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Open Thread 87.25

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

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447 Responses to Open Thread 87.25

  1. ManyCookies says:

    To those who put as many toppings on their pizzas/burger/nachos/whatever as possible, what exactly are you going for? Is the combination of six toppings at once really delicious, or are you eating a smaller number of toppings per bite and trying to maximize the number of unique and interesting bites in the meal?

    (I ask as someone who had his burger with nothing but a small amount of ketchup for twenty years, until he adventurously added some red onion.)

    • Protagoras says:

      A little from column A, a little from column B.

    • Charles F says:

      For me it’s purely a matter of quantity. I’ll load my food with toppings, then separate it into a salad plus an entree back at my table.

    • mindspillage says:

      My thought is something like: I like all of these flavors, and I like all of these flavors together, and I will get some unique combination of them in every bite and that will be enjoyable to eat.

    • Eltargrim says:

      An example from my dinner tonight. I got Subway. Every veg they have goes on my sub. Why? It’s free (or rather included) and filling. It also doesn’t taste terrible.

      If I can count on the individual components being high-quality, I’ll have a small number. If it’s low-quality, pile it on, and hope that it averages out to something decent.

    • Jeremiah says:

      I think if I introspect, what it mostly involves is not having access to most of these ingredients in the normal course of things, and so on those occasions when gouda and grilled mushrooms and garlic, and tomatoes, and pastrami (speaking of burgers) are all available I have a tendency to not be able to decide which of these (relatively) rare toppings I really want, and opt for them all. Which does not result in the best taste, but leave me with a smaller feeling of missing out.

    • Well... says:

      Interesting question. ^^ Interesting answers.

    • JayT says:

      I don’t tend to put a ridiculous amount of toppings on things, but sometimes I do. The important thing is that each topping has to add some flavor profile or texture that the others don’t. For example, I’ve never understood why some people will put sausage and hamburger on a pizza. The hamburger doesn’t add any flavor components that the sausage doesn’t already cover, and the sausage adds even more flavors. So in that case the hamburger is almost “watering down” the flavor profile.

      And example of a lot of toppings that work well is something like a Chicago style hot dog. Each topping in that case adds a different quality. Relish adds sweetness, the pickle adds saltiness, the peppers add heat, the tomatoes cool it down, the onions add crunch, the mustard adds tang, and the celery salt adds umami.

      • John Schilling says:

        For example, I’ve never understood why some people will put sausage and hamburger on a pizza. The hamburger doesn’t add any flavor components that the sausage doesn’t already cover,

        Stipulating that hamburger tastes exactly the same as sausage, hamburger + sausage pretty reliably gives you twice as much of that as does a single order of sausage alone, and “double sausage” is not as reliable a way of achieving that goal.

        • JayT says:

          But hamburger doesn’t taste anything like sausage. Sausage is ground meat with a bunch of flavorings, hamburger is just ground meat. So, adding hamburger to sausage is essentially taking the sausage and cutting its flavorings in half.

          • Jaskologist says:

            You can have too many spices. You can’t have too much meat.

            Proof: Brazilian steakhouses.

          • JayT says:

            You can have too many spices, but you can’t have too much good sausage. It is superior to plain hamburger in any quantity.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            You can’t add too much water to a nuclear reactor.

          • bean says:

            You can have too many spices, but you can’t have too much good sausage. It is superior to plain hamburger in any quantity.

            A ton of sausage on top of me is definitely inferior to a pound of plain hamburger on top of me. But that might be an edge case.
            Personally, I have a pretty low tolerance for spicy foods, so I could definitely see using hamburger to cut sausage making sense.

          • Jaskologist says:

            You started talking about pizza sausage, and then you switched to talking about good sausage! Motte and bailey! Motte and bailey!

          • JayT says:

            Well, I only eat at pizza places that have good sausage, so it’s kind of all the same.

            @bean, I don’t know. I’d be willing to give the ton of sausage a chance.

          • Nornagest says:

            Objection! Sausage is usually pork-based, or pork and beef (except for the odd beef frank, chicken apple, or veal knockwurst). Hamburger is almost always pure beef. Even without the spices they taste totally different.

          • JayT says:

            I agree they taste different, but they occupy the same flavor category, only the sausage has far more flavor. My objection is that by adding in the hamburger you aren’t adding in a new flavor profile, you are just adding in something that will be lost in comparison to the sausage, and if anything it will take away from the sausage because you are adding in less seasoned meat. It also has a very similar texture, so it’s not even adding in anything there.

            Like I said in my original post, I think every topping should bring something new to the table, otherwise it is superfluous.

          • gbdub says:

            So you eat sausage burgers instead of hamburgers?

            Yeah, uncased sausage and ground meat are the same thing, plus or minus some spices and flavorings. But so are baked potatoes and potatoes au gratin. Bread cubes and stuffing/dressing. Etc. The mixed in flavorings basically define the dish.

          • JayT says:

            No, I would eat a regular hamburger. I like hamburger quite a bit. I just wouldn’t make a hamburger that also has a sausage patty on it. Hamburger has a fairly mild flavor, so if you are putting things with it they should enhance that flavor, not cover it up.

          • random832 says:

            So you eat sausage burgers instead of hamburgers?

            The recent proliferation of all-day breakfast menus in fast food suggest there’s a market for it (There’s little difference between a mcmuffin and a “sausage burger”, and none at all for some of White Castle and Jack In The Box’s items)

          • CatCube says:

            So you eat sausage burgers instead of hamburgers?

            Where I’m from, that’s called cudighi

          • littskad says:

            @JayT

            I just wouldn’t make a hamburger that also has a sausage patty on it.

            You’re totally missing out!

          • JayT says:

            Well, what I had in mind was that I wouldn’t want equal parts sausage patty and hamburger patty. A little bit of chorizo to add some spice might be nice, kind of like adding a slice or two of bacon for salt and smoke.

    • massivefocusedinaction says:

      Many burger topping options are mostly salty and umami type flavors (cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms, sauteed onions etc) or provide a nice difference in texture (lettuce, pickles, and raw onion) so they generally combine well with each other and a fatty burger.

      In the case of 5 guys, with everything is much easier to order than my favorite 7 or 8 of the 9 standard toppings.

    • Well Armed Sheep says:

      I only do it at a few places — mostly Which Wich, where “put all this crap on your sandwich” is kinda the whole point. For pizza and nachos I’m usually in the simpler-is-better camp — cheese pizza is unimprovable from my standpoint, I get in (nonserious) fights with my girlfriend because I never want toppings. But for stuff like Which Wich, idk, I guess it creates a very salty, very acidic flavor profile with a ton of contrasting textures and flavors?

      A Which Wich black bean patty sandwich with cheese, chipotle mayo, deli mustard, barbecue sauce, hot pepper mix, pickled jalapenos, banana peppers, onions, caramelized onions, fried onions, lettuce, tomato, salt, and pepper is nigh-divine. (It is also a very effective demonstration that just because you’re vegetarian doesn’t mean you eat healthy all the time…)

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      ???

      Broader nutritional profile.

      Taste is a secondary factor, but with that I’d go with your first option.

  2. Jeremiah says:

    I’m 2/3rds of the way through “Rationality: From AI to Zombies”, and I just finished the part on Quantum Mechanics, where Eliezer puts forth the Many-Worlds interpretation with significant vehemence. I understand this largely takes place in opposition to the Copenhagen interpretation. However, I have encountered the Pilot-Wave Theory on numerous occasions, and the sense I always got was that it was yet a third theory which might allow us to maintain a single world interpretation without the weirdness of Copenhagen.

    However being a bear of very little brain I’ve never dug deep into any of the interpretations, I’m specifically clueless about whether pilot-wave theory is in fact a third interpretation, and how it might relate to the Many-Worlds interpretation. Is there anyone out there who might be able to shed some light on this?

    Specifically is it possible that Eliezer is wrong? That, while Copenhagen is silly, Pilot-wave is a perfectly acceptable alternative, which doesn’t involve Many-worlds?

    • andrewflicker says:

      PWT is one of a few hidden variable theories- they’re certainly alternatives, but “perfectly acceptable alternatives” is more of a stretch. They all tend to require things that are pretty outlandish and heretofore unproven (like FTL communication). While I’m not 100% on board with Elizier, his argument is basically that Many-Worlds is the simplest explanation that basically takes the description of the quantum world “as given” without hypothesizing extra variables or new considerations. (Mostly I think he’s talking out of his depth)

      EDIT: See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Broglie%E2%80%93Bohm_theory#Similarities_with_the_many-worlds_interpretation

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Hopefully this doesn’t scan as snark: is it any more outlandish than QM was at the start and still appears to be to us laybears?

      • Jeremiah says:

        Thanks, that link was exactly what I was looking for. And it also gave me some insight into Eliezer’s spleen.

      • Machine Interface says:

        Many-world seems a bit like a swindle to me, it looks basically exactly like Copenhagen under new labels. Instead of a magical superposition of states in one reality that influence each other somehow until you observe them, at which point they collapse into one state, you have a magical superposition of parallel realities that influence each other somehow until you observe them, at which point they decohere into one reality. Both posit non determinism (explicitely for Copenhagen, in effect for many-worlds even though it claims it doesn’t) and time irreversibility, even thought the underlying equations are deterministic and time-reversible.

        The pilot wave theory by contrast posits that the wave function is a physical phenomena distinct from the particles observed, that is deterministic, time reversible, requires no highly unorthodox idea, whose behavior when observed (entangled) is not that outlandish, *and* which has mascropic analogous systems: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmC0ygr08tE

        The problem with pilot wave theories is that for a long time it wasn’t considered seriously and so has not been developed to the same degree as copenhagen, so there are still a lot of theoretical aspects that aren’t covered by this model.

        A common objection to pilot wave theory is that Bell’s theorem rules out hidden variable theory, but in fact the theorem only rules out *local* hidden variable theory; a better formulation of the theorem is that any working theory of quantum mechanics has to be non-local; so pilot-wave theory is non local, but so is Copenhagen, as far as I understand. Bell’s theorem can also be violated if we posit a superdeterministic universe, as Bell put it:

        “There is a way to escape the inference of superluminal speeds and spooky action at a distance. But it involves absolute determinism in the universe, the complete absence of free will. Suppose the world is super-deterministic, with not just inanimate nature running on behind-the-scenes clockwork, but with our behavior, including our belief that we are free to choose to do one experiment rather than another, absolutely predetermined, including the ‘decision’ by the experimenter to carry out one set of measurements rather than another, the difficulty disappears. There is no need for a faster-than-light signal to tell particle A what measurement has been carried out on particle B, because the universe, including particle A, already ‘knows’ what that measurement, and its outcome, will be.”

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          MWI is time-reversible; Everett branches can merge, they just usually don’t because entropy is increasing. It’s also local, not sure where you get that Bell’s Theorem rules out local working quantum mechanics unless your definition of ‘working’ excludes MWI for other reasons. It’s also deterministic–I’m not sure exactly why you say it ‘in effect’ isn’t, but I wonder if it’s related to your claim that the branches “decohere into one reality”. They don’t; decoherence produces multiple realities.

    • actinide meta says:

      I’m not an expert, and certainly not as… sure of myself as Eliezer on this subject. But as I understand it, in PWT the guidance waves affect the particles, but not vice versa. Which makes it sound a lot like the particles are just made up for comfort.

      If you have a “computational view of reality”, for example if you think that accurately simulated beings would be conscious, then the “pilot waves” already contain full simulations of all the Everett branches, and the “real” particles in pilot wave theory are just redundant. As an analogy, MWI is like saying “God simulates many worlds” and PWT is like saying “God simulates many worlds and then draws one of them on His computer screen”.

      Happy to be corrected by someone with a deeper understanding of the subject.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Specifically is it possible that Eliezer is wrong?

      On the one hand, making it 2/3s of the way through what amounts to an extended treatise on the value of Bayesian reasoning and then asking this question seems to suggest that OP should go back and re-read what they have already read.

      On the other hand, I think this question being asked makes perfect sense given what Elezier tends to actually write. And I think this questions perfectly encapsulates at least one way the “rationalist movement” faltered.

    • Fossegrimen says:

      I like De Broglie-Bohm / PWT because it makes intuitive sense while giving the same results as Copenhagen except for long distance entanglement which the jury is still out on anyway.

      Personally I don’t find the idea of quanta riding around on waves of dark undetectable energy any more preposterous than the universe consisting mostly of dark undetectable matter, but for some reason most actual physicists seems to disagree.

      • smocc says:

        For one thing, I think most physicists agree that dark matter is undetectable in a very different way than the de Broglie-Bohm pilot wave is purported to be. Specifically, dark matter is necessarily detectable in principle, and actually is detectable now, albeit indirectly.

        For one thing, dark matter must interact with normal matter through gravity, otherwise it can’t possibly explain the thing it was first imagined to explain. Additionally, we’re to the point now where we can look at various places in the universe and point to where dark matter is using gravitational lensing techniques. E.g. MACS J0025.4-1222 and the Bullet cluster. (There are, of course, dark matter-free explanations of these, but the simplest explanation does seem to be that there’s something massive but invisible out there).

        Dark matter in any conception of it also has to interact with ordinary matter non-gravitationally at least on some level, otherwise it wouldn’t cluster around galaxies like it tends to. Models of the early universe don’t form galaxies with dark matter clusters unless the dark matter interacts in some other way when the universe is very hot. That’s what makes us confident enough to make experiments to look for it.

        The pilot wave on the other hand can’t be observed even in principle, except in the not-very-useful sense of making a bunch of quantum measurements and inferring the shape of the wavefunction (and that works just as well in any other interpretation).

    • Rob Bensinger says:

      What Eliezer means by “many worlds interpretation” is, roughly, that the whole wavefunction is real and persists over time, including the parts that contain many other macroscopic histories with their own observers, etc. That’s a fairly general claim, and encompasses many different interpretations with different accounts, e.g., of the Born probabilities.

      It’s not obvious to me how Bohmian mechanics (“pilot-wave theory”) is meant to address this. Like, the wave function is still real; it’s just ontologically distinct from our world, which is the “real” world represented by particle positions. It seems we’re supposed to deny that there can be observers embedded in the pilot wave; but if so I don’t see why, since that pilot wave still contains all of the same information in some fashion, in order to yield the same QM predictions. And if there are observers embedded in the pilot wave’s structure or dynamical laws (or whatever), there would presumably be many more of them, and we should expect to be one of them. So Bohmian mechanics doesn’t seem to me to be addressing the key questions.

      This is well outside my area of expertise, but the thing closest to Bohmian mechanics that sounds promising to me is https://arxiv.org/pdf/1403.0014.pdf. This kind of view would fall under “many worlds” in the loose sense intended above, though, since it admits many macroscopic histories / observers / etc.

    • It’s worth noting that what he calls Copenhagen is a Penrose-style objective collapse theory.

  3. Edward Scizorhands says:

    Why is Fusion GPS being involved in the building of the Trump dossier count as important news? Even the NYT was covering it. Does this violate some previous denial someone made or what?

    • Jaskologist says:

      The DNC and Hillary campaign had denied paying for it; this contradicts that. By some definitions (stretches, but the kind of stretches that have been lobbed against Trump) this would even involve them colluding with Russia(ns). Also, it looks like the dossier was used as a pretext to get FISA warrants on members of the Trump campaign.

      Long version here.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        [Left out of the Times piece is the] fact that it has been publicly known for more than a year that the Fusion GPS investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia began with funding from Republicans and was later funded by Democrats.

        Yeah. I think this is more evidence on the “NYT really has a hard on for smearing the Clintons” pile than anything else.

        That and the fact that anything pushed by leadership in either major party will get at least a little bit of uncritical run in some major publication.

        • gbdub says:

          Is that actually true? I’ve heard from other sources (including currently Wikipedia) that Steele (who ultimately prepared the “Russia Dossier”) wasn’t brought into the investigation until after the GOP donor backed out and the Dem funding took over. Also (this isn’t in Wikipedia and I can’t at the moment recall where I heard it) the GOP donor was more interested in Trump foreign business interests than any “colluding with Russians to steal the election”. So Fusion GPS was a common thread, but it really was two investigations.

          Also, Josh Marshall seems to be taking at face value that the stuff in the dossier is likely to be corroborated, or at least likely enough to justify the FBI investigating it further (supposedly the information from the dossier was used to obtain FISA warrants).

          But that value seems dubious, for three reasons:
          1) This is the same dossier that only BuzzFeed was willing to publish because so much of it could not corroborate
          2) If anything groundbreaking was able to be corroborated by the FBI, I’m guessing we’d have heard about it now given that this whole investigation has leaked like a sieve
          3) Steele was apparently paying Russians for dirt on Trump (Russians who would get arrested for revealing anything actually sensitive that the authorities didn’t want leaked). I would have to guess that the crappy rumor and deliberate misinformation to real data ratio of that is really low. I mean, if you’ll get thrown in jail for revealing actual secret stuff, but you’ll get paid by the word for whatever you’re willing to make up, what’s that content going to look like?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Also, if you’re a Trump supporter, the debacle tarring top Republicans as well as Democrats is a feature, not a bug.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I really don’t see how the Democrats/Clinton continuing to fund oppo research that the Republicans started has any material impact on how you assess the truth value of the result. It’s not like Republican oppo researchers are saints or won’t use dirty tricks, etc. The timing of Steele coming into it, and that being after funding for the oppo research changed, really has no effect on the basic questions.

            Oppo research is oppo research, with all the caveats that come with it. Trying to make more hay now with the already known fact that it was (in part) Dem funded is just blowing smoke.

            I would not expect the majority of a document like that, let alone its entirety, to be true, let alone corroborated. Rather, it is going to contain a great deal of things that are likely to be true, much of which will be true, some of which will be untrue, and most of which will not be corroborated.

            But I think this take by an ex-CIA officer is largely correct. Many things in the document have been corroborated, and the overall document appears to be produced in good faith.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            An awful lot of that was circular reasoning. Like

            How could Steele and Orbis know in June 2016 that the Russians were working actively to elect Donald Trump and damage Hillary Clinton unless at least some of its information was correct?

            But the only reason we “know the Russians were working actively to elect Trump and damage Hillary” is because the media ran with the Steele dossier.

            Alice tells Carol that Bob is a loser.

            Carol says Bob is a loser.

            Alice saying Bob is a loser before Carol said Bob is a loser corroborates the fact that Bob must be a loser. How else could she have known?!

            This seems like basically the nightmare scenario from the Snowden revelations. If the NSA/US intelligence apparatus can just spy on anyone, then can’t the state spy on or simply manufacture evidence against any challengers? And now we have:

            Party in power hires an independent firm.

            Independent firm employs foreigners.

            Foreigners produce “evidence” of potential wrongdoing against political adversaries.

            State uses “evidence” to justify spying on adversaries.

            Results of spying (or even fact suspicion existed) leaked to media to undermine support for opposition.

            Media leaks also justify appointing a special counsel to investigate the suspicion that the surveillance might have indicated some of the events made up by the foreigners took place.

            The entrenched political elite will not allow opposition.

    • Deiseach says:

      Because there’s a difference between “Impartial government investigation report” and “paid for by political rivals in a campaign report”. The latter is out to dig dirt and present everything in the worst possible light in order to gain advantage in a contest. The opposition (and I realise that originally it was commissioned by a Republican seeking to stop Trump gaining the nomination) are not paying for “Candidate Brown donated to the Girl Guides building fund”, they want “Candidate Brown made SECRET PAYMENTS in order to GAIN UNDUE INFLUENCE and PUT A NATIONAL ORGANISATION UNDER A BURDEN OF OBLIGATION TO HIM” material. After all, this is the same bait that was allegedly used to get Trump Junior to meet with the Russians – “hey, we’ve got campaign dirt on Hillary”, which makes it “pot calling the kettle black”.

      I think also when this report was first doing the rounds, Trump suggested it had been paid for by the rival campaign which was loudly laughed at as the kind of paranoia and blame-shifting that Trump normally engaged in. But now hey, turns out the rival campaign did pay for (in part) the report, and yes he was trying to shift blame, but at the same time he was correct that the motivations behind it were murky.

      I was disposed to think this whole report was a storm in a teacup, but the more I read about it, the more I am perturbed – and not by Trump’s son looking to gain advantage over the opposite team by getting his hands on some juicy gossip because that’s business as usual in a political campaign, but that apparently this is upon what the Obama Administration based its instructions to the FBI to start investigating? This looks like the party in power helping out a candidate from its own party against their campaign rival, which also looks uncomfortably like “meddling in the election”. At the very least, it’s not considered desirable to have the government in power helping out a candidate from its own side to ensure that its party holds and maintains influential office quite this blatantly.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        It was know from the very beginning that the Democrats started paying for the Trump oppo research project (which produced the Steele report) once the Republicans stopped paying for it when Trump was nominated.

        The fact that you think this is a new revelation is you just buying into the current Republican hype.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Point of correction: Trump Jr. was not promised “juicy gossip” but official Russian government documents proving criminal activity on the part of Hillary.

        I would very much like to see the official Russian government documents that prove Hillary’s criminal activity. I would like to know what criminal activity she engaged in, and why she’s not being prosecuted for it.

        • John Schilling says:

          Point of correction: Trump Jr. was not promised “juicy gossip” but official Russian government documents proving criminal activity on the part of Hillary.

          And since the promise didn’t officially come from the Russian government, that’s practically the definition of “juicy gossip”: third party says they know a secret they got from someone else that defames someone you already don’t like.

          I would very much like to see the official Russian government documents that prove Hillary’s criminal activity.

          There are none. Hillary is many things, but she’s no friend of Russia and not stupid enough to commit her crimes (if any) where the Russians can document them.

          I would like to know what criminal activity she engaged in, and why she’s not being prosecuted for it.

          See above – Hillary’s not that stupid. And while Trump Jr. was stupid enough to take the bait, he figured out he was being trolled before the hook set. Some people still haven’t figured that out.

          I will say this is making Bernie Sanders look better in hindsight. The only major presidential candidate who might plausibly actually have been a communist, is the only one smart enough to realize that doing business with shady ex-KGB agents to try and come up with juicy gossip on their domestic opposition might not work out well for them.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I know there’s no documents, my question was rhetorical. If there was any sort of collusion it didn’t have anything to do with the meeting with Don Jr.

        • tomogorman says:

          the idea that Trump Jr. was promised “government documents proving criminal activity” seems to be a rather aggressive reading of the emails setting up the meeting. The text “some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia”, I agree permits the reading that the documents represent evidence of outright crimes, but also clearly permits the reading of incriminate as providing evidence of some general wrongdoing in the political sense. The fact that Trump Jr. set it up as a campaign meeting and his response “if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer” certainly lends more support to the idea that Trump Jr. understood it as something politically damaging rather than necessarily criminal.
          As to why she is not being prosecuted, there has been no such evidence of any such criminal activity. Why do you keep insinuating that there would be?

  4. Well... says:

    About 10 years ago I saw a documentary about some primitive tribe. They had a courtship (?) ritual where one man from the village would hold on to a pole, and all the other men would hold on to him, one after another in a chain. Then the women would come along and try and pry off the man they wanted.

    Does this sound familiar to any of you? Can you name the tribe?

  5. bean says:

    It’s weird. It’s a Wednesday when I’m not really busy, and I haven’t been compulsively checking SSC, waiting for Scott to put up the OT, so I can post what I’ve written on (insert topic). I think I like it.

    • cassander says:

      You don’t seem to have comments up on the new website yet, but on your history of the battleship post, I might amend “The Japanese refused to agree to treaty limitations, and instead built the two Yamato-class, the largest (65,000 tons) and most heavily armed battleships ever. They had 9 18″ guns, and armor that was 16″ thick. Unfortunately, the rise of air power meant that neither ship saw action against other battleships, and both were sunk by air attack.” to note that the Japanese abandoned the treaties in 1937, not before.

    • bean says:

      Recently, I’ve been having a friend proofread/edit the naval gazing posts. However, I can write faster than he can proofread, so I was wondering if anyone else was interested in taking part of the load. I’d actually prefer readers not be naval geeks, to catch places where I’m assuming common knowledge that isn’t. (This isn’t a bar to the specialists, but I’m more interested in laypeople’s thoughts.) If you’re interested, email me at battleshipbean at gmail.

  6. Just a note to remind people in the Bay Area that we are having a meetup this Sunday, starting at 2:00, at our house: 3806 Williams Rd, San Jose, CA 95117. If possible let me know if you are coming so we will have a rough count, relevant to how many loaves of bread to bake. ddfr AT daviddfriedman.com

  7. wearsshoes says:

    Midweek reminder that the NYC Solstice Kickstarter is ongoing! We’ve raised 40% with 5 days left. As a bonus, we’ve added a bunch of incredibly cute collectible stickers as backer rewards. Even if you’re not interested in attending, there are perks at every level for supporting us.

    If you are interested in attending, please also consider joining the Rationalist Megameetup the same weekend (Dec 8-10, Solstice is on Saturday December 9). It’s three days’ room and board in NYC for just $125, with an Unconference and lots of chances to hang out with other rationalists

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      On a scale of REEE!-to-ten, how normie-friendly is the solstice event?

      I’m debating whether or not to go with my girlfriend. She’s a scientist and irreligious but not aware of capital-R Rationalism beyond knowing that I read this blog. If we do go I want to make sure that she won’t feel isolated or put off.

      On a similar note, will there be non-vegan options for food? She and I are pretty carnivorous and I’m aware that some other rationalist events don’t offer meat dishes. It’s not specified on your Kickstarter page.

      • Nornagest says:

        I went to the Bay Area one a year or two ago. It was occasionally kind of cringey to me, but I have a low tolerance for silly songs.

      • Taymon A. Beal says:

        New York Solstice is designed to be fairly normie-friendly; it’s produced in collaboration with non-rationalsphere secular humanist orgs. Other Solstices are more ingroupy (except for the few that aren’t rationalist-affiliated at all).

      • wearsshoes says:

        We haven’t made food plans yet, but your comment will be taken into account. Most likely, there will just be refreshments (surpassing backer goal increases the probability that more food will be provided).

  8. cassander says:

    A reminder that this month’s DC SSC meetup will be on Saturday, October 28th at 7pm. We’re in the usual location: 450 Massachusetts Avenue Northwest, 14th floor lounge. As usual, bring something to share, whether it’s a discussion question, tasty snack, or interesting news article. Bonus points to anyone who dresses up as Moloch for Halloween.

    Since SSC readers seem to be better at cooking than solving trolley problems, we’re also repeating the dinner meetup in Arlington on Saturday, October 14th at 7pm. There are eight spots available; email Judson Kempton and bring an entree or side dish if you’d like to attend.

    For those of you who like to plan ahead, here are the dates of the next two monthly meetups:
    November 25th (Thanksgiving potluck!) at Tim Catlett’s house.
    December 16th, location to be determined.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      (For those who are wondering, the Oct14 meetup date is not a typo. Cassander apparently copypasted the email going to the group we have, and didn’t remove that paragraph. That event already happened.)

  9. johan_larson says:

    Right now there are two manufacturers of large commercial airliners: Airbus and Boeing. It seems reasonable that China would make a play for this market at some point, adding a third. When might this happen, and are there already signs that it is on the way?

    • bean says:

      Comac just recently flew the C919, in the same segment as the A320 and 737. The problem is that it’s basically equivalent to the old A320 and the 737NG, both of which are being replaced in production now. There are no orders from outside China, except for GE Aviation Leasing, which is presumably going to lease them in China. (GE makes the engines.) They’re unlikely to be cheaper enough to make it sell on price alone, although if the Chinese start subsidizing heavily, it might end poorly. There are some fairly serious obstacles to them getting into the widebody market.

  10. Atlas says:

    Does anyone have advice/thoughts of any kind about making personal predictions (as per the end of year SSC thing)?

    I started doing it fairly recently, and it’s been a ton of fun and very useful. Right now, I’ve made some very long run predictions (e.g. degrees, employment), make midterm predictions every now and then (e.g. friendships, final class grades, finishing certain books) and try to make three short-run predictions every Sunday that can be resolved by the next Sunday (e.g. test grades, arriving to work punctually.) This has seemed decent so far, but I imagine that other people who have been doing this longer might have good suggestions.

    • Atlas says:

      (To expand on why it’s fun and useful, in case anyone isn’t already aware—I find it fun because it makes life, even when it’s dreary and repetitive, feel a bit like a video game with clear goals. I find it useful for multiple reasons: one, it’s a good way to see how accurate your understanding of reality is. It’s easy to say something like “oh, I’ll probably do well on that stats test” or “yeah, I’ll definitely work out tomorrow”, but you really feel compelled to be honest and clear-headed about the future when you have to turn a vague thought into a specific prediction that you’ll return to. Two, it’s good in a self-help sense because you don’t run into the New Years’ Resolution issue of just forgetting about promises to better yourself; they’re written down in Google Docs, so it’s much easier to remember to track your results. Three, you can kind of effect self-fulfilling prophesies, where in order to avoid recording a bad outcome of a prediction you actually take steps to prevent it from occurring.)

    • qwints says:

      If you’re not already, assigning levels of certainty really helps me get a sense for when I’m over or underconfident. (e.g. 80% chance that I will still be living in the same house on 1/1/2020)

      • markk116 says:

        And then you can assess how often your 80% predictions happen to see if you’re in fact wrong about them one in five times. Maybe a moving average over time would show improvement.

    • Placid Platypus says:

      You might check out PredictionBook.

  11. Aevylmar says:

    I have three statements to make, and they all flow together into a suggestion:

    I write fiction (speculative fiction of various types; mostly fantasy, but also soft SF and superhero), as of yet unpublished. I think it’s pretty good, but I don’t know a lot of other writers in person so I mostly just show my stuff to people I know who read fiction of the sort I write.

    A month or two back, my sister, an editor, posted on the last classified thread offering editing to any other fiction authors, and she got a bunch of high-quality responses from people who wanted an editor, and who are good authors but apparently without the whole professional support network.

    One of the things professional fiction authors recommend for people who want to be successful professional fiction authors writing good stuff is a writing group – a group of people who get together to critique each other’s fiction, in hopes of improving it.

    (See: http://www.pcwrede.com/a-group-of-ones-own/ / http://www.pcwrede.com/getting-good-critique/ / http://www.pcwrede.com/finding-and-feeding-critiquers/, http://www.writingexcuses.com/2008/11/10/writing-excuses-season-2-episode-5-writing-groups/ / http://mbarker.livejournal.com/92894.html, etc.)

    SSC is a society shared by everyone here with cultural norms of personal politeness combined with a strong focus on critiquing individual ideas. It’s also apparently a place with a lot of writers who could probably use a support network for their writing. In the event that I’m not the only person here who doesn’t have a writing group and would like one, would it be worth experimenting with getting together and forming one?

    • Evan Þ says:

      I just found a writers’ group last month, but I’d be very interested in joining another one pulled from the SSC circle!

      I write fiction, typically secondary-world fantasy, about half and half short stories versus novels. (Sadly, most of the novels are unfinished; self-discipline is a big problem for me.) Nothing’s been published yet, but I’m hoping.

      • Aevylmar says:

        Yeah, that’s about what I write, too, normally. Complete with the dozens of first chapters of novels mouldering on my hard drive. Except with more superhero stories. 🙂

    • RDNinja says:

      I’d be interested. What would be the best forum for organizing it?

    • Aevylmar says:

      Other than ‘this thread, to start’? Hmm. I don’t know? The simple solution would be E-mail; I’m (the name I’m using) at Gmail dot com; then we just get together for regularly scheduled online meetings and discussion, either via some kind of Skype/hangout or group chat program.

      (Probably, “everyone tries to send a piece each week a couple days in advance, everyone reads each others’ pieces, everyone gets together in a room and gives commentary” as the form. That seems to be standard.)

      But you’re right that a forum style thing would be good for organizing it, and I don’t have any ideas.

      • Evan Þ says:

        I hear that Discord’s a popular app for real-time chatting, though I’ve never used it myself.

        Alternatively, we could follow the example of a now-banned member and create our own free forum. Though, if you do that, I’d strongly urge you to require logins to see anything and require some form of confirmation so not just anyone can register and log in; I don’t want to post my stories or critiques for just anyone to look at online.

        • Aevylmar says:

          I have also never used Discord, though, again, I hear it is popular.

          I’d like to have real-time meetings, even if it’s just text-based; there’s too much of an urge to procrastinate in commenting or posting, which the ‘everyone has to be there at a specific time each week’ does a lot to fight. But a forum would be useful for that…

          And agreed. If a story is online, public for anyone to see, it’s Published, as far as Publishers are concerned. Requiring logins and confirmations is an excellent idea such that, if we have a forum, we should absolutely implement it.

          • If a story is online, public for anyone to see, it’s Published, as far as Publishers are concerned.

            I’m curious about this. I routinely web drafts of my books for comments. Law’s Order was up for quite a while, and it did not keep a respectable academic publisher from publishing it. Legal Systems Very Different is currently up, when corresponding with pubishers I point them at it, and although I don’t yet have a publisher none of them has suggested that the fact it is webbed means they are not interested.

            Is this a difference between the fiction and the nonfiction market or does “what is webbed is only a draft” work for both?

          • Jordan D. says:

            By the way, if you do get Legal Systems Very Different published, I hope you’ll announce that here. I’ve been working through the webbed version and I think it’s delightful.

    • Aevylmar says:

      All right, I’ve spent this week fiddling around with ProBoards trying to set something up, and come to the conclusion that I have no idea what I’m doing.

      At this point, I think the best idea I have is just for people to E-mail me, and we can put together a mailing list that way to discuss it.

  12. sunnydestroy says:

    Any cryptocurrency experts or enthusiasts have an opinion on Ethereum?

    I’m willing to gamble away some money by speculating a bit and buying a little bit of Ether. I don’t know very much about cryptocurrencies, but from what I hear, Ethereum sounds pretty cool.

    Just want to know how much of a good gamble or
    mistake I’m about to make.

    • rlms says:

      I’m not an expert, but I think it’s a reasonable gamble because of the possibility of Ethereum turning out to currently be in the position Bitcoin was in in 2012 (in which case it will increase in price by 400x). The chance of that might not be high (I don’t know either way), but unless you think it is very low indeed then the expected value of the investment is good. (Disclosure: I bought 1 ETH in August).

      • albatross11 says:

        I don’t know about it as an investment, but the idea of smart contracts is a really fascinating one that’s worth pursuing. On the other hand, I suspect smart contracts are the thing that’s going to convince the world to take formal methods seriously, because when there’s a program running in public that responds to messages from the world and that has control of real money, it turns out that attackers are *really motivated* to find software bugs.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Newbie question, but how do smart contracts resolve? Can I make a smart contract that decides who wins the world series? Imagine there were controversy about who really won; what decides the official source of winning? Is there some API call to sportsillustrated.com?

          • Brad says:

            Not as currently implemented. Right now smart contracts only have access to information that’s on the blockchain. There’s an idea called oracles that are supposed to bring outside information into the blockchain but AFAICT they haven’t figured out the funding and anti-cheating mechanisms in a convincing way yet.

          • I got a fairly detailed and interesting explanation of how one oracle would work in a conversation with some of the Ethereum people. I think this is accurate:

            Suppose you and I bet a large sum on how many electoral votes the Republican candidate will get in the next election, as reported on November 15th. When November 15th arrives, anyone else who wants to can make a small bet on the same subject. Since at that point the answer is public knowledge, almost everyone bets on the same (true) number. The software then treats the number almost everyone bet on as the true value, pays you the amount we agreed on since that was your bet, pays everyone else who bet on that number a small amount, confiscates the bets of any people who bet on some different number.

            This is a Schelling oracle–it depends on the fact that the true value, once known, is the Schelling point others will coordinate around, since they want to all bet on the same value so that they will win.

            Obviously one disadvantage of this is that our original contract has to provide some money to go to the later bettors. Still a very clever idea.

          • Brad says:

            I hadn’t heard that one.

            But I don’t see quite how it would work. You can’t really judge the number of people betting on different numbers, only the total amount of money. Because all you have is anonymous wallet addresses which can be created for free. And the amount of money that can be won in the public round has to be fixed and much smaller than the original bet. So why can’t the loser of the bet overwhelm the public bettors and tilt the smaller bets to his side thus cheating the winner of the large bet out of his winnings?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Are the second betters like miners who get paid for keeping the blockchain verified?

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Bets only work if there is a person who is willing to bet on a different outcome. If the outcome is known and thus the only logical bet is the outcome, any bets people make will just have overhead and no potential for profit.

            The only way I could see that work if you set it up so money flows from people who bet before the outcome is known to people who bet after the outcome is known. A sort of tax on pre-outcome betting.

          • albatross11 says:

            The Schelling auction idea is clever, but there’s a complication there. My goal is to win my bet, which requires that I agree with a majority of the money being bet. If the bettors couldn’t ever coordinate on an answer, then the truth would be the obvious point we’d all converge to. But there are real-world situations where there are other focal points, and sometimes they might be stronger.

            One example of this is that closing stock prices can sometimes be revised after the reported-in-the-media closing prices (I think because there were transactions still happening that didn’t get recorded in time). If the first reported number is X and the final correct (according to the stock exchange and used for market opening prices the next day) value is Y, I suspect X is likely to win the Schelling auction. My goal as a bettor isn’t to be right, it’s just to bet the same way as the majority.

          • Brad says:

            There’s some more information on at least one solution to the 51% attack on the post bet here: http://www.truthcoin.info/presentations/truthcoin-outcomes.pdf

            Not sure I’m entirely convinced, but they’ve thought it through.

          • The only way I could see that work if you set it up so money flows from people who bet before the outcome is known to people who bet after the outcome is known.

            That is what is happening. It isn’t a tax on betting, it’s a payment by people agreeing on a contract to cover the cost of enforcing it, since enforcement requires a way in which the software can learn a fact about the real world and the mechanism for that is to provide a small reward to those who “bet” after the fact.

          • One example of this is that closing stock prices can sometimes be revised after the reported-in-the-media closing prices

            The equivalent for elections is why I specified electoral votes as of November 15th. That’s at least a week after the election (election day in the U.S. is the first Tuesday after November 1).

  13. Mark says:

    Milk consumption in Japan is about a third of the rate of milk consumption in European countries.

    But if close to 100% of Japanese people are lactose intolerant, that seems pretty high? Why on earth are they drinking so much milk?

    • Well... says:

      Maybe a lot of them are just lactose sensitive?

    • Anon. says:

      Children can still drink milk, I’m guessing that’s a big part of it.

    • CatCube says:

      Are they drinking it, or using it as an ingredient in other things? Milk in baked goods or chocolate doesn’t trigger lactose intolerance, right?

    • Aapje says:

      @Mark

      Actually, only ~19% of Japanese people exhibit abdominal symptoms when ingesting a bottle of milk (180-200ml). By other standards many more have lactose intolerance, but that seems rather irrelevant when they don’t experience problems.

      Also, lactose intolerant people can drink milk where the lactose has been broken down with the lactase enzyme. I’ve visited a DSM research facility and got the impression that this is a major growth market for them in Asia.

      PS. Note that milk allergy is different from lactose intolerance. People with the latter can generally tolerate some quantity of milk without symptoms, while for the former, any quantity of milk causes an immune response (and since the reaction is not to the lactose, lactose-free milk doesn’t work for them).

      • SamChevre says:

        And to add to the confusion, milk is dangerous to some people without either lactose intolerance or allergies. (Galactosemia)

        It’s easier to say “I’m allergic to milk” than to try to explain the missing enzyme pathways, but it’s not an immune response. (I have a cousin with galactosemia.)

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        Yeah, “lactose intolerant” != “unable to drink milk”. Health/science journalism has dropped the ball pretty hard on this.

  14. Nick says:

    I have to share that, sent on a wild goose chase about Sts. Cosmas and Damian at work today, I discovered Wikipedia claims Scott is the patron saint of patience and tolerance. I have no idea which Scott the anonymous editor had in mind, but I have my own headcanon. 😀

    There’s a lot of saints, and a lot of patron saints to boot. I have some commisery with Bellarmine after all the catechizing I’ve been doing the last few threads, but being a programmer, my own patron is Isidore of Seville. It’s a neat practice; I don’t know that I’d pray to one for intercession, but saints are always good role models. Our anonymous editor was only following Isidore’s example in editing Wikipedia without attribution.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      I found it darkly humorous that St. Lawrence was made the patron saint of cooks.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Not the only one in that vein. Saint Sebastian is the patron saint of archers.

      • Deiseach says:

        That’s the sense of humour folk piety has, and after all if you’re setting up as a guild or like organisation in the Middle Ages and looking for a patron saint, you pick the nearest match. And if you can’t do it on the life then you do it on the iconography, hence gridiron/grill – cooking – St Laurence

        St Agatha, for instance, is the patron of bell founders due to the iconography of having her breasts cut off; neat little dome-shaped breasts on a plate being the representation in art, the resemblance to bells in the shape meant it could be easily confused to seem as if she was associated with bells so “now you’re the patron of bell founders” 🙂

    • SamChevre says:

      Just in case you didn’t run across it in the wild goose chase and it is helpful–here’s ex urbe on Cosmas and Damian.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Is it just me, or does Star Trek: Enterprise a very non-trekky feel? I’ve watched a few episodes, and it feels like Generic Edgy American SF.

    • CatCube says:

      It’s weird that a Seth MacFarlane vehicle is the most Trekky thing on right now. Even that is a little too goofy, really, but it still hews closer to the correct feel.

      • Anonymous says:

        Hm. “Correct feel” may be the best articulation of the problem here.

        It’s like a 4rry proposing that 4e is closer to the original whitebox experience, to a 3aboo who just can’t comprehend how that World of Warcraft boardgame is supposed to be anything like the early editions, especially in comparison with 3e’s similarity to the past. Some individual pieces may be according to spec, but the overall product is subtly off somehow, producing Uncanny Valley issues.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I mean it was unbelievably generic but I’m not sure how it qualifies as edgy. Even the shamelessly eroticized stuff involving T’Pol was pretty tame.

      • Anonymous says:

        I am perhaps out of date with cinematography. But the show really does seem to be considerably slated towards Grimdark as opposed to regular Star Trek’s Noblebright. Especially the ‘dark’ part, which makes me wonder if the Enterprise is permanently running on emergency power.

        • cassander says:

          I think that was done to make it look low tech, and to be fair, I think that was something they generally succeeded at doing, though I find the “looks too futuristic” critiques of various incarnations of trek to be patently silly.

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          I guess I may just have a higher tolerance but it didn’t seem particularly dark to me.

          Something like the new Battlestar Galactica, where one of the main cast kills a baby on screen within minutes of being introduced, that’s grimdark. Enterprise doesn’t really move the needle for me.

          TOS and TNG were campy, and the later series tried to move away from that with mixed success. But compared to shows they were competing against like 24 they were still very optimistic.

          Especially the ‘dark’ part, which makes me wonder if the Enterprise is permanently running on emergency power.

          True, although Voyager was also pretty poorly lit. I think I still prefer that to the iEnterprise and lens flares of the reboot films but neither is very visually appealing.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think Anon means “edgy” in the sense that network TV means “edgy”: “Oooh look, we show blood resulting from violence and as much almost-nudity as we can get away with whilst elbowing you in the ribs about how ‘sexy’ it is, ain’t we so dark and daring?”

        And I definitely think the “generic” came in when they decided they needed Archer to be Kickass Action Hero, so they started the whole Xindi Time War arc (the straw that finally snapped this camel’s back). Falling back on Space Battle Space Explosions and running around Action Hero style was pretty much abandoning Trek for Generic TV Skiffy.

        Don’t get me ranting again on how they treated T’Pol. It was ludicrous.

        I’m also avoiding Discovery because the more snippets I see of it and read about it, the more I am beginning to be not just indifferent, not simply casually disliking it, but actively hating it.

    • hyperboloid says:

      Do you mean Enterprise, or Discovery? Because if you mean the one with the dude from Quantum Leap, I’m not seeing it; that was really just a bad version of what Star Trek was always doing. If on the other hand you mean the one with the evil Nazi redcoat form Mel Gibson’s ‘mericagasim 2000 then yeah, it’s really just a Battlestar Galactica rip off.

    • John Schilling says:

      Which episodes did you watch?

      For all it’s weaknesses, early “Star Trek: Enterprise” was all about exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations, and boldly going where no man has gone before. That sort of optimistic view of space exploration, in an episodic format with a different strange new world, each episode, is something basically only Star Trek and overt parodies of Star Trek ever do. Or the “Stargate” franchise if you are willing to dispense with spaceships (well, at first). It’s not Generic American SF, edgy or otherwise, because GASF is pretty much all war stories in space or horror stories in space.

      “Enterprise” never quite captured the magic of TOS or TNG, and in later seasons tried to throw in some dark-and-edginess to see if that would help. It didn’t, and I stopped watching early enough that I’m not really qualified to comment. But if those are the episodes you were watching, then you’re probably reading them correctly.

      And as others have noted, if you’re mistaking “Enterprise” and “Discovery”, then yes, “Discovery” is made of grimdark by people who think grimdark makes everything better. Whoever sold those people the rights to the Star Trek franchise, has committed a crime against future humanity.

      • cassander says:

        My current theory is that the final episode of season one of discovery is going to be them using the spore drive to find the mirror universe, only this time, they’re the evil ones…

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Either that or they’re going to find a light switch in a non-intuitive place on the bridge and get really embarrassed they’ve been working half in the dark the whole time.

          • Wrong Species says:

            I honestly think that bothers me more than anything else. Game of Thrones and Westworld are dark and edgy but at least I can see. Meanwhile, everyone is raving about The Expanse but I couldn’t get past the first episode.

          • Dissonant Cognizance says:

            Aren’t the captain’s eyes screwy in such a way that he can’t handle bright lights or something? It seemed like a throwaway comment to make his introduction more dramatic, but maybe the mood lighting is just his standing order.

          • Nornagest says:

            The Expanse has an interesting setting, it’s clearly a competently made show, but the characters and plot didn’t grab me. There’s nothing definably bad about them to me, I just came away generally unenthused.

          • Deiseach says:

            Aren’t the captain’s eyes screwy in such a way that he can’t handle bright lights or something?

            Yeah, he has some kind of problem with his eyes that apparently can’t be fixed without using artificial replacements and he wants to keep his eyes. This is supposedly a result of war injuries but I think they just wanted to make him cool and mysterious or something. I imagine it is also supposed to be indicative of his guilt over SLAUGHTERING HIS OWN CREW and he’s wallowing in his manpain expiating this by penance by suffering the pain light causes him (is the metaphor anvilicious enough for ya yet? these guys couldn’t do “subtle” if you force-fed them the Oxford English Dictionary definition).

            Sorry, I think the guy is a manipulative nutcase who should not be commanding a ship, he should be on medical leave getting All The Therapy, but the show runners want “14 year old you*’s idea of Cool Anti-Hero” so that’s what we get.

            *Come on, we were all 14 and all designing Cool Characters with stand-out traits for our games/stories/comics; weird light-sensitive eyes with cool/spooky-looking effects was the least of it.

          • Deiseach says:

            get really embarrassed they’ve been working half in the dark the whole time

            The ship is apparently powered by mushrooms*, so perhaps the engines simply can’t run both the drive and the full lighting at the same time. You can have your choice of “see what you’re doing but stuck here in the same spot” or “can’t see a damn thing but we’re moving although we have no idea where we’re going”.

            *I face-palmed when I twigged this. This is not techno-babble, this is the kind of guff that makes midichlorians look like rigorous biological science. I’m beginning to think the only way to really watch Discovery is sit down with a bottle of Baileys and a box of chocolates and get hammered so the WTF? moments pass by in a pleasant sugary haze, but my liver wouldn’t thank me for it and I like none of the characters enough to want to suffer that much (I will always love Sarek in any incarnation but not even for you, my petal, can I do this).

          • cassander says:

            @Deiseach

            I don’t have to say, if there’s one bright light in the show, it’s been Sarek. The actor has managed to pull off “quirky vulcan” impressively well.

          • Nornagest says:

            Did they seriously rip off Richard B. Riddick’s schtick? I mean, I like Pitch Black as much as the next reasonably well-done Aliens knockoff, but it wouldn’t be my first choice of inspirational material for Star Trek of all things.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Aren’t the captain’s eyes screwy in such a way that he can’t handle bright lights or something? It seemed like a throwaway comment to make his introduction more dramatic, but maybe the mood lighting is just his standing order.

            So no one has heard of sunglasses in the 23rd century?

      • Anonymous says:

        Which episodes did you watch?

        Like the first three.

    • cassander says:

      Enterprise suffered from lackluster characters, but the lethal blow was the incredibly foolish decision to go with the temporal cold war arc. time travel is always inherently problematic, but what on earth was the point of rolling back the tech level a little just to introduce a whole bunch of super advanced tech? And the very idea of making the characters quasi pawns? what on earth were they thinking, especially when there were so many canonical stories they could have told, like a Romuluan war that was just begging to be explored.

      • Nick says:

        How close is Enterprise timeline-wise to the Eugenics Wars? That could have been another interesting one to explore (and maybe it would have saved us from Into Darkness).

        • Nornagest says:

          I’m not much of a Trekkie, so take this with a grain of salt, but I seem to recall that the Eugenics Wars in Star Trek’s timeline take place in our past — the 1990s or so.

          How this fits in with Into Darkness is anyone’s guess.

          • Deiseach says:

            With all the changes Into Darkness made to Khan and the discovery of the Botany Bay (e.g. picked up by Marcus sending out ships to deliberately look for any more little surprises due to the divergent timeline and the Romulans), the actual date of the Eugenics Wars was the least of the worries associated with that movie. I imagine that given it’s a different timeline, they handwave it with “didn’t happen in the Prime Universe (i.e. our universe) 1990s but at a much later date” or even “happened on an Earth colony, not Earth” (I genuinely can’t remember if they bothered giving any solid background on Khan such as the date of the Eugenics Wars).

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          The Eugenics wars did take place in 1990s, according to TOS era. We didn’t see them when the USS Voyager went back to the 1990s, though. Things seemed fine enough.

          Enterprise did some interesting things with the Eugenics follow-ups (the Augments) and used it to fill a long-existing plot hole.

      • Deiseach says:

        the lethal blow was the incredibly foolish decision to go with the temporal cold war arc

        Yeah, that was my big problem with it which caused me to finally jump ship. Enterprise was supposedly set in the pre-TOS era, when the Federation is still on rather shaky ground and still bedding down with this whole ‘galactic union’ idea, they didn’t have the universal translator, the transporter was still an experimental and risky piece of tech, and Humanity was only just being let off the leading strings by the Vulcans. Earth is sending out its first independent first contact/long-range mission and it’s clear that we’re still at the “just about walking, not ready to run yet” stage.

        Pitching the “early tech not even up to the TOS level” against “we’ve got time travel” culture(s) should, even semi-realistically, have ended with Enterprise and/or Earth reduced to splinters because not alone do they have the superior technology necessary for reliable time travel, they have freakin’ time travel. Your plucky rag-tag crew pull off an unexpected gambit and beat them in an encounter? They just go back in time for a re-play and now not only is the gambit not unexpected, they’ve already worked out the counter to it. But since the idea seems to have been that to grab viewers they needed Space Battle Space Explosions and Archer, Kickass Action Hero, and that time travel is always Cool (but when it’s over-used it’s a one-trick pony and all the Trek series fell into the trap of “if it’s not a Mirror Universe episode it’s a time travel one” when they wanted something crowd-pleasing), it’s not surprising they decided it would be a great idea (whether it was the studio interfering and pushing for this, as claimed, or whether it was Brannon and Braga using their favourite tropes, I have no idea).

        The resulting confusing mess with different factions and no clear idea of who was back-stabbing whom wasn’t intriguing and complex, it was a failure.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          To defend Enterprise, it was a Temporal Cold War, not a Temporal Hot War. People weren’t actively using time travel to wipe out other civilizations, they were being subtle with it to avoid the other side similarly escalating and leading to mutually assured destruction.

    • Shion Arita says:

      I agree, and that’s why it’s my least favorite star trek series. It seems like they tried too hard to be edgy and ‘relevant’.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      For me in terms of feel it’s a cross between DS9 and Voyager, which is appropriate given they are the immediate precursors.

  16. Well Armed Sheep says:

    Channeling my inner Tyler Cowen: What ethnic* foods do you think are underrated in most of the US? Overrated?

    I’d say Turkish — one of the world’s great haute cuisine traditions, with a huge variety of techniques, spices, range of dishes, etc. Although one thinks of it as a very meat and fish heavy cuisine, it is shockingly vegetarian-friendly if one is willing to graze on meze (which gets an enthused “yes” from me).

    Indian is also broadly underappreciated. Most peoples’ conception is the steam table with heavy creamy North Indian curries; unsurprisingly the subcontinent offers a huge range of regional cuisines, most of which are less gutbusting than the average Maharajah Buffet. Again, massive range of techniques, spices, flavor profiles, etc.

    I’m not sure which I think are overrated; Chinese is probably overrated in the sense that takeout Chinese isn’t very good but is very popular. Are French restaurants still high status? If so I would suggest they are also overrated, but I’m not sure if anyone’s mental model of “fine dining” is categorically French anymore. French restaurants were definitely overrated twenty-five or thirty years ago, I’m not sure now.

    * Including various Western European national cuisines.

    • moonfirestorm says:

      Pakistani food needs more widespread acceptance.

      It’s basically Indian food with more and better use of meat, and spicier.

      My work recently changed buildings, and the only downside was that an amazing Pakistani place I used to visit every week went from a quick drive to a serious trip.

      • Well Armed Sheep says:

        Interestingly, I’ve read (… perhaps literally from Tyler Cowen?) that many Indian restaurants across the US are actually owned/managed by Pakistanis. I’m vegetarian so given the choice between Pakistani and Indian I’ll usually jump for Indian (especially if it’s plausibly authentic regional food from heavily vegetarian states; the Little India in my city is pretty heavily Gujarati which works beautifully for me).

      • Garrett says:

        and spicier

        What would you recommend for those of us who don’t do well with piquant?

        For me-specific bonus points: I seem to be unable to tolerate heat from peppers, but enjoy a very strong horseradish sauce or mustard. What should I try?

        • SamChevre says:

          I would say in my experience:
          1) Indian food is not one thing: North Indian food is significantly less hot-pepper heavy than South Indian. (And Hyderabad and Delhi have less in common, foodwise and otherwise, than Indianapolis and Miami. My Hyderabadi colleague’s onion curry was barely edible by the rest of the Indians, I could manage about 1/4 teaspoon of it per spoonful of rice.)
          2) In my experience, Pakistani food is heavily spiced, but not heavy on the hot peppers; this is particularly true of the northern Pakistani styles. (A colleague from Lahore who was an incredible cook made food that had the mint and cinnamon spicing that I associate with Iran.)

    • Charles F says:

      Italian is the obvious choice for most overrated food category in the US. It’s also the category where I can least notice a difference between (allegedly) low and high quality places.

      I’m not qualified to try to identify the underrated ones, since I haven’t been to anywhere outside the contiguous states. But I’ve lived near some criminally underappreciated Hawaiian restaurants. And I’ll second Indian food as one where people don’t appreciate the full scope.

      • Well Armed Sheep says:

        Agree it is proooobably overrated; it certainly is immensely popular.
        But… I actually think of Italian as one where there is pretty massive quality variation between “corner red sauce joint” and “studious regional Italian cuisine.” (Anything that has both Olive Garden and Del Posto kinda *has* to have a pretty big quality range, right?)

        • Charles F says:

          There’s certainly a much bigger range than I’ve been exposed to, and I guess anything that gets four dollar signs is probably going to be pretty good, but going from olive garden to something maybe 2x as expensive doesn’t seem to make a meaningful difference. Whereas going from the cheap chain to the slightly fancy for most other types of food makes a huge difference to me.

          • Well Armed Sheep says:

            Interesting. Do you have a standard order, or is this across various dishes?

          • JayT says:

            I think at some point there’s only so much you can do with pasta covered in red sauce. Where you really start to see quality improvements at Italian restaurants is when you get away from the well known dishes and start trying the more obscure dishes.

            There is a huge variety of “Italian” dishes that you don’t have to spend a lot of money on, but they just don’t get served at American restaurants all that often.

            Also, when you take into account all the cured meats and good cheeses, I have a hard time considering Italian food overrated, even with its popularity. I would say that spaghetti and pizza are probably overrated, but not Italian as a whole.

          • Charles F says:

            My safe order is gnocchi with whichever sauce seems least weird, or some sort of vegetable lasagna. It’s hard to compare other dishes I’m less familiar with, but it seems to apply about as well when I try unfamiliar things.

            @JayT
            I was considering cured meats, which I absolutely think are overrated and are ruining sandwiches and sometimes pizza with their presence. I have no idea which cheeses are Italian, so that might be a place where I’m underestimating their positive impact.

          • gbdub says:

            whichever sauce seems least weird

            cured meats…are ruining sandwiches and sometimes pizza

            No offense, but these sound like the statements of someone who just doesn’t like Italian all that much. This is totally fine of course, but it’s harder to evaluate the relative quality of something you don’t like that much / aren’t that familiar with.

          • Nornagest says:

            I have no idea which cheeses are Italian, so that might be a place where I’m underestimating their positive impact.

            Parmesan, Romano, asiago, mozzarella, provolone, ricotta, gorgonzola, among many others. Basically all the well-known hard cheeses you find in the States and a number of popular soft ones. And casu marzu, if you’re into that.

          • Charles F says:

            No offense, but these sound like the statements of someone who just doesn’t like Italian all that much.

            On the one hand, I did call Italian the obvious choice for most overrated, so you might be onto something. On the other it’s hard for me to imagine disliking a whole country’s style of food and I don’t think that’s the case with Italian. The “seems least weird” bit is more about knowing what to expect than about actually disliking the weirder stuff. (also pronouncing things) And while it’s true that I think cured meats are gross, it seems possible to eat a lot of decent Italian food while avoid cured (or any) meat, and I don’t think my dislike for one well-liked ingredient is the same as a dislike of Italian food.

            And I’m definitely not very familiar with it in terms of broad knowledge of lots of dishes, but for spaghetti, ravioli, gnocchi, and lasagna, I’d say I’m plenty familiar/fond to judge differences, and the differences are just rather minor. Lasagna and gnocchi can definitely be awful, but after clearing a pretty low bar, they’re just good and don’t get much better as far as I can tell. Probably also the case for the other two, and the bar is just low enough that everybody clears it.

            I think Italian food other than cured meats deserves a place in the food scene, I just can’t think of a reason why there should be so many more Italian restaurants than any other ethnic category I’ve noticed.

          • gbdub says:

            I was ribbing you a bit, so apologies if it came off too harsh.

            What I was kind of getting at is that “pasta/gnocchi with the most boring sounding sauce” is the “safe” choice for a reason, and it’s probably deliberately designed to a tight and predictable flavor profile (even at fancy places) so that suburban grandmas can safely order it without complaining that it tastes “weird”.

            Another thought: A lot of Italian food (at least of the lasagna and pasta-with-sauce variety) tastes just a good as reheated leftovers. I’ll bet there’s an inverse correlation between “how good the leftovers taste” with “how noticeably variable is the quality between restaurants”. After all, a lot of the quality of a good restaurant is in fresh ingredients, preparation, and presentation. Most of that gets nixed by dumping it in a to-go box and microwaving it.

          • Charles F says:

            You didn’t come off harsh at all.

            Your points about why it’s the safe option are pretty much true, but don’t seem to explain the lack of differentiation. I would expect the flavor profile everybody’s trying to match to be some sort of platonic ideal that the top restaurants can come close to and the others are worse at. I guess it’s possible that the best restaurants really don’t care about distinguishing themselves at all on those dishes since the clients they’re targeting wouldn’t order something so pedestrian anyway, but it doesn’t seem to match my experience with other cuisines.

            The second paragraph is interesting. I’m not really sure about it, since e.g. dumplings around the world (pelmeni, pierogi, pork/bean buns, samosa, etc.) are pretty well optimized for making good leftovers, and also seem to have wider ranges of quality than Italian. But they are more consistent between restaurants than a lot of other dishes, so maybe there’s something to it.

          • Peffern says:

            @Nornagest

            Unrelated, but speaking of Italian cheese, I recentlty discovered our local grocery store sells ricotta salata and that is amazing. I don’t know how I’d never heard of it before

      • Shion Arita says:

        As an italian myself who’s learned traditional cooking from my family, the ‘high quality’ places in the US aren’t very good in my opinion either. To get the good stuff you’d have to get home made stuff, or go to italy. I don’t really know why US restaurant’s haven’t quite figured it out, but for some reason they haven’t.

        • Could you expand on that? What do the U.S. Italian restaurants get wrong–recipe, execution, something else?

          Given the obvious option of hiring Italian chefs, the obvious guess is that they are getting it right for their purposes, producing a variant of Italian cooking optimized for their market.

          • Shion Arita says:

            With pasta dishes the main problem is with the tomato sauce. It’s usually acidic and chunky, or with weird stuff in it. The way I make it has to be cooked for a long time, and they probably cheap out on that because it’s time consuming. A lot of the restaurant stuff at best tastes like what we call a ‘young’ sauce. Other people might be used to that and like it but I don’t.

            If you’re curious, this is my sauce recipe:

            cover the bottom of a large tall pot with olive oil. not too much though.
            add a couple cloves of finely chopped garlic.

            you can optionally also add some chopped onions.

            heat on low until garlic starts to brown.

            add 1 6 oz can of tomato paste and wash the paste residue into the pot by filling the can with water. mix the pot contents until homogeneous.

            add 2 29 oz cans of tomato puree and 1 29 oz can tomato sauce.

            wash the rest of the residue in with water, filling each can ~1/4 the way.

            add basil, parsley, oregano, and bay leaves, and a handful of salt.

            optional: add 1/8-1/4 cup sugar.

            cook uncovered on low heat for ~3-5 hours (!).

            it makes a LOT, so it makes sense to freeze it.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Ha, are we related? (probably not) I’m pretty sure that’s basically the recipe my grandmother uses. At some point she changed to only tomato sauce instead of puree and I cheat and use onion and garlic powder instead of the fresh stuff.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Ethiopian is underrated, or at least obscure. Ditto Filipino, although that may be changing.

      Whatever is flavour-of-the-week tends to be overrated. You’ll have a cuisine that’s underrated/obscure, then gets picked up for being cheap and tasty, then the hype sets in, and fancy places will sell stuff no better than the average greasy spoon fare at higher prices while telling you it’s life-changing.

      • Well Armed Sheep says:

        Huge fan of Ethiopian, though I don’t know a good place in my current city. Sadly I think it is going to languish in semi obscurity, it’s a little too weird for lots of people. (You also really have to like sour/bitter flavors… which I do, but lots don’t.)

        I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Filipino restaurant outside of the LA/OC metroplex. Not sure I’d notice though, as I don’t think there’s anything I can eat… seems like a lot of creative uses of pig 🙂

        • Brad says:

          I don’t like the taste of injera which pretty much rules out the whole cuisine. There needs to be some kind of Ethopian / Indian fusion restaurant which replaces injera with naan.

        • You also really have to like sour/bitter flavors

          My problem with Ethiopian is that the injera is good to start with, but after I’ve eaten a lot of it the sourness gets to me.

          • Well Armed Sheep says:

            Yeah, I can definitely understand that… I don’t mind it given that in a specific bite it’s usually just one flavor among many strong flavors. But definitely a very specific sourish taste that I can see getting old.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Not sure I’d notice though, as I don’t think there’s anything I can eat… seems like a lot of creative uses of pig 🙂

          Pig or fish, with some sort of sauce, on top of veggies and a whole lot of rice. My apartmentmate grew up in the Philippines (as an American expatriate), and he’s converted me to vaguely-Filipino-flavored cuisine.

          • Brad says:

            I live near a bunch of Filipino restaurants but haven’t been super impressed with my random choices. Any standout dishes I should look for?

          • JayT says:

            I could eat glass noodles pretty much non-stop. They’re delicious, and not too challenging if you aren’t an adventurous eater.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Brad, I’m not really the one you should go to for recommendations; my apartmentmate hasn’t cooked anything more than “Filipino-inspired” when I’ve been here. Or, you could say it’s authentic on a different end: “Fish, salt, and rice,” as he says the poor people eat in Manila (though we typically dump in more veggies.)

            That said, he keeps saying wonderful things about chicken adobo, especially his mom’s recipe. And, he also says he likes pancit.

          • Iain says:

            Chicken adobo is tasty and easy to make yourself. Brown a bunch of chicken. Saute some onions, garlic, and ginger until translucent. Add the chicken back in with enough vinegar and soy sauce (3:1 vinegar to soy; I usually use 1 part rice vinegar to 2 parts white vinegar) to mostly cover it. Add a couple bay leaves, scrape up any fond on the bottom of the pan, let it simmer for half an hour or so. Mix in a can of coconut milk if you are feeling extravagant.

      • Nornagest says:

        Filipino food is great, but I still find it very odd that they put sugar in their hamburgers.

    • lvlln says:

      I think sushi is way overrated in US, at least in the Blue Tribe-ish portions in which I mainly socialize. It’s just clumps of vinegary rice with meat and/or vegetables on/in/around it. But because it has an exotic-yet-easy-to-pronounce name and comes from an exotic faraway land and is prepared to look pretty, people treat it like some holy or elite high class delicacy.

      • Well Armed Sheep says:

        Given its general pricing model it is at least “elite” if not an actual “delicacy,” regarding which YMMV. It seems very difficult to get a decent meal for less than high-teens of dollars at most sushi places I’ve been to, even relatively shabby ones.

      • JayT says:

        I think that rolls are very overrated, but good sushi or sashimi is properly rated.

      • Nornagest says:

        Sushi is only good in places that have access to really good, really fresh fish. If you’re more than fifty miles inland, don’t bother. The best sushi I’ve ever had was in Hawaii, which besides being almost entirely coast has all sorts of interesting fish that you can’t get on the mainland.

        And it’s best eaten in the form of norimi and sashimi. Elaborate rolls can be good, but usually most of the maki menu is designed as a sop for boring suburban Americans that want to show off how cultured they are but don’t actually like sushi. Tempura shrimp is a bad sign. Cream sauce is a very bad sign. Baked rolls are an abomination before the Lord.

        • JayT says:

          One interesting thing about the fifty miles inland comment is that I’ve been told (but haven’t verified) that there is a daily flight from Japan that brings sushi-grade fish to America, and it lands in LA, Omaha, and New York. So if you are eating sushi from Japan in Omaha, you are eating the same fish that the people on the coasts are eating.

          • Brad says:

            Mostly you don’t want to be eating fish from Japan. Maybe occasionally for some fish that only lives there in order to see what it tastes like. But plenty of, tuna, for example goes from the Atlantic Coast to Japan. So there’s no reason that you need flights from Japan to have great tuna in the US. Likewise for sea urchin, mackerel, and salmon. Even Japanese Yellowtail (hamachi) is caught off Hawaii too.

          • bean says:

            Google turns up nothing, and the wiki article on the Omaha airport lists only a UPS flight to Manitoba in terms of international cargo. I’d expect that a sushi delivery flight would land somewhere with a large air cargo presence, probably Memphis or Louisville, to ensure quick distribution to the rest of the country. Actually, I’d expect that most would be shipped via normal air cargo, with a premium paid for direct flights and fast handling.

        • skef says:

          Are you sure the places you’re thinking of aren’t serving fish that has been frozen? Freezing sushi is pretty much the norm these days, from what I understand.

          • Nornagest says:

            I think freezing most sushi fish is actually legally required these days, as an anti-parasite measure. Still seems like it’s no good unless you’re in a coastal city. Don’t know why. It’s not a food culture thing; Portland, Oregon is a foodie town if there ever was one, and its sushi is mediocre. It’s a little ways over the fifty-mile cutoff.

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          All sushi fish is frozen. All of it. In Japan, in LA, anywhere.

          It is true that far-from-the-sea places often don’t have demand for great sushi and consequently lack the supply, but there is nothing but market forces stopping you from making a 3-star sushi joint in any town in America.

      • dndnrsn says:

        My experience with sushi restaurants is that below a certain price point, one might as well go to an all-you-can-eat sushi place and just give in to gluttony, because something that’s 10-15 bucks a la carte is not going to be better quality than somewhere you can eat until you want to die.

      • AnarchyDice says:

        Very much agreed on sushi being overrated (don’t much care for it myself), which is a shame because I really enjoy Japanese cuisine for their unique take on curry (especially pork cutlet with curry), thinly sliced beef bowl, roast eel with that delicious eel sauce, ramen/udon/soba of infinite varieties, okonomiyaki savory pancakes, and so many more. Heck, I even still pay for air-freighted Japanese plums to make a yearly batch of plum-wine (if you’re ever in japan, ask for some Umeshu on the rocks if you’re looking for a Japanese alcoholic beverage to try).

    • Well Armed Sheep says:

      Replying to my own comment to add Vietnamese as an underrated cuisine; outside of the LA/OC metroplex and Houston I don’t think there are a ton of Viet places in most cities and I don’t think people in most cities frequent the few that exist. Really excellent stuff; fresh, loads of textural and temperature contrast, strong flavors, just dirt cheap in most places…

      • dndnrsn says:

        Vietnamese is good. Definitely harder to find than it should be, outside of fairly tepid “fusion” style. Indonesian is in the same boat, only moreso.

        • Well Armed Sheep says:

          Indonesian is so underrated that I forgot about it despite happily eating it for two weeks straight on a trip this past month. Really nice, quite veg friendly too what with the birthplace of tempeh and all.

    • JayT says:

      I would say that Mexican/Tex-Mex is by far the most overrated. It can be good, but the vast majority of these restaurants are terrible, and even at the good ones there is little variety from dish to dish.

      For underrated, I that most Mediterranean cuisines are underrated. It’s always so good, but there are relatively few restaurants around the Bay Area that serve it.

      I also think that traditional Chinese food is underrated in America. I like cheap Chinese takeout as much as anybody, but the real stuff is some of the best food in the world.

      Finally, more people should eat offal. It’s really gotten a bad rap when in reality a lot of it is very tasty.

      • Well Armed Sheep says:

        I’ll go one level meta and argue that “regional Chinese” is the most overrated answer to the question of what cuisines are underrated 😉

        Is Mediterranean food *as a general matter* underrated? It seems very well-liked in the sense that everyone* knows a good place to get falafel, and one simply cannot get away from hummus (which I don’t mind). I do think at least one specific Mediterranean cuisine (Turkish, mentioned above) is very underrated, however.

        * “Everyone who cares about food” maybe?

        Tex-Mex is probably overrated, which I am saying through gritted teeth with a tongue that wants not to budge… Its lesser incarnations are all some variation of “stuff smothered in sauce and cheese, broil and serve with side of refritos and rice.”

        • JayT says:

          I think Mediterranean is underrated in that I think it should be as popular as Italian, Mexican, or hamburgers. As it is, it’s something that everyone knows and eats from time to time, but it isn’t so popular that there is as much competition as I would like to see.

      • Nornagest says:

        Ever since my first bowl of pho I’ve wondered why Americans don’t eat tendon. It’s the best part of the cow.

        • JayT says:

          I know, right? It’s so good. There is a restaurant in SF called Alta CA that fries tendon into a pork rind-like snack, and it is amazing. I’ll take tendon and tongue over almost any other part of the cow.

        • SamChevre says:

          Double commented, so I’m changing this one: another dish not to miss at a Vietnamese restaurant is any of the noodle soups made with duck.

        • SamChevre says:

          Tendon is good, but my preferred “odd animal part” in pho is tripe (often on the menu as “Bible tripe”.)

          It’s interesting that Vietnamese food isn’t widely available: both of the midsize cities I’ve lived in had it, so I’ve always thought of it as being something you can get pretty widely.

          • gbdub says:

            Tiny towns might have a Chinese buffet. Bigger and you get a sushi counter. A little bigger will add a Thai joint. Next bigger also has a “good Chinese place”. Then you get a Pho shop.

      • Charles F says:

        Spanakopita is a definite contender in my mind for the best food item available anywhere. If the rest of Mediterranean food is anywhere near as good, then Mediterranean is a very good candidate for the most underrated style.

    • Chalid says:

      Overrated: steak. Cheap steak is bad, expensive steak is very tasty but not worth the fuss.

      Underrated: northern and western Chinese food.

      • Well Armed Sheep says:

        (rampant speculation given lack of experience with the subject matter but) steak seems like a case where some not-very-hard-to-acquire technique can get you 80+% of the way to restaurant quality without massive amounts of fuss, at significantly lower cost. Or so my browsing of SeriousEats suggests…

        • dndnrsn says:

          Definitely. I feel like a sucker getting steak in a restaurant unless someone else is paying, so I don’t.

        • JayT says:

          The only time I eat steak is if I’m at an expensive steak restaurant or if I’m making it for myself. Low and middle tier steaks just aren’t worth eating.

          I like the expensive restaurants because the meat is (usually) of really good quality, and I love the sides and atmosphere. I like cooking it at home because I do pretty much as good of a job as the good steakhouses, but it costs me six times less.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m pretty sure that if you’re eating out, the only difference between a ten-dollar and a thirty-dollar steak is the marketing and decor. The actual cow always tastes the same.

            The really expensive steakhouses can be very tasty, but I only ever pay a hundred bucks for a meal if it’s on my company’s dime.

          • JayT says:

            I would consider a $30 steak to be middle tier and not worth my time. When I say expensive steak I’m talking about ~$70 for the piece of meat with no sides included.

          • ManyCookies says:

            @JayT

            What slab of meat are you getting for 70 bucks, like a pound of expertly prepared Filet Mignon?

          • JayT says:

            I tend to go for the ribeye, but I’ll do a NY strip or fillet from time to time. As for the price, that’s just what a good steak costs in San Francisco (or Las Vegas, the other place I’ll go to steakhouses with any regularity).

        • kenziegirl says:

          Well there’s always the dry-aging vs wet-aging controversy. Proponents say it really adds to the steak-eating experience, it’s not at all easy to do at home and it’s a lengthy process, so it definitely adds a premium to the cost of your average steak.

      • John Schilling says:

        One of the advantages of being financially comfortable, and it doesn’t take “rich” or “1%er” for this, is that good steak is no fuss at all. Good steakhouses are not hard to find in the United States, and most of them are reliably good. Ask, eat, pay, no fuss so long as the “pay” part isn’t compromising your other goals.

        If you’ve been taught that paying more than say $20 for a meal ever is a wasteful indulgence that you should feel ashamed about, that’s going to cut into your enjoyment of course.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Do you mean the high-end steakhouses (Mortons, Capital Grille, Smith&Wollensky, etc) or something else? There are several mid-range chains I’ve had good steak in (Texas Roadhouse and Lone Star), but I’ve found most of them are pretty bad (Longhorn, Charlie Brown’s) or inconsistent (Outback, which also lacks the higher-end cuts). Unfortunately my current area seems to lack a decent mid-range steakhouse. Plenty of good high-end ones though.

          (low-end ‘steakhouses’ like Sizzler or Ponderosa are horrors. Go get a burger somewhere else instead)

          • Randy M says:

            I made the mistake of walking into a Morton’s without knowing what it was. I was seated with a menu in hand before I realized a lonely entree was going to use all my expense budget for the day.

          • John Schilling says:

            I prefer a good mid-range steakhouse, while understanding that there aren’t any national mid-range chains that are reliably good. Fortunately my local Outback is one of the good ones, and I can get a nearly Morton’s-quality dinner there for $50, and there’s a non-chain steakhouse in town that’s about the same but IMO inferior ambiance. The value of Actual Morton’s is that you can get reliably good steak without local knowledge, e.g. when travelling, but for twice the price.

            If you like good steak and aren’t truly rich, it’s probably worth getting recommendations and scouting out the better local steakhouses, which may include well-managed franchises. If it turns out there aren’t any and your choices are $100 steak dinners or Sizzler, you have my sympathies.

        • Chalid says:

          By fuss I didn’t mean financial, necessarily. I’m actually quite price-insensitive when it comes to food. I meant that it’s not even that great at the most expensive places. The first few bites are undeniably awesome but that taste satiety sets in, the steak starts to cool off, and it gets a little boring. At that price and quality point lots of other overall meals are more pleasurable.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Part of that is that steakhouse steaks are generally just too big, at least for relatively small people like me. You can’t really get a 16 oz on-the-bone ribeye to cook the same way as a 22 oz, so I understand there’s good reasons besides tradition, but it’s still a problem. Unfortunately my wife likes different steaks and more done than I do, or we’d just split one.

            When we’re having steak at home, sometimes we’ll pick up a porterhouse with a decent-sized filet portion, and I’ll cut the filet portion from the center bone before cooking. When the strip side is done enough for me I remove the filet from the rest of the bone and let it cook a little longer, then everyone’s happy.

    • Nornagest says:

      I think French cooking carries its cachet not so much because it’s tasty as because, more than any other cuisine I’m familiar with except maybe barbecue, it rewards pure cooking skill over access to ingredients. Your average French meal doesn’t contain anything you couldn’t buy at Bubba’s Corner Grocery — just meat, cream, flour, simple vegetables, and maybe lemon juice or something — but making good French sauces or pastry is exceptionally tricky. So if you want to market French food in a country where everyone hasn’t been cooking it at their granny’s knee since age four, you pretty much have to scrape up an actual chef somewhere, which means it’s expensive, which means it’s high-status.

      Personally I prefer Cajun food, which uses all the French tricks but has more interesting ingredients too.

    • SamChevre says:

      It seems to me that there are at least two kinds of overrated/underrated:

      Type 1: what you get in the average XXX restaurant is much different than the actual cuisine.
      Here, I’d say Chinese is the worst, followed closely by Indian: in neither case are you going to get something that is commonly eaten in China/India. Rounding out the top 5, barbecue (outside its home regions), “Japanese steakhouse” Japanese, and Mexican.

      In the “best” category, I’d put Vietnamese, the very simplest foods (steak, fried fish).

      Type 2: Gets too much/too little attention given how good it is.
      Underrated: Midwestern/German food–it’s comfort food, but it’s good, cheap, and easy; good casseroles are always popular at a potluck, but when’s the last time you saw a food article about them? Good Midwestern-style white bread and rolls, also–sometimes, tender and flavorful (rather than crusty) is great. South-Eastern European food (basically, the non-Mediterranean portions of the old Ottoman Empire):Romanian, Hungarian, Serbian. South Indian–very very different from the Muslim-influenced food of North India. That’s my top three in the “try it if you have a chance”.

      Over-rated: French-style pastries; you can get 99% of the goodness with 1% of the hassle by using baking powder.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Is “different” necessarily bad? North Americanized Chinese food is a simple pleasure: fat and sweet with lots of carbs. Ain’t gonna say no to that.

        German/Austrian/Hungarian food is great. Meat, both grilled and fried. And those little dumplings.

        • SamChevre says:

          I would not say different is bad–all the above are things I enjoy eating. Just that eating in an average “Chinese” restaurant has approximately nothing to do with Chinese food in China.

      • secondcityscientist says:

        Hugely disagree on Midwest/German food. First of all, there’s a ton of midwesterners and German-descended Americans, and not only do they love this stuff, for many of them it’s all they’ll eat. Second, basically the entire “traditional” repast at American Thanksgiving is this kind of food, and people seem to like it enough then. Third, although it can be done well, the differences between “done well” and “done poorly” are usually lost on even those people who enjoy casseroles. I have access to many church cookbooks detailing the traditional methods of casserole preparation and it’s mostly “One can of creamed soup, one pound ground meat (browned), one bag noodles, top with tater tots and cook at 325 for one hour”. It is not underrated, it is properly rated as mostly mediocre-to-bad.

        The actual good parts of German food – sauerkraut, weirdo mustards, horseradish, eighteen kinds of sausage – remain underutilized, maybe underrated. But those mostly aren’t comfort food.

        (source for all of this: Am German/Midwestern, have been dealing with this food all my life)

        • JayT says:

          I would consider a bockwurst with sauerkraut and mustard to be pretty much the definition of comfort food. Throw in a side of spaetzle and I have a hard time thinking of something that is more comforting.

          Other than that, I agree with your post. Growing up in the Midwest I still like casseroles from time to time, but I wouldn’t consider them underrated because of how many bad ones are out there.

        • SamChevre says:

          Your traditional casserole is exactly the cuisine I’m thinking of, although in my mind the canonical topping is cornflakes rather than tater tots.

          When I said “under-rated”, I did not mean it’s not eaten much: I agree that it’s widely eaten, and a lot of people like it. (Including me, on the super-rare occasion that I make it for myself–it’s not an easy cuisine if you can’t have dairy products.) But I can’t imagine Tyler Cowen writing about it.

          Maybe your view–” it is properly rated as mostly mediocre-to-bad”–is more accurate. I’d rate it as “good, but somewhat boring.”

        • Nornagest says:

          The… I’m not sure I want to say the whole point of Thanksgiving, but at least a major point of its symbolism is that most of the traditional foods served with the feast are very specifically American. Turkey, cranberries, potatoes, green beans, pumpkins for pumpkin pie: all endemic to the Americas. Calling it German food seems to miss the mark.

          • secondcityscientist says:

            Possibly it is done differently in your area of the country, but in my part of the midwest as many Thanksgiving dishes as possible are casseroles. Green beans for sure, those are an absolute staple (and prepared very similar to my above recipe). Sweet potatoes, usually as a casserole. Dressing, casserole-style. We also get cheese-and-potato casseroles and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen cranberry casseroles. Turkey does get to be its own thing. I was mostly making a statement about food prepared by German-Americans in the midwest, actual German food is somewhat different (although ultimately very similar).

    • Brad says:

      I think Korean is set to take off. So I guess still underrated but getting there.

      Thai food is in a similar place to Chinese food. Good versions of it are excellent, but most Thai places are fairly terrible.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Hasn’t Korean already taken off?

        • Brad says:

          I took a look at Peoria restaurants, as Peoria is synonymous with small city America. Aside from the obvious steakhouses and other “American” fare, there was a ton of Italian, plenty of Mexican, and a fair number of Chinese and Japanese restaurants. There were a few Mediterranean places, two Thai restaurants, and I saw one of each of: Vietnamese, Indian, and German.

          The closest I could find to Korean was one Asian fusion restaurant that didn’t list it on their menu but people mentioned in the yelp reviews that you could get Korean BBQ there.

          Given that example, I think it is fair to say taking off rather already there.

          • JayT says:

            Also, you could have taken off and still be underrated. If you think every city in the country should have two Korean restaurants, but there is only one in every city then it would be underrated in your eyes.

        • Sfoil says:

          I don’t think so. Low-end Korean restaurants of the “bulgogi and rice” type are both not that good and not particularly common compared to e.g. their Chinese equivalent. Korean barbeques remain a curiosity in big cities, and some distinctive features of Korean cuisine (loads of pickled and fermented vegetables, getting really drunk as cheaply as possible, red pepper sauce on everything) are usually lacking, possibly with good reason.

          • I wouldn’t describe our low end Korean restaurants–two of them within a mile or two of us–as “bulgogi and rice.” They start with a bunch of appetizers, and the menu has quite a sizable range of dishes.

      • Where we are (South Bay) Korean in low-decor restaurants is probably the least expensive good food you can get.

        The most underappreciated good cuisine is medieval Middle Eastern. Rishta. Khushkananaj. Barmakiya. Judhaba. The closest you can get in a restaurant is Afghan, but if you come over for dinner … .

        • Brad says:

          Is there anywhere at all the general public can buy prepared medieval Middle Eastern or do you have to either cook it yourself or know someone?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Where do you get any prepared medieval food, besides an SCA event?

          • You might get it at an SCA event if you were lucky. Or you could come over to our place for dinner some time. Or you could make it yourself.

            Betty and I have a medieval cookbook which includes most of our recipes. The pdf is free on my site. Hardcopy on Amazon.

            There is something that bills itself as a medieval restaurant in Talinn (Estonia), but although the decor is good the recipes, when I was there, owed more to the chef/owner’s imagination than to the surviving medieval cookbooks. I don’t know of any in the U.S.

            As I mentioned, the closest cuisine to medieval Middle Eastern that I’ve come across in restaurants is Afghan.

          • JayT says:

            @DavidFriedman, reading through your cookbook I notice a lot of the recipes call for lettuce which is then cooked. What kind of lettuce do you think would be most period accurate to use?

          • @JayT:

            Good question, but I don’t know the answer.

          • Brad says:

            @DavidFriedman
            If I’m ever in your neck of the woods, I’d be delighted to come over to your place for dinner.

            I took a look and at least some of the recipes look a lot more straightforward than I would have expected. Except for the murri. The fermented version is clearly out of the question for me, and even the substitute looks pretty intense. Any suggestions for a substitute? Maybe some kind of Asian fish sauce?

          • Charles Perry, who has translated several of the cookbooks and has made murri, suggests soy sauce as the best available substitute.

            But Byzantine murri, the period fake version, is pretty easy to make.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I’ve had really good Afghan food, which I think most Americans haven’t even heard of. Only had it in two places and only one was good, so I don’t know if there’s a wide range.

      Ethiopean was faddishly popular for a while. I won’t say it’s objectively bad, but definitely not my thing.

      Indian, at least in my area, suffers from the same problem as Chinese — lots of bad versions of it. Doesn’t mean the cuisine itself is overrated; I wouldn’t say steak is overrated just because there’s a lot of Sizzler-level places.

    • Well... says:

      Not a cuisine per se, but what about insects/bugs?
      Lots of people all over the world eat them, but very few Westerners.

      Here are the bugs I’ve eaten (and I’m not counting shrimp, lobster, crab, etc. here):

      – Ants. I ate these as a preschooler, to impress/gross out my classmates. They were tart and nasty. (The ants, I mean.)

      – Fireflies. I was in my early 20s and sitting out on my lawn one summer, experiencing, uh, toxic effects from some, uh, bad fungus. I had ordered a pizza. Anyway, I was feeling very at one with my surroundings, which included the fireflies dancing around me in the twilight. I got to thinking “These bugs are so cool, why don’t humans eat them?” So I grabbed one and stuck it on my pizza, then took a bite. At that moment I knew for certain why humans don’t eat them. Fireflies have a horrible musty flavor, the way you might imagine the lint under your fridge tastes.

      – Spiders. I figure I’ve eaten a few of these in my sleep* because I’ll sometimes wake up with a distinctly insect-like flavor in my mouth. Not a good flavor, would not recommend, would not try again.

      – The occasional gnat or small fly, consumed while riding my bike, or sometimes even while walking. No discernable flavor, but definitely gets stuck in my throat (or nasal passage) causing me discomfort and displeasure for the next hour or two.

      – Cicadas. I had these as tacos at a one-day presentation on cicadas. Basically, they served cicadas mixed with oil and taco seasoning, and maybe some ground beef, then served in a tortilla with lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, avocado, etc. I thought they tasted strongly like every other insect I’ve eaten, despite all the attempts to mask the flavor.

      I would be willing to try roasted or fried cricket/grasshopper legs before writing insects off completely.

      Verdict: despite their sustainability and health benefits, I think bugs are properly rated.

      *Actually I don’t really know if I’ve eaten spiders in my sleep. We’ve always been shown statistics telling us how many spiders we eat in our sleep, but where do those numbers come from? Come to think of it I’m very skeptical about those numbers, unless somebody shows me some compelling studies.

      • johnjohn says:

        Spiders! My favorite internet urban legend

        https://www.snopes.com/science/stats/spiders.asp

        So how did this claim arise? In a 1993 PC Professional article, columnist Lisa Holst wrote about the ubiquitous lists of “facts” that were circulating via e-mail and how readily they were accepted as truthful by gullible recipients. To demonstrate her point, Holst offered her own made-up list of equally ridiculous “facts,” among which was the statistic cited above about the average person’s swallowing eight spiders per year, which she took from a collection of common misbeliefs printed in a 1954 book on insect folklore. In a delicious irony, Holst’s propagation of this false “fact” has spurred it into becoming one of the most widely-circulated bits of misinformation to be found on the Internet.

      • Nick says:

        We’ve always been shown statistics telling us how many spiders we eat in our sleep, but where do those numbers come from?

        They come from the eating habits of Spiders Georg, who is an outlier adn should not be counted, of course.

    • keranih says:

      I’ve had enough Italian in It-lee that the American version is a completely different food group. (If I can ask the waiter to ask the cook if he’ll make me alio olio peppericini (which is the Italian version of a grilled cheese sandwich (ie, what you fix for someone who shows up hungry early/after supper)) it’s Italian, if not, it’s American Italian.) (And Italian pizza is et with a fork and knife, and while awesome, sucks as breakfast food, while cold American pizza is the breakfast of champions.)

      (AOP with spinach is best food. All others who ain’t my mama shut up.)

      I have never liked Thai food. I like nearly all kinds of Asian food, including the American variations, but I have never understood what Thai had to offer.

      African – esp East African – is quite good. Tends to take forever to cook. I myself like goat a lot, so long as the head and rumen are not a part of the meal.

      South American BBQ places – the sort that bring you bits of everything – tend to be over rated. OTOH, if you ever get the chance to partake in a true Argentinian or Chilean bbq – the ones where they take the pig or the sheep carcass and lash it to a grill, braid the duodenum and slice up the heart, thymus, kidneys and liver, and give you fresh bread rolls and a knife to cut off bits as they get done – take them up on it. Particularly at the end of a long day, with matti going around laced with brandy, there is nothing like it.

    • John Schilling says:

      For “underrated” I would go with basically all of Japanese cuisine that isn’t sushi. At least in California and DC, and I think most of the United States, sushi has so thoroughly filled the “Japanese cuisine” niche that it’s hard to reliably find the other good stuff without actually going to Japan. And that’s a shame, because that adds up to a whole lot of overlooked good stuff.

      Good sushi is also hard to find without actually going to Japan, but I see that’s already been discussed elsewhere.

      • Brad says:

        I forgot what it’s called but every time I’ve gotten the breaded chicken or pork cutlet I’ve been massively unimpressed. I do like the savory pancakes and I’ve had some fantastic noodle soups (ramen, udon, etc).

        • lvlln says:

          The breaded chicken or pork cutlet you had might be what’s called “katsu.”

          Your post reminded me, I think ramen is massively underrated in the US. This has been changing in the past few years, at least around Boston where I live, where ramen shops have been popping up and ramen has gotten on the menu in some non-ramen shops. But for a very long time, ramen seems to have been perceived as a bottom-tier food that one only resorts to under dire financial straits. Coming from Korea and having been to Japan, both of which have fairly robust ramen shop industries, this caught me as strange for a while after I came to America.

          • Brad says:

            That’s right, katsu. Maybe I’ve just had bad versions, but I don’t see why anyone would order that.

            You are right about ramen. I think it is an unfortunate side effect of supermarket ramen noodles, which have almost nothing to do with ramen.

            If most people’s exposure to pizza consisted solely of frozen pizza, they’d look at you like you were an alien if you suggesting going out to a restaurant for pizza.

      • JayT says:

        I agree with this. I think Japanese curry is probably my favorite type of curry, and gyudon is a perfect comfort food.

      • Nornagest says:

        I’m a huge fan of izakaya food. All Asian pub food, really, but the izakaya format’s especially good. It seems to be slowly spreading on the West Coast, and I’m pretty happy about that.

        Ramen’s pretty good too (real ramen, not the instant noodles), and that’s a little easier to find.

    • jolhoeft says:

      I think I need to speak up in support of French restaurants, or French cuisine anyway. It isn’t so much overrated or underrated, as unrated. It seems to have dropped off of peoples radar. Looking for restaurants these days (in Seattle and previously DC), French seems rather scarce in favor of other cuisines. I can find them, but it takes effort.

      I never really had French until after I’d experienced Indian, Ethiopian, Thai, etc. All very excellent, but discovering French prompted a thought of, “wait a minute, this has been here all along?”

      As a side note, thank you for this post. It prompted me to make a batch of ersatz Coq au Vin. 🙂

      • Well Armed Sheep says:

        Glad I could help 🙂

        I’ll bicker a little — two of the five current NYT 4-stars are at least plausibly characterized as French (Jean-George and Le Bernadin), and tons of of the 3-stars (Boulud’s places etc). Could be that is different outside NY, and tbf the big city I live in I can’t think of a French place that is considered top of the line.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      It’s nearly impossible to find Native American cuisine. Sure, you can buy turkeys, corn, squashes, and various fish and bivalves, but finding it cooked the way various Native American tribes cooked it?

      I only once searched for Native American restaurants and they were too far away to easily visit.

  17. Mark says:

    If conscious perception requires some specific physical structure, that means that there is a cost associated with it, and there must be a corresponding advantage to consciousness.

    If there is no cost associated with consciousness, if it isn’t derived from some specific physical structure, it would suggest (to me) either panpsychism, that the universe is alive with perception, or that providence (God?) has decreed that we should be blessed.

    So, we probably shouldn’t worry about unconscious molochian entities eating us. Unless God made us.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Or it could be a byproduct of a physical structure which provides some other benefit, e.g. the belly button.

      Your navel isn’t, as far as I’m aware, serving any vital purpose. But the umbilical cord was absolutely 100% necessary for you to live, and the process of detaching from it after birth gave you a navel. The cost of having a navel, if there is one, is far lower than the benefit of having an umbilical cord.

      And by that same token, there’s no reason why a robot or an alien would have a belly button. It isn’t going to be selected against in humans but by the same token won’t necessarily be selected for in any of our hypothetical competitors.

      I don’t know whether consciousness is like the navel. But it’s an interesting counterpoint.

      • Mark says:

        The cost of having a navel, if there is one, is far lower than the benefit of having an umbilical cord

        Right, so consciousness is the same as male nipples.
        It seems like consciousness should be more costly than that – I mean it’s got to somehow be connected to all of our sensory inputs, internal thought processes… but yeah, good point. Maybe the advantage conferred by consciousness doesn’t have very much to do with thought – just a side effect of something else and isn’t costly enough to make removing it advantageous.

        • secondcityscientist says:

          Nearly 40 years ago, Stephen J. Gould wrote a short, relatively accessible piece about this general idea called “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme”. You should give it a read if you’re thinking about evolution in this manner. Actually everyone should read it because it is very good.

          Link via JSTOR

          • Mark says:

            Thanks – I just realised that I’ve been reading the word “spandrels” for years without having any clue what it meant.

            So, now that I have the smallest clue of what it means – the spandrel looks pretty which might lead us to assume that it was originally designed to be attractive, but actually it serves a structural purpose in the making of the dome (which is chosen because it is attractive, so presumably there is some limit on how ugly a spandrel can be.) Later, once the spandrel has been established, its ornamentation is subject to selection on the basis of attractiveness, so they tend to get tarted-up.

            But, you’d be wrong if you looked at the super-attractive spandrel and assumed that the basic structure of the thing was originally put in because it looked nice.

            I think you could assume that if there is sufficient selection, and the cost of building consciousness is sufficiently high, that there must be some purpose behind it – structural or otherwise.

            The biggest problem with the original argument above is that the attractiveness/cost/purpose of the spandrel tell us nothing about the attractiveness of a radically different no-spandrel structure.

            So, if intelligence is vital to human intelligence for structural reasons, you can still get eaten by non-conscious AI.

        • Deiseach says:

          Right, so consciousness is the same as male nipples.

          I laughed way harder at that than I should have done.

    • Evan Þ says:

      On the other hand, if God has blessed us with consciousness, why wouldn’t He also bless us with protection from unconscious Molochian entities?

    • beleester says:

      No, we just have to worry about conscious molochian entities eating us instead.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      Yes, I think that the blindsight scenario is… I’m not a hater of the novel. I liked it. But I think it’s not a realistic concern. If consciousness is separable from intelligence and a huge evolutionary disadvantage, we, you know, wouldn’t have it.

      The coherent views of consciousness are:

      1. It provides an advantage.
      2. It is inseparable from intelligence.

      I feel like the concept of p-zombies is a philosophical point of, “Hey, guys, this is a proof by contradiction: p-zombies are obviously ridiculous,” and a bunch of science fiction authors totally missed the point.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I think they go together for biological creatures such as ourselves. But for AI that is explicitly programmed rather than haphazardly constructed through natural selection, that is less likely to be the case. Think about it this way. Do you think AlphaGo would have had been better if it could feel pain?

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          Feeling pain isn’t a part of consciousness, for the record. Except in as much as feeling anything is. How do you know AlphaGo doesn’t feel pain when it loses?

          Here’s what we actually know about consciousness: basically nothing. I don’t get why that means everyone has strong feelings that they know exactly how it fits into the universe.

      • Mark says:

        What’s the argument for 2 ?

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          In all cases of intelligence we’re aware of, the intelligent agent attests to consciousness, and evolution hasn’t removed it.

          • Mark says:

            I can’t imagine how a non-conscious entity could answer the question honestly.

            Wouldn’t consciousness have to be defined in non-conscious terms first?

            Or does the fact that we can use language to describe consciousness, or have consciousness, prove that it can be defined in non-conscious terms?

    • Shion Arita says:

      There might be advantages to consciousness, but that doesn’t mean that everything needs it to be effective; look how effective plants are, despite being completely non-conscious.

      There may also be advantages to other systems that are not like consciousness but serve similar functions. Who knows? There are a lot of niches to be filled, and a lot of different kinds of organism structures that evolved to fill them. I don’t think we’re going to know how universal those niches or the solutions and structures that arise to fill them are until we have an external point of comparison (alien life).

      • Chalid says:

        We don’t know that plants aren’t conscious.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          Plants are aware of their environment to a degree and actively adapt to it. If that isn’t a basic consciousness, what is?

          But can a plant be intelligent? Some plant scientists insist they are — since they can sense, learn, remember and even react in ways that would be familiar to humans.

          even scientists in the field don’t argue that plants have neurons or brains.

          “They have analagous structures,” Pollan explains. “They have ways of taking all the sensory data they gather in their everyday lives … integrate it and then behave in an appropriate way in response. And they do this without brains, which, in a way, is what’s incredible about it, because we automatically assume you need a brain to process information.”

          And we assume you need ears to hear. But researchers, says Pollan, have played a recording of a caterpillar munching on a leaf to plants — and the plants react. They begin to secrete defensive chemicals — even though the plant isn’t really threatened, Pollan says. “It is somehow hearing what is, to it, a terrifying sound of a caterpillar munching on its leaves.”

          https://www.pri.org/stories/2014-01-09/new-research-plant-intelligence-may-forever-change-how-you-think-about-plants

          • Wrong Species says:

            That’s really stretching the definition of consciousness. AI has environmental awareness but that doesn’t mean it can feel or think.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @Wrong Species

            What I quoted wasn’t even close to the best claims in that story, if you haven’t already please consider reading the rest of the article.

    • Consciousness is multi faceted. Some of the functional aspects are plausibly useful or inevitable…a complex entity needs to have some distinction between more and less salient information. But there is still a question about why that function would need to feel like something.

  18. Le Maistre Chat says:

    I have no rational reason for posting this, but for some reason I was remembering the SF universe I created when I was about 14. I wrote a story in it and used it for a PBEM roleplaying game, but never disciplined myself into writing a finished novel. Hey, I was a kid and worldbuilding is a trap, so it’s to be expected.

    The universe LMC made up when she was 14:
    It is the far future. Don’t bother to put a Gregorian year on it, as humans don’t use that calendar anymore and relativistic travel makes things complicated. Said calendar’s last year was 2086 or so, when an alien colony ship from Alpha Centauri conquered Earth. 10 billion of us couldn’t resist 1,000 with such technology.
    The aliens looked superficially mammalian, like bears 1.5 meters tall on all fours, manipulating tools with two trunks that each divided into ‘fingers’ at the end. They enslaved us, genetically engineered us because our children were cheaper than robots for many applications. But they were proud, they put in less technological effort than they needed to given how they were abusing human women. About 400 years after 2086 AD, despite how they’d changed us, a slave revolt still took back all of Earth. We destroyed their satellites before they could destroy us from the high ground and worked hard to reverse engineer everything we hadn’t destroyed.
    Long story short, we learned from the masters and sent the same sort of slower-than-light warp bubble starships they’d used to get here to fight them at Alpha Centauri. We won. It surprised no one who knew probability theory that AC wasn’t where they’d evolved. We conquered several main-sequence stars on our way to the masters’ homeworld. We were kinder to them than they to us. We let them keep their freedom and choose new leaders, demanding only small land concessions for embassies and scientific outposts.
    With the war winding down, the research was the exciting part. At the masters’ homeworld, we received radio transmissions from the diplomatic delegations of several interstellar… we couldn’t say “empires” because you couldn’t run an interstellar government, but species. There were contiguous clumps of stellar colonies belonging to five species or powers, and by conquering the masters, we’d replaced them as the Fifth Power.
    How could all this interstellar activity have gone on without violating the ancient scientist Fermi’s paradox? We invited scholars and government representatives from all the alien homeworlds to Earth’s capital to learn.

    To be continued if people care. :p

    • Said Achmiz says:

      I care! Please continue, this sounds interesting!

    • Incurian says:

      How were we able to defeat the aliens? Did they have any interesting psychology or sociology?

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I’m afraid I didn’t give any of the aliens interesting psychology. My focus was coming up with bauplans that could have plausibly evolved into tool makers and attaching some hopefully-interesting sociology to them.

      The elephant-bears had infected humanity with a retrovirus that altered the genes whose expression gave rise to the utility functions in our childrens’ brains. One part of it was making a chemical they sweated trigger the new humans’ pleasure centers. Once the new humans grew up, the brutality of the regime plummeted (they had initially neutron bombed an industrialized island to breed on while conveying their demands to the rest of the world by drones that shot open dissidents). Human status competition became based around proximity to the elephant-bears. Eventually the global surveillance state relaxed enough that a conspiracy of slave engineers was able to produce guns and gas masks, with the cause celebre to join the rebellion being forced breeding of women who didn’t want children by an arrogant ruler who underestimated how much oppression she needed to maintain a slave state.
      (Hopefully-interesting sociology: these aliens were matriarchal despite their homeworld having achieved gender equality some time after the Industrial Revolution. The reason was that each tonne of starship mass is very expensive, so they’d colonized the nearest stars with all-female crews and frozen seed).

      • Robert Liguori says:

        One part of it was making a chemical they sweated trigger the new humans’ pleasure centers.

        Isn’t this asking humans to kidnap you, lobotomize you, and stick you in a sauna to the point that you sweat yourself almost to death, and harvest your juices?

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I never thought of that at the time, but I suppose so. This was supposed to be backstory for a cynical post-scarcity world, but with logic like that it could have been relentlessly grimdark insteadm 🙂

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          It would be no wonder that they opened with a neutron bomb, given that the alternative was our sapping their precious bodily fluids.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      THE OTHER ALIENS
      The commander of the fleet at our ex-masters’ home star asked the other four starfaring species to send scientists and government representatives to Earth’s capital. Naturally this raised a problem. None of the powers wanted to be at a disadvantage of many decades. So it turned out that the next Earth heard after the commander’s radio signals were three delegations on one starship, launched from the nearest colony of the…

      Trilateral people. Standing upright on the three legs of their carbon-based exoskeleton, with the three fingers of their three hands fractally branching into finer manipulators, they claimed to dominate the stars, other aliens being subjects of their science and three of the “home stars” being simply their largest polities. Human scientists politely insisted on meeting all aliens anyway, but of course they would be many years behind…
      They were followed

      • Incurian says:

        I’m listening.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Followed just a decade later by the Czarthians, or tentacled ones. They looked like Cthulhu’s head on a horse body, with rubbery purple skin rather than mammalian skin and hair. They told a very different story: their ancestors had evolved on a planet far spinward of their current realm, but it had been conquered two Earth centuries ago in Czarthi’s frame by the arachnid-like Betelans, who had invented interstellar conquest, and the trilateral ones were upstarts who they’d just learned by radio had conquered their home world.
        This species appeared to live in eusocial families, with the families in a city held together by a civic cult and all cities submitting to the leadership of their ancestors in Czarthi’ s first city.

        ULARANS: the fifth power looked like blue-skinned bipedal lizards that nursed their young. The sociology I came up for them was that their dominant religion had been theocratic and believed in the necessity of maintaining the body with mummification for consciousness to enjoy an afterlife. Scientists debunked their religion, leading to a period of chaos before a global secular dictatorship was established just before they discovered nuclear weapons.
        So what replaced the old funerals? Cryogenics: every Ularan is frozen in the hope of aeverlasting future life when the necessary technology is invented.
        The Ularan home star was conquered a couple of Earth centuries ago in it’s frame by the Betalans, then just recently by the Shrevans (trilateral ones).

  19. Kevin C. says:

    So, there are a couple of local ads running on TV here for the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, wherein the narrator speaks about their commitment to their Iñupiat values. In one of these, an example is given of the traditional (animistic) position on hunting, which, quoting from memory, ran something like “we do not believe we hunt the animal, we believe the animals give themselves to us.”

    My thought in reaction was that I’d likely find interesting, and entertaining — though likely not productive — a debate between an adherent of this sort of “pro-hunting animism” and one of the “concern for animal suffering” vegans we tend to have here on SSC. I suspect the inferential distance would be too great to bridge, but it would be something to see, would it not?

    • dndnrsn says:

      Haven’t you seen the periodic Aboriginal/Native American (as I understand it, the former is the preferred term in Canada, the latter in the US) vs animal-rights activist flareups? They usually pit, on the one hand, animal rights arguments, vs on the other, a combination of appeals to cultural tradition survival and “it is not feasible for poorer communities in some remote places to survive without hunting, and that includes majestic and cute animals”.

      • Well... says:

        American Indian, as i understand it, is the actual preferred term in the US, by the people to whom it should matter. Though maybe that was just the one group I heard it from.

        Anyway yeah I remember coming across a whole genre of flare-ups over seal-clubbing.

      • Kevin C. says:

        Haven’t you seen the periodic Aboriginal/Native American (as I understand it, the former is the preferred term in Canada, the latter in the US) vs animal-rights activist flareups?

        Not really, because we don’t get too many of the PETA/animal-rights activist types up here in the frozen north in any significant numbers — at least, none that hang around very long. The only one I can recall of note in my lifetime was Greenpeace types versus Alaska Native “subsistence” whalers, and that was some time ago.

        • dndnrsn says:

          It might be more of a thing in Canada right now, for various reasons. There was recently a situation involving an Aboriginal-cuisine restaurant (a fairly haute-cuisine place, as far as I can tell) serving seal tartare. Some animal rights activist started a petition to get it taken off the menu, and was roundly condemned. What’s interesting is that, five or ten or so years ago, public sympathy seemed to be more on the side of the animal-rights activists, while this time around, people seem overwhelmingly to have taken the side of the restaurant.

    • Deiseach says:

      a debate between an adherent of this sort of “pro-hunting animism” and one of the “concern for animal suffering” vegans

      You are an evil person, Kevin C.! 😀

    • Matthias says:

      I don’t think there’s too great a conflict between these two viewpoints, since the moderate EA version of veganism mainly focuses on the especially low-utility case of factory farming. By contrast it’s less clear whether animals that die by human hunting are any worse off than those that get eaten by (other) natural causes.

      The weird EA position that cares about WAS is absolutely going to come into conflict with any communities that want to interact with nature in a traditional way, and in principle you could have an interesting normative debate there even if (1) any practical questions are quite a ways down the road, and (2) both sides are going to have huge inferential distance issues not just with each other but also with the educated public.

  20. Well... says:

    What are some genres or sub-genres of music that are…

    1. Not expressly political by their very nature;
    2. Not part of the Country & Western umbrella;
    and
    3. Dominated by artists who are politically conservative?

    I can’t think of any, though I wouldn’t be surprised if some sub-genre(s) of metal qualified.

  21. Sniffnoy says:

    So it seems that the more popular theories of modified gravity as an alternative to dark matter (I realize none of them can really be called “popular”) may now be pretty well falsified by the recently detected neutron star collision which was detected both via gravitational waves and gamma rays. The measured delay between the gravitational waves and the gamma rays was 1.7 seconds; some people have computed that, if we assume any of the more popular theories of modified gravity, the delay should have been on the order of a year (and we woudln’t have all this hubbub in the first place).

    • Evan Þ says:

      Very interesting. According to your link, it doesn’t disprove all the modified gravity theories, but it’s definitely a good winnowing experiment.

    • smocc says:

      The paper looks very good. Clever use of a new experimental result. I don’t know too much about MOND, but it seems like this would rule out all the sanest theories first.

  22. bean says:

    Happy Navy Day, everyone. The first new Naval Gazing post can be found here. I covered Iowa’s construction and service in the Atlantic. I’ll be mirroring comments from here over there, but I’d prefer if you commented there. Enjoy.

  23. Protagoras says:

    I had to show this to the paper clip AIs enthusiasts around here.

  24. yodelyak says:

    I’d like to get an opinion or two on the propriety of wearing a U.S. military uniform (an old dress blues of a Navy Nuke-school instructor, w/ all medals/buckles removed) for Halloween. It was pressed onto me by a family member, who noticed I was thinking of Halloween costumes, while cleaning their closet of old stuff… and initially I was excited to maybe do a couples-costume w/ my gal, patterned on the V-J photo from times square.

    A few military and ex-military in my network have suggested it’s no problem at all, as long as I’m not behaving disresputably or disrespectfully or etc. But I think I live in a liberal bubble, and they do too. (All of these are people who probably don’t know how to talk to religious people without offending them, and all have relatively few areas in their politics or world view informed by feelings of “disgust” or “impurity… or, to put it another way, none of them are the sort of person likely to act offended at a Boy Scout who wears the uniform incorrectly, say… but I think I remember that people sometimes *were* offended by Boy Scout Halloween costumes.) At this point, I’m already decided in favor of a pirate costume instead. I’m an attorney, and I don’t think it pays to take risks of this kind, especially since I’d probably also be violating some never-enforced statute/regs setting which ranks in which branches wear what uniforms & etc. But I’m curious if other people see it my way–that a military uniform will offend people. Thoughts?

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      I don’t speak for all veterans, obviously. That disclaimer out of the way…I find myself sort of torn, to be totally honest. As a result, I’m going to talk through my thought processes and it’s going to come out to something like “It’s Complicated” or “It Depends”. Apologies in advance for that.

      On the one hand, in an earlier thread I mentioned being against the “stolen valour” law on the grounds that anyone sufficiently egregious to merit criminal prosecution could/should be pursued under existing civil suit or fraud laws, and I stand by that. I also don’t have any issue with historical re-enactors/recreationists or the sort of representation that goes on for the purpose of film/television/etc.

      On the other, thinking about the hypothetical of running into someone, say, 20 years old showing up in chocolate chip BDUs and going “I’m a Gulf War Vet this year!”, I would be somewhat put off. I wouldn’t accost them, and I’d tend to think less of someone who tried to publicly berate them about it, but I’d find myself in at least partial sympathy with the emotional response at the core of that outburst.

      Thinking about it, the more clearly the wear is signalling “Costume”, the better. Or to put it another way, how accurate/realistic your costume can be before you start risking offense is inversely proportional to the age of the costume, the likelihood of actual vets of the relevant conflict being around, and the likelihood of anyone mistaking you for an actual soldier. So for example, I think it would be pretty hard to object to someone in their twenties doing their best Doughboy look complete with brodie helmet come next tuesday.

      WW2-era…I dunno. I defer to Hlynkacg on this one because my impression is that unlike the US Army (which has gone through a ridiculous number of dress uniform changes from 1945-Present, pretty much all of them bad ideas and worse than the WW2 standard), the US Navy’s dress blues -haven’t- changed nearly as much.

      • Thinking about it, the more clearly the wear is signalling “Costume”, the better.

        Doesn’t doing it on Halloween automatically signal “Costume”?

        • yodelyak says:

          Halloween is a Tuesday this year, which means (in Portland, OR anyway) that most of the costume parties are on the weekend before–some Friday, some Saturday. I think on balance the nuke instructor just looks like dress blues and is only 10-ish years old, so I think there’s a real chance, regardless of whether it was worn on Fri, Sat, or Halloween day on Tues, of people saying “thank you for your service” or etc., if I were to be out in public doing a bar crawl or etc. So I’m glad I decided against it. Anyway, thanks all for your thoughts, especially Keranih and trofim_lysenko for the thoughtful responses.

          I like the idea of including some extra signifiers that it is a costume. The right solution might be something like a Pop-eye pipe and hat, so that it’s a Pop-eye costume, not a naval uniform.

          Short of very clear Pop-eye signals, maybe it’s something to treat like an American flag–misuse it if you’re feeling a flag-burny-level of need to protest, and otherwise, use only as directed. Not least, the CNO Boorda… wow, that’s exactly the sort of thing to illustrate how seriously this is taken.

        • Trofim_Lysenko says:

          I think it probably -helps-, but doesn’t necessarily give carte blanche. That said, context matters too. You’re more apt to run into someone who cares enough to be vocally offended say, out here where I live (Rush Limbaugh’s home town), or near a military base, than elsewhere.

          EDIT: Hah, wait, Portland? I would think there you’re more likely to offend people with the idea of what the uniform represents period, rather than for wearing it wrong/without justification ;P

          As I said, for MY part at most I would silently and internally be somewhat bothered by it and then go on about my business absent some deliberate and intentional mockery, but I know of others who would be touchier.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Perhaps one would be better off going as a specific soldier, like Patton. Or a fictional soldier, like Rambo.

        • Evan Þ says:

          That was my emotional reaction, too.

          Also, it lines up with what I’ve heard from other blog posts offended by ethnic costumes: “Don’t go as ‘An American Indian’; go as Sacagawea or Pocahantas!”

    • Art Vandelay says:

      I’d never thought about there being a conservative version of getting offended by people’s Halloween costumes.

    • keranih says:

      It’s…complicated. I know people who shrug it off, and so long as they aren’t trying to get a free meal at Shoney’s on Veteran’s Day, they don’t care. I know other people who were peeved at the Navy costumes in Philadelphia.

      I myself find some variations of some costumes…disquieting. (If my level of “god don’t do that” is at about a 5-6 for “slutty XYZ”, about a 9 for blackface, and at 13 (on a 1 to 10 scale) for a Walking Dead costume with actual entrails, then the level of disquieting is about a 2, maxing out at 3.)

      A great deal of it depends on context. Is the costume not sexually titillating, and on a pre-pubescent kid? Concern level 0. (Okay, actual entrails would take it up to a 3, assuming that they were non-human in origin.) Is it part of an organized historical reenactment? Then even entrails (again, non-human) are perfectly fine.

      Is it a WWII costume that identifies you as Patton? Heck, that’s funny as all hell. Are you dressed up as Audie Murphy or Ira Hayes? Dude, that’s not funny. Take it off.

      The problem is the sense mockery and humor that goes along with adults “playing dress up”. I am not a fan of cringe humor. More so – a place where many folks wear clothing of a type and manner that is not their own is on stage, in theater. There, the intent is to deceive. It’s one thing to put on a tiger mask and go about growling at people – you’re pretending that you are not you. Same as when we put on fancy evening clothes. (The brit term “fancy dress” for costumes is, I think, a hint at how the cultures are different.)

      But when we put on a superman costume, we’re doing more than pretending not me, we’re pretending someone else – a rather specific someone. Generally for amusement. And what’s amusing – that I could never be Superman, aren’t I funny to imagine I could be? Or is it that I could never be Aunt Jemima, isn’t it ridiculous to even think that I could be brought so low?

      There are a lot of assumptions going around here – about what people think other people are thinking. And I hold that most drama over this sort of thing is blown way the hell outta proportion. But I’m not entirely comfortable with people putting on military uniforms that they aren’t authorized. (To be clear, the services are like this IRL – there is the case of CNO Boorda as an extreme example.) Who is and who is not allowed to wear certain gear & insignia matters.

      Plus there’s the whole IRL, putting on a uniform means that it’s allow and legal for people to shoot at you with intent, in a way that does not apply to civilians. It matters.

      A turn about question – what about religious groups? Turkey-Day Puritan is a fairly common costume. But how about Orthodox rabbi? Or Catholic priest? (To be fair, ‘slutty nun’ does show up fairly often.) Satan is a fine and well-respected traditional costume, and so are Angels. But what of the Pope?

      Again, these are things to *talk* about – preferably no less than 1/4 sober, but getting worked up and shouting “unclean! unclean!” at someone over a dress up costume for a dress up party is uncalled for.

      Unless they really are wearing entrails.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Or you could try offending everyone on the political spectrum. As a man, wear a female dress uniform and call yourself “Bradley Manning” instead of “Chelsea.”

      • Nornagest says:

        I see Popes on Halloween fairly often, and they don’t seem to draw much fire. Catholic priests or monks, too, but usually with some kind of gimmick attached, or with a girlfriend in a “sexy nun” costume. Never seen a rabbi costume, or for that matter a priest from any non-Christian religious group.

    • CatCube says:

      From my perspective, I don’t really see a problem with it. I mean, I’d prefer you not do anything blatantly disrespectful like a “sexy” military uniform, but there’s no fraud involved if you’re doing it on Halloween, since it’s pretty obvious that you’re just playing dressup. It’s hard for me to point and laugh at people who get bent out of shape by costumes and then turn around and get bent out of shape by somebody’s costume.

      Funnily, I had an opportunity to think about this a few years back when I ran out to grab lunch on Halloween, while wearing my uniform in a city not near a military base. That was normal daily wear for me, so I didn’t really think much of it. I was standing in line when I realized a lot of other people were dressed up for Halloween, and thought, “Y’know, it kind of looks like I’m wearing a costume.”

    • orihara says:

      My opinion: If it’s only being worn as a Halloween costume, whatever. No one is going to care. This especially applies if you don’t have any medals/ribbons on.

    • Another Throw says:

      I know you specifically asked about whether it would offend people, but let’s start with the statue that does seem like it is only rarely enforced: 10 USC 771, which prohibits wear of distinctive uniforms, or distinctive parts of uniforms, by anyone other than service members; and 772, which provides a list of exceptions like the National Guard, honorably discharged veterans and retirees, civilians attending military schools, members of service related organizations, and so on. The only interesting exception seems to be actors portraying service members in theatrical productions or motion pictures.

      How interested are you in arguing that Halloween constitutes a “theatrical production” in the context of a statute that, as enacted, was clearly intended to authorize the production of pro-military propaganda?

      As for what is likely to get people pissed off, it is worth noting that the US Army has a list of things that, for the purposes of 10 USC 771, it considers distinctive uniforms, or distinctive parts of uniforms, spelled out in regulation (AR 670-1, para 3-8). I assume the rest of the services have the same. Don’t wear anything on the service-appropriate list and you’re mostly in the clear. While military regulations are unenforceable outside the military, it provides a pretty good guide to what is likely to get someone really fucking pissed off and in your face, and the service in question to pour man hours into trying to get you prosecuted if you end up in the news.

      The rest of not getting someone pissed off and in your face is mostly not doing anything disrespectful. And this probably includes not egregiously doing any of the stuff service members are prohibited from doing in uniform. If a current member or veteran sees it, they may initially assume you’re a member violating regulations and go into attack mode. Having someone already pissed off is probably not a good time to try explaining that your “stolen valor” is a Halloween thing…

      But chances are somewhere North of 3 9’s that nobody will care. It’s freaking Halloween!

  25. johan_larson says:

    I had a chance to see “Only the Brave” yesterday on a company outing. It’s an action-drama about a group of elite firefighters who deal with big forest fires in the American west. The thing is, these fires don’t just threaten woods, they sometimes hit towns in these areas too. I have to wonder why communities in these fire-prone regions don’t clear fire-breaks around themselves, where the fire couldn’t go for lack of fuel. It seems like a straightforward precaution. Is it just too expensive an insurance policy for too rare a threat?

    • keranih says:

      Conflicting priorities. Trees are very valuable for property values, shade, and screening from neighbors. Plus, its not just the trees, but also brush. Also, it’s not *that* common for the fires to threaten whole communities – mostly it’s smaller groups of houses. Individual landowners are always advised to clear around their houses.

      Finally, it takes a lot of firebreak to protect against a big fire – during the 1998 Flagler County fire the flames were jumping four-lane divided highways with wide medians and broad right-of-way areas. They brought in Cherokee smoke jumpers who were used to fighting fires out west, and those guys were really impressed with the humidity and the ability of palmettoes to keep hot spots sequestered.

    • CatCube says:

      To reinforce what keranih was saying about the width of a firebreak being prohibitive, the Eagle Creek fire here in Oregon last month jumped the Columbia River, which is a quarter of a mile to over a mile in width. A firebreak that’s guaranteed to work is a lot to keep clear on a continuous basis, as opposed to creating one if you have the time during an actual event.

    • psmith says:

      The recent fires in Napa and Sonoma counties were throwing burning material a mile to a mile and a half ahead of the main body of the fire when winds were high, for another impressive example. Having said that, preventative thinning/brush cutting is certainly something that goes on, both at the individual property level and at the municipal level. Granite Mountain IHC (as portrayed in the movie) began as a Prescott municipal fire department fuels crew, IIRC–that is, their main duties were thinning and clearing flammable brush, with fire response secondary. And most wildland fire resources will mostly do fuels mitigation in their jurisdictions when they’re not on fires, though a lot of the relevant resources (in the US, anyway) work for the Forest Service and are responsible for districts with little or no wildland/urban interface so you don’t see them around very much.

      • keranih says:

        To make it clear to the casual reader, “fuels mitigation” means “burning off stuff on purpose, in low threat weather.”

        Which *sounds* great, particularly in regions where the ecosystems depend on regular burn offs. But the trick is “burning enough, but not too much” in a chaotic system. A “fuels mitigation” event that gets out of hand – like this or this – can be devastating to those affected even if it doesn’t fall into the “act of god” clause of insurance claim denials. The possibility of tragedy (and lawsuits) keeps those certified to do controlled burns very cautious. (Not all mitigators work for the government – a non-trivial number are commercial foresters managing tree plantations.)

    • Nornagest says:

      They do encourage it. I grew up in one of those areas, and every year the fire department sent out propaganda asking for thirty feet of “defensible space” around any residence. I believe it’s actually required by law, but it rarely seems to be enforced — people like their gardens and forest views too much. That or there are nuances to the rule that I don’t understand, never having owned a house up there.

      Plus, as others have been saying, an energetic enough fire can easily jump that kind of firebreak.

  26. How much more could the US spend on nuclear fusion research before hitting diminishing returns? Obviously there are only so many nuclear physicists, and only so much research they can do with their time even if they had all the money in the world, so there are limits, but if we increased the budget they had available by 10 times, could we at least get twice as much nuclear fusion research done?

    • Elephant says:

      Since the present rate of returns on fusion research is zero, it’s hard to see what diminishing returns would look like! Less snarkily: yes, you could motivate more people to pursue fusion research. The big problem with the field is that it hasn’t had any major advances in decades, and there isn’t a clear path forward. There’s no way I would advise a bright young physicist to go into fusion research, and I say that as someone who actually does think there should be more of it!

  27. Mark says:

    Big problems in conventional political wisdom:

    (1) Transgender people are a thing that everyone must accept. Male and female brains. BUT… if you say there might be a difference in male and female brains people will start shaking and you will be ejected from polite society.

    (2) White people earn more money because of the white patriarchy. It’s social structure. And it’s a big problem. I may even shake. BUT… anybody who thinks that Jewish wealth is due to a “social structure”, or even notices the fact of Jewish wealth, is a mad, bad conspiracy theorist nut job.

    • Incurian says:

      Good schools are the result of peer effects and good parents, but teachers are heroes who need to be paid more.

      Also I don’t see any reason why “the paradox of tolerance” isn’t recursive, so the only way to win is not to play. Also I find it funny that the people who are most likely to cite the paradox of tolerance are the least likely to agree with anything else about Popper.

      • but teachers are heroes who need to be paid more.

        Good teachers should be paid more. Bad teachers should be paid less. Or nothing.

        • Incurian says:

          Teachers tend to be against this idea because they say it’s impossible to fairly assess their quality, citing other factors that dominate student outcomes.

          • All teachers, or only the ones who suspect they are the bad ones?

            In other fields we manage to assess quality. The pattern of a short initial period followed by lifetime tenure with a fixed wage scale isn’t the norm elsewhere.

            And it is a pattern more attractive to the less able people, hence likely to attract them. My impression back when I was in college, admittedly a very long time ago, was that education majors were viewed as the students who could not make it in more difficult majors. That fits what I believe is the wage pattern, with teachers making more than the average U.S. wage but less than the average wage of college graduates.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            In other fields we manage to assess quality.

            But do we assess quality well? Are the correct questions asked?

            Too many educational assessments focus on the outputs, not the inputs. The assessments aren’t longitudinal enough to focus on the inputs (they only focus on one year of schooling). And they certainly don’t focus on the environment those inputs and outputs filter through, except to give a generic grade to a school.

            It’s far easier to change a student’s results by moving them to a new social and material environment than it is to change the environment that they are in. But if you move all the students to a new environment, you’ve effectively not changed the social environment at all (only some* of the material environment), and can only count on basic variation in a given student’s results.

            Both of these expectations would likely be the same even if the specific teacher was held constant. But I don’t think holding the teacher constant while changing the school and same-grade cohort has ever been tested (outside of graduate school when a Prof changes schools and takes their grad students with them – something not even close to similar to K-12 schooling).

            So how can you accurately evaluate a teacher’s performance when you haven’t studied the effect of all the other variables?

            * – The material environment a student faces consists not only of the school and its surroundings (e.g. inner city versus suburb, 80+ years old with bad repairs versus 20 years old with good repairs), but also of the additional resources available (volunteers, PTA funds for activities, etc…).

          • Brad says:

            Jobs where there is a fully objective metric for performance are extraordinarily rare. By far the most common tool used to measure performance is the subjective evaluation of a boss. If that’s good enough for virtually everyone else, why isn’t it good enough for teachers?

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @Brad

            I personally don’t think it’s good enough for everyone else, but acknowledge your point.

            Who is the boss of the teacher? The Principal, Superintendent, Board, Taxpayers, or Parents of students? They all have non-intersecting, and even conflicting ideas of what makes a good teacher.

          • Brad says:

            The principal is the direct supervisor. Some employers get input from other people besides just the direct supervisor, but the modal case is that person being the primary driver of performance evaluation. Principals in turn have superintendents as bosses and superintendents report to a board in the same way a CEO reports to a board. The board in turn answers to voters, in a similar way a corporate board answers to shareholders.

            Parents, in their role as parents rather than as voters, have the same relationship to teachers as people that eat a food kitchen have to the cooks there.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Except that they are also voters (and direct or indirect taxpayers), as are many of the teachers (some live out of district). And the parents are also legally obliged to send their children to school (or school them equivalently at home, which is likewise regulated by the state).

            There really is not an equivalency to the private sector, except possibly for private schools.

            Public schools are part of the mandated government. And the government of a Republic should never be managed the way a private sector corporation is (with rare exceptions for republically-governed corporations).

          • Brad says:

            And the government of a Republic should never be managed the way a private sector corporation is (with rare exceptions for republically-governed corporations).

            I don’t see any justification for such an unqualified statement.

            You haven’t pointed to any concrete differences that would lead to the conclusion that teachers should not be subject to the same kind of hiring, evaluation, and pay practices as used by the overwhelming majority of private corporation. Almost all non profit organizations also manage their that way, so it can’t be the lack of profit seeking motive.

            Yes, parents are (generally) voters. And are legally obliged to educate their children (though not necessarily send them to a public school). So what? How do you get from there to the necessity of tenure and strict seniority and credential based pay?

            Edit: Other parts of the public sector are not nearly so inflexible. Even the military, whose tasks are about as far away as possible from anything undertaken by non-governmental organizations, use supervisor evaluation as the primary determinant of employment decisions.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            So what? How do you get from there to the necessity of tenure and strict seniority and credential based pay?

            I am very much not in favor of credential based pay, and am ambivalent on tenure. These are not the points I’m arguing, as even untenured and uncredentialed teachers are still evaluated with the same test results as tenured and credentialed teachers.

            I don’t see any justification for such an unqualified statement.

            Mine is a statement of moral belief. I’m saying that if a government under the united states started acting as if it was a corporation I’d be unhappy enough to start lobbying my congresspeople, quoting the “republican form of government” clause and the 14th amendment’s “deprive without due process of law” clause, and would start calling people names such as quisling.

            Even the military, whose tasks are about as far away as possible from anything undertaken by non-governmental organizations, use supervisor evaluation as the primary determinant of employment decisions.

            For the enlisted early promotions are time-in-rank and needs-of-rating based, not per se supervisor evaluation based. Later promotions are selection board based. Yes, a supervisor can boost things for rare individuals, but they are never the final determinant, and their determinations can always be appealed higher. But even then, the military isn’t facing the wildly disparate inputs and equipment teachers are.

            And there are plenty of things wrong with military promotions anyway.

            The military seems to me a cross between a construction company, security company, and search-and-rescue company. Everything it does is what private companies do on a microscale.

          • Too many educational assessments focus on the outputs, not the inputs.

            It sounds as though you are assuming that assessments have to involve some mechanical, statistical process. That isn’t how parents evaluate a babysitter, or a restaurant, or a private school. If it’s the only way a public school can work, that’s an argument against public schools.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            It sounds as though you are assuming that assessments have to involve some mechanical, statistical process.

            The primary talk on teacher assessment in educational circles that I’ve seen has to do with assessing teachers based on standardized test results of their students.

            I should have made it clearer that that is what I’m saying needs better validation.

            Other forms of assessment I have no particular argument against other than the generic knowledge that humans are generally crap at understanding how their own biases and limitations interfere with their evaluations.

          • albatross11 says:

            Tyler Cowan had a podcast recently with Larry Summers, and they were talking about the lack of innovation in education–even with MOOCs, most of the process of getting an education is pretty-much the same as you’d have gone through in 1950. I suspect that as long as we’re mostly doing education in the administrative and political structure of existing schools, we won’t see substantial innovation.

            Let’s say school is defined as a place where we stick a bunch of kids the same age in a room together for eight hours, five days a week, so their parents can go to work/have some peace and quiet. They should have a set of classes and a report card with grades that can be used to decide whether to let them into the next level of selective schools/classes.

            I suspect that given this definition, it’s hard to innovate much. The kids need adult supervision, and the cheapest way to provide it is to have one or two adults standing around in the classroom watching them. They need some assignments to make sure they’re learning/not goofing off, and to produce grades. Etc. You can give them iPads or Chromebooks, you can write on a whiteboard or an electronic board instead of a chalkboard, but those don’t seem likely to be particularly revolutionary.

          • Brad says:

            @anonymousskimmer

            I think we may be talking past each other. I’m arguing that teachers should be evaluated by their supervisors (principals). Those supervisors can use available data to the extent is reliable (e.g. test scores) but ultimately should rely on their own judgments.

            This system may not be perfect but it is far superior to the lockstep system that mostly exists now, where there is no attempt at all to gauge merit. Or even much attempt to adjust for differential supply and demand (e.g. early education vs high school math).

            It is also superior to mechanical reliance on student test scores, given the flawed state of the art in teasing out teacher value add.

            Since it is the least bad system currently available it should be put in place now. If and when something superior comes along the situation can be reevaluated.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Agreed, but I’d require at least three different evaluators from different schools, if not districts (who do not discuss with each other until after the initial rating). I’d also require bias analysis of the individual raters to ensure that bias for/against people based on their sex, race, teaching style (not how well the students are taught, but the methods by which they are taught), etc… is adjusted for in these evaluations.

            This should ameliorate politics playing into these evaluations.

            I’d also like it if there is training and education of the teachers prior to any discipline. Though it’s fine if a particularly bad teacher is removed from the classroom or demoted to assistant teacher during this re-education period if necessary for the kid’s learning.

            Make this process as stress-free as possible for the teacher’s so that the extra stress does not negatively impact their teaching of the students.

          • I’m arguing that teachers should be evaluated by their supervisors (principals).

            But you then need some way of evaluating the principals–of making it in their interest to do a good job of evaluating the teachers, instead of using some simple and inaccurate rule of thumb, or giving good evaluations to teachers who make no work for the principal, or teachers who flatter the principal, or …

            The ultimate solution, in my view, is the market. In a private school the top level decision maker is the owner of the school. He is being evaluated by parents deciding whether to send their kids to his school. Parental evaluation is no doubt imperfect is various ways, but they have mostly the right incentives since parents want their children to be happy, learn stuff, end up as happy and productive adults. And parents have a lot of information about their own kids not readily available to other adults.

            Which is an argument for school vouchers. One effect of vouchers, combined with a funding system for public schools in which the money goes with the students, is to give the people running a public school something closer to the right incentives, since they want to attract students.

            That said, I’m not a fan of the current K-12 schooling model, public or private, which is part of why our kids were unschooled.

          • Agreed, but I’d require at least three different evaluators from different schools …

            You are still caught up in trying to devise a mechanism that works in a bureaucracy where the only reason to do things right is a set of rigid rules you are supposed to obey. A better solution is a system where the individual decision maker is better off if he makes the right decision, and so has an incentive to do his best to do so.

            How about restaurants? Would we be better off if the way chefs and waiters were hired and paid was by the equivalent of the sort of mechanism you are describing? Try to sketch out the required rules and think about the nightmare they would produce.

          • Brad says:

            The problem with parents is that they have no incentive to maximize externalities. Given a trade-off people private benefits and public benefits they will choose private every time. But the entire reason we pay for public schools in the first place is because of positive externalities. If parents are going to be in the driver’s seat they ought to pay themselves. And if they aren’t going to pay themselves than someone with a mandate to look out for the public’s interest should be in the driver’s seat.

          • Protagoras says:

            @DavidFriedman, Evaluating restaurants is relatively easy and immediate. I’m not sure massive regulation is the way to go, but it is not only intuitively predictable but there seems to be considerable evidence that relying on customer judgment doesn’t work as well with businesses where evaluation is more long term or less clear.

          • albatross11 says:

            Brad:

            To the extent that we’re running our public schools to explicitly make a tradeoff where we hurt the well-being of some students to benefit others, I’d like that to be done in the open, explicitly stated and debated.

          • The problem with parents is that they have no incentive to maximize externalities.

            True. Neither do public school administrators or teachers. Rational voters know that they receive about 1/300,000,000 of any benefit produced by their going to the trouble of figuring out what candidate is best for the country (more, but still tiny, at a more local level), so that decision has an externality very close to a hundred percent, hence essentially no incentive. The parent’s decision, on the other hand, mainly produces benefits for the parent and his child, who he cares about.

            But the entire reason we pay for public schools in the first place is because of positive externalities.

            Could you list them and point me at some reasonable attempt to estimate them? The clearest one I can think of is increased tax payments due to increased incomes, but that is equally an argument for subsidizing anything that produces taxable revenue, including investments in physical capital. The problem is that subsidizing A requires you to tax B, which increases the deviation of the privately optimal level of B from the socially optimal level. The fundamental problem is that the existence of taxation pushes private incentives away from social incentives.

            I had an extended blog exchange a few years back with Robert Frank, a reasonably prominent economist. His argument implied large negative externalities, since he thought the main effect of my kid getting a good education was that he got the good job your kid would have gotten otherwise. I was never able to get him to concede that if his position, which he was arguing for other reasons, was correct, we ought to be taxing schooling instead of subsidizing it.

          • @Protagoras:

            Parents get a good deal of immediate feedback–how happy their kids is, whether he likes his teacher, whether he seems interested in what he is learning. Most of K-12, essentially all of the first half of it, is teaching things most parents already know, so they have some basis for judging how good a job is being done. Can and does the kid read? Can he do simple arithmetic?

            I agree that parents are not perfect judges of how good the school their kid goes to is. But they have both more information and more incentive to use it as parents with regard to the school they choose to send their kid to than they do as voters, with regard to the school system as a whole.

          • Brad says:

            DavidFriedman

            but that is equally an argument for subsidizing anything that produces taxable revenue, including investments in physical capital

            I believe the idea is that unlike most other productive investments there isn’t a market mechanism for investors with capital to deploy to invest in children without the means to afford an education and reap some of the upside.

            I seem to recall a libertarian argument for creating personal equity contracts, but given that such a thing doesn’t exist it does seem like there’s a decent argument for the government to step in to make those investments.

            I argued in the prior open thread this logic doesn’t extend to the education of middle and upper class children, whose parents can and would invest regardless of government intervention, and therefore I lean towards the idea that governments ought not to provision their educations.

            Viewing it as a question of public good and market failures, rather than say as a matter of positive rights, also has implications for example in the area of special needs spending.

            In regards to estimating the size of the benefits to society of an educated populace, I’m afraid I don’t have any numbers to share.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Parental evaluation is no doubt imperfect is various ways, but they have mostly the right incentives

            Oh no they don’t. As a block, parents are highly discriminatory as to what kinds of other kids and other parents they want in their schools. If a principal starts allowing the wrong sorts of kids or parents into the school (knowing that this will boost the learning of those “wrong” kids, while not harming the learning of the “right” kids, when done in moderation) you’ll start getting this, and this. If a teacher starts spending too much time teaching certain kids and not enough time on their special snowflake it’s open season on those evaluations.

            the only reason to do things right is a set of rigid rules you are supposed to obey.

            The reason to do it is that both teachers and students are people (people with hopes, dreams, and desires), and should be treated as considerately and fairly as feasible. A well-oiled bureaucracy following practices bent toward fairness may very well be the best way to ensure this. I would rather not the teachers nor the students treated as cogs in a machine.

            Would we be better off if the way chefs and waiters were hired and paid was by the equivalent of the sort of mechanism you are describing?

            I don’t know. The two services are too different for me to speculate.

            since he thought the main effect of my kid getting a good education was that he got the good job your kid would have gotten otherwise.

            This is one of my arguments against segregation in opportunities (Aesop’s fox/stork opportunities) provided by schooling. If we’re going to have a meritocracy of sorts it should be based as much on the individual’s merit as possible, not the external factors.


            I genuinely believe that my father wanted me to follow in his footsteps, regardless of my dreams. He’d spend a great deal of time with me doing the things he loved, but when it came to seeking the career I sought the best he did was: take me to a single college fair, pay for the tuition at the college I chose (based on zero guidance in college selection), and literally ask me “how’s that going?” with respect to the dreams I wished to pursue. Oh yeah, years later he helped me moved too – basically took a lot of control over the movement process, bought me various things after the trip (that he directed me to), and etc…. Because even a 27 year-old needs his father’s heavy-handed guidance (father knows best), apparently. I no longer speak to him.

            I’d rather the parents not be the major driving force in a person’s education, at least not after elementary (K-8) school. Education is more important to the child than to the parent. Once they’ve reached a point were they have some capacity to know what they want, and to evaluate how realistic this is, I think they should be the dominant motivating force (with guidance and mentorship), and I think our schools should be open to this (and yes, this includes fewer required “electives” and Gen Eds).

          • Brad says:

            @albatross11

            To the extent that we’re running our public schools to explicitly make a tradeoff where we hurt the well-being of some students to benefit others, I’d like that to be done in the open, explicitly stated and debate

            That seems like it incentivizes being disingenuous. As long as someone, often dishonestly, pretends that they aren’t explicitly trading off the well being of one group of students for another (e.g. “We just want a neighborhood school”) they don’t have to have those difficult conversations and their policies can fly under the radar. But go ahead and admit that there are some zero sum games involved and now you are obligated to tee up a debate on your proposal that puts it in what must people consider a very ugly light? That’s going to get you a bunch of people all loudly proclaiming that we live in the best of all possibly universes — one where no tradeoffs ever need be made.

            I’d revise your statement to say To the extent that we’re running our public schools to explicitly make a tradeoff where we hurt the well-being of some students to benefit others, I’d like [tradeoffs] to be done in the open, explicitly stated and debated.

          • (quoting me describing my view of what he was saying)

            the only reason to do things right is a set of rigid rules you are supposed to obey.

            (Responding)

            The reason to do it is that both teachers and students are people (people with hopes, dreams, and desires), and should be treated as considerately and fairly as feasible.

            That’s a reason why it should be done. But it isn’t a reason why it will be done unless you assume that the people doing it are highly altruistic, hence have as their central goal treating other people as considerately as possible.

            I was describing what seemed to me to be your assumption of the only way of motivating people to do what you thought should be done, with the implication that you were mistaken, that there were better ways.

          • I’d rather the parents not be the major driving force in a person’s education, at least not after elementary (K-8) school. Education is more important to the child than to the parent.

            I agree. But a bureaucratic public school system doesn’t make either parent or child the driving force. A system of competing private schools makes the parent initially the driving force. To what degree the child later ends up making the decision is going to depend on the relation between parent and child–parents have reasons to want their children to do things that their children want to do, which may or may not be adequate.

            My own view is that the child should be largely in control much earlier than you suggest, which is part of why our children were unschooled.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @DavidFreidman

            I was describing what seemed to me to be your assumption of the only way of motivating people to do what you thought should be done, with the implication that you were mistaken, that there were better ways.

            Okay, I see. I agree it won’t easily be done without the kind of pushback that Republics and Democracies allow more easily than do typical Corporate governments.

            But a bureaucratic public school system doesn’t make either parent or child the driving force.

            I agree.

            A system of competing private schools makes the parent initially the driving force.

            Which can further entrench the control-over-the-child of controlling parents. However bad the current system at least there’s some kind of push-pull.

            My own view is that the child should be largely in control much earlier than you suggest

            It depends on the child. My wife and her eldest brother both went to a Montessori. In retrospect she loved it, he preferred more discipline.

            The current means by which children are shunted into various forms of schooling, whether bureaucratically or by parental choice, do a poor job of ensuring that the child is in a place where their talents can thrive.

            I’ve thought it would be nice to have a business (or bureaucracy) which evaluated children as to what kind of schooling they would most benefit from, and helped them get into those kinds of situations (whether at a single comprehensive, for broad socialization, or at niche schools).

            But such a business likely wouldn’t thrive as those parents who can afford it likely already think they know what’s best for their child. And such a bureaucracy is unlikely to be funded enough to do the job well.

      • Mark says:

        Good schools are the result of peer effects and good parents, but teachers are heroes who need to be paid more.

        I think that’s only contradictory if you have an accountant’s definition of heroism.

        Maybe teachers are just cool people we like. Someone has to be there, dealing with all that shit, so why not give the gig to a kind person, and bung them a few extras while we’re at it. It’s the turning up that counts.

        We need to give them more money to send a message about the kind of society we have.

    • cassander says:

      I think the bigger problem, and wiser tactic, with 2 isn’t to talk about jews, but Asian wealth. Hindus are richer than Jews and both are richer than episcopalians and presbyterians. Asians on the whole are considerably richer than whites.

      • Well... says:

        Asians on the whole are considerably richer than whites.

        I assume you mean Asians in America.

      • Mark says:

        I don’t think you’d be accused of anti-asian sentiment if you said that Asians earn a lot of money.

        That fact might contradict the white patriarchy racism narrative on some level, but I think mostly you’re just going to see some adaption of the narrative: model minority or some such. Asians are white. Or, the fact of their success is proof of white racism.
        You’re allowed to mention it.

        I’m not sure that that is the case for Jewish people. It seems like mentioning Jews makes you instantly suspect. The idea of antisemitism is more powerful than the idea of anti-Asianness, and more powerful than the idea of evil-white-patriarchy (at least to white people).

        So tactically, as an anti-SJW meme, given that Jewish victimhood is so ingrained at this point and is such a part of the popular culture, following the logic of white-patriarchy-racial identity politics to the conclusion that those hated social processes must favour the Jews, kind of breaks people’s brains.

        • cassander says:

          that’s true, but “model minority” theory isn’t even deserving of the name theory. It amounts to the assertion that all the white people got together and decided not to systematically oppress asians in order to prove that they aren’t all racist for….reasons. If you can make them fall back on that, you’ve made huge progress.

          • Mark says:

            If you can make them fall back on that, you’ve made huge progress.

            I find it to be an unappealing argument.

            But, in general, I think people prefer a pleasing fundamental explanation and aren’t too bothered by the convoluted arguments they need to make it work. Those inconvenient details will get explained away

            You have to make people question whether their fundamentals are actually appealing.
            The triumph of simplicity of explanation isn’t a general rule – it’s a specific case of an appealing idea.

    • dndnrsn says:

      @Mark

      I think you are drastically underestimating the degree to which some parts of the left care less and less about the Jewish historical experience of victimhood. For one thing, parts of the left do have a history of anti-Semitism. For another, as both the Holocaust and widespread socially-acceptable open anti-Semitism recede into the past, Jews are getting folded into “white people, NOS” – we increasingly see Jews put in the bucket of “white people who don’t know what oppression is” by some people on the left (consider the article on futurism discussed a little while back). I think as time continues to go on, it will not be surprising if the same people who look at a group that’s disproportionately white and see something by default nefarious will start to say, “gee, you know who else is represented here disproportionately?” and talking about the historical experience of oppression, discrimination, and mass murder on a mind-boggling scale will be seen as a right-wing whataboutism.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      “Sex is necessary to live a happy and fulfilling life” vs. “Any man who complains about not being able to get sex is a creepy, pathetic loser who deserves nothing but scorn and ridicule.”

  28. Brad says:

    This is a spin off from a discussion in the new atheist threads. The proposition for debate is:

    People that flirt and use sex appeal to advance their careers are part of the problem. They ought not to do that.

    I think this can be defended from a number of different points of view, but to elaborate on the one I was alluding to with “part of the problem”, I think this kind of behavior sexualizes the workplace and on the margin makes it more likely that sexual harassment will take place — not just targeted against people that use these strategies but also against people that don’t.

    The strongest counterargument I can come up with is to image an sixty something female character in a movie with a bad dye job and perm, outside an office building smoking a cigarette and in a raspy voice explaining to some fresh faced girl in a pants suit from the Midwest how it’s a dog eat dog world and you have to claw your way to the top using whatever you have at your disposal. And you damn well know that Whitaker “Trey” Fairchild III is going to be working his connections down at the country club golf games that you are no going to be invited to. So show a little leg if that’s what you need to do.

    I won’t say there’s no merit that point of view, but ultimately I think you can make that sort of argument to defect for anything. I think you need to reject that kind of argument if you ever want to build up any positive norms about anything.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      People that flirt and use sex appeal to advance their careers are part of the problem. They ought not to do that.

      One of the problems with this phrasing of the topic is that it assumes primacy and subordinacy of the two activities (1) flirting and sex appeal subordinate to 2) career advancement), without knowing whether the two activities indeed share this relationship in the given individual(s).

      Perhaps the flirting and sex appeal are equally important to career advancement to the person. Perhaps they are more important and the person would do them even if that limited their career opportunities.

      If the flirting and sex appeal was more important to the person, and you forbid it at work to avoid negative perceptions, then given how much of our waking lives we spend at work you’re effectively forcing the person to choose between economic success and personal happiness. And given the additive qualities of economic success to flirting and sex appeal, you’re also forcing them into another sort of catch-22.

      It’s fairer to be fair, even though it’s easier to blanket prohibit.

      • Brad says:

        I don’t think I follow. There’s a lots of ways we have to choose between economic success and personal happiness. Very few people would freely choose to do what they do at work all day were personal happiness the only consideration.

        If we suppose for the sake of argument that we agree it is inappropriate to flirt at work, then if it is more important to someone to flirt than economic success then they shouldn’t work. That’s the same logic that says that if it is more important to someone to play video games than economic success we don’t conclude they should covertly play video games all day at work (unless that’s the job).

        • The other side of that argument is that mate search is an important human activity. If you are spending forty hours a week at work interacting with people some of whom are potential mates it’s a good opportunity, perhaps the best you will have, to identify a potential partner.

          I think part of the difference between that and Brad’s attitude is that he is thinking of flirting as a form of entertainment, a consumption activity, probably in the context of a society where the norm is casual sex. I’m thinking of it as primarily an investment activity, taking advantage of a particularly favorable environment for the purpose, since working with someone gives you a lot of information you don’t get by chatting in a singles bar or going out to dinner with her.

          Information more important for a long term relationship than a one night stand.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Right.

            Mate seeking is a basic human drive, and work is a very pertinent place for it (simply being in the same industry is a likely indicator of compatibility given the confounders).

            The equivalent prohibitions in my mind would be if one was prohibited from eating or drinking while at work, or if one was prohibited from talking to co-workers except when immediately necessary to do the job.

            Some people can easily go 8 hours without eating or drinking. Others can just as easily go 8 hours without communicating. Yet we still allow (even encourage) these behaviors because we know how difficult it is for others to properly function without indulging in them during work.

            People socialize at work, though they generally don’t form social societies at work (except unions and for after-work drinking). People eat and drink at work, though they generally won’t barbecue or serve multi-course, multi-hour meals at work (except special events). Sexual interest is also a basic human need that some people have in larger amount than others. It seems appropriate that people be allowed to flirt and dress somewhat attractively at work, though the kibosh can be put to dressing revealingly and performing “displays of affection” (i.e. 1st through 4th base) at work.

          • Brad says:

            @DavidFriedman
            I don’t see how the venue being particularly advantageous changes the analysis. It would be particularly favorable from an investment standpoint to trade based on information I learned at work. But that’s isn’t my information to trade on.

          • Deiseach says:

            Mmmm – since the one example of “flirting at work” I know about* resulted in a married man carrying on an affair, then moving to a new job in another city while leaving his mistress a single mother pregnant with twins (and I imagine his marriage didn’t last too long either after that little bombshell), I’m on the side of “leave it at home and while at work, keep it in your pants: you’re there to do a job, it’s not a dating service” 🙂

            *Actually I know of two but since the second partner in this case wasn’t – so far as I know – someone met through work, I can’t use it as an example of “work colleagues turning to something more”. Ended up with the guy serving a stretch in jail on corruption charges, as his enraged estranged wife, once he left her for the new partner, immediately dropped the dime on him allegedly receiving bribes for work-related favours and he ended up, as I said, doing hard time.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @Deiseach

            Unless you’ve worked in very small companies I think you’re just blind to the amount of harmless flirting that’s going on.

            The first instance you cite seems to me the equivalent of someone setting up a competing side-business with their work colleagues – a social-work very much no no (but still no reason to forbid people to socialize at work), just as your instance is a sexual-work very much no no.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Deisach

            I know of quite a few cases of flirting at work that ended up with employees marrying and having kids with each other. At IBM there were second-generation (and possibly greater) employees whose parents met at work. So it’s not all bad outcomes

          • I don’t see how the venue being particularly advantageous changes the analysis. It would be particularly favorable from an investment standpoint to trade based on information I learned at work.

            A closer analogy would be your writing a novel, on your own time, based in part on what you had learned in your job–The Education of Hyman Kaplan, for instance (really a series of short stories not a novel), based in part on Leo Rosten’s experience teaching immigrants.

            Trading on the (presumably secret) information of your employer is a gain for you at the expense of your employer. Using your opportunity to get to know people at work in order to find a mate isn’t taking something away from the employer, it’s taking advantage of a benefit to you that costs the employer nothing. If your employment provides an opportunity for a large benefit to you at nobody else’s expense, forbidding you from doing it makes no sense.

          • Brad says:

            Isn’t the cost the employer part the rub? The original framing was advancing one’s career, and I don’t think anyone denies that’s something that happens.

            Inasmuch as flirting and sex appeal are advancing careers that implies distorting employment decisions which does have a cost to the employer. It also has a cost to your competitors for advancement. And certainly not least, it has a cost to other people that don’t wish to be hit upon at work but now are because you’ve normalized that behavior.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Yes, but it’s not always possible to tell if flirting and sex appeal is for the purpose of career advancement versus a far more fundamental motivation.

            And certainly not least, it has a cost to other people that don’t wish to be hit upon at work but now are because you’ve normalized that behavior.

            For people who flirt naturally, hitting on someone is a later stage which only occurs after the initial flirtations are appropriately reciprocated.

            There are plenty of people who may find golfing odious, but start doing it because of the implicit cultural requirement. And there are plenty of people who beg off golfing despite that requirement.

            Interactions have costs to others. This shouldn’t be a new concept to anyone. You absorb those costs because you know the interaction is important to other people. This doesn’t mean that you have to go along with it all the way.

            —-
            I’m seriously tempted to propose businesses which prohibit one of three activities:
            1) Flirting and dressing attractively (i.e. mandate an ugly uniform with no room for flair).
            2) Not eating or drinking at work (water may be allowed).
            3) Refraining from communicating with anyone else other than terse reports sent via email.

            Have the businesses create the same product or deliver the same service, and see:
            1) The salary and other perks needed to retain employees.
            2) The highest sustainable employee base.
            3) The median and mode ages of employees.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @DavidFriedman

            If you are spending forty hours a week at work interacting with people some of whom are potential mates it’s a good opportunity, perhaps the best you will have, to identify a potential partner.

            I’ve seen a bunch of people making similar points about how the increasing norms against “mate-searching activity” in the workplace leave limited options for finding a mate, especially in the long term, having kids sense (one was Rod Dreher, noting opportunities to find a suitable partner decline massively when one exits college), and thus asking how one is expected to find a mate at all, let alone produce the next generation. Mostly, the answers seem to coalesce into two categories:

            1. The same way we increasingly do everything else: online.

            2. We aren’t. Look at the statistics showing younger generations having less sex. Look at Japan. Look at this New York Times editorial arguing that economic growth can’t happen without birth control (paid for by government health insurance). Kids are unaffordable. They’re bad for the environment, and perpetuate privilege. Getting married just means she gets half your stuff when you inevitably divorce. Long-term relationships get in the way of the mobility you need in the modern economy; what happens when he needs to move to one end of the country for his job and she needs to move to the other end for hers? What’s wrong with the hook-up scene? Swipe on Tinder. Learn “game”. Besides, men are all terrible these days, “bros” or “neckbeards”; who could want them? Women are all terrible these days, “dyed-haired feminist shrews” or “promiscuous gold-diggers”; who could want them? Pure 2D lifestyle is better than the filthy riajuu. Sit poolside and enjoy the decline. None of this matters, as the coming technological Singularity will turn us all either into quasi-immortal cyborg demigods or paperclips, and it better come soon, or else our unsustainable system will collapse. In short, a sort of tacit acceptance that modernity and the incentives of the global economy are incompatible with the traditional mode by which humans propagate themselves, and barring technological miracles or doom, the Amish and Nigerians will inherit the Earth. But that’ll occur after we’re all dead, so who cares? “Après nous, le déluge,” right?

          • Aapje says:

            @Kevin C.

            You forgot artificial wombs & artificial insemination to allow single parenthood more easily.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Aapje

            You forgot artificial wombs & artificial insemination to allow single parenthood more easily.

            Actually, I haven’t really seen that being proferred as a “solution”, at least in the areas I frequent. For one, generally “artificial wombs” are classed in the same category as “cheap fusion reactors”: if possible at all, then likely only to come to fruit near or after the “Singularity”, and thus folds into the “technological miracles” bit.

          • Nornagest says:

            What the hell is a riajuu?

          • Brad says:

            @anonymousskimmer

            And certainly not least, it has a cost to other people that don’t wish to be hit upon at work but now are because you’ve normalized that behavior.

            For people who flirt naturally, hitting on someone is a later stage which only occurs after the initial flirtations are appropriately reciprocated.

            Someone should tell Harvey Weinstein.

            Certainly, Weinstein isn’t the *fault* of anyone but Havey Weinstein. But sexualized workplaces opens the door for people like him. You are letting your argument off easy by not addressing that and instead assuming perfectly spherical flirters.

            @Kevin C.
            > at least in the areas I frequent
            I think I found the problem.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Nornagest

            Riajuu, リア充, is a Japanese slang term, a shortening of riaru “real” and 充実 juujitsu “fullness, fulfillment, satisfaction”; i.e. “one with a satisfying real (i.e. not online or otherwise “virtual”) life”. As Urban Dictionary notes, “It’s typically used by otaku and such on message boards like 2chan to refer to people who have girl/boyfriends and are popular with their peers.” See also the Japanese Wikipedia page on it here.

            @Brad

            I think I found the problem.

            So where (besides here) exactly are people promoting widespread single parenthood, via (hypothetical) future technology like artificial wombs, as a solution to the problem of the difficulty of finding mates in modern society? And secondly, how does this not just fall under the general Singularitarian faith in salvation through (predicted) future technologies (that may never materialize)?

          • Aapje says:

            Just to be clear, I was not promoting them. I pointed out that there are people who are promoting them.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            @Brad

            But sexualized workplaces opens the door for people like him. You are letting your argument off easy by not addressing that and instead assuming perfectly spherical flirters.

            I earlier drew a parallel between flirting, eating, and socializing for a reason. Each of these, allowed in the workplace, have true negative externalities on others.

            Last year, I lost 15 pounds over 6 weeks. Then work got stressful and October rolled around (when a co-worker would put out a plastic pumpkin full of candy during the entire month). It was difficult enough to control my eating with the smells of everyone else’s lunches. But candy + stress equals a situation in which I have very little self control. I quickly gained back the 15 pounds (making this a boomerang diet, unfortunately, which is very unhealthy) and had heartburn bad enough I went to a doctor for the first time in 20 years to be sure it wasn’t my heart. As of now I’ve gained some more pounds this October. I have a BMI over 30. It would be far easier for me to lose 20-30 pounds and maintain that weight loss if no one at work ate (the catered week-long meetings are especially distracting). But it isn’t going to happen, and I’m okay with that.

            Negative externalities exist. There should be ZERO tolerance for the abuses, and immediate counseling and warnings for the edge cases. But flirting, like eating, and like socializing, should be allowed in the physical workplace. People shouldn’t be forced to go off-site to perform them. They are too important to basic psychological needs.
            (Dystopian works are made about their absence: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equals_(film) )

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I’m of two minds here.

      As a rule I really don’t like policies which come down to “you’re not allowed to hire people you get along with.” If a new hire plays a good game of golf or has great legs on top of their other qualifications then why shouldn’t they beat out the other candidates? If you hire incompetent workers then you’ll be punished in lost earnings, and if they’re equally competent then it’s only reasonable to choose the ones you enjoy working with.

      That said, given the insane way sexual harassment law works it’s extremely dangerous this gives women a massive and asymmetrical advantage in the workplace. A woman can use her sexuality to get ahead in the workplace but still retains the ability to nuke the careers of her bosses at a whim. Ellen Pao is a good example.

      In a saner society this wouldn’t be an issue. But the way things are now, shaming this behavior might be the last remaining defense against it.

      • Brad says:

        If a new hire plays a good game of golf or has great legs on top of their other qualifications then why shouldn’t they beat out the other candidates?

        Because all of things are never equal and almost everyone in the relevant position owes a fiduciary duty.

        • keranih says:

          all other things are never equal

          True, I think, but it’s far more likely that there are a number of unequal things – better/worse with coworkers, better/worse at actual job tasks, more/less dependable – all mixed together to create an upsides/downsides mix. So, if we shift things to match RL more – for exampe “this person has upsides/downsides balance X, and other person has upsides/downsides balance X, *plus* likes golf/greatlegs” then we’re back at the same place.

          But I also think this is somewhat different from ‘keeping sexual attraction out of the work place’ (to call it something impossible to obtain), which is a concept I am more behind.

          • Brad says:

            Even if we relax it to equivalent rather than equal, I still think it is quite rare. Rather I think golf game or good legs is being used to bridge a non-zero gap — the width of that gap being something along the lines of “what I can get away with.” But that means you are putting your own interests ahead of those of your employer. If you owe a fiduciary duty, and almost all people in a position to hire do, then that’s a violation of it.

            Consider if one of the candidates was a relative instead of someone with a good golf game or nice legs.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            To whatever extent a manager owes a fiduciary duty to their employer in matters of hiring (and I’m not at all convinced that they do owe such a duty), they probably also owe the company a fiduciary duty not to slack off at work. It is clear to me that you would never be successful in suing someone for knowingly and maliciously slacking off at work, and this leads me to believe that it’s also not possible to sue someone for hiring a bad hire (even knowingly).

          • Brad says:

            The proposition under discussion is that people ought not to flirt and use sex appeal to advance their careers. Unless the model of ethics under discussion is whatever can be gotten away with is ethical, whether or not a lawsuit could be won is not especially relevant.

            Edit:
            To elaborate, I think a fiduciary duty generally has both legal and ethical force, though I guess some might see it otherwise.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            When you invoke the concept of a “fiduciary” duty rather than merely a duty, I tend to think of the legal concept. I’m not sure in what ethical manner a fiduciary duty is differentiated from just, you know, a duty.

          • Brad says:

            Mea culpa for the using the word fiduciary. Do you think hiring managers have an ethical duty to their employers to pick the candidate that is best from the point of view of the employer?

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        Whose career did Ellen Pao destroy?

    • fortaleza84 says:

      Having thought about this a bit, I think that one of the basic moral principles in play is that it’s wrong to take advantage of people’s desperate needs and desires.

      So for example, if a female tenant is behind in her rent, it’s wrong for her landlord to propose and accept a couch payment to square her account. Even the transaction is voluntary and even if she is being given an option not received by male tenants.

      Similarly, there are a lot of men in our societly who desperately crave female sexual attention. So it’s wrong for women to take advantage of this by flirting with a male boss in order to get a raise or promotion.

      • So for example, if a female tenant is behind in her rent, it’s wrong for her landlord to propose and accept a couch payment to square her account. Even the transaction is voluntary and even if she is being given an option not received by male tenants.

        Is it better to evict her?

        The problem with your “it’s wrong to take advantage of people’s desperate needs and desires” is that it’s equivalent to “it’s wrong to make transactions that greatly benefit people”–with the addition of your “take advantage of.”

        When the landlord rents her the apartment in the first place he is “taking advantage of” her in the sense of benefiting by the transaction. She is, in the same sense, taking advantage of him. Why does the logic of that change if her benefit from the transaction is large, which is what it is when the transaction satisfies her “desperate needs and desires”?

        How much of your reaction depends on the fact that the transaction is sexual? Would you have the same reaction if he offered to let her off part of her rent in exchange for agreeing to do his laundry or mow the lawn or some other service? If not, why the difference?

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        I believe it’s very sketchy for a landlord to propose this, but if the female tenant proposes it and the male landlord accepts it’s merely distasteful.

        I think that if the male landlord non-verbally indicated his openness to that sort of proposition, and the female tenant then proposed it, that this would still generally fall into the distasteful category instead of the wrong category.

        So it’s wrong for women to take advantage of this by flirting with a male boss in order to get a raise or promotion.

        Do you also believe that it’s wrong to socialize with one’s boss in order to get a raise or promotion? Because my gut, unconsidered impulse is that socialization for promotion is worse than flirting for promotion. But I know that gut impulse is peculiar.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I think flirting and using one’s sex appeal to advance should be treated as an offense equivalent to “sexual harassment” and/or “creating a hostile work environment”, and further this should be the case whether or not those in charge of promotion object. Since in most cases, the person doing the judging will be have a strong preference for flirting from one gender or another, allowing such flirting is a clear equal employment opportunity violation.

      • anonymousskimmer says:

        To play the Devil’s advocate ;P :

        Sure, today only women can flirt with the boss, but once that woman is promoted the men can flirt with her.

        —–

        Do you also believe that “good old boys” networking also creates an unfair work situation for those who find it difficult to schmooze with the boss?

        I know this sort of bias isn’t covered by EEOC rules, but would you acknowledge it is never the less an unfair situation?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Do you also believe that “good old boys” networking also creates an unfair work situation for those who find it difficult to schmooze with the boss?

          What’s “fair”? If you define “fair” as having ones career affected only by one’s performance, then yes, this is unfair in jobs which don’t naturally require “schmoozing”. But in that sense, the world isn’t fair and isn’t ever going to be. If you define “fair” in that laws are applied evenhandedly, then that sort of situation is only “unfair” if the boss will only schmooze with particular races and genders. And indeed I’d expect a lawsuit or two if someone thought they could demonstrate that.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            The prior of course (as I wrote “I know this sort of bias isn’t covered by EEOC rules, but”…).

            How about you?

  29. Mark says:

    If the majority of capital is controlled by very rich people whose urge for consumption is largely sated, and capital can’t be moved overseas (which in real terms, it can’t be, not easily anyway), isn’t taxing capital absolutely A-OK? Not going to result in a reduction in investment?

    You have to reinvest profits – there is nothing else to do with them.
    Depending on what the government spends on, it might shift things away towards consumption from where it might have been, but not any worse than any other tax?

    • onyomi says:

      You have to reinvest profits – there is nothing else to do with them.

      Well, you can sit on them as cash if no investment opportunities currently appear better than doing so.

      • And you can reinvest them abroad.

        • Mark says:

          You can move ownership abroad.

          I suppose the easiest form of capital to move is social – brands. But the companies are still going to have to do the same amount of brand investment (advertising) in each nation even if they are owned elsewhere.
          In each jurisdiction there will be as much investment as is needed, as is possible.

          And if amazon decides not to advertise in my nation, surely some equivalent would emerge?

          I think tax avoidance by basing ownership overseas might be a problem – perhaps you could require ownership by domestic companies and tax before payment for “licences”.

          Or a wealth tax.

      • Mark says:

        In that case the value of money appreciates until investment once again becomes attractive.

        Saved money is economically irrelevant.

    • SamChevre says:

      I think the key mistake in this analysis is that it assumes that “investment” is one thing.

      The more heavily something (capital, income, windowpanes) is taxed, the more valuable tax advantaged strategies are. So overall investment might well not change, but the composition would be likely to shift towards investments that have either statutory tax advantages (muni bonds vs corporate bonds) or are open to accounting that is tax-advantaged (mark-to-model securities, depreciation schedules that don’t align to actual value loss, etc); in both cases, the investment is likely to result in less “real” capital (buildings, machinery, processes) and more accounting gimmicks.

    • John Schilling says:

      and capital can’t be moved overseas (which in real terms, it can’t be, not easily anyway)

      Could you elaborate on that? I find it exactly as easy to invest my money in foreign corporations as I do in US corporations, so if a change in corporate tax policy made foreign corporations generally more profitable than domestic, that’s where my investment money would go. Taxing “capital” at the level of personal income would be somewhat harder to go offshore, but only to the extent that I want to use that money for personal consumption withot myself travelling overseas or for some particular type of investment that can only or best be done at home.

      • Mark says:

        Factors of production can’t really be easily moved great distances – I also think that even where those factors can be transported easily, diminishing returns on investment are likely to be a bigger factor than tax rates – even if a desert country has zero percent tax, it’s not going to be worth your while investing in farms except in a few specific locations (oases).

        If the investment is purely financial, I’m thinking it’s just going to change the nominal values, and can therefore be largely ignored.

        In terms of motivation, local population will always have an interest in investing in their local area, and even as a capitalist, it’s always risky to invest in an area where you might not have legal standing.

        I guess what you could say is that low taxes on capital will attract forms of capital that are highly mobile – so financial industry, but there are probably other factors to that, too.

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