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

Open Thread 87.5

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

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378 Responses to Open Thread 87.5

  1. Matthew S. says:

    I have been trying without much success to get rattumblr to talk about board games as well as video games. In case it’s of interest to anybody, I’ve been doing text overviews of (mostly strategy, not party) games here:

    https://invertedporcupine.tumblr.com/post/165438492502/games-overview-masterpost

    rationalish user Kaminiwa also has some board game impressions under their TIP (things I played) tag.

    • Montfort says:

      I like board games, but haven’t played (or even heard of most of) the games on your list. I’ve had my eye on Sekigahara for a little while, but the group I play with prefers 4-6 player games, and more on the complexity level of 7 Wonders. Not that that’s stopped me from buying a few games before figuring out who would play them…

      Anyway, nice to see another source of board game opinions.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I like board games, but have only played Race for the Galaxy out of your whole list.
      One problem I’ve experienced with board games is getting friends to actually play them. Here’s what I’ve found:

      Settlers of Catan: bought in 2012, still gets requested
      Small World: got requested for a couple of years, now collects dust
      Carcassonne: ditto
      Navegador: a huge hit with a group one of whose members ditched us, no requests since
      Munchkin Legends: got it for free, don’t like Munchkin enough to buy more sets, still gets a lot of requests
      Axis & Allies: played a total of four or so times since June 2013
      Cthulhu! by Twilight Creations: bought it to harvest for RPG miniatures, popular enough with my friends that I bought into their flagship game Zombies!
      Defenders of the Realm: I bought this fantasy co-op two months ago and it’s been getting requested to the exclusion of most everything else.

      • AnonYEmous says:

        As a fan of Catan who thought it could be a bit better, I’ve become a big fan of a game called Splendor.

        Basically, Splendor is a game where you use chips to buy cards, which usually give you points. Get enough victory points to win! It’s a bit more complex than that, so I’d be fine to explain further if you’d like.

        • Jeremiah says:

          Log another vote for Splendor. A great, but simple game with lots of replayability.

          • quaelegit says:

            Also voting for Splendor! I like a lot of board/card games, but this one has a couple major advantages: 3~4 people (my family is 4 people so we can play if one is missing), quick play time (usually ~half an hour with experienced players), and my mom actually enjoys it (I think its the only board game she plays voluntarily besides backgammon).

            Also, the gem chips are really satisfying game pieces. They looks pretty (gems!) and have a satisfying weight.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Sure, go ahead.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            OK.

            The youngest player starts, and from there it goes clockwise. On each turn, you can perform one and only one action. These actions are as follows:

            Firstly, you can take chips, which are basically like currency. There are five different colors (White, Black, Green, Red, Blue), as well as a wild-card that I will get into much later; you can either take two of the same kind – e.g. two Green chips – or you can take three, but none of the same kind – e.g. a White chip, a Green chip, or a Black chip. Oh, and you can’t take two of the same kind if that would leave less than 2 chips of that type in the bank. Now, that’s a lot of information to take in, but I bet you’re more interested in a different piece of information: namely, why take chips at all?

            Well, the second possible action you can take on your turn is purchasing cards. The board is set up so there are 12 face-up cards out on the field which anyone can purchase; 4 1-star cards which are cheap, 4 2-star cards which are medium-expensive, and 4 3-star cards which are very expensive. Of course, you can buy any of them. Before you do, you should take a look at the cards so you can see the cost in chips (say, 2 Red chips, 3 Blue chips, 2 Green chips), the amount of points you’ll get for having that card (probably 1), and the color of the card (I think this card really exists, and I’m guessing it’s Blue) The color of the card itself is especially important, because like I said, cards give you both points and resources. (Actually, most cards don’t even give you points, but once you hear this next part you’ll probably be OK with that.) See, let’s say you’ve already purchased two Red cards and a Black card, and now you want to purchase a card that costs two Red chips and a Black chip. You might’ve guessed it by now, but the cards you already have mean that you can get that card for free, without paying any chips and without giving up any new cards. Now, if you wanted to purchase a card that cost two Red chips and two Black chips, you’d have to toss in one Black chip and the rest would be free. In other words, cards are a permanent resource, and as you get more cards, you can get even more cards for free, which lets you get more cards for free…you get the idea.

            One more thing: instead of purchasing a card right away, you can reserve that card face-down. If you do that, you get 1 wild-card chip, and now only you can purchase that card (although keep in mind, to get it working you still have to purchase it). This is usually used to just snipe out other players from getting big and valuable cards, or to protect yourself from other people trying to do that to you. But since that’s your action for the turn, there’s a pretty high cost to doing it.

            Now, as for winning. Like I said, some cards do in fact give you points for getting them, and those points are written on the cards. Once you get 15 points, then everyone else gets a turn until everyone has had the same number of turns (in other words, if you went third, the person who went fourth gets a turn and then the game ends, but if you went first everyone gets a turn. Hopefully you went fourth, so the game ends.) Thing is though, most cheap cards give you 1 or two points at best, like in the example I gave earlier, and the expensive cards, although they give you a lot of points, are pretty tough to get your hands on. So you’re probably wondering if there’s a faster way to get points, and there is, the final mechanic of the game: Nobles.

            At the start of the game, you choose randomly out of a pack of 10 Noble tiles; take out as many nobles as you have players, then another one. On those tiles you’ll see the requirements to acquire that noble. For example, one might have 3 Green, 3 Blue, and 3 Red. The key here is that we’re not talking chips and we’re not talking payment; if you manage to buy up 3 Green, 3 Blue, and 3 Red cards before anyone else, then you’ll get the Noble permanently. Each Noble has 3 points written on it, so that gives you 3 points. By the way, the races for Nobles are intense and can decide the game.

            A few finishing words: to think of it like Catan: chips are like Bricks and Wood and cards are like Settlements. After all, building a settlement in a new place gets you more Bricks and Wood, and buying a card pretty much gets you more chips. And Bricks and Wood get used to build settlements, whereas chips are used to “build” or more accurately buy cards. Makes sense? Nobles are like the Largest Army or the Longest Road, and Reserving is a bit like using your Knight on someone, although in this game there isn’t really a way to steal someone else’s resources. Also, once you get a noble, you can’t lose them.

            Now then…I like explaining games, so let me know if this was a good explanation.

          • Peffern says:

            @AnonYEmous

            First off, I’d never heard of this game before and it sounds fun, so I’ll be checking it out.

            I also like explaining games, and you asked for evaluation:

            a pet peeve of mine is when people explain games in an order that doesn’t make sense until you’ve heard the whole thing. For example, things like “which player starts?” and “how many turns from 15 points until the end of the game” feel unnecessary and contribute to making the game feel unwiedly. As I am often the one trying to pitch games to.my group, the thing I’m trying to avoid is “this sounds too complicated, let’s just play Catan.”
            This feels less complicated than Catan, but they don’t know that.

            I’d say start with the objective, then go down.
            How to win? Nobles ans Cards.
            How to get those? Chips.
            How to get chips? Some per turn, etc.

            We should create a comprehensive game explaining tutorial

          • Gobbobobble says:

            I’d say start with the objective, then go down.

            Seconded. Goals, then Process. With games with multiphase turns it’s not always productive to work backwards, but you at least outline what’s important and then explain how to go about it.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            Yeah, I usually find that goal-based explanation is more streamlined and better. The issue with this game is that, as far as I see it, the acquiring of cards is the most important thing – sure, yeah, getting points, but you really need to get a lot of resources to get points, and you get resources by getting cards. I end up wanting to explain basically from the middle, as it were, so I thought I’d just try for something comprehensive and from-the-start.

            …also, I really don’t know how I’d explain Splendor backwards now that I’ve thought about it. Maybe it’s just tough to explain. But it’s so easy once you get it already. Sad!

        • Civilis says:

          Splendor is one of the games that hits the sweet spot: playable in an hour or less, simple enough to explain the rules to someone new to board games, with a level of strategic depth. Two others that fit the same spot are Machi Koro and Century: Spice Road.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            Recently tried and enjoyed Century: Spice Road– the only reason why we didn’t buy it there and then is that our local shop also often has it.

            Core mechanic is playing cards to acquire and trade cubes of different colours (representing spices) until you have enough to trade some cubes for a victory points card.

            It also has very quick turns, as each player can only take one action (play a card, acquire a card, buy a victory-points card, pick up all their previously played cards) per turn.

            Another recently-acquired game in that sweet spot is Kingdomino. Like many people I dismissed it as a children’s game when it came out, but it has a lot of depth- there’s a reason why it won Spiel des Jahres this year.

            (Core mechanic is drafting dominos with different terrain on them to build a kingdom.Picking better ones puts you later in the order for the next draft).

        • dodrian says:

          I’m intrigued by your explanation of Splendor, it sounds like a game I’d enjoy.

          However, one of the things I really like about Catan is the economics. Trading resources with others players is a big social aspect to the game, trying to get good deals or influence the market is a really fun aspect. I can’t think offhand of any other games that do inter-player trading this well.

          • Matthew S. says:

            Jaipur is a trading game for 2 players that actually works, bizarre as that might sound.

            It’s out of print now, but I’ve heard that Ad Astra was a “better Catan”.

      • Matthew S. says:

        (Some of those games are from boutique publishers; it’s not surprising if you haven’t played them unless you were actually looking for them.)

        I have two big advantages here. One, my wife will play almost anything I put in front of her (she has no interest in researching or shopping for games, but she’s happy to play). The worst I’ve done with her is Sekigahara, where her reaction was “meh.”

        Two, I have managed to find a bunch of people who like to play games in my immediate vicinity, and are generally willing to try both light and heavy games. So a typical game day, which happens maybe once a month, will last four about 4 hours, and typically involve one 2.5 hour complex game and one 45 minute lighter game.

        Currently, the games I like to use to lure people into the hobby are Isle of Skye (a Carcassonne-killer, for me at least) and King of New York (a slightly more gamer-y sequel to King of Tokyo), to which I’ll probably add the recently-acquired Whistle Stop. Only after I have them hooked do I try to introduce the brain-burners.

      • Civilis says:

        Race for the Galaxy has been almost completely supplanted by Roll for the Galaxy and Jump Drive in the board game groups I’ve played with. Both of the games are by the same developer and publisher as Race.

        Jump Drive is a stripped-down version of Race, without the phase selection… basically, it’s just acquiring planets and developments. Roll for the Galaxy uses different mechanisms than Race, but is very much the same game. Both seem to play much smoother than the original. The problem with all three games is the bewildering number of symbols. Nothing stops a game in its tracks like a player having to ask ‘what does this card do?’.

        It used to be that you could make a decent guess at the complexity of a game by looking at the number of types of components. Splendor, a relatively simple game, has the gem chips, the cards, and the tiles for the nobles. Century: Spice Road has the spice cubes, the bonus VP coins, the action cards, and the VP cards.
        Now, I have to consider the number of symbols on the card and how obvious their meaning is. Splendor just has the five colors of gems as symbols, and they all work the same. On the other hand, the symbol at the top of a Seven Wonders (an otherwise excellent game) card can be any number of things… it could be VPs, money, resources, something turned into VPs based on a number of formulas (science or military), etc.

        • Matthew S. says:

          I’m not an especially brilliant player of games, but I am an unusually good teacher of games. Among other things, I’ve taught half a dozen different people how to play Race for the Galaxy, and nobody has had trouble catching on.

          I’ve played about 350 in-person games, mostly with my wife (and mostly with the full first arc of expansions included), and about 2500 online. I understand that other people find the bigger game difficult to penetrate, but I have zero desire to play Jump Drive, and while I’ll undoubtedly play my friend’s copy of Roll at some point, I’m confident (p=0.98) that it won’t replace Race for me.

    • AlphaGamma says:

      Just got back from the Spiel in Essen, so this thread is Relevant To My Interests…

    • dodrian says:

      At the moment my (slowly expanding) library includes:

      Settlers of Catan – perennial favorite
      T’zolkin – One of my top games, but hard for new players as there is so much going on
      Caverna – Great, but takes a long time to setup
      Power Grid – I really like that if a player gets too far in the lead they get ‘punished’ by the mechanics, which gives new players a chance to catch up
      Oh My Goods – Fun card game that’s quick to play and works well with 2 players
      Lost Cities – Good casual 2 player card game
      Dead of Winter – Co-op game where each player has independent goals, which means one player is less likely to dominate play. There may also be a traitor.
      Fury of Dracula – 1v4 game – This co-op mechanic also works well because the solo player Dracula can hear most of the discussion of the cooperating players
      Plague Inc – Board game based on the great Flash game of yore
      Pandemic: Contagion – My wife just likes to roleplay as diseases destroying the world.

      I’m always on the lookout for good 2 player games, especially those that have less setup time.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        I’m always on the lookout for good 2 player games, especially those that have less setup time.

        For purely 2-player, 7 Wonders: Duel is really good. We also get a lot of mileage out of Dominion, Karuba, and Splendor. Leaning heavier on setup time: Eminent Domain.

        Arguably any of the latter ones work better with >2, but are still good as 2-player.

        • dodrian says:

          I really like 7W:D, but I tend to win too often for my wife to enjoy it :-/. It also suffers from the snowball problem – if one player gets too much of an early lead it’s very hard for the other to catch up.

          Dominion is good, though I haven’t played in a while, I will check out the others, thanks!

      • AlphaGamma says:

        Seconding Gobbobobble’s recommendation of Duel.

        I prefer Star Realms to Dominion for the 2-player deckbuilder niche.

        Kingdomino is a 2-4 player game that works well with 2.

      • Randy M says:

        There’s a two player game I like, though I’m not saying you will from your list: Battlecon, of which there are three compatible versions with different characters.

        It aims to recreate the strategy of moves and counter moves of a 2-D fighting game like street fighter, without the twitch aspect. There is a common set of moves represented by base cards that each player has a copy of, things like strike, dash, and shot–about 5 in all. Then each character has a set of 6 style cards unique to them. Style cards modify base cards, so one character is capable of, for example, an unblockable “Unrelenting Strike” and another of a faster “Flashy Strike.” Players secretly choose and then simultaneously reveal a pair of cards representing one move, and compare the priority values, check the range, then deal damage and check for stunning. Each card played has a two turn cool-down.

        I’m not anywhere experienced enough to get to the prediction and counterplay that is the heart of the game–each base naturally counters certain other bases, while each character has a certain style that would lead them to favoring some. But I admire the elegance and variety it has. Set up is a little fiddly, as most characters have unique tokens and markers you might want to search for, but the basic is just grab your set of style cards, base cards, drop your token in the starting space, and begin.

      • Matthew S. says:

        Akrotiri, which I did an overview of on Tumblr, is an excellent 2-player game with very little set-up time required that takes about 45-60 minutes.

        My wife and I are currently enjoying High Treason: The Trial of Louis Riel, which is a less frustrating derivative of Twilight Struggle that is reasonably fast to set up and only takes about 45 minutes to play.

        Mottainai and Arboretum (both covered on Tumblr) are pure card games that work best and well with 2, respectively.

  2. Mark says:

    Does Rule of Law imply some kind of General Will?

    • qwints says:

      I think you need to elaborate to provoke meaningful discussion.

      • Mark says:

        There are criticisms of the idea of a General Will, based on the association with Jacobins and Revolutionary Terror. It is viewed as an idea that serves the purposes of tyranny.

        On the other hand, some historians equate the General Will, at least on some level, with the Rule of Law.

        I don’t really see how the Rule of Law and the General Will are the same thing, but I think that in practical terms the Rule of Law is always justified with reference to the common good. I think that if someone were to utterly reject the Rule of Law, they might have placed themselves outside the bounds of political acceptability, or (if not) that there must be some action that would place them outside of those bounds.

        This is a quote from RR Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled:

        In any country that is organised as a political unit there is something that may be called the people, which has an ascertainable will… Persons or parties who have different wills do not really belong to the people…
        There is something in this philosophy which is workable, and even necessary, in a settled political order. Members of a community must in truth agree on something. They must feel common ties are stronger than the interests that divide them; they must all, while differing over policy, respect the legal machinery by which policy is determined… Only by such a general will does the population become one people. To refuse such a minimum is to repudiate the rule of law.

        Perhaps, we need to have layers of General Will/ agreement. Competing jurisdictions. (General Will as a revealed preference.)

        One other thought – competing jurisdictions to give people the freedom to live how they wish – but don’t jurisdictions also have to have the right of refusal? How can i maintain my general will, my apple trees if there are an influx of people who hate them?

        Does the right of refusal trump the right to freely move?

    • Peter says:

      It’s notable that the Wikipedia page for “Rule of Law” doesn’t mention the phrase “general will”, but the Wikipedia page for “General Will” does mention “Rule of Law” – specifically – “As used by Rousseau, the “general will” is considered by some identical to the rule of law”.

      I think the most that can be said is that some conceptions of the General Will overlap with some conceptions of the Rule of Law. It seems a lot of people, including myself, have a fairly “formalist” definition of the rule of law, which says it isn’t so much about where the law comes from, more about that it governs the government (and its agents) as much as the (rest of the) governed. There’s also something about the law not creating too many discretionary powers for the government and its agents.

      I think there’s also a distinction to be made between what the Rule of Law is, and why it might be justified – and whether that justification is meant to be absolutely general or whether it is allowed to break down in strange hypotheticals or even in some actually-occuring circumstances. If a country were to be governed according to a law written by demons, one meticulously written to allow a minimum of discretion to the rulers (so the ruler’s would act more like the demon’s automata than their puppets, if you catch my distinction), then that wouldn’t be morally justifiable, but by my definitions it might still be the rule of law.

    • Wrong Species says:

      You could have the rule of law without it in any way reflecting the “general will” of the people. Imagine a China-like bureaucracy that had little corruption or discretion with a Constitution that was strictly enforced. I think it’s more of a historical coincidence that we think of these as being necessarily related.

  3. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Reposting because the current OT changed before I could compile it all. 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.
    The elephant-bears 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).
    So about 400 years after we were enslaved, 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 a 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.
    Naturally this raised a problem for the alien diplomats. 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 ones. 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 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 Shrevans or trilateral ones were upstarts who they’d just learned by radio had conquered their home world.
    The Czarthians 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.

    There are also 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.

    Next: life on post-slavery post-scarcity Earth.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Did they get an answer to the Fermi paradox?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Where the mystery stood when I stopped writing was Earth had an Ularan ambassador who claimed there’s widespread archaeological evidence of sapient species evolving and disappearing in mass extinctions, and the times are synchronized across planets, pointing to systemic gamma ray bursts. He said Czarthian scientists would probably corroborate this model and that Earth’s extinction pattern doesn’t fit it after the End Permian.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      When Earth was liberated, the liberation forces created a corporation to divide the capital left by the bear-elephants into a number of inalienable (save by death) shares equal to the number of living humans, with trust rules for children.
      To handle land, a government was formed, led by a global Senate. Attempts were made to divide land rights equally, where sites where plant was located reserved to Earthcorp. Unlike stock, citizens were free to sell and buy their entire holding.
      Since then, people have varied in their ability to hold down jobs useful to a highly automated economy and how many children they had, new shares have been created, and vast disparities in wealth have developed.

      Machines grow food in abundance, and nanotechnology factories do so for consumer goods. Energy is cheaper than in old times, but economic scarcity still applies. This is all the more true for desirable real estate. So classy people go naked, except for padded trunks on men, and live in penthouse apartments or detached houses in climate-controlled urban areas.
      Earth’s capital was established as Berlin, Indonesia (named after the CinC of the liberation forces), on the equator just south of Singapore, where the masters had a space elevator. It’s a city predominantly of 60-story towers built closely together, with the penthouse levels connected by skybridges. The lower down, the less natural light there is and so the cheaper the apartments. So the whole spectrum of social classes coexist in the same buildings, with beggars in the basements.

      • Incurian says:

        Why is there poverty with a basic income and cheap nano tech?

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          My thought was that freedom entails the right to make bad decisions. People make bad economic decisions like not leaving Berlin’s expensive housing market when they lose their job there. The inalienable UBI share may only be enough to cover a studio apartment in small-town Mexico in addition to all the food and manufactured goods you want.

          • Incurian says:

            Hmm. I guess my quibble is whether with cheap[er] energy and nanotech, economic scarcity would continue to matter to the degree that anyone would have to beg, even after making poor decisions. I can see drug addiction or mental illness being an exception (I am told these groups make up most of the homeless already).

            Digression: my wife, a social worker who has some experience with the homeless, likes to watch Shameless, which does not portray the very poor in a sympathetic light. All the homeless are well, shameless grifters, and I would have thought that if nothing else, from a writing perspective it would be better to have only the main character be shameless, in contrast to the multitudinous deserving poor who serve as a foil. Plus it kind of makes me feel bad to see people who are down on their luck portrayed in such a negative light.

            She told me that the idea that most homeless are temporarily “down on their luck” is incorrect. They are mentally ill, drug addicted, or lazy.

            It was sadly amusing how we reversed our usual sides (she is a stereotypical bleeding heart social worker, I am a conservativish ancap) for that discussion.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            That’s a fair quibble. If I pick this world back up, beggars in the capital may be nixed.
            Hereditary mental illness should be curable with genetic engineering. De novo mutations that produce mental illness would be much less tractable, as would the unemployed using their idle hands to get addicted to drugs.

    • quaelegit says:

      I don’t have any particular comments but this is a really cool scifi universe. Thanks for sharing!

      Do you still work on stories in this universe? If not would you consider picking it up again? (Sorry if this was discussed in the last OT, didn’t read that one carefully.)

  4. bean says:

    New Naval Gazing is up. This is a repost of Part 1 of Fire Control. Iowa Part 2 will be up Wednesday.
    We’re having some trouble with comment echoing right now. Please comment there.

  5. Alphonse says:

    Anyone have recommendations for a good learn-how-to-meditate resource or program? My SO has been experiencing issues with anxiety and stress for several years and, based on my comments, has expressed interest in trying meditation to address it. I’m aware of the evidence that meditation can be effective at managing anxiety, and I’ve even seen lots of statements to the effect of “I’m not religious / spiritual, so I was skeptical of meditation, but it really worked for me,” which is reassuring since neither of us are religious or spiritual, but I don’t know where to start.

    Ideally, I’d love a recommendation of “Go to this website and follow its instructions” for a form of meditation that is demonstrably effective at stress reduction / management. Non-spiritual would be a plus, but isn’t strictly a requirement. I’m just stuck at the point of having a generalized impression that meditation could be beneficial in my SO’s situation, but not knowing how to turn that into actionable advice.

  6. psmith says:

    I remember we used to have a chestnut around here about “if only it were legally permissible to offer low-cost online mental health counseling but liability is a killer, etc etc.” Recently saw this relevant banner ad.

    What do we make of this–exciting new way to fight cost disease, flash in the pan, scam, the real hurdle is offering advice about and prescribing medication, other?

  7. wearsshoes says:

    NYC Secular Solstice Kickstarter is in its final stretch, it’s 80% funded with less than 48 hours to go. If you have been holding back to commit due to not knowing whether other friends are going, you can check for them or signal your own interest on the FB event. Additionally, we encourage people who care whether this event happens or not to donate at the level you would be comfortable donating at each year, even if you are unsure whether you will personally attend this year. P.S. We have amazing 3″ vinyl laser-cut stickers for sponsorship backers.

    We have 16 people so far signed up for the Rationalist Megameetup, and that also has a FB event.

  8. Ola says:

    I have recently (re-?) discovered slate star codex, less(er) wrong and a few other interesting blogs. They all have been around for a while and there is a lot of content. Also the content creates a tightly connected network of articles.

    I’m trying to read and struggling to do so in an organised manner, which bothers me a lot. I would also like to make some notes here and there and easily mark things I have read and posts that are unread. Asking for advice – how do you manage your reading list? And already-read list? Make notes of interesting posts/stuff? Connect things topic-wise? As much as in ideal world my brain would just do that on its own, it needs some support.

    What I know exists/ I can do:
    I can read chronologically and this covers problem of unread content and I don’t like this.
    I have an RSS feed plugin for the new content.
    Bookmarks or plugins like pocket do not seem sufficient enough as they are just a bag for links, with no easy way to make comments or connections.
    As a reasercher I used to work mostly with pdf’s from arxiv + regular books/printed stuff. I did put my pdf’s/notes in a shitload of directories usually nested with comments on textfiles or on pdfs, or printing stuff and using paper notebooks… I think we should be able to do better… 🙂 And also as it kind-of-worked then, blog-type form of content is less cooperating with such nonsense.

    Any suggestions?

    • quaelegit says:

      I would keep track of it on a Spreadsheet, because when it comes to software I prefer using technology I already understand to learning new, perhaps more efficient technology… this isn’t a great formfactor for keeping long notes (or annotations to specific bits of text), but short notes work great and you can add links to long notes.

      For note organization, perhaps Evernote or similar? That’s what a lot of my friends used to keep track of notes and readings in college.

      For advice on reading order:

      1) Start with the “best of” posts.
      2) Follow links at the top of articles/linked in article text. This spirals quickly, but its not as bad on this site as on Wikipedia (…or TVTropes *shudders*) so if you stay disciplined it should be too much of a disorganized mess.
      3) Skip the old open threads. Yes people reference past conversations a lot, but people here are pretty good at linking to previous comments, and you can always ask what they’re referring to.

      I actually did read through most of archives in roughly chronological order, and as long as you skip the open threads it mostly works. I mean, it takes a while, but this is a very active blog that has been up for 5 years, so of course there’s a ton of content.

    • Nick says:

      If you’re looking for a more comprehensive but still curated “best of” for Scott’s stuff*, there’s the Library of Scott Alexandria. And if you’re just looking for a different ordering of the Sequences, you can check out Rationality: From AI to Zombies.

      *I’m actually not sure how up to date it is, though.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        An easier way to read R:AZ is readthesequences.com.

      • Ola says:

        Thank you for those links!

        It still however does not solve a general problem of making notes and marking content you read/want to read all over the internet. I was hoping there is some software out there supporting this, that I don’t know of.

        • Nick says:

          Yeah, definitely; I was just hoping to contribute what I could. But for what it’s worth, I’m inclined to agree with quaelegit that Evernote is at least an option, although not necessarily ideal—personally, I use it to keep longer book quotes and for the nice webpage clipping tool, since it’s pretty good at paring the page down to just the main text, and it has a good tagging system and sharing capability. But I got fed up with the rich text formatting and the not great tools for stripping and adding formatting; I really, really would have preferred html or Markdown or something, but your mileage may vary.

    • rlms says:

      I just use a text file for books I’m reading/plan to read/have read. If you’re looking to write detailed notes, I think some rationalist people use wiki software.

    • Ola says:

      If anyone is interested, I was adviced to try a few things:

      pocket -> a browser plugin (actually rediscovered, especially the paid version is good as has a good search functionality)
      keep.google.com
      pinboard.in
      evernote

      for rss
      feeder -> a plugin to chrome
      feedly.com

  9. shakeddown says:

    Bay Areans: I’m trying to get enough interest for an SF boardgame night this Friday (November 3rd). I put the details on the LW meetup page. If you’re interested contact me through there (or reply to this comment if you can’t get on).

  10. Well... says:

    More Neal Stephenson reading about to be undertaken, so my legendary ordering of his novels will soon be updated: I got a copy of the Dodo book out of the lye berry. BUT: I haven’t cracked it yet because I first decided to read as much Ted Chiang as I could find for free online. I do not regret this.

    So, in the meantime, let’s talk Ted Chiang. I love his writing. I can sometimes find a few things in his stories that don’t sit right or don’t satisfy me, but for the most part I think he’s brilliant. Y’all’s thoughts? Favorite stories? Least favorite?

    My favorite so far is “Truth of Fact, Truth of Feeling.” My least favorite (and I still really enjoyed it) was “The Lifecycle of Software Objects.” Maybe in a comment to this later on I’ll make an ordered list of everything by him I’ve read, same as I did for Stephenson.

    I will say, I’m disappointed nobody here (that I can remember) recommended Chiang to me earlier, although I’m not totally surprised; a Chiang recommendation doesn’t spring naturally from “gimme more like Seveneves.”

    • qwints says:

      I hadn’t heard of him before Arrival. Read the collection afterwards and loved it, probably because I’m a one-boxer at heart.

      • Well... says:

        I’m curious what Story of Your Life is like, because I found Arrival a bit ridiculous, decidedly moreso than The Lifecycle of Software Objects which was itself ridiculous in many ways.

        Is there a webbed version?

        • quaelegit says:

          You should be able to find a PDF of the story on google. (Edit: and Gwern’s review has a link to the story text.) A friend of mine also found a pirated ebook of the whole anthology, but I’m not brave enough to go looking for it myself.

          (Funnily, I bought the paperback anthology right before seeing the ebook, and read the ebook before the paper copy arrived — and the paper version was missing two of my three favorite stories from the ebook >.>)

          “Story of Your Life” is less ridiculous than Arrival — much smaller in scope, doesn’t break causality, no Chinese General melodrama. I think this story is much more powerful in its original smaller scope — when its about the family instead of the world. The short story also mentions the geopolitical implications, but they’re in the background — it’s about mother and daughter.
          The second two points explain themselves — or rather, just read the story and you’ll see what I mean (I hope).

          ====

          My mom hated the short story, because she saw it as an attack on free will (I think?) — I’m just glad we didn’t make her read “What’s Expected of Us” 😛

          • I read two pieces by Chiang after seeing the mention here and started a third (The Lifecycle of Software Objects). My impression so far is that he is a very good idea person but not a first rate storyteller.

          • Well... says:

            @DavidFriedman:

            Which ones have you read? In terms of sheer storytelling, I think The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate is strongest (though the ideas are excellent also). I’d agree a lot of his other stuff reads more like essays, but very compelling ones.

          • I read “Hell is the Absence of God” and “Exhalation.” The latter was a very clever idea but didn’t grab me as a story.

          • Nick says:

            I’ve read Hell is the Absence of God, but I just didn’t get it. Like, what the heck is he getting at? That God can be capricious? In whose theology, precisely? Not his, I imagine.

    • Well... says:

      OK, here’s my ordered list of Ted Chiang works I’ve read: (1 = favorite)

      1. The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling
      2. The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate*
      3. Exhalation*
      4. Understand
      5. The Great Silence
      6. The Lifecycle of Software Objects

      …with the obligatory reminder that I still REALLY enjoyed #6.

      PS. I reviewed #1 a while back at my blog. Turns out, it was recommended to me here, I’d forgotten.

      * Really, #s 2 and 3 are tied.

      • Nick says:

        !!! Be sure to check out Seventy-Two Letters, Story of Your Life, and Divide by Zero. I’m inclined to agree with gwern’s reading of Story of Your Life, which clears up my is-it-time-travel is-it-not confusion when I read it. I have complaints about Divide by Zero, but I’m not sure it’s fair of me to voice them, since I read it years ago and I’m not really up for justifying myself with the source text…. Seventy-Two Letters is just fun and good, though!

        • Well... says:

          I saw Arrival and actually read a summary of the plot before I saw it (because I don’t really believe in spoilers and actually prefer to know the plot in some detail going in). Doesn’t seem like time travel, just a story told from the end first. Is there much divergence from Chiang’s work?

          • quaelegit says:

            It’s not time travel in the original short story, but the movie effectively turned it into time travel by breaking causality.

            Other differences I remember off the top of my head:

            * Focuses more on the geopolitics of the story (the Chinese matter — I’m assuming they did this to help with international box office returns).

            * Gary (different name in the movie) isn’t as much of a nerd.

            * The other big one is they gave the aliens a purpose — I think this was a mistake (relating to the “breaking causality” above). I thought the story worked much better when it didn’t give a reason for the aliens’ presence — and the reason they picked was dumb one (that breaks causality — have I mentioned that I’m annoyed with this yet? :P)

          • Nick says:

            I have to defer to quaelegit here, since I haven’t seen Arrival. I wouldn’t say it’s exactly “a story told from the end first,” but that’s a lot closer than the usual interpretation. But come on, who can dislike a story with a linguist as the protagonist?

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @quaelegit: Other major difference is what happens to the daughter. In the film she dies of cancer at the age of about 12. Several of the flashbacks are set after she has been diagnosed (and possibly after her parents know it’s terminal) but before she dies. So there’s a parallel drawn between the realistic situation of a parent with a terminally-ill child and the fictional situation of the parents ‘choosing’ (if anyone in the story can be said to ‘choose’ anything) to have a child knowing she will die very young.

            In the original short story, she dies in a rock-climbing accident in her mid-twenties.

          • quaelegit says:

            @Nick — linguists, actually (judging from the “Linguistics” facebook group I lurk on). The main complaint was “why is Hollywood so obsessed with Sapir-Whorf?!” Personally I agree with you 😛

            @AlphaGamma — good point, that is another major difference. It didn’t really affect the story for me (either way Louise chooses to have a child knowing that her daughter will predecease her).

      • Charles F says:

        My ordered list, with the caveat that a lot of the ones right next to each other are close enough that it might change from one day to the next:

        1. The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling
        (little jump, 1 is a clear favorite but I thought all of this next group was fantastic)
        2. Liking What you See
        3. Division by Zero
        4. The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate
        5. Seventy-Two Letters
        6. Hell is the Absence of God
        (bigger jump, next group is still quite enjoyable)
        7. What’s Expected of us
        8. Story of Your Life
        9. The Lifecycle of Software Objects
        10. The Evolution of Human Science
        11. Exhalation
        12. The Great Silence
        (I actually didn’t like the following two)
        13. Tower of Babylon
        14. Understand

      • Well... says:

        Update: I have now read “What’s Expected Of Us.” It is now at #6, and Software Objects is bumped down to #7.

        Update 2: Also read “Catching Crumbs from the Table.” This is now at #6, “What’s Expected Of Us” is #7, and “The Lifecycle of Software Objects” is #8.

        • Well... says:

          Update 3: I read Division by Zero. I rank it last (#9).

          • Nick says:

            Hah! I would love to hear what you thought of Division by Zero.

          • Well... says:

            @Nick:

            It would have been interesting to see Chiang speculate on how such a powerful mathematical discovery would be handled by the world or at least what it would do to the field of mathematics, but instead we only get to see its impact on a rather unlikable childless couple: it makes them break up. Yawn.

          • Nick says:

            Yeah, my issue with that story really comes down to my (tendentious, to be sure) reading of just what I found unlikable about that couple. I don’t buy at all the idea that a person’s intellectual and emotional worlds are so inextricably linked, as Chiang puts, that Renee is truly unable to treat her husband decently during her crisis, and that empathy so requires understanding that Carl’s inability to grok the mathematics (and relatedly, what the mathematics means to Renee) renders him incapable of empathizing with her. It seems to me on rereading that he failed precisely because he kept trying, over and over, to get it, or trying to show her that he gets it, anyway. If he’d understood what she was going through emotionally rather than intellectually, why would any of this be necessary? Why is he incapable of grokking the metaphor at the end, that she’s a theologian whose proven the existence of God wrong? If Chiang is making an argument for this here, I’m just not seeing it, and if he’s making an argument for something else, I’m really not seeing it. 😛

    • Well... says:

      Update:

      I’ve now read all 10 Chiang stories I could find online for free easily. Here they are, ordered:

      1. The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling
      2. The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate*
      3. Exhalation*
      4. Understand
      5. The Great Silence
      6. What’s Expected of Us
      7. Catching Crumbs from the Table
      8. The Lifecycle of Software Objects
      9. Seventy-Two Letters
      10. Division by Zero

      *#2 and #3 are actually tied for #2.

      • Nick says:

        Props to you and Charles for putting Truth of Fact, Truth of Feeling so high; I just finished it, and I think it’s the best Chiang I’ve read yet, easily beating Seventy-Two Letters and Story of Your Life. Now to evangelize my friends….

    • gwern says:

      I have a review of the collection at https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/369923171 (I too am deeply unimpressed by “Lifecycle”.)

  11. BBA says:

    In a retrocomputing binge this weekend, I discovered the source code to James Gosling’s Emacs had recently been posted online. Back in the early ’80s Gosling wrote the first implementation of Richard Stallman’s classic PDP-10 text editor and kitchen sink for Unix and other C-supporting systems. At the time, the PDP-10 was clearly on the way out and the Emacs community flocked to this new, portable version of their editor. Then Gosling sold it to a company called Unipress, who demanded that distribution of the previous freeware versions be halted and all new Emacs users buy a license for $395. For Stallman, this was such a betrayal of his ideals of open collaboration that he was inspired to start the GNU project, whose first release was a rewritten Emacs for Unix, and the rest is history.

    As an Emacs loyalist (bite me, vi plebeians) (sorry, this is the no culture war thread) I figured this would be a fascinating look into history. I’ve accessed the PDP-10 version once or twice, but its use of TECO instead of Lisp as the basic language stood in my way. Gosling Emacs was written in “Mocklisp”, a less flexible scripting language but clearly resembling the Emacs Lisp we know today. So I downloaded the source code and tried fruitlessly to compile it on my Linux box and (when that failed) a few different emulated systems. No dice, although NetBSD on a Vax emulator is surprisingly user-friendly, if incredibly slow. The problem is that the source code came from Brian Reid*, who had held onto his copy of Gosmacs since the ’80s and made updates to the source code to keep it compiling on whatever system he had at that point. Finally, around 2007, it wouldn’t compile anymore, so he gave up, but with Gosling’s permission, he posted his source code to the internet.

    (The issue, if you care about the details, is that the code pokes into internal fields of the FILE* structure in C. Normally you’re not supposed to do that, but it’s necessary if you need to know whether you have buffered input without actually reading it from the buffer…anyway, I tried a few different BSDs, compiled it for the Vax because that’s where it was originally written, but I can’t figure out what particular variant of Unix it was written for.)

    I might try reading the code some more, but it looks like a nightmare to understand, let alone modify. One file opens with skull-and-crossbones ASCII art and the warning “if you think you understand it, you don’t, so look again.” So instead we have a significant historic piece of software that will never run again. Lost, like tears in rain.

    *Reid wrote his own piece of now-lost influential software, the document publishing system Scribe, which was the first program to use semantic markup – “subchapter heading” instead of “18 point, bold.” Like Gosling, he withdrew his freeware from the community and sold it to a company to commercialize; this company, Unilogic, was so difficult to work with and set the price so high that Scribe rapidly faded from relevance, except as an influence on its successors, notably LaTeX and (eventually) HTML and CSS.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I might try reading the code some more, but it looks like a nightmare to understand, let alone modify. One file opens with skull-and-crossbones ASCII art and the warning “if you think you understand it, you don’t, so look again.” So instead we have a significant historic piece of software that will never run again. Lost, like tears in rain.

      Never say never. Retrocomputing people are insanely stubborn sometimes.

      Sounds like it may have been written for an AT&T Unix variant rather than a BSD.

      • BBA says:

        So, funny about that – shortly after posting this, I stumbled upon another version, labeled “emacs4.2” and dated circa 1985. I loaded it onto a Vax emulator running 4.2BSD, where it compiled and ran out of the box. So my post above is a little overdramatic. Huh. (The sentiment does still apply to Scribe as well as other software of that era.)

        The keybindings are just different enough from GNU to trip me up – C-x C-f is GNU for “open a file” and Gosling for “quit.” And the features are significantly less, which is expected given it’s mostly C and only a little bit (mock) Lisp. The Reid version has a substantially larger macro library, though still nowhere near as extensive as even the GNU versions I cut my teeth on in the ’90s. Overall, pretty underwhelming stuff compared to what came before and after.

        I will note that this appears to be an early release of commercial Unipress Emacs, rather than one of Gosling’s freeware releases. This means it’s quite possibly illegal for me to even look at, but I doubt that the company that bought the company that bought Unipress cares an iota. Just for fun, archive.org has the Unipress Emacs sales pitch from 1995, which takes great pains to avoid even mentioning RMS or GNU. In particular, I find the third bullet point under “Highlights” to be… amusing.

    • tumteetum says:

      >So instead we have a significant historic piece of software that will never run again.

      loathe as i am to encourage in anyway anything to do with the eldritch horror that is emacs (vi or death etc) its nearly halloween sooooo…

      if you’re interested in pursuing this you might try asking on soylentnews.org, there’s a bunch of people there who are into resurrecting old software. you can create a login and then post a journal entry, it’ll be seen by the regulars.

    • skef says:

      No dice, although NetBSD on a Vax emulator is surprisingly user-friendly, if incredibly slow. The problem is that the source code came from Brian Reid*, who had held onto his copy of Gosmacs since the ’80s and made updates to the source code to keep it compiling on whatever system he had at that point. Finally, around 2007, it wouldn’t compile anymore, so he gave up, but with Gosling’s permission, he posted his source code to the internet.

      So basically the problem is that Reid doesn’t have the original code, and his updates make it too new?

      There are a number of projects that have vintage versions of unix running in emulation, that should be able to compile the source if it complied at the time. The older of these archives has an RCS directory. I downloaded it and poked around, and it looks like the original check-in was in 1986, and the versions of those files at that time, at least, are available. (Gene McDaniel created the initial revision.)

      I would extract those 1986 versions and try the http://simh.trailing-edge.com/ simulator with the PDP-11 UNIX V7 software kit as a first go.

  12. WashedOut says:

    Q: Does doing MDMA / LSD once with my girlfriend have the potential to reduce her anxiety and neuroticism in the long-term?

    My girlfriend is 27 and has fairly bad bouts of anxiety and intrusive thoughts. She is high in neuroticism and orderliness, and has several OCD-like behaviours without it being obvious to the casual observer. She has never done drugs and hardly touches alcohol. She is not depressed and is happy/content most of the time. Her anxiety is triggered mainly by organisational/scheduling tasks at work (scientist) and by disgusting/horror imagery in film and TV.

    I have done MDMA and a few other drugs besides, and want to see if us taking it together in a nice, safe environment has any lasting effects for her in terms of reducing neuroticism and increasing openness.

    Will this work, and if so under what conditions, with what limitations?

    • Creutzer says:

      I’m not aware of any studies of such long-term effects from single-dose MDMA. You want to look at LSD or psilocybin.

      • Well... says:

        Just remember set and setting. If WashedOut sets it up as “here’s a powerful drug that might revolutionize your world” and his girlfriend is aware of the taboos (not to mention laws) around the drug, that could counter the positive effects.

        I think there’d need to be a period of acculturation first, maybe including the two of them “sitting” for some friends who are using it.

        • Creutzer says:

          Indeed. Nobody should take any of these drugs before doing their reading on them to know what they’re getting themselves into. The fact that the girlfriend is a scientist probably makes all of this much easier.

          One should also be aware that while MDMA is a drug that needs to be taken together, this is not true for psychedelics. In fact, for the high doses it takes to get the permanent effects, taking them together might even be pointless, depending perhaps on the personality of the people involved.

          • Well... says:

            I would recommend strongly against taking psychedelics alone.

          • Charles F says:

            @Well… Can you clarify? Do you mean without a sitter or do you mean without a sitter plus another person taking psychedelics?

          • Well... says:

            I just meant without another trusted person, period. Whether that person is also doing the drugs with you is less important (though still nontrivial).

          • herbert herberson says:

            Second this. Not necessarily for short (10 min or less) periods or for people with a lot of experience, but solo tripping is a good way to have a bad time

          • Creutzer says:

            To clarify, I was talking about whether there are other people on psychedelics.

    • herbert herberson says:

      I don’t know about the acid. At the least, don’t start there.

      But I say go for it on the MDMA. I’ve introduced it to women very similar to how you describe your GF, and while I’m not sure it had any direct therapeutic benefits, it strengthened their relationships and certainly showed them a very fun time. In at least one case I also know the “hangover” really helped her to better understand and identify her own depressive tendencies.

  13. Andrew Hunter says:

    How plausible is it that there’s a gondii-like infection in the population and we just don’t know about it?

    That is: suppose there’s some transmissible pathogen that causes significant behavioral changes in its (human) hosts, but is otherwise asymptomatic. Suppose further that this pathogen spread through large communities and was leading to $(your least favorite recent behavioral trend in your least favorite tribe goes here).

    Is it plausible that this happened but the medical establishment just has never noticed this bug exists? Some viral infection that we don’t have a specific test for (since no one knows it exists) and doesn’t cause systemic signs of infections (so we’ve never looked?) Or is this wildly unlikely for some reason I haven’t thought of?

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      We do know that parasites can change behavior and there are still plenty of parasitic infections around the world.

      But to your larger point: We know it has happened in the past via viruses which then integrated into our genome. And we can calculate a relative rate of genomic integration thanks to speciation events.

      So we’d want to calculate the relative rate of behavior-changing viral genomic integrations to behavior changing viral infections (not genomically integrating) and behavior-changing bacterial/fungal/parasitic infections (not transferring DNA to genomes). Then we’d have a good estimate for the odds of such an infection at any given time (not adjusted for our current huge dispersion over the Earth, and possibly not adjusted for our current population).

    • The Nybbler says:

      There’s a variant of the common cold which causes obesity, so I’d say “very plausible”. It doesn’t even have to be asymptomatic, it just has to cause the usual cold-like or flu-like symptoms.

      However, I think to explain enough, it’d have to be transmissible through the Internet, and that’s not really plausible.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I don’t think that there are any behaviors that have recently spread only via plausible biological transmission. You have to explain either too much or too little.

    • dhominis says:

      Not that relevant, but it’s my area, so.

      Some people have antibodies against the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, and therefore probably were at one point infected, without ever having noticed symptoms. We don’t know how many, since AFAIK nobody’s got the funding to test populations, but based on anecdotal evidence from high-Lyme-disease-incidence-geographic-area doctors I’ve talked to, it might be a lot. Many of those who test positive seem to be entirely asymptomatic, others have only symptoms that can be attributed to exhaustion/stress/other illnesses, and still others (likely a small minority) have had obvious symptoms like the bull’s-eye rash or inflammatory arthritis. Patients often will have neurological changes, although they’re more general than what you’re describing (often presenting as depression or mildly impaired cognition).

      Essentially, a minority of cases involve serious/obvious illness while the majority have diffuse or no symptoms. And some of those symptoms are neurological.

      We didn’t know what infectious agent caused Lyme disease until the 70s–and to the best of our knowledge there were human cases well before that, although transmission to humans has increased dramatically over the past several decades. It only was discovered after a cluster of cases with more dramatic symptoms occurred.

      It’s not *that* hard for me to imagine that we might not pick up on a pathogen that had similar characteristics–not causing obvious illness in the majority of characteristics, inducing neurological symptoms, et cetera–but an even lower rate of [weird symptoms that make doctors call the CDC] and more specific behavioral changes.

      (I study the ecology of Lyme disease and am not an expert in how the bacterium interacts with the human body. Not a doctor, not an immunologist, not really a proper scientist. Take with large grain of salt.)

  14. anonymouscoward2k says:

    (mindkill warning: dating, post category: irrationality, belief: very likely)
    (this message was written with the thought of “even a stopped clock is right twice a day”)

    i used to be really anxious around women, but lately i just feel like a strange kind of disappointment, something that’s coming full circle and.. i can approach women but i then feel some sort of.. adversarial response? i’m not really sure how to put, it’s not quite the middle finger but it’s close enough to question good intentions, or at the very least a system 1 response that sometimes makes me feel literally worse than hitler but on the other hand my own system 1 is thinking “wait wtf that can’t be so fucking bad”.

    the best reasoned response i can come up with is “you might have overcome your own difficulties, but you’ve completely ignored the difficulties women might have, and now it’s the first time you’re seeing them and you’re getting the first taste of something that was completely alien to you”.

    reasoned because:
    1. i realized a lot of my fears were internalized growing up and
    2. i never actually focused on the other side of it because of a lack of experience

    unreasoned because i’m going with 50% confidence that i’m totally wrong due lack of experience. so ssc, am i being at least somewhat reasonable vs being literally hitlemort?

    (reminder: if you got mindkilled please do not response, thank you)

    • skef says:

      “Even a blocked cock is right [something clever something]”

    • rahien.din says:

      If I had to guess as to why you feel this way, you had idolized women (literally, made them into idols), which leaves your pendulum quite a distance to swing, now that it can. What you’re experiencing is simple disillusionment. It’s like when kids meet their heroes – they’re never as big in real life as they are on TV.

      Been there. Don’t worry. You don’t hate women and you won’t always feel this way. I think you’re being reasonable. Evidence : you’ve noticed this weird response in yourself, and you’ve identified it as maladaptive, you don’t wish it to persist, and you’re asking for a low-stakes outside perspective.

      • anonymouscoward2k says:

        If I had to guess as to why you feel this way, you had idolized women (literally, made them into idols), which leaves your pendulum quite a distance to swing, now that it can. What you’re experiencing is simple disillusionment. It’s like when kids meet their heroes – they’re never as big in real life as they are on TV.

        yes, there’s a big truth to that.

        Been there. Don’t worry. You don’t hate women and you won’t always feel this way. I think you’re being reasonable.

        thanks for the sympathy. i’m still curious if there was something i missed, curious how it looks from the other size, and from a third person view as well. but maybe i’m giving in a bit too much effort to team members who aren’t going to contribute.

    • Deiseach says:

      Can you clarify a bit for me? You used to be anxious about approaching women but now you’ve got over that and can do so, only to have the feeling in the end that “Huh, this wasn’t worth the bother” and/or dismissive feelings about women in general?

      I suppose one way of overcoming anxiety about doing something is to feel “To hell with it, I don’t care any more about this, even if it works I don’t care whether or not I’m successful”.

      • anonymouscoward2k says:

        hi, deiseach, loved your comments at rdr/untitled.

        you’re right about the first part (anxiety). the second part is.. well a bit of both honestly. what i’m thinking about here is signal-noise ratio. might just mean i’m aiming too broadly. also my sample size isn’t particularly big nor very specific, so the best solution is probably to run more experiments.

        but i’m just curious if my own issues (anxiety/shyness/etc) can’t be applied to women, as in there’s some sort of.. confrontaion avoidance in one-word responses or general disinterest that i can’t help but think that those are anti-social responses, rather than social ones. (edit) which isn’t to say being shy or anxious is anti-social, but if you look at dating from a team perspective, it’s a bit harmful to the other person. i feel this is a bit too simple though.

        (edit below)

        I suppose one way of overcoming anxiety about doing something is to feel “To hell with it, I don’t care any more about this, even if it works I don’t care whether or not I’m successful”.

        sounds like door-knocking marketing advice.. not really criticizing it as that’s more like a “shut up and multiply” case as i’ve noted above. for example:

        positive response: come in, would you like some cookies?
        neutral response: no, but thanks for the offer!
        negative response: (thinking to myself) “wow, that was crazy, i’m lucky to be alive.”

        in this particular case i’m specifically curious about what causes the negative response, rather than a neutral one.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Speaking as a fairly progressive person, you sound pretty reasonable to me (based on the information presented). You take the possibility that you might be wrong seriously, which is the important thing.

      That said, I think you’re caught in a bit of a false dichotomy, where someone has to be to blame. Either you’re hitlermort, or something is wrong with the women you’re approaching.

      I would encourage a no-fault paradigm: if the women you approach don’t like your approaches, you should change something about what you’re doing, because it will avoid unhappiness for both you and them. Blame is irrelevant.

      c.f. this old Scott Post on people being upset and you can’t comprehend why.

      Sorry if this is obvious. I’m somewhat interested to hear more detail, since I found this kind of vague.

      • anonymouscoward2k says:

        That said, I think you’re caught in a bit of a false dichotomy, where someone has to be to blame. Either you’re hitlermort, or something is wrong with the women you’re approaching.

        that was obviously exaggerated but it’s my bad for forgetting internets 201. you’re right that i gave a bit too much privilege to that specific hypothesis. but i’m also having a bit of dissonance if the same dichtomy can’t be right (or at least somewhat accurate) if tuned down a bit (“hitlermort” to “outstepping social boundaries” and “girl is wrong” to “somebody who had one or more bad things in their day”)

        I would encourage a no-fault paradigm: if the women you approach don’t like your approaches, you should change something about what you’re doing, because it will avoid unhappiness for both you and them. Blame is irrelevant.

        that’s a little bit of an unfair no fault you’ve got there in my opinion. as you’ve already noted that i’m being reasonable (do tell if you feel like i’m using this as ammunition) i’m now curious what kind of uncommon advice (NOT better clothes/haircut/hygiene) might apply to “change something about what you’re doing”. at times, i’m wondering if self-improvement should be called self-limprovement. (bad advice being given as good advice (edit) regardless of good intentions)

        my approach, which certainly isn’t a very sharp pencil but pointy enough to stab (well, i hope at least) is that when i approach i give her a chance and if she does not take it then it was her own decision and if she changes it then she missed her chance. which is to say i go in wholeheartedly and honestly, probably much more directly than average but that’s mainly to filter “ambigiously interested”.

        that ^ is somewhat dark-artish but i think that a bit of decision pressure to close the deal is a bit better than the “safer” but more ambigious alternative. lifetime is limited, might as well lose a bit and not spend that time and “wonder-if land”.

        (apologies if the post is somewhat artificial as 3 > comment threads get uncomfortably cramped.)

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          I do worry a bit, based on that last post, that you’re using “I’m being reasonable” as ammunition. Mostly because that’s the only explanation you gave for why my no-fault model is unfair–maybe you had another?

          Your toned-down dichotomy is… less dichotomous. The answer could well be something like “You are in fact overstepping social boundaries, but those boundaries are systematically unfair to you, and women are reacting to that the way they’re socialized to.” Do you see why I’d characterize a situation like that as no-fault?

          I’m not I have any uncommon advice, but I wasn’t going to suggest better clothes/hair/hygiene. A corollary of “no fault” is that I would not characterize any changes I recommend as “self-improvement”. You’ve probably already tried everything I could suggest, but I was going to say things like “if you’re approaching women on the street, try bars or online instead”.

          • anonymouscoward2k says:

            okay, so my main issue was me being unable to process how an approach might be improved, assuming:

            1. it’s being done in a friendly and non-coerceive tone
            2. it’s situationally aware (street approaches are a huge waste of time, imo.)
            3. it’s unconditional, as in, there’s no expectetion/requirement/demand of reciprocation

            back to square one now: if the girl didn’t like my approach, and i’m using the methodology above, is there anything i could improve on, or as i outlined in option 3, realize that a no is a no and move on?

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            I don’t have a ton of advice on specifics–the important thing is that unhappiness that you don’t understand should still get a negative term in your utility function. That probably does mean ending interactions that are making the other person unhappy and you don’t know why. It also means that you should avoid starting interactions that are predictably going to go that way. It doesn’t necessarily mean you can never accept any risk of a bad interaction, though.

            I sort of feel like I may not be engaging with the right concern? If the question was whether/how to avoid looking down on girls who (in your view) overreact, I’d say it’s totally fine to label them “not your kind of person”, and hopefully that splits the difference?

          • anonymouscoward2k says:

            It doesn’t necessarily mean you can never accept any risk of a bad interaction, though.

            hah, that’s a good classic. on one hand, “you miss 100% of the chances you don’t take”, on the other, “the fact that you can doesn’t mean you should”.

            btw, thanks for the discussion. i feel a lot better now. but also, full disclosure: one of the reasons for this posting this rant was that a girl i had a crush on at high school (remember, shyness and anxiety!) started working out at the same gym as i did. obviously now, armed with much better confidence, i knew i had an important circle to close. i failed that miserably. and i just noticed that getting cold replies is just.. really disappointing, but also in some strange cognitive dissonance i just can’t feel like i did something wrong. i even actually found a relevant xkcd!

            relevant xkcd: https://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/creepy.png
            recursive version: https://i.imgur.com/Kr8FD.png
            not xkcd but even more recursive: https://i.imgur.com/S24qZ.png

    • Zorgon says:

      Few things in young adult life are as disappointing as discovering just how shallow and stupid a lot of attractive people are. This has very little to do with gender or sexuality and a lot to do with the sad reality of demographics.

      On the other hand, sexy clever people will still blow your mind when you’re 50 so I wouldn’t worry too much.

    • WashedOut says:

      If the wording in this post is anything like a reflection of your character vis a vis women, then you’re being rejected because you’re an overthinking, intellectualising game-theoretician who “approaches” women like taking a gamble. Ask yourself this: what woman wouldn’t want to be the type of woman for whom this gamble doesn’t work?

      Instead of setting yourself up for disappointment and disillusionment, I suggest you take steps to fortify the aspects of your character that can be attractive to women, i.e.:
      -Being at ease with yourself, projecting a quiet confidence and self-assured-ness
      -Wearing your pursuits on your sleeve. what are you doing with your life that a woman could see herself being a part of, or being associated with?
      -Every woman has been stuffed around by a flake at least once in her relationship history. Develop the traits that make you reliable, dependable, and easy to ‘transact’ with.

      the best reasoned response i can come up with is “you might have overcome your own difficulties, but you’ve completely ignored the difficulties women might have, and now it’s the first time you’re seeing them and you’re getting the first taste of something that was completely alien to you”.

      I had to read this (and the rest of OP) a few times and it’s still not clear.
      Try to gain women’s approval/interest —> Fail —-> get disappointed / changed worldview w.r.t. women —-> post-hoc rationalisation that women have “difficulties” that are “alien” to you and that’s why you’ve failed.

      It’s not the women’s difficulties or even the fact that certain things are alien to you. They are probably stronger than you (you even call yourself a coward in your username) and less mysterious. It’s You and your character, and women can spot it a mile off.

  15. rahien.din says:

    Dan Carlin is putting Common Sense on hiatus. Long story made short : the biggest problem (as he sees it) is no longer ossified governmental corruption, it’s that pithiness and factionalism have effectively ruined discourse and have made us frighteningly manipulable.

    This is just the worst.

    • Jeremiah says:

      I just listened to it, I would have gotten around to it eventually, but I didn’t realize till I saw your comment that a new one was available because they come out so infrequently, speaking of which, given that he said they might still come out from time to time and given how infrequent they already were, I’m wondering how much of a difference this hiatus will really make.

      He touches on a subject I’ve been thinking about recently the potential for another constitutional convention. For those who don’t want to follow the link, I see a lot of evidence that even if this new constitutional convention happens, it will be limited to formally proposing a balanced budget amendment, which will still have to be ratified by 3/4ths of the states to come into effect.

      On the other side lots of people think that it could be dangerous and be used as an avenue to blow the whole edifice up.

      If any of you have heard about a potential constitutional convention, what are your thoughts? Any good articles out there? Here are a couple of good ones I came across?

      Esquire
      Economist (they quote opponents and supports as giving it even odds of happening before 2020)

    • Gobbobobble says:

      Nooooooooo, I need that one sane voice in a sea of madmen… (see also: reading this blog) Common Sense got me through the 2016 election, hopefully it will have returned to be a light in the probable darkness of 2020.

      At least we’ll still have Hardcore History

    • Nornagest says:

      He’s not wrong.

    • cassander says:

      that theory seems to imply that there was a time filled with reason discourse. If so, I’m not aware of it.

  16. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    This is large and vague, but any thoughts about doing housekeeping better?

    Optimizing scrubbing

    • John Schilling says:

      As with many things, hiring a professional will usually get the job done faster and better if not necessarily cheaper. And sometimes cheaper. As with many things, e.g. auto maintenance and cooking, our society overemphasizes self-reliance in this area.

      • Well... says:

        As with many things, e.g. auto maintenance and cooking, our society overemphasizes self-reliance in this area.

        Are you sure? It seems like you’re using speed, thoroughness, and monetary cost as your measures. Do you think there might be any you’re discounting? If so, why?

      • The Nybbler says:

        My experience (well, really, my parents’ experience) with professional household cleaners is they do a crappy job quickly and at a high price. And they sometimes steal.

      • baconbacon says:

        True for most when it comes to car maintenance but not for cooking. Car maintenance occurs to infrequently to enable mastery or the benefits of mastery to do yourself, and has few opportunities to cater to personal tastes. Choosing 5w30 over 10w30 won’t satisfy many people. Cooking, on the other hand, has many opportunities for repetition and thus mastery, and many years of benefits after mastery. More importantly for those whose tastes run away form average you can create a far better experience for your crowd. If your tastes are average then eating at the local average place (be it McDonalds or the prepared section at Whole Foods) will satisfy you, but the further away from average you get the less meaningful “chicken, beef or vegetable” becomes and the more meaningful “does this have onions in it?” becomes. Eating also gains value from variety where as car maintenance does not, on the negative side “you burned the eggs isn’t anywhere near the disaster that “you accidentally drained the transmission fluid when trying to change your own oil and then embarked on a long road trip” is, and you won’t by chance discover something that improves your life gaping your spark plugs, but you might by adding or forgetting an ingredient, or correcting a recipe halfway through.

    • Levantine says:

      any thoughts about doing housekeeping better?

      “people who’ve learned to be good at cleaning” : I’m outside of that group. I’m just muddling. Anyway, here are my thoughts:

      I. I try to keep myself comfortable.

      II. If frustrated,

      o I embrace pragmatism. What’s the purpose, what’s the overall operation.
      1. Define ‘scandalous’ / intolerable. 2. Determine what is such. 3. Eliminate it completely. 4. No time for 4.

      o I guess that sub-satisfactory cleaning done more often can easily equal satisfactory cleaning.
      Create emotional discontinuity, so that returning to the cleaning of the same would not feel so bad.

      III Switch between prioritising efficiency and prioritising ‘having a good time,’ with an aim of these two to semi-spontaneously combine into an organic whole.

      IV Prevention is half the solution: I prefer to be surrounded by smooth surfaces. To be fair, that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

      V Consider that what applies to musicsurgeons likely applies to many other kinds of manual work: http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/379309

      What I just wrote is likely to be pretty poor. It’s just the first thoughts that came to mind.

    • SamChevre says:

      My secret anti-scrubbing weapon is lye. On any non-aluminum pan, it makes getting everything the first time much much easier. Don’t use a strong solution–maybe a teaspoon in a quart of water. Let the pan sit for 15 minutes and grease and protein–even burnt-on–will wipe off. (If your fingers sting, it’s too strong, dump it and rinse your hands. If it’s right, your fingers will feel slightly slick while working but normal after you rinse them in water. If they still feel slick rinse them in a little vinegar.)

      I remember being taught how to dry dishes, and I use the same pattern for washing them. Each dish shape has its own pattern, and you always do inside then outside. Round things get a spiral, starting at the rim. Square pans get each side, then the bottom. I don’t think which pattern you use matters so long as you have a fixed pattern and use it all the time, so that it keeps you from missing spots.

  17. cmurdock says:

    Anyone have reading recommendations for learning more about theories of morality/ethics such as those referred to in Scott’s “ansible” post?

  18. Thegnskald says:

    Random thought, for any physicists or those with an interest in physics:

    Suppose you put Schrodinger in a box, in which he is performing the Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment. He opens the box at time T0. Is Schrodinger himself now in an entangled state? That is, from an outside observer’s perspective, is he now in two superimposed states, in which he has opened the box to find the cat alive, and also in which he has opened the box to find the cat dead?

    I am seriously baffled by the presumption that an observer moves the universe, rather than the observer finding out which universe they are in.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Related but orthogonal idea:

      There was a theory running around Less Wrong whose name I don’t remember, which suggested that universes re-merge. It appears there may be a simple test for this: The specific details of quantum experiments might prove unusually resistant to memorization, because the version of you that saw the photon go left will sometimes get merged with the version of you that saw the photon go right. The experimental recording would revert to an entangled state of superimposed results.

    • rahien.din says:

      I am seriously baffled by the presumption that an observer moves the universe, rather than the observer finding out which universe they are in.

      I do not ascribe to any version of the anthropic reasoning behind the more implausible interpretations of quantum mechanics. I had a long, long discussion here about quantum immortality. On a broad level, I am as baffled as you.

      But.

      Charitably, I would say that the observer neither moves nor is moved by the universe. The observer is just another feature of the universe, and their observations are just another way in which the universe is universe-ing.

    • Incurian says:

      I harassed a real live physicist about this once, and he told me that most of the people who say they believe in the Copenhagen Interpretation don’t believe in it like in a literal, ontological way – but that it’s a good model for thinking about experiments, i.e. they are actually Instrumentalists/Formalists (or something – IANAP). I don’t know how true this is, and it’s possible I misinterpreted him. This is somewhat confirmed by the wikipedia page on it, which at the top says that indeed the observer collapses the wave function, but at the bottom in the “consequences” section, the CI response to a number of paradoxes is, “well, we actually believe the wave function is just a statement about our map, not the territory,” which seems like a big ole’ Motte and Bailey to me. But again it’s likely I’m misinterpreting or that wikipedia is not a good source for this kind of thing.

      • Brad says:

        “i.e. they are actually Instrumentalists/Formalists”

        Is that the shut up and calculate position?

      • Incurian says:

        Feel free to ignore this. I was watching the plane scene from the dark knight rises on a loop (it’s for school… it’s complicated) and I still had the quantum mechanics wikipedia page open and I had an idea. Thus I give you Quantum Baneposting:

        The flight plan lists “me, my men, Dr Pavel here, but only ONE of you,” yet clearly there are three of them. We say that the three men exist in a superposition of states until Bane crashes the wave function with no survivors.

        The Flight interpretation of the plan suggests Dr Pavel remains in the Wreckage Brother, while the Master interpretation of the plan suggests that he is in the No Survivors.

        CIA exhibits the characteristics of both a particle and a wave. In the famous “double hatch” experiment, we observe CIA acting as a particle when he shoots a prisoner, and we observe CIA acting as a wave when he throws him out of the plane. Bane is understandably confused by CIA’s particle/wave duality.

        The Dark Knight Rises Asymptotically Towards C but can never equal it because that would require infinite energy.

        Feel free to correct/improve upon these, my physics knowledge is not great.

      • The original CI was rather minimalist, and didn’t say much about ontology at all.

        the wikipedia page on it, which at the top says that indeed the observer collapses the wave function,

        No it doesn’t.

    • Skivverus says:

      I am seriously baffled by the presumption that an observer moves the universe, rather than the observer finding out which universe they are in.

      My understanding of this is that “observe” at quantum-relevant scales is more along the lines of “catch and release” than “photograph at a distance”: you can’t exactly take a photo of a photon, after all.
      Also, though (and this is much less justified than the previous statement, more an intuition than backed by anything resembling math), I tend to think of entanglement/collapse as akin to separation/synchronization: “collapse” is when the particle we’re observing becomes entangled with us.
      Since most discussions of entanglement reference “spins”, the metaphor that comes to mind is a pair of gyroscopes, with both “entanglement” and “collapse” being analogous to gluing one to the other while they’re still spinning. If one of the gyroscopes is much larger (i.e.: us) than the other, the overall spin of the system will mostly come from the larger, and may well be an imperceptible change from the inside, so to speak (at least for the larger; I haven’t gone all the way through on this thought experiment to look at it from the smaller perspective).

      • Incurian says:

        you can’t exactly take a photo of a photon

        No?

        • Skivverus says:

          Options for photon detection that I’m aware of (there may be others):
          Catch the photon itself -> collapse
          Bounce some other particle(/wave/etc.) off the photon -> collapse

          Goes for more than just photons, at that; any sufficiently small particle I’d expect to have this issue.

    • Soy Lecithin says:

      The answer to your physics question is unambiguously yes. The Schrodinger + cat system would be in a superposition of “Schrodinger finding dead cat” and “Schrodinger finding live cat.” All the interpretation difficulties come from asking the very different question, “What does Schrodinger experience?”

      • Thegnskald says:

        Well, let’s put Schrodinger-in-a-box inside a conceptual box: Until everyone in the universe learns the result of the experiment, it isn’t completely collapsed. So we have two Schrodingers running around uncollapsed for, for all purposes, forever. Same with every quantum observation.

        Which just looks like MWI to me.

        ETA: Or, rather, that observation isn’t splitting anything – in this case it is already split – but rather revealing which universe you are in. Previously you existed across both; afterwards you exist in only one, and another you exists in the other. “Move” is a bit of an odd way to describe this, granted, but it seems reasonably accurate.

  19. alwhite says:

    I just saw this summary of a new study on depression. The conclusion is that people who take anti-depressants are worse off after 9 years than people who receive other treatment or no treatment at all.

    I’m trying to get a hold of the original study but having difficulty doing so. It was published here.

    Anyone know anything about Karger or have a way to evaluate the study’s findings?

  20. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Can rationalists justify cat ownership?
    There are numerous studies showing health benefits to being a pet owner. However, cats infect you with Toxoplasma gondii. You’re more likely to be allergic to them than to dogs. A dog can be your bodyguard if it’s rational for you to keep a big one. If your living situation requires a small pet, there are many cat-size breeds, including hypoallergenic ones like poodles (and you can get a standard poodle if you’re allergic but it’s otherwise rational to own a big dog).
    So, arguments?

    • rlms says:

      Even small dogs require exercise; cats can roam by themselves.

    • alwhite says:

      A dog doesn’t make me happy and a cat does. That seems like ample justification.

      Dogs are too loud. Dogs require more food. Most dogs can’t be left alone for extended periods of time. Dogs, in general, cost more. Dogs require more training.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      Cat ownership is a risk factor for toxo, but raw meat and soil contact are bigger risk factors.

    • secondcityscientist says:

      Cats are anti-rodent technology. If you have a mouse or rat problem, get a cat. Provides companionship, scares away or kills the vermin. Also the toxo thing has been hugely overblown.

      • JayT says:

        If you get the right breed, dogs are also very effective at rodent control.

        That said, dogs are far more work than cats to take care of and require far more attention, so if you are someone that is out of your house a lot, cats make more sense as a pet.

    • Nornagest says:

      Dogs are way more work.

    • Jaskologist says:

      My odds of being allergic are irrelevant. I already know that I am not allergic.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      Toxoplasma gondii has made promoting cat ownership is one of my terminal values.

    • We have three cats.

      The likelihood of catching toxoplasma from an indoor-only cat is miniscule.

      I have lived with cats for decades, and I’m not allergic to them yet, so probably I will never be.

      Supposedly, petting a cat reduces one’s blood pressure.

      At one point, we allowed our daughter to adopt a puppy, so we now also have a large (~70 lb) dog.

    • keranih says:

      Outside cats infect *everyone* with Toxo – they poop in the soil and the infectious organisms stay in the dirt for a very long time. Cats also – because of the quasi feral lifestyle – do a great deal of damage to the environment in terms of small birds and rodents.

      Also their value as ratters is way overblown. Exclude the rats from the area and clean up the food that the rats are attracted by, and use poison bait in a proper trap.

      Having said all that – cats are a low-input-requirement solution to the need for interactive live companionship. Better than fish, more tolerant of emotional neglect than dogs. Also not likely to move out and take your entire music collection with them.

      And questions like this is why I’ll never be a true rationalist.

    • Telminha says:

      I adopted a stray cat once. He was run over by a bicycle and had trouble walking. Until then, I never thought I would love a cat, but I loved him. He changed my mind about cats being distant, cold creatures; he was very affectionate.

      I like dogs, too. They make good companions, if you live alone or feel depressed; they also protect you. A man under the influence of drugs, invaded my house while my sister and I were watching TV in the living room. My three small (poodle mix) dogs jumped on him and knocked him down, giving us a chance to escape and call the police. In a different occasion, my miniature Schnauzer protected me from two stray dogs that were trying to attack me.

      Dogs are a little more work, but they are worth it. They can be trained. I taught my dog to do high fives, to kiss on command, and other fun things.

      At night, I feel safer. My dog sleeps in my bedroom, and if I hear a noise and he doesn’t bark, I know that’s probably nothing to worry about, if he does, I get up and look for my Klingon Bat’leth that I keep under my bed.

      • Wrong Species says:

        I honestly can’t tell whether you’re joking about the bat’leth. I would geek out if I ever saw one of those in real life.

        • Telminha says:

          It wasn’t a joke.
          I doubt that I would have the skills to save my life with it; it’s not a very practical weapon. However, if I’m going to go down, I might as well do it with style. 🙂

          • Nornagest says:

            “Dismembered burglar found near Star Trek prop. ‘It was a good day to die’, police investigators say.”

          • it’s not a very practical weapon

            My weapon for home defense is a dha, a Burmese sword. It sits conveniently on top of the china cabinet in my dining room.

            A handgun would have some advantages, but having a loaded handgun somewhere I could get at it quickly involves risks I would rather not take, given how unlikely it is that I will ever need a weapon for home defense.

          • Protagoras says:

            @DavidFriedman, A sword is a much more sensible weapon than a bat’leth. The bat’leth is needlessly bulky, heavy, and seems almost designed to turn in the wielder’s hand. I recognize that they want alien weapons to look alien, but honestly given how motivated people have been to kill one another throughout history, any simple hand weapon that doesn’t resemble something that has actually been historically used probably has no historical precedents because it wouldn’t work in practice.

          • @Protagoras:

            I wouldn’t have it there for the purpose if it wasn’t practical.

            On the other hand, there’s a Japanese weapon in my closet that is essentially a spear with a very large and very heavy head, presumably intended as a pole arm. My theory is that it was designed to be dropped point down from the rampart on an attacker, but I admit the possibility that it might be usable by someone much stronger than I am.

            Trying to figure out how to actually use a bat’leth as a weapon would be an interesting project–perhaps think of it as a quarter staff with sharp edges.

        • Nornagest says:

          I’ve seen a few. Larger comics-and-games stores and the type of sword shop you find next to the Orangina stand in suburban malls will sometimes carry them.

          • Telminha says:

            Nornagest, that was a funny headline.
            I found mine at a Renaissance fair. I think they sell them on Etsy, too.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      As someone who believes dogs to be far superior to cats, the fact that they don’t mind being on their own for large periods of time is very relevant for people who live alone.

  21. Protagoras says:

    Another paperclip story? Has somebody infiltrated improbable research?

  22. Randy M says:

    My mother, not yet 60, recently broke her pelvis after a fall, which probably also didn’t do anything good for the chronic back pain. Waking up incontinent, she went to the ER about a week and a half ago. She’s currently working with (at times against) a social worker trying to find a place to move into to recover that her SSI and/or insurance will cover. I’m afraid she’s working her way through the process at the start of the “Very Slow Decay” essay.
    She has 5 children and an ex-husband. I don’t really think any of us are in a great position to move her in. All of us are willing to help out financially, but I fear that getting entangled financially at this point will get us on the hook for a literally ruinous stream of incoming medical bills.
    She mostly has her mind intact, although during a recent visit she seemed to go incoherent in the middle of some sentences throughout the morning; she later explained this as a change in medication, which is plausible but not terribly heartening.
    I’m not yet forty, I was really hoping not to have to deal with this kind of thing so soon, especially since my wife had a surgical disemboweling about three years ago to remove a tumor, which has miraculously been kept at bay. I’m not really looking here for advice, but I’ll take any if it’s good, or … I don’t know. Share a story? Blarg. Sorry for the touchy-feeling stuff. Will get back to low quality commentary and high quality puns in a future thread.

    • anonymousskimmer says:

      That sucks.

      You’re about my age.

      but I fear that getting entangled financially at this point will get us on the hook for a literally ruinous stream of incoming medical bills.

      As long as you don’t sign anything I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be legally liable for any of the bills.

      • Randy M says:

        As long as you don’t sign anything I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be legally liable for any of the bills.

        People have brought up, for example, if we change her address to ours she’ll end up on our doorstep (or more accurately and relevantly, the foot of our stairs) if there isn’t an easy place to find for her, or putting our names on her checking could give the hospital a place to turn for recompense or cause insurance to pay less or something. I’m not certain of this, but it seems plausible and we want to proceed with caution.

    • Iain says:

      Will get back to low quality commentary and high quality puns in a future thread.

      I hate to kick a guy while he’s down, but I really have to disagree with you on the quality of your commentary.

      Not sure there are good answers for this stuff, but if there are, I hope you find them.

      • Randy M says:

        Well, standards are high around here ;).
        Thanks for the well wishes. The quote (that google tells me is Tolstoy’s) “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” comes to mind; bodies are similar, I suppose; we’re all going to fall apart at some point, but the precise way it will occur is unique.
        Losing a parent might be the last rite of passage. You think (hopefully by this point) that you’ve got all the the adult responsibilities, not mastered, but under control for now, then fall into the world of hospitals, convalescence, funerals, eulogies, etc. At the same time, thinking of it that way feels so self-centered, when a loved one is in pretty constant pain. But it’s a good situation for, let’s say, reevaluating one’s opinion of oneself morally. I’ve been keen on the notion that love is more revealed in the long term behavior than the initial swirl of emotions in a relationship.

  23. Kevin C. says:

    From Vogue UK: “Why Millennial Women Are Rejecting The Pill.” The article says that while some may be due to misinformation, a major factor is increased awareness of the side-effects:

    And that’s not even to mention the everyday side effects that many women reportedly experience: mood swings, bloating and weight gain top a long list. In an age where we’re all obsessed with health and wellbeing, young women simply don’t want to settle for so many symptoms. “I decided to go vegan a few years ago as I found myself increasingly aware of what I was putting in my body,” says Abbie, a 26-year-old radio presenter. “At the same time, I was still taking the pill and it started to feel incongruent with my new lifestyle. It was only apt that I started looking for an alternative method of contraception.” Small wonder so many women are rejecting the pill in an emerging cultural backlash against hormonal contraceptives in general to try to reclaim autonomy over their bodies.

    The problem is, the pill hasn’t moved with the times. Since its arrival in Britain in 1961, there’s been a kind of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. But there’s an argument to say that actually, it is broken; cracks that were initially masked by its own social significance are becoming harder to ignore the more ubiquitous it becomes. Combine this with the information revolution – where everyone with access to the internet becomes an overnight expert – and suddenly the cracks are getting wider and wider.

    “I started taking Dianette [a combined pill, containing artificial versions of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone] when I was 19, and was really naive about it. My breasts went from a B to a D cup almost overnight and emotionally I felt all over the place, but it was my first year of university so I put it down to other things,” Molly, 27, remembers. It’s a common experience: a woman feeling emotionally unbalanced, anxious and depressed, and yet assuming for too long that it’s due to everything but taking the pill. In response, some doctors seem all too keen to prescribe antidepressants without considering that the symptoms might be caused by something as simple to remedy as the patient’s contraception. “It was actually my best friend who had been through the same thing and told me to stop taking the pill immediately. I did, and started feeling much happier in a matter of weeks,” says Molly.

    Her sentiments, and those of so many others, are supported by the science. Last year, the results of a study conducted by the University of Copenhagen of more than one million women over the course of 13 years confirmed a significant link between hormonal contraceptives and depression. Women taking combined oral contraceptives were 23 per cent more likely to be treated for it; those on the progestogen-only pill (known as the mini-pill) were 34 per cent more likely. Teens taking the combined pill were discovered to be at greatest risk, with an 80 per cent increased likelihood of being prescribed antidepressants. And yet governing bodies and health professionals are quick to lay blame at social media’s door for the atmospheric rise in mental-health issues, suggesting a “digital detox” as a possible cure.

    It’s a very interesting read (particularly when one contrasts with the controversies about “the Pill” in Japan and the Japan Medical Association’s citations of concern over side-effects).

  24. Kevin C. says:

    So, I’ve been thinking about asking this here, and a comment I saw lurking over on the subreddit* prompted me to post.

    Is it possible for a person to be in a position in life such that they are unable to live a moral life (under virtue or deontological moral theories**)? If so, what should such a person do?

    *”Stop being moral until you can afford it.”
    **I get that most people here tend to consequentialism, but I hold that utilitarian “moral” theories are nothing of the sort, and mostly post-hoc rationalizations for what the “utilitarian” wanted to do anyway in practice.

      • Kevin C. says:

        So in other words, even if it’s through no fault of their own, and there wasn’t anything they could do about it, they’re still evil. So then, there’s the second question: if a person is evil by bad luck, what should he or she do, in terms of morality? Commit suicide, because their continued existence is more evil than the alternative?

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Be as moral as you can afford?

      • Kevin C. says:

        Could you be more specific on how that might work?

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          It would depend on the details of the situation. Suppose you think you’re obliged to help people a lot, but you can’t afford to.

          In that case, you could help people a little. Or at least do your best to not make people’s lives worse, with the intent of helping more when you can.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Is it possible for a person to be in a position in life such that they are unable to live a moral life (under virtue or deontological moral theories**)? If so, what should such a person do?

      Certainly there are moral theories which allow for no-win situations. If they also require that a person preserve their own life, they are completely no-win; there is no answer to “should” under those theories in that situation. A “meta-should” might be to find different moral precepts.

      • Kevin C. says:

        If they also require that a person preserve their own life, they are completely no-win;

        And I suppose if they don’t have such a requirement, then the answer is suicide; if I simply can’t live a moral life, I should kill myself.

        there is no answer to “should” under those theories in that situation.

        So, if you can’t be good, feel free to be evil, then?

        A “meta-should” might be to find different moral precepts.

        First, easier said than done, particularly when the moral precepts are religious. If a Hindu man was worried his inability to find a wife meant being cast into the Put (“Childless”) Naraka for failure to meet his inborn obligation to his ancestors to continue the family line, would you tell him to consider converting to Islam? Would you tell someone who worries that their life of debauchery is incompatible with the teachings of their church to find a different religion that says it’s A-OK? Beyond even religious concerns, this seems a rejection of moral realism. If moral facts are facts about the world, then shouldn’t we select our moral theories based on correctness rather than on how they make us feel. You wouldn’t tell someone who’s unhappy about the implications of general relativity to find “a different theory of gravity”, would you?

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          If the purpose of morality is to make people’s lives better, then it’s not just permissible but incumbent on people to think about their standards if those standards seem to be leading to disaster.

          • Kevin C. says:

            “If the purpose of morality is to make people’s lives better”

            And what if it’s not? What if the purpose is to make people holier? To achieve mokṣa? To embody some set of virtues, even if they make you miserable (perhaps with “stoic perserverence in the face of adversity” being such a virtue)? To carry out a set of non-dischargeable inborn duties? To propagate one’s family line/race/genes?

        • The Nybbler says:

          First, easier said than done, particularly when the moral precepts are religious.

          Nobody said it would be easy. But if one’s set of moral precepts are unfulfillable, the choices are to be in violation of them or to pick a different set. The Kobayashi Maru has no solution within its own framework.

          If a Hindu man was worried his inability to find a wife meant being cast into the Put (“Childless”) Naraka for failure to meet his inborn obligation to his ancestors to continue the family line, would you tell him to consider converting to Islam?

          Certainly not Islam. But his choices are to find a wife and have children, believe he is to be cast into Put Naraka (which at least means he gets another go-around), or to reject Hinduism. Or to become irrational, which is a common enough choice; he could certainly simultaneously believe in Hinduism and that he is not to be cast into Naraka for childlessness, but I don’t think that’s what you’re looking for.

          Would you tell someone who worries that their life of debauchery is incompatible with the teachings of their church to find a different religion that says it’s A-OK?

          I’d probably tell them to cease the debauchery, as that’s clearly within their control.

          Beyond even religious concerns, this seems a rejection of moral realism. If moral facts are facts about the world, then shouldn’t we select our moral theories based on correctness rather than on how they make us feel.

          How do we evaluate this “correctness”? Kant claimed it was impossible to directly know any truth; that’s even more certain for moral truth. I don’t have to reject moral realism to suggest selecting another moral theory in a no-win situation, merely the correctness of that particular theory.

          Perhaps I have a meta-principle that the objectively correct moral theory would have no no-win situations, so finding oneself in one means the theory is broken.

          • Kevin C. says:

            Kant claimed it was impossible to directly know any truth; that’s even more certain for moral truth.

            And plenty dispute Kant’s claim, such as the modern Chinese philosophers who reject what Thomas Metzger calls the “Great Modern Western Epistemological Revolution” (GMWER).

            I don’t have to reject moral realism… merely the correctness of that particular theory.

            But on what basis does one reject its correctness? Because I would argue the mere fact of a “no win” situation does not constitute evidence against the correctness of a moral system.

            Perhaps I have a meta-principle that the objectively correct moral theory would have no no-win situations, so finding oneself in one means the theory is broken.

            And I would argue both that you have no basis for this meta-principle, and that it is incorrect. There is no reason to believe that the objectively correct moral theory doesn’t have no-win situations.

          • The Nybbler says:

            But on what basis does one reject its correctness?

            On what basis did you accept it in the first place? That someone told you that a long time ago, someone else said that God told it to him?

            There is no reason to believe that the objectively correct moral theory doesn’t have no-win situations.

            Then if you find yourself in one, you lose. Whatever that means in that moral theory. Perhaps it merely means that you cannot be perfectly moral, in which case you can accept the flaw and act as morally as possible. Perhaps it means you’re irredeemably evil and no act you can take is any more or less moral than any other, in which case you’re free of moral stricture (though that’s a pretty nasty moral theory).

          • Kevin C. says:

            @The Nybbler

            But on what basis does one reject its correctness?

            On what basis did you accept it in the first place?

            This is what the works of philosophers like Mou Zongsan and Tang Junyi is all about; about how, to paraphrase Metzger quoting Feng Ch’i, how to obtain not just ‘knowledge’, but ‘wisdom’.

            One of Mou’s major criticisms of Kant involves Kant’s regard for free will as theoretical. Herein lies one of Mou’s fundamental beliefs, that morality and the moral life are, contrary to what Kant posits, really real. This presumption stems from Mou’s belief in the metaphysical necessity of the capability of improving one’s moral praxis, and thus Mou develops a moral metaphysics within the tenet of subjectivism. While Kant believes that intellectual intuition is only possible for God, Mou ascribes human beings equal capability of this intuition, which Mou finds superior to Heidegger’s fundamental ontology. Mou rejects Heidegger because according to Kant, true metaphysics is transcendent. Mou further departs from Kant’s philosophy, eventually transforming it into what is commonly referred to as New Confucianism or Mind Confucianism.

            In his metaphysical writings, Mou was mainly interested in how moral value is able to exist and how people are able to know it. Mou hoped to show that humans can directly know moral value and indeed that such knowledge amounts to knowledge par excellence. In an inversion of one of Kant’s terms, he called this project “moral metaphysics” (daode de xingshangxue), meaning a metaphysics in which moral value is ontically primary. That is, a moral metaphysics considers that the central ontological fact is that moral value exists and is known or “intuited” by us more directly than anything else. Mou believed that Chinese philosophy alone has generated the necessary insights for constructing such a moral metaphysics, whereas Kant (who represented for Mou the summit of Western philosophy) did not understand moral knowing because, fixated on theoretical and speculative knowledge, he wrong-headedly applied the same transcendentalism that Mou found so masterful in the Critique of Pure Reason (which supposes that we know a thing not directly but only through the distorting lenses of our mental apparatus) to moral matters, where it is completely out of place.

            Perhaps it means you’re irredeemably evil and no act you can take is any more or less moral than any other, in which case you’re free of moral stricture (though that’s a pretty nasty moral theory).

            Or it can meen you’re irredeemably evil, so the action more moral than any other is to end that evil by ending yourself; that suicide is the right thing to do (c.f. seppuku).

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            Some ethical codes do call for suicide in response to failure, but this imperative comes from within the ethical code, not from some theory-neutral logic.

          • pontifex says:

            If the situation is truly no-win, then by definition suicide is not a win.

        • BBA says:

          would you tell him to consider converting to Islam?

          Not regarding your particular example, but I’ve heard the implication in certain left-leaning circles that disaffected members of the lower Hindu castes frequently converted to Islam because it preached equality and rejected the caste system.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Left-leaning circles WOULD say Islam preaches equality, wouldn’t they?
            Conversely, I’ve heard Hindu apologists say that sati was a Kshatriya response to Islam’s policy of killing all pagan men during jihad and taking their female kin as booty.

          • John Schilling says:

            Left-leaning circles WOULD say Islam preaches equality, wouldn’t they?

            Anyone with a passing familiarity with Islam would say that Islam preaches equality. Equality within Islam, at least, but we are talking about converts.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            It preaches the equality of all Muslims of the same sex, yes. But the hierarchy between men and women, between Muslims and People of the Book, and pagans who deserve death unless they convert isn’t the sort of thing Westerners would laud as equality in any other context.

          • quaelegit says:

            > It preaches the equality of all Muslims of the same sex, yes.

            Sounds more equal than the Hindu caste system then. And more importantly, like a potential way for a low-caste Hindu to improve their circumstances. There wasn’t any comparison with modern Western society in this example, and it’s not necessarily laudatory so say “A looks bigger than B.”

            Re: Sati — Wikipedia says that it was practiced for at least several centuries before Islam existed, but maybe it became more popular in response to Muslim conquests (I know very little about Indian history so can’t say if this is plausible).

    • Wrong Species says:

      Personally, I think that in most cases people can’t really be blamed for doing something that saves their lives or the lives of the people they care about. Of course, I don’t think they can do heinous things and say that they did it for self-preservation. There has to be a reasonable belief that it’s the only option. The classic example would probably be stealing some medicine for your spouse that would save their life and you otherwise would have no access to but I think it should apply to even darker situations. For example, cannibalism is bad. But if you are in a situation where there is no food available and after making a reasonable attempt at finding some, you can’t, then cannibalism becomes morally permissible.

      Of course, the more people involved, the less I think this reasoning applies. If you have to choose between saving your own life or the life of a stranger, then there is nothing wrong with choosing yourself. But if your options were either save your own life or the lives of a billion, then you are obligated to the save the billion.

      • Kevin C. says:

        I was thinking less of “committing morally wrong thing to save one’s own life”, and more “failing to fulfill a moral duty/obligation due to inability to do so.”

    • Machine Interface says:

      It is possible for a person to be in a position in life such that are unable to live a moral life for their entire life, if free will doesn’t exist. Then a child molester, a serial killer, a human trafficker, a dictator have no choice or say in acting how they act, in being what they are — their situation is entirely the mechanical, deterministic product of everything that happened to them until that point. Whether their situation will change or not is not actually up to them, even if they experience a desire to change it, even if that desire leads to actions meant to change it.

      If there’s no free will we are not actually the instigators of our thoughts and actions, but merely their witness. We have merely the illusion of agency — when we move our arm, our neural network settles in an “arm moving” configuration before we actually become aware of the desire and action to move our arm, the neural aspect of “arm moving” occures *before* the moment where we consciously think we decide to move our arm. This is even more striking we thoughts: we never decide that we will think about something. If you say to yourself “I will think of elephants in one second”, you were already thinking of elephants before that thought even began to be consciously formulated.

      In that perspective, if talking about morality still even makes sense, then whether one is good or evil is purely a matter of luck. But from here of course it is really tempting to follow the moral rabbit into its anti-realist warren.

    • Nick says:

      Is it possible for a person to be in a position in life such that they are unable to live a moral life (under virtue or deontological moral theories**)?

      For Catholics, if I understand your question right, no. God never expects you to do anything you truly can’t; if it seems that way, then you’re mistaken either about your abilities or about what you’re being asked to do. Of course, there are a lot of hard teachings in Catholicism and lots of people obviously commit material and even formal sins all the time. But there are all sorts of things that can reduce a person’s culpability for doing wrong, even to zero: the question of whether a person can be held responsible for doing wrong is mostly an independent question from whether the act itself is wrong.

      If your question, however, is how to avoid the wrong acts themselves, that’s often a question of psychology, motivation and akrasia, and so on.

      • Kevin C. says:

        Well, first, I’m concerned less in wrong action than wrong inaction — failure to fulfill a positive, non-dischargeable obligation. Second, for those of us who aren’t Catholics…?

        • Nick says:

          Second, for those of us who aren’t Catholics…?

          Does not compute! Really though, not sure whether you’re soliciting advice here or perspectives or what. I’m happy to talk Catholic moral theology, but if it’s not what you’re looking for and not what anyone wants to read, that’s fine.

          To the point, it’s hard to give a general answer here without knowing what kind of obligation it is. Like, if the obligation is something like “take care of your kids,” which I’d say qualifies as positive and non-dischargeable (in the usual circumstances, at least), there’s a lot of kinds of failure with varying culpability: like “I won’t take care of them because I don’t love them,” “I will do the least possible to take care of them, knowing that is insufficient,” “I won’t take care of them because I’m completely broke,” are all very different situations. I think it’s defeasibly obvious that you should do what you can (cf. Nancy’s “be as moral as you can afford” for a sufficient broad meaning of afford), and if that’s not very much, so be it.

          I have to emphasize though that if this is getting into motivation/akrasia territory, that’s a very different thing, and I’m not sure talk about what is and isn’t moral is even very helpful or relevant there, e.g. I’m pretty sure “I won’t take care of them because I’m too depressed to hold a job” is not susceptible to this kind of moral judgment.

          • Kevin C. says:

            I have to emphasize though that if this is getting into motivation/akrasia territory, that’s a very different thing, and I’m not sure talk about what is and isn’t moral is even very helpful or relevant there, e.g. I’m pretty sure “I won’t take care of them because I’m too depressed to hold a job” is not susceptible to this kind of moral judgment.

            Can you elaborate upon this? Because you seem to be saying that knowing what the right thing is, but being unable to do it due to lack of drive/motivation/willpower is not morally condemnable, when it seems pretty clear to me that it is. Weakness does not excuse sin, does it?

          • Nick says:

            As Scott and others have said, there’s a sort of continuum between “character trait” and “mental illness,” and I’m talking there about the mental illness end of that. This is complicated by a lot of things, and I can write a fuller response after work, but basically while I’d agree that some people have a sort of “weakness of the will” I think this is better modeled as not wanting to expend the willpower you do have. I’ve certainly felt this before: the knowledge, borne from at least some experience in this, that if I so chose and I worked at it I could give up x and y and z, indefinitely even—I just considered it too much of a hassle (and sometimes this has moral consequences, when it’s not giving up sweets or something). It’s my (defeasible!) understanding that akrasia is really not like this; it’s more like a chronic lack of willpower.

            I should note that that’s my own take on this, rather than that of moral theology. It certainly has a lot to say about sloth and acedia, but I think the vice has to be distinguished here from what, in the case of severe depression for instance, is more a medical phenomenon. This is reflected in Catholic teaching where, for instance, even suicide does not necessarily bar one from eternal life, because acedia is only one path to suicide.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Nick

            It certainly has a lot to say about sloth and acedia

            And Catholic moral theology is not alone in that; Buddhism lists thīna-middha “sloth-and-torpor” as one of the “Five Hindrances” that block progress in meditation and mindfulness.

          • Nick says:

            Kevin,

            Yeah, absolutely. And thanks for the pointer; I don’t know much about Buddhism, unfortunately, but these Five Hindrances (and the related analysis of “mental factors”) sound really interesting.

    • Skivverus says:

      Personally, this is one of the main reasons I think of deontology and consequentialism as two sides of the same coin: acts may well be good or bad based on their consequences, but which of those consequences count as good or bad is a deontological judgment.
      Conversely, though, not all acts are equally good or equally bad – murder is worse than stealing, for instance, and therefore it is theoretically possible (and statistically necessary, due to the size of the world and the law of large numbers) to do the moral math and determine which known course of action is most-good/least-bad.
      Note that moral math is often enough a nontrivial calculation for “judge” and/or “priest” to be a profession in pretty much all advanced societies.

      • Kevin C. says:

        Conversely, though, not all acts are equally good or equally bad – murder is worse than stealing, for instance, and therefore it is theoretically possible (and statistically necessary, due to the size of the world and the law of large numbers) to do the moral math and determine which known course of action is most-good/least-bad.

        Actually, one of my objections to consequentialism is that for non-trivial issues, it generally isn’t possible, especially in practice, to “do the moral math”. But then, I tend towards virtue ethics. And as I’ve seen it described before, if consequentialism is concerned with good and evil outcomes, and deontology with good and evil actions, then virtue ethics is concerned with good and evil people; it’s about what used to be known as “character.”

        Note that moral math is often enough a nontrivial calculation for “judge” and/or “priest” to be a profession in pretty much all advanced societies.

        And when one’s moral view does not have any “priests” (or at least, none readily available) from which to get advice?

        • Skivverus says:

          for non-trivial issues, it generally isn’t possible, especially in practice, to “do the moral math”.

          Certainly not to infinite precision, but infinite precision is not, in fact, required in the math here: a skyscraper may require more precision in its engineering than a bike shed, but it’s still not infinitely precise.

          And when one’s moral view does not have any “priests” (or at least, none readily available) from which to get advice?

          Build only bike sheds. But do start building.
          That is, gain what precision you can, and act with humility matching your lack of certainty.
          (Both parts of that conjunction can, and frequently are, done poorly, resulting in people confidently doing a/the wrong thing, getting analysis paralysis and failing to do a/the right thing, and similar)

          • Kevin C. says:

            The “computation problem” is not the only reason I reject consequentialism, though.

            Build only bike sheds. But do start building.

            I’m not sure what exactly this means. Especially, what would this mean in the context of virtue moral theories?

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      There’s no generic answer to this question; what you should do depends on the definition of ‘should’, which comes from your moral theory.

      Certainly, there’s no a priori logical assurance that you aren’t just screwed under a given theory. If your moral theory is “Everything decision Kevin C. makes is morally wrong”, then deontologically it has no guidance for you (you might think about killing yourself to minimize how many decisions you make, but that’s consequentialist thinking–the decision to kill yourself would still be wrong).

      That said, I’m pretty sure most deontological theories as actually practiced are severable, in that if you fail to follow some of the rules, you should still follow others. They might say all options in a given situation are wrong–though I think most people would just assume the spirit of the rules licenses the least bad option–but at worst you should just accept that you failed there and do your best going forward. Virtue ethics, as I understand it, tends to say you should be as virtuous as possible, rather than setting up a pass/fail threshold of virtue.

      • Kevin C. says:

        but at worst you should just accept that you failed there and do your best going forward.

        But what if your failure is an “irredeemable” one, from which there is no “going forward”, morally speaking?

        • hyperboloid says:

          I have always found that some of the clearest thinking on moral matters came from the Stoics.

          They held that it was an essential component of virtue to master what they called the the “discipline of desire”. It was there name for a psychological method of dealing with misfortune by accepting that some things of are out of our control, and directing all of our efforts towards the cultivation of those inner moral goods which will always be available to us, no matter what our material circumstances.

          They believed, and I agree with them on this, that since ethics was concerned with the pursuit of these spiritual goods, that exist independent of any external conditions, virtue consists only in doing all that we can to live wise, just, and courages lives. The notion that someone has a moral obligation to to do something beyond their ability is nonsense. One would not say that a man in a wheelchair has ought to jump into the water to try and save the victims of a ship wreck, or that I ought to cure cancer. “Ought” implies “can”.

          There will always be courses of action that are not real options for us be because were not smart, or strong, or lucky enough, to pursue them. If we are to live meaningful lives we must accept this, and devote ourselves to some other useful purpose. It would a very rare circumstance indeed where the only reaming option available would to end one’s life.

          Do you think you have failed to fulfill some important obligation? Because, the way you’re talking , it kind of sounds like you might be thinking about hurting yourself, and suicide is nine hundred and ninety nine times out of a thousand the wrong answer. It is almost always a permanent solution to a temporary problem .

          • Kevin C. says:

            “Ought” implies “can”.

          • Kevin C. says:

            Sorry, hit the wrong button there, and the “edit” option isn’t showing up.

            “Ought” implies “can”.

            I disagree. One can be morally obligated to do something which is outside the limits of one’s abilities and circumstances.

            There will always be courses of action that are not real options for us be because were not smart, or strong, or lucky enough, to pursue them.

            And sometimes those courses are the only moral ones, with all available ones being merely different sorts of evil. See the point on moral luck: one can, through no fault of one’s own, be irredeemably evil.

        • hyperboloid says:

          Now I’m worried, because I asked you a straightforward question about whether you were thinking about taking your own life, and you haven’t answered me.

          If you are seriously contemplating suicide then you are almost certainly making an enormous mistake. In the short term, the national suicide prevention hot line number is 1-800-273-8255; in the long term you should seek the services of a therapist, a social worker, a priest, or other professionals who can help you work through whatever problems you are having.

          one can, through no fault of one’s own, be irredeemably evil

          I don’t think this is true. I see evil as a kind of psychological tendency to willful act in a way that is destructive of the good. Those who are truly irredeemably evil are aware of this tendency and have no desire to change it. If you recognize an impulse towards cruelty, or injustice, or cowardice in yourself, and you desire to change, than you are not irredeemable. If you do not have this tendency, and you genuinely desire to do the right thing but are prevented by circumstance, then your not evil at all, you’re simply unlucky.

          imagine three people. The first is a unrepentant psychopathic killer. He is aware of the suffering his victims, the injustice of his actions, and the harm he does to society, and he has no intention of changing. The second is a man with a drinking problem, and a short temper who has committed manslaughter by killing a man in a bar fight. When he is sober, and clear headed he deeply regrets his actions, feels sorry for the family of the man he killed, and desire to change as a person. The third is a peaceable man who has a sincere respect for human life. One night as he is driving home, through no fault of his own, he strikes a pedestrian and kills him.

          The first man is irredeemably evil; the second is a deeply flawed, and violent man, who is nevertheless capable of reform; and the third is not evil at all, as there is no innate tendency in him to take innocent life, he was simply a victim of chance.

          The first man should turn himself into the authorities and be executed for his crimes (though his very nature means he will never do this). The second man needs to give up drinking, make amends to the family of his victim, address what ever it is that leads him to violence, and pay his debt to society. The third man just needs to move on with his life, as he simply hasn’t done anything wrong.

          Do you think that you’ve failed to meet some fundamental moral obligation?

          If your failure is because of some deficit of character on your part, than you have already recognized the problem and can begin to make a change in the direction of your life. If instead it is due to circumstances outside of your control, than you are at no moral fault and you should simply move on to doing something productive with your life.

          • Kevin C. says:

            Now I’m worried, because I asked you a straightforward question about whether you were thinking about taking your own life, and you haven’t answered me.

            Would anyone answer that question with anything other than “no”?

            in the long term you should seek the services of a therapist

            I’m sure I’ve mentioned here before that I’m on psychiatric meds, and that I see a therapist. In fact, I see my therapist every 2-3 weeks, and have an upcoming appointment next week, the day after my birthday.

            then your not evil at all, you’re simply unlucky.

            Did you see the link Douglas Knight posted above on “moral luck“? The central point is that you can be subject to moral judgement for things that are outside your control, for being “unlucky”. From the intro to the article:

            Moral luck occurs when an agent can be correctly treated as an object of moral judgment despite the fact that a significant aspect of what she is assessed for depends on factors beyond her control. Bernard Williams writes, “when I first introduced the expression moral luck, I expected to suggest an oxymoron” (Williams 1993, 251). Indeed, immunity from luck has been thought by many to be part of the very essence of morality. And yet, as Williams (1981) and Thomas Nagel (1979) showed in their now classic pair of articles, it appears that our everyday judgments and practices commit us to the existence of moral luck. The problem of moral luck arises because we seem to be committed to the general principle that we are morally assessable only to the extent that what we are assessed for depends on factors under our control (call this the “Control Principle”). At the same time, when it comes to countless particular cases, we morally assess agents for things that depend on factors that are not in their control. And making the situation still more problematic is the fact that a very natural line of reasoning suggests that it is impossible to morally assess anyone for anything if we adhere to the Control Principle.

            Your position seems to be that of the “Control Principle.” Read the article for why Williams and Nagel reject it.

            The third man just needs to move on with his life, as he simply hasn’t done anything wrong.

            But he has; he’s taken an innocent life, and per “moral luck”, he is still an “object of moral judgment” despite the fact that said event was beyond his control.

            you should simply move on to doing something productive with your life.

            But this, of course, raises the question of what constitutes “something productive”, and whether one has the capacity to do any of it.

          • Bernard Williams writes, “when I first introduced the expression moral luck, I expected to suggest an oxymoron”

            The idea, if not the terminology, goes back at least to Adam Smith. His discussion in The Theory of Moral Sentiments struck me as one of the better treatments.

            I think the context in which it’s easiest to see the idea is when the luck consists of not doing evil. Imagine two drivers, both careless. One runs down a small child due to his carelessness. Another, equally careless, has the good luck to miss a small child. We are inclined to condemn the first much more than the second, and the second might well feel enormous relief that his carelessness did not make him a killer.

            For an example the other way, suppose you know someone was a concentration camp guard in Nazi Germany. You will think badly of him. Suppose you conclude, after some research, that almost any German brought up in Nazi Germany and offered the job would have taken it. Do you now expand your low view of him to all Germans brought up in Nazi Germany, most of whom didn’t have the bad luck to be offered that job? To all Germans, most of whom didn’t have the bad luck to be brought up in Nazi Germany and offered the job? To all humans, most of whom … ?

  25. johan_larson says:

    Anyone following Stranger Things 2 on Netflix?

    I just finished watching episode 5. Things started kind of slow, but by now we’re right in the thick of things and I’m loving it. Still, the government sure was willing to speak very frankly to two outsiders. And three people who should have known better jumped into weird creepy places without taking any real precautions at all.

    (I suggest we keep the discussion a bit vague because of spoilers.)

    • Nick says:

      I binged it over Saturday and Sunday and I thought it was pretty good. I’d say it’s not obviously better or worse than season 1; in particular, I think the last two episodes are very good, but I’m still ambivalent about episode seven. A few assorted thoughts, which I’ll try to keep vague as well, but spoilers in rot13 because I’m sorry, I’m sick of not being able to discuss the actual show with anyone:

      1. I liked the interaction between Hop and Eleven this season. Hard to watch sometimes, but I thought it was well done.

      2. The casting and acting is good as usual! I was not a fan of Bob at the beginning of the season, but he quickly grew on me, and among other consequences Winona Ryder gets scenes that aren’t just her screaming or crying about her son. The new head scientist at the lab is a pretty good foil for last year’s. And Will’s actor, Noah Schnapp, who hardly got to do anything last season, is front and center this time, and he handles it well.

      3. I like the weird creepy places we get this season. It wasn’t exactly what I was predicting, but not too far off, and if anything I think I like this better. V cerqvpgrq nyvra fyhtf va gur jngre fhccyl zrnag gur ybpny navzny cbchyngvba, naq znlor rira fbzr bs gur crbcyr, tb nyy obql fangpuref ba hf. Jr qvqa’g trg gung, ohg gur funqbj zbafgre qbrf unir n fcl va gurve zvqfg!

      4. I remain iffy on Max. Her older brother Billy was a more solid addition to the story, really, playing the role of bully that Steve was supposed to play before everyone decided they liked Joe Keery too much for that. 😛 And yes, Steve Harrington is the best.

      5. They were definitely trying to balance out the focus on Mike last season with a focus on Will, Lucas, and Dustin this season. In fact, Mike spends about half this season practically in the background of Will’s scenes, acting as moral support. Some reviews have complained about this, but even aside from shifting focus to the other boys, I think it was plausibly character-motivated: Finn Wolfhard refers to him this season as “emo Mike,” and it’s shown he’s been acting out since Eleven’s disappearance, with no girl to impress, no problem to solve, no friend to help. Mike is the first to notice when Will’s problems worsen; he’s exactly where he wants to be this season (I mean, aside from with Eleven!).

      6. Nancy and Jonathan’s plot arc is pretty dumb, plotting-wise. I gotta say, I like the character they interact with during the latter half of that, though, and everything at his place is great.

      7. Reiterating that I’m ambivalent about episode seven. I don’t have a problem with the new character there, and in fact I like the cast of that episode; I would be surprised if they don’t return in later seasons. But one review has touted that the conflict of that episode was too simplistic, and I’m inclined to agree; “crefba jub jnagf iratrnapr” if “crefba jub qbrfa’g” vf cerggl gverq, naq vg jbhyq unir orarsvgrq sebz n ovg zber pbzcyrkvgl, tvira gurl unq n jubyr ubhe gb rkcyber guvf.

      • johan_larson says:

        The cast is already big and complicated. For a while there we were following seven plot threads: Hopper alone, Joyce/Bob, Dustin/Steve, Eleven alone, Nancy/Jonathan, Max/Lucas, Mike/Will. I don’t think they need to add any more, which inclines me to believe the crew we met in episodes one and seven are targeted for a spinoff, with maybe an occasional crossover episode.

        I agree the journalist/conspiracy theorist is a great character. Let’s hope they bring him back for season three.

        • Nick says:

          I’d say we’re following even more than that! There’s a Hopper/Eleven plot that’s mostly separate from what the two do individually through the season, there’s the Billy/Steve plot, and Nancy/Jonathan’s plot is at least two in one. And I’m pretty sure at least one of those is not actually resolved by end of season, just getting a 12-month ceasefire at best.

          EDIT: And I should mention, the crew being a spinoff is interesting and hadn’t occurred to me. But I don’t see it as very likely, and to be honest I doubt I’d watch a show centered on them. I think they’ll simply come back in a later season.

      • cassander says:

        I binged it over Saturday and Sunday and I thought it was pretty good. I’d say it’s not obviously better or worse than season 1;

        It think this really sums it up. More of the same, and given that the same was stranger things one, that’s pretty good. If I had one complaint, it’s that the kids are too smart/collected and the adults a bit too dumb, but that’s almost a genre convention when you make all your main characters kids, so I’m willing to let it slide.

        • Nick says:

          Yeah. One thing I give them credit for—pace several reviews, I think it called back to things in the first season without being derivative of them. In particular, Joyce decked out the Byers’ household with wacky stuff again, but it was very different: she didn’t make it, it’s a puzzle rather than a way to talk to Will, and she’s not the one to figure it out, just for three. That was the feature I was most worried would just be season 1 all over again, and it wasn’t.

        • johan_larson says:

          Yeah, the parents are pretty clued out. Ted Wheeler, in particular, comes across as a doofus. Republicans, you know? But if the parents had decided to get involved at some point, it would quickly have become a very different show, with the kids promptly sidelined.

          • cassander says:

            I actually like Wheeler’s total obliviousness. They’ve committed to that as a character trait, and it works. I have bigger issues with stuff like Ubccre whzcvat vagb n greevslvat ubyr jvgubhg gryyvat nalbar, be gur trareny geraq bs rira gur pyhrq va nqhygf yvxr Ubccre be Wblpr svthevat guvatf bhg ynfg, vs ng nyy. V ernyyl yvxr gur vqrn bs gur xvqf vagrecergvat rirelguvat guebhtu gur yraf bs pynffvp Q&Q, ohg V’q cersre vs vg yrq gurz ng yrnfg n yvggyr nfgenl fbzrgvzrf.

            All in all, though, it’s a very minor complaint.

    • Urstoff says:

      I’ll watch it at some point, but I really wish it had been an anthology series.

      • cassander says:

        I’m curious how you think it would work as an anthology series.

        • Urstoff says:

          Anthology on the season scale (ala American Horror Story), not the episode scale.

          • cassander says:

            I get that, but what’s the theme? Completely new town and new set of mysteries every season? Do you stay in the 80s or skip around time-wise?

          • Nick says:

            There’s plenty more 80s scifi stuff to take inspiration from if they want to do an anthology, but personally I love these characters too much to want to move on.

          • Urstoff says:

            Stranger Things clearly has a strong aesthetic, and surely you could keep that aesthetic while telling other quasi-paranormal stories in other settings. So yes, jump to different locations with different mysteries. Keep the period the same (at least for the first couple of seasons).

      • Odovacer says:

        Yeah, I would also prefer anthology now. I enjoyed both seasons of Stranger Things, but I think it’s time to move on. I even like the main characters overall, but I don’t think there’s much more for them to do. How many more mysteries are the kids going to solve, while the adults do little to nothing? Aging the characters will also remove some of the nostalgia factor (unless they want to go to 80’s slashers/John Hughes route as the kids become teenagers). And when the same characters go on too many adventures, it can get a bit silly and redundant.*

        I also was pretty ambivalent about most of the new characters introduced. I did appreciate Sean Astin, but thanks to shows like this and It mean my nostalgia meter is almost full, I’m not sure how much more I can take.

        *I mean, I think one or two adventures is plenty for people.

      • moonfirestorm says:

        I kind of thought this would be a problem ever since I saw the trailer. S1’s monster had this really creepy aesthetic where it played like a standard horror movie monster, while hinting at some level of intelligence, or paranormal capability. You legitimately didn’t know what it was capable of, or what to expect from it.
        That worked really well, for exactly one season.

        I kind of lost it when I realized (S2 plot spoilers):
        Gurl’er whfg Mret! Gur jubyr frnfba vf yvgrenyyl 1980f Greena if Mret! Pbzcyrgr jvgu perrc va gur ghaaryf, qrzbqbtf gung orunir cerggl zhpu rknpgyl yvxr Mretyvatf, n fyvtugyl-fcbbxvre Birezvaq, naq n fyvtugyl-zbqvsvrq Vasrfgrq Greena qrny jvgu Jvyy.

        Zrnajuvyr, jr unir n cflpuvp tvey genvarq ol gur zvyvgnel jbexvat jvgu n tevmmyrq byq Znefuny gb gel naq svtug gurz bss. V’z pnyyvat vg abj: Frnfba 3 jvyy unir Ryrira trg cbffrffrq, naq fur’yy orpbzr gur arj Dhrra bs gur Qrzbfjnez.

    • johan_larson says:

      Starting points for next season:

      1. Wnar xabjf “cncn” vf fgvyy nyvir. Fur’yy ybbx sbe uvz.
      2. Gjb punenpgref (Qhfgva naq Ubccre) pnhtug chssonyyf va gur snpr va gur ghaaryf. Gurl’er cebonoyl vasrpgrq jvgu fbzrguvat. Gung jvyy or gur Zvaq Synlre’f jnl onpx va.
      3. Fbzrguvat jvyy pbzr bs gur ybir gevnatyr orgjrra Anapl, Fgrir, naq Wbanguna.

      S3 would be a good time to expand the scope of the show beyond one small town. Maybe something will go really wrong somewhere else and the government will come hat in hand to Hopper and Eleven asking for help.

  26. Kevin C. says:

    Were the forty-seven Rōnin mentally ill?

    The psychological literature I’ve encountered seems to hold that suicide and suicidal ideation are universally a product of depression, substance abuse, or some other form of mental illness or disturbance. But I find I must put forth the apparent counterexample of seppuku. Hence, the above question.

    • Aapje says:

      Forty-six of the 47 Rōnin didn’t actually have a choice between life and death. They had a choice between execution and seppuku. Execution would mark them as common criminals and seppuku was not actually much worse of an experience*, so they chose to die in a way that would be most honorable. The 47th Rōnin was pardoned and didn’t commit seppuku, but died of old age.

      Obligatory seppuku was the more typical occurance. Voluntary seppuku was rare and was usually done to avoid capture, torture or loss of honor. This logically results from the very common belief that there are fates worse than death. This is strongly culturally defined and certainly doesn’t require mental issues.

      * By this time in history, seppuku had become highly ritualized, where the kaishakunin would decapitate the samurai directly after the abdominal cut was made & in some cases, without any cut at all.

      • John Schilling says:

        Forty-six of the 47 Rōnin didn’t actually have a choice between life and death.

        They presumably had the choice at the time they pursued vengeance for their former master, when the expectation was that they would go off and be bandits somewhere. They may have had the choice to flee after killing Lord Kira, though this is less clear.

        But if there was a choice, it was a choice between life as outlaws, and honorable death. Or, I suppose, dishonorable death, but with no particular advantage to that one. And wasn’t someone here asking about what to do if it appears that no path leads to a morally righteous life?

        • Aapje says:

          @John Schilling

          Sure, but this can all be explained by a belief that the paths they eschewed were a fate worse than death. That this story is legendary in Japan shows that the choice made are/were revered in that culture.

          • John Schilling says:

            The impression I get is that the behavior of the 47 is considered laudable precisely because the easy alternative was so appealing, that going outlaw would have been more “meh, sucks, but them’s the breaks and we can live with it” than “intolerable fate worse than death!”

            Mind you, I’ve only actually discussed this with two Japanese people, and both of them actually at the Ako shrine so maybe not a representative sample. But the history and mythology of honor cultures from Sparta to Klingon is that nobody really expects the average warrior (and somehow it’s always warriors) to treat dishonor as a Fate Worse than Death.

          • Aapje says:

            Yeah, so it is direction pushing.

    • Incurian says:

      I think most psychological literature will tend to be Western in origin, and if you were to read what the Japanese have to say about it you would find they have a different perspective (source: one of my teachers is a anthropologist who studied Japanese people, and has brought up this exact topic before). This is probably an important thing to keep in mind for all social sciences.

      • Kevin C. says:

        I think most psychological literature will tend to be Western in origin,

        And isn’t that a problem in and of itself?

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          It’s not a problem for Westerners. Maybe it would be for the Japanese but I trust that their psychologists are more than capable of dealing with things on their end.

          The important thing to remember is that psychology isn’t really “science” in the sense of natural sciences. The social sciences don’t, and arguably can’t, produce results that are universally applicable. And psychology is definitely a social science.

          Eventually neurology will be able to explain all of this stuff in a rigorous way but until then psychology is better than nothing.

          • Kevin C. says:

            Maybe it would be for the Japanese but I trust that their psychologists are more than capable of dealing with things on their end.

            Actually, my understanding is that there are serious problems regarding mental health care in Japan, and that one of the issues generally cited as contributing is that all their psychiatrists are essentially “Western-trained” (not in that they necessarily studied outside Japan, but that the substance of their education is exclusively in “Western in origin”), and subject to serious “cultural mismatch” on issues like this one. (Another is heavy stigma associated with mental illness, and by extension, with those who treat it.) Some things to read on this might be this NY Times piece, this Economist piece, and this (somewhat old) American Journal of Occupational Therapy article [pdf]. From the last:

            The country’s only culturally specific therapeutic adaptation has been Morita Therapy, intended for use with obsessional states and interpersonal phobias, which are fairly common because of a tendency to internalize conflict. Based upon principles of Zen existentialism, Morita technique involves four progressive phases of intervention. The first involves total bed rest and isolation for a initial period of 5 to 7 days. “During this period the patient is not allowed to smoke, read, talk, work or engage in any activity other than biological functions. He is instructed to sleep, suffer and worry with complete acceptance of any experiences that might occur,” (5, p 75) and is encouraged to be totally dependent upon the doctor. Morita deals neither with the unconscious nor with life history. It aims instead at accepting one’s fears and not fighting against symptoms. This approach is highlighted in the interpretive comments of Dr. Morita, written in a patient’s diary: “You should become the world’s most well known shy person, showing your face can blush more than anyone else’s. Don’t fight against having a blushing face.” (5, p 75) The active keeping of a diary and progressive involvement in graded, increasingly complex tasks of daily living characterize the remaining three phases. Re-entry to the community is the ultimate goal.

            The important thing to remember is that psychology isn’t really “science” in the sense of natural sciences. The social sciences don’t, and arguably can’t, produce results that are universally applicable.

            But where does (non-psychiatric) medicine fit in on this “social science to natural science” spectrum? The rest of medicine doesn’t have this sort of “valid only for Westerners” issue — at least, not to a degree anywhere close.

          • JayT says:

            Eventually neurology will be able to explain all of this stuff in a rigorous way but until then psychology is better than nothing.

            How certain of this are we?

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @Kevin C.,

            The Morita system sounds interesting.

            I can’t read your response to my comment about psychology because of the nested quotes: all I see is a vertical tower of letters.

            @JayT,

            Of what?

            If you’re asking whether neurology will eventually be able to explain human behavior, that seems pretty certain. Barring civilizational collapse or a Lysenko-esque purge of neurologists the field will continue to advance in it’s understanding.

            If you’re asking whether psychology is better than nothing, I don’t know. I had been under the impression that even placebo treatment was better than no treatment but after a cursory search it looks like that isn’t necessarily borne out by the evidence.

          • JayT says:

            Yeah, I was asking if psychology is actually better than nothing. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen evidence that it is (I haven’t looked much though), and my personal experience is that it doesn’t seem to improve the lives of people I know that go to them.

          • Kevin C. says:

            Since I’m past the edit window, the last portion of my comment, with corrected blockquote tags.

            The important thing to remember is that psychology isn’t really “science” in the sense of natural sciences. The social sciences don’t, and arguably can’t, produce results that are universally applicable.

            But where does (non-psychiatric) medicine fit in on this “social science to natural science” spectrum? The rest of medicine doesn’t have this sort of “valid only for Westerners” issue — at least, not to a degree anywhere close.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @Kevin C.,

            I’m a biomedical scientist
            (depending on the funding agency) so take this with a grain of salt, but I’d say we’re firmly in the natural sciences. I trained as a biochemist and the work I’m doing is pretty much just standard cell and molecular biology with an eye towards medical applications.

            Some of my colleagues here research psychopharmacology and neurology. There are, presumably, also clinical psychiatric labs (it’s a big institution). But you won’t find any psychological research because that’s an entirely different discipline.

            Psychiatrists are medical doctors, and the medical field is increasingly based on legit science. Psychologists aren’t a part of that.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Nabil ad Dajjal

            Psychiatrists are medical doctors, and the medical field is increasingly based on legit science. Psychologists aren’t a part of that.

            But psychiatrists, including apparently most (Western-trained) Japanese ones, also seem to take the (Western-culture-centric) view of “suicide as always disordered”, with no place for seppuku or similar Japanese cultural differences.

  27. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Do very rich people live longer than people who are reasonably well off?

  28. JayT says:

    It’s often brought up that, despite barriers, Asians and Jews in America are two of the richest ethnicities. Has anyone ever looked into how much of that is due to them living in high income areas? Asians tend to cluster on the West Coast , for example; almost a third of Asian-Americans live in California alone. So if you are flipping burgers in San Francisco you’re going to have a much higher income than if you were flipping burgers in Biloxi, but obviously the Californian making more money doesn’t tell us much because of the differences of where the job is located.

    I did some quick number crunching, and, by my count, about 70% of Asians and Jews live in states that have above average income, as compared to only 41% of the country as a whole living in those states. It would seem that this could explain a fairly large part of the differences.

    Of course, there is a definite chicken/egg situation going on here, and I did no analysis on what numbers I looked at. I’m mainly curious if anyone has actually done more than a cursory look at this.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Interesting in one way, but not another. Adjusting for standard of living, Asians aren’t better off than white people. But they are still significantly better of than black and Hispanic people.

        • Chalid says:

          You can’t prove it from the data in the article, but it suggests that Asians are worse off than whites in the same geographical area. (US-wide adjusted Asian income = US-wide white adjusted income; if white adjusted income is higher in urban areas than in rural areas then it will exceed Asian adjusted income.)

      • dndnrsn says:

        He uses the term “Asian-American” – are the people polled citizens-only, or is he including non-citizen legal residents in that category? He’s using census data, and other survey data, and as far as I can tell the US census includes legal (but not illegal) immigrants – correct me if I’m wrong on this. Not sure about the other surveys.

        If he is including both citizens and non-citizens, that might be an obvious area of difference. An immigrant is more likely to have their earning power undermined (relative to their potential absent such factors) by language/cultural factors, and a far lower % of US immigrants right now are white than was once the case. There are some high-earning immigrants (eg, tech workers on employment visas generally make higher than average income) but are there enough to balance out immigrants limited to generally lower-income jobs by language/cultural barriers?

  29. sandoratthezoo says:

    Exponential curves are self-similar. There is no “hockey stick” bend in an exponential curve. I feel like people don’t get this.

    So what I’m saying is that if you think that technology increases exponentially, and that over the last 100 years we’ve had slow growth and over the next 20 years we’ll have near-vertical growth, then you should also think that in 1900, you would have looked back over the last 100 years and thought that we had slow growth and over the next 20 years you’d have near-vertical growth. And you should also think that in 2100, you’ll look back at 2000-2100 and think that it had slow growth and that the next 20 years would have near-vertical growth.

    Referring to a “bend in the hockey stick” of an exponential curve can have meaning if there is an absolute range to the y-axis that’s important. For example, if you are talking about, like, percentage of GDP that you spend on something, then obviously you only care about the 0-100 range (or probably 0-50 or less) and if something is growing at an exponential rate, then there may be a meaningful hockey-stick effect. But if you’re talking about something abstract, like intelligence or technology, then any chunk of the graph of width N and with the height set to put the minima of the graph on the bottom and the top of the graph on the top will be literally identical to any other chunk of the graph of width N. Like, without seeing the labels of the axes, you’d be unable to tell the curves from each other.

    This is in contrast with, say, a graph like y = x^3, which does in fact have an inflection point.

    • Nornagest says:

      Yeah, exponential curves are self-similar if you’re looking at them without a point of reference. But if you’re a human looking at exponential growth in a particular domain with some particular kind of applicability to you, you probably do have a point of reference: there’s probably a level at which you don’t care about that curve’s output and a level where it looks stupidly huge to you, and the space between those two levels is fairly narrow and well-defined. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to call that space an “elbow”, colloquially.

      I’m not sure if “technology” is one of those domains, but I’m not sure it isn’t, either.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        I’ve never seen anyone make an argument for why “technology” would be one in which there is a natural range of Y-axis that we care about. How would you even define the Y-axis?

        • Nornagest says:

          I have no idea, but if I wanted to design one, I’d probably start by comparing with the unaided abilities of naked ape v1.0. Seems pretty clear to me that there are technologies which don’t do much relative to it (poking sticks into termite mounds to eat the termites) and technologies which do (the wheel, New York, wars and so on).

  30. Orpheus says:

    Current Affairs just published a great article about contemporary architecture. Thoughts?

    • Creutzer says:

      That’s a well-known truth by now, isn’t it?

      Artists in general have shifted their priorities from creating beautiful things to playing silly status games. In most cases, they have the ability and decency to do that out of our sight and earshot. Architecture, uniquely, has huge externalities – and architects and the people who employ them are just assholes who don’t care and prefer to play their silly status games at everybody else’s expense.The fact that our culture has lost any concept of noblesse oblige really doesn’t help.

      That is, I think, at the core of things.

      The only thing I don’t quite agree with is their blanket condemnation of skyscrapers. Manhatten’s Art Deco skyscrapers are very beautiful.

      • John Schilling says:

        and architects and the people who employ them are just assholes

        So, anyone who puts up a new building is an asshole, at least in developed nations?

        Buildings require site-specific designs, or at a minimum they require an assessment that the design you cribbed from some other site will work at the site you’ll be erecting it. The definition of the guy who designs buildings is “architect”. And vice versa. Not “snooty fancy-pants ‘artist’ who plays status games while making ugliness”, just “guy who designs buildings”. You can’t have buildings without architects, unless maybe some other sort of professional (civil engineer?) can sign off on re-siting old designs, in which case you can’t have different buildings without architects.

        Perhaps you’d like to try narrowing down the class of people you are calling assholes.

      • AnarchyDice says:

        Piling on with John here, but the overwhelming majority of architecture is being done for your local library, housing development, police station, or commercial building. The ones that could be accused of status games are the big, flashy, status-seeking buildings so of course they fall prey to the status-seeking architects.

        I have my own gripes with architects over how electrical equipment space is an afterthought or forgotten by most architects, their overemphasis on expensive and pretty but useless lighting, they keep wanting to do pain-in-the-ass machine-room-less elevators, and other issues but designing ugly buildings are not among the usual concerns.

        Most of my projects have been a fusion of modern and craftsman design with enough overhangs and differentiation to break up a box without going crazy expensive. Green spaces are a huge push by owners and architects. From reading that article, it really is just big city, status-seeking building designs that are bad, but a big city, status-seeking, expensive building is inherently flawed to come up with bad designs isn’t it?

      • JayT says:

        I haven’t read the article yet, but to me skyscrapers are by far the most beautiful form of architecture. You can keep the overdone and gaudy stuff like Notre Dame, give me the IBM Building.

        • quaelegit says:

          Some skyscrapers are beautiful, but not that one. It’s not particularly ugly, but not pretty either, just boring. And the window shades in some of the windows give it an old, patchy look. (Probably relevant: the “black glass rectangular prism” is the most common tall building style the area I grew up.)

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Seriously. Why lead off with the IBM Building when Chicago alone has at least dozen or so better examples of pretty skyscrapers. Its tallest 8 are all pretty nice looking, aside from the Aon Center (but that still at least has the good grace to look clean).

            I am heavily biased, of course, but I just cannot wrap my head around “beautiful Chicago skyscraper” not immediately leading to the Hancock.

          • JayT says:

            I love skyscrapers, they are by far my favorite form of artwork. To me, the IBM Building is the most pure example of a skyscraper. It is everything I love about skyscrapers. Clean lines, striking color, and perfect placement. When I see it, I have a visceral reaction.

            I wouldn’t even say that it is my favorite skyscraper, it’s just a perfect example of what I love.

          • Brad says:

            My problem with skyscrapers as an artistic medium is that I’ve never seen a skyscraper that looks good from every location. A painting hangs on a wall in a museum and so you never see the ugly back of the canvas. But it can readily be the case that you live and work near, or even in, a skyscraper that is quite beautiful to a guy looking at it from a tall building across town, but to you is nothing special or downright ugly.

          • Nornagest says:

            Funny, I think I’d place the Aon Center at #2 or #3 in that list, after the Franklin Center and maybe the Hancock Center. The Willis (nee Sears) Tower has never been attractive to me; it looks bland and lopsided. Trump Tower isn’t bad for a Trump Tower but that’s damning with faint praise. 900 North Michigan and Two Prudential Plaza look kind of McMansioney to me, like they’re parroting architectural elements without any good reason to use them or any real understanding of how they should work in context, and 311 South Wacker looks busy and clashy.

        • Nornagest says:

          I like skyscrapers, but that one just looks like Sixties brutalism at its most boring; buildings of that era were a lot better at being inoffensive than inspiring, with a few honorable exceptions (e.g. the Transamerica Pyramid). I find Art Deco-era ones the most attractive on average; the recent batch of supertall buildings range from good-looking (Shanghai World Financial Center) to hideous (Abraj Al-Bait).

          • Gobbobobble says:

            the recent batch of supertall buildings range from good-looking (Shanghai World Financial Center) to hideous (Abraj Al-Bait).

            You mean to tell me that Giant Bottle Opener > Giant Clock Tower? Color me dubious.

          • gbdub says:

            Yeah add me to the art deco column. Detroit has a bunch, sadly several in disrepair, but the Guardian and Fisher buildings are great.

          • Nick says:

            I don’t like big black boxes any more than the rest of you, but Abraj Al-Bait is just kitsch incarnate.

          • Nornagest says:

            You mean to tell me that Giant Bottle Opener > Giant Clock Tower? Color me dubious.

            The giant bottle opener is clean, elegant, and well-proportioned. It’s doing what a lot of modern architectural movements were trying to do, which is to pare architecture down to materials and basic form, but unlike most it actually pulls it off.

            The giant clock tower is bloated, busy, artistically incoherent, and covered in random appendages which are themselves covered in fake gold plate. It looks like a cheap casino, the type that’s going through an ill-conceived attempt to attract soccer moms by advertising itself as a family-friendly venue with a free pancake buffet. And that’s within rock-throwing distance of the Kaaba — I take it as a conclusive disproof of Islam that the whole thing hasn’t spontaneously caught fire.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The IBM building is a boring black tower, but not Brutalist; I believe it would be called “International Style”.

            The AT&T Long Lines Building, now THAT is Brutalist.

            The Art Deco Chrysler building is a nice top on an otherwise boring building. Fortunately all you can see from most of the city is the top.

          • hlynkacg says:

            I take it as a conclusive disproof of Islam that the whole thing hasn’t spontaneously caught fire.

            …about that.

          • skef says:

            The AT&T Long Lines Building, now THAT is Brutalist.

            Putting switches into that category seems like cheating.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Putting switches into that category seems like cheating.

            It’s a skyscraper in the Brutalist style; that it’s equipment space and not office space doesn’t change that, although it does make the lack of windows a bit more justifiable. If you prefer there’s Bradfield Hall, though it loses some of the impact by being red rather than the characteristic gray, and by being surrounded by greenery.

    • Nick says:

      I used to hold that Eisenman–Alexander debate up to my friends as evidence that architecture had lost its mind, and it was where my mind went when Rennix and Robinson wrote early on that contemporary architecture thinks itself honest. I just about lost my mind when I first read Eisenman say this:

      Alexander: Now, I will pick a building, let’s take Chartres for example. We probably don’t disagree that it’s a great building.

      Eisenman: Well, we do actually, I think it is a boring building. Chartres, for me, is one of the least interesting cathedrals. In fact, I have gone to Chartres a number of times to eat in the restaurant across the street — had a 1934 red Mersault wine, which was exquisite — I never went into the cathedral. The cathedral was done en passant. Once you’ve seen one Gothic cathedral, you have seen them all.

      Alexander, to his credit, has a cooler head than me. 😀

      It strikes me, reading that passage again, that Eisenman dares to compliment the wine. Isn’t he aware that wine snobs are the prime example of clueless connoisseurs? Why shouldn’t he be happier sipping paint thinner? Imagine the incongruity of that, drinking gutter water at the foot of a masterpiece.

      …Sorry, here I go again. Come on man, this is the no culture war thread!

      • quaelegit says:

        Well I can’t speak to architecture but I really enjoy visiting old Cathedrals to (attempt to) practice my Latin and script-deciphering 😛

        And yeah, that is a really impressive building!

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      Archive link to article.

      Brutalist architecture is an atrocity but I think that the ideological critique is missing the point. I suspect that the reason that so many brutalist buildings go up has nothing to do with ideology and aesthetics but instead is a matter of our declining capability.

      I’m mostly basing this on having lived in NYC for a long time. In the city you see a lot of buildings where a pre-war building has been expanded, often multiple times, both pre- and post-war. A good example of that would be the American Natural History Museum and it’s Hayden Planetarium. The new planetarium cost $210 million in 2000 (~$300 million in 2016 dollars) and is by far the ugliest addition to the building, consisting of a big glass box with a featureless grey sphere sitting in the center. The old planetarium which it replaced cost $800 thousand in 1935 (~$15 million in 2016 dollars) and was actually quite nice to look at, with it’s spherical planetarium disguised as a dome within a delightful art deco building. I don’t believe that the decision to tear down the older, more pleasant building and replace it with a glass monstrosity was done out of spite but rather out of consideration of the fact that construction costs have increased by a factor of twenty. Building an appropriately grand building today would cost astronomical amounts of money.

      TL;DR: Cost disease is probably to blame for brutalism. Building is impossibly expensive today, so buildings are built as featureless boxes to cut down costs as much as possible.

      • Rob K says:

        Without speaking to the question of how cost disease might be impacting architecture, Brutalism was an architectural movement that peaked in the 1970s, for basically ideological reasons – it was sort of the physical realization of Le Corbusier-ian high modernism, and people generally hated it. You may be using brutalism more broadly to refer to “bland buildings”, but when people refer to brutalism they’re referencing a specific school.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          And such a revealing name for the school!
          Architecture that brutalizes people – who wouldn’t want to fund that? 🙂

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          I take the same perspective as the current affairs author: the precise difference between a Modernist, Brutalist, or Postmodernist building is not really that important. They are all similar in the relevant traits of being hideous and unadorned.

          I call them brutalist because it’s an extraordinarily apt description. They are brutally ugly and speak to a growing brutality in our society.

          • The Nybbler says:

            IMO, there’s an enormous difference between clean lines of glass and steel (some forms of modernism other than Brutalism), raw concrete (béton brut) and maybe glass (bonus points for bronze glass, raw concrete and bronze glass being the pinnacle of East German architecture), and whatever weird shapes the architect pulled out of his butt (Postmodernist).

            They all eschew ornamentation, but they’re quite different.

      • skef says:

        I think there is a lot of bad Brutalism, and even some of the better examples are compromised by placement in a sea of concrete (don’t give your Brutalist architect the landscaping commission).

        But there are some examples I like quite a bit, including the libraries at UCSD and U Toronto.

    • Nornagest says:

      Yep, that’s Current Affairs, all right.

    • Urstoff says:

      So basically all high-profile auteur architects are really annoying edgelords?

    • Paul Zrimsek says:

      The unidentified building they introduce with “Hey, look at me!” is quite pleasing to the eye. Impossible of course to say without knowing what it’s used for, whether the lack of windows is a good thing.

  31. johan_larson says:

    Megan McArdle has another article continuing her long-running theme that the Obamacare exchanges are headed for death spirals. In this one she mentions a patient in Iowa whose long-term care is costing $12 million per year. She predicts that whatever insurer catches this very hot potato can kiss their profits goodbye.

    What I’m wondering is how care for anyone can cost that much, and why any insurance policy would be written so as to require the insurer to pay out that much. Don’t insurance plans generally have a limit on the maximum liability?

    • S_J says:

      One of the effects of the ObamaCare law (otherwise known as Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) was to remove such maximum-liability limits on health insurance policies.

      As McArdle has said more than once, health insurance in the United States is already much closer to an installment plan for regular health expenses than an insurance plan against catastrophic expenses related to health problems.

      The changes to life-time-payout-limits moved the health insurance market in the United States further away from what people think of as insurance.

      • johan_larson says:

        One of the effects of the ObamaCare law (otherwise known as Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) was to remove such maximum-liability limits on health insurance policies.

        That sounds like a terrible idea. Presumably it was done to avoid some (more) terrible problem?

        • rahien.din says:

          That sounds like a terrible idea. Presumably it was done to avoid some (more) terrible problem?

          Er. It was aimed at addressing a problem, yes.

          The case in McArdle’s article illustrates the genuine difficulties faced by health insurers. The business of insurance is the inverse of playing the lottery. Medica got paid a small sum to take this particular ticket, and the number under the scratch-off was $-12,000,000 per year for the future duration of this patient’s life. I am not going to discount that this is bad for Iowa, and a problem that needs addressed. Insurers can serve no one if we light their revenue on fire.

          But your comment comes across as though you haven’t the faintest imagining of what a maximal-liability limit could mean for a policyholder in medical extremis, or what the negative effects thereof could mean for a family/community/society/profession. If you don’t have any concept thereof, you simply don’t understand the problem.

          • The Nybbler says:

            But your comment comes across as though you haven’t the faintest imagining of what a maximal-liability limit could mean for a policyholder in medical extremis

            It means they die. And that is why we can’t solve the problem. We cannot have health care which is universal, covers all conditions to the maximum extent medically possible without regard to cost, and no one pays much for it (except “the rich”).

          • MrApophenia says:

            Except, y’know, in all those less-rich countries than ours where they manage problems like these quite well without just saying that people with the really tricky or expensive conditions just die. Somehow. Almost as if this problem actually had a solution, but a large portion of our country sticks its fingers in its ears and goes ‘la la la’ whenever anyone brings it up.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Groan. First, culture war in the culture war free thread.

            Second… no, wait, this is the culture war free thread.

            This is why we avoid these topics – it is very difficult not to pile on.

          • ManyCookies says:

            @thegnskald

            It really is hard to let those posts stand completely uncontested! There was another heavy CW post in this open thread (since deleted by the OP when he realized his mistake), and all the responses were like “This is way CW and we shouldn’t talk about it, but lemme just briefly say…“.

          • rahien.din says:

            The Nybbler,

            They die, or, they never go back to their previous level of productivity, or, they never retire. There are negative consequences for those people’s community/society/etc., things which everyone wants to avoid. Things which, upon sober reflection, we would like other people to avoid even if for mere utilitarian reasons.

            The problem isn’t that people want something magical and impossible that can never happen. The problem is that we need to optimize the system, but all potential options have been disqualified. Many people seem entirely unwilling to have the government optimize the system. The current non-governmental system fractures incentives so badly that it effectively destroys a potential market. Letting physicians try to optimize is part of how we got this problem in the first place.

            What’s left? We’re going to have to try something.

            Edit : tried to make my point clearer

          • The Nybbler says:

            The problem isn’t that people want something magical and impossible that can never happen. The problem is that we need to optimize the system, but all potential options have been disqualified.

            Optimize for what? People really do want something magical and impossible. They want to optimize for the best health care, the cheapest health care, and the most universally available health care… all at once.

            Take our $12M/year treatment and consider it under the single-payer regime of the UK NHS. That treatment is two orders of magnitude above the NHSs threshold of 30,000 pounds per QALY, so no one gets it. The patient dies, because the system has been optimized for cost per QALY. Notably it has not been optimized for best health care (total QALYs); doing so necessarily leaves cost unbounded.

          • rahien.din says:

            Optimize for cost per QALY?

            Possibly so! There are other alternatives.

            The important question is : how do we propose to move toward any optimization?

            Optimizing for best health care (total QALYs) necessarily leaves cost unbounded.

            There’s a QALY maximum for every disease. That’s your upper bound in this scenario. Maximizing QALY in every medical situation carte blanche across society might result in a gigantic, untenable, unreasonable, preposterous cost, but cost would still be bounded.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Except, y’know, in all those less-rich countries than ours where they manage problems like these quite well without just saying that people with the really tricky or expensive conditions just die.

            That word “saying” is doing some work here, I suspect.

            I’ve never understood “culture war” to include health-care policy.

      • Chalid says:

        Seems like the opposite? It means your insurance protects you from catastrophic expenses, whereas previously it wouldn’t have. In return you pay a higher premium. That makes it more insurance-like, not less.

      • rahien.din says:

        What most people think of health insurance is “I pay my premium so that when I am sick, I won’t pay as much out-of-pocket for my care.”

        People don’t think of health insurance as “Cost defrayal for medical expenses, except for my most severe needs.”

    • Chalid says:

      Serious question – is there a reason the insurers in the state couldn’t all get together and buy that family a $2 million mansion across the border in Nebraska or Illinois?

      • rahien.din says:

        Couldn’t they be sued by the insurer(s) in Nebraska?

        The whole premise is “This patient is an excess burden that we are geographically-forced to accept.” Geographically-forcing a different state to handle him does not seem permissible.

        Also, this might constitute bribery.

        Also, it might not work. The insurers in the richer state might retaliate by offering him an even-bigger house back in Iowa, and/or other inducements.

        • Chalid says:

          I don’t know about the legal issues, but I’d imagine the Nebraska insurers would try to dump him off in yet another state rather than punting him back to Iowa.

          Anyway there surely must exist markets big enough to absorb this guy; he’d eventually end up in California or New York or something, perhaps tens of millions of dollars richer.

          • rahien.din says:

            I’d imagine the Nebraska insurers would try to dump him off in yet another state rather than punting him back to Iowa.

            Uh. Why do you imagine that? If I was a Nebraska insurer, I would absolutely punt him back to Iowa.

            I don’t want the patient-bribery system to work because then, whenever Iowa has some expensive patient, I am out another few million dollars to buy them a house in Missouri or whatever – if the patient accepts my offer! If he wants to stay close to home and his family and friends and job in Iowa, but with Nebraskan health insurance, then I’m screwed.

            If, instead, I tell Iowa “No, go fuck yourself, you own him,” and lean on them with superior financial firepower, then the problem stops forever.

          • Chalid says:

            This isn’t an infinite iterated game; the expected number of $12M/year patients for a small state before the law changes significantly is probably less than one. You do what it takes it get yourself through the next couple years.

          • Chalid says:

            And even if Nebraska does manage to convince him to go back, you’ve saved yourselves $12M for the year it takes for that to happen.

    • rahien.din says:

      how can care for anyone cost that much?

      There’s just no free lunch. Medicine is hard. Doing hard things is expensive.

      In order to prevent bleeding episodes, hemophiliacs need regular infusions of clotting factors, either recombinant, or plasma-derived. These are really, really, really expensive. There is the further issue of maintaining chronic venous access, with both procedural costs and risks of infection. Hemophilia, when treated appropriately, does not shorten one’s lifespan. So this is a normal-length lifetime of such infusions and procedures and risks.

      And that’s if everything goes right.

      Hemophiliacs can develop alloantibodies that inactivate the clotting factors, which either necessitates switching to a different and more-expensive type of clotting factor, or, taking massive and costly doses of the same clotting factor in order to induce immune tolerance.

      And that’s if your patient is super-compliant.

      Hemophilia is incredibly depressing. You might bump your knee, have a joint bleed, and then need to have your leg amputated. Chronic infusions suck. These patients sometimes just give up on the preventative infusions. Then, they only show up when they have some massive joint bleed which has become extremely dangerous. The infusions required to treat that situation are terribly expensive.

      Even if everything goes right, and your patient is super-compliant, it’s still a dangerous disease.

      Hemophiliacs have a 3% risk of spontaneous intracranial hemorrhage (compare to the maximal estimated incidence of spontaneous ICH in the populace at large, 31 per 100,000). This is an extremely dangerous situation which necessitates ICU care and big doses of clotting factors. Both of those, of course, are incredibly expensive.

      I remember one patient from my training. He was a perfectly-healthy guy in his early 60’s who developed Guillain Barre syndrome, which for him meant sudden onset of total body weakness and a profound degree of autonomic instability. He was intubated in the ICU for a short while, and after that he couldn’t even sit up without passing out because of his blood pressure instability. So he had to stay in the hospital and then go to rehab, or, he would immediately die.

      This is an entirely treatable syndrome, and we all expected him to recover nearly-completely, such that he could go back to work. And the treatment, after a while, was basically nursing care and tincture of time. But he spent literally every penny to do it. This is a guy who did everything right – worked his entire life, saved smartly, had decent health insurance, and was a few years from retiring. Six weeks later, he was destitute. And there was no way to decide not to do what he (we) did.

      • John Schilling says:

        There’s just no free lunch. Medicine is hard. Doing hard things is expensive. [stuff about how horrible and difficult a disease this is]

        Would your response have been identical if the question had been, “How can this patient’s care be costing eight hundred billion dollars per year?” The question was fundamentally a quantitative one, and your answer had nothing resembling a number in it. The rest of us, I think, are trying to understand the numbers.

        Here’s an article with numbers, suggesting that the peak cost for Hemophilia B care should be just under half a million per year, mostly due to factor-replacement drugs. So how do we get from half a million dollars per year to twelve million dollars per year? It seems most unlikely that this kid requires twenty times as much of the stuff as everybody else; how would that even work when the whole idea is presumably to replace clotting factors to normal levels?

        The only thing that seems at all plausible to me is that the manufacturer of some drug set the price at an arbitrary $1 million/month as a starting point for their initial negotiations with insurance companies and national health services, then noticed that this one insurer in Iowa has no ability to negotiate under ACA rules so why not just charge the (ridiculous) full price.

        Yes, hemophilia is a terrible disease. It can’t actually cost anywhere near twelve million dollars a year to treat, for several reasons, so why is Iowa paying that price?

        • rahien.din says:

          It seems most unlikely that this kid requires twenty times as much of the stuff as everybody else; how would that even work when the whole idea is presumably to replace clotting factors to normal levels?

          [IE, how can this possibly be so? I don’t understand.]

          It is apparent that you don’t know much about the treatment of hemophilia. The answer to your question would be clear if you knew something about the treatment of hemophilia – IE, in order to understand why this scenario is plausible, you have to know something about the disease. This is why I described some of the ways in which hemophilia can be expensive to treat, rather than blurting numbers. It’s weird that you would be so dismissive thereof – do you want to know why his care is so expensive or not?

          Everything in McArdle’s article is exactly consistent with my own experience. I helped care for a hemophiliac who was poorly-adherent to his treatment regimen, and had a bad alloantibody, and was clinically depressed. He would show up to the ED with life-threatening bleeds, some of which could have been prevented, some not. He needed more exotic factors, and he needed a lot of them. As a result, he was getting $800,000 worth of care about every two or three weeks until he died*.

          So it actually can cost that much. Granted : it usually doesn’t. But johan didn’t ask about what usually happens. He asked (“how can care for anyone cost that much?”) about upper bounds.

          * We had very serious discussions about whether we were acting ethically by continuing to treat him in this manner.

          This article suggests that the peak cost for Hemophilia B care should be just under half a million per year

          Eldar-Lissai et al found that the mean annual cost per patient reaches its lifetime peak around 29 y.o for hemophilia B patients. They did not report upper bounds or confidence intervals for their means.

          johan asked about upper bounds. This article does not address the question of upper bounds, nor can we infer upper bounds from their data. Therefore, this article is not relevant to the original question.

          • John Schilling says:

            It is apparent that you don’t know much about the treatment of hemophilia.

            And after reading two lengthy posts by you, plus a few others and some linked articles and my own research, I still don’t know enough to understand how the cost of treatment can come to even one million dollars per year, much less twelve. Many hundreds of thousands, yes, I’ve just read (but not in anything you’ve written) enough to explain that and maybe enough to take on faith a $1E6/year figure if someone made that claim.

            You’ve had your chance, and a mulligan, to explain to me why the number in this case might plausibly be an order of magnitude higher than that, and where the money might be going. Instead, you’ve offered nothing but “It’s difficult and scary and complicated, so give people like me a blank check because you don’t understand”, and all you’ve convinced me of is that whatever health care system I agree to help pay for is going to need really powerful, scary death panels.

          • rahien.din says:

            I still don’t understand the issue at hand. And I’m really scared.

          • John Schilling says:

            That is not a quote of anything I or anyone else has said. It isn’t even an accurate paraphrase, but putting it in blockquote form without further comment or context is an assertion that it is an actual quote.

            It’s going to be hard for me to see you as anything but a damned liar, now and henceforth, and I don’t see much reason to try.

          • rahien.din says:

            This has been weird and fascinating.

            I’ve been trying to understand why you’ve been snarling at me so hard, and it finally clicked when you said, basically :

            I’ve got to agree to help pay for some kind of health care system. But all people like you ever say is “It’s difficult and scary and complicated and you wouldn’t understand!” You must want a blank check to just do whatever you want, whatever the consequences. I can see where this all leads – really powerful death panels. That’s scary!

            Well you had your chance to convince me, and I even gave you a second chance! But you failed. I just don’t believe you, and nothing I can read makes me believe you. Tough shit!

            You seem absolutely terrified, in a very thrive-vs-survive kind of way. “People like you are gonna use up all our food and ammunition bankrupt our country and then leave me for the zombies kill me if I get sick!”

            Also. Let me be clear and say that the situation in Iowa is real. This can and does happen with severe hemophilia. If you “still don’t know enough to understand how the cost of treatment can come to even one million dollars per year, much less twelve,” then you simply don’t know enough.

            The information just isn’t out there, by the way, not even in the medical literature. I looked, too, and I could access no case reports describing any single hemophiliac’s health care expenditures. I’d be interested to see any such reports, but, as I said, I helped treat a patient whose annual expenditures ($800,000 every 2-3 weeks) set a pace of $16,640,000 per year.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            You may be putting “People like you are gonna use up all our food and ammunition bankrupt our country and then leave me for the zombies kill me if I get sick!” in sneer quotes, but you’ve done a good job of saying that and a poor job of explaining why you are not.

          • rahien.din says:

            Standing in the Shadows,

            Disclaimer/mea culpa : not sneer quotes. Read the Thrive-vs-Survive article I linked. I wanted my allusion to be crystal-clear – it should be crystal-clear from that article that I make that allusion in order to dispel any appearance of sneering.

            (And besides, if at this point in the discussion I say “My guess as to why you’re snarling at me is you’re worried that something truly horrible is going to happen” and you contend “Well you may sneer at that worry, but you haven’t shown it to be false,” then you’re basically agreeing with my assessment, contra John Schilling.)

            More importantly, I wasn’t really asked to defend the position that [B: nothing truly horrible is going to happen]. What johan asked for initially was “Why is the upper bound on anyone’s medical care so high?” I answered that, and then defended my answer. Then we reached a weird impasse that I am still trying to understand. At this point, I am merely pointing out what I (and, turns out, you) found to be implicit in his comments*, though I admit I am only able to inspect what he offers.

            Besides, I can’t defend that position [B: …] because, honestly, I’m worried too! Anyone with sense can see that our healthcare expenditures are unsustainable, and our full-spectrum society seems to have disqualified or neutered any method of addressing the problem. (Which is doubly-worrisome to me, because that suggests I will be collateral damage in the implosion of a healthcare bubble.) Moreover, I may firmly believe that we could better-optimize our system, but I will tell you that “optimization” means “deliberately doing of the right amount of the wrong thing.”

            So, if anything, I have tried to provide evidence that the dangers are real, and they aren’t going to go away with mere sacking-of-bureaucrats.

            And that’s what I find so weird. On one hand, John strikes me as absolutely terrified of the economic dangers we face. On the other hand, he’s tried to argue that (at least vis-a-vis severe hemophilia) these dangers are illusory, or (one person asserts this is incorrect) some artifact of predatory negotiation tactics.

            But whatever – none of us owes any of us anything, here. You have my description of my knowledge and experience, which corroborates the situation in Iowa, and providing that was truly my sole intent. If I’ve overstepped, consider this your grain of salt.

            Cheers, all!

            * If only to clear my good name. I was tarred as not merely a liar but a “damn liar,” unworthy of rehabilitation. I guess I’m grateful he didn’t call me a “statistician.”

            ETA: clarity

          • John Schilling says:

            @rahien:

            I can see where this all leads – really powerful death panels. That’s scary!

            Again, you are marking in blockquote things that are not a quote of anything I or anyone else has said. Please stop doing that, and please understand that I’m not going to engage with you or your arguments until it is clear that you have stopped doing that. You get to chose your own words in any discussion, you do NOT get to chose mine.

          • rahien.din says:

            John Schilling,

            The reason we can’t talk productively is you’re not dealing with me in good faith.

            you are marking in blockquote things that are not a quote of anything I or anyone else has said… You get to chose your own words in any discussion, you do NOT get to chose mine.

            Earlier in the thread:

            There’s just no free lunch. Medicine is hard. Doing hard things is expensive. [stuff about how horrible and difficult a disease this is]

            If you feel so strongly that this practice is impermissible, then stop doing it.

            I’m not going to engage with you or your arguments until it is clear that you have stopped doing that

            Taking yourself hostage is a weird move. You led off by excluding me from “the rest of us who are trying to understand the numbers” and then proceeded through “people like [you]” into “[you’re] a damn liar.” Whatever you feel now, it was apparent that you felt it from the start.

          • @rahien.din:

            I haven’t followed the rest of this, but putting stuff in a quote inside square brackets is a normal way of saying “this isn’t actually being quoted.” It’s even more obvious when what is inside the brackets is obviously a summary of the actual text that isn’t being quoted.

            Your “when you said, basically” is a weaker version of the same approach, with “basically” implying that it’s a paraphrase. But the first time you presented something as a quote that wasn’t you did nothing to signal that it wasn’t a quote, so John had a legitimate complaint on that one.

        • AKL says:

          This article provides some detail and speculation about the high cost.

          this one insurer in Iowa has no ability to negotiate under ACA rules so why not just charge the (ridiculous) full price

          This is incorrect. Wellmark and all other insurers can and do negotiate prescription drugs, durable medical equipment, and biological product (clotting factors, etc.) costs directly with manufacturers, or via intermediaries like pharmacy benefit managers or group purchasing organizations. This is not a case of unnecessary regulation hindering the ability of insurance companies to negotiate prices. The meme “the federal government is prohibited from negotiating the price of prescription drugs” applies to Medicare only, but even there the picture is complicated. The Medicare drug benefit is administered by private companies, and those private companies DO negotiate the prices the pay for drugs. The statute people are referencing prohibits the federal government from “interfering” with those negotiations – that is – negotiating a (presumably lower) “medicare price” that each of those private companies would be entitled to pay (proponents of negotiation correctly believe that the government would have a stronger negotiating position than any one insurance company because… it’s worse for Pfizer to lose access to the entire Medicare population than just a single insurer).

          To me, your broader question (what is the cost was 800B) is super interesting. Collectively, how much should we pay for healthcare (e.g. as a share of GDP) and how should that spending be allocated? At least conceptually, I believe the concept of DALYs / QALYs used by NICE and several other nationalized health systems is exactly correct. The implication in this case is probably that the patient would be “hung out to dry” though I suspect that there’s some detail that I’m missing in edge cases like this.

          Edit: replaced the NICE link with a more informative page. The Quality Adjusted Life Year concept is that a medical intervention is covered if the impact on a patients QALYs outweighs the cost. The cost per QALY is a function of the health systems overall budget. Currently the cost/QALY is about $20k – $30. So if a drug will add 10 years of perfect health, it is worth 10 QALYs and will be covered if the cost is <200k. If a drug will improve your quality of life by 1% for the next 50 years, it is worth .5 QALYs and will be covered if the cost is <10k (all oversimplified).

          • rahien.din says:

            The implication in this case is probably that the patient would be “hung out to dry” though I suspect that there’s some detail that I’m missing in edge cases like this.

            It might happen. I helped care for a guy like this one, and we certainly questioned whether we ought to be spending so much on his care.

            Here’s what I find interesting : Bayesian medical reasoning already does this. From the likelihood ratios resulting from a test, the risk of a treatment, and the probability of benefit from that treatment, you can demarcate three zones of probability :

            – A zone in which you neither test nor treat
            – A zone in which you do the test and then treat positives and don’t treat negatives
            – A zone in which you treat empirically without even testing.

            But while these zones are discrete, the underlying probability distribution is continuous. This necessitates that some people will go untreated who may have benefited, and that some people will be treated who didn’t need it. This is why we describe a physician as having a practice – perhaps a better word would be “praxis.” We perform our actions based on our reasoning, and these should be optimized to produce the best overall outcomes.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            From the article:

            Rice, who lives in Indiana, has a mild form of hemophilia that rarely needs treatment. She has two sons with severe forms, which cost about $700,000 per year to treat. She said the shots must go directly into veins, an unpleasant experience. No one would seek to use more of the factor treatment than necessary, she said. “As patients, we are very aware of how expensive we are, and I would tell you that most patients try to be very good stewards of health care dollars,” she said.

            This seem incongruous to anyone else? Hemophilia being a recessive X-chromosome disease, a woman actively afflicted would really need the heart of a Russian royal to have children knowing any sons are all-but-guaranteed to be doomed to suffer the disease.

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