nonsense by arguing that money-loving is very ethical.

    • AdamDKing says:

      I typed up a long comment, and then my phone died 🙁 I can expand on any of these parts. 4 things:

      First, I’ve been hunting for people to read/discuss Reasons and Persons. The first part of the book discusses self-interest theory with more rigor than you could possibly desire — highly recommend, and email me at adamdentonking@gmail.com if interested.

      Second, ‘do not harm others’ is problematic, especially if we want to make moral claims. Every time you get in a car, you risk seriously harming others. In addition, you contribute to traffic, which (mildly or seriously) inconveniences everyone on the roads you drive. Are selfists allowed to drive?

      Third, in many cases its impossible for everyone to have the best outcome if each person involved acts selfishly. This shows up in tragedies of the commons, as well as in all sorts of public goods.

      Fourth: imagine that you find a manilla envelope on the street that contains all the information necessary to mass-produce a cheap and effective cure for malaria. Being a selfist, you run the numbers and discover you make the most profit when you sell your cure at a price 80% of malaria sufferers can afford. Fortunately for the global poor not everyone is a selfist, and some altruists scrape together money to pay for the remaining 20%. Unfortunately for the global poor, as a selfist you’re better off when some people still have malaria, and so you refuse to sell your malaria cure to the altruists. Is this really the right thing to do?

    • Not A Random Name says:

      I don’t think selfists in general would care about global utility (which is how you seem to define good, correct me if I’m wrong) or the “no harm principle”. You might, some might, many might. But I’m doubtful about humanity at large. Glad to be proven wrong here.

      And a selfist who does not care about global utility or the “no harm principle” is just a person who needs no further justification to benefit at the cost of others.
      This is also what I would respond to you saying, somewhere deeper in the thread, that selfism invalidates many “justifications” for oppression: It also invalidates the need for justifications, as “because I want it” is now a valid reason.

      The strongest argument might be that many people seem to be largely motivated by selfish reasoning and as such it’s something we can’t avoid anyway. But this does nothing to show that selfism is inherently good or leads to good outcomes of course.

  14. Anaxagoras says:

    I really enjoy being on stage in front of a large crowd, especially as the center of attention, but though I have a nice voice and really good stage presence, I’m not sure how to get opportunities to do this. I’m an amateur magician, but opportunities for that are rare — I’ve only had a chance to do stage performances at my university’s talent shows. I applied for all the non drama major drama troupe things as an undergrad, but got into virtually none. It’s a cliquish group, I may have burned a lot of good will with my visible and overwhelming despair every time I didn’t get into something, and honestly I’m not sure if I’m that talented at acting (but I really do mean “not sure” — I have no idea how to evaluate myself from the outside).

    I’m now back for grad school, and I really do want to find a way to get on some stage. It’s the most alive I ever feel, the strongest positive sensations I can recall experiencing. What can I do?

    • J says:

      Karaoke, teaching, emcee at a comedy club, dance competitions, toastmasters?

    • secondcityscientist says:

      Chicago has this thing called “No Shame Theater”, where the setup is you sign up to do a short (<5 minute) sketch or monologue or skit about whatever. Mainly comedy, since comedy is big in Chicago, but people do serious stuff from time to time too. Entirely amateur and volunteer. Google results show mainly the Chicago scene, but it looks like there's branches at various universities elsewhere too. If there is one near you, I'd recommend going once before signing up to perform so you understand the typical fare.

      Failing that, you could try for an improv group or an open mic stand-up comedy night. Open mic nights can be terrible though, in the sense that many of the amateur comedians are not funny and you'd be forced to sit through their sets.

    • leoboiko says:

      Can you either sing, motivate yourself to take signing lessons seriously, or interest yourself into joining an amateur band where singing ability isn’t a factor (punk-rock, etc.)?

    • Well... says:

      What field is your day job in? That field must conferences. Present at a conference. Prepare for that by presenting at local Meetup groups.

    • Izaak says:

      As a member of my school’s non-audition choir, most schools have non-audition choirs! You can just sign up, show up, and perform 2-3 times a semester in front of variously sized audiences. Especially if you’re male/have a male voice, as these programs almost always have a 2:1 female to male ratio.

    • Rachael says:

      If you’re a magician, you could be a party entertainer. Maybe start with friends, or advertise to the public.

  15. . says:

    One reason to think that gun control might be ineffective is that, under a plausible gun control regime, it would still be possible for someone who really wanted a gun to get one. We are interested in decreasing violence on the margin. Gun regulation increases the cost of guns (if only because they would be more annoying to obtain), so this argument amounts to saying that the demand curve for guns, at least among those who intend to misuse them, is pretty flat.

    Similarly, some object that if guns were too costly, knives would suffice. Using a knife instead of a gun is less pleasant, so if only knives are available, the cost of killing someone has gone up. This argument amounts to saying that the demand curve for the death of one’s enemies, at least among those who really want that, is pretty flat.

    So, is it? How could you tell? This seems true of Al Quaeda and MS-18. But my stereotype of a gang-member is not agentic enough to learn how to multiply. My stereotype of a suicide is too depressed to leave his apartment. My stereotype of a spree-killer would find that his need are better met with a cool trenchcoat and a well-researched music collection. A minor inconvenience could make the last three less likely to act.

    • Seppo says:

      A minor inconvenience could make the last three less likely to act.

      For suicide this is well researched. Demand for suicide turns out to be almost comically elastic:

      The [would-be suicide] was grabbed on the eastern promenade of the bridge after passers-by noticed him pacing and growing increasingly despondent. The reason? He had picked out a spot on the western promenade that he wanted to jump from, but separated by six lanes of traffic, he was afraid of getting hit by a car on his way there.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        Possibly inspired by the ‘British coal-gas story’ mentioned in your link, Britain requires paracetamol (acetaminophen to Americans) to be sold in blister packs rather than bottles and strictly limits both the size of the pack and the number of packs that can be bought in one transaction without a prescription.

        Apparently both the extra effort involved in going to several different shops to buy enough paracetamol for an overdose and the effort involved in popping the pills out of the blister pack have had a noticeable effect on the suicide rate.

        • Thegnskald says:

          No it hasn’t.

          The overall UK suicide rate trend didn’t change because of the legislation; it continued the same slow bumpy decline it was following before the law passed.

      • Aapje says:

        @Seppo

        That person may simply have had the following preferences:
        1. Death
        2. Healthy in body and depressed
        3. Wounded and depressed

        I’ve seen other evidence that suggests much more strongly that the desire is highly elastic, like the example from AlphaGamma’s comment.

        • AlphaGamma’s “apparently” doesn’t provide any actual support for the claim. What his post tells us is that the people making the rules believe the demand is elastic, not that they are correct.

          Unless this particular way of committing suicide represented a sizable fraction of all suicides before the requirements came in, it would be very had to demonstrate that the requirements reduced the suicide rate, which is going to be changing, as Thegnskald suggests, for a variety of other reasons. You might be able to demonstrate that the requirement reduced suicides via paracetamol overdose, but that doesn’t tell you whether there was an effect on total suicides.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            While I may have been wrong about paracetamol, the coal-gas story *is* evidence for elasticity.

            Until the 1960s, British households used coal gas for heating and cooking (including in ovens). This is a mixture of carbon monoxide, hydrogen and methane produced, as the name suggests, from coal. Due to the discovery of North Sea gas in the mid-1960s, the government (gas supply had been nationalised in 1948) decided, mainly for economic rather than public safety reasons, to switch from coal gas to natural gas, which involved paying to modify everyone’s household appliances.

            In the 1950s, almost half of successful suicides in Britain used gas ovens. After the switch to natural gas, the suicide rate dropped by a third- suggesting that some people found other ways to kill themselves, but many did not.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Alpha –

            Probably. But probably not for the reason you might expect.

            Chronic exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide causes mood swings and depression.

            Removing the devices probably actually reduced the suicidal tendencies of the population, rather than removing the easier mechanism.

        • Seppo says:

          @Aapje, you’re right. I think I accidentally optimized for “most striking story” instead of “most compelling evidence” when I selected that quote. Thanks!

      • Murphy says:

        I suspect there’s a certain element of looking for what they want to find.

        Given americans sky-high gun ownership rate if anything america has a very pedestrian suicide rate compared to similar western nations. It reminds me of various studies on video games and violence. It’s easy to show people acted very slightly more violent in the 5 minutes after X or less suicidal in the 2 hours after Y but then it all falls apart when you look outside at anyone else.

        I’ve often seen it claimed that Americas 4X higher suicide rate among men is due to men using guns for suicide more with similar “research” back it up….

        But then you look at any other countries and it’s the same, the radio remains. Whether the method is hanging, poisoning etc long term it seems unaffected when the factors people are blaming are subtracted.

        It also sometimes seem absurdly minor things like hearing about a celebrity committing suicide is enough to prompt dozens of people to kill themselves.

        • S_J says:

          RE: suicide and gun ownership in the United States.

          When someone says America has 4X the suicide rate, what other country are they using for comparison?

          From a cursory read of international data that can be found on Wikipedia, both South Korea and Japan have much higher suicide rates than the United States. Is gun ownership such a common thing in those nations?

          Countries that have suicide rates within 1% of the United States include Sweden, Comoros, France, New Zealand, South Africa, Croatia, and Iceland.

          What is the gun-ownership rate in those nations? Does it compare to the United States?

          Nations for which it is true to say “The United States has 4x the suicide rate) include Iraq, Kuwait, Tonga, Cyprus, Jordan, the Philippines, Greece, and Syria.

          If you wish to study English-speaking countries, the order appears to be United States, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom.

          I’ve already mentioned New Zealand above. The suicide rate in the United States appears to be 1.2X that of Canada/Australia, and 1.5X that in the United Kingdom.

          It’s highly likely that the United States has 4x the suicide-by-gun rate of many comparable nations. But it doesn’t appear that availability of guns has much effect on the suicide rate in the country.

          • Thegnskald says:

            “by men” is the important qualifier there; I believe the comparison is against women, not other countries.

            There is a lot of argument about what it means; either way,

    • S_J says:

      Is the demand curve for guns that flat?

      I think this is equivalent to asking if the gray-market (or black market) for firearms is costly enough that everyone who wants a firearms has to attempt to use the legal market.

      In the United States at least, I think this is false.

      Admittedly, the best data I have are the Firearm Trace Reports published by the ATF.

      The guns traced in those reports may not be a good sample of guns used in crimes in the U.S. However, they are closest sample to that set: they are a guns which Police attempt to trace to the point of original purchase. Generally, there are guns found at crime scenes, or in the possession of criminals.

      These reports show two things: most such guns traced by Police are at least 10 years old. (Or were first sold by a licensed dealer 10 years ago. The charts show values for 1/2/3-or-more years, but one of the downloadable tables shows an average value of 10.46 years nationwide, with various states having values between 8 and 14 years.)

      My take from this is that the black market for firearms is large enough that once guns enter it (by theft or non-reported private party sale), they can circulate in that environment for years.

      But this barely rises to educated guess.

      • bean says:

        My take from this is that the black market for firearms is large enough that once guns enter it (by theft or non-reported private party sale), they can circulate in that environment for years.

        I think the numbers say the opposite. Eyeballing the numbers, 20-40% (varies by state) of guns are <3 years old when used in crimes, but the average age is more like 10 years. And the distribution among the weapons we have good categories for isn’t flat, either. The sum of weapons <1 year is usually about twice the 1-2 year category. That seems to me to indicate that weapons get cleared relatively quickly from the black market, which makes sense. Guns used in crime are not likely to have been bought by the criminal and left on the shelf for a long time. (This is probably distinct from guns bought illegally by people who couldn’t get legal guns but weren’t criminals. I have no idea of the size of this market, or the interchange between the two.) Older guns were probably legally owned up through a few months or years before they turned up at the crime.

        • John Schilling says:

          Part of the reason guns don’t (usually) circulate on the black market for decades in the US is that if a gun is used in a crime it is in the best interest of both the criminal and his favorite black-market gun dealer for that particular gun to wind up at the bottom of a river ASAP. Easier, at least in the US, to simply get a new clean(ish) gun than to deal with the ongoing risk of holding on to a gun that might be linked to a serious crime.

          In the UK, where new guns are harder to come by, black-market dealers have shifted in part to a rental model where they want the gun back when you’re done holding up a liquor store (or whatever), and they’re holding on to a hefty security deposit to make sure. I don’t know if that holds true in Continental Europe, and the reports I have heard of a similar model in Japan are too sparse for me to be confident, but it does suggest the black market has a fair degree of adaptability to the level of access to new guns.

          So now I want to see the episode of a British police procedural where Scotland Yard gets hold of a gun that can be ballistically linked to a high-profile murder, but they have to figure out which of the dealer’s last fifty rental customers might be responsible…

          • AlphaGamma says:

            From what I’ve heard of the “rental” model, it only covers the gun being used to threaten, not actually fired. If the renter fires the gun they have to get rid of it and lose the deposit.

          • John Schilling says:

            Or clean the and reload the gun and then lie about it, but that would never happen because armed criminals are such honest folk. In any event, most gun crime is about threatening people rather than shooting them. Or about just having a gun close at hand when you’re making a big drug deal with someone you’re afraid might threaten or shoot you.

          • bean says:

            So now I want to see the episode of a British police procedural where Scotland Yard gets hold of a gun that can be ballistically linked to a high-profile murder, but they have to figure out which of the dealer’s last fifty rental customers might be responsible…

            Do the police not have times on that customer list? Or do they not know when the murder was done? I suspect that the gun becoming hot gets it thrown out, and possibly gets you in trouble with the dealer if you got it under false pretenses.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @John Schilling- Where are they going to get the ammunition to reload with? Sales of ammunition in the UK are restricted to license holders. Plus shootings are rare enough that if you actually hit someone, especially if you kill them, then it will make the news.

            Speaking of ammunition, there is a case currently on trial where a licensed firearms dealer was supplying guns to criminals on the side. Where it gets interesting is that he was making ammunition for weapons in obsolete calibres, which are not restricted as long as the intent is only to keep them as a curiosity (and not to fire them or have ammunition for them).

          • John Schilling says:

            @John Schilling- Where are they going to get the ammunition to reload with? Sales of ammunition in the UK are restricted to license holders.

            Or to people with black-market contacts, which by definition we are dealing with here. I expect black-market dealer Joe would be more than happy to sell a few cartridges to criminal Bob if he knows that this results in competing black market dealer Edgar unknowingly holding a hot gun.

            And for that matter, the criminal can just as well reload with dummy rounds. For that matter, the dealers could just rent out their guns with dummy rounds, if the rule were really “no shooting ever”.

            Plus shootings are rare enough that if you actually hit someone, especially if you kill them, then it will make the news.

            Most crimes in which guns are fired, nobody gets hit – and I’m skeptical that dealers will refuse to accept a return just because this time the guy who held up a liquor store had to fire a round into the ceiling to prove the gun was real. Even more skeptical that, on the day after someone does get shot, every black-market dealer in the area writes off their entire outstanding inventory on the grounds that they can’t be sure that the criminal turning in his gun for the security deposit isn’t the one who did the shooting and is willing to lie about it. That leaves you with a whole lot of violent criminals who each expected to have a wad of cash in their pocket and instead has nothing better to do than ponder the loaded gun they have instead and the guy who screwed them out of their cash…

            Much as the dealers would prefer all the really “hot” guns immediately vanish to the bottom of the Thames, I don’t think this business can work as cleanly as you are describing.

        • S_J says:

          I look at this again, and I realize that the information I want just isn’t in those reports.

          Suppose a pair of friends enter a store that is in the business of selling guns, and thus has to have an FFL to operate legally.

          (A) one of the two purchases a brand-new pistol (probably chambered in 9mm), while the other purchases a used Police Special revolver (probably in 0.38 Special) that was manufactured 30 years ago.

          (B) These two friends go to the pistol range together occasionally. A year later, after a session at the pistol range, they put their pistols in the trunk of their car and drive to a nearby bar to watch some sports and drink.

          (C) A thief who is casing the bar parking lot notices their car for some reason. He smashes the window, pushes the open-trunk button on the dash, and grabs anything that looks valuable.

          (D) The thief re-sells the pistol and revolver to some other ne’er-do-well with a record of theft and small-time drug use.

          (E) The revolver is traded as a cash-equivalent in payment for drugs.

          (F) Police raid the drug dealer a year later, and find the revolver. They trace the gun.

          (G) During that same year, the rob-the-liquor-store guy gets caught after someone IDs him off of a camera feed, and Police find the pistol in his possession.

          The record of the pistol says it was sold 2 years ago.

          The record of the revolver includes an original sale 30 years ago, but a sale to the gun dealer sometime more than 2 years ago, and another sale to a client at that dealer 2 years ago. Is it recorded in the 2-years column, or the more-than-10-years column on that ATF report?

          Another question: most criminologists are interested in the time span from legal-sale at store to first-transfer-to-a-prohobited-person. [1] That timeline is at point (C) in the story above.

          However, the ATF reports mostly likely give the timeline from point (A) above…and there isn’t an easy-to-generate report for the average time from point (A) to point (C).

          Worse, if either of the guns was sold on the private market by a non-dealer, the trace doesn’t include that.

          We don’t know how many guns enter the world of criminal use to due to theft, or borrowed-by-friend-who-might-have-shady-past, or sold-to-someone-on-the-street…

          [1] Using the definition of “Prohibited Persons” from the 1968 Gun Control Act…generally any criminal conviction that carries a sentence of more than a year, any use of narcotics, any adjudication of mental-defect, any domestic-abuse conviction, and sundry other criminal charges.

    • MrApophenia says:

      Why do we always talk in hypotheticals about why gun control might or might not work at controlling guns? We have a bunch of actual evidence from other countries with strict gun control regimes. It works at controlling ownership of guns and reducing gun violence. The exact results vary by place and by particular enforcement method, but basically everywhere with strict gun control laws has far less gun violence and gun related deaths.

      There are perfectly reasonable grounds for debate on the values questions around whether to do this – should our freedom to be armed override safety concerns, etc. But the basic fact question of “Does gun control work at controlling guns?” has been repeatedly tested and the answer is pretty much always yes.

      • keranih says:

        We have a bunch of actual evidence from other countries with strict gun control regimes. It works at controlling ownership of guns and reducing gun violence. The exact results vary by place and by particular enforcement method, but basically everywhere with strict gun control laws has far less gun violence and gun related deaths.

        No. Not correct. Nearly all European countries have strict gun control laws, and nearly all European countries have less homicide, period.

        The assumption is that these two things are causally related, and I don’t think the data shows that.

        The ability to make a law, and have that law obeyed across the relevant population, varies considerably from place to place. So does the underlying tendency of that population to commit the act that is being made illegal.

        • rahien.din says:

          The assumption is that [the strictness of gun control laws and the rate of gun crimes] are causally related, and I don’t think the data shows that.

          The ability to make a law, and have that law obeyed across the relevant population, varies considerably from place to place. So does the underlying tendency of that population to commit the act that is being made illegal.

          If they aren’t causally related, what are you even claiming?

          America has a much higher base rate of gun violence than Europe, and it makes sense that we have less strict gun control laws?

          Europe has much stricter gun control laws, even though they have no great need of gun control?

          • Thegnskald says:

            Why would it surprise you that countries that pass gun control wouldn’t change much as a result?

            The resistance to gun control in the US isn’t because there are a bunch of violent criminals wanting guns; it is because guns have a historic relevance in US culture.

            If Europe took guns as significantly as the US takes them, they wouldn’t have been able to pass gun control in the first place.

          • keranih says:

            @ rahien.din

            If they aren’t causally related, what are you even claiming?

            I’m not claiming anything. (note: edited below to correct stupid reading error on my part.)

            What I am reporting is that in 2014 the US rate of homicide by hands, feet and pushing was about 2.4 homicides per million people, and that in the UK, in 2014, the total homicide rate was 0.9 9 homicides per million people.

            (Note: in US population health, the standard is reporting per 100,000 people, plus there is always the issue of normalizing two populations by age and other factors, because ‘other factors’ can have huge impacts. Much of the art of population health study is figuring out what to normalize for and how to do it ‘accurately’. So to get the US-UK comparison, I used the ‘personal weapons’ line off the linked FBI webpage, divided by the US population given by Google, to get a per million number.)

            As to whether or not a population “has a need” for anything – well, that depends on what you’re optimizing for. Which depends on the population, and what they value. Populations with different value sets – one might describe these value sets as being diverse – are going to struggle more to find solutions that make as many people happy than will populations with more homogeneous populations. Whether or not that makes people happy depends on whether the population as a whole more values differences or happiness across the board.

            But back to my point: I am a 2A supporter, but it is not clear to me that we “need” government respect for the right to bear arms any more than we “need” government respect for the right to peaceably assemble and the right of free expression. What *is* far more clear to me is that we don’t have (yet) a solution that will reduce violence & death rates to what is considered “acceptable” levels without side effects that are arguably more “horrible” – with both ‘horrible’ and ‘acceptable’ painted by differing values.

            (Note: lightly edited to clarify numbers and where I got them.)

            (Second note: and then re-edited to show decimal number error caught by alphagamma)

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @ keranih

            You’re an order of magnitude out. From your UK link:

            In the year ending March 2015, there were 9.0 offences of homicide per million population.

            (my emphasis).

            The equivalent non-firearms figure for the US is 12.1 per million. Firearm homicides in the UK are less than 5% of the total.

            (incidentally, the UK unarmed homicide rate was 1.5 per million)

          • rahien.din says:

            Thegnskald,

            Why would it surprise you that countries that pass gun control wouldn’t change much as a result?

            Those are not my words or thoughts. Moreover, this question is a fallacy, as “countries that pass gun control don’t change much as a result” is precisely the claim we are discussing.

            More clarity : to say that gun crime rates are primarily the effect of culture rather than a response to gun crime laws, and to hold up Europe as evidence thereof, is necessarily to claim that Europeans passed strict gun control laws in the absence of a need for gun control.

            It would not surprise me if a needless law failed to change society!

            What I find implausible is the claim that Europeans (hell, everywhere else) passed strict gun control in the relative absence of gun violence.

            Point me to data.

            The resistance to gun control in the US isn’t because there are a bunch of violent criminals wanting guns, it is because guns have a historic relevance in US culture.

            I beg your pardon? I have been told over and over that “gun control won’t work in America because criminals who want guns will break the law.” Over, and over, and most litanously over.

            This is the exact first time I have ever seen anyone resort to historicity.

            I don’t find that plausibly different from “people just want the guns real bad,” which is not a valid rationale for opposing gun control. And, to the extent that such a difference does exist, I don’t find historicity to be a valid rationale for opposing gun control.

          • bean says:

            What I find implausible is the claim that Europeans (hell, everywhere else) passed strict gun control in the relative absence of gun violence.

            This isn’t at all hard to prove. We know mass shootings are a small proportion of gun violence. The UK’s current gun control laws are a result of Dunblane, not a result of day-to-day killings on the streets. The US doesn’t have similar laws despite our laundry list of mass shootings because there were people who lobbied against them. The existence of those people is probably not totally uncorrelated with the level of gun violence in the US, even though they aren’t the same people. In the UK, nobody was willing to make an argument against gun control, or nobody who was willing to argue loudly enough to get the laws stopped.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Assuming you think the UK has relatively little gun violence today –

            In1990, there were ~60 gun homicides in the UK. In 2011, there were… ~60 gun homicides in the UK.

            So the handgun ban was, by that standard, unnecessary.

            There is, on net, zero evidence gun control reduces homicides; the best thing we can say about gun control is that it probably does not increase overall violence and crime. Countries with historically low homicide rates continue to have relatively low homicide rates, countries with historically high homicide rates continue to have relatively high homicide rates.

            Gun control isn’t a scientific stance; its proponents are left comparing “gun deaths”, as if suicide by gun is worse than suicide by hanging. I am left with the impression that the entire argument boils down to an aesthetic preference, this idea that guns are ugly, and that gun possession is ugly, that gun deaths are uglier than other deaths.

          • rahien.din says:

            bean,

            I will need to read more on that, as it does not square with what I have read before.

            If true, that is all the more depressing. It’s hard for me not to interpret our culture as an utter failure in this regard. We do a lot of things so very right, but we are so abjectly and unrepentantly bad at firearms with respect to our peers.

          • keranih says:

            @ alphagmma –

            Thank you. My hand to god, I read that as 0.9/mill – looking at my envelope notes, it was from trying to make the US rates/100,000 match the UK /million rates.

            I appreciate the (fast) correction of my error.

            (I am disappointed both that the level of murder in the UK is higher than I thought, and that my point still stands.)

          • keranih says:

            What I find implausible is the claim that Europeans (hell, everywhere else) passed strict gun control in the relative absence of gun violence.

            This, ah, this actually kinda makes sense for a democratic society. The laws that are passed are that subset of proposed laws which may then be actually passed. And things forbidden by laws are a subset of things which are forbidden by any subsection of society – see, there is no law against picking your nose in public.(*)

            Things that are widely accepted in a democratic society don’t get laws passed against them. Things that are nearly universally condemned (with little upside for the actor) don’t need laws against them. It’s things that fall into a grey area of “condemned but not by all people” that get majority support to get proposed and then passed.

            But to be clear – not all places that have passed strict laws abriging the right of individuals to have firearms *do* have a low level of violence. Most of those places, though, have poor enforcement capability. Which is how we get Chicago (high violence, strict laws, low capability for enforcement) and Indiana (low violence, non strict laws, unknown (to me) capability to enforce the laws they have on the books) and New York City (high-but-falling violence, strict laws, very high capability for enforcement.)

            (*) There is probably some township someplace with such a law. But not US society wide.

          • bean says:

            @rahien.din
            I think Thegnskald nailed this one. UK gun homicides are flat despite increased gun control. It used to be possible to mail-order guns in the US with no checks at all, and yet most people survived the 1960s. What happens day-to-day and what triggers lawmaking are not the same thing. The US gun and violence cultures come from the same place (edit: thinking this over, maybe not), but they aren’t the same thing, and while they may affect the rate of crazies with guns shooting lots of people, that can happen anywhere.
            Edit:
            Actually, I’m not sure that this is right. Mexico has a much higher gun homicide rate than the US does, and we also know of the black gang problems. There are gun cultures in the US stopping gun control legislation, but they aren’t the ones committing the gun violence.

          • Thegnskald says:

            There are at least four gun cultures in the US:

            Appalachian gun culture is -weird-. They are used as a form of barter; people literally trade guns for dogs. I don’t really understand this one, not having interacted with them much.

            Western gun culture tends to be “Get the fuck off my land” gun culture; guns are a substitute good for government; it tends to be individualistic. They tend to favor open carry, and prosletyze gun ownership as a “personal responsibility for your own safety” thing. Because they use guns as a substitute good for police, they tend to favor laws which allow defense of property.

            Southern gun culture is more civic-minded than Western gun culture; Southern states tend to ban open carry and favor concealed carry, with the idea that, if criminals don’t know who is armed, they are less likely to engage in crime. Shooting ranges tend to be social places where people hang out and bullshit, and people do more stupid shit to show off. Like Western gun culture, Southern gun culture tends to permit defense of property, but more because they see it as a way to discourage crime than because they think you should shoot somebody for stealing your TV.

            Midwestern gun culture is more hunting oriented; handguns are less popular, and self-defense tends to be “home defense”. They frown on self defensive use of guns to some extent, and tend to regard people who do carry guns for self defense as vigilantes. Defense of property is regarded very poorly.

          • rahien.din says:

            There are gun cultures in the US stopping gun control legislation, but they aren’t the ones committing the gun violence

            I don’t think they can be divorced from one another.

            If the NRA successfully lobbied for the repeal of the National Firearms Act, and MS-13 started deploying 40mm grenade launchers in American cities, the NRA would have enabled that increase in violence.

            So yeah. Two gun cultures. The latter are the direct perpetrators. To the degree that firearms controls have effect, the former are abetting the crime.

          • Thegnskald says:

            rahien –

            Ok. If there is a 1% increase in home invasion deaths after a gun ban, did you abet those murders?

          • rahien.din says:

            Thegnskald,

            Sure. Bullet bitten.

            If there were 1% more deaths from home invasions, but an overall persistent decrease in gun violence, I might go so far as to consider that abetting worth it to our society. (Especially because the answer to this increase in home-invasion-deaths might not even involve guns.)

            I’ll do you better : if despite every reasonable effort, the sum effect of gun control was to increase gun violence, then put everything back the way it was.

            Likewise, I am sure that if gun control was put into place and there was less violence than before as a result, you would reconsider your opposition to gun control.

          • The obvious test here is to compare countries prior to the laws that currently restrict gun ownership. The first serious restriction in the U.K. seems to be the firearms act of 1920–at least, the Wiki page says the Pistol Act of 1903 was ineffective.

            The Act was more or less ineffective, as anyone wishing to buy a pistol commercially merely had to purchase a licence on demand over the counter from a Post Office before doing so. In addition, it did not regulate private sales of such firearms.

            In 1910s, the U.S. homicide rate was 4.6, the U.K. rate was .81.

            Oddly enough, the U.K. rate was much higher in the previous decade–I don’t know why. But from 1910 on, the basic pattern is a U.S. homicide rate from five to ten times as high as that in the U.K., so it doesn’t look as though the increasingly strict regulation in the U.K. affected it–indeed, at the moment the ratio is down to about three to one. (Wiki page)

          • bean says:

            Likewise, I am sure that if gun control was put into place and there was less violence than before as a result, you would reconsider your opposition to gun control.

            How much less violence are we talking about? Banning alcohol would reduce drunk driving deaths, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good idea. (Yes, you might be able to argue that other violence deaths would outweigh the gain. Say it doesn’t.) Outside of the coasts, there are lots of people that really like guns, just like there are people who like alcohol.

          • rahien.din says:

            bean,

            I am sure that if gun control was put into place and there was less violence than before as a result, you would reconsider your opposition to gun control.

            How much less violence are we talking about?

            Jesus Christ, bean, that was intended as charity!

            If you want to wring a fight out of my acknowledgment of everyone else’s rationality regardless of stance, then please consider it an exercise for the reader :

            At what level of overall violence reduction would you accept some greater degree of gun control? (Yes, you might be able to argue that an overall reduction in violence might shift the burdens of violence in ways we wouldn’t like. Say it doesn’t.)

            Let’s say that banning alcohol would reduce drunk driving deaths, without an overall increase in violence. Would you claim that banning alcohol would necessarily be a good idea? I wouldn’t necessarily.

            I mean, if preventing deaths is our only object… is it? You don’t specify. Similar exercise as before:

            How many lives would have to be saved for you/we/anyone to give up the various benefits of alcohol consumption? (Same spirit of least-convenient world.)

            There are lots of people that really like guns.

            For me, this is precisely what the whole debate boils down to. There are just lots of people who are really, really attached to their gun hobby.

          • bean says:

            For me, this is precisely what the whole debate boils down to. There are just lots of people who are really, really attached to their gun hobby.

            And? This seems like an almost exact mirror of the divide over marijuana. From the perspective of a lot of the right, marijuana is a terrible thing, and the other side is opposing them because they’re really really attached to their drug hobby.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            My dataless intuition is that, rather than as an anti-homicide measure, European gun laws have their roots in anti-militia/rebellion objectives.

            The Cold War era had, shall we say, a smattering of ideological differences that risked boiling over. To drive further into reckless speculation since I can’t be arsed to look up a dozen or two different gun law histories right now, I’ll just gesture vaguely at the long storied history of Various Uprisings in Europe, stretching from the WW-era on back to long before firearms were even invented, and suggest that, just maybe, this could result in cultural memory of “armed civilians bad” (cue Swiss “we’re the exception!” clip).

            Whereas the US is young and has only had one major insurrection. Two if you count the one it was born in, which would be a good just-so story for where an “armed civilians good” attitude comes from.

            Epistemic status: brazenly slapdash

          • rahien.din says:

            bean,

            I see your point that either case consists of the product/device is good, it is only harmful if misused.

            The difference for me is that the right considers marijuana use a wrong in and of itself, such that there are basically no worthy uses of the substance. Personally, I acknowledge that there are good uses to which guns are put, all the time. My argument is that those good uses are not worth it if widespread access to firearms leads to their general misuse.

            I would be really happy with a gun culture in America that matches what I have heard of Australia – a vibrant hunting and sport shooting culture with a low rate of gun crime. That sounds pretty awesome.

          • keranih says:

            I would be really happy with a gun culture in America that matches what I have heard of Australia – a vibrant hunting and sport shooting culture with a low rate of gun crime. That sounds pretty awesome.

            It sounds super great!

            Alas, I don’t think one can get there from here.

            The overall murder rate in Australia in 2014 was either 1.8 or 1.0 per 100,000 people. (Which is 0.18 per million, *if* my math is right this time.) In other words, in Australia, there are fewer people murdered *overall* than in the UK by something around 150X, and fewer than are murdered just by hands, feet, and pushing in the US, by about 10x.

            So….yeah. I think that there is more this stat: Over three-quarters (77%) of all murder investigations (184 victims) were finalised by police within 30 days.

            The rate of deaths of young black men being closed in the US is (depending on location) somewhere around 20% – over a much longer time span. (I think it’s a year.) I think that is both a product of and a cause of the higher murder rate among those populations.

            What is interesting to me, and imo needs more looking into, is how Australia was disproportionately populated by criminals out of the UK (compared to the US) but ended up at a different place, crime-rate-wise.

          • John Schilling says:

            My dataless intuition is that, rather than as an anti-homicide measure, European gun laws have their roots in anti-militia/rebellion objectives.

            W/re the UK specifically, the original round of gun control laws ca. 1920 were fairly explicitly for making sure that a bunch of lower-class yobs coming home from WWI didn’t get uppity, get hold of some cheap miltary-surplus small arms, and get up to something. Particularly the Irish, because (insert stereotype here). These are the laws that established the reputation of the UK as a “civilized” country where nobody has guns (especially once they kicked out the Irish).

            The 1990s round of gun control laws were just as explicitly a matter of Doing Something about the Dunblane massacre, committed by the sort of respectable white-collar gentleman who was never expected to be covered by the 1920s laws. These had little practical effect other than to re-signal the UK’s now 99.44% gun-free(*) status.

            Source: “The Samurai, the Mountie, and the Cowboy”, David B. Kopel, 1992. Also discusses the Swiss exception, which seems to be along the lines of “our militia will hold a very properly organized resistance or rebellion if it is ever necessary, so we trust that you will not make it necessary”.

            * Double-barreled shotguns IIRC do not count as “firearms”, because reasons. And there are still a few hunting rifles around.

          • rahien.din says:

            Alas, I don’t think one can get there from here.

            Rather blithe of you. You’ll forgive me if this feels like Alas, I can’t be bothered to help.

            In response to your edits below : this was not fair of me, either.

          • keranih says:

            Okay, so then tell me what on earth you think will drop the rate of violence in the US to that of Oz aside from entirely replacing the population of the US with the population of Australia.

            Because otherwise you’re just pretending your solutions will magically work.

            Okay, that was an unhelpful reply, and didn’t do anything to keep the discussion rational.

            Gimme a minute and I’ll try again.

            (minute later:)

            Okay, so I wish that I said didn’t come off as being dismissive of wanting a national ethos of being against the use of violence against fellow citizens, +/- coupled with a healthy dose of hunting and plinking are cool and/or harmless hobbies that might not be my cuppa but if it warms the cockles of your cold little heart, have at it.

            I am actually good with that pov. It’s not my perspective, but I am good with it. (We’ll leave aside the apathy-to-hostility that many liberals have for hunting, for the purposes of this discussion.)

            So the problem is the willingness of (some of?) the population to use violence against each other. Are we agree on this? Is this the problem that we should “be bothered” to work against?

            Please correct me if you feel differently.

          • rahien.din says:

            Thanks for your edits and for your patience. I could stand to cool off, honestly.

            You’ve basically articulated my position. I think we are largely in agreement about all of that. I even believe that some of our society’s tendency toward violence may be insurmountable in the near term.

            The one other thing I believe is : if our society, whatever the reason, is naturally more inclined to use violence, and if we don’t stand much of a chance of solving that problem anytime soon, then it does not make sense to ensure we are all well-armed with ballistic weapons.

            (I’ll just register my skepticism of guns are useful for citizen defense and leave it at that.)

            I absolutely acknowledge that there are many worthwhile purposes for guns, including the mere fun and skill of shooting. (And hunting is great!)

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @Rahien.Din

            What I find implausible is the claim that Europeans (hell, everywhere else) passed strict gun control in the relative absence of gun violence. Point me to data.


            UK Homicide rates, 1967-2015
            . Please direct your attention to Figure 2.1 We see a slow, mostly steady rise from 0.73 per 100K to 0.9 per 100K. Major gun control legislation was passed in 1988, and handguns were effectively completely banned in 1997. And my, what an inflection points those created in the graph….or, didn’t, really. Certainly not in the direction gun control proponents want.

            More interestingly, It’s silly to talk of “European” gun control when even after the various harmonization efforts there is such a wide range of regulatory schemas, from total handgun bans to may-issue firearm licenses to shall-issue licenses and even national concealed carry. Amusingly enough the country with fairly broad shall-issue schemes and national concealed carry licensing available has a lower homicide rate than the total handgun ban country.

            If you’d like more data, I will happily provide it, but the short version is that countries that have lower levels of violent crime now had lower levels of violent crime before their gun control legislation too, with no signs of inflection points in the long-term trends that correlate with major gun control legislation.

          • toastengineer says:

            I’d also like to just swooce in for a second and mention that, while you can argue how helpful firearms really are for the problem of human criminals, I don’t… think anyone here would deny that they’re great to have around if you’re at risk of being killed by wildlife, which more Americans are than most folks seem to realize.

            I’d also like to question how much sense it makes to have a gun ban fo

          • Mark says:

            either 1.8 or 1.0 per 100,000 people. (Which is 0.18 per million…

            18 isn’t it?

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @David Friedman on UK homicide rates:

            Oddly enough, the U.K. rate was much higher in the previous decade–I don’t know why. But from 1910 on, the basic pattern is a U.S. homicide rate from five to ten times as high as that in the U.K., so it doesn’t look as though the increasingly strict regulation in the U.K. affected it–indeed, at the moment the ratio is down to about three to one. (Wiki page)

            What it looks like to me is that there was a rapid increase in the US rate starting in about 1905. US homicide rates then increased, peaking in 1933 (Prohibition ended in December of that year).

            There was a slight drop in the UK rate (actually England & Wales, excluding Scotland and importantly Ireland) for the 1910s. Might this have been due to large numbers of young men, who commit most homicides, being conscripted for WW1?

            But most of the change seems to be from this increase in the US homicide rate.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @John Schilling on UK gun control

            Double-barreled shotguns IIRC do not count as “firearms”, because reasons. And there are still a few hunting rifles around.

            The difference is that (in Britain, Northern Ireland is different in that it allows pistols and also gun ownership/carry for self-defence in a few specific cases) there are two sorts of gun licence. The “Shotgun certificate” is considerably easier to get than a “Firearms certificate”, the main difference being that you don’t have to convince the police that you have a good reason to own a shotgun, you just need to say you want one and show that you can be trusted with it (criminal records check, character reference, etc) and have a safe place to store it. It allows ownership of shotguns above a certain length holding 3 or fewer shells.

            From the most recent government statistics (covering only England and Wales- I imagine there are quite a few deer rifles in Scotland), there are 1.35 million legal shotguns and 560,000 ‘firearms’. However, note that suppressors are registered as firearms and account for 165,000 of these. 325,000 are rifles. The rest are either shotguns which come into the ‘firearms’ category for one reason or another, or various other things (muzzle-loading pistols, etc.)

            Ownership of all categories of firearm (including shotguns) is increasing at a slightly higher rate than the population, though there was a small decline in the number of people with shotgun certificates.

          • he Dunblane massacre, committed by the sort of respectable white-collar gentleman

            Given Hamilton’s background, and the kind of concerns people had about him, that’s quire a stretch to the meaning of the word “respectable”,

        • rlms says:

          Yes, the relevant question is how the difference in gun violence between the US and e.g. the UK compares with the difference in violence in general.

        • MrApophenia says:

          The discussion of the Australian murder rate was brought up – since they were also one of the most recent countries to institute major gun control legislation, let’s look at the before and after there:

          http://andrewleigh.org/pdf/GunBuyback_Panel.pdf

          Money shot: “We find that the buyback led to a drop in the firearm suicide rates of almost 80%, with no significant effect on non-firearm death rates. The effect on firearm homicides is of similar magnitude but is less precise [somewhere between 35% and 50%].”

          From further Googling around, there seems to be very strong evidence that whether they started out lower, Australian gun control did drastically reduce gun violence. (Especially if you count suicide, which dropped by a shocking amount.)

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc.

            Australian Homicide rates were declining for years before their late 90s gun control laws.

            Source: http://www.aic.gov.au/statistics/homicide.html

            There is no inflection point. I can provide similar evidence for other violent crimes.

            So, it may be true that they reduced “firearm crime”, but only as a share of overall crime, without changing the overall long term trend that pre-dated the legislation.

            In other words: No Effect. For extra fun, note the graph showing the prevalence of firearm use in homicides, and the trendline. Again, note the inflection points.

          • @Trofim:

            Looking at the page you linked to, I don’t see a downward trend before the 1996 law. It looks to me as though the homicide rate was reasonably stable until about 2002, if anything rising a little, and has been falling since then. What am I missing?

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            @David Friedman

            Second Graph trendline. The raw data is available on the sidebar. You can also see the breakouts by offending rate such as here:

            http://www.aic.gov.au/statistics/homicide/offenders.html

            I’m still looking for the pre 1989 numbers, which I’m pretty sure I used to have for purposes of internet argumentation but lost the link to when I had to switch computers this year.

            I’ll grant that the slope is very shallow, but it’s there, though I’ll also grant that I don’t know how one would accurately calculate the margin of error on police recorded offenses.

          • @ Trofim:

            The trendline is fitting the data to a straight line. The slope of the straight line at the beginning is due to the decline at the end, not evidence that there was a downward trend prior to about 2002. Do the same fit from 1990 to 2002 and the trend line would be about flat.

          • Ketil says:

            One obvious objection is that they need to separate out firearm suicide and violence from overall suicide and violence rates. Why? What was the reduction in total homicides and suicides? I don’t have time to dig out the references, but the decline of suicide rates in Australia has been similar to most other Western countries, and I think the same holds for homicides.

            (Elsewhere, it was claimed that the buyback was for semiautomatics only, and only 20% successful. If correct, probably not enough to make much of a difference.)

          • Vorkon says:

            Speaking of Australia, I recently noticed that, according to Wikipedia, at any rate, while there were certainly more mass shootings before the 1996 ban, there seem to have been a similar number of mass KILLINGS since the ban, just that the primary weapons of choice seem to have shifted to arson, bombs, and vehicles, of which there were fewer before 1996.

            I’m still not 100% sure how to interpret the overall violent crime rate, but based on that one little list, at least, it doesn’t seem like the 1996 ban has done much to reduce mass killings.

            If anything, I’d guess that the Port Arthur massacre (and not any legislation inspired by it) set off a general trend of disdain in Australian culture toward the idea of violence committed WITH a gun, but didn’t do much to curb violence in general; One notable killing I noticed on that list was one where a father killed his family with a knife, and then shot himself. Why not just use a gun for all the murders, if he had one available? Obviously it wasn’t the lack of availability of guns that prevented the killing. Similarly, several failed mass shootings that just happen to have been stopped before the killer hit the 4 death threshold, seem to imply to me that all the arsonists COULD have acquired a gun if they really wanted to, just like those guys, but that they just didn’t want to.

            (Note, I actually just posted this in the previous open thread, which I was reading through when I looked into it, but figured I’d post it here as well, since the discussion here still seems to be moving to some extent, and I didn’t want to drag the latest open thread into yet ANOTHER gun control debate. Though, I’d sort of like to, considering the ridiculously-worded bumpfire bill that they somehow managed to get a Republican, of all people to propose…)

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Of course you should make such a comparison, but this list is poor. Wikipedia always has a recency bias and usually no standard.

            It is widely claimed that the Australian police count 13 gun massacres 1979-1996 meeting the Australian police standard of 5+ murders, not including the gunman. Wikipedia is probably trying to list them all because this count is famous. (1979 vs 1981? I don’t know.) There may well have been non-gun massacres in that time frame, but I don’t know. After 1996, standards go out the window. Only 5 of the massacres listed meet the 5+ standard. Several say 5, but that includes the murderer. So maybe it’s 13 vs 5, but probably 13 is an undercount.

          • Vorkon says:

            Oh, certainly, I don’t think that list proves much of anything, I just found it interesting, since in the previous open thread people were talking about comparing 13 to 0.

            And for what it’s worth, the list does include at least one arson attack in the pre-1996 numbers, so it’s not like it’s COMPLETELY ignoring them. But yeah, it’s possible there are some things left out.

            Also, isn’t the standard for a mass shooting 4+, or is that just an American thing?

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Yes, the standard is 4+, everywhere but Australia. (Edited above, to slightly clarify that.)

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            It’s also worth noting that the 4+ standard is itself under fire (if you’ll pardon the expression). Various sources have noted that many instances of 4+ people killed do not jibe with the instances that tend to make people nervous. Many are domestic disputes or gang conflicts. People worry about these, but in a very different way from how they worry about, say, Newtown or VTech or Edgewater.

            If we only count mass killings of the variety of “surprise! you’re dead even though there were no reasonable warning signs of angry or crazy people whatsoever”, the numbers go way down, and it looks much less like an epidemic. Count them in again, and it tends to be obvious that the remedy is different.

          • Vorkon says:

            Yeah, I tend to prefer to define “mass shooting/killing” less by numbers than by intent. Is the person’s goal to kill indiscriminately, or to keep killing until they are stopped, or there is no one else around to kill? Then it’s a mass shooting, no matter how many people are actually killed. It’s basically just like intent being the difference between murder and manslaughter.

            By that standard, a couple items on that list (like the Hells Angels feud) are still bullshit, but others, like the school shooting that was stopped with only two deaths, pretty clearly belong there. The siege is questionable, since the guy might not have killed anyone if he got his demands, but otherwise would have kept going.

            That also ignores the fact that, like Douglas Knight said, the pre-1996 numbers might include a whole bunch of situations with fewer than 5 deaths but meet that criteria as well, though.

          • Matt M says:

            Various sources have noted that many instances of 4+ people killed do not jibe with the instances that tend to make people nervous. Many are domestic disputes or gang conflicts. People worry about these, but in a very different way from how they worry about, say, Newtown or VTech or Edgewater.

            It’s been a few years since I’ve read it, but IIRC in one of the early chapters of More Guns, Less Crime, John Lott basically says “If you don’t count gang violence, the problem in America is not nearly as bad as everyone thinks it is, and stacks up favorably to many other countries”

      • Thegnskald says:

        In the US, gun control doesn’t correlate well with gun violence.

        The cultural differences that permit gun control to be enacted in the first place are.probably causally related to both things.

      • John Schilling says:

        We have a bunch of actual evidence from other countries with strict gun control regimes.

        Countries like Mexico and Brazil?

        It works at controlling ownership of guns and reducing gun violence.

        US homicide rate (2015): 4.88 per 100,000
        Mexico homicide rate (2015): 16.35 per 100,000
        Brazil homicide rate (2015): 26.74 per 100,000

        Oh, wait, Mexico and Brazil obviously don’t count. You want to count only a select list of countries like the UK, Canada, and Japan, while excluding others that don’t support your narrative, and you’re going to handwave something about “industrialized nations” as if the number of factories is somehow relevant to this.

        • If there is a solution somewhere, there is a solution. That fact is not cancelled out by failure elsewhere.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            If a proposed solution fails as often as it succeeds, how exactly do you know that it’s solving anything?

            That’s just the Texas sharpshooter fallacy: painting bullseyes around your bullet holes.

            One observes that Swedes and Japanese in the US commit gun crimes at roughly the same rates as Sweden and Japan. So it seems like the law is less relevant here than some combination of hereditary traits and culture.

          • rahien.din says:

            Nabil ad Dajjal,

            it seems like the law is less relevant here than some combination of hereditary traits and culture.

            This is just weird.

            If a group of people, [X], are demonstrably more murderous in general, that provides a rationale for keeping [X group of people] from easily accessing firearms.

            If [X] = convicted terrorists, few people have a problem with restricting their access to firearms.

            But when [X] = uniquely-and-admittedly-murderous Americans, suddenly their right to have their finger on a trigger is inviolable.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @rahien.din,

            There are two problems with your reasoning.

            Firstly, the point about population is that gun control isn’t doing anything. Peaceable people won’t murder one another with legal guns, and unruly people will continue to murder one another with them.

            Secondly, Americans are extremely heterogeneous. Rural Pennsylvania has a lot more legal guns than the South Bronx and a lot fewer murders. Enforcing NYC’s gun laws on Pennsylvania, as a lot of people here suggest, isn’t going to help the South Bronx but it will hurt rural Pennsylvania.

            I’ve never fired a gun and don’t anticipate doing so anytime soon. I’m very satisfied with the NYPD, especially where I’m living now. But the second amendment is very valuable because it means that, if my perception of the situation changes, I can do something about it. The security of my person and property isn’t at the mercy of the government unless I so choose, which is more democratic than any election.

          • moonfirestorm says:

            @AncientGeek:

            If the solution to getting Japanese-level gun deaths is “be Japan, with Japan’s culture and people”, then that’s great for Japan but not very useful for anyone else.

            So it’s important to figure out how much of Japan’s gun death rate has to do with their gun control laws, and how much of it has to do with them being Japan. We can implement the first but not the second in the United States.

            If similar gun control laws fail elsewhere, that’s evidence towards more of it having to do with Japan being Japan.

          • John Schilling says:

            But when [X] = uniquely-and-admittedly-murderous Americans, suddenly their right to have their finger on a trigger is inviolable.

            Really, rahien? Just three posts up:

            US homicide rate (2015): 4.88 per 100,000
            Mexico homicide rate (2015): 16.35 per 100,000
            Brazil homicide rate (2015): 26.74 per 100,000

            But just to make it clear:

            Global homicide rate (2012): 6.2 per 100,000

            The United States is not “uniquely and admittedly murderous”, the United States is significantly less murderous than humans in general.

            Furthermore, those of us who actually live here have no difficulty distinguishing two different subpopulations of Americans, one of which about as murderous than the average Mexican or Brazilian and the other about as murderous as the average European or Canadian. We can even pass laws saying that the murderous Americans aren’t allowed to have guns, and we have from time to time, but the murderous subpopulation somehow never obeys those laws.

            If I have to share a country with these people, my right to shoot back damn well will be inviolate. And I damn well will not accept criticism or even question from someone who slanders my nation as “uniquely-and-admittedly-murderous”.

          • keranih says:

            If a group of people, [X], are demonstrably more murderous in general, that provides a rationale for keeping [X group of people] from easily accessing firearms.

            I actually don’t disagree with this in theory.

            However, in practicallity, in the United States this is what it looks like:

            A typical city-level finding is that groups collectively representing under 0.5% of the city’s population will be connected as offenders, victims or both, with between half and three quarters of all homicide in the city.[9] This is likely an underestimate and the lower bounds, since only incidents known to be street group connected are counted as such. This means that some substantial portion of those not known will also be group connected.[9] In Boston, for example, which at the time had a population of roughly 556,180 people, approximately 1,500 individuals were identified as comprising 61 separate groups. This 0.3% of the population was responsible for 60% of the city’s homicides.

            (From the WP entry on Operation Ceasefire.)

            Those 0.3% of the population were overwhelmingly young black men. Just how on earth do you propose to keep this [X] group from getting firearms? I mean, we *can* do that, but the process would be, in practical effect, a set of draconian discriminatory actions by the blunt, stupid hammer of the state that I am not prepared to accept.

            (The rate of violence by Euro-descent Americans is markedly lower than that of African-Americans, but the actual figure is distorted by data sorting problems with regards to Hispanic population. To my understanding, right now the best figure is that violence by Euro-descent Americans is higher than the Western Europe rate, but by no more than 2x the European mean, which is within the standard deviation for Europe.) (I am open to more data.)

          • I see everyone has fallen back to blaming culture. But culture is not fixed long-term, and is affected by a host of things , including regulation. Smoking became less acceptable as it became more restricted.

          • John Schilling says:

            I see everyone has fallen back to blaming culture.

            When did the “everyone” to whom you are speaking, blame anything but culture?

          • rahien.din says:

            Nabil ad Dajjal,

            Firstly, the point about population is that gun control isn’t doing anything. Peaceable people won’t murder one another with legal guns, and unruly people will continue to murder one another with them.

            I was responding to the basis that you provide for that point, namely, the relevance of some combination of hereditary traits and culture. My objection is : whatever its source, this “unruliness” constitutes a rationale for restricting access to firearms. IE, I don’t think you are permitted to blanket-resort to “some combination of hereditary traits and culture.” Okay fine but what are you going to do?

            Even if we grant that “nothing has worked so far,” this is not a reason to stop trying.

            Secondly, Americans are extremely heterogeneous.

            So? That’s what makes a law a law – it is a rule that everybody is under, whether or not they intend to perform the action made illegal.

            It is implausible that the typical rural Pennsylvanian will commit wire fraud. Arguendo, the laws that make it harder to commit wire fraud constitute some inconvenience to the typical rural Pennsylvanian, hard at work at their small business. And yet, this inconvenience is not a rationale for not having laws that make it harder to commit wire fraud.

            Furthermore, if rural Pennsylvanians were to successfully advocate for the repeal of wire fraud laws on the grounds you suggest, merely to make their own lives more convenient, then they have effectively abetted the perpetration of wire fraud.

            John Schilling,

            You might note the quotation I replied to. I hope the above may be clarifying.

          • bean says:

            It is implausible that the typical rural Pennsylvanian will commit wire fraud. Arguendo, the laws that make it harder to commit wire fraud constitute some inconvenience to the typical rural Pennsylvanian, hard at work at their small business. And yet, this inconvenience is not a rationale for not having laws that make it harder to commit wire fraud.

            It’s pretty easy for a typical wire fraudster to move to rural Pennsylvania and commit wire fraud there. It’s somewhat more difficult for someone from South Bronx to move to rural Pennsylvania and then commit violence in the South Bronx. Ballistic missiles and long-range artillery are already very restricted. And there’s no reason for someone from South Bronx to move to rural Pennsylvania and commit violence there, as the people they want to kill are still in South Bronx.

          • bean says:

            @rahien.din
            We’re looking at policy proposals for our world, not doing philosophy. Unless you can show that letting people in rural PA have guns is a direct driver of violence in South Bronx, then I’m not sure what your point is. (And there are already laws to stop that from happening. The last time the ATF paid any attention to the issue, they just gave the cartels a bunch of guns.) Or is this a hypothetical world where the NRA is lobbying to derestrict artillery and Scuds?

          • Matt M says:

            But the second amendment is very valuable because it means that, if my perception of the situation changes, I can do something about it.

            I recommend you purchase a firearm immediately.

            The government will likely ban guns before your perception changes. By the time you realize “holy shit I need a gun” it will already be too late.

          • Matt M says:

            Smoking became less acceptable as it became more restricted.

            No, politics is downstream. It became possible to regulate smoking as it became less acceptable in society.

          • rahien.din says:

            bean,

            I do not think that gun ownership in rural Pennsylvania is a direct driver of gun violence in the South Bronx – nor am I required to.

            I admit that the types of laws required to address gun violence are likely to cause some indirect inconvenience to certain unrelated parties. My claim is : this fact would not invalidate gun control laws, nor would it pose a serious challenge to their rationale.*

            This is the point of my example. Yes, laws combating wire fraud do inconvenience certain people who will never, ever commit wire fraud, but in no way should this stop our attempts to combat wire fraud.

            * I have already bitten the bullet you’re thinking of.

            ETA : clarity

          • bean says:

            This is the point of my example. Yes, laws combating wire fraud do inconvenience certain people who will never, ever commit wire fraud, but in no way should this stop our attempts to combat wire fraud.

            Bad analogy. Wire fraud is an inherently mobile crime. Gun violence is disproportionately concentrated in a few areas. Why not just restrict guns where they are causing problems? (Oh, wait. We’ve already tried that, and it isn’t working well.) Basically, the appropriate control group for your comments on ‘inconveniencing innocents’ are the residents of South Bronx, not rural Pennsylvania, because it’s really easy to exclude the later from your restrictions.

          • rahien.din says:

            bean,

            I admit that the types of laws required to address gun violence are likely to cause some indirect inconvenience to certain unrelated parties. My claim is : this fact would not invalidate gun control laws, nor would it pose a serious challenge to their rationale.

          • bean says:

            @rahien.din
            You have yet to explain why it’s necessary to restrict guns in rural Pennsylvania to combat gun violence in South Bronx. I’ll admit in principle that you can restrict guns when there is a problem with gun violence. (In practice, not so much, because it doesn’t seem to work.) But rural Pennsylvania does not have a gun violence problem, and the people there really like their guns. Justify why that’s necessary collateral damage, as I’ve agreed that people who are not violent in South Bronx might be, if gun control worked.

          • Brad says:

            Because we have no internal borders. It’s difficult, but not impossible, to slow the flow of contraband across international borders and to slow the rate of manufacturing contraband. It’s well nigh impossible to slow the flow of something that’s legal in one state to a neighboring state where it is illegal. That’s why Oklahoma and Nebraska sued Colorado over its legalized pot.

            Despite claims about how easy it is to 3d print a gun that’s not where guns being used for crimes in the South Bronx are coming from. Nor are they by and large being smuggled in from abroad via JFK. They are being purchased in places like Virginia.

            Maybe your answer is tough tittes, but if you want to know why someone concerned about gun violence in the South Bronx could possibly care about how easy or hard it is to buy a gun in bumblefuck Pennsylvania, that’s why.

          • rahien.din says:

            Nabil ad Dajjal : America is a heterogeneous society,
            and it is not permissible that the burdens of gun control would fall on violent and non-violent subgroups that are geographically distant.

            rahien.din : These collateral burdens are indeed permissible. Many laws impose such burdens. Declaring these collateral burdens impermissible would invalidate many perfectly good laws.

            That is the extent of what I want to say in this particular subthread.

            bean : I demand that you support the position that collateral burdens are not just permissible, but necessary.

            We are basically discussing this elsewhere in the thread.

          • bean says:

            Despite claims about how easy it is to 3d print a gun that’s not where guns being used for crimes in the South Bronx are coming from. Nor are they by and large being smuggled in from abroad via JFK. They are being purchased in places like Virginia.

            Care to guess what the top state for gun traces in New York was in 2015? That’s right. New York (1350). VA was second (441). Pennsylvania (412) and Georgia (401) were also major sources. The only states west of the Mississippi that showed up were California (59) and Texas (102). The total traces with identified sources was 4,863. So they’re coming from all over, but the top 15 states accounted for about 4,200 of the weapons. Kentucky, #15, had 56.

          • Brad says:

            @bean

            I’m a little puzzled by the tone I perceive in your first two sentences. It seems like the facts you present thereafter, which I have every reason to believe are accurate, are not to the contrary of the thrust of the argument I made.

          • bean says:

            I’m a little puzzled by the tone I perceive in your response. It seems like the facts you present, which I have every reason to believe are accurate, are not to the contrary of the thrust of the argument I made.

            You suggested that Virginia’s liberal gun laws were causing gun violence in New York. But a quarter of New York guns were from New York, with no other state contributing more than 10%. If guns are so easy to get in Virginia, or Texas or wherever, why aren’t more guns coming from those places into New York?
            There are mechanisms in place to stop someone from driving down from New York to Virginia, filling their trunk up with guns, and driving back. So far as I can see, they work pretty well.
            I also decided to look at California. 69.7% of guns traced in California were from in-state. This is despite Nevada and Arizona, both with much less stringent laws, being fairly close. Arizona, the second state, provided 6.2% of traced guns in California. Texas provided 83.8% of its own guns as a third check. But the third state in the supplier ranking for guns in Texas? California, behind only Louisiana and Oklahoma. Basically, the gun market is not dominated by people showing up with cash in low-restriction states and taking the guns to high-restriction states. I’m not going to spend a huge amount of time painstakingly recreating the paths that guns take from production to criminal use, but it doesn’t look quite like your narrative.

          • John Schilling says:

            @Brad: You’re putting a lot of weight on the distinction between “difficult but not impossible” and “well-nigh impossible” there, when “well-nigh” is basically a synonym for “not really” in this context. Also being vague about the level of “slowing” you are anticipating, and why we should care.

            It would be one thing if there were, I don’t know, maybe some impenetrable wall at the nation’s borders, or if the people proposing gun control at the national level were also proposing such a wall.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @rahien.din

            My claim is : this fact would not invalidate gun control laws, nor would it pose a serious challenge to their rationale

            I mean, if you just wave away any harm to other people as not mattering, it’s an easy problem. You might not be surprised that this makes it difficult to get those other people on board, and they might even take extreme actions (such as voting for Donald Trump for the sake of a Supreme Court justice) to stop you.

          • rahien.din says:

            The Nybbler,

            I mean, if you just wave away any harm to other people as not mattering, it’s an easy problem.

            Careful there. One could just as easily accuse gun advocates of the same : if you just wave away all the gun deaths, mass shootings, and shot-by-toddlers as not mattering as much as your gun hobby, it’s an easy problem.

            Moreover, as I have repeatedly said, these collateral burdens are features of many perfectly good laws. They do not invalidate those laws.

            You might not be surprised that this makes it difficult to get those other people on board, and they might even take extreme actions (such as voting for Donald Trump for the sake of a Supreme Court justice) to stop you.

            When the harms (as far as I see them) amount to “guns are costlier and less convenient to buy or transfer” and “you must register your guns” but not “you have to hand over your guns and you never get to hunt or shoot skeet anymore,” political retaliation starts to look rather selfish.

          • Brad says:

            @bean

            You suggested that Virginia’s liberal gun laws were causing gun violence in New York. But a quarter of New York guns were from New York, with no other state contributing more than 10%. If guns are so easy to get in Virginia, or Texas or wherever, why aren’t more guns coming from those places into New York?

            If guns are so easy to get in New York, why are any guns coming from those places? That’s a long schlep.

            The point is that it is rational to want to pass laws not just in New York City, where they are strictest, but also in New York State, where they are less strict, and the country as a whole, where they are least strict. Insisting that the laws in New York City be perfect and perfectly enforced before ever considering touching the other laws is just yet another way of saying no.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Just a bit of amusing information: 2.2% of guns traced to out-of-state sources in Virginia came from New York.

          • Garrett says:

            There are roughly 100 million gun owners in the US. Certainly a good number of them don’t really care. But good percentage do. At the low end, let’s assume that only 10 million gun owners really care. How effective would any of your proposals for gun ownership restrictions need to be in order to equal the severe unhappiness generated for 10 million people? And by what mechanism can you be assured that your proposals will be that effective?

          • Montfort says:

            Bean, what is the level you would expect if Brad is right? 80%? 90%? The national average for guns used in crimes imported is about 29%.

            If you click around an interactive infographic provided by the Baltimore Sun, you can see states where it’s easier to purchase guns, e.g. Kansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arizona, etc, tend to import fewer guns to use in crimes, whereas states where it’s harder to buy guns, e.g. Hawaii, New Jersey, New York tend to import much more, many around 70%.

            Now, this isn’t really rigorous enough for me to say it’s strong evidence – there are a number of outliers, e.g. California (29%) and Maryland (43%), and in general states with many gun sales are probably going to export more guns (in raw numbers, maybe not proportionately) to the black market even if all states had the same laws.
            But the basic picture of the data seems at least consistent with what he proposes. And I’m not really sure what the alternate reading of the data you propose is.

            To be explicit, New York looks about how I think Brad would predict. Texas likewise – easy to buy a gun there, so no need to get them from Louisiana. One of the major sources is California, you say, but so what? With the population and volume of gun sales in the state, it’s bound to be large in markets (in 2014, California had 1.47M NICS checks, Louisiana 315k, NICS checks aren’t all sales, but that’s the data I have). California’s imports are a strike against, I agree, much fewer than expected.

          • bean says:

            If you click around an interactive infographic provided by the Baltimore Sun, you can see states where it’s easier to purchase guns, e.g. Kansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arizona, etc, tend to import fewer guns to use in crimes,

            Thanks for finding that. I was working off the raw ATF trace numbers, which only look at the receiving state in the format I found.

            whereas states where it’s harder to buy guns, e.g. Hawaii, New Jersey, New York tend to import much more, many around 70%.

            One of these is not quite like the others. Yes, Hawaii does import most of its guns (although it also bears pointing out that it’s the one state with restrictive gun laws that’s isolated), but it also exports more guns than it imports for some reason. On the other hand, North Dakota, not exactly known for being a hotbed of gun control, imports 2.5 per export, the same as Massachusetts. I suspect this is a result of the fracking boom there.

            Bean, what is the level you would expect if Brad is right? 80%? 90%? The national average for guns used in crimes imported is about 29%.

            The one place the data is definitely not fitting what I think Brad expects (or, frankly, what I expected) was the ratio of exports to local use. Basically, if a gun is bought criminally, how likely is it to end up in the hands of an in-state criminal vs an out-of-state criminal. In New York, this ratio is about .4. In Virginia, it’s .63. (Note that the majority of crimes committed with Virginia guns are still in Virginia.) In Texas it’s .28. The only state I can find that’s lower is California at .12. Hawaii is 1.95, nearly the highest I can find. So a gun bought in Hawaii is about twice as likely to be used in a crime outside of Hawaii as it is inside Hawaii.
            Basically, the states which export more guns than they use internally seem to generally be low-population low-crime states. The winner here seems to be New Hampshire, closely followed by Maine.
            But if we’re looking at out-of-state purchases, then New York is worse than Texas relative to its internal use. That’s very odd.

            My takeaway from the data is this. The restrictions on the interstate sale and transfer of guns seem to work pretty well. You can’t just go buy handguns in Virginia and take them back with you to New York. In fact, you can’t do interstate transfers of handguns at all unless you’re an FFL. Obvious counterpoint is straw purchasing, but that’s a one-time thing for a given person, and I suspect the system checks if you suddenly decide to buy a couple dozen handguns.

          • Montfort says:

            Basically, if a gun is bought criminally, how likely is it to end up in the hands of an in-state criminal vs an out-of-state criminal. In New York, this ratio is about .4

            I don’t think this data is available from the sources listed so far, where are you getting numbers of bought illegally? What we do have, and maybe what you meant, is the likelihood of a New-York-bought gun that was used in a crime in 2014 being used in NY vs. elsewhere. Using the Sun’s data, we can see 1,397 traced guns in NY were from New York, and 572 traced guns originally from NY were used elsewhere. That’s ~71% in NY.

          • John Schilling says:

            On the other hand, North Dakota, not exactly known for being a hotbed of gun control, imports 2.5 per export, the same as Massachusetts. I suspect this is a result of the fracking boom there.

            Worth considering is that it isn’t just guns that move across state lines, but criminals. While there is no doubt some intrastate gun trafficking going on, the noise and inconsistencies in the data w/re that theory suggest that what we are mostly seeing is criminals in State X buying a gun in State X and then later moving, with gun, to State Y.

          • bean says:

            @Montfort
            That is what I meant, although I said it rather poorly. I was taking NY-bought-used-elsewhere/NY-bought-used-NY, to avoid having to add to do percentages properly.

            @John
            That’s pretty much what I was getting at. I’d expect oil booms to drive some level of criminal behavior, and to bring people with guns from other states.

          • Montfort says:

            Here’s the numbers for the other states with the same methodology:
            VA – 61%
            TX – 78%
            CA – 91%
            HI – 33%

            California’s keeping their crime-guns, Hawaii’s practically giving them away.
            But I’m not sure I’m sold on this method of comparison – say, for the sake of argument, that TX is riddled with gun crime. Then when easy texas guns flow out to other states, this effect is masked by the (hypothetical) fact that TX’s gun policies are making TX’s crime worse too. In other words, TX looks the same if it’s a low-crime state that exports few guns vs a state with 10x the crime rate and 10x the exports. But if TX is a hive of villainy, we want a very different response than if it’s a sleepy, peaceful state.

            Or, for another point, take DC. It imports 96% of the guns used in crime there, mostly from neighbors VA and MD. But if you run this test, ~51% of DC guns are used elsewhere. But DC isn’t a net exporter. I’m pretty sure DC criminals don’t find it about as easy to get DC guns as MD or VA guns. The problem here is that the population who can get a DC gun (512 NICS checks in 2014) is different from the population that typically uses guns for criminal purposes in DC.

            @John Schilling, perhaps. I think this is definitely in play, but it’s hard to tell how big the effect is compared to the black market transfers. E.g. KS-MO is probably St. Louis commuters, MD-VA-DC is some of this (though the numbers are extreme enough I’m pretty sure even the DC natives are buying out-of-“state”), CT-NY, etc. But others like TN-MI seem less plausible, even for permanent migration. And it’s plausible that, e.g. if you made it harder to get guns in VA, fewer Virginians would commit crimes with guns once they entered Washington city limits.

          • The Nybbler says:

            When the harms (as far as I see them) amount to “guns are costlier and less convenient to buy or transfer” and “you must register your guns” but not “you have to hand over your guns and you never get to hunt or shoot skeet anymore,” political retaliation starts to look rather selfish.

            Yeah, so I have to go to the police station and get fingerprinted and get two unrelated adults from my state to vouch for me every time I want to buy a gun, or if I want to buy ammunition at all. That effectively keeps me from getting a gun, and it falls under “less convenient to buy or transfer”. But the late Mr. Paddock, he’d have no trouble with any of that. Nor do any criminals.

          • bean says:

            But I’m not sure I’m sold on this method of comparison – say, for the sake of argument, that TX is riddled with gun crime.

            Fair enough. But taking away the sake of argument, Texas has the same murder rate as California. Both are higher than New York (wait, what?), but (eyeballing because I can’t be bothered to count) at around the 70th percentile in terms of states by rate. Basically, this just doesn’t work.
            Edit:
            Let’s bring in the control group for Texas, Oklahoma. Oklahoma is 49% by the standard metric, and has a murder rate of 6.0 to Texas’s 4.8. Culturally, they’re the most similar to each other, and I’m slightly amazed. I’m living in OKC, and I’d say I feel safer than I did in LA. But this totally does not fit ‘Texas has a ton of gun crime and is exporting it’.

            KS-MO is probably St. Louis commuters

            Nitpick. I think you mean Kansas City here.

          • Montfort says:

            Yeah, that should be Kansas City, sorry.

            I’m still not sure what the comparison to the home-state crime rate is supposed to control for. We know that in 2014, 241 Virginia-sold guns were used to commit crimes in DC. That same year, 36 DC-sold guns were used to commit crimes in DC, and 4146 Virginia-sold guns were used to commit crimes in Virginia. To the mayor of Washington DC, his problem is that it’s easier to get guns in Virginia than Washington. The number of gun crimes in Virginia doesn’t seem relevant. What is the meaning of this ratio supposed to be?

          • bean says:

            DC is kind of a special case because it’s the most restrictive polity in the nation, right next to a state that’s relatively lenient, and it’s super-violent. But in general, I’d expect that states which have more restricted gun laws would see fewer exports of their guns relative to domestic use, and Texas at least is a fairly strong strike against that.

          • Montfort says:

            I’m afraid I still don’t follow. Why are we dividing by native criminal gun use, instead of using the raw export number, or dividing by NICS checks? If I’m the governor of NY, what difference does it make to me if PA has 10 or 10,000 gun crimes with PA-bought guns? All I care about is whether stricter laws in PA might reduce the number of guns in NY. Knowing whether PA guns are a big proportion of NY-crime guns might help me answer that; now I have an upper bound for the effect size. A raw number is similar. A ratio of crime-guns exported to total guns sold might let me infer how much gun control measures would be harming Pennsylvanians per gun kept out of NY. But what does this operation you propose help me understand?

          • bean says:

            If I’m the governor of NY, what difference does it make to me if PA has 10 or 10,000 gun crimes with PA-bought guns? All I care about is whether stricter laws in PA might reduce the number of guns in NY.

            This is kind of my point, though. It’s easy for me, as governor of NY, to demand that other people take steps to solve my problems for me. But as someone who isn’t the governor of any state, I’m interested in trying to look at the effects on everybody. Use an analogy to pollution. Pennsylvanians and Virginians are apparently happy with their current levels of gun control. Before imposing New York preferences on them, maybe we should see how much of the cost of their own preferences they’re bearing. And the answer is quite a lot. It’s not like they’re just chucking the problems their policies are creating over the border (except for Maine and New Hampshire), and as such, I think their preferences should be respected.

          • Montfort says:

            I don’t think that’s how it works. If New Jersey is dumping enough mercury in the Hudson to start killing New Yorkers, New York’s going to ask them to stop no matter how many Jersey City-ites have already died. I mean, I agree it might be a measure that they’re sincere in valuing their mercury-dumping more than citizen’s lives, but it’s still an uncompensated externality imposed on New York. New York’s decided it doesn’t like mercury-bathing as much as it likes healthy citizens, and now the neighboring polity has given them mercury-bathing anyway.

            In this hypothetical, I think New York is quite justified in seeking a change to New Jersey’s policy to mitigate this cost, and/or some kind of compensation.

          • Thegnskald says:

            So what about a comparison – London, a city on an island with strict gun control, to New York City.

            …okay, first problem, we don’t record murder the same way they do. They probably have a lower murder rate than New York City? But it is hard to tell; 3.0 homicides/100,000 in New York City, 1.0-ish murders/100,000 in London, but “Murder” in UK law is much more specific than “homicide” is in US law.

            Well, let’s look at gun crimes. London has 44/100,000 people per year. New York City has… I have no idea. I can’t find the information.

            And I can find the number of shootings in New York City in 2016 – ~1,100 – but not the number in London.

            Well, I give up, but I’m posting anyways on the whole “Publish even if you find nothing” principle. Somebody else might try this.

          • bean says:

            @Montfort
            Yes and no. I think my problem with your analogy is that there are people who really really like guns in a way that doesn’t apply to mercury dumping. Lots of us. From my point of view, New York wants to take away my guns (or my right to have guns) because they can’t control their literal criminals properly. My guns will be kept safe, and used for recreation. And I’m in Oklahoma, which is more dangerous anyway. Without a much better analysis of how guns get from Oklahoma (or Pennsylvania) to New York, we aren’t going to be able to say much about solutions short of a full ban. There might be ways to make it harder to move guns on that route without seriously impairing my gun rights. But we don’t know, you don’t seem to want to find out, and I don’t feel like spending the time.

            WRT the whole gun control thing, I think I’ve said my piece. I have other, bigger guns to think about controlling.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            But it is hard to tell; 3.0 homicides/100,000 in New York City, 1.0-ish murders/100,000 in London, but “Murder” in UK law is much more specific than “homicide” is in US law.

            Do you have a source for that? Does it really affect the numbers?

            Don’t you think that’s a pretty serious claim that deserves more than just dropping it in there?

          • Montfort says:

            I think my problem with your analogy is that there are people who really really like guns in a way that doesn’t apply to mercury dumping. Lots of us.

            I know. But an externality is an externality, and pollution was your analogy, besides.

            I’m not saying that the entire nation must be kept in lockstep with the most restrictive state in terms of gun buying, nor that it’s totally clear the size of the externalities of selling guns more freely than other states. I just ask that you keep in mind that if such externalities are demonstrated, it’s easy to demand everyone else just deal with them, but perhaps not right.

            But we don’t know, you don’t seem to want to find out, and I don’t feel like spending the time.

            Indeed, I have shown no interest in this part of the problem we were not discussing. There are a number of other things we were not discussing that I have shown no interest in, such as whether soda taxes are a good idea, the optimal size for weather balloons, and who really framed roger rabbit. I don’t feel like solving the entire controversy of gun movement across state lines without making anyone too upset was really within the purview of this brief investigation of gun trace statistics, but I’m sorry if you’re disappointed we didn’t get to it.

          • If a proposed solution fails as often as it succeeds, how exactly do you know that it’s solving anything?

            You look at the details.

          • Jiro says:

            There are lots of things that are externalities by this standard. I’m sure that there are a certain number of drunks who drink in Virginia and drive in New York or otherwise endanger people’s lives there. You could use this reasoning to argue that no state should be permitted to have alcohol laws more lenient than any other state.

          • If the solution to getting Japanese-level gun deaths is “be Japan, with Japan’s culture and people”, then that’s great for Japan but not very useful for anyone else

            Culture is not fixed in the long run. Today’s scandinavians are the descendants of vikings.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Douglas –

            https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_in_English_law

            The US also has a “murder” definition, but owing to different cutoffs, they are hard to compare; third-degree murder (voluntary manslaughter) is mostly comparable to equivalent murder in the UK, but the mens rea requirements are different. The UK mens really requires intent to do serious harm, notably excluding certain situations of accidental killing in fights.

            There are also differences in the way coroners act; in some jurisdictions, nearly half of all deaths are “open verdict” or “narrative”, meaning they may not show up in homicide statistics. If an arrest is made, the verdicts are changed to “unlawful killing” owing to legal requirements concerning cause of death – you can’t be arrested for murder if the death wasn’t labeled as such – which has also caused issues with police killings, which are often labeled as “lawful killing”, which precludes murder charges (although they can still be charged with lesser crimes, including, I believe, manslaughter, although I don’t fully understand the law there)

            This has actually provoked some outrage in feminists in the UK, as women are slightly more likely than men to have a non-definitive report.

            But yeah. The statistics are kind of difficult to compare.

            ETA: Especially when you compare their murder rate to our homicide rate. That is the important bit. Homicide is a much broader crime.

          • Montfort says:

            There are lots of things that are externalities by this standard. I’m sure that there are a certain number of drunks who drink in Virginia and drive in New York or otherwise endanger people’s lives there.

            Yes, that’s true. And at a certain point, it’s just not worth adjusting for small externalities. So if the magnitude is small, or created mostly from just people migrating through a multi-state urban zone (where crime-guns are mostly “traded” at rates proportionate to criminal population ratio) then we can ignore it. That’s why I’m not saying I’ve proved we must adjust legislation or anything, because the size of this effect is very unclear from the data we have.

            You could use this reasoning to argue that no state should be permitted to have alcohol laws more lenient than any other state.

            Firstly, please read my posts:

            I’m not saying that the entire nation must be kept in lockstep with the most restrictive state in terms of gun buying

            there are a number of ways to deal with externalities besides throwing up your hands and saying “No X for anyone!”

            And secondly, my intuition is that cross-border drunk-driving is mostly an issue of border populations as described above, and doesn’t seem to be an issue any state is getting particularly upset about. If I were wrong, and they were upset, and it was a big effect, and it wasn’t just working stiffs in Kansas City who happened to get drunk across the border that night, then proper recompense might be some kind of payout for victims and people whose property had been damaged, or a payout to a fund used for drunk-driving enforcement (though, knowing police departments, it’d probably get used for something else), or something else I haven’t thought of.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Addendum to last post:

            Which isn’t to say the UK’s reporting methodology is wrong, but comparing the two countries is pretty misleading.

            The four major differences:

            The US tends to declare any death that cannot be attributed to other causes as a homicide (this varies considerably by state and city); the UK generally only declares a death a homicide if they can prove it was.

            The US figures generally reflect the initial cause of death; the UK adjusts cause of death after the initial report.

            Inquests (courtlike process to decide cause of death) are relatively rare in US procedure, but relatively frequent in unnatural deaths in the UK.

            Murder in the US and the UK are substantively different; homicide is even more different.

            Points which are repeated all over in UK homicide statistics, because they are so frequently misused to exactly this purpose.

          • John Schilling says:

            We know that in 2014, 241 Virginia-sold guns were used to commit crimes in DC.

            Where else are they going to come from? Last time I checked, DC had only a single hole-in-the-wall gun dealer, and it’s probably not the best environment for an illicit manufacturing enterprise either.

            DC, and to some extent NYC, are special cases in that DC is almost literally a city-state and NYC would like to be. Gun ownership being more popular among rural than urban residents, a city’s stock of private firearms, legal or otherwise, is going to come disproportionately from the hinterlands. Even if the end user is a lifelong city resident, well, see above, and I believe Long Island has more and better gun stores than the Five Boroughs combined.

            So, Los Angeles, most of the guns come from California, but not necessarily from Los Angeles. New York City, a lot of them come from elsewhere in New York State, but also some from Connecticut and New Jersey and Pennsylvania even if the gun laws are identical in all four states. DC, they pretty much all have to come from Virginia or Maryland (or farther afield, of course).

          • Gobbobobble says:

            You could use this reasoning to argue that no state should be permitted to have alcohol laws more lenient than any other state.

            They did, at least wrt the subset of drinking age laws. I think Wisconsin is still mad at their highway funding getting held for ransom because dipshit Illinois students who hadn’t learned to hold their liquor kept going north to get fucked up.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Thegnskald,
            OK, maybe “murder” is different. But no one reports murder rates. Not ever. Where did you get a murder rate for London? It sure sounds like the 2012-2014 homicide rate. Everywhere I look, all I see is homicide. The headline may say murder, but quotes from police always say homicide. For a more traceable example, wikipedia says homicide and its source says homicide, and defines it as “murder, manslaughter (excluding death by dangerous driving), euthanasia and infanticide; excluding abortion and help with suicide,” with footnotes that other countries use slightly different definitions. This is probably an OECD standard.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Douglas –

            Closed the link since then, and it was hard as hell to find the first time, but I did find homicide and murder statistics broken out. IIRC, there were around 100 murders, and around 110 homicides, for the year I found data for.

            Which is when I started looking into what they label homicide, because, while I couldn’t find figures broken up for the US, those figures sound quite unbelievable.

            And, it turns out, they have entirely different attitudes towards labeling deaths. I don’t think even suicide rates are comparable at this point.

          • Jiro says:

            And secondly, my intuition is that cross-border drunk-driving is mostly an issue of border populations as described above, and doesn’t seem to be an issue any state is getting particularly upset about.

            Whether a state is “getting upset” about some such issue is mostly related to politics, not the severity of the issue.

          • If a proposed solution fails as often as it succeeds, how exactly do you know that it’s solving anything?

            You look at the details.

            A good suggestion. For instance …

            You look at the history of homicide rates in the U.S. and the U.K. to see if the difference only appeared when the U.K. started seriously restricting firearms. It didn’t.

            You look at state and city comparisons. They don’t seem to support the claim that legal restrictions reduce homicide. If anything, they suggest that the causality runs the other direction–high homicide rates tend to produce legal restrictions.

            You look at ethnic data. Americans of Japanese ancestry face the same regulatory restrictions as Americans of other ancestry and, at least according to a commenter here, have homicide rates comparable to those in Japan.

            The only detail I have seen offered so far that seems to support your story is that Australian murder rates fell quite a lot after restrictive legislation went in. But U.S. murder rates also fell quite a lot over a similar period without such legislation, so that’s pretty weak evidence.

            So tell us what details support the claim you seem to be making, that suitable firearms legislation would substantially reduce the U.S. homicide rate.

          • Montfort says:

            Where else are they going to come from? Last time I checked, DC had only a single hole-in-the-wall gun dealer, and it’s probably not the best environment for an illicit manufacturing enterprise either.

            Virginia is the natural source of guns for DC, yes. I think gun control advocates and opponents would both agree. But gun control advocates generally think that the kind of restrictions DC has that VA doesn’t on gun sales (license required, registration mandatory, etc) would decrease the supply of guns for criminals and/or aid in their apprehension. And that’s why they see this flow of guns as bad, even though they know it will happen, to some extent.

            New York City, a lot of them come from elsewhere in New York State, but also some from Connecticut and New Jersey and Pennsylvania even if the gun laws are identical in all four states.

            Just to clarify, the largest sources for guns traced in New York state in 2014 were NY, VA, GA, PA, FL, etc. and NJ and CT were later in the list. PA, VA, GA, and FL have similar gun laws with each other (though PA does do a PICS check on handgun sales), but these laws are less strict than those in NY, NJ, CT (whose laws are also similar to each other).

            I think the point you’re trying to make is that some (or perhaps most or even almost all) of these transfers aren’t specifically intended to take advantage of the difference in sale/transfer/registration laws. That’s possible, but even in that case, the bare fact that a large portion of guns are sold under the less strict laws is still a problem, if you further believe the restrictions help prevent or apprehend criminal users of the guns.

            I don’t think it’s a settled question whether those restrictions really help (and if so, how much), and probably a lot of research on the question is heavily politicized. But if they did help significantly, that’s how people in New York would be negatively affected by gun laws in, say, Georgia. Or, in Brad’s words, “if you want to know why someone concerned about gun violence in the South Bronx could possibly care about how easy or hard it is to buy a gun in [rural] Pennsylvania, that’s why.”

          • moonfirestorm says:

            @TheAncientGeek

            Culture is not fixed in the long run. Today’s scandinavians are the descendants of vikings.

            This makes sense, and (as long as we’re not doing eugenics or something equally horrid to advance it) it makes sense to try and bend culture towards things you prefer. But in that structure, policy changes are downstream of cultural changes: you don’t try to grab the axes off the Vikings, you wait for the Scandinavians to not need weapons at hand all the time.

            And at that point, it doesn’t look like the actual gun control laws are doing much: by the time you have Japan’s murder rate, your mass shooting rate may no longer be significant. If it still is, well then you’ll probably have less resistance in implementing some controls.

            Changing America’s culture to match the changer’s preferences is left as an exercise for the reader.

          • policy changes are downstream of cultural changes:

            I disagree. If a policy change turns a narrow majority into a narrow minority, then norms can completely invert as a result. Something like that happened with cigarettes.

          • Aapje says:

            Smoking was already becoming less and less acceptable, though.

            Arguing that there is a threshold where cultural changes suddenly results in the new majority to be empowered to demand big changes doesn’t disprove the claim.

      • but basically everywhere with strict gun control laws has far less gun violence and gun related deaths.

        Less than the U.S., probably true. Less than all countries without strict gun control laws, I don’t think is correct. But it’s the latter that you need for your argument, since the U.S. differs from the countries in question in ways other than its gun control laws.

        • My mistake. As another commenter pointed out, there are countries with strict gun control legislation that have higher homicide rates than the U.S. Just not developed European countries.

        • MrApophenia says:

          The real question to my mind is neither of those, it’s whether they lowered gun rates compared to the same country without gun control.

          I think it is probably true that the US couldn’t get down to UK or Japan murder rates. But the question is if we could be lower than the US today.

          Australia seems to have pretty dramatically reduced gun crime; from stats above it looks like the UK didn’t. Brazil and Mexico are very bad now, but I would be curious if anyone has a comparison to Brazil or Mexico pre-gun control.

          • moscanarius says:

            I can help a bit with that, MrApophenia, but what I bring does not help your thesis…

            There has been a recent report trying to evaluate the effects of the 2003 Brazilian gun law, which instituted stricter control of firearms in the country (mind you, stricter: firearms sale and possession was already much more controled than in the US). It is available only in Portuguese, but you may want to give it a try.

            The authors main conclusions are that the 2003 law was a huge success in reducing the growth of the homicide rate (see graph 3.2 at p. 16), and helped same some thousand lives.

            Too bad their analysis is completely messed up.

            The sky-high homicide rate has decreased a bit immediately after 2003 and then resumed growing at a slower pace, but their own data show that this was driven by the decrease in the murder rate in few states (table 4.2, p. 22). From 2004 to 2014, only six of the 26 States saw any decrease in homicide rates – but since among them are the populous States of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Minas Gerais (totaling ~40% of the population), they pulled the whole country homicide rate down. But the timing of each State’s decrease in homicide rate is not the same, and not always coincident with an expected result of the 2003 law: in São Paulo, the murder rate falls a lot in 2005 and 2007, but in Rio it only starts to fall in 2007. Minas saw a decrease in 2007 and an increment in 2011. Pernambuco starts getting better by 2008; Mato Grosso do Sul only sees the decrease by 2010. And most other States are completely unaffected.

            Also, their own data show that though the homicide rate has grown slowlier after 2003, the fraction of gun homicides has been stable around 69-71 since 2001 (table 3.4, p. 18). It seems very unlikely that an effect of the 2003 gun laws would not show up in the gun homicide component of the homicide rate! The authors don’t discuss much of this, though.

            They also claim that the 2003 gun laws prevented 130 thousand homicides… based on a linear extrapolation from the 199-2003 data (graph 11.1, p. 64). Which is very amateurish, to say the least.

      • moscanarius says:

        “We have a bunch of actual evidence from other countries with strict gun control regimes. It works at controlling ownership of guns and reducing gun violence

        As keranih and John Schilling already pointed out, this is not the case everywhere. This interactive map from 2012 illustrates it quite well. Gun ownership is low in Latin America and Africa, but the murder rate by fire arm is really high in these places.

        basically everywhere with strict gun control laws has far less gun violence and gun related deaths

        Gun laws are quite strict all over South America and have been getting stricter over the last decade – yet the murder rate is still high and growing.

        • Wrong Species says:

          You can’t criticize gun control proponents for simply comparing gun rates and homicide in Europe and the US and then do the exact same thing with the US and Brazil. There’s more factors at play.

          • Sure you can–it’s a reductio ad absurdum. If the argument for restrictive laws keeping homicide rates down–that European countries have more restrictive laws than the U.S. and lower homicide rates–is valid, then so is the argument for the opposite conclusion, using Brazil. The conclusions can’t both be true. The implication is not that restrictive laws result in more homicides but that, if we limit ourselves to that form of argument, we don’t know what the connection, if any, is between legal regulation of firearms and the homicide rates

          • moscanarius says:

            Surely I can criticize people who are comparing the US to other countries (as in the original comment by MrApophenia, to which mine is a response) for failing to notice the countries that contradict their thesis. One black swan is enough to counter so strong a claim as the one he made.

            Also, I am definitely not doing they same thing they are. They are picking a sample of European countries, comparing them to the US, and concluding that gun laws always work – ignoring the many countries where they don’t. Meanwhile, I am not trying to say that gun laws increase violence by comparing a few Latin american countries to the US; I am just pointing that, for one large group of countries, the correlation between less guns and less violence does not apply. By looking at the whole lot of countries, we can conclude that stricter gun laws do not guarantee a decrease in violence, and therefore no one can claim what MrApophenia did – that international experience provide a strong case for controlling gun possession. It doesn’t. I am actually recognizing that there are other factors at play, and that those factors contribute way more to the violence levels than do gun control laws.

            I guess it is the last sentence in my previous comment creates some misunderstanding, so I will try to be clearer: I mentioned that gun laws are getting stricter in South America and that the crime rate is growing as a counterfactual to MrApophenia’ comment; if his thesis were true, this should never happen. But I also don’t think there is any strong causal relationship between the few guns/lotsa crime observed in these places – for many reasons, but mostly because AFAIK the crime rate didn’t grow any faster after the laws hardened. I rather think most of the crime comes from a more diffuse general failure of the Judiciary system, but that’s another story.

      • gbdub says:

        The trick is, you don’t just need gun control laws. You need to actually remove guns from the hands of people who want to use them for harm. That second part is a lot harder.

        Apparently even Australia’s much celebrated banning of semi-autos (which had the amazing effect of… keeping their homicide trending on the same decline it had been on since ~1970) only had a ~20% compliance rate (i.e. 80% of the guns are still out there somewhere).

        Given the millions households in America legally owning guns, many of whom are very attached to them – how many doors are you willing to send SWAT teams through to maybe reduce the number of spree shooters a little?

    • The Nybbler says:

      We are interested in decreasing violence on the margin.

      Seems to me we’re more interested in eliminating flashy but unusual events. Reducing violence on the margin would mean doing something about violence by ordinary criminals. (or suicides, but personally I find restrictions on just about anything put in place to keep people from killing themselves hard to swallow.)

      • Matt M says:

        As I’ve mentioned before, passing laws that say “if we decide you’re mentally ill we are going to start restricting your explicitly guaranteed rights” is, if anything, likely to discourage people from seeking mental health treatment, thereby increasing suicides.

        • Brad says:

          The part about explicitly guaranteed is BS.

          No one’s decision to seek or not seek mental health treatment is going to turn on whether what they are worried they might lose access to is “explicitly guaranteed”. Only on how ever much they care about whatever it is they might lose access to.

          For example, if going to a mental health care provider meant risking losing one’s drivers license that would be a far larger consideration than if doing so meant risking the right to a presentment or indictment by a grand jury before being held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime.

          • Matt M says:

            I know you think it’s a slippery slope and therefore automatically a fallacy, but seriously, legal precedent matters. If they can take away explicitly guaranteed rights, they can definitely take away other rights as well.

            And that will be the exact argument that the lawyers use in court when someone tries to sue, claiming that taking away drivers licenses from the mentally ill is unconstitutional. And it will win.

            If they can take your guns, they can take anything. If you think that nobody will think that far ahead, it’s also worth considering that there’s probably a strong correlation between mental illness and general paranoia as well – as in, the people who need help the most are also going to be the ones most suspicious of a system that has the power to arbitrarily strip basic guaranteed rights away.

          • Brad says:

            The fact that you seem to think that “explicitly guaranteed” is some kind of magical talisman demonstrates that you aren’t familiar with constitutional law. The right to privacy and freedom of movement aren’t any less constitutionally protected just because you smugly think they made up.

            In any event, you’ve asserted over and over again that such laws are would hurt more than they would help on the basis of this decide-not-to-seek-treatment effect but you haven’t actually provided any evidence. Do you have any?

          • Matt M says:

            I’m not asserting anything. I’m laying out some pretty simple logic as to why there’s no guarantee that reducing gun access will reduce gun suicides.

            I have no statistics and no studies. I admit I could be wrong.

            Do you?

            (and no, pointing to entirely different countries with entirely different circumstances that have fewer guns and fewer suicides is not sufficient here)

          • Brad says:

            is, if anything, likely to discourage people from seeking mental health treatment, thereby increasing suicides.

            there’s no guarantee that reducing gun access will reduce gun suicides

            Is that one of them, whatchamacallit, motte and baileys?

          • Vorkon says:

            No one’s decision to seek or not seek mental health treatment is going to turn on whether what they are worried they might lose access to is “explicitly guaranteed”. Only on how ever much they care about whatever it is they might lose access to.

            Some people care deeply about the Constitution, to an almost quasi-religious degree. Therefore, losing access to something explicitly guaranteed by that document is, in fact, losing access to something they care deeply about.

            That’s beside the point, though; regardless of whether or not they care deeply about rights being explicitly guaranteed, you can’t argue that they don’t care deeply about guns, so the main point (whether or not banning guns will make people less likely to seek mental health treatment) still applies.

    • John Schilling says:

      this argument amounts to saying that the demand curve for guns, at least among those who intend to misuse them, is pretty flat.

      The vast majority of criminal homicides in the United States, 85% or so IIRC, are committed by people with prior felony or violent misdemeanor convictions. And a substantial but unknowable fraction of the remainder simply haven’t been caught yet. These are people who have made a deliberate decision that repeated acts of violence are part of their strategy for negotiating life; it is not plausible that they are indifferent to the tools they will keep at hand for that purpose.

      This isn’t to say that they will all have guns no matter the cost; for many practical applications of violence a knife is actually a better tool. And that can be influenced by e.g. the local police ignoring knives but arresting people they catch with guns. But only insofar as the knives are actually getting the job done for the thugs and murderers who use them; if the choices are some combination of losing a knife fight, winning a gun fight, and going to jail, losing the knife fight comes in dead last.

      And since what we really care about (witness the timing of this discussion) is not having to see scary/gory stories about mass murder on TV, Youtube, and Facebook, basically every mass murderer and spree killer you’ve ever heard of has spent weeks or months preparing for the Big Day, and with no hope of any future beyond that. So unless your proposed gun control regime can stop someone who is prepared to invest their life’s savings and months of effort, with nothing to lose, it’s not going to do much to stop the Breiviks, the Paddocks, or the Mateens of the world.

      • rlms says:

        The group of “the Breiviks, the Paddocks, or the Mateens” (i.e. mass shooters with many associated casualties) isn’t the only one people care about. School shooters etc. who kill fewer people are not that much less scary, and could plausibly be stopped by making guns somewhat more inconvenient to get. In fact, I think the same thing goes for Mateen: he wasn’t dedicated enough to buy body armour on the black market, so it’s not unlikely that he wouldn’t have bothered to buy guns if he’d had to do that illegally.

        • John Schilling says:

          Harris and Klebold spent at least six months explicitly preparing for the Columbine massacre. Marc Lepine bought his rifle the month before the Ecole Polytechnique shooting; Canadian police have not released their broader report into his motives and preparations. Peter Lanza was recognized by his own mother as a deeply disturbed problem in the making months before the Sandy Hook shootings. At the lower end of the scale, I looked up the first three single-fatality school shootings of 2010 from Wikipedia’s list; one followed a two-month buildup from the acquisition of an illegal firearm, one involved a member of a violent criminal gang, and there was no data on the third.

          Schoolyard shooters are included in “the group of the Breiviks, the Paddocks, or the Mateens”. They spend weeks or months preparing their attacks.

          The group of people who become fed up and they can’t take it any more, but who happen to already own a gun or can immediately buy one and so actually go out and shoot a bunch of people, that’s pretty much the empty set. I’m certain if you look hard enough you can find an example somewhere, but I’ve been paying attention to this for a long time and I’m not seeing it.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          There are so few school shooters, though. That is, people who take a gun to a K-12 school to shoot classmates or teachers. This happens maybe twice* per year, in a nation with over 100,000 public schools. A school year is 180 days long. So we’ve got 18 million school days, and on 17,999,998 of them the bell rings in the morning, the day go goes by, and it rings in the afternoon and nobody’s been shot all day. And then two awful, tragic days out of 18 million somebody gets shot. It is really, really hard to come up with a solution to a 2 out of 18 million problem that doesn’t have serious Law of Unintended Consequences effects.

          * Gun control activists will attempt to inflate the number by counting times a person brought a gun to school and used it to kill themselves, or a shooting occurred between adults on a sprawling and open university campus as “school shootings.”

        • rlms says:

          @John Schilling
          A man spending time preparing for a mass shooting (e.g. by legally buying a gun a few months beforehand) doesn’t mean he would’ve gone to the trouble of buying a gun on the black market if that had been necessary. In fact, unless American massacre perpetrators are significantly different to those in other countries, I expect that most wouldn’t have bought illegal guns. Evidence: my previous point about Mateen, and the fact that no Chinese school massacre involved guns. Inability to get black market firearms is also the most plausible explanation I can think of for the lack of school shootings in countries like the UK with strict gun control laws.

          @Conrad Honcho
          Sure, but there also very few terrorist attacks (for instance).

        • John Schilling says:

          In fact, unless American massacre perpetrators are significantly different to those in other countries, I expect that most wouldn’t have bought illegal guns

          Right. Given that most mass shootings involve people with no prior criminal record who come from an at least somewhat privileged background or culture, the usual path is to join a gun club, hunting club, military reserve organization, or whatever else allows one to own firearms in their country.

          and the fact that no Chinese school massacre involved guns

          Wikipedia cites three, actually. Possibly they don’t involve enough dead bodies for your taste, in which case I give you the Zhaodong Massacre, 34 dead. If you’re down to arguing that it only counts if it has a two-digit body count, in a schoolyard, in China, that’s looking pretty weak.

          • rlms says:

            “the usual path is to join a gun club, hunting club, military reserve organization, or whatever else allows one to own firearms in their country.”
            Do you have examples?

            “Wikipedia cites three, actually.”
            My mistake, they weren’t on this page. But still, I think the difference between the number of Chinese mass stabbings and mass shootings is telling, as is the fact that the European school shootings listed largely come from countries like Germany and Finland that have liberal gun laws.

          • John Schilling says:

            “the usual path is to join a gun club, hunting club, military reserve organization, or whatever else allows one to own firearms in their country.”

            Do you have examples?

            You mean other than Anders Breivik? Dunblane shooter Thomas Hamilton also used a gun-club membership to obtain his handguns in the UK. I already mentioned the Zhaodong massacre, which I believe involved a licensed hunter. Baurch Goldstein used his military reserve connections to obtain weapons, though in Israel that’s kind of a gimme. Less so in Woo Bum-kon‘s South Korea.

            So, yes, I have examples. And it’s not just people who are explicitly plotting mass murder. In a society where, outside of active-duty police and military, only reservists, hunters, and gun-club members have access to guns, you can’t help but get a disproportionate concentration of generic “Shit’s gonna go down; the ones with guns will wind up on top” types in your local military reserves and hunting/shooting organizations.

    • johan_larson says:

      It’s reasonable to expect gun control measures, if enacted, to lower the rate of gun ownership and use somewhat. Make something expensive and inconvenient, and people will do less of it. That’s just simple economics.

      The question is how much of an effect there would be. Alcohol use during prohibition did drop, a good 60-70%. Similarly broad restrictions on gun ownership would probably do the same. Might we hope for better? Guns are harder to make than booze; just compare the cost of a bottle of decent whiskey with the cost of a decent handgun. Also even people who love their guns don’t suffer physical withdrawal symptoms when the can’t get them. Dramatic measures might achieve an 80% drop in gun use.

      The problems are
      1. Large-scale prohibition fuels large-scale crime and corruption.
      2. Enforcing extensive controls takes real effort and funds.
      3. Building political support for large-scale restrictions on freedoms that many value takes decades.

      • rlms says:

        I think the main problem is that the people who would get rid of their guns if gun control measures were enacted are by definition the most law-abiding and least gun-valuing segment of gun owners, and therefore an 80% drop in gun ownership would be unlikely to cause an 80% drop in gun violence.

    • gbdub says:

      While we’re on the topic, I’m now officially annoyed with the old Onion headline about “The Only Place This Regularly Happens”. It was clever the first time, but when France alone has had two terrorist attacks with more fatalities in the last two years, it doesn’t really work. Not to mention all the war torn hellholes where a 59 person body count is just called “Tuesday”.

      • beleester says:

        Comparing war zones to mass shootings is an utterly meaningless comparison.

        Heart disease also kills more people than mass shootings, and it’s exactly as relevant to this conversation as the number of deaths in a war zone.

        • Not exactly as relevant. Some of the people who commit mass shootings presumably regard themselves as soldiers in a zone they are trying to expand a war into.

        • gbdub says:

          If suicides are going to count as “gun violence” then I certainly think drug cartel battles and civil wars ought to count. We’re talking about “cultures of violence” here – ongoing bloody conflict would seem to be relevant.

          The point is “only place where this regularly happens” relies on a very narrow definition of both “this” and “regularly”.

    • . says:

      Addendum: incarceration also increases the expected cost of committing crimes. All else being equal, those who oppose gun control on the grounds that demand for death is flat, should also expect incarceration to be ineffective. Those who also think that their estimate of the demand curve is flatter than most peoples’ estimate, should think that current incarceration rates are probably too high.

      • AnarchyDice says:

        I wonder how much people internally put an emphasis on incarceration for reform vs deterrence vs simply removing them from the general public. I can’t remember where I saw it but someone did comparisons of different sentence lengths vs certainty of incarceration. The people most likely to commit crimes were more deterred by the certainty of sentencing than the length of jail time. Also, criminality being highly linked to impulsivity and high time preference (or is it low? I mix up which of the two means people who focus way more on the here-and-now versus the long term).

        • The people most likely to commit crimes were more deterred by the certainty of sentencing than the length of jail time.

          That’s a common claim in the literature, and very likely correct. I interpret that not as evidence about attitudes to risk but as evidence that the cost of being caught and convicted is not proportional to the sentence. In addition to X years of confinement, there is also the cost of imprisonment before sentence or paying for a bail bond, the reputational cost of being viewed as a criminal hence having a harder time getting legal employment, in some cases the cost of a lawyer–all independent of sentence length.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Law Comic has a section about criminal punishment. The problem with “we need more rehabilitation” is that for (depending on how you count it) 83-93% of the people who have contact with law enforcement ( > arrested), that first contact is their last. Just having the cops put you in the back of the car drives the point home that “this is for real. Society takes this seriously and yes the rules apply to you.” And then they keep noses clean from there on out. These are the people who are “rehabilitated.” By the time you’re actually incarcerating people for felonies, you’re dealing with people have had their “scared straight” experience and said “nah, don’t care.” You can’t rehabilitate people who don’t want to be rehabilitated. At this point, the best function of prison is “removal.” If they’re behind bars, they’re not out victimizing society.

          • baconbacon says:

            This is an unsupported interpretation of the data. Only small portions of the population get arrested each year, and many people go through a period of law breaking (especially teen to early 20s males). By the time you would expect most people to have multiple arrests (if arrests were strictly random) they would have grown out of this stage in their lives.

            Honestly many arrests are non repeatable because they combine chance and stupidity with law breaking, not just criminal predilection. A group of guys is smoking a joint outside of a movie theater, they see a cop and toss it in the bushes. After the movie one guy crawls back into the bushes to pick up the half smoked joint and the cop is still watching from. That guy who crawls back in the bushes doesn’t quit smoking weed after his arrest, but he probably is a little more paranoid and is quicker to ditch his weed and/or not go back for it.

            There is also a second category for crimes that increase the likelihood of future offenses. Losing your licence due to an infraction makes driving without one much more likely, losing your job due to an arrest makes working in the black and grey markets more likely.

            I strongly doubt, based on people I know, that being arrested acts as a strong kind of scared straight deterrent. People who get arrested for drug use tend to just change where and when they do drugs, not the actual criminal activity, and are more likely to be deferential to cops when questioned, rather than acting stupid/indignant/disrespectful.

    • BBA says:

      I’m going to reiterate what I said on the subreddit. As a deep blue liberal who sincerely wishes there was a way to end the perverse American gun culture (and replace it with something less perverse, like Swiss or Czech gun culture), I don’t think anything looks workable. Even before the Las Vegas massacre, I had resigned myself to gun control just being politically impossible. Now I realize it’s logically impossible, too.

      This man had no record of anything. Under any remotely reasonable regulatory regime he’d have qualified for a permit. The bump stocks he used are trivially easy to make; banning their commercial sale would not have stopped him from fashioning his own. So basically, the only option is to ban all semiautomatic weapons, which I’m fully aware is a horrifically bad idea (now somebody go convince Senator Feinstein) – and then what happens when (not if) there’s a mass shooting with a homemade gun?

      There is nothing to be done. Enjoy every sandwich.

      • At a slight tangent, I wonder how important, from the standpoint of the killer, it is that he kills with a gun? If he just wants to kill X number of people, I can think of several effective ways without a gun. But it’s possible that the use of the gun is actually part of what he wants, that it gives him a feeling of power that arson (say) wouldn’t.

        • Tibor says:

          Possibly related – in Germany there was quite a high profile recent case where a (male) nurse killed dozens of patients on purpose in various ways (usually overdose or introducing wrong medicine). The exact number of people he killed is not quite clear but it is around 80, perhaps over 100. It happened over a span of months rather than minutes, but the effect is the same.

          There was a similar Czech case where the guy gave the patients heparine (a drug which thins blood) and they slowly withered away. He only managed to kill about 6 people before he was discovered though.

          I’d say that both shooting and this “medical” killing are giving the murderer a sense of power over the victims that arsony does not. But I have no idea how these sort of people think.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            There was a similar high-profile case in the UK about 20 years ago where a doctor was killing his (mostly elderly) patients with diamorphine. It’s not known how many he killed- he was convicted of 15 murders, but the inquiry found that he probably killed up to 250.

            He was caught because he had altered the will of one of his last victims to leave himself a large sum of money, but AFAIK he hadn’t done this with most of them, so his motive for most of the killings was different.

          • Nornagest says:

            There was a famous Japanese case along those lines in the late Forties, too. IIRC the guy wasn’t even a medical professional, he just faked it with a lab coat and a clipboard.

            I haven’t heard of anything like it recently, but it might just not have made the news. Not as dramatic as guns or bombs.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I think custom matters a lot, as with acid attacks being much more common in some cultures than others.

      • Tibor says:

        I do think the US problem is indeed that of culture and mentality rather than anything else. Now I should add there was one shooting in the history of the Czech republic, a guy (with a licensed pistol) came to a pub, managed to shoot about 6 people, I think. The police response was fairly slow, partly because of stupid bureaucracy where they had to call for a special commando but only the chief of police in the region could order that and all these things meant a delay of something like an hour in their response (the guy was still in the pub with local police outside but nobody wanted to do anything before the specialists arrive – meanwhile some people were still hiding in the pub), partly because nobody has any experience with this.

        In Switzerland I also know of one shooting. But the same can be said of Germany (I think they’ve had more, 2 or 3, but it is also a much more populous country) which has one of the strictest gun and weapons laws in Europe (second possibly only to the UK). Germans can still own firearms, but mostly long arms (you will generally not be allowed a self-defence license and without it you cannot buy pistols IIRC) and they basically have to register at a sports or hunting association (which means extra costs per year).

        But even rescaled by population these are nothing like the US shootings (there have been horrible cases of islamist terrorism in Europe, France particularly, but that’s a bit different issue than the mad killers in the US). And the US murder rate is just significantly higher than that of any European country (incidentally, I think that Switzerland has the lowest murder rate in Europe, even though it has the second most liberal gun laws and the Czech murder rate is lower than that of already low murder rate in Germany despite having he most liberal gun laws in Europe…the UK does worse than all of them).

        Btw, the rapid fire thingies that the guy was supposed to have used are perfectly legal in the Czech republic (I’m not sure about Switzerland).

        What annoys me is that if people keep focusing on introducing restrictions, these things will just keep happening anyway but there will just be more bureaucracy. Of course, tackling the culture is probably harder. Some of it can probably be improved if poverty (and hence hopefully drug abuse and gang crime) among the blacks is reduced, but I’d say it is probably deeper than that and regardless of race, Americans are just a bit different and more conflict seeking than Europeans (also louder for some reason – which also holds for Canadians, at least some of them).

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Some of it can probably be improved if poverty (and hence hopefully drug abuse and gang crime) among the blacks is reduced

          Is it poverty that causes crime, or crime that causes poverty, or perhaps traits biological and cultural like low intelligence, time preference and impulsiveness that cause both, or something else? I don’t think it’s a given that people commit crime because they’re poor.

          I definitely think the drug war is a big part of it, though. An awful lot of the gun murders in the US are inner city shootings over gangs or drugs. The Las Vegas shooter’s victim count is about the same as any given month in Chicago. This is another reason I don’t think gun crime would go down much if we banned guns. The people doing the shootings are already dealing in highly profitable contraband that originates from outside the country. If you’re already smuggling drugs, how much harder is it to smuggle guns, too? Same sellers to same buyers even.

          • Tibor says:

            I’m not sure if poverty causes crime but I’d say that reducing poverty generally reduces violent crime.

            I agree about the drugs, US drug laws are absurd. So are most European laws. Portugal has the best drug laws I’ve seen in a country, Czech laws are also quite good compared to other countries in Europe. But even Portugal is far from being ideal. But US drug laws indirectly hurt and destabilize other countries in the region – Colombia in the 90s, Mexico today.

            Is there a statistic tracking (roughly) how much US homicide is related to gangs and drugs?

      • Now I realize it’s logically impossible, too.

        If you insist on perfection , everything is impossible.

      • So basically, the only option is to ban all semiautomatic weapons, which I’m fully aware is a horrifically bad idea

        Remind of the legitimate civilian use for semi-autos.

        • John Schilling says:

          You cannot possibly be so ignorant as to require a reminder that many people consider self-defense to be a legitimate thing for civilians to do, even if they do it with semiautomatic firearms. So you’re being an ass here.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            I think he is just a troll.

            Not a useless one, in that he’s decently good at provoking interesting, educational, and insightful refutation comments out of everyone else.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Self defense and rebellion against an unjust government.

        • BBA says:

          With all due respect, sir, only a person who doesn’t know what a semi-auto is would say anything like that.

          • There are lots of people around the world who know what they are , and have nonethelss banned them as having no legitimate uses.

            Some extraordinarilly bad arguments have been given here:

            You cannot possibly be so ignorant as to require a reminder that many people consider self-defense to be a legitimate thing for civilians to do, even if they do it with semiautomatic firearms. So you’re being an ass here.

            Proves far too much or nothing at all. Machine guns and everything upwards could be used in self-defense, but they are banned, even in the US. Self defense is not a sufficient criterion.

            rebellion against an unjust government.

            Definitionally illegal, and has the same problem as the above.

            Not to mention timed target shooting and dangerous game

            Legitimate, but no big deal. The sky isn’t going to fall in if people have to stop doing those.

            You have been fuming that I am not aware of these “facts”, but they are actually just the NRA wroldview. Other tribes in the US don’t believe in them, no one outside the US believes in them. There is a word for beliefs which are only held by only one subculture, and it isn’t “fact”.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            TAG, the next time you want to say something epistemically overconfident you should just go ahead and say it, rather than feigning ignorance of the opposing view in order to get someone to feed you a straight line.

          • I did not make a statement , I asked a question.

            I acutally don’t have a detailed knowledge of semi-autos, as someone insinuated, so why not entertain the hypothesis that the question was genuine?

            Of course I am not ignorant of the standard yadda-yadda about he second amendment, It is just that it is not relevant. Do I need to explain that being able
            to guess the bad answer to a question is little help in guessing the good answer?

            There is a lot of protesting-too-much here. I’ll see your feigned ignorance, and raise you feigned outrage.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @Ancient Geek,

            [rebellion against an unjust government is d]efinitionally illegal, and has the same problem as the above.

            Weird, it’s almost as if the Bill of Rights was written by people who had just won an illegal rebellion against an unjust government or something. /snark

            Seriously, how can you read this…

            We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government

            …and say that rebellion is obviously illegitimate in America?

            Anyway, I consider the fact that private ownership of machine guns is mostly banned to be a serious violation of the second amendment for exactly that reason. The Revolutionary War started when the British tried to seize privately-owned American cannons: in that context, it’s not clear how you can justify seizing an LMG.

          • Vorkon says:

            There is a lot of protesting-too-much here. I’ll see your feigned ignorance, and raise you feigned outrage.

            What? Why on earth would you think any of the outrage is feigned? Why would it even NEED to be feigned, especially on a forum like this, where reasoned debate is generally looked upon more favorably than emotional outbursts?

            I think this statement reflects a major problem with the gun control debate, in general; Gun control advocates simply can’t understand the mindset of gun rights advocates, and why they feel so strongly about this issue. There’s a reason this issue is such a hot-button topic in America, and it’s NOT because of NRA or gun companies’ money.

            I’m not necessarily saying outrage is a GOOD response, but on this topic it’s generally sincere.

          • Vorkon says:

            Proves far too much or nothing at all. Machine guns and everything upwards could be used in self-defense, but they are banned, even in the US. Self defense is not a sufficient criterion.

            Also, this statement is precisely why people are saying that only someone who knows nothing about semi-automatics would say something like this, though I suppose it would be more accurate to say that only someone who knows nothing about tactics would say something like this.

            How are you going to use a machine gun for self-defense, exactly? Your shots are going to be inaccurate, and you WILL (no if about it) cause massive collateral damage, plus the weapon is likely to be more cumbersome, and thus less likely to be able to bring to bear quickly and efficiently, which is vital when responding to an attack. They won’t help much in a multiple attackers scenario, either; unless you’re literally carrying a belt of ammo strapped around you all day, every day, good luck dealing with multiple attackers when you’ve already emptied your entire mag into the first guy. Machine guns do have legitimate tactical uses, namely area denial, but that isn’t going to be an issue in most any self-defense scenario.

            Meanwhile, if you can’t see the massive advantages of semi-automatics over other types of firearms in a self-defense scenario, you are either not trying, or being deliberately obtuse.

          • John Schilling says:

            How are you going to use a machine gun for self-defense, exactly? Your shots are going to be inaccurate, and you WILL (no if about it) cause massive collateral damage, plus the weapon is likely to be more cumbersome,

            I think you may have just palmed a card there, in the distinction between the legal and martial definitions(*) of “machine gun”.

            Certainly short bursts from a submachine gun or assault rifle can be useful in a self-defense setting. European police departments tend to use submachine guns in roughly the same way their US counterparts use shotguns, each tending to see the other as barbaric or overmilitarized for using such indiscriminate weapons but neither actually killing innocent bystanders with stray fire with any great frequency. And pretty much every military force that has fielded a dedicated Personal Defense Weapon has gone with a submachine gun in all but name, including automatic fire capability.

            That said, semiautomatic pistols and carbines are almost as good as SMGs, PDWs, or Assauit Rifles for armed self-defense. And “no automatic fire” is a pretty good Schelling point for distinguishing safe and effective general-purpose defensive weapons from those that are more suited to battlefields or massacres, where trying to legally specify what kind of automatic weapons civilians can keep for self-defense would invite legalistic gamesmanship.

            The other standard that would work, and which I favor, is that anything which is ever issued to law enforcement officers in a polity must also be available to law-abiding civilians, that a government’s decision that a weapon is suitable for policemen constitutes de jure affirmation that it has legitimate defensive purposes and is not just a tool of slaughter and war.

            * In US law at least, anything capable of even limited automatic fire is a “machine gun”. In military or firearms-technology usage, only heavy support weapons designed for sustained automatic fire are “machine guns”.

          • Machine guns and everything upwards could be used in self-defense,

            I find it hard to imagine a plausible scenario where a machine gun would be useful in self defense. A mob attack, perhaps? I don’t think that’s what most people imagine as a likely threat.

          • Meanwhile, if you can’t see the massive advantages of semi-automatics over other types of firearms in a self-defense scenario

            I don’t see a massive advantage of a semi-auto handgun over a revolver in most self-defense scenarios. The only significant advantage I see is fast reloads, and I don’t think most of the situations people face require more than five or six shots.

          • There are lots of people around the world who know what they are , and have nonethelss banned them as having no legitimate uses.

            I can’t think of any examples. Do you mean “no legitimate use in private hands”? My impression is that most police handguns and most military rifles are at least semi-auto.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t see a massive advantage of a semi-auto handgun over a revolver in most self-defense scenarios.

            The mechanical requirements of a revolver lead to relatively poor ergonomics and thus inaccurate fire particularly under stress. Back when US policemen used almost exclusively .38-caliber revolvers, trained policemen typically hit the people they were shooting at with ~25% of shots fired. And almost nobody uses revolvers for competitive target shooting unless the rules specifically require it, whereas Smith & Wesson built a five-shot .38 special semiautomatic pistol whose only market was serious target shooters.

            Since a .38 special revolver bullet, even in hollow-point form, will only inflict rapid incapacitation about 65% of the time, that suggests a medium-caliber sixgun will be marginally adequate for defense against a single attacker and inadequate against multiple attackers. This is compounded by the fact that approximately nobody can count past three in a gunfight; the decision as to whether to fire a shot that has only a 15-20% chance of ending the fight or to wait for the enemy to stand still and expose himself for a perfect shot, will be made by someone who is not sure she has even one or two cartridges left.

            Semiautomatic pistols are about as powerful as revolvers, have substantially better ergonomics leading to improved practical accuracy on the target range or on the street, have substantial ammunition margins, provide an immediate indication when they require reloading, and unlike revolvers can plausibly be reloaded in the middle of a fight.

            In the real world, where self-defense is not a simple fantasy of “I draw my gun and shoot a bullet at the bad guy so that he falls down”, semiautomatic pistols do in fact several substantial advantages over revolvers. Which is why you may have noticed pretty much every single police force in the developed world turning in its traditional revolvers in favor of semiautomatic pistols.

          • The Nybbler says:

            A mob attack, perhaps? I don’t think that’s what most people imagine as a likely threat.

            Some of us are better at angering mobs than others…

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Any thoughts about the likelihood and effects of an illegal market for guns?

      • John Schilling says:

        What do you mean “likelihood”? An illegal market for guns already exists, pretty much everywhere except places like Yemen where the “illegal” part would be nonsensical. Or more precisely, multiple loosely-connected illegal markets for guns already exist, in much the same way multiple loosely-connected illegal markets for drugs already exist.

        And thanks to the War on Drugs, they are substantially the same markets, because anyone dealing in drugs at more than the most petty level needs to have illegal guns to defend themselves against the sort of criminal who can solve the simple calculus of “drug dealer = lots of cash + can’t go to the police for help”. The market exists, and we know what it looks like. We can easily make it bigger.

      • Illegal guns are likely to be more expensive and therefore deter some purchasers on the margin.

  16. yodelyak says:

    Today I’m angry about elder abuse. Anyone here know a lot more than I do about elder abuse, and want to tell me what the best orgs to follow / books to read are on the subject?

    • yodelyak says:

      I’m angry because an article in this week’s New Yorker (paywall link here) made me angry. The article is a very awful story of legalized kidnapping of old people who are arguably not managing their estates well, (the legal standard doesn’t seem to have been much more searching than “would a hedge fund invest your money better?”) where the same social worker who solicits from medical professionals a signature that both partners in an aging couple are unwell is also the social worker who gets the lucrative job of managing the couple’s care, and also the social worker who gets the very lucrative job of managing all their assets, after they are forced into a retirement home on a half-hour’s notice, to then endure having someone else control their medical treatment and choice of residence, and watch as their assets are liquidated to pay for spurious attorney fees and etc., and all this when they have adult children or other close family/friends willing and able to care for them. Yuck.

    • Garrett says:

      If you consider neglect a form of abuse, the problem is worse than you might suspect. I volunteer in EMS and frequently pick up patients from nursing homes. Pretty much everybody I work with has asked that in the event they get sent to a nursing home to come in and kill them. Unless you have good money (at least $500k), those places are horrible. And they are where a lot of the older population ends up.

  17. WashedOut says:

    I have a peculiar condition or quirk that I’d like help ‘diagnosing’ and/or overcoming.

    The problem arises when I am carrying one or more ordinary objects in my hands, and need to pick up/put down objects in different locations in a certain order. I always end up carrying things for the entire route unnecessarily when I should have placed them earlier, and I often go though a room forgetting to put one of the things down that I meant to, carrying it past it’s drop-off point.

    Say i’m getting something out of the back seat car after I’ve parked. I will take the keys out of the ignition and with the same hand pick up a water bottle from the centre console. While im trying to shut the driver’s door (with my knuckle or wrist) with these two things in my hand, i’ll be reaching onto the back seat to pick up a grocery bag. Once I get the bag, I have to knee the door shut, then I get to the house and realise that the bottle is empty and I just wanted to throw it in the trash on the way or leave it in the car after all – now I can’t open the door because my hands are full, and I don’t want to set the bags and keys down because i’ll have to pick them up again. So I go back to the trash with the bottle…..

    Argh…It’s hard to explain. Is there a word or phrase for difficulty with the everyday travelling-salesman problem? I’m in my late 20’s with no relevant medical history.

    I live in a two-storey house and I probably carry objects up and down stairs for no reason, (sub-consciously?) every day.

    • Yashabird says:

      What you’re describing is technically “ideational apraxia,” although that’s a junk term if you haven’t had a stroke. If it’s a lifelong difficulty, look into “developmental dyspraxia,” which as far as I can tell is basically on the autism spectrum. I’ve also seen something similar as a manifestation of acute mania, but basically you’re just describing a general dysfunction of executive control. cf. “Highway hypnosis”

      Whether you need a stimulant or occupational therapy or are just curious about yourself, remind yourself of the truism that everything you do in life is dependent on successful “sequencing, sequencing, sequencing.”

    • liskantope says:

      I think I have a similar issue, although I haven’t analyzed it as meticulously as you have. It also comes with an apparent difficulty with remembering to pick something up that I should pick up when leaving an area, so that I have a lifelong tendency to leave my belongings places. I’ve managed to improve at this as I’ve gotten older, but only marginally.

      • Anonymousse says:

        Just chiming in to say I struggle with both the order thing and the leaving things behind! I was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, and though I don’t currently take medication, I found it helped slightly with these when I was on it (“it” being methylphenidate). I still left things behind, but I was better at accomplishing tasks in the right order.

        I currently have several lists that cover basic things I have to accomplish before leaving the house, going to bed, etc. that, as I understand it, most people remember unconsciously.

  18. timujin says:

    Some antipsychotics, like olanzapine\Zyprexa, reduce or eliminate the effects of LSD. Can this be meaningfully understood as them being essentially negative LSD, making people less creative and crazy? I keep hearing about the amazing positive effects of LSD, like permanently boosting your Openness stat, or relieving depression. Would taking antipsychotics lower your Openness?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Zyprexa is a 5-HT2A antagonist, and LSD works through 5-HT2A agonism. It looks like 5-HT2A might increase brain “plasticity” in some complicated way. Zyprexa might decrease this in some complicated way, but the dopaminergic effects are so much bigger that it’s hard to tell. Post on this soon.

    • Yashabird says:

      Take LSD and Zyprexa at the same time, if you’re curious. There will be attenuation of some of the visual brilliancy and probably less “ego dissolution,” but the counter-effects definitely are not linear, and you will probably not feel default normal.

      Look at the pharmacodynamics. LSD is active at such low doses that the amount of olanzapine necessary to compete for those 5-HT2A receptors is going to have massive spill-over effects at other receptors. It’s an interesting and worthwhile experiment, but ultimately most *trip terminators work by helping you sleep, which is arguably an induced delirium.

      *http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hup.2431/abstract

  19. Anonymous says:

    Anyone here take JBP’s 10bux personality test? Any good?

  20. Vamair says:

    I’m probably late to the party, but I’ve only just realized Donald is the same name as Vladimir. Both mean “the ruler of the world”. Except that “Trump” means winning against tough opponents while “Putin” means (probably something like) “born at the time of change” (travelling somewhere, usually). Count me converted to nominative determinism. Should have done that sooner.

    • timujin says:

      “Born at the time of change” is a very creative translation. It’s just the word “way” (путь, put) converted into a surname. The closest English analogue would be “Donald Way”.

      • Vamair says:

        Yeah, I’m being a bit into cabbalistic implications there. The site I was looking at was saying it’s derived from a name usually given to children that were born at the time of traveling, though.
        Going from “traveling” to “transitional period” is not that much of a stretch.

      • bzium says:

        Thus we can conclude that Vladimir Putin is a vampire. We derive this from kabbalistic correspondence with Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way.

    • aNeopuritan says:

      “Trump is a German surname derived from a word for ‘drum’.” – though “nominative determinism” would be usually argued to spring from whatever the owner’s environment thinks the name means, yes.

  21. OptimalSolver says:

    Anyone else watching Star Trek: Discovery?

    What do you think, so far?

    • Mr Mind says:

      Only the first three episodes, I don’t know if they are scheduled differently here in Italy.
      Anyway, as a life-long ST fan, obviously I’m super-excited! I like many things about the new show, and I dislike only a few.
      The aesthetics is gorgeous in my opinion, I love the way they were able to maintain something of the TOS-like consoles (with buttons and levers!) and yet update it with more polished surfaces. I also love the design of the Discovery, the three concentric rings of the saucer section is a nice choice… I like the fact that AT LAST we can have intra-crew conflict, it’s an important deviation and adds a lot of untapped potential. Add to the bucket of the things that I like the back-story of the Klingon empire, and that for them they didn’t choose the trite messiah route…
      The things I don’t like: in three episodes, Michael has been the sole focus of the show. ST should be a collective narrative, not only the first officer should be interesting. I hope to see more crew developement for the future. Ambivalent instead on the upgraded Vulcanians: yes, they deserved a better exploration of their history / motives / etc, and yes, I like the fact that they are no more seen as cowards… BUT aren’t they breaking it by making them too powerful? Time will tell…

      • John Schilling says:

        I like the fact that AT LAST we can have intra-crew conflict, it’s an important deviation and adds a lot of untapped potential.

        We’ve had intra-crew conflict since the first time Kirk, Spock, and McCoy stood together on the bridge; that was an important part of the original formula. So when you say “conflict”, I’m pretty sure you means something in the range of “emnity” to “open warfare”

        And you say that like it is so obviously a good thing as to go without question. Would it be an even better thing if, e.g., Captain Lorca were to rape Lt. Burnham to establish his dominance? That would be an important deviation, and it would certainly tap into a sort of potential that “Star Trek” has previously left to shows like “Game of Thrones”.

        And GoT is, in spite of its weaknesses this last season, a very good show. But, with or without explicit rape, it isn’t a model for every other show to follow. “Star Trek” is very nearly on the opposite end of the “do I want to watch these people literally or figuratively screw each other over?” axis from GoT. It is supposed to help fill the niche for stories about competent professionals working together as a team in spite of their occasional disagreements.

        If it’s not that, then I’m not interested – I’ve got more grimdark offerings to chose from than I can deal with, and I will not reward anyone who poisons one of the few traditional wells of hope in the name of more grimdarkness. “Star Trek: Beyond” lost me when it opened with an outright mutiny, presented as just one of those things that people do when they disagree with each other and don’t mind spending an intra-episode break in the brig over it.

        • MrApophenia says:

          I think the conflict thing is a reference to the TNG era – the writers were purportedly informed that no intercrew conflict was allowed because Star Trek was a utopia and everyone got along with everyone else.

          Obviously this was not always observed (see: Dr. Pulaski being a dick to Data, or Admiral Jellico being a Ronnie Cox character), but supposedly this was a stricture the TNG writers chafed under from time to time.

        • Mr Mind says:

          I don’t think that what we have had pre-Discovery was plot-relevant conflict. Yes, McCoy snarked at Spock. Poulasky snarked at Data. Trip snarked at T’Pol. But all in all, that’s only it was: snark, sarcasm. Besides this, everybody was competent at their own field, they respected each other boundaries, and made what the captain wanted. The only important conflict between crew I can recall was Chakotay vs Janeway about the scorpion pact, and even there Chakotay was in love with his captain.
          On Discovery, we have had mutiny! For the first time, a real divergence of opinions, people who are not transparent with their motives, people who lie to each other (even though the First Officer would say it was speaking ‘metaphorically’).
          This is not all necessarily good: it’s potential, and obviously it can be used improperly (eg: rape, although I would say Kirk was always much more at risk).
          On the grimdarkness, it’s a stylistic choice that has been used before with great effect (eg: the Dominion war), so it’s not alien to ST. The era that ST:D has chosen to portray is dark by itself, since it’s in the middle of the Klingon war, but as I’ve understood it will be only for the first season.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Spock did try to kill Kirk that one time.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t think that what we have had pre-Discovery was plot-relevant conflict

            There’s conflict in the sense of people disliking and disagreeing with each other, and there’s conflict in the sense of people trying to make each other fail. To say that it is not “plot-relevant” unless they are trying to make each other fail, strikes me as both short-sighted and depressing. To insist that this has to happen among the protagonists, doubly so.

            Stories about people who disagree with one another, managing to work together towards whatever goals they do have in common, are often quite good stories. They can even be good stories if the protagonists don’t disagree with each other because it is obvious that the Nazis/Commies/Klingons/whatever are the bad guys and the relevant conflict is going to be with them. And this has given us a huge amount of good, popular episodic television. Most of “Star Trek”, the entire “Law and Order” franchise and most police procedurals generally, “Mission Impossible” (but not the movies which had to make Jim Phelps a traitor because grimdark), “Doctor Who”, “Stargate: SG1”, “Firefly” occasionally excepting Jayne, and for that matter…

            The era that ST:D has chosen to portray is dark by itself, since it’s in the middle of the Klingon war

            …how about every non-revisionist war story, which is to say every war story ever told by a society capable of actually winning wars? Yes, there’s an unavoidable sort of darkness involved in a story set during e.g. World War II, because Nazis. But it is a very different kind of darkness than the one where any time two people disagree over the best technique for Nazi-punching they spend more time screwing each other over to make sure that their plan for Nazi-punching is chosen than they do actually defeating the Nazis.

            There’s room for stories like that; it clearly works for e.g. “Game of Thrones”. But the society that generally prefers stories like that, the society that puts a laudatory exclamation point after “mutiny!”, that sees the darkness of war as dramatically calling for unrestrained internecine conflict, count me out.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Stories about people who disagree with one another, managing to work together towards whatever goals they do have in common, are often quite good stories.

            Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.

          • Deiseach says:

            The era that ST:D has chosen to portray is dark by itself, since it’s in the middle of the Klingon war, but as I’ve understood it will be only for the first season.

            Mmmm – I keep dipping into Discovery then noping back out of it. Last episode where the Beastie was a tardigrade? Very clever, and the second I saw the silhouette I went “that’s a tardigrade?” and I imagine a lot of science nerd viewers were delighted. But then it chomped the security officer or whomever she was and I went “okay, fine, plot armour is protecting Michael from getting chomped but you know what? I’m perfectly fine not watching an episode of people getting chomped” and off I went.

            It looks fantastic, I’ll give them that. In fact, it looks a bit too good, so it doesn’t jibe with my mental version of the timeline that this is pre-TOS when it comes to the tech, but as I’ve mentioned, I understand why they’re doing this. And yeah, alternate timeline.

            Michael the Mutineer – not sold on her. There’s no real reason for having her be the step/foster daughter of Sarek and Amanda (except to do a knowing twist on the Vulcan First Officer Spock of TOS).

            My main gripe is that, like the Abrams reboot, I can see this ‘verse sliding down to Mirrorverse very easily and that does not interest me. The Mirrorverse has been done to death – every series, including Enterprise, felt it needed to do a Mirrorverse episode whether it made any sense or not, because the fans love Mirrorverse episodes. I don’t want to know how easily things can go crappy, I know that by living in this world of ours. I want the universe where people are trying to wash the blood off their hands and not get more back on them, trying to live up to a set of ideals about “we could be better than this”.

            I don’t want “introducing a female captain in the first episode only to kill her off”. I don’t want Captain Lorca and his oh-so-relevant PTSD and war-hardened pragmatism; I don’t want the “let us look at the gritty underbelly of the Federation under all the shiny gloss of its purported ideals”. I can get that anywhere.

            So it’s lovely and shiny tech and appropriately whatever the up-to-date term about grimdark is for this decade and all the interpretation over “are the Klingons meant to be Muslims or Trump voters?” can get argued out online and in media review thinkpieces, but I don’t think I’ll be watching.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Deiseach

            Come to the dark side the Orville we have optimism. (yes we have scatological jokes too but they’re optimisticly scatological ) 😉

            Edit to add: I still expect Fox to screw the pooch somehow.

          • cassander says:

            @Deiseach

            What if they do a mirror universe episode but when they arrive in the mirror, everyone is TNG style happy and helpful?

    • Bugmaster says:

      It’s one of very few (if any !) shows that I found myself physically unable to watch. The entire show consists of split-second jump-cut editing, combined with random camera angles, and sprinkled liberally with lens flares. It’s still possible to listen to the dialogue (such as it is), but the visuals are completely unwatchable. This is, in a way, an impressive cinematographic achievement in and of itself.

    • Wrong Species says:

      After being heavily skeptical about the show, it’s warming up on me. In the last episode, they made the characters more likeable. The main character acted like a Starfleet officer and the story is interesting. But some things I’m still not a fan of. The tone and aesthetic is still annoyingly grimdark which I’m not sure if I’ll ever get completely used to. And the Klingon scenes are still boring with them sounding like they have marbles in their mouth.

    • Mark says:

      Yeah, I like it. I’m not sure if it’s Star Trek, but it’s definitely something. Cool special effects.

      I like the main character, who is a black woman called “Michael” – I’m wondering if they wrote the role originally with a man in mind and then just decided to cast a woman? If so, that’s the kind of tokenism I approve of.
      The mutiny thing was a bit weird (maybe she was suffering from radiation sickness – and the captain’s strategy did fail), but I liked the way everyone blamed her for everyone dying in the battle, when it was absolutely nothing to do with her. Realistic.

      Also, I think it’s pretty funny that some of the more liberal reviewers were like, “Yes – eat that Trumpies – the Klingons are against open borders and the writers are going to be rubbing it in *all* season.” and I was just like, “hmmm… nice to have some interesting, relatable adversaries for a change…”

      • ParryHotter says:

        Apparently, this is a signature move of Bryan Fuller (who was originally on the show’s production team). See this for more: https://www.themarysue.com/michael-burnham/

      • Winter Shaker says:

        …woman called “Michael”

        Well, we have at least one real world example… kinda 🙂
        (seriously though, I’m not sure how that works – other people marrying into the British royal family don’t seem to take on their spouse’s first name as part of their title)

        • littskad says:

          There’s also Michael Learned, who played the mother on The Waltons.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Prince Michael has a FAQ. Royal titles are different from noble titles because they precede the name, but the complicated details seem pretty arbitrary. Other wives of princes could use such a title, but generally have other titles they prefer. For example, Prince Michael’s older brother is Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, so his wife could be called Princess Edward, Duchess of Kent, but prefers just Katharine, Duchess of Kent. But Prince is Michael’s only title.

          Prince of Wales is a mix of a royal and noble title. Some day Kate Middleton will be Catherine, Princess of Wales (not Princess Catherine, although you can already say Prince William), but for now you can call her Princess William of Wales. She prefers Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.

          I’m not sure about husbands of princesses. Phillip was specifically granted his own princely title several years after Elizabeth’s coronation.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            Correct on Prince Philip (who had been a Prince of Greece and Denmark but renounced those titles), except that before the wedding he had been granted the title of His Royal Highness and a dukedom. In that order, so for a day he was HRH but a commoner.

            Princess Margaret’s husband, Antony Armstrong-Jones was again granted a title (Earl of Snowdon) by the Queen shortly after their marriage. Until this point, he was just plain Mr. Armstrong-Jones. He also kept being Earl of Snowdon after they divorced- being deprived of a British noble title is almost unheard of in the modern era.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Fair enough, that does explain it. I guess that whenever anyone talked about ‘Princess Diana’, there wasn’t a ready supply of pedants around to insist that she be styled as … well, Princess Charles, presumably? So that leaves Princess Michael as the only person actually routinely referred to with this odd-sounding formula.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Though, to be fair, owing to some of the children’s sci-fi I grew up with, I didn’t realise that Kiryl would normally be a boy’s name.

          • Deiseach says:

            One such title that I do remember hearing in common usage was Lady Colin Campbell, who kept that style after her divorce and was so addressed because she obtained her rank through her husband and not by her own inheritance. So Princess Michael was not the only one, though probably the most notable.

            And of course from the Lord Peter Wimsey novels, when Harriet Vane married Peter her title would then be Lady Peter Wimsey.

            I guess that whenever anyone talked about ‘Princess Diana’, there wasn’t a ready supply of pedants around to insist that she be styled as … well, Princess Charles, presumably?

            From what I vaguely remember back in the days when they were divorcing, there was a lot of horse-trading over what her title would be post-divorce. As the daughter of an earl she had her own courtesy title, Lady Diana Spencer (or Windsor, if she kept the surname from marriage). She, naturally, wanted to hold on to the title of Princess. They, equally naturally, didn’t want to let her swan around as “the People’s Queen” which she already had a tendency to do as The People’s Princess, so they worked out a compromise where she would no longer be Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales but could be referred to as Diana, Princess of Wales (as mother of the heir to the throne after Charles, she kept her precedence gained during marriage).

            Titles and precedence and “Is Lady Smith the wife of an earl or a knight?” are confusing 🙂 I have only the vaguest notion of it, but it does stick out when reading American writers writing Victorian detective stories set in England, where they’re likely to have someone speak of “Sir Smith” instead of either “Sir John” or “Lord Smith”, depending on his exact rank.

      • All I Do Is Win says:

        I knew a girl named Michael in real life. Beautiful girl, solid family, from North Carolina. Standard Republican/WASP/Christian parents.

      • Jaskologist says:

        It’s really strange to me seeing people get excited about a girl being named “Michael,” but if that’s what you’re into, might I recommend giving the Bible a try? It’s not as preachy as Star Trek, but I think you’ll still get a lot out of it.

        • I believe I have known two women named “Michal.” One of them an Israeli.

          • quaelegit says:

            Its one of the most popular girls names in Israel (8th on a list from 2008 on baby names wizard). Its my mom’s name, but she’s lived in the US since she small and usually just goes by Michelle (pronunciation-wise — she also got some benefit from being assumed to be a “Michael” when working in tech in the 80s and 90s).

  22. OptimalSolver says:

    We often hear that torture doesn’t work, but if so, how do we explain it’s constant use over thousands of years, and in seemingly all places?

    How to explain its ubiquitous employment by all manner of organizations, governmental, criminal, religious etc.?

    Surely if torture was less efficient at producing results than other methods, it would have fallen by the wayside over the millennia?

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Well it presumably does work as a deterrent to crime, at least to some extent; what is in doubt is whether it works as a reliable way of extracting information, and even then, it presumably works some of the time, on some people, and in the cases where you do get false confessions/false accusations of others, you may be looking at a society that considers it more important to see someone punished for a wrong regardless of whether they actually did it, than to see no one punished and thus be sure that whoever it was has gotten away with it. Is the bulk of historical torture of the ‘we have ways of making you talk’ variety, or just the more prosaic ‘you have been found guilty of X; here’s some pain’?

    • Tetrikitty says:

      It might just be an antipattern.

    • Mr Mind says:

      I guess for the same reason religions or superstitions still exists: humans are not utility maximizers. Often times they can take something that barely works, but gives them a way to enjoy cruelty and sadism, and make an institution of it.

    • Aapje says:

      People are naturally inclined to believe that doing more extreme things gets more extreme outcomes.

      Torture tends to make people tell you what you want to hear, which means that it gives minimal cognitive dissonance and thus results in more pleasing outcomes than being told the truth.

      There is a punitive/revenge/deterrent element.

      Surely if torture was less efficient at producing results than other methods, it would have fallen by the wayside over the millennia.

      This entire claim resolves around the definition of “result”. If you merely want high levels of truth, with low levels of misinformation, then torture doesn’t produce the best result. I don’t think that many torturers actually optimize for this, even if they think they are.

    • johan_larson says:

      I would guess torture (or even just the threat of it) is plenty effective at getting people to reveal information they actually know, but don’t want to reveal. The example here is, “Tell me who you are working with, and where we can find them.” That strikes me as a reasonably common case.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        I think the ‘doesn’t work’ claim is that it is effective at getting people to reveal true information that they don’t want to reveal, but it is even more effective at getting people who don’t actually have the information you want, to fabricate false information in order to make the pain stop, so that unless you have chosen your torturees very carefully (which, if you were able to do, you probably wouldn’t have needed to resort to torture in the first place), you get, on net, more false than true information. It is difficult to think of any ethical ways of testing that hypothesis, but it is prima facie plausible.

        • johan_larson says:

          Sure. Information obtained through torture is not reliable and therefore must be verified by other means. That makes sense. But you are probably better off with six new clues even if four of them are drivel than you would be with nothing at all.

          • bean says:

            This is a known problem. The way the US dealt with it was to make sure to ask questions about things we knew, but that the prisoner didn’t know we knew. When he started giving truthful answers to them, we increased our confidence in other things he was saying. It’s basically just a matter of record-keeping.

          • The Red Foliot says:

            If one tortured a large number of people, like POWs, one could filter the results on the basis of repetition. If one claim was repeated by multiple captives, it could command high confidence; and if it wasn’t, it could be treated casually. Given this, as well as other possible techniques, I suspect that torture was often extremely useful.

      • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

        Mixed with so many false positives that a snowball effect erases parts of the population. Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, Argentina, Chile, …

    • 1soru1 says:

      Define ‘work’ and ‘results’.

      Diesel fuel works in a diesel engine, and will ruin a petrol one.

      Torture works very well at enforcing the will of the powerful on the powerless. It doesn’t work so well in terms of protecting the innocent from the guilty. A society that tries to run on the latter narrative while using the methods of the former will need to be taken to the garage for a service.

      • fortaleza84 says:

        You also need to define “torture.” Holding someone in contempt of court and making them sit in jail until they pay their back child support is fundamentally no different from what is commonly referred to as “torture.”

        • rahien.din says:

          Are you being genuine? You are incapable of discerning torture from mere imprisonment?

          • The Nybbler says:

            You are incapable of discerning torture from mere imprisonment?

            There’s no bright line.

          • There is an old article by John Langbein comparing the medieval law of torture with the modern American practice of plea bargaining. In both cases, you evade strict requirements of proof of guilt by holding that they do not apply to a voluntary confession and then stretching “voluntary” to apply to a situation where it is often in the interest of the accused to confess to something of which he is not guilty.

          • rahien.din says:

            The goal of torture is the negation of the will, via the infliction of anguish in the present. I will hurt you until you do what I want.

            The goal of bargaining (such as plea bargains, or, being held in jail until you pay your child support) is engaging the will, via descriptions of punishments/adducements that may occur in the future. Via your actions, you will select from the following options…

            These are definitely different things.

          • Nornagest says:

            Traditionally, the first stage of torture is showing the guy you’re torturing the implements you’re going to torture him with. That sounds an awful lot like “engaging the will via descriptions of punishments…” to me.

          • rahien.din says:

            Nornagest,

            Well, then that’s still a bargaining phase. It might be a rather extreme set of options, but to the extent that anguish is not being inflicted, what you describe would be prior-to-torture.

            One could put it in the other direction : if I offer a prisoner a routine plea bargain wherein they must choose between prison and probation, and they have a genuinely overwhelming, mind-altering phobia of prison, that might be enough to invalidate some aspect of their plea decision.

          • @rahien.din:

            Under the medieval law of torture, a confession while being tortured didn’t count. The confession had to be made while the suspect was not being tortured–at which point it was avoiding future torture that was the incentive.

          • rahien.din says:

            David Friedman,

            I’m skeptical that we’ll-pause-the-torture-for-a-chat really, truly counts.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m not convinced that “negation of the will” vs. “engagement of the will” is a real distinction. Whether you’re using the threat of more torture to come or the threat of imprisonment, you’re still trying to force compliance through threats.

            I’ve also heard that the psychological game of torture isn’t about inflicting pain as such. There is not really a breaking point for most people where, if you hurt them enough, they’ll do whatever you tell them to; people can endure quite a lot if they have a reason to, and they’re pretty good at inventing reasons. The torturer is trying to take those reasons away, to force the victim into a choice between compliance or certain pain — or mutilation, or isolation, or whatever they’re afraid of. Obviously that’s different in severity from offering a plea bargain for six weeks in prison vs. potentially years if you don’t confess, but it doesn’t seem so different in kind.

          • rahien.din says:

            Nornagest,

            Well, “finding and removing any reasons to resist” still seems categorically different from “allowing you to choose between two fixed options, however bad.”

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s precisely a choice between two fixed options. The leadup to it can be viewed as establishing the credibility of those options, just like the showing-the-implements phase.

          • rahien.din says:

            Ehhh, the way you describe torture has me more convinced of my own position.

          • Nornagest says:

            The legitimate legal system puts quite a lot of effort into establishing the credibility of punishment, too: threats and promises during interrogation, restraints, special costumes and props, elaborate rules of courtroom procedure, maybe a stay in county jail (which is usually worse than prison) before you go before a judge.

            When a police detective hauls you out of your jail cell at five in the morning, handcuffs you to an interrogation-room table, shines the light in your eyes and tells you that a city boy like you you won’t last a week in Folsom and you’d better make it easy for yourself, what’s he doing but trying to break down sources of resistance? He’s limited in how he can do that, but it’s basically the same psychology.

          • rahien.din says:

            You’re putting a lot more stock in this idea of credibility of future punishment than I am. I don’t think that matters so much.

            I think torture is designed to turn a voluntary situation into an involuntary one, via the infliction of anguish. This is a pretty clear distinction.

          • Nornagest says:

            I think torture is designed to turn a voluntary situation into an involuntary one, via the infliction of anguish. This is a pretty clear distinction.

            And I don’t think we have any reason to make that distinction vs. plea bargains or any number of other things. In both cases we have the perpetrators artificially constructing a situation where compliance is the lesser of two bad choices, in hopes that the victim will then choose to comply. I don’t think there’s any principled reason to say that the choice in one case is voluntary and isn’t in the other; we may have other reasons to forbid the deliberate infliction of pain, but we also know that just hurting people doesn’t magically make them do what you want. If it did, the case for torture would be a lot stronger than it is!

            I’m not sure how much clearer I can make this.

          • beleester says:

            I feel your definition is overly broad – pretty much any form of law enforcement will fit under “attempts to construct a situation where compliance seems better than resisting.” Heck, I bet some high-pressure sales tactics would fit under it too.

            It’s sort of a “taxes are theft” argument – yes, under your definition, imprisonment and plea bargains are just a lesser degree of torture, but they’re non-central enough that I start to question your definition.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            You are incapable of discerning torture from mere imprisonment?

            In a rigorous, principled way, yes.

            But since you are capable of discerning the two, would you mind laying out, step by step, how you would decide whether an activity is “torture” or not?

          • fortaleza84 says:

            I feel your definition is overly broad

            I might agree with you, but let’s turn back to the example which sparked this sub-thread. You owe child support and the judge orders you to be held in jail until you pay up. It seems pretty clear to me that the point of this is to inflict suffering on you as a way of motivating you to do what the judge wants in order to make the suffering stop.

            Fundamentally, how is this not torture? Admittedly, cooling your heels in jail is a lot more bearable than having your fingernails pulled out or whatever.

            But let’s take another step back: The earlier question being discussed was whether torture “works.” It seems to me that the example of contempt of court shows that (mild) torture does in fact “work.” If mild torture works, it’s reasonable to conclude that more severe torture works. Maybe more effectively, or maybe less effectively, but still.

          • Nornagest says:

            I feel your definition is overly broad – pretty much any form of law enforcement will fit under “attempts to construct a situation where compliance seems better than resisting.” Heck, I bet some high-pressure sales tactics would fit under it too.

            What definition? I’m not claiming that this is the definition of torture. We all know what torture is, and high-pressure sales tactics aren’t it. I’m claiming that the strategy of torture, the psychology it exploits, is similar in some important ways to e.g. high-pressure sales tactics, and that attempts to classify or to condemn torture have to rely on things other than the psychology it employs for that reason.

            Basically, I jumped into this subthread because that phrase about “negation of the will” ticked me off. Don’t read too much beyond that into what I’m saying.

          • rahien.din says:

            Nornagest,

            That phrase about “negation of the will” ticked me off. We also know that just hurting people doesn’t magically make them do what you want.

            I get it. You’re trying to walk me out of that. You claim to have read some material on how torture works, so you may know something I don’t. And that’s fine.

            But here’s the thing. I have to take your word for it, face value, perfect-internet-stranger. Or I have to ask you for sources which, given everything else on my plate, I will have little motivation or rationale to read. And what can I anticipate? If you are correct, I will conclude something like “Everyone knows what torture is, and it’s something like a plea bargain but not really like high-pressure sales tactics.” That’s akin to “Everyone knows what porn is and it’s something like a Shakira video but not really like a football game on TV.”

            And you’re not even answering challenges to your position! beleester has an excellent point : if you describe torture merely as an extreme degree of negative consequence presentation, then you’re not able to demonstrate that a torturer is categorically different from a pushy salesperson. This proves way too much! And in response you hand-wave that “Well of course those things are different, everybody knows that…” which, to me, only serves to demonstrate that you don’t know if or how they actually are.

            It’s hard not to conclude that you have “rigor”-ed your way into torture apologia.

            Moreover, you’re not exactly being forthright with me. You could have led with :

            that phrase about “negation of the will” ticks me off. Don’t read too much beyond that into what I’m saying.

            Or something like it, instead of wheedling a fight out of me.

            I wish you had started with explaining the following:

            I’m claiming that the strategy of torture, the psychology it exploits, is similar in some important ways to e.g. high-pressure sales tactics, and that attempts to classify or to condemn torture have to rely on things other than the psychology it employs for that reason.

            C’mon Nornagest, that’s what’s interesting! Why not just do the fun, interesting thing? Why did we do the other, non-fun, uninteresting thing instead?

            I’d be very interested in learning more about what you know. Honestly, if you have the time and wherewithal, that might make a good effort post (or something like it). I genuinely hope you’ll consider that.

            fortaleza84,

            But since you are capable of discerning the two, would you mind laying out, step by step, how you would decide whether an activity is “torture” or not?

            Oh boy. I have hereby registered this request for more of the non-fun, uninteresting thing.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            Oh boy. I have hereby registered this request for more of the non-fun, uninteresting thing.

            I’m not sure what your point is here, but it looks like you are unable to explain how you would discern “torture” from jailing someone for contempt of court.

            Because like I said, there is no fundamental difference. In both cases, you are inflicting suffering on a person to motivate them to behave in some way so as to end the suffering. Jailing someone for contempt of court is just more mild than the conduct which is commonly referred to as torture.

      • Protagoras says:

        Yes, people are good at rationalizing that those they inflict harm on deserve it. So torture is good for convincing the torturers that their victims deserved it; hence good for increasing solidarity and loyalty among the enforcers of an oppressive regime.

    • Urstoff says:

      What is “work” in this case? As a way to make people give false confessions, torture seems fairly effective. As a way to find out accurate information, it seems of dubious value. However, it’s not clear if that’s because torture itself is ineffective or if the type of people that employ torture are the type of people that are not interested in truth. The latter seems to be more the norm throughout history.

    • rlms says:

      Torture is definitely effective from the perspective of a (potential) torturer at solving the problem of a prisoner who won’t say anything: either by inducing them to make possibly false confessions, or by killing them. That doesn’t imply much about its effectiveness from the perspective of potential torturers’ bosses, who want useful information.

    • rahien.din says:

      All of the above, plus, emotional reasoning. They-hurt-us-so-we’ll-hurt-them-worser.

    • John Schilling says:

      We often hear that torture doesn’t work, but if so, how do we explain it’s constant use over thousands of years, and in seemingly all places?

      When we hear that torture doesn’t work, we are listening to a liar who thinks that lying to us about the effectiveness of torture is justified if it convinces people not to engage in torture. Or, perhaps, an ignorant dupe of such a liar.

      Torture does work. It works for lots of things. It even works for the thing people are most likely to accuse it of failing at, to wit identifying whether a particular suspect is guilty of a particular crime, if you use it intelligently for that purpose. If that’s what you’re after, ask questions that only you and the criminal would know the answer to. But of course, as others have elaborated above, many torturers have completely different purposes in mind, and torture works well enough for those also.

      You still shouldn’t torture people. But you also shouldn’t, e.g., shoot people who annoy you. You just shouldn’t argue against it by asserting, “we often hear that annoying people are bulletproof”.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I don’t think anyone is lying. It’s part of a commonly believed narrative.

        • John Schilling says:

          How does a falsehood become part of the “commonly believed narrative” without an initial narrator who was Making Shit Up? And to be common, you really need more than just the one and you need ongoing reinforcement.

          • 1soru1 says:

            One way is by not being false. Just because some people are mistaken about the theoretical effectiveness of torture in the abstract does not make other people wrong when they talk about it in the context of actual human institutions and societies.

            Communists, anarchocapitalists and fascists don’t have any great differences in temperament or morality; they differ in what they think would work in the real world. By defijition, torturists think torture works better than the alternatives. If you are a torturist, it doesn’t make any coherent sense to say ‘nevertheless torture is bad’.

          • bean says:

            By defijition, torturists think torture works better than the alternatives. If you are a torturist, it doesn’t make any coherent sense to say ‘nevertheless torture is bad’.

            You’re assuming that only torturists will say that torture works. “Torture works, but we shouldn’t use it for moral reasons” is a coherent position. “Torture doesn’t work” is the result of the Just World Fallacy, people trying to dodge the need to confront uncomfortable moral choices.

          • Deiseach says:

            How does a falsehood become part of the “commonly believed narrative” without an initial narrator who was Making Shit Up?

            Show trials. Confessions by people who plainly didn’t do what they were accused of. That shows torture does not work for “obtaining true confessions”; it does show torture works for “making people confess to being Jack the Ripper”.

            Since the rationale of those who wish to use torture is “we can use it to get true confessions out of those who would otherwise never talk (and we will never use it for any other purpose, oh dearie me no not at all)”, then the “American pilot tortured into admitting he was wrong to promulgate the American government plot to persecute the noble Viet Cong” works against you there. Confessions procured by torture can be shown to be false, why should I believe this particular confession is true (unless you have other evidence to back it up, and if you have other evidence, why do you need torture?)

            I think there have been enough cases where the police beat a confession out of a suspect, only for later investigation to demonstrate that they were innocent, to say that torture may or may not work but it is not a dependable tool. And it is certainly not one you want to put in the public toolbox, because it will not be confined to “we’ll only use this for very hard cases in very limited circumstances and sparingly”.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @John

            There’s a pretty big difference between propagating something you believe to be true but isn’t and propagating something you know to be false. It’s not accurate to call the teachers of heliocentrism liars.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            What Wrong Species said. But also, I am a bit surprised that Harry Frankfurt’s celebrated essay hasn’t been mentioned yet.

          • Nornagest says:

            “we can use it to get true confessions out of those who would otherwise never talk (and we will never use it for any other purpose, oh dearie me no not at all)”

            I don’t think this is quite what torture proponents are going for — at least on this side of the pond, I don’t know about Ireland. Ideally, if we have enough evidence to torture a guy on, we have enough evidence to put him away without a confession; realistically this might not always be true, and accusations of coerced confession do come up pretty often, but our legal rules are set up such that forced confessions are inadmissible and I’ve never heard anyone agitating to change that.

            What I have heard seriously proposed is torture of people we already have dead to rights, as an intelligence-gathering tool. The usual scenario presented in the media is some kind of Hollywoodesque ticking-time-bomb deal, where the bad guys have been captured but their plot is already in motion, and can’t be stopped without vital information that the good guys just need to break a few fingers for.

            That probably doesn’t happen often if it’s ever happened at all, but it illustrates the kind of thing we’d be looking for: unique, valuable, specific, verifiable information. Lose any of those criteria and torture is either pointless or unreliable. But how likely we are to get information like that is an empirical question, albeit one I’ve never seen answers to that I trust.

      • Montfort says:

        Everyone who thinks they’re right about something thinks those who disagree are either lying or ignorant of crucial facts/arguments, but explicitly mentioning these things as if in moral judgment doesn’t seem helpful.

      • engleberg says:

        @We often hear that torture doesn’t work, so how do we explain its constant use over thousands of years-

        Work animals are still routinely struck to make them do what we want, and it gets worse when we really need something important done. A fellow who routinely pokes his favorite ox up the butt with a sharp ox-goad is not someone you’d want to bend over in front of when he’s mad at you. A milkman who’s had to flog a team of tired old horses he really likes to get the milk up an icy road is not a fellow who’d hesitate to strike annoying humans. (Dorothy Parker story, ‘Big Blonde’, 1930s when being shocked by this stuff showed that the big blonde was becoming mentally unstable). I could flog this dead horse, but there’s a happy ending: With internal combustion engines, everyone got nicer.
        Schilling’s argument against pious fraud ignores the power of pious fraud as a loyalty test, though he’s right that it’s intellectually corrupt.

    • CatCube says:

      An article that’s been posted here before, (which I can’t seem to find right now and might be remembering incorrectly) stated that torture was used in mainland Europe to force confessions because circumstantial evidence wasn’t permitted–only the testimony of direct witnesses or confessions could be allowed.

      So, if I understood this correctly, if a bunch of people saw somebody go into a house with a knife, heard screaming from within, and saw the guy walk out covered in blood, that wasn’t sufficient to convict because that’s all circumstantial evidence. So to convict almost anybody they needed a confession. The requirements for direct evidence or confessions were held to be a Biblical requirement and therefore couldn’t be changed, so they papered over this flaw by putting thumbscrews on suspects so they would confess. This then made their conviction legal.

      The original idea, I think, was that they would only do this when there existed enough evidence to be sure that the person being tortured was really guilty, and they just needed the paper for a legal conviction. Then it kind of got away from them and became (more) unjust.

      The article was actually relating this to the growth of plea bargaining in the US. Trials are now such elaborate and expensive affairs that plea bargaining became popular to handle cases where the prosecutor was sure they had the right guy. Aaand then became the most convenient way to handle their docket.

      • moscanarius says:

        Interesting. Could you post this link again, if possible?

      • I just posted one relevant link, to Langbein’s piece. I don’t know if the extreme bloody knife example is from that legal tradition or from Maimonides’ discussion of the similar requirement in Jewish law–which includes ways of evading it.

        One bit of the story that CatCube doesn’t mention is that the medieval law of torture arose as a result of the abandoning of ordeal as a method of proof. You start with the doctrine that you should never convict an innocent man. The early medieval solution was to ask God if he is innocent, via one of several tests. God is omniscient, so that should always work. Peter Leeson has a good piece on this, arguing that ordeals worked, although not for the supposed reason.

        Eventually the Church decided that that approach was for various reasons illegitimate and forced its abandonment. Conviction was now supposed to require evidence clear as the noonday sun–two eye witnesses to the crime or a voluntary confession. That meant that most guilty criminals could not be convicted. The solution was that with “half proof” you could torture someone. A confession under torture wasn’t voluntary. So you stop torturing him, ask him if he is willing to confess. If he doesn’t, you torture him again.

        • Acedia says:

          I really enjoyed that Peter Leeson piece, thanks for sharing it.

          • Leeson is often interesting. He’s my current example of the attraction of working the extensive margin–applying economics to something it hasn’t been applied to before instead of trying to do something original on a problem that smart people have been working on for a century or so.

    • Deiseach says:

      Torture is not used for simply one effect or result, there are various ways it is used.

      The testimony of slaves in Roman times would not be accepted unless it were obtained under torture, the rationale being that if your slave were in a position to know your secrets, they must be very trusted and so loyal. Let us say that you are torturing a slave to find out if Decius Mus were involved in a conspiracy. You apply torture and the slave says “No”. Do you (a) accept this is the truth (b) think maybe the slave can handle this much pain and is being loyal, so apply even more pain and see if the answer stays the same?

      Plainly, the way this can go wrong is if you keep torturing someone saying “No”, so they switch to saying “Yes” in order to get it to stop. You still can’t be sure whether “no” or “yes” is the right answer. If all you care about is getting Decius Mus convicted because he’s a political enemy, then the testimony you want is where the slave says “yes” and you torture them until they say “yes”. If you really want to know the truth but you’re not willing to take the first answer you get, you still can’t be sure: if the slave is saying “no” out of loyalty but Decius really is guilty, maybe they’re brave and loyal enough to keep saying “no” even to the point of death. If they’re not able to withstand pain, they may say “yes” to get the torture to stop, even if Decius is not guilty.

      But torture isn’t just for “get the answer”, it’s for punishment, it’s a deterrent (if you will be not alone executed but tortured to death if caught), it’s to humiliate and insult and degrade a captive or enemy, it’s the exercise of power, and many other reasons. The opposition to torture is not alone that it doesn’t work – plainly it does work in some instances, for example, if you want to make someone’s death as horrible and painful as possible, or if you want to dehumanise and degrade an enemy – but that it is inhumane and something that as a civilised world we should be leaving behind and growing out of, as well as that it is wrong just as maltreating prisoners (civilian and of war) or abusing the vulnerable (children, the elderly, animals) in our power is wrong.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        What I’ve never understood about that is why, if a slave testified against his master or in a completely unrelated matter, torture was still held to be necessary.

    • C_B says:

      Somewhat relevant writing on the mindset around torture and punishment for most of history:

      https://www.exurbe.com/?p=2339

      It is not entirely focused on torture-for-information, though.

    • Of possible relevance … . In Periclean Athens, the testimony of slaves could only be taken under torture, possibly on the theory that the information wanted was usually against the slave’s owner, who was in a position to punish him if he revealed it.

      The problems with torture as a source of information were discussed then. There are two surviving orations, one of which claims that evidence taken under torture is worthless for the obvious reason, one of which claims that such evidence has never turned out to be false.

      They were both written by the same orator–for different clients.

      The Visigoths had more or less the modern approach. If the testimony did not reveal information that the guilty party would have and an innocent would not, it was rejected. If there was no such information, the accused could not be tortured.

      The problem with that, then and now, is that it relies on the torturer being honest. Otherwise he can leak the information about the crime to the accused, then take his knowledge of that information as evidence of guilt.

    • Lillian says:

      It’s surprisingly difficult not to torture people whom you have sufficiently dehumanised, and hold helpless in your power with no authorities to answer to. It is even more difficult when you really need them to do something and they are refusing to cooperate. It can happen even if you and your compatriots are intelligent, rational, empirical people who sincerely believe torture is ineffective, and keep failing to get any positive results from it.

      This is something i learned from roleplaying, in a game in which we were the heroes but not the good guys. We tortured a lot of people in the course of securing a city after taking it over through a violent coup. (Memorable moment: my character imperiously demanding the streets be cleared because the troops she’s unloading are urgently needed at the bishop’s palace. By the time anyone realized what they were needed for, we were already storming it.) This despite none of the players believing torture is effective, nobody deliberately roleplaying their character as being misguided on the subject, and the fact that it literally never worked. A flip switched and suddenly everyone but the GM was all gung-ho about torture.

      It was just so frustrating to be constantly attacked by a cabal of mad flagellant seers, who we couldn’t fucking find because they were using their prophetic powers to coordinate their actions. If one of them would just tell us where to find at least one of their hideouts we could have made progress, but none would cooperate in the slightest. Oh they’d pretend to cooperate, but they could not really be reasoned with because they were both fanatics and literally insane, so all we ever got was religion, riddles, and nonsense. A situation like that makes you so angry and frustrated that you really want to hurt your captives irrespective of how productive doing so actually is. At least it makes you feel better, which in turn creates an illusion of making progress.

      So yeah we tortured the flagellants we captured, just like we tortured some of our other enemies, and we kept doing it despite the the GM’s not so subtle hints it was never going to work. You know how we finally found their hideout? One of my underlings used his hounds to sniff out the lot after a fruitless night spent interrogating one of them. It was only after finally eradicating the troublesome cabal that i was able to sit back and realize how much effort i’d been wasting trying to torture coherent answers out of mad men. It’s something that should have been obvious when literal mind control and mind reading magic wasn’t working either, but somehow it alway seemed like the next violation would yield results.

      Torture seems self-evidently foolish and counter-productive in the abstract. In the moment though, when it feels like one man’s intransigence is all that stands between you and victory, when all you have to do is somehow get him to talk, it really damn hard not to start hurting him. The false promises of torture are very seductive: all the answers you need, for the low price of being a monster for a little while. It’s both the easy way and the hard core way all at once.

      In all, the game was a very enlightening experience, and thanks to it can answer your question. The reason why people keep torturing each other is that humans are emotional, irrational, and cruel. The fact that it doesn’t work has little bearing on it, people get so caught up in the moment they lose sight of that. Everything else is just rationalisation. However the dehumanisation of the victim is a key component, since without it it’s much easier to avoid falling into the trap. It makes me glad that in my case, my sense of empathy is too strong to ever deliberately hurt real people, even if i did somehow believe torture was necessary and effective.

      • Ventrue Capital says:

        A fascinating story. What game was this? Your mention of “flagellant seers” makes me wonder if it was a GURPS game set in Megalos.

        • Lillian says:

          Vampire the Dark Ages, a game you are no doubt familiar with given your name. Which means the mad flagellant seers were Malkavians. You can imagine what an excercise in furtility it was trying to get straight answers out of god damned Malkavians.

          Honestly we were lucky to all came out of it with our sanities intact, Dementation is no joke. Though some of our men were not so lucky. A bunch of then were driven into a mad religious frenzy, tearing at themselves and each other, plucking out their own eyes. Had to drink from the dead to get enough blood to heal the crippled and the maimed. On the plus side, the survivors now think their liege-lady is some kind of saint or angel. I love having no Masquerade.

          • Jaskologist says:

            If you learned from roleplaying that torture doesn’t work, did you also learn that drinking the blood of the dead does? Seems like both rest on the same evidence.

            Evidence from roleplaying only tells us what your DM believes, not how the real world works.

          • Vorkon says:

            To be fair, they didn’t learn that torture doesn’t WORK per se, they learned that they, personally, are likely to resort to torture out of frustration, even though they know it is unlikely to work, and extrapolated that knowledge out to human nature, in general.

            The torture almost certainly WOULD have worked, if the people being tortured weren’t magically insane, with no actual knowledge of the information they were trying to torture out. But they didn’t learn a lesson about the efficacy of torture, (if mind reading and mind control didn’t get them the information they wanted, there was no logical way they could have imagined torture would) they learned a lesson about themselves, and how likely they might be to resort to torture.

            It’s not exactly a particularly accurate experiment, and trying to apply it to human nature as a whole overlooks some pretty key mitigating factors, (wouldn’t someone roleplaying as a vampire, of all things, be more likely to be evil than the average person? That’s a big problem I’ve always seen with the Stanford Prison Experiment, too; roleplaying can be a useful tool, but people WILL cut loose more when they are doing it than in a similar real-life situation) but overall, I think that’s a pretty valid lesson.

          • Randy M says:

            they learned that they, personally, are likely to resort to torture out of frustration,

            Eh, no they didn’t. They learned that they would torture fictional representations of their enemies, which might say something about what they would order at a far enough remove, but doesn’t say that they would actually enjoy getting their hands dirty.
            Fiction can be used to explain, or to propose plausibility, but not to provide evidence.

          • Lillian says:

            The point i was making is that even given a situation in which torture was clearly not working, it still happened. Sure it happened ficionally, but in my experience some roleplaying behaviour can be an good proxy for real life behaviour. Determining which is obviously a judgement call, and as such i acknowledge it can be wildly off the mark.

            Now, it seems to me that many people can in certain circumstances dehumanise others enough to guiltlessly inflict grave harm upon them. Many more can have it done at a far enough remove. What’s more, given the right emotional motivation, people in general can and will actively wish harm upon others. Finally people often engage in counter-productive behaviour if sufficiently emotionally invested.

            What the game demonstrated is how all these factors acting in concert can cause the need to gather information to be sublimated into the desire to hurt the subjects without the torturers consciously realizing it. If this failure mode can happen in real life, and i believe it can very easily, it would help explain why torture persists even though it is ineffective for accurate information gathering.

            That said, barring edge cases like literal delusional madmen, you can get results from torture. When i say i believe it’s ineffective, i mean in comparison to other interrogation and information gathering techniques. The problen with those is that they mostly require patience and skill, both of which are often in short supply. So you have all the aforementioned factors, and also some actual results to justify continuing the practice. Suboptimal behaviour is far more common and persistent than completely useless behaviour.

            Also, in the specific circumstances of readily verifiable information, such as lock combinations or nearby hiding places, torture can be an effective technique, potentially more so than any others. That is provided the subject actually knows the information, otherwise you can easily waste a hell of a lot of time trying to pump a dry well.

            EDIT – Oh hey, i found my favourite shory overview on the subject again. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/13/AR2007121301303.html

  23. Winter Shaker says:

    Does anyone have a citation for the smartarse Libertarian quip “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what your country can do to you”? I was curious who came up with that first, and having trouble googling it.

    • John Schilling says:

      I’m going to guess that several thousand people, most of them not Libertarians, independently came up with that one on 21 January 1961.

    • Brad says:

      Incidentally I have heard that the original JFK quote was a ripoff of something a headmaster at Choate used to say but I never bothered tracking down whether it was true or not.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        Here it is in a 1904 book by LeBaron Russell Briggs, first Dean of Students at Harvard. George St John, headmaster of Choate attended Harvard at the right time and is widely claimed to have repeatedly used it. Circa 2008, Judy Donald, school archivist found a notebook of St John quoting Briggs (source). Kennedy’s version, in the imperative, is better than Briggs’s. I’m not sure anyone is really sure about St John’s phrasing.

    • “Ask not what the government can do for you. Ask what the government is doing to you.”

      The Machinery of Freedom, subhead to Chapter 4, 1973.

      But I can’t swear nobody else said it first.

  24. johan_larson says:

    There’s a film being released this Friday that looks like fun: Happy Death Day. The Hollywood pitch was probably Groundhog Day meets murder mystery. A young woman wakes up repeatedly in the morning of the day she will be killed by a masked murderer. Each iteration plays out differently as she tries to figure out who her murderer is, in order to escape the loop.

    Very low budget ($5 million) and the cast is a bunch of young people who have experience but aren’t famous.

    • CatCube says:

      I hadn’t heard of that before–except as a poster in the theater last night when I went to see It.

      That sounds like it could be a really good movie if it’s well-executed.

    • Tibor says:

      Hmm. I had the same basic idea about a year ago for a short story I started writing and never (or rather still) haven’t finished.

    • John Schilling says:

      Tru Calling, Joss Whedon / Eliza Dushku, 2004-2005. Protagonist relives any day in which she directly encounters a murder or other “unnatural” death, which seeing as how she works in a morgue is quite frequent. Usually only one replay to set things right, and usually someone else’s murder rather than her own, but I recall at least one episode with many replays a la “Groundhog Day” and at least one where Tru’s own life was on the line.

      Decent piece of work, and I really wanted to see how the new plot element they introduced in the second season (another person with the “replay” ability, but a competing agenda) worked out. Cancelled too soon, of course.

  25. aNeopuritan says:

    When Cultures Collide is an excellent book. In the Wikipedia page for the author (Richard D. Lewis), you can find a summary of his threefold cultural model, but the book explains the cultures (and some history) of a large number of countries: it even clearly distinguishes Tajikistan from Uzbekistan, and Slovenia from Slovakia. 😛 While a lot of the information might not be news to you if you’ve been reading about different cultures for a long time, it’s at least the best summary I’ve ever seen, and what you’d hand out to someone who wanted to learn quickly. It also contains:

    “Is there such a thing as a “national style” of humor? Before answering this question directly, one must accept the fact that there is such a thing as international humor—that is to say, some types of humor and some jokes gain international acceptance. In particular, this is true of slapstick, which is age-old in its use and laughed at by Europeans, Americans, Africans and Asians alike. It is very much in evidence, for instance, on Japanese television. There are also “international” jokes repeated across many borders, such as the one about who must jump first out of the airplane, elephant jokes, restaurant jokes and hilarious stories about golfers.

    Even in the area of international jokes, however, the national “rinse” begins to show. Take, for example, the old joke about the journalists who organized a competition to write an article about elephants. The titles were as follows:

    English Hunting Elephants in British East Africa
    French The Love Life of Elephants
    German The Origin and Development of the Indian Elephant from 1200 to 1950 (600 pages)
    American How to Breed Bigger and Better Elephants
    Russian How We Sent an Elephant to the Moon
    Swede Elephants and the Welfare State
    Spaniard Techniques of Elephant Fighting
    Indian The Elephant as a Means of Transportation before Railroads
    Finn What Elephants Think about Finland

    This joke, which probably originated at a conference of journalists, pokes fun at various national faiblesses (weaknesses): French lust, German seriousness, American bragging, British colonialism and so on. The punch line is the Finns’ preoccupation with what others think about them. In Helsinki, however, the Finns developed an alternative punch line by adding a Norwegian title: “Norway and Norway’s Mountains.” Finns, Swedes and Danes find this alternative absolutely side-splitting. The Norwegians, who consider themselves a humorous people, do not find this ending funny at all. In fact, they do not understand it. Do you?”

    • keranih says:

      Well, not Norwegian (descended from, and visited, but not Norwegian) but here’s my best run at a just so story to explain:

      Norwegians are not joiners. They are somewhat like Japanese in this – they are Norsk, other people are not. This is okay – the world is better for having weird tourists come to Norway to be laughed at. But the actual place for a Norwegian is not in the city where the tourists are, but out in the woods and mountains. (Or out in the sea, on the waves, going to (or coming back from) other places that are not Norway.) So any film about elephants, made by a Norwegian, would have to start by talking about where the Norwegians came from & what their perspective is. And this is so fascinating, and there is so much to know about Norway ( & the Mountains) that you know, maybe better to just make the movie about that.

      Norwegians *think* that they aren’t self-centered – look at all the places Norwegians have gone to, throughout history! Look at all the exploring they’ve done! But I think that the exodus in the 1800’s led to most everyone with a wanderlust leaving the country (and not returning) so that Norway now has a deficit of people who have a great deal of curiosity about other places.

      OTOH: Australia’s entry is: My Adventures With Elephants on Six Continents (and How Australian Animals Are Still More Likely To Kill You.)

    • rahien.din says:

      Also found :

      Japan: How to Make Smaller and Cheaper Elephants

    • aNeopuritan says:

      Damn. I meant to write “distinguish between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan” – those are the 2 Central Asian former Soviet Republics with full write-ups (the other 3 get a paragraph each), and, about Tajikstan, you can know a substantial difference from any of the others just by knowing its language is from a different family.

      To both keranih and rahien.din: “Japan and Japan’s Mountains” also is “plausible”. (But yes, “smaller and cheaper” is better.)

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      Whoever made this joke was unaware of the pre-existing joke “Russia is the homeland of elephants”.

      Canada: Why We’re Uninterested in Breeding Bigger and Better Elephants.

      • Andrew G. says:

        The version of this joke I first encountered was (probably as told by a Canadian):

        At a school for diplomat’s children, four pupils are instructed to write an essay about elephants. They choose the following topics:

        British: “The role of elephants in the British East Indies”
        American: “The role of elephants in the Barnum and Bailey Circus”
        French: “The love life of the African elephant”
        Canadian: “Elephants: provincial or federal problem?”

    • Deiseach says:

      Ireland: All Our Elephants Died During The Famine 🙂

  26. bean says:

    Reminder about the effort post index. I’m busy reading and writing about naval things, so I’m relying on crowdsourcing to provide links.

  27. Doug says:

    Why isn’t genetic hemochromatosis screening universal? Some back of the envelope math: At least 1 out of 200 Northwestern Europeans are homozygote mutants. (And about 5-10% carriers). Virtually all people with symptoms are genetic homozygote.

    At least 50% of genetic hemochomates will go on to express the phenotype. Usually around age 40. Untreated phenotypical hemochromatosis is really nasty stuff. Cirrhosis, diabetes, cardiomyopathy, sexual dysfunction, depression. On the flip side treatment of the diagnosed is pretty much the easiest, cheapest and lowest risk medical intervention imaginable. Just donate blood regularly to reduce iron levels.

    A very conservative estimate is that diagnosis of the condition easily adds three years of life expectancy. Most likely a lot more. At a cost of $100 for 23andMe’s genetic screening, testing all Northwestern Europeans comes out to $40,000 per phenotypical hemochromate. That’s a lower-bound of $13,000 per QALY for universal screening. That’s far cheaper than the vast majority of medical expenditures, including almost all “preventative medicine”.

    • Thegnskald says:

      It may be more cost-effective to just test your iron levels regularly, since, I believe, you are supposed to get that done during your annual checkup anyways.

  28. keranih says:

    For those of us who read books originally written in other languages, for the people who speak that language, which are your favorites/best recommendations? (I am ignoring that the US and the UK aren’t actually the same culture, and same-same for Spain/Latin America.)

    Also: favorite movies of the same sort, and did you like best with or without subtitles?

    (I started to ask a longer and perhaps better question about the pros/cons trade-offs of communication errors vs problem-approach-diversity that seem to be inherent in cross-language communication, but I have the day off and haven’t yet figured out how to ask that question.)

    I am going to ask for anime/nonanime divisions here. I am esp interested in the pov of people from outside the USA.

    My choices (non-anime): Smillia’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg. (For those who have only seen the movie – check out the book. It’s better, and weirder.) To me, this was a literary adventure story – not as deep as the quality of the prose made it out to be, and full of great action and a sense of exotic places. Smillia was a great spunky-gal/Mary Sue type, but the people she encounters were ever so realistic in their reaction to her off-putting and abrasive personality.

    Before the Rain – no, not the 2007 India one, the Macedonia film made in 1994. I like it because it’s quirky and dark, includes some aspects of religion, and comes from that hopeful-but-stressful period between the fall of the Soviet Union and 9/11, when even problems that had existed for centuries seemed to be solvable, if we could just figure out the puzzle box.

    Anime: for books, it’s Lone Wolf and Cub, all the way. I like that it’s a super long arc, that the characters both change and remain true to themselves along the way, and the different cool things seen about the culture of that period. I particularly like how characters come back again, and how the lives of lower class people (even gangsters and prostitutes) are given dignity.

    Ghost in the Shell – the original one, not the more recent remake. (I don’t even much fancy the remastered one with better graphics.) (I do like all the animated versions better than the manga graphic novel versions.) To me, it’s the action/adventure mixed in with Our Hero trying to reconcile the similarities between herself and the villain, plus the great secondary characters of Da Chief and the Major’s good-cop sidekick.

    • John Schilling says:

      My choices (non-anime): Smillia’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg. (For those who have only seen the movie – check out the book. It’s better, and weirder.)

      Is it possible to be weirder than having Julia Ormond playing an Inuit?

      Ghost in the Shell – the original one, not the more recent remake

      Seconded. I rewatched the original when the remake came out, and it cured me of any vague notion that I ought to see the remake. Whose casting, I might add, is as ridiculous as that of Smilla.

      My own nomination, in the book department, would be pretty much everything Jules Verne ever wrote, but in particular check out the U.S. Naval Institute’s translation of “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”. You probably have some vague notion of the story from one of the movies or the old, highly abridged English translation. There is a wealth of technical, nautical, and oceanographic detail that the earlier editions basically ignored, amounting to maybe half the text, because that was just “nerd stuff” that nobody cares about. The USNI has the right sort of nerds for the job, and at least one of them is fluent in French.

      • keranih says:

        Is it possible to be weirder than having Julia Ormond playing an Inuit?

        Half-Inuit. And yes!

        (In defense of the newer version of Ghost in the Shell they do actually address that, a bit. Out-of-context outrage was out-of-context.)

        Thank you for the 20KLUS rec – I actually quite liked the bits of Moby Dick that were about the technology of whaling and seacraft.

        • Nornagest says:

          Ever since I finished Moby-Dick, I’ve thought of it as classic lit for people that like Neal Stephenson books. It doesn’t have the Stephenson snark, but it does have the right amount of obsessively researched technical detail, long digressions, and sudden unsignaled style shifts.

      • Trofim_Lysenko says:

        There is a wealth of technical, nautical, and oceanographic detail that the earlier editions basically ignored, amounting to maybe half the text, because that was just “nerd stuff” that nobody cares about. The USNI has the right sort of nerds for the job, and at least one of them is fluent in French.

        I can’t believe I didn’t know that. Thank you! I now have my next book.

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      As a German, I really enjoyed the Expanse (the TV show, haven’t read the books yet), which has lots of cool characters, that speak (some entirely) in a very pleasing, futuristic Creole language or strange English accents. I never liked the Indian accent before, but hearing Chrisjen Avasarala exude power and fury, by positively mutilating some words at times is just delightful.

      Also knowing most of the European/Latin roots and some Chinese and spontaneously puzzling out extra meaning is great fun.
      In terms of problem-approach diversity, I finally found a show, where people try to make rational and hard decisions on the fly, calming each other down, holding each other accountable, often fighting over taking more risk to save more people or saving their own lives, casually shooting someone in the head, just to quickly and safely deescalate a situation, that might have been resolved peacefully with some negotiation, but more risk, people being forced to kill innocents, because they’re stubborn…
      The show reminds me of Firefly a bit, but in space and much bleaker, grander and more real. Also contains Mormons, which adds further alienness to it.

    • dodrian says:

      My favorite foreign-language film (of an admittedly short list that I’ve watched) was 2010 Foreign Language Oscar Winner El Secreto de sus Ojos (ironically, even translating the title into English ruins it a bit). My Spanish isn’t quite good enough to watch it without subtitles, but I try not to look at them if I can avoid it (I can only do that much because I lived in Buenos Aires and can handle those accents).

      The subtitles definitely miss some of the subtleties of the original.

    • Nornagest says:

      Everything Jorge Luis Borges ever wrote is amazing.

    • Montfort says:

      2666 by Roberto Bolaño has so much critical hype I can only assume there’s about 6 levels of meaning that went over my head, but what I did understand made it out to be a pretty clever and sprawling novel. It’s kind of hard to describe, in the end, but it involves literary criticism, murder, and failures of various sorts.

      As for films, Wages of Fear is a very tense film about down-on-their-luck Europeans trucking nitroglycerin in South America. Some of the plot elements feel a little worn today, but that’s not really why you watch it; you watch because even on the fourth or fifth watch, when you know exactly what’s going to happen, the suspense in every obstacle and danger is thick enough to cut with a knife. It looks pretty, too.

      And Les Revenants was a pretty good TV series (the French one, not various English adaptations) about a small town where the dead suddenly came back to life, apparently as just (mostly) normal people who wanted to pick up where they left off. Definitely some creepy and mysterious moments, along with interpersonal drama, but I haven’t finished season two so I don’t know if the mysteries all get resolved (probably not). I don’t know if there’s a dub available, I watch it subtitled.

      • nimim.k.m. says:

        I second the recommendation for Le salaire de la peur / Wages of Fear. It’s amazing thriller, especially when you realize the actual thriller part of it manages to do it without any true human antagonists.

        I hear Clouzot (the director) was once described as Hitchcock of France. I have not seen all of is filmography, but L’Assassin habite au 21 and Les Diaboliques are also enjoyable Hitchcockian murder mysteries.

    • Casanova’s Memoirs. A first hand view of 18th century Europe, top to bottom, England to Russia, by an interesting and engaging narrator.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      My favorite translation is Sonnets from the Portuguese.
      I’m looking forward to the new Voynich translation.
      I’m a big fan of subtitles, especially for British films.

    • Saint Fiasco says:

      My favorite book in English is The Catcher in the Rye. It’s narrated in first person by a protagonist who has a relatively limited vocabulary, so it’s suitable for people with an intermediate level of English. The way the narrator explains complicated things using simple words is fantastic.

      The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is great for similar reasons. The characters are ignorant, uneducated and have limited vocabularies but at the same time they are very smart and clever. Only issue is that the dialect they use is a little more removed from contemporary English than the one Holden uses, so it takes a bit more work for a non-native to understand.

      For books that don’t play with language with limited vocabulary or clever puns, I don’t really mind reading translated versions. The Lord of the Rings is just as epic when properly translated in any language.

    • beleester says:

      Non-anime foreign movies:
      The Raid: Redemption has some of the finest fight scene choreography I’ve seen in any movie.

      If you don’t want action, Zero Motivation is a movie about a group of women in the Israeli army, stuck doing office work on a base in the middle of nowhere. A great mixture of drama and black comedy.

      Anime: I’m a huge fan of the Studio Ghibli movies. They’re all good, but I think I’ll put Castle in the Sky as my favorite.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      From Norway: Trollhunter.
      From Finland: Rare Exports.

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      I see no point in giving recommendations for the works in English, because that would look exactly like the usual “recommend films / books you like” listings we have here in OTs now and then. (And before any gushes “how do speak so many languages”, this is more of my “originally written in other languages, read the translation” list.)

      Books.

      French. Of course there’s classics (Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas senior, etc) that are always worth a read, but actually my true favorite is Goscinny’s Le Petit Nicolas series of books. Excellent comedy that purports to be for children’s fiction but you truly start to appreciate only as an adult. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s (most famous for authoring the Little Prince) very poetic memories about aviation is also a favorite.

      Francophone area is also amazing because of “BD” or Franco-Belgian comics (Goscinny is, of course, more famous as a writer for Asterix and Lucky Luke). Some favorites: Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese series (discounting the couple of weirder ones near the end) are probably the most excellent examples of “romantic adventurer” genre I’ve ever read. Francois Schuiten’s La Douce is instead an awesome technological romance. Alex Alice’s Siegfried is a gorgeous take on the Nibelungenlied. Blacksad series by Canales and Guarnido is an awesome noir film pastiche. (Like the best Westerns were done by Italians, today the best noir is graphic novels done in Europe?)

      Italian. I’ve always liked Umberto Eco’s fiction. Foucalt’s Pendulum is probably my favorite.

      Spanish. Augusto Pérez-Reverte has written lots of fun historical adventures. I recall enjoying Captain Alatriste series, but there’s also stand-alone books. (At least one about fencing master in early 20th century Spain, but the name of the title escapes me?) And of course then there’s The Club Dumas.

      Film.

      German. You might notice from the above list that I have have read disappointedly few German books. Luckily I’ve managed to see a couple of good German films.

      Newer: I can think of at least two titles that I liked, or left so strong impression that I can recall them immediately. Both deal with East Germany. Good Bye, Lenin! is a comedy, but also curiously … I must search for a word … painful? Das Leben der Anderen / the Lives of Others is not. However, it’s excellently thought-provoking, describing what it was to live in a surveillance society in DDR, the “nice part” of the Soviet empire. After watching it I googled for some commentary, and I read that it was lambasted by some critics who claimed it presents unrealistically positive case for Stasi. (In reality, they claimed, there were no sympathetic figures like the protagonist in the agency: no ex-Stasi agent ever showed any remorse for maintaining that dystopia.)

      Older:
      Fritz Lang’s M is a classic for a reason; I was surprised how modern it is. I also hear that Metropolis is excellent must-see for any serious SF fan, but I have had yet no opportunity.

      French. I already mentioned Clouzot in a subthread above. What else…
      Jules et Jim is not exactly my favorite, but it is an remarkable film, and SSC readers will notice that it depicts polyamoric affair, of sorts.
      I recently watched Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle which is worth of a few chuckles, and it features an enjoyable depiction of an automated “smart” home, 1950s edition.

      • Nornagest says:

        At least one about fencing master in early 20th century Spain, but the name of the title escapes me?

        It is, in fact, The Fencing Master — at least in English. I’ve got a copy not five feet from me.

        I feel like Dumas needs more of a nod too, though. While The Three Musketeers got bitten hard by the Seinfeld-is-unfunny bug, The Count of Monte Cristo is one of the most remarkable novels I’ve ever read and I don’t think anyone else ever really managed to capture its formula. Despite numerous attempts, some of them pretty good in their own right.

  29. blitzerrr says:

    Can Scott himself or someone else explain to me why he has said the candidate he most supports is Elizabeth Warren? Feel free to just link to articles he has written that outline this stance.

    Thank you.

    • arabaga says:

      The links that shakeddown posted are good for a somewhat comprehensive look at what Scott thinks about Elizabeth Warren specifically. If you want a look at his political viewpoint more generally (at least as of ~4 years ago), you can see that here: http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/12/08/a-something-sort-of-like-left-libertarianism-ist-manifesto/

      Basically, it seems that he likes her because she supports the standard liberal social issues, but also really seems to like free markets (this is where she separates herself from e.g. Bernie Sanders). When she wants to regulate the market, it’s not because she thinks “capitalists are evil” but instead because the outcomes in those instances are empirically not optimal. She is also against government-big business “collusion” (i.e. making decisions based on who contributed to her campaign), which separates her from e.g. Hillary Clinton.

  30. Another San Jose Meetup:

    We are hosting another meetup on Sunday afternoon, October 29th.

    Time: 2:00
    Location: 3806 Williams Rd, San Jose, CA 95117
    Let us know if you are planning to come so we will have at least a rough head count.

  31. rlms says:

    Another Cambridge UK meetup:

    Date and time: Thursday 12th October, 19:30
    Location: the Burleigh Arms

    Contact details on the meetups page, email me if you want to join the mailing list or Facebook group.

  32. Nick says:

    It looked from a few threads ago like there was interest in the free will question. I figure it’s worth bringing up again.

    What are the conditions for having free will? Can humans meet those conditions, and do they regularly do so? What do you take to be a paradigm case of free will—my deliberating on what to eat for lunch and deciding on a salad, Buridan’s ass picking which bale of hay to approach, or something else? If you say humans do have free will, are there cases where they don’t, like under duress, coercion, etc.?

    (Obviously don’t feel obligated to answer all those questions. I’m just trying to provide good starting points for the conversation.)

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      My 2¢:

      Free will is completely orthogonal to whether or not someone can near-perfectly predict your actions (like Omega in the Newcomb problem). This is trivial to demonstrate if you believe that people in the past had free will: you can ‘retrodict’ their choices with near-perfect accuracy by watching a video of their choice.

      I don’t see a conflict between that sort of determinism and free will. You are just as responsible for your choices in the absence of an omniscient observer as you would be if one had written them down on stone tables a billion years ago.

      • Atlas says:

        Free will is completely orthogonal to whether or not someone can near-perfectly predict your actions

        I would respectfully disagree: I think that if humans had “free will”, there would be some margin on which it would just be impossible to predict their behavior based on prior causes, because they would run around exercising their “free will” by making totally unpredictable decisions.

        So I think that if your some of your actions can be predicted with a high degree of accuracy by an outside observer, it usefully demonstrates the flaws in the idea of “free will”. It would be a really crazy random happenstance if the end result of your totally free and undetermined choice always or even almost always just happened to match what someone with sufficient knowledge of the relevant prior causes would predict.

        This is trivial to demonstrate if you believe that people in the past had free will: you can ‘retrodict’ their choices with near-perfect accuracy by watching a video of their choice.

        Leaving aside the sort of assuming the conclusion, I don’t see how this contradicts the anti-free will position. If you could genuinely predict the behavior of people in the past recorded on video—-that is to say make accurate predictions about what comes next in the video without foreknowledge of what comes next—then it would again seem to cast doubt on the idea of “free will”. If people in the past had “free will”, it seems to me at least that it would be necessarily difficult to predict their behavior. They would simply exercise their “free will” and make decisions that you just couldn’t predict from physical causes, no matter how much knowledge of them you had.

        • Skivverus says:

          This rubs my intuition the wrong way: it implies that “free will” must necessarily be irrational. Rational actions, after all, have reasons behind them, and are thus at least theoretically predictable.
          But the term “free will” in ordinary usage makes no implication as to an actor’s rationality or lack thereof: perfect rationality does not disqualify you from having free will, nor should it.

          Also, from a practical perspective humans do have a margin beyond which it is impossible to predict behavior based on prior causes: the amount of time it takes to ascertain another human’s motives based on their behavior. Sure, if you know the coin is fair you’ll know how often it’ll turn up heads, but how many times do you flip the coin before you know it’s fair?

        • Doctor Mist says:

          Far too many people seem to want to sneak dualism back into the universe by mixing it up with “free will”. I strongly recommend Dennett’s Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting.

          My layman’s takeaway: Why would I even want the ability to take actions that were uninformed by my past experience?

          I’m thinking some of Scott Aaronson’s complexity arguments are relevant here as well. There is a world of difference between something that’s logically possible and something that’s computationally feasible. Perfect prediction of a human’s future behavior seems like a plausible candidate for the former but a lousy candidate for the latter.

        • Lillian says:

          There appear to be two definitions of free will at work in these discussions. The one used by those like who see no conflict between will and prescience, is the quality that makes a person’s decisions their own. The other definition, used by those who do see such a conflict, is the quality that makes a person’s decisions not be foreordained.

          In my view, the second definition would lead one to conclude that the man who rolls dice to chart his course in life has more free will than the one who does not. This strikes me as incredibly silly, literally trusting your life to chance gives you less free will, not more.

      • It’s is not prediction per se that impacts free will: it is that the possibility of prediction implies determinism, and determinism impacts (libertarian) FW.

        Prediction and retrodiction aren’t analogous in the way you need. You can have retrospective knowledge of something that happened without impacting FW, because retrodiction doesn’t imply determinism .. you have direct evidence that something happened, so you don’t need to infer it using deterministic laws.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          What’s the difference between the past and the future in this case?

          That’s not a rhetorical question, I’m just not sure why you’re drawing this distinction.

          The future will happen; the past has happened. We have imperfect information about both. That seems symmetrical enough for my reasoning to hold.

          • Lillian says:

            Just wanted to say how happy it makes me to see someone with my exact view in the subject. It’s so rare to see someone else who doesn’t priviledge one part of the timeline over the other.

          • The kind of information is quire different. A record of the past is not the same as predicting the future using the evolution of the present under causal laws.

            In particular, you can have accurate information about past events that occured indterministically. But you cannot predict future indeterministic events.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @Ancient Geek,

            This is falling back into semantics.

            How does one determine whether an event is indeterministic or not? If it’s just that you can’t predict it with certainty beforehand, your argument becomes unfalsifiable.

            Anyway, it’s easy to construct situations where past and future knowledge are identical. For example, take a televised football game. If a fan watches it for the first time on live TV or on a tape, does it change whether the actions of the players are deterministic? He has equal knowledge regardless of whether it happened in the past or the future.

    • keranih says:

      Yes, humans have free will.

      No, they don’t have *perfect* free will, no more than we have a perfect response to gravity. Our inclination to choose a particular action is impacted by numerous things – genetics, daily level of hormones, previous and current environment, the particular demons riding our shoulders, state of grace – but we retain the ability to choose our actions.

      I hold that the degree of imperfection of free will is visible (or predictable) only on a population wide basis, which nests well with my prior that all humans sin, and that all are capable of seeking salvation. But the degree to which we will each individually sin rests on a vast variety of variables, the sum of which is so large that our particular response is known but to the Creator. Furthermore our particular future decisions rest on our environment *now*, so that our future likelihood of sin depends on when and how we commit errors *now*, which *can* be modified (to some degree) by deliberate choice between two (or more) options at the margin.

      I think it’s also important to recognize that free will is not between, oh, being Mother Teresa or being Hillary Clinton – it’s between being, say, patient and enduring MT today, or being crabby and abrupt MT today. Or this hour.

      • Atlas says:

        No, they don’t have *perfect* free will, no more than we have a perfect response to gravity. Our inclination to choose a particular action is impacted by numerous things – genetics, daily level of hormones, previous and current environment, the particular demons riding our shoulders, state of grace – but we retain the ability to choose our actions.

        I would personally reach a stronger conclusion than this, namely that there is nothing human beings do—anymore than there is anything that celestial bodies, rocks or pixelated video game characters do—that can’t be reduced to various physical causes.

        But leaving that aside, if we just agree on the weaker (in terms of determinism) conclusion you state above, (i.e. that many human decisions are profoundly shaped by uncontrollable forces) I think it really damns “free will” with faint praise.

        If your actions are subject to the laws of gravity, the laws of society, the laws of behavioral genetics, the laws of the market, the forces of neurochemistry, the forces of evolution, and so on down the line of things almost totally out of one’s control, it really leaves very little space for one’s alleged “free will” to make a difference.

        So I think that even if one only accepts this relatively weaker conclusion, which seems so obvious that I don’t see how anyone can’t intuitively do so, the end result is that this “free will” universe might as well be a deterministic one for practical purposes. Physical causes that result from vast, impersonal forces so clearly determine so much of our actions that even in the most uncritical and generous acceptance of the free will position it’s hard to externally observe much fundamental difference in the behavior of allegedly free humans compared to obviously un-free algorithms, robots, bowling balls, etc.

      • we retain the ability to choose our actions.

        For some value of “choose”, but that is what the whole debate is about.

        But the degree to which we will each individually sin rests on a vast variety of variables,

        Does “rest on” mean “determined by” or merely “influenced by”? Again, that is the whole question.

    • Urstoff says:

      As always, terms need to be defined first. What does it mean for a person to have a free will? Humans deliberate and make decisions. Is anything beyond that needed for free will?

      • Nick says:

        That’s why I asked the questions I did! To answer yours, though: we often hold people responsible for their actions on the grounds that they chose to do them, and do not hold them responsible, or responsible to the same degree, when they chose that way under duress or coercion or whatever, and may not even speak of the latter as a choice at all. If this distinction were illusory, though, it would seem we do not have this basis for holding people responsible. So it seems like we have need to speak of a free will, as opposed to will under duress, a will under coercion, etc.

        • Urstoff says:

          I don’t think moral responsibility is a particularly coherent notion either. Worries about freewill seem to come from two sources: moral realists and those prone to existential dread. The former are wrong and the latter just need therapy.

        • beleester says:

          If free will doesn’t exist, then while we have no basis for holding people responsible, there’s also no way for us to stop holding people responsible. So it’s kind of a moot point. The criminal’s actions are preordained, but so are the actions of the judge who sentences him.

    • rahien.din says:

      I think of will as choice of action, and the freedom of will to be the range of available actions and reasons for actions.

      To have a completely free will would mean that any possible action was available to you, including eating your spouse, flapping your gills, and waggling a vine to find the next branch to entangle. This obviously is undesirable. Furthermore, the situations in which I have found myself to have un-free will are some of the most important to me. They are the most true expressions of my nature. And, certain things such as falling in love are completely involuntary. It makes no sense to describe them in terms of will, and yet, they are some of the most important experiences to have.

      From the angle of reasons for action, one’s will is free to the extent that they are not constrained in the reasons for their actions. The ultimate freedom of will is attained by a sort of multipolar Buridan’s ass.

      None of those would make sense or is functionally distinguishable from insanity. So on a very base level, I don’t believe in or desire free will, per se.

      I mostly value the expression of natural will. It’s a kind of gooey concept, but, I take this to mean that a being’s actions express its nature, in that they are commensurate with its own appraisal of its circumstances and its own natural reactions, rather than the coercive fiat of other beings. In some sense, a being’s will can be natural without ever being “free.”

      (This allows me to continue to ascribe agency to myself and to others – which is the whole point of will, anyway. Blame and credit.)

    • blacktrance says:

      Roughly speaking, free will has two prerequisites: having a will (being able to deliberate between options, select one, and direct oneself to act accordingly) and to usually act as you’ve willed (so people with total locked-in syndrome don’t have free will).

      It’s compatible with both determinism and perfect prediction.

    • Atlas says:

      Caveat lector: this is a concept that lots of smart people have written quite a lot about, and I haven’t really familiarized myself with any of the relevant literature. The only real outside knowledge I can claim is that I listened to a lengthy debate/discussion between Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett on the subject, and I figure that they’re both probably quite familiar with it.

      What are the conditions for having free will? Can humans meet those conditions, and do they regularly do so?

      There’s a lot of possibility for semantic confusion here, but I think that the intuitive view of libertarian free will that a lot of people have is profoundly wrong. I don’t think it’s wrong in the sense that, say, the statement “all elephants have wings” is wrong. My belief that that statement is false is contingent on the existence of empirical evidence contradicting it. I could change my mind about it given sufficient evidence, and I can imagine a world very similar to our own where it is true.

      Whereas with “free will”, the very idea seems necessarily untrue to me. It implies that the combination of particles known as homo sapiens for some reason are magically able to behave in ways not reducible to prior physical causes, unlike all the other things in the universe made out of combinations of particles. I just don’t understand how this could possibly be the case—e.g. if an omnipotent God gave human beings “free will”, that God would still be part of the universe and our behavior would still ultimately be determined by causes outside of our control.

      An analogy I’m tentatively using here for what seems to me to be the illusion of free will is to imagine that you were put into a Matrix-like simulation based on a video game. Suppose you externally observed the player character go about various tasks: talking to merchants, moving around, killing enemies, etc. If you didn’t know you were in a video game simulation, you might have the illusion that he has “free will”, because he seems to be making his own decisions. But if you could see that this character’s actions are in reality absolutely controlled by a puppet-master player, it would seem ludicrous to say that it has “free will”. Likewise, I would say that human behavior is fundamentally determined as absolutely by impersonal forces as the behavior of the set of pixels that represents a video game character is, it’s just harder for us to observe how they determine human actions.

  33. CarlosRamirez says:

    I’m currently in Portland, due to my company sending me here to keep working while the situation in Puerto Rico (where I’m from) stabilizes. Anyone want to meetup? Or does anyone have must see/do recommendations?

  34. AutisticThinker says:

    Ticks and Lyme

    Ticks are pretty harmful animals and Lyme is one of the most infamous diseases they spread. Let’s talk about ticks and Lyme Disease in this thread.

    I think there are several interesting questions to discuss.

    1.What shall we do to avoid or kill ticks?
    2.When are we ever going to stop the Lyme epidemic? How?
    3.Does post-treatment Lyme exist? There are certainly people who remain sick even when no Borrelia can be detected any more. What’s that illness?

    • Charles F says:

      I was completely unaware that lyme disease has gotten several times more common over the past few decades. CDC stats. Am I justified in blaming the increase in WI on a dearth of deer hunters? Is it some sort of climate change thing?

      And the age+sex graph tells a sad story about how we’re spending our early adulthoods indoors, probably working.

      • AutisticThinker says:

        In both New England and Midwest the Lyme problem is now epidemic. I personally know people who got bitten by a tick which thankfully did not result in Lyme.

        What are the consequences? I don’t dare to enjoy forests or state parks any more. You do need to have a tick attached for a long time to get Lyme. However other tick-borne illnesses are worse. Some may only take 15 minutes of tick attachment to infect a human.

    • keranih says:

      The focus on Lyme disease as the most important tick-borne illness is a function of geographic and temporal location. There are diseases which historically shaped the face of human settlement and agriculture production in the US, but which are not now present in the popular mind.

      For anyone with a tick problem in their area, may I recommend the use of guinea fowl? Fun to watch free roaming barely domesticated birds who love ticks, and who will roost high in trees (rather than in a coop) making plausible deniability of ownership possible, thus avoiding local zoning violations. Also they make so much flipping noise when disturbed that many people will not be that upset when the hawks eat a few.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Eradicating ticks would be an excellent wedge issue for Republicans to pursue. It would activate the purity modules of people’s brains (good for conservatives), and force the Democrats to either piss off their green wing or be on the side of literal blood-sucking parasites.

      Plus, disease eradication is good policy, and well within the scope of traditional governmental powers.

      • Saint Fiasco says:

        It depends on how exactly the eradication is achieved. If government agents have to spray pesticides around the neighborhood, won’t people get upset? It would be like the right-wing paranoia about fluoride in water combined with left-wing paranoia about harmful artificial pesticides.

  35. Pseudocydonia says:

    So, in a spectacular victory for nominative determinism, the economics Nobel has gone to a specialist in people’s psychological relationship with money, and the assignment of value to possessions, who is literally named Thaler.

  36. cabalamat says:

    Some random thoughts on Lesserwrong.com:

    (1) Overall, a good plan that seems likely to succeed.

    (2) I don’t like the font and colour choices — the old Less Wrong is much more plasant to read, at least for me. YMMV.

    (3) When I read Eliezer’s Sequences, I often get the feeling that I’ve missed something or not quite understood it. I never get that feeling from Scott’s writing. I suspect I may not be only one. Maybe it would make sense for Scott to re-write some of Eliezer’s material, to bring it to a wider audience.

    • Nick says:

      Re (3), I think Eliezer relies more on nerd cultural references than Scott does—is that what did it?

    • JRM says:

      I would really not want Scott to do that. Eliezer’s writing style is distinctive, but with a few notable exceptions it hits his target audience square-on.

      Let Scott be Scott. I’d rather he continue to be a writer than an editor; it seems to me that using Scott as an editor can’t be optimizing. Plus, too much editing is bad for your writing health.*

      *Maybe.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      Consider installing one of my custom themes (with a browser extension such as Stylish)! They change the look of LW 2.0, to something that a few people now have gone on record as preferring—take a look: screenshots.

  37. p duggie says:

    Saw a thing on Reason about protests at Columbia disrupting an LGBT prof’s Sex and Gender class. The protesters were claiming Columbia wasn’t handling Title IX cases well. So they invaded a class and shouted over the teacher. Bad form

    So I see that the protests are led by a woman who claim her rape wasn’t properly investigated by Columbia.

    Her story
    – She wrote an article for Huffpo in April 2015 criticizing Columbia for handling rape complaints when she was still in high school
    – Awoke to rape in her dorm in Oct of 2015 (freshman year). She awoke then passed out due to pain. When she woke up later, saw guy leaving but couldn’t ID him.
    – She went to Columbia student health complaining of genital pain, but didn’t say she was raped. Told by Student health she should not have such rough sex. Eventually, in her suit, mentions they failed to probe whether she was raped
    – Called rape hotline a week later, told she should be on birth control, and to report to police.
    Buzzfeed says she said she didn’t report because she felt shame, at being unable to ID him and for being targetted.
    She asked for a room transfer, but didn’t like the terms columbia has for room transfers, and in the suit focuses on how she wasn’t told her rights under title IX
    – In december 2015 she was raped in her dorm again, buy someone pushing her into her room from outside, knocking her down, tying her with her own iphone cord, and using scissors and hairbrush and razors to rape her. –
    – She still can’t ID him. He whispered in her ear “Still a dyke?” during the rape.
    – She got treated for injuries at a hospital the next day. tearing, cuts on her thighs, wrist sprains.
    – Harassing notes show up on her dorm bulletin board
    – “Following the harassment [woman] decided to make a formal report to university officials, but was told that Columbia would not be able to investigate her report unless she was able to identify her assailant.”
    – She reported the rape to police in January 2017. Columbia has no security tapes from 2015 because they get erased (and they wouldn’t cover interior areas anyway)
    – She sues in March
    – Columbia moves to dismiss in June
    -“According to court papers, she didn’t want to make a formal report because she didn’t trust admins would do anything “based on her prior experiences with Columbia administrators,” with whom she unofficially discussed her rape”
    – “Meanwhile, [Woman] told administrators she had thrown out notes allegedly left by her attacker, and she told investigators she didn’t want them interviewing her roommates, Kaplan told Manhattan Federal Judge George Daniels.”
    – NY Daily News says [woman] “previously said she waited to file a police report because she’s opposed to incarceration.”

    So is this rape allegation plausible?

    Oh she also wrote an article at a feminist site about how she has been bothered by the idea, since she came out at 12, that her queer identity might be related to sex assault she suffered in childhood.

    • lvlln says:

      Do you have links to articles about this case? You reference Reason, Buzzfeed, and NY Daily News in your post, and it’d be convenient to have one place from which one could easily access all those articles instead of finding them through Google. Trivial inconveniences and all that.

      Based on your description, it seems that unfortunately this case seems similar to many other college rape cases I’ve read about in the lack of hard evidence, so at best I think it’s possible it’s true, but how plausible it is is probably going to depend almost entirely on your priors. If you think women are getting raped left and right but just scared to report it (or too ignorant due to cultural conditioning to recognize that they were raped), then you might find her claims so banal that the question of plausibility is insulting. If you think rape is rare, then you might find her claims implausible.

      Some things do raise my eyebrows, such as the timeline of her complaining about Columbia’s handling of rape cases before she was even a student, or her claimed motivation of not having the assailant suffer prison time, or her not wanting her roommates interviewed. This is behavior that seems consistent with someone who is not filing such a complaint for entirely honest reasons. But even here, one’s priors have an outsized influence. If you believe that suffering sexual trauma can often lead to basically unbounded arbitrary behavior changes on the part of the victim in response to that trauma, then any and all behavior by a self-claimed rape victim is fully congruent with their claim of being raped, and so there exists no behavior she could engage in, short of outright proclaiming herself a fraud, which would indicate that she might not be honest, so those above details don’t mean anything to you. If you believe that, in most cases, behavior changes following sexual trauma are somewhat limited and somewhat predictable based on what we know about human psychology and biology, then those above details might be more like alarm bells.

      I certainly find it interesting that this is Columbia, the school famous for the Mattress Girl (among many, many things, obviously), a case in which a male student was found not guilty of rape under the preponderance standard (50.000…1%) and the police refused to take the case due to lack of evidence, after which whose alleged victim was lionized by a lot of the media and some politicians as a heroine standing up for rape survivors.

    • vV_Vv says:

      So is this rape allegation plausible?

      My intuition would say no, but then I recall that some individuals seem to be magnets for misfortunes and abuse. Or maybe they aren’t and they all make it up.

      Anyway, the right question to ask is not “is this rape allegation plausible?” but “was the allegation properly investigated by the relevant authorities?”. Even assuming that this ninja rapist exists, since he can’t be identified, what response did she expect from the college and the police?

      • keranih says:

        I am perfectly willing to accept the premise that a grievous wrong was done to this person by an unknown assailant, and that she has suffered greatly from it, and needs help and support from her friends and coworkers as she moves along the process of dealing with it.

        (As opposed to not dealing with it and being traumatized to the point of incapacitation for the rest of her life. I would hope that no one here wishes for that outcome.)

        I am not willing to accept that it is obvious that deliberate actions were taken to avoid prosecuting this assailant. There is next to no evidence here. Some of the evidence which could exist, and which *might* help identify the assailant, has been destroyed by the complainant. Had some other person destroyed the evidence by which this assailant could be identified – and hence arrested, and hence prevented from hurting another person – then I could certainly see prosecuting that person for obstruction of justice. In this case, I don’t see the point, and think it would do more harm than good.

        Can’t fix this. It’s horrible, and I wish it were otherwise. But, I refuse to be *blamed* for not fixing this, and furthermore refuse to be blamed for not wanting my country to be turned into a police state in order have the “fix” that is looked for here.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I’d say not plausible, and most likely mental illness. Her excuses for destroying evidence and not reporting things in a timely manner are bizarre.

      • Brad says:

        Based on the write up here, I have to agree.

        I’m not sure what I think about the lawyer here. It isn’t really his job to turn away a client because he thinks she might be mentally ill, but on the other hand he isn’t supposed to be filing frivolous lawsuits. But what if whether or not it is frivolous turns out whether he believes the client?

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      As far as I can tell from the articles, the initial “unoffical” report was along the lines of:

      “I was raped twice, months apart, months ago, by the same peretrator. I don’t have any ID on them or leads. He left me notes, but I threw them out so they’re gone. No, I won’t talk to you about this officially. No, you can’t talk to me or my room-mates or friends about this in the course of your investigation. Please do not contact me further on this matter, I refuse to speak to you again. No, I won’t talk to the cops about it either. Good Day.”

      Am I missing something?

    • Protagoras says:

      Rapists do not particularly want to get caught, and it seems that one good tactic for that is to pick victims that are less likely to be believed. Which produces an unfortunate situation with respect to those who are for various reasons less than credible; those who are more likely to fabricate rape stories are simultaneously more likely to actually be raped. It is not obvious what to do about that situation.

      • keranih says:

        To me, it’s the grey area between “these people are clearly able to act as adults, allow them the liberties and assign them the responsibilities of adults” and “these people are clearly *not* able to act as adults, continue to limit their liberties and assign them minders to keep them out of trouble” – our society doesn’t have a good hard and fast rule, nor a good system for evaluating margin cases.

        (To be clear, this includes people who will get drunk and have sex with random strangers, as well as people who will attempt to get random strangers drunk so as to have sex with them, regardless of gender.)

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          This is why I (sort of half jokingly because I don’t ever see it happening) suggest bringing back chaperones. There will always be rapists. There will always be men applying various amounts of pressure to women to get them into bed (“hey, ya wanna do it?” is a form of pressure). So, it used to be we did not have coed dorms. The colleges acted in loco parentis, girls had to be in their dorms by 9PM or whatever, and no boys allowed. That resulted in a lot fewer of these sorts of cases.

          And then we had feminism and women’s lib and the women said “we can take care of ourselves!” And it turns out, no, no they can’t. I don’t quite believe the “25% of women and girls are raped on college campuses,” but the feminists do. Either the statistic itself or women believing the statistic is a strong data point towards “the colleges and culture were right before the sexual revolution, young men and women cannot control or take care of themselves.”

          I don’t think there’s much more we can do to “teach men not to rape.” It’s already considered one of if not the most heinous crimes that there is. Nobody thinks it’s okay. There is no “rape culture,” because no one forgives or excuses this. If we can’t get a less-rapey culture, then people either have to take care of themselves, or be taken care of.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t think there’s much more we can do to “teach men not to rape.” It’s already considered one of if not the most heinous crimes that there is. Nobody thinks it’s okay.

            In modern western culture, you mean, aside from some criminals.

          • And then we had feminism and women’s lib and the women said “we can take care of ourselves!”

            I think the shift away from parietal hours and similar restrictions and towards coed dorms preceded the major role of feminism and women’s lib and due more to the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies.

    • Saint Fiasco says:

      I give it about 50-50. If I had heard about it through an IRL friend or acquaintance I might be more trusting, but I heard it here on the Internet, so it might be infected with memetic toxoplasma.

    • Aapje says:

      @p duggie

      If your write up is correct, then there are red flags all over the place. For example, she describes a person that targets her personally (“Still a dyke?”), yet that she doesn’t know. It seems very unlikely that a person with a personal grudge would not interact with her personally and would immediately escalate to rape, rather than harassment.

      In general, one of my main heuristics for assessing truth vs made up is whether the scenario is a very extreme scenario that many people fear as the worst thing that could happen to them, but which is actually very rare in reality. Stranger rape is relatively uncommon. Rape using sharp objects seems very uncommon. Trying to ‘fix’ a lesbian through rape seems restricted to perpetrators from a very traditionalist culture. If you google this, it seems common in S-Africa, but I can’t easily find any reports from the US. It seems very unlikely that such an extremely traditionalist person would go to Columbia and even more unlikely that the person would feel emboldened to commit such a crime in an extremely hostile (to them) progressive culture.

      In the kind of hyperactivist culture we see at many universities, it seems that there are pretty strong incentives to make false allegations. Self-selection effects and what is taught at these colleges means that you can expect a very large number of people who could potentially make false allegations consistent with culture war issues and a tiny group who could perpetrate crimes that require a very traditionalist cultural background. So purely by multiplying the likely base rates with the population size, we can expect that these very extreme accusations are far more likely to be false allegations, than true.

      Another huge red flag is that rape with scissors and razors can be expected to leave major trauma, requiring extensive medical intervention and even then leaving permanent disability. In contrast, for a fake allegation that involves self-harm, we expect superficial wounds. The treatment that she says she got at the hospital is more credible for the latter scenario.

      Her behavior and story describes behavior that makes it very hard to determine the truth (throwing out harassing notes, waiting a long time, refusing to initially file a formal complaint, not allowing her roommates to be interviewed, not being able to even describe the attacker in general terms (race, hair color, size, etc)). The level of counterproductive behavior if one wants to maximize the chance of finding a perpetrator is very extreme. The more extreme this kind of behavior, the more likely that the reason is not trauma, but the intent to protect a false allegation from scrutiny.

      Her accusations for how Columbia was negligent revolves around a very strong victim narrative, where she seems to have a rather pathological need to blame others for her own choices. For example, she now blames the university for not investigating after she refused to file a report and after she told the university officials not to contact her (when she later changed her mind and did file an official report, the university did try to investigate).

      So when you add it all up, I would say guesstimate the probably of the incident as the alleged victim describes it at less than 1 percent. Perhaps something less extreme happened, but it’s very doubtful that something so extreme happened to her.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        not allowing her roommates to be interviewed

        That can’t possibly be her call, can it? I would assume that if they didn’t interview her roommates, it’s gotta be due to the investigators not believing there’s enough evidence to spend the resources doing so.

        Campus authorities can ram through a prosecution over the wishes of a victim, but a victim can deny them the ability to interview roommates? Yeah, no. That’s gotta be just a coincidental alignment of objectives.

        • Aapje says:

          You are correct that I may have misrepresented that a little bit. The university lawyer said that the alleged victim didn’t want them interviewing her roommates. It’s ambiguous whether the university rules require them to conform (probably not, I guess) or even whether the university lawyer claims that this made the investigation impossible. The NY Daily News story has this text:

          Meanwhile, Roskin-Frazee told administrators she had thrown out notes allegedly left by her attacker, and she told investigators she didn’t want them interviewing her roommates, Kaplan told Manhattan Federal Judge George Daniels.

          “It was all but impossible for Columbia to conduct a meaningful investigation,” Kaplan said at one point.

          The “at one point” makes it really ambiguous wheth