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Open Thread 88.75

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669 Responses to Open Thread 88.75

  1. bean says:

    New Naval Gazing is up. The Battle of Lissa, about the first clash of seagoing ironclad warships.

    • John Schilling says:

      “It was part of the Third Italian Independence War … The Italians, commanded by Count Carlo di Persano, fielded 11 broadside ironclads, one turret ram (ironclad), 10 large wooden ships, and 4 gunboats”

      Isn’t there sort of a contradiction between fighting an “independence war” and already having a navy with eleven battleships? A quick check confirms that most of Italy had been independent since the Second Italian Independence War and this was a straight-up land grab akin to the US invading Canada in 1812 because, come on, anyone with a map can see Canada is part of America.

      Which totally would have worked if the US had a navy with eleven broadside ironclads in 1812.

      • bean says:

        A fair point, but I’m not sure how it’s my fault that the Italians named their wars weirdly.

        Which totally would have worked if the US had a navy with eleven broadside ironclads in 1812.

        Well, we did have Constitution.

        • S_J says:

          I don’t think anyone had ironclads in 1812.

          But there was a naval battle on Lake Erie during the war of 1812.

          • bean says:

            I don’t think anyone had ironclads in 1812.

            But Constitution is known as “Old Ironsides”, isn’t she?

          • Campion says:

            But Constitution is known as “Old Ironsides”, isn’t she?

            In honor of which, one of the ironclads used in the Civil War was named the New Ironsides.

          • bean says:

            In honor of which, one of the ironclads used in the Civil War was named the New Ironsides.

            I knew that (of course), but leading with it would spoil a perfectly good joke.

  2. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Has MMA turned up useful information for self-defense?

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I think that the single biggest lesson of MMA is: “For unarmed, one on one fighting, a grappling game is essential.” All those pure-striking martial arts just lose.

      • marshwiggle says:

        I don’t know much about MMA, but does that really follow in a fight without rules? I’m guessing MMA bans things that have a good chance of causing death or maiming. Those sound like exactly the sort of things you need to at least threaten if you want to keep someone from closing into a grapple. I say this as someone who tends to believe that most or all pure-striking martial arts are inferior.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          I mean… I guess maybe. I can’t flatly disprove it. But I don’t have a lot of confidence in the ability of a striker to land a lethal blow, unarmed, before a grappler can grapple him. Certainly, MMA proves that if you are going for a less-than-lethal blow, you can’t keep someone off you with pure strikes.

          Also, for the no-rules grappler, you can use small-joint locks which seems potentially as big an advantage for the no-rules grappler as, like, punching someone in the neck is for a no-rules striker.

          • jimmy says:

            Also, for the no-rules grappler, you can use small-joint locks which seems potentially as big an advantage for the no-rules grappler as, like, punching someone in the neck is for a no-rules striker.

            I think that’s true, but I think that’s because they’re both fairly minor things that are normally protected against anyway. It’s not trivial to get a hold of someones fingers so that they can’t get out. I train where wrist locks are considered totally legal, and I’m told that they’re everywhere if you know where to look, but it’s just not something that happens much unless the guy specifically trains them. I expect smaller joint locks would be similar (and less disabling if successful).

            To me, it seems like the biggest game changer between MMA as-practiced and a “no rules” counterpart is that it’s illegal to kick or knee a downed opponent in the head. Maybe “strikes to the back of the head” too.

            For self defense, friends and knives become a real concern and pushes the winning strategies further from jiujitsu towards ground and pound, and from ground and pound to standing striking.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            The necessity of developing ground-fighting and grappling/escape skills doesn’t change no matter how good the theoretical striker is. Even if they could guarantee that their first strike that connected would be a fight-ender, every time (very unlikely in the real world), they would still need the opportunity to land that blow.

            Real world fights don’t necessarily start with you facing your opponent and at a couple of feet distance, and you can’t always depend on the ability to create distance before a fight starts.

            And yeah, blows to the neck/head are probably huge, to which I’d add things like deliberately oblique strikes to knee to cripple the joint, etc. I mean, if I manage to get someone’s wrist in a real fight, I’m going to at least try to break their elbow, wrench their shoulder, or otherwise do permanent joint damage. I don’t have the skill or training to go for small joint manipulation.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @jimmy

            PRIDE, a defunct Japanese MMA organization, had kicks, stomps, and knees to the head of grounded opponents. It changed the fights – there are points in MMA under current North American rules where someone would eat a kick or a knee under PRIDE rules – but it did not change them to the point of skillsets being hugely different.

            Of course, if shoes, concrete, etc are involved, that’s different, but at that point, someone’s probably getting hit in the head with a barstool as well.

          • jimmy says:

            @dndnrsn

            Agreed. If you’re looking at how it impacts “grapplers vs strikers” there are effects in both directions that are going to partially cancel. My point was that “MMA fighter + knees/kicks to downed opponent” is going to be significantly more effective than “MMA fighter + fingerlocks”, even if it doesn’t really require much extra skill beyond the grappling base.

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          If I want to discourage someone taking me down, I want to strike them hard as they close distance. That’s perfectly legal.

        • Nornagest says:

          Bare-handed, it’s very hard to reliably kill or maim an alert opponent that knows what they’re doing before they close to grappling range: the most straightforward ways to kill a guy bare-handed all involve either grappling techniques (neck breaks, chokes), surprise (hard strikes to the temple or back of the head), or persistent brutality (just keep hammering on a downed opponent until they stop moving). There’s also a few families of old techniques that rely on internal damage to kill through infection or bleeding, but that takes days, modern medicine can easily take care of them, and I gather they were never especially reliable.

          You do occasionally hear about someone getting killed with one punch, but when you look at details it almost always takes very bad luck: the usual scenario involves getting knocked over or knocked out and hitting the back of your head on something hard on the way down.

          • marshwiggle says:

            I pretty much agree with all of that and I think the pure striking stuff just isn’t as good. Still, I’m thinking that the knowledge that the other guy has limits on what he is allowed to do to you influences things in favor of grapples.

            I know fairly little about this, but my understanding is that the better special forces type organizations teach more striking and less grappling. That might be because they have the advantage of surprise more. Then again, proper self defense also sometimes gives you the advantage of surprise – if you’ve decided you have no option but lethal force, you might as well go from 0 to lethal before they realize it.

            That said, those are just doubts. My own personal opinion is that some variant on grappling and joint locks are the way to go for self defense.

          • Randy M says:

            I expect (correct me if you know otherwise) that the type of “unarmed” self-defense taught to special forces emphasizes using improvised weapons that might be at hand in an actual confrontation rather relying on more fair techniques. A strike is much more likely to be incapacitating if you can get your hands on something hard, heavy, or sharp first.

          • hlynkacg says:

            The main point in favor of grappling is that it’s really hard to land a disabling blow on an alerted opponent. The main point against it is that you can only grapple one person at a time and it leaves you effectively immobile. A serious problem if you can’t rely one the fight remaining one-on-one, which is why military training tends to put more emphasis on keeping your feet under you.

          • bean says:

            I know fairly little about this, but my understanding is that the better special forces type organizations teach more striking and less grappling. That might be because they have the advantage of surprise more.

            Special forces are operating in a very different environment than MMA. IIRC, most of their unarmed combat training is for cases where they need an option that’s less lethal than a gun. But the gun is still there if things get out of hand. There’s some work on the ‘here’s what to do if you have no gun or knife’, but the most common opponent in that situation is a scared 19-year-old who has a gun you want. The chance that you have to go up against someone who is good at hand-to-hand without one of you having a gun is pretty small. If you have the gun, shoot him. If he does, then you’re probably dead.

        • randallsquared says:

          When UFC started in the early 90s, the only two rules were about biting and eye gouging. In that environment, where striking and grappling were more-or-less on equal footing in the rules, it took until the 7th UFC before there was a win that was *not* by grappling submission. If you watch those fights, it’s not even really close: the winner of most of the early UFCs was tiny compared to some of those he defeated (no weight classes at that time), and he often made it look easy.

          • hyperboloid says:

            This.

            I had a lot of the early fights UFC on VHS when I was a kid, starting from UFC1 when it was still The (as in singular) Ultimate Fighting championship.

            The level of dominance that Royce Gracie had was amazing. The guy was by modern standards a completely one dimensional fighter, with no striking skills to speak of, and yet it took him just under two minutes to choke out an experienced kick-boxer who had five inches, and forty pounds on him.

            UFC1 one made it clear that a skilled pure grappler could beat almost any striker in the world. It took a long time for fighters to develop techniques that combined both skill sets into the more balanced style we see today.

          • John Schilling says:

            UFC1 one made it clear that a skilled pure grappler could beat almost any striker in the world

            I didn’t follow UFC, but was this clearly true for skilled pure grapplers not named Gracie?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @hyperboloid: That makes me wonder how much bigger of a man a man really skilled in grappling could take out (or a woman a bigger woman).
            I would not expect an alternate Bruce Lee who had applied his martial arts philosophy to wrestling to choke out Magnus Ver Magnusson…

          • maintain says:

            >That makes me wonder how much bigger of a man a man really skilled in grappling could take out

            You don’t need to wonder. There are youtube videos of grapplers fighting people bigger than them. The grapplers do manage to win, but it’s not so much “easily beat them” as “stalemate them and wait until they make a noob mistake”.

      • Jeremiah says:

        This is less true if you don’t have a good surface. Asphalt, cement, uneven ground, inside with lots of furniture, is, if nothing else going to throw a wrinkle into things, if not make grappling actually ill-advised.

    • Seppo says:

      Sam Harris has an article on the subject. Mostly he talks a lot about grappling, as sandor says. Some other notes:

      Everyone now understands that the laws of physics dictate a right answer to the question, “What is the best method of fighting?”, and all MMA fighters now do their best to embody it:

      When you are standing at arm’s length from your opponent, you want to be able to punch like a Western-style boxer and kick like a Thai boxer.

      Moving closer, you want to remain a Thai boxer in your ability to strike with your knees and elbows.

      Once your opponent grabs hold of you, or you him (the clinch), you want to have the skills of a Greco-Roman/freestyle wrestler—controlling his posture and throwing him to the ground at will. In the presence of sufficient clothing (jackets, coats, or traditional martial arts uniforms), this vertical grappling can take the form of judo….

      And if the fight goes to the ground, the surest path to the safety of home remains Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

      Also a caveat about studying grappling:

      … you can easily acquire a bias toward going to the ground on principle. When rolling on the mat, perfecting arm locks and chokes, it is easy to forget that in a real fight, your opponent is very likely to be punching you, or armed with a weapon, or in the company of friends who might be eager to kick you in the head…

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      I don’t think it’s developed fundamentally new ideas; some of the striking is adapted to be in a world where I can shoot a double, and how I shoot a double is adapted to the fact I can eat a shot to the head coming in, but we knew how to punch and throw takedowns before MMA.

      It has eliminated (or at least greatly reduced) a wide variety of bullshit out there, however. It’s trivial to refute people who claim their tai chi makes them unbeatable, because I can show you a youtube video of a third-rate UFC reject wrecking their master in under a minute. Repeat endlessly for anything that doesn’t show up semi-routinely in the cage. I’d call that useful information.

      About the only such stupid dogma that hasn’t been eaten alive is the BJJ people going “in a real fight I’d take you to the ground and ruin your day” which in fact has been proven true, as sandoratthezoo points out. If you can’t play a reasonably high level BJJ (sambo also acceptable–maybe catch wrestling) game, you lose immediately to anyone who does. BJJ specialists aren’t overwhelmingly dominant in modern MMA, to be clear: you can teach a very good wrestler or striker enough BJJ to stop J. Random Gracie from just submitting him at will without making the striker a Mundials competitor, and at that point he can reasonably expect to use his superiority elsewhere. But you absolutely need that baseline.

      An interesting fact is that there are about three sports (that I know anything about) where I think there’s a reasonable argument that the women’s pro level game is more interesting than the men’s: tennis, gymnastics, and MMA. In tennis, this wrests on women’s lower power levels reducing ace rate and encouraging volleys. In gymnastics, this is because it’s a different fucking sport. In MMA, it’s because it’s 10-15 years younger, and with a sport this young this is a big deal: there just isn’t a large pool of high level female competitors who are good at everything (striking, wrestling, BJJ.) Which means you get crazy matches involving dedicated strikers vs people whose only chance is to dive for takedowns at the first opportunity. (Tate vs. Holm was an all time great match for my money.) This just doesn’t happen anymore in the men’s game: sure, Conor would rather stand with Diaz and Diaz would rather fight on the ground, but they’re both willing to play in both environments, because anyone who isn’t world class everywhere doesn’t make it to the UFC anymore.

      • baconbacon says:

        I don’t think it’s developed fundamentally new ideas; some of the striking is adapted to be in a world where I can shoot a double, and how I shoot a double is adapted to the fact I can eat a shot to the head coming in, but we knew how to punch and throw takedowns before MMA.

        Weapons are what ruins grappling as self defense, most grappling leaves you ‘defenseless’ for a shot or two. Shooting for a double leaves the top/back of your head exposed, but it is hard to get enough power to really do damage on that strike with a bare fist (plus you can break your hand on a skull pretty easily). A beer bottle or mug makes this a much more dangerous blow to absorb. Hard, but mostly even, surfaces like concrete are rough on your body, but add to the advantage as grappling uses the ground against the opponent a lot.

        Multiple opponents messes up every style, unless you are knocking people off their feet with your first attempt or they are coming at you one at a time movie style, you are just always in danger.

        In practice I think grappling is the best approach from a self defense angle. I was a terrible high school wrestler (something like 2-14 as a senior) but can whip people significantly stronger than me (or I could, been a long time). 3 years out of high school a college athlete wanted to wrestle me, Div 3 pole vaulter who was in good shape and much stronger than I was (I basically never worked out for wresting, really wasn’t into the sport at all). It took less than 20 seconds to grab a single and tree top him, and he never broached it again. I college drunk fraternity wrestling was a bit of a thing, and I could handle some of the guys who were on the (d-3) basketball team and 4-6 inches and 20-30 lbs heavier with no issue. Couldn’t handle the 6’6, 240 lb guy though (I’m 5’9 was a pudgy 180 then). Striking it seems harder to keep those much bigger guys away from you, and once they get in a broken nose isn’t going to stop them from dominating you.

    • dndnrsn says:

      No one style beats all the others, “super deadly” techniques that you can’t train safely are less useful than stuff you can train safely (that said, groin/eye shots do suck to catch).

      That said I’d still rather take on a UFC champ than a random dude with a knife.

      • Andrew Hunter says:

        Fun fact: I have been beaten unconscious by a former WEC lightweight champion. It wasn’t *fun*, but yeah, 100% take that over a knife fight against even an inferior opponent. Bruises heal, chicks dig scars, and TBIs heal–wait, I’m being told the last one isn’t true. Shit. Guess I got lucky. (Though obviously still would rather risk a TBI than a knife wound.)

        • dndnrsn says:

          For whatever reason, people tend to really underestimate how dangerous a knife is. You have less “death touch chi masters” but you still have guys who claim they can teach you to reliably disarm a knife-wielding opponent.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            I took taekwon do in the 90’s, and my teacher there also taught some like very practical self-defense stuff in group classes to, I believe, judges.

            He said they did a thing where everyone wore white clothes and they gave someone a sharpie to simulate a knife, and various martial arts instructors tried to teach people to do defense against a knife. His takeaway was: everyone was covered in black marks. Your best hope against someone with a knife is that your wounds are in largely inessential places that don’t cause you to bleed out or suffer organ failure. He was really clear: in a knife fight, you are going to get cut, badly.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            I’m now having quite a lot of fun playing the “would you rather” game with getting stabbed vs. a concussion. I’m honestly not sure of my answer. (If there’s a reasonable chance of me bleeding out before receiving care, clearly a concussion, but if this is happening in a hospital ER, say…)

          • hlynkacg says:

            I’ve had close encounters with both and would say that it depends on location. Personally I’d pick a knife in the arm or leg over a bat to the head any day. A knife to the gut? not so much.

          • Trofim_Lysenko says:

            The old saying about knife fights is that the winner is the one that lives long enough to make it to the emergency room. I don’t ever want to try to go hand-to-knife or even knife-to-knife if I can help it.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’ve always heard the line that after a knife fight, they take the winner away in an ambulance.

    • GregS says:

      This is a great thread. I’ll second a lot of things that were said above.

      MMA has proven that a lot of martial arts styles aren’t very helpful if someone attacks you. Those arts might have some merit an and of themselves, but they aren’t useful for self-defense.

      MMA has limited lessons if someone assaults you with a knife or other weapon…though I wouldn’t personally feel comfortable assaulting Anderson Silva or George St. Pierre with a knife.

      Grappling is important in a one-on-one fight. As someone stated above, Royce Gracie’s early dominance in the UFC proves this point. Someone with no ground skills will get destroyed by someone with even rudimentary ground skills. However, someone with rudimentary takedown defense can nullify someone else’s ground game. And someone with rudimentary jiujitsu can stop a lot of chokes and joint locks with proper positioning and posturing. So a striker with a rudimentary ground game would be trouble to someone without good takedowns, and a wrestler with rudimentary submission defense would be trouble to someone without a good jiujitsu game. Not sure what fraction of self-defense situations involve an unarmed lone attacker assaulting an unarmed lone defender. I’m thinking the prospect of multiple people and weapons would limit the value of these lessons.

      Brazillian jiujitsu black belt here by the way (also Tae Kwon Do and Hapkido). At my jiujitsu school they also have Krav Maga classes, which are more specifically geared toward self-defense. Which is almost like an admission that jiujitsu won’t help much in a lot of self-defense situations. Not entirely though…if someone tried to two-hand choke me with outstretched arms, I’d start using jiujitsu rather than the brutal eye-and-groin strikes they teach in Krav Maga. But it’s easier to teach things like groin strikes and eye pokes than proper jiujitsu technique. What I wouldn’t do is square up with them in an MMA fighting stance.

      Some of the banned moves in MMA are banned because they are so effective, particularly groin strikes, eye-pokes, and hitting the back of the head (though I wouldn’t do that with an ungloved hand). Head butts are banned because they are conducive to unsatisfying early stoppage (head butts can cause cuts on the brow that lead to doctor stoppage, even though the cuts themselves aren’t particularly harmful), not because they are particularly effective. Elbow strikes to the head were banned in Pride and other Japanese shows for the same reason (though they weren’t banned in the US). Some moves are banned for silly historical reasons. Some commissioner once saw a martial artist break a bunch of bricks with a downward elbow strike and decided that it must be a super-powerful martial arts move. (It’s not really; people do power-breaking with conventional strikes like punches and kicks.) That’s why downward elbows are banned in some places. In a sense, the rules convey useful information about self-defense (sometimes not!).

      • dndnrsn says:

        The general feeling I’ve gotten – not some kind of street-fighting badass myself – is that the ideal would be training something safe for training with (like BJJ, where you can go high-intensity in sparring and the only damage is chronic joint issues), something with striking in it (where you can’t go high-intensity if you want to be able to remember birthdays), and something Super Dangerous (which you can’t spar with at all). Live sparring really changes things, but the degree to which you can do that depends on what you’re doing.

        • GregS says:

          I pretty much agree with this. The chronic join issues are a real hazard, but you can mitigate them if you’re smart. Proper stretching and exercises outside of class can really help. Also, some people go way too hard and don’t know how to slow it down to brace for existing injuries.

          • dndnrsn says:

            The number one cause of acute BJJ injury is probably white belts who hold a neck crank, decide they know how heel hooks work, etc. When I roll with a white belt I don’t know, I’m focusing mostly on protecting myself and figuring out if they’re going to go wild on me.

          • GregS says:

            @dndnrsn: I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of the “spazzing-out white belt” experience. They eventually learn to calm down and not use all their strength. You’re wise to be cautious.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Back when I was a white belt (having attained the lofty heights of blue) I was terrified of being the white belt who goes wild, and so would kind of flop against blues and up.

            The problem when you’re at blue is that the white belt trying to “guillotine” you will probably respond to the roll being stopped and being told “that’s a neck crank that they won’t tap to but will have neck pain for 2-3 days, knock it off” with “dear diary: today I defeated a blue belt with my elite guillotine and he was mad.”

      • GregS says:

        Some things I thought about later.

        MMA has shown that head kicks are extremely effective and can end a fight, which is contrary to what self-defense experts thought before. These have train this skill and you need a certain degree of flexibility, but honestly this would be my first move in a street fight. The supposed risk (that someone can take you down easily when you’re on one leg) has probably been exaggerated, particularly in light of the high payoff.

        Kicks to the thigh with the shin are extremely effective, and this is something where the “lessons” from MMA would probably mislead you. Those guys have good musculature (armor basically) and a high pain tolerance, and they probably specifically train to block and brace for such kicks. You see MMA fighters routinely take multiple leg kicks, but I doubt if the average attacker will be able to take that much abuse. This is another pick for “first move in a street fight.” Many people will have trouble walking, even standing, after such a kick. Again, this move has to be practiced, but it’s very effective if done right.

        Punches to the head/face without gloves are risky. You’ll probably break your knuckles, even if you know what you’re doing. Another topic where MMA might mislead you if you’re looking for self-defense lessons.

        Kicks straight to the knee, on the other hand, aren’t terribly effective. You don’t see many MMA fights end from this (though I could find a couple). Unless the knee joint is already extended straight (unlikely), you probably won’t do much damage. I’ve seen a couple “oblique kicks” (which push the knee in from the outside) end fights, but these are usually unlikely to land cleanly.

        Sometimes “self-defense” means controlling someone who is out of their mind without wanting to hurt them, perhaps someone having a psychotic episode of some sort. Here, MMA has useful lessons about avoiding getting hit, tying up, and taking down for control. I wish more cops would learn to control people this way. Some do, but way more need to. In some of the videos I see of cops trying to control thrashing, resisting detainees, I am shocked by the lack of technique. There is some pretty rudimentary stuff that would help here, stuff that doesn’t require hours of practice to master.
        The first few UFCs hold a powerful lesson: cardio matters. In those first few fights nobody had any idea how to prepare, so those guys tired out quickly. If you have no stamina and you are struggling to control another human being, you will tire in under a minute. Even if you have stamina but don’t specifically train for a round of stand-up or grappling, you’ll still tire quickly. If the struggle lasts for more than a minute or so (admittedly a limited set of self-defense situations), cardio becomes a big deal.

        Reiterating what someone else said above. MMA shows that the useful skills are limited to a few basic styles: boxing/Muay Thai for striking (though see above about punching to the face/head), freestyle wrestling for clinching and getting the takedown (judo throws have their place, too), and Brazillian jiujitsu for controlling people once they are on the ground. You occasionally see a stand-out who trains in a traditional style (Lyoto Machida is a great example), but these are rare and those guys train boxing/wrestling/bjj too. Again a lot of these lessons are limited to one-on-one, no-weapons self-defense.

        • dndnrsn says:

          A far lower-stakes version of having to control something: BJJ is the perfect martial art for when your drunk buddy starts playfighting a little too hard and you gotta get the message “stop spilling my drink” across without actually hurting him.

          • johan_larson says:

            If we’re not quite fighting, I’d prefer Judo. BJJ shines on the ground, but Judo does more standing up. If you’re not quite fighting and you want to end it gently, Judo has a lot of takedown options, starting with deashi harai. Judo practitioners also tend to place more emphasis on the takedown game, since their match rules reward it. A solid takedown in Judo can win you the match right there. Not so in BJJ, as I understand it.

          • GregS says:

            I agree with johan_larson’s comment.
            I see a lot of judo matches where one guy gets a perfect ippon (wins with one throw, as you describe), but the “loser” essentially lands in back control. I’m thinking, “Ok, two points for the takedown, but your opponent probably gets four for back control, and will likely win by submission.” But in judo rules, the beautiful throw wins the match, even if the winner lands in a bad spot. Many judo throws have to be modified for BJJ to avoid this. But, man, judo guys have excellent grip fighting. You’re off balance as soon as they grab your sleeve, and ready to throw you as soon as you take a step. Translates well to controlling someone who is wearing a coat or jacket.

          • dndnrsn says:

            I used to do judo. Never that great at it. One thing I noticed was that the senseis tended not to do silly competition-rules-focused stuff. Whereas I watch the Olympics and it’s a real case of Goodhart’s law: guy goes for throw, turtles, other guy shoves him and rolls his eyes, ref stands it back up, etc.

            I don’t know that I’d want to judo throw Drunk Buddy. Just, gently nudge him into a guillotine. Trips and foot sweeps are hard, and in general, I’d be worried that even with a light “let me put you down, Drunk Guy” they’d hit their head on a coffee table or something.

      • Aapje says:

        @GregS

        Some commissioner once saw a martial artist break a bunch of bricks with a downward elbow strike and decided that it must be a super-powerful martial arts move.

        That’s an urban legend. The real reasons:

        “One, the primary reason, was concern about a fighter on his back and another fighter dropping a straight elbow down to the orbital area,” Lembo said.

        If that happened, Lembo said, the doctors were concerned that the head of the downed opponent would have nowhere to go in order to cushion the blow. In the opinion of several medical experts consulted by the New Jersey commission and representatives from other state commissions, such as Nevada and Ohio, “an elbow coming straight down while your head was against the floor would cause a significant amount of injuries,” Lembo said.

        “The secondary reason was if you had fighters who were mismatched in height, and you had the taller fighter coming straight down with an elbow on the shorter fighter, to the spine region,” Lembo added. “But that’s a secondary reason.”

        It wasn’t until later that he heard the alternate explanation involving shattered ice blocks at karate demos, Lembo said, “but I never heard that at the time.”

        • GregS says:

          Interesting article, thanks. I stand corrected.
          I maintain that it’s not a devastating strike. The official rationale isn’t very persuasive, and it seems (from the article) like John McCarthy didn’t really buy it, either.
          It mentions the Jones vs. Hamill fight, in which Jones was disqualified for downward elbows that didn’t (as far as I know) do that much damage to Hamill. In a later fight, Jon Jones broke Brandon Vera’s eye socket (the thing the “no downward elbow” rule is supposed to avoid) with a conventional/legal elbow, and while Vera’s head wasn’t pinned to the floor.

  3. Standing in the Shadows says:

    I was told in recent pastthread that

    1) noticing that the pickpockets in Paris were overwhelmingly members of one of two different European ethnicities was a “no CW in this open thread” violation, and
    2) that mentioning I was told that I was not supposed to notice that reality was itself an attack on my CW outgroup.

    So.

    Can someone steelman for me the “other side of the CW” positions or frames on those points? Apparently it’s more complicated than just asserting that I was factually incorrect.

    I will read and try to understand.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I was the first of several people who told you that.

      It beggars the imagination to suggest that you were ingenuous when you said, “I’m told that I’m not supposed to notice X,” and then said, “What? Culture war? I don’t understand!” If this isn’t a culture war topic, then who the fuck “tells” you that you that you’re “not supposed to notice” it, and what does “not supposed to notice it” mean other than, “noticing this is offensive.”

      • Standing in the Shadows says:

        But you are still not steelmaning, or even woodmanning it.

        Why is noticing something obvious not acceptable?

        It is politeness, like not “noticing” someone has an ugly baby?

        Or is it some attempt at some sort of reverse sympathetic magic, where if everyone can all be forced to not say they see something, that thing magically stops being factually true?

        • Anonymous says:

          Why is noticing something obvious not acceptable?

          Because not all ideologies and religions were created equal.

          Some, in fact, stand on foundations that are in part made up. Yet, people are bought-in into those, since those provide them some manner of benefits, such as peace of mind or ability to live within society. Since pointing out obvious contradictions in said worldviews is a threat to the worldview, they are responding with hostility to your attempt to damage the damn thing.

        • I didn’t see the beginning of this, but I would assume the problem is the mentioning, not the noticing. If I say “I hear that some people punch nazis”, that is starting a CW topic, and if I say “I have noticed with my very own eyes someone punching a nazi”, so is that. The problem is the subject matter, not the truth or lack thereof.

        • JulieK says:

          Why is noticing something obvious not acceptable?

          Because pointing out that a certain negative trait is correlated with a certain group might cause harm to innocent members of that group.

          • Incurian says:

            I don’t think that makes for a good general rule.

          • Aapje says:

            @JulieK

            Because pointing out that a certain negative trait is correlated with a certain group might cause harm to innocent members of that group.

            I’ve never seen any group of people whose culture didn’t consider it acceptable to associate a certain negative trait with a certain group.

            Merely the trait and group differs, no culture truly rejects the base mechanism.

        • JulieK says:

          Our blog-host has requested that all comments meet 2/3 of true/kind/necessary. Granting that your comment was true, was it kind or necessary?

          • albatross11 says:

            Depends on whether you’re going to be walking around on Las Ramblas in the next couple weeks with a couple hundred Euro in your pockets.

    • ManyCookies says:

      If I posted “Did you know mass shootings have killed far more Americans than terrorists in the past 10 years?”, I am clearly trying to start shit despite that statement being “reality” (if misleading and cherry picked). If I posted that in the Don’t Start Shit OT, I would rightfully be called out/ignored/banned.

    • skef says:

      Can someone steelman for me the “other side of the CW” positions or frames on those points? Apparently it’s more complicated than just asserting that I was factually incorrect.

      Why is noticing something obvious not acceptable?

      Your implication seems to be “If position X is obvious (to person Y?), then X cannot properly be a culture war topic.”

      Do you believe this? Do you not, for example, think there are positions you disagree with that are seen as obviously true by some people who hold them?

      • Standing in the Shadows says:

        Forget the culture war aspect. Assume that my side does not exist. Instead, explain this to a Martian.

        • toastengineer says:

          You brought up something that, while a true fact, is something certain very distasteful sorts of people, whom we like to call “racists” – a particularly annoying subset thereof, in fact – like to bring up a lot, and did not make effort to signal that you were not one of these people. Indeed, you brought this up in a way that was not really useful to the discussion at hand other than as a way of signalling that you are a racist. You then continued to send signals that you were in fact one of these people, to the point where it’s very hard to believe you did so by accident.

        • skef says:

          There are some subjects that, when brought up, tend to result in long back-and-forth threads with a) emotionally charged content and b) few changed opinions, except perhaps for the “hardening” of existing but softer positions. The host of this site has requested that those subjects be avoided in certain discussion threads.

        • Matt M says:

          Forget the culture war aspect.

          Why would we do that when the entire complaint against you is “you’re violating the no-CW policy.”

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            Because that is the uninteresting part.

            What’s interesting, is “why do many people in my CW outgroup insist that there are seen facts that have to be be pretended to be not true?”.

            There has to be a good answer to that question, a better answer then my model of that frame, because my model of that frame is that’s stupid and insane and counterproductive, so I’m missing something, so I am inviting someone who does hold that frame to correct me. There has to be a better reason, a better answer.

            Why do you assert that there are seen facts that are necessary to pretend are not true? Extra points, if you can explain this particular case of seen facts.

          • Nornagest says:

            Saying that the people you’ve caught picking your pocket are always Romani or Bulgarian is arguably picking a culture-war fight; the facts are what they are, but in the presence of an existing CW battle, throwing around anecdotes like that arguably gives ammunition to one side or the other. Besides, you’re a sample size of one and we don’t know if you’re glossing anything over. That said, this is all academic to me; I’m American, and Americans have no stereotypes for either that’d get taken seriously in a modern context. At least, not in any of the parts of the States I’ve lived in.

            But if that’s arguably Culture War, what’s definitely Culture War is claiming that you’re not allowed to notice that fact. That is very openly an accusation of bad faith.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            That is very openly an accusation of bad faith.

            You are right, it is on it’s face an accusation of bad faith. It’s very easy and very comfortable for me to believe that it’s an example of bad faith on the other side. But that is very unlikely to be that simple. That many people cannot be that “bad faithed”. In fact, they probably have lots of very smart people, who have smartly reasoned their way into this stance. So there has to be a better reason.

            What is it?

            (And, fwiw, I’m an American too. Literally the only place I have ever seen or interacted with Romani and with Bulgarians is on the streets, plazas, and subway stations of Paris. I had no other preexisting notions of either ethnicity, except for garishly false cartoon images of “Gypsies”, which get easily dismissed as cartoons. It’s entirely probable that if I ever go to Bulgaria, I will have an entirely different experience with the Bulgarians I may meet there. On the other hand, I have zero idea where one meets Romani in a “normalized” civil environment.)

          • Wrong Species says:

            Some of these people are in your same CW in-group. They’re just irritated that you’re trying to start shit in the “don’t start shit” thread and pretending that you have no idea what they’re talking about.

          • Brad says:

            I’m not sure what you are asking here. Are you unaware that blurting out “truths” anywhere and anywhen and in front of anyone is sometimes inappropriate? Are you unaware of the concept of polite fictions? What exactly is it that you are confused about?

          • Protagoras says:

            If you had brought this up in a CW thread, there are a decent number of people around here who would agree with you, and others who would perhaps have explained why they didn’t. Since you brought it up in a CW-free thread, and pretended you didn’t see why that was inappropriate and doubled down when people tried to explain it to you, you pissed away any possible good will. You have come across as a troll, and people are treating you accordingly. It is too late to try to redirect to whatever serious issue you think you have to talk about; nobody cares to discuss that with obvious troll.

          • JulieK says:

            Literally the only place I have ever seen or interacted with Romani and with Bulgarians is on the streets, plazas, and subway stations of Paris.

            In that case, how do you know that they were, in fact, Romani or Bulgarian?

          • Why do you assert that there are seen facts that are necessary to pretend are not true?

            An interesting question, quite aside from the current thread.

            Consider jury nullification. It seems obvious to me that the moral argument is correct. If I believe that what you have done is illegal but not wrongful and happen to be on your jury, I should vote for acquittal.

            Suppose this view becomes very widespread. In any context where a sizable majority is strongly anti-X (Black, Homosexual, Jewish, Nazi, …) one such person can get away with killing or beating up an X and be reasonably confident that he cannot be convicted, because there will almost certainly be at least one juror who shares his attitude.

            That looks like a pretty strong argument against trying to spread the correct moral judgement.

            As I sometimes put it, some statements are both true and dangerous.

            Including this one.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Jury nullification is an ambiguous thing. I think of it as a way of pushing the government (or at least the legal system) to not be worse than the public.

            Sometimes the public is worse than the government, sometimes the government is worse than the government.

          • Randy M says:

            As I sometimes put it, some statements are both true and dangerous.

            Including this one.

            Yes, definitely including that one.

            Once people know you are willing to lie to them for their own good (or rather, because you mistrust them), good luck convincing them to take matters on authority anymore. All your arguments that sound counter to common sense, like “inflation is good because of wage-stickiness” or “climate change doesn’t mean just warming” and that many people don’t fully understand and take on authority will need to be explained in detail on a ninth grade (or whatever) level. And some things can’t really be explained on accurately at that level.

          • @Randy M:

            Both of your examples are in areas where there is much to be said for not taking the claims of the authorities on faith.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I think your position would have been more defensible without the “but apparently I’m not supposed to notice” bit. That’s some CW bait right there.

      The ethnicities of the pickpockets may or may not be CW.

      The argument over whether you’re supposed to notice, or whether or not anyone cares whether you’re “allowed” to notice or not is prime CW.

    • beleester says:

      I think you’re strawmanning what you were told.

      Noticing something is not forbidden. I seriously doubt anyone in the past OT said you were not allowed to notice something.

      Going on a forum to announce what you’ve noticed is something very different. When you go to a forum and mention something, you’re starting a discussion. And when the thing you announce is racially charged, you’re starting a CW discussion. And you can’t start CW discussions in the non-CW thread.

      As for #2, declaring that your statements are “reality” and your opponents are trying to suppress the obvious reality is definitely an attack. Even if you think it’s true, you shouldn’t post it in a thread where you’re not supposed to start fights.

      EDIT: I went back and looked, and nobody was telling you that, you just brought it up out of nowhere! Bringing up what “they” tell you to do, when “they” have not shown up anywhere in the thread, is absolutely culture-warring. You weren’t talking to anyone, you just took a moment to get on your soapbox and complain about your outgroup.

  4. ManyCookies says:

    Alright let’s about talk the U.S Electoral College, now that we’re out of the CW/controversy-free thread. What are your thoughts on the current U.S presidential eleciton process, and what (if any) changes would you like to see to it? Also if you’re not from the U.S, how does your election system for president/leader work and do you have any grievances with it?

    For non-Yanks, the Electoral College/presidential election works as follows:

    1. Each state gets a certain amount of electoral votes, equal to its total of representatives and senators in Congress. The number of representatives are weighted by the state’s population, while Senators are fixed at two regardless of population. This obviously benefits the smaller states, giving them more electoral votes per capita (Thank you MattM for this clearer explanation. The nominee that receives the majority of all electoral votes becomes the president.

    2. Each state holds a popular election for their electoral votes bundle, winner-takes-all (with a few so far irrelevant exceptions).

    • Standing in the Shadows says:

      One of the purposes of the EC was to withhold the presidency from a candidate who got a foreign bankroll, and then ran up the popular vote in areas where they were already popular. Which is exactly what it did in 2016. Thank you Framers!

    • Standing in the Shadows says:

      Slightly less snarky, the purpose of voting systems other than pure direct democracy, is to make a tradeoff away from “the most popular candidate”, and towards “a candidate that the losing sides will not kick over the table and end the game when someone they didn’t vote for wins”.

      That seems unfair when you are on the side of the popular candidate.

      It seems a lot more wise when you are on the side of “civil wars are expensive”.

      • 天可汗 says:

        Also, it seems sensible to bias voting systems away from people who reliably make poor decisions. The proper weighting of the votes in, as far as I know, the only city in a developed country that has a serious street-shitting problem is zero, but unfortunately you can’t take their votes without people whining that it’s “undemocratic”.

        More seriously, the Electoral College probably exists because the USA was originally designed to be a federation of states — you know, before Wickard v. Filburn and the 14th Amendment and the incorporation doctrine and so on — and the Founders were like “hm, how do we set up a head of state for a federation” and then they went “aha, the Holy Roman Empire was a federation that had a head of state” and the HRE had electors so we do too. (“Electoral college” is a later coinage.)

        The original proposal was for Congress to elect the president but hahaha oh man how did they even let that out of the brainstorming phase.

        • hyperboloid says:

          The proper weighting of the votes in, as far as I know, the only city in a developed country that has a serious street-shitting problem

          What city is that?

          The original proposal was for Congress to elect the president but hahaha oh man how did they even let that out of the brainstorming phase

          The original version of the Virginia plan strikes me as far better than our current system. Having the legislature select the chief executive is the most common system in democracies outside of the Americas, and a very good case can be made that it’s use correlates with a higher quality of governance.

          USA was originally designed to be a federation of states

          The US constitution was a somewhat awkward compromise hammered out between people who wanted a strong central government, and people who wanted a loose federation of more or less sovereign states. There was, even at the time of the drafting of the constitution, never anything like a majority consensus on what the best system was. Opinions ranged from those of men like Hamilton, who basically wanted something like the British system, but with an elected president for life, instead of a king; to those of future supreme court justice William Paterson, who wanted a minimal modification of the articles of confederation.

          • The Nybbler says:

            What city is that?

            San Francisco, I think.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            it’s use correlates with a higher quality of governance.

            The US system places the value of “avoid a dictator” over “achieve high quality of governance.”

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Having the legislature select the chief executive is the most common system in democracies outside of the Americas, and a very good case can be made that it’s use correlates with a higher quality of governance.

            But then what’s the executive’s check on the legislature? Once the executive serves at the pleasure of the legislature you no longer have three co-equal branches, checking and balancing each other.

            Are you willing to give up the “three co-equal branches” feature?

            Also, civics education being what it is, an awful lot of Americans seem to think the president does serve at the pleasure of the legislature, hence the calls to impeach Trump, not for any high crime or misdemeanor but for basically being a big meanie with the wrong politics.

          • ManyCookies says:

            @Conrad

            Was the sideswipe remotely necessary here?

            Edit @ below: Appreciated, it’s the thought that counts!

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I suppose not. Withdrawn to whatever extent it can be.

        • Jiro says:

          Also, it seems sensible to bias voting systems away from people who reliably make poor decisions.

          Do you also make people who reliably make poor decisions exempt from laws, including tax laws, that may be affected by votes?

      • beleester says:

        I don’t get your reasoning here. If the winner of the popular vote takes power, you know that they’re popular with at least half the country, and if you decide to flip the table and start shooting people, you’re going to be outnumbered. You don’t have such a guarantee when the loser of the popular vote is in power.

        • John Schilling says:

          People can reasonably expect to win wars when they are outnumbered, and they can be right about that. Particularly if they are “outnumbered” 51/49 but have some other compensating advantage, e.g. having more guns and more people who know how to use them. Or more passion and commitment to their cause.

          The recipe for avoiding civil wars is not to put the most popular candidate in office, but to put the least-hated candidate in office. Someone that 51% of the population likes and 49% sees as Worse Than Hitler / The Literal Antichrist, gets you a civil war. An election between a pair of mediocrities that has people unsure which is the lesser of two milquetoast evils doesn’t, no matter which side of the 51/49 split gets in power.

          The electoral college isn’t a guarantee on this front, but it took almost willful incompetence on the part of both parties’ leadership to turn 2016 into a race where at least 45% of the population was going to see the winner as Worse Than Hitler.

          • beleester says:

            I don’t see how the electoral college produces a “least hated” candidate, either, or specifically why a candidate who won the electoral college but not the popular vote would be reliably less hated than the one who won the popular vote.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            You are not looking far enough back. The existence of systems like the EC constrains the set of candidates who will even run.

      • albatross11 says:

        I suppose at the highest level, the purpose of election systems is to get good collective decisions. I mean, the goal we want is to choose good representatives or pass good laws or whatever.

    • John Schilling says:

      Snark on.

      When the EC was established, the number of representatives was only mostly weighted by the state’s population, because it made sense to include all the children whose parents would be casting votes in their interests but it was kind of iffy to extend that to all the slaves whose owners maybe wouldn’t be casting votes in the slaves’ interests. Ultimately, we compromised on counting the slaves as 3/5 of a person for purposes of representation.

      Literal slavery is done for; now we’ve got class interests and associated politics to fill that niche. And the White Working Class at least has just made a persuasive argument for some degree of paternalism rather than trusting them to vote for their own interests. So instead of literal slaves, how about making wage slaves count as 3/5ths of a person where representation is concerned? Anyone earning an hourly wage for sure, maybe also salaried employees and maybe people on disability from an hourly or salaried job. Only the self-employed, the independently wealthy, the honorably retired, and other economically free men count as a full person for representation.

      Snark off.

      Balance of power is totally a thing that matters, and had far more to do with the 3/5 compromise than any principled argument over the ethics of slave representation. So proposals that come down to high-standing principled arguments about why votes for My Tribe’s preferred candidates should be weighted heavier than they presently are, are uninteresting. My serious proposal is that the discussion here should be focused on proposals that preserve the existing balance of power between the major parties in the US (or elsewhere), if necessary including an explicit balance-preserving fudge factor though bonus points if you can hide that behind a veneer of moral principle.

      Anything else is a complete non-starter in real-world terms.

      • 天可汗 says:

        Only the self-employed, the independently wealthy, the honorably retired, and other economically free men count as a full person for representation.

        *Trump wins every state in a landslide*

        • The Nybbler says:

          Doubt it. There’d be a different set of candidates under such conditions.

        • Standing in the Shadows says:

          Trump wins every state in a landslide

          No, Trump would not have been necessary.

        • John Schilling says:

          Whether Trump (presuming there is a Trump, see Nybbler) wins by a landslide, depends I think on whether we just discount the hourly workers or the salaried ones as well. The former gives you a Clinton landslide thanks to all the white-collar votes. It also gives you a monumental legal headache as all the labor unions try to negotiate some sort of hybrid status where their members count as “salaried” but still get time-and-a-half after forty hours, and probably isn’t workable in practice. Quasi-disenfranchise the salaried white-collar voters as well, and yeah, Trump beats Clinton if those are the candidates

          The meta-point is of course that one can always game the system by coming up with a principled meta-argument for a new scheme whose practical effect and true intent is “my guy wins by a landslide”.

          • Rob K says:

            Also the entire politically engaged white collar workforce converts themselves into single-person consultancies. Creating a boom for whatever lawyers and accountants are needed to accommodate that. And behold, 8% economic growth! It’s a flawless scheme!

    • Brad says:

      Number 1 sticks in my craw as a theoretical matter, but as a practical matter doesn’t make that much of a difference. For example, I believe in this last election if you stripped out all the “Senator” electors Trump still would have won the election. Rather it is number 2 that really makes the big difference — always in campaigning and sometimes in outcome.

      The Maine and Nebraska solution is to award one delegate for the candidate that gets the most votes in each House district, and award two delegates to the candidate that gets the most votes in the state overall. This is an improvement, but there are a couple of problems: 1) it inherits and exacerbate whatever gerrymandering already exists at the House district level and 2) there’s a collective action problem in getting states to adopt it — any currently safe state that unilaterally adopted it would be hurting the chances in the next election for “their” candidate.

      I can understand the objections to national popular vote, as it is essentially people worrying that what currently happens to places like I live will happen to them, but as someone pointed out in the other thread (Matt M maybe), it isn’t like candidates are currently spending a lot of time in the Dakotas. What’s so much better about them spending all their time in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Miami over New York City, LA, and Dallas-Ft Worth?

      Maybe some kind of hybrid would be a good compromise. Perhaps doubling the number of electors doubled and the new electors allocated based on the proportion of the national popular vote won. FWIW I don’t believe this would have changed the outcome of either the 2000 or 2016 election. But at least it would give some reason for a candidate to want to win every vote.

      • ManyCookies says:

        Is there a decent mechanism for inter-state agreements? Like could New York and Texas make an election reform pact, where New York will change how they divy their electoral votes if Texas does it too? If so, that would reduce the national collective action problem into a pair-wise collective action problem, where groups of safe but opposite states can “pair up” and simultaneously switch so neither party’s chances are hurt.

        (As an aside: the senate based electoral votes did end up mattering in the 2000 election. Bush won 10 more states than Gore and so netted 20 senate votes, larger than the 6 vote margin he won by. Which is not to say Bush would have 100% lost in a world without the senate votes – his campaign strategy would have been way different – but they significantly helped him in a very tight race.)

        • Standing in the Shadows says:

          There are a bunch of interstate agreements that do not run through the Federal level government.

        • Nornagest says:

          There was a proposal floating around after the election where states would agree to allocate their electors to the winner of the national popular vote. This is totally constitutional — states can allocate their electors however they want, it just so happens that most of them do the winner-take-all thing. And once 51% of the electoral votes are allocated that way, the election becomes a backdoor popular vote.

          I don’t know if that ever went anywhere. But I found it interesting because it’s a lot more viable than an amendment, incentives-wise, and has noticeable strategic effects long before the magic 51% figure gets hit.

          • Steven J says:

            @Nornagest
            “There was a proposal floating around after the election where states would agree to allocate their electors to the winner of the national popular vote.”

            This is the National Popular Vote compact. The effort is still active.
            According to their website:
            “It has been enacted into law in 11 states with 165 electoral votes (CA, DC, HI, IL, MA, MD, NJ, NY, RI, VT, WA). This interstate compact will take effect when enacted by states with 105 more electoral votes. It has passed at least one house in 12 additional states with 96 electoral votes (AR, AZ, CO, CT, DE, ME, MI, NC, NM, NV, OK, OR) and been approved unanimously by committee votes in two additional states with 27 electoral votes (GA, MO).”
            http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/

            Wikipedia has a breakout of the status of the bill in various states.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Popular_Vote_Interstate_Compact#Prospects

          • BBA says:

            NPV been floating around since 2000, and a few states have signed up, but I don’t expect it to get a majority of the EC and enter effect.

            The EC has gone for a different candidate than the popular vote four times in history, and every time it’s favored the Republicans over the Democrats. So red states have little interest in signing up, and purple states are of course harmed by it.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            As far as I can tell, the main flaw with those plans is that they’re all voluntary and so they can be taken back at any time. If Trump had won the national popular vote, but still lost by a landslide as he did in California, do you think Jerry Brown would still give him the electoral votes? What if, in this alternate scenario, California’s electoral votes were the deciding factor in the election?

            Even if Jerry Brown is just that real with it, he probably wants to get re-elected too, and he probably wouldn’t if he went through with that. Them’s the breaks, kid.

          • MrApophenia says:

            It’s not voluntary; the states in question have passed laws governing how they distribute their electoral votes; it’s just that one of the aspects of the law in the states that have passed it is that it doesn’t take effect until a majority of states’ electoral votes are governed by the same process.

            But it has force of law; states could reneg, but not without changing the law.

          • ManyCookies says:

            @AnonYEmous, @MrApophenia

            And if California alone managed some weird legal shenanigans and pulled out post-election, the other states could switch some electors over to Republican so long as they had 55 other “natural” Democratic seats (which would be very likely in just the current compact, New York+New Jersey+ Washington could match that). The pact would be stable against small defections like that.

          • John Schilling says:

            But it has force of law; states could reneg, but not without changing the law.

            And states are pretty much defined by their ability to change the law within their domain, so what’s the point? If there were a “legally binding” EV compact that would have required California to allocate the Electors that put Donald Trump over the top, do you really doubt that there would have been a special session of the state legislature called between Nov 8 and Dec 19 to consider this unique and unprecedented threat to democracy that clearly wasn’t intended when the EV compact was negotiated? Alternately, the state AG can file suit in state court finding that the EV compact has some subtle legal defect he just discovered and ask for a preliminary injunction to keep the whole thing from being implemented until sometime in 2017.

            Maybe if it was enacted by Constitutional amendment. Even with California’s wacky initiative system, I don’t think they could change the constitution in two months.

          • Chalid says:

            If there were a “legally binding” EV compact that would have required California to allocate the Electors that put Donald Trump over the top,

            This is extraordinarily unlikely to happen. The popular vote compact goes into force if states representing 51% of electors agree; they all vote as a bloc. For your scenario to occur, you require California’s preferred candidate to sweep an extremely large majority of the non-compact states while simultaneously losing the popular vote, and, most likely, winning a really overwhelming majority in California. It’s really hard to imagine how all these things could happen simultaneously.

            The NPV compact is only really vulnerable against *coordinated* defection by many states, which is much harder to arrange in a short period.

            Even if it did somehow happen…

            do you really doubt that there would have been a special session of the state legislature called between Nov 8 and Dec 19 to consider this unique and unprecedented threat to democracy that clearly wasn’t intended when the EV compact was negotiated

            I do doubt it. There’s nothing stopping this from happening now – state legislatures can already override their voters – and yet it has never happened. The vast majority of us still respect elections even when we lose them.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I vaguely recall that there is no Official total vote getter record. Each state reports things however they want, and the media add them up and report that as the popular vote, but there are a lot of missing steps in there to make sure that each state, say, counts all those late mail-in ballots that wouldn’t normally matter in a consistent way.

            Now I’d really like to know if this is true or not.

          • bean says:

            I do doubt it. There’s nothing stopping this from happening now – state legislatures can already override their voters – and yet it has never happened. The vast majority of us still respect elections even when we lose them.

            What stops it from happening now is that California’s electors are not voting for Trump. Under the current system, you never are in the place where a state’s electors are voting contrary to the overwhelming will of the state’s voters. Yes, the state legislature might be Democrat, but if the Republican won the state, the legislature knows it’s going to be in serious trouble if they start tampering. Under the NPV, it’s going to happen at some point, and I’m very uncertain indeed that NPV will hold up when it does. Because the California legislature has nothing to lose immediately by deciding that Trump is too bad to let into office under NPV, and a lot to gain.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            If there were a “legally binding” EV compact that would have required California to allocate the Electors that put Donald Trump over the top, do you really doubt that there would have been a special session of the state legislature called between Nov 8 and Dec 19 to consider this unique and unprecedented threat to democracy that clearly wasn’t intended when the EV compact was negotiated?

            Yes, I doubt it. In 2016 in California Clinton got ~62% of the vote and Trump got ~32%. If they were originally going to award Trump a percentage of the electoral votes equal to his share of the Cali popular vote, and then after the election decided “nope, we’re giving them all to Clinton” that would be seen as a grave betrayal and disenfranchisement of those voters.

            Yes, they’re pretty much disenfranchised now (every Republican in California knows their vote doesn’t count in national elections), but they knew that going in.

            Saying “your vote’s totally going to count wait we don’t like how you voted lol nevermind” is how you get a legitimacy crisis.

          • Chalid says:

            @bean

            Under NPV people will stop thinking of “their” electors; they will be thinking of the election as a national affair.

            Anyway, as I said above, it’d take a pretty pathological distribution of voters to create the circumstances in which a state would have the opportunity to defect and change the election outcome. It’s just not a serious concern.

          • Brad says:

            Having read way too much about this back in 2000 when I was obsessed with a certain story in the news, you have to take into account 3 USC 5:

            If any State shall have provided, by laws enacted prior to the day fixed for the appointment of the electors, for its final determination of any controversy or contest concerning the appointment of all or any of the electors of such State, by judicial or other methods or procedures, and such determination shall have been made at least six days before the time fixed for the meeting of the electors, such determination made pursuant to such law so existing on said day, and made at least six days prior to said time of meeting of the electors, shall be conclusive, and shall govern in the counting of the electoral votes as provided in the Constitution, and as hereinafter regulated, so far as the ascertainment of the electors appointed by such State is concerned.

            This is the so-called safe harbor provision. If a state decided to change its method of appointment after six days before an election then it would not be in the safe harbor and Congress could reject the electors. The complicated procedure Congress would use in such a case is in 3 USC 15.

            Also worth mentioning: Hayes-Tilden.

          • John Schilling says:

            If a state decided to change its method of appointment after six days before an election then it would not be in the safe harbor

            The text you cite says “six days before the time fixed for the meeting of the electors”, which I can’t see how to parse as anything but six days before the Electoral College meets and in 2016 would have given any state legislature the whole period from 8 November to 13 December for post-general-election meddling. This document seems to confirm that the states can deal with “controversies” up to 13 December

            On the other hand, that would seem to make the entire “Safe Harbor Provision” almost pointless, so not sure what’s going on here. IANAL, and maybe we need a lawyer for this one.

            Meanwhile, we’ve got 166 years of precedent that says California allocating 100% of its electors to whomever got at least 51% of the state popular vote is not a “betrayal” of the rest, and we’ve hypothetically got a deal with e.g. Texas with the ink still wet that would actually be betrayed if the CA legislature backed out in late November. The folks in Sacramento are I am pretty sure not morally committed to the principle “Don’t Mess with Texas”, and I don’t think they feel obligated to the state’s GOP minority in matters that don’t involve well-established precedent.

          • MrApophenia says:

            I’m pretty sure the legalese there translates into the final cutoff for changes to election law being six days before the election takes place, but IAalsoNAL.

        • Eugene Dawn says:

          In particular, I’m curious about the effect of assigning electoral votes proportionally to the in-state vote, rather than winner-take-all.

          Would that have meaningfully changed any previous elections? How would this function as a compromise,since it would introduce more proportionality, but still give more weight to less populated states?

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            I had a go at this: I took Clinton vote share and Trump vote share for each state from Wikipedia (I used the at-large number for Maine and Nebraska for simplicity) and calculated how many EVs each would have won per state if EVs were distributed proportionately to the popular vote in the state. I tried rounding the state-by-state totals, and just rounding at the end. And, the answer is, it makes a difference: with the same formula for calculating number of EVs per state, depending on how I do the rounding, Clinton wins either 254 or 256 EVs and Trump wins 250 or 252.
            Of course, this leaves a number of EVs to go to Stein and Johnson.

            With the overweighting of small rural states in the formula for EVs, Clinton would win between 47.2% and 47.6% of the electoral college with 48.2% of the popular vote, and Trump would win 46.4% to 46.8% of the electoral college with 46.1% of the popular vote. This seems like a fairly small effect.

            This suggests to me that, as Brad says, the real issue isn’t the fact that small, rural states are overweighted in the EV formula, it’s the fact that the system is first past the post.

            (Edit:) This all of course ignores the fact that in this scenario, no one wins a majority, and the election goes to the House, so it might not change the actual outcome. The point is, I think this shows the disadvantage to Democrats, such as there is, isn’t a function of the apportionment of EVs to states, so much as it is a function of the winner-take-all nature of how candidates win EVs.

      • gbdub says:

        What’s so much better about them spending all their time in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Miami over New York City, LA, and Dallas-Ft Worth?

        At least in theory, a candidate tailored to be maximally competitive in the current swing states will be more centrist than the Dem candidate designed for maximum turn-out-the-vote impact in Berkeley or the GOP candidate tuned for turnout in Arlington TX.

        Didn’t seem to work for Trump, but then again his “extremism”, outside of his persona, was largely on issues that apparently appeal to both traditional Red Tribers and working-class-Dems in the rust belt (who are/were basically unionized Red Tribers).

        • Matt M says:

          At least in theory, a candidate tailored to be maximally competitive in the current swing states will be more centrist than the Dem candidate designed for maximum turn-out-the-vote impact in Berkeley or the GOP candidate tuned for turnout in Arlington TX.

          Does it automatically follow that this is a better result?

          Isn’t there a pretty significant amount of criticism directed at the notion that we usually end up with two candidates who agree with each other on 95% of the issues, thus making the “choice” almost irrelevant?

          Would a Ron Paul vs Bernie Sanders showdown really be obviously worse than Obama vs Romney?

          • gbdub says:

            I would rather have the fringes pissed off than the centers. The fact that the two candidates agree on 95% of the issues reflects that fact that the major parties do as well, and the public generally does.

            On a scale of 1-10, put hardcore lefty at 1, extreme right at 10. I’d rather have a race between a 4 and a 6 than a 2 and a 9. In former case, no one is really happy, but also no one is more than 6 points from their ideal. Also the happiest people are in the center of the distribution. In the latter case, you might be 8 off your ideal, and even the fat center of the curve has people several points off ideal.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            I would rather have the fringes pissed off than the centers. […] On a scale of 1-10, put hardcore lefty at 1, extreme right at 10. I’d rather have a race between a 4 and a 6 than a 2 and a 9.

            I think this sort of framing is buying into amythical idea as to what the ‘centre’ actually is, politically. The argument at the link is that a “Ron Paul vs Bernie Sanders showdown” is not ‘fringier’ than an Obama vs Romney showdown: Sanders and Trump are probably closer to the political centre than Obama and Romney are in the sense that the ‘centrist’ position is rarely the most popular:

            A 2014 study from Berkley political scientists David Broockman and Douglas Ahler surveyed voters on 13 policy issues — offering them seven different positions to choose from on each, ranging from extremely liberal to extremely conservative. On only two of those issues — gay rights and the environment — was the centrist position the most common one. On marijuana, the most popular policy was full legalization; on immigration, the most widely favored proposal was “the immediate roundup and deportation of all undocumented immigrants and an outright moratorium on all immigration until the border is proven secure”; and on taxes, the most popular option was to increase the rate on income above $250,000 by more than 5 percent. Meanwhile, establishing a maximum annual income of $1 million (by taxing all income above that at 100 percent) was the third most common choice, boasting four times more support than the national Republican Party’s platform on taxation.

            In other words, there’s a very real chance that a candidate who is competitive for both Texas GOP and Vermont Democrat votes is more like Bernie than Obama, or more like Trump/Paul than like Romney.

            Again from the linked piece:

            Almost no one in the United States has uniformly “moderate” policy views; on individual issues, the electorate’s consensus positions are often ideologically “extreme”

            In reality, it is likely that economically Bernie-esque and socially Trump-esque turns out to be the centre, and moderate Obama-esque/Romney-esque turns out to be the fringe.

          • Matt M says:

            In reality, it is likely that economically Bernie-esque and socially Trump-esque turns out to be the centre

            The snobs at NBC invented Dennis Duffy as having a political position too stupid to actually exist. Turns out he was the silent majority all along 🙂

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            The snobs at NBC invented Dennis Duffy as having a political position too stupid to actually exist. Turns out he was the silent majority all along

            I had to look this reference up, and read some Dennis Duffy quotes, and now I feel like I should watch more 30 Rock.

      • MrApophenia says:

        The comment that Trump still would have won made me curious, so I just did the math, and just wanted to confirm you are correct – Trump still definitely would have won without the ‘Senate’ electors. The exact count each candidate would have gotten depends on how you reduce the counts in the states that actually did split their electoral vote, but Trump still winds up far ahead. It’s definitely the state level winner-take-all that resulted in a different result than the national popular vote.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        it inherits and exacerbate whatever gerrymandering already exists at the House district level

        You’ve identified the way worse problem. The EC only matters in really close elections where the populace is roughly evenly divided anyway, but crazy gerrymandering can cause temporary small majorities to become permanently entrenched politically. Imagine what the EC would be like if the President could redraw the state lines every 10 years.

    • ManyCookies says:

      Much of the E.C effects are only relevant in closer races, but the winner-takes-all state elections will always have a rather negative impact on voter turnout and enthusiasm. Because the margin of victory in a state is irrelevant, candidates ignore states that strongly favor one party over the other, regardless of the actual number of their supporters in that state; the 350 thousand Republican voters in New Hampshire are far more important than the 4000 thousand in California. And the majority of the U.S resides in these safe states, so candidates are focusing their efforts on just 30-40% of the total population, while the rest receive little to no direct attention and vote only in completely non-competitive elections.

    • Nornagest says:

      It’s a kludge for sure. That said, pretty much every attempt at democracy in a culturally heterogeneous environment includes some kludges designed, more or less explicitly, to keep cultural minorities politically relevant and disincentivize majoritarian power grabs, and ours at least has two hundred and thirty years of relative stability going for it.

      The best argument against it that I’ve heard is that we now live in a society where there are a lot more relevant cultural divisions than the dense/industrial/urban vs. sparse/agrarian/rural divide that’s built into the Constitution, and that we’re effectively leaving a lot of people out in the cold by relying on it. It would probably be possible to design a more flexible system, one that takes into account future cultural divides rather than baking anything in particular in, and in principle I’d be interested in proposals along those lines. But a glance at a precinct-level election results map shows us that that divide’s still very relevant on a coalition level, and any such proposal would have to be really damn good for me not to suspect that it’s either a Fuck The Cities or a Fuck The Rurals Amendment in disguise.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        The best argument against it that I’ve heard is that we now live in a society where there are a lot more relevant cultural divisions than the dense/industrial/urban vs. sparse/agrarian/rural divide that’s built into the Constitution, and that we’re effectively leaving a lot of people out in the cold by relying on it.

        I’m catching the scent of gerrymandering off of that: Urbans claiming that their multitudes of subcultures each being individually just as important as the Rurals’ Homogeneous Outgroup culture.

        • Brad says:

          You just assume that the cultural division in question are urban. The arguments made for disproportionate rural representation would translate even more strongly to the Amish and certain groups of Native Americans and Alaska natives, none of which is an urban population. It would perhaps also translate to African-Americans, although I’d say not as well, and that is indeed an urban population.

          In any event limiting the argument about minority groups not having their interests taken into account by the majority and so deserving disproportionate political power to rural residents now and forever strikes me as a post hoc justification for the status quo ante.

    • Protagoras says:

      It’s a silly system, but the only times a popular vote winner ends up losing are when the vote is close; I tend to think the state of the voters, who make a lot of races close that shouldn’t be, is a much bigger problem than the details of the voting system. A better voting system obviously won’t fix the voters. Still, since it is a silly system, if there were a realistic proposal to be less silly, I’d support it. I just don’t think it’s a hugely important priority.

    • littskad says:

      One important consequence of the electoral college is that the vast majority of time it gives a clear winner. This is especially important, I think, in today’s litigious environment. For example, in the 1880 election, James A. Garfield won the popular vote over Winfield Scott Hancock by 4,446,158 to 4,444,260, but won the electoral college by 214 to 155, so it was basically a non-issue. If the president were elected by popular vote nowadays, and the totals came up with that razor-thin of a margin, it would set off a nation-wide orgy of lawsuits and car trunks full of misplaced votes and God only knows what else–Florida 2000 would have nothing on this.

      In my opinion, if the election is close enough that any of this matters, it’s basically a 50/50 proposition: Half the country will be unhappy no matter what. In that sort of circumstance, I think it’s difficult to overstate how important having a clear winner is.

      • ManyCookies says:

        That’s a compelling argument for arbitrary-ish tiebreakers of really close elections, where local mismanagement or fraud could plausibly matter. But why couldn’t that arbitrary tiebreaker just be “The person who wins the first/Xth recount”? That’s essentially how 2000 Florida was eventually decided, and I don’t think there was a widespread loss of faith in the election process.

        Hell the popular vote margin in 2000 (500k+) was outside recount range, the reason there was even any controversy was because the Electoral College made Florida’s exact margin so important!

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          The last time I recall the EC being brought up on SSC, someone (David Friedman, I think) brought up the point that one benefit of the EC is that it limits the size of the recount(s) you have to do. Recounts are expensive when just one state does them; imagine the expense when the whole nation has to do it. And then imagine the ease with which a candidate could build a case for doing so.

          I can see a related benefit as well. Consider the ease with which someone could rig an election. Which is to say, it’s quite hard, for a country the size of the US. It would of course be easier to do in a single state. However, the maximum benefit there is all of that state’s electoral votes. In most places, this isn’t worth the effort. So it may be possible that the people who are clever enough to try to pull off a fix are also clever enough to decide that it’s not worth the small number of electoral votes they would gain.

          • cassander says:

            And not just the direct expense, think of the litigation! Just imagine, say 2000, and bush and gore lawyers were plowing voter rolls and result tabulations in every county in the country, filing suit wherever they saw anything that looked a little funny where they thought they could gain a couple hundred votes.

          • roystgnr says:

            Note also that, to rig a Presidential election via the electoral college vote, you *must* do your rigging in a swing state, where everyone is watching and where by definition half the state has an interest in making sure you can’t corrupt the result.

            If we make every vote count on the margin, then every vote will count on the margin. In a national popular vote, if you want to make a car trunk full of suspicious ballot boxes appear or you want to subvert a voting machine or whatever, you can case literally the entire country looking for the softest target to hit.

          • ManyCookies says:

            @roystgnr

            Though on the other hand, you’d have to rig way more votes to swing the popular vote. Even the “close” 2000 presidental election had a popular margins of over 500 thousand voters, whereas you could rig 15 thousand votes in Florida or Michigan and have a reasonable shot at swinging a close-ish election.

      • AnonYEmous says:

        One important consequence of the electoral college is that the vast majority of time it gives a clear winner.

        Isn’t it true, though, that a critical swing state can experience the same level of “tiny margin of victory”?

        With that said, though, at least you only have to go back and re-count within one state, as opposed to fifty. That’s probably a big benefit. Recounts are expensive!

      • dodrian says:

        My favourite idiosyncrasy that comes out of US elections is that a surprising number are decided by coin toss. If candidates agree to dispense with a recount or holding a special election, they flip a coin instead.

        In fact, that happened just last week at the election for a seat on the Bolton, CT Board of Selectmen.

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      To my mind, the EC is a red herring, with plurality voting being the larger structural issue. Ideally, I’d prefer a Condorcet Method of some sort, but I’m well aware that I might as well ask for peace on earth and good will towards men, so in more realistic terms my preferred solution is to hope that we can either strengthen local and state governments and stop making the federal contests the be-all end-all of American politics, or else commit fully to simultaneously maximizing polarization -and- power of the federal branch until it’s 51% of the population stamping its hob-nailed boot on the face of the other 49% until misery and anger is sufficient to burn the system down and try again with a better system.

      I’d prefer the “devolution” solution, but in my more cynical and pessimistic moments I feel like the “Centralization + Polarization = Balkanization” solution is the only realistic best case, with the most likely worst case simply being that the 51% is able to stamp its hob-nailed boot on the face of the other 49% indefinitely.

      To be clear, to me it doesn’t really matter what faction or coalition or philosophy holds that 51%, because it’s inevitable that they will behave badly towards their outgroups, and you’re ALWAYS in someone’s outgroup.

    • christhenottopher says:

      OK I think I have something to add here that I haven’t seen talked about in replies yet (a rarity for me!). So for this I’m going to be drawing a lot on The Dictator’s Handbook by Alastair Smith and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Myth of the Rational Voter by Bryan Caplan.

      So there are two primary concerns I have in deciding good electoral set ups, size of the winning coalition (bigger is better with some potential caveats) and trying to select against rational ignorance/irrationality. For those unfamiliar with the latter concept, since individual votes have nearly zero chance of determining an electoral outcome, voters rationally choose not to take the effort to deeply learn about political subjects. Indeed, they choose to not challenge irrational beliefs because of the lack of personal benefit in doing so (it’s a lot harder to fight one’s personal biases than to notice other people are biased, mock them for it, and be smugly self-satisfied). Now theoretically by reducing the number of voters you increase the chances your vote will matter and suddenly there is a cost to being irrational on a personal level. But the size of the voter pool has to get REALLY small for this to significantly overcome the effort required to really be knowledgeable and beat confirmation bias.

      Meanwhile, larger winning coalition sizes (aka the number of people needed to secure political power) tend to reduce the relative gap in benefits for supporters from receiving private rewards vs public rewards (private and public in the economist terminology of private vs public goods). To explain this, if you have a pool of $1 billion of tax funds to distribute when you win political power and a country of 100 million people. If you funnel those into the right public goods, every person gets a benefit of $30, or you could directly bribe people with private handouts. If you need 1000 people, each of those gets $1,000,000 from private gains so to hell with public goods. If you need 50 million people then private benefits only get them $20 bucks a piece, so public goods are better. Need even more people to win and

      So combining these, more people is good for promoting public over private goods, and selecting for more politically rational people improves governance by avoiding irrationality. The Electoral College as it currently stands does both of these things poorly. By making voting geography based, you shrink the size of the winning coalition unless your geographic units happen to be equal in population. From the example above, if only 33 million well distributed voters are needed to win, the private goods are now more valuable than the public goods to the winning coalition ($33 vs $30). From the irrationality perspective, rural voters are less educated on average and what Caplan finds in his work is that people with more education tend to shift towards expert consensus relative to the population as a whole (expert consensus being valuable since the competitive market for status and jobs within an expert community gives greater incentive towards rationality). As such the electoral college would lean into the public’s irrationality rather than fighting it.

      But there’s one other consideration, empirical results. And on life outcomes, the US does pretty good! On both regular and inequality HDI, the US is a top 20 country. More than that, HDI is affected by a lot more than just governmental structure, but no really bad governments are that high (the closest “Not Free” by Freedom House government is Brunei at 30). So I’m willing to say anyone in the top 20 on HDI has a fine government that at most we’re talking about tweeking at the margins.

      So, I think the electoral college isn’t great, but I find it hard to be super up in arms about, especially since it has no influence over legislative elections or state level governance that probably have more day-to-day impact on citizens’ lives.

      • dndnrsn says:

        I was shilling for Smith and de Mesquita here a while back. Great book, and very illluminating. I think it does a good job of explaining why “benevolent dictators” are so uncommon.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      What about attacking the problem from the other end, and reducing the authority in the executive enough that most people don’t sweat the complexity of the process that fills it?

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Can we still make vast sweeping prognostications on the state of the country based on the results of one election?

      • beleester says:

        That’s actually not a terrible proposition (although I suspect that we’d fight just as much over gerrymandered Congressional districts). I’ve heard some interesting arguments that the Executive branch has sort of “routed around” the deadlock in Congress, solving problems by executive order or bureaucratic policy instead of law. If Congress was able to pass laws faster and react better to what people want, it would reduce the need for the Executive to do weird stuff that wasn’t really intended.

        So to fix the Presidency, nuke the filibuster :P.

        • Incurian says:

          If Congress was able to pass laws faster and react better to what people want

          No good could come of this. I’d prefer to check the executive with the courts.

          • CatCube says:

            I think that’s even worse. The courts are too powerful today as it is, where substantial policy changes are being enacted by judicial legerdemain. I’d prefer to see democratic power transferred back to Congress.

          • Incurian says:

            When courts do it, it’s exceptional. For a legislature that’s business as usual.

    • Aapje says:

      Also if you’re not from the U.S, how does your election system for president/leader work and do you have any grievances with it?

      In The Netherlands, we technically don’t have a single leader. Final executive decisions are made by the Council of Ministers, who legally all have equal standing. In practice this means that they usually seek consensus, although they can make decisions by voting. The Prime Minister is primus inter pares: first among equals. As a minister, he has his own, tiny ministry of ~400 bureaucrats, called General Affairs. This is mainly responsible for coordination of government policy, the Dutch Royal House and government communications.

      The executive is elected by the legislature. The usual first step after the election is that the House of Representatives* tasks an ‘informateur’ aka explorer to figure out which coalition(s) is/are most viable. This job is purely informal and not legally described or mandated. It normally involves asking the political parties who they want to govern with. Based on the outcome, the House of Representatives* tasks an ‘formateur’ to try to form a certain coalition. The formateur has always been a member of the largest party of the intended coalition. Then you normally have coalition talks, which may result in a coalition agreement and a bunch of proposed ministers. Then the formateur goes to the King, who appoints all ministers by royal decree. All royal decrees have to be cosigned by a minister, because the king is not actually responsible for his degrees (a hack to make the monarchy democratic). So the Prime Minister has to sign the royal degree to appoint himself. Then The Netherlands has a new executive.

      One criticism of this model is that due to the coalition talks, it can take a long time after the election to appoint a new executive. The old executive goes into caretaker mode after the election, so no major new legislation is passed then (for those with nefarious plans: in emergencies the old executive can be restored to full power, so this cannot be exploited). We actually set a new record after the last election, with it taking 225 days (over 7 months). I personally believe that the Dutch government makes too many laws compared to the ability of the bureaucracy to implement these laws, so I’m fine with this.

      Another complaint is that people don’t get to pick the Prime Minister (or coalition). In practice, the role of Prime Minister has been increasingly important and vested with more informal power. The problem with having voters pick a Prime Minister (or coalition) in addition to choosing the House of Representatives is that the two can easily result in a Prime Minister (or coalition) with not enough support in the House. Even in the US with only 2 parties, we see gridlock. It’s even more likely in a multi-party system.

      In general, I am quite happy with the system. In my opinion it works better than the system of pretty much every other country that I have some familiarity with. Proposed major changes generally seem to suffer from a ‘grass is greener’ mindset, where people see some advantages in elements of other systems, but are not sufficiently aware that adopting these will also bring major disadvantages.

      The main advantage of the Dutch system in my view is that it encourages being reasonable, finding compromises and that it empowers minorities who really feel strongly about an issue where the majority has a weakly held opposite opinion (because even a smaller party can be crucial to form a coalition and coalitions change around regularly, so it pays to take their concerns into consideration even when the majority could outvote them). This gives some protection against the ‘two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner’ scenario.

      * This is relatively recent, before 2012, the king would choose the informateurs and formateurs.

      • The Nybbler says:

        that it empowers minorities who really feel strongly about an issue where the majority has a weakly held opposite opinion

        This seems like it’s often a disadvantage; it exacerbates the problem of diffuse losses and concentrated benefits.

        • Brad says:

          It may exacerbate in that they are more likely to get their way on their pet issue. But on the other hand they explicitly trade whatever-it-is-they-want for control over any other issue. They join whatever coalition needs them, get their one bullet point and have no say on the rest of the platform.

          Whereas in the US system with lobbying an interested minority can get its way on its pet issue and still have equal influence on everything else. There’s less of a trade-off involved.

        • Aapje says:

          @The Nybbler

          I think that you are talking about spending getting out of control. Financing seems more strictly managed in my country. My impression is that in the US, both the executive and congress make a lot of individual financing decisions, without a holistic view.

          In contrast, in The Netherlands the executive plans are mostly planned beforehand in the coalition agreement and the budget consequences are calculated during that process (or budgets are set and then the plans that are made later have to fit the budget). So the expected surplus or deficit is known early on and the coalition is judged by this. Furthermore, the standard rule is that budget shortfalls for a ministry have to be managed by that ministry themselves by cutting spending elsewhere in their budget. They won’t normally get extra budget unless something really significant happens. One Dutch Minister of Finance once said that the job is the easiest in the world, since the only skill you need is to be able to say ‘no.’ He added that the only question the Minister of Finance has to say ‘yes’ to is: “Did you say ‘no’?”

          If I’m not mistaken, in the US the Secretary of the Treasury is merely an adviser to the President and pretty powerless if the president just decides to spend some billions. Furthermore, congress will often just make a law that requires extra spending, while in the Dutch system the coalition parties will typically not support legislation unless the executive is OK with it. So in general, the Dutch system makes it relatively easy for a minority to get something like gay marriage (which is pretty much free), but not very easy to get any significant spending for their pet projects.

          What Brad said is also true. The number of seats in the House of Representatives determines bargaining power during coalition talks. Every demand that the other prospective coalition parties give into reduces the remaining bargaining power. Once the coalition agreement is done, the small party can’t extort the other parties for more concessions, because of the agreement. In a system like the US, a small majority can enable some senators to keep extorting the rest of the majority party for concessions, for each new issue that comes up. For instance, they can keep inserting bits of pork in various bills and then threaten to vote against the bill if the pork gets taken out.

      • Argos says:

        Somewhat speculative question:

        Is there anything resembling a Blue/Red tribe divide in the Netherlands?

        It always seemed to me, that Germany’s proportional election system helps to prevent a strong split into two fractions/tribes by providing several different choices both on the ballot and for any given political question. Thus there is not really a clear outgroup who disagrees with you and all of your friends on every single question. Contrary to what one might expect, there is also no iron Left/Right split, as evidenced by coalitions formed of both left and right wing parties.

        Anecdotically, this kind of began to change with the refugee crisis in 2015, when the question on how to deal with the influx became the by far most important topic in the political landscape, a complex question which in the public discourse appropriately got transformed into “are you for or against (taking in) refugees”, with only one party, the very right wing AFD pushing the against it angle. I also noticed that formely not quite politized topics like soccer suddenly became controversial; during the World or European Soccer Cup it’s very common to attach little Germany flags to your car, but many more leftist organizations than in the preceding cups went around during last year’s European cup and ripped the flags of the cars to protest against nationalism.

        • Aapje says:

          @Argos

          Is there anything resembling a Blue/Red tribe divide in the Netherlands?

          I’m not sure that the Blue/Red tribe divide is even a valid way to describe America, so I don’t feel comfortable drawing parallels with the Blue/Red tribe framing.

          The globalist/nationalist split is very obvious in The Netherlands, which maps very strongly on levels of education. However, it is interesting that the globalists and nationalists have very strong agreement on many social issues like euthanasia and gay marriage & also have rather similar beliefs about income inequality. The real differences center around topics that the nationalists see as fundamental threats to their well-being, but that the globalists see as improvements. These topics are migration, integration vs multiculturalism, the EU, global trade and such. My belief is that this difference strongly reflects the interests of these groups. I think that the well educated, who often are well-positioned, actually experience much more benefits from migration, multiculturalism, the EU, global trade and such, while the downsides accrue much more with the lower educated.

          In itself it’s not a problem when groups fight for their own needs at the expense of others, as long as there is equal access to power and thus a balance of power. However, for several decades, the globalists had taken full control over institutions & the executive. By not accepting the concerns of the nationalists as valid and calling them racist and such, they created a cordon sanitaire against (the concerns and desires of) the less educated, who have less ability to gain access to positions of power in the first place. This then created immense resentment among the less educated, with good reason, because their needs and concerns were consistently ignored.

          This first resulted in the less educated non-migrants abandoning the political parties that traditionally fought for their interests, like the Labor Party, moving to new political parties with no governing experience. To their credit, a substantial fraction of the globalists then tried to bring a major nationalist party into the governing coalition. However, this strategy failed twice, with the coalition breaking up due to cultural differences.

          The new coalition that just came to power has an old party in their ranks which has adopted a more nationalist stance. I hope that this will work out. A positive sign is that the coalition has accepted a pragmatic compromise policy of trying to help refugees near the conflict zone. On other topics there are also signs that the needs of the less educated are getting more focus. But it’s all very fragile and I see the international culture war as a threat.

    • dodrian says:

      The system in the UK has lots of quirks, but essentially it runs like this:

      A nationwide election is held electing all of the 650 seats to the House of Commons. Each seat is tied directly to a constituency, where the candidate with the largest number of votes wins (FPTP).

      The Queen invites the leader of the largest party to form a government. They do so by passing the Queen’s Speech (an outline of their intentions for the legislative session) and a budget. The leader is then appointed Prime Minister by the Queen, and they assemble their cabinet.

      The House of Lords is the second house of the legislature, most of its members are appointed for life by Prime Ministers (I think that technically they’re recommended by the PM to be appointed by the Queen, but in practice it’s the same). Some members are hereditary peers, and 24 members are bishops from the Church of England. In theory, the Lords are intended to advise on bills, suggest amendments, and occasionally send their own to the Commons. There was a kerfuffle a year or two ago where they voted against a bill passed by the Government, much talk of constitutional crisis and potentially reforming the Lords, but nothing came of that in the end.

      Because the Commons uses a FPTP system, there is usually a clear majority government (at the moment the Labour and Conservative parties have the strongest support, but the Scottish National Party and Lib Dems have a significant number of seats each, and there are many smaller, mostly regional parties a few seats each). However, in 2010 and again earlier this year there was a hung parliament, with no party holding an outright majority. This prompted a few changes to aid coalition building:

      Whereas previously the PM could request that the Queen dissolve Parliament at any point during their five year term, this unilateral power has been withdrawn in favor of requiring two-thirds of the legislature to vote for dissolution (or the expiry of the five years since the last general election). Alternatively, if the opposition passes a motion of no confidence by simple majority, the government has 14 days within which to pass a motion of confidence, or else Parliament is dissolved.

      While I don’t think it would be good to establish this system of government in a new country (having a Monarch, and Hereditary Peers in the second house), I think it has worked well for the UK historically, and continues to do so. There have been numerous attempts to reform it, most recently changing the FPTP system to a single-transferable-vote (ranked voting, a condition of the 2010 coalition which failed in a national referendum). The House of Lords is slowly changing (it used to be mostly hereditary, now it is mostly by appointment of an elected official), and I suspect that will eventually be reformed (removing the bishops will probably be the first thing), but not in the immediate future. The Queen is widely loved and respected, and while her son Charles is slightly less so, I doubt his ascending to the throne will cause more than a perfunctory suggestion from the usual suspects about dissolving the monarchy.

      The UK has recently seen devolved assemblies in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, with increasing powers over local services and spending being sent to each. England doesn’t have a separate legislature for this, and I think formalizing a federal system might help ease tensions between the countries. I doubt that Scotland will actually try and leave the UK, even if this doesn’t happen, but there will definitely be some tension with regards to Northern Ireland as a result of the Brexit process.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I have no recommended changes to the Electoral College. As other posters have pointed out, the Electoral College only matters for particularly close elections, and in those elections it encourages finding centrist candidates that can compete in swing states as well as increasing turnout, rather than solely increasing turnout.

      The people who have a problem with the EC usually assume that whoever has the most votes should win. This is not obviously true, and our current system has all sorts anti-democratic measures that are considered essential for a functioning democracy (like an independent, lifetime appointed judiciary). It’s not obvious that the EC producing a scenario where a -2% candidate wins an election is anymore “unfair” than a football game that appoints a winner based on number of touch downs rather than first downs….or, to keep it political, why not require a run-off election if no candidate exceeds 50% of the vote, or perhaps require even higher majorities (60% like a Senate filibuster, 67% like an overridden veto)?

      I am more concerned about Gerry-mandering, and support independent, race-blind redistricting. Politicians should not get to elect their own voters.

    • gorbash says:

      * I think we should choose a different series of states to hold the primaries for each election. Right now New Hampshire and Iowa have too much power.
      * I think all states should be required to split their electoral votes by proportion of population that voted for each candidate. Right now we have too many “safe states” where candidates don’t even bother campaigning.
      * I want to see a ban on campaign contributions. The top N candidates should get government money for their campaign. I understand the problem with this ban is that it’s hard to define a “campaign contribution” — what if I independently take out an ad for my favorite candidate in a newspaper? I think we should start by banning all activities that solicit donors for money and all entities that receive donations and spend them on politics (“PACs”).

  5. Kevin C. says:

    Imagine you find yourself in a place you find immensely unpleasant. Further, you are there through no fault of your own, but entirely due to the decisions of others. There is a clear means to leave, but others disapprove of trying to take it. Do you, despite that disapproval, have a right to exit? Or does one have an obligation to stay despite not having chosen to be their in the first place?

    • The Nybbler says:

      Nice try.

    • AnonYEmous says:

      why do you keep asking these questions

      don’t doxxx yourself but just tell us what it be

      and as always, don’t kill yourself (and don’t tell me you weren’t planning to either, I don’t care)

    • Kevin C. says:

      So, a lot of the more “strong”/anarchist libertarians are big on “no unchosen obligations”, right? And some additional SSC folks are big on “exit” rights. But there is also a general condemnation of suicide. Aren’t these two in tension? If suicide is wrong, that implies a moral duty to stay alive, and since nobody chooses to be born in the first place, then isn’t this then an unchosen obligation? If one accepts the existence of one unchosen obligation, why not others? If one has no “right to exit” life itself, are there other things from which one possesses no exit right? Again, there’s a contradiction here.

      • Aapje says:

        @Kevin C

        I don’t think that suicide is morally wrong, but that it is often misguided because many people seem to desire suicide for the mistaken impression that their life can’t get better. In practice, we see that quite often the desire to commit suicide evaporates when people’s circumstances change.

        Let’s say that we have two groups:
        A. People whose lives never get so much better that they stop suffering a lot/desiring suicide
        B. People whose lives do get so much better that they stop suffering a lot/desiring suicide

        My belief is that many people in group B falsely believe that they are in group A. By pressuring them not to commit suicide, some of them will end up seeking help, changing their life or waiting out a temporary depression to no longer want suicide and to enjoy life again.

        Also, suicide harms others, both the family of the person, but also the people who witness the suicide and/or have to clean up the remains. A lot of suicides also fail and people end up with all kinds of disabilities and issues that impose costs on society. As the grandson of a train driver, I believe that the costs that are imposed on others also legitimizes trying to talk most people out of (trying to) commit suicide.

        • Creutzer says:

          The fact that suicide often imposes significant cost on others is in large part a consequence of the way in which society is set up to make suicide difficult, so that suicidal people are driven to resort to methods with larger externalities.

          I think many people will intuitively argue that if suicide were made easier, more people would do it, but I don’t find that so compelling a priori. I know the epistemically virtuous thing here would be to dig up and reflect on the suicide statistics of times/places where barbiturates and/or guns are easily and less easily obtained, and I’m hoping someone here might have more time and drive than myself…

          As for the group A and B thing: you’re probably right, but whether putting pressure on people not to commit suicide is a good depends on their relative prevalence of various types. The higher the ratio of As to Bs who believe they’re As, the less justifiable it looks to screw over all the As for the sake of some mistaken Bs.

        • cuke says:

          As a psychotherapist, this strikes me as true what you say: “…but that it is often misguided because many people seem to desire suicide for the mistaken impression that their life can’t get better. In practice, we see that quite often the desire to commit suicide evaporates when people’s circumstances change.”

          The degree of delusion (and sometimes psychosis) that depression can produce as a symptom is really impressive. Convictions of hopelessness and self-loathing are features integral to depression.

          Have rationalists written about this question of what kind of decision-making we are capable of when our cognitive functions are impaired by depression? Or what would constitute rational evidence for making a suicide decision?

          The other thing I wonder about is the larger moral question of what we consider our duty as a society. Like, if people had pretty equal access to mental and physical healthcare, then at least we would know that they had a fair chance to make that choice either not from a depressed/deluded place or to have made that choice after all other treatments have failed across many months or years.

          I’m not arguing any particular position here. I find myself agnostic on a lot of questions around suicide. This is more just questions that come up for me when we talk about it as a “right” in the context of mental health (as opposed to say end-of-life care in a terminal illness).

          For what it’s worth, I think it may be possible to differentiate between depression distorted statements people make about wanting to end their life in the thick of a depressive episode and lived experience people have of trying to treat their depression and running out of options for relief across years. That difference is part of what accounts for my agnosticism on the question of “right to suicide.”

          • Aapje says:

            There is currently a debate in my country between the proponents of legalizing assisted suicide of the elderly vs those that believe that there is insufficient care for the elderly, making them lonely and depressed as a result of that. Furthermore, another objection is that we have little respect for the elderly, making them consider themselves a burden on others.

            I personally feel that we have made policy and technological choices that atomize society and that make many people isolated and lonely. I believe that we should focus on fixing that first; not making the problem smaller by tossing cyanide pills (or whatever) at these people.

          • Garrett says:

            The degree of delusion (and sometimes psychosis) that depression can produce as a symptom is really impressive. Convictions of hopelessness and self-loathing are features integral to depression.

            Related question: how long should one try to change a situation before assuming it’s unchangeable? “Predictions are hard, especially about the future”. For example, if you lost your job today, it would be silly to assume that you would be unemployable forever. However, what if you spent 10 years looking for a job and went to all the career fairs and job training that all the professionals recommended, following their advice to the best of your abilities? Is it reasonable to presume that you are permanently unemployable? On one hand, it’s foolish because people get hired all the time. On the other hand, you’ve also been unemployed for 10 years.

            So, yes, changing peoples’ situations might change their experience. But that assumes that there’s a reasonable avenue for changing the situation. And I’m not sure that either psychology or rationality have good answers on how to handle such situations.

          • Aapje says:

            @Garrett

            Many factors play a role, so there is no simple answer. If a person is unemployed during a great depression, then there is a much better chance that changing circumstances will make that person fit for a job than when the person is chronically unemployed during a boom period.

            There are lots of variables like that.

        • Wrong Species says:

          I don’t think that suicide is morally wrong, but that it is often misguided because many people seem to desire suicide for the mistaken impression that their life can’t get better. In practice, we see that quite often the desire to commit suicide evaporates when people’s circumstances change.

          Maybe that applies to teenagers but what about adults living with depression for years who don’t expect their circumstances to change? Let’s say that you’re a prisoner of war. It’s miserable enough that you would rather be dead than be there but you also hold out hope that it will end. A year passes by. Two years pass by. Ten years pass by. How many years have to pass by before suicide becomes a rational choice?

          • Aapje says:

            @Wrong Species

            All direction pushing harms those who don’t need it. A lack of direction pushing harms those who do need it.

            Ideally society wouldn’t direction push at all, but would provide clear heuristics: if A, then it’s reasonable to commit suicide. If B, then it’s unreasonable.

            However, while this is a good ideal, I’m skeptical whether humanity actually currently has the ability to do this effectively. If people are wired to direction push anyway, then we merely have the choice to pick our poison.

    • James Miller says:

      If you can’t reenter, exit becomes a much worse outcome for option value reasons especially if future technology holds far more potential for improving your current situation than it does for what your situation would be if you exited.

    • Jiro says:

      Does the place you want to go to also have a right of exit?

    • northernreaction says:

      For sure you have a right to leave. It’s not like you can never come back. If it turns out the other people were right and you were wrong, you just come right back.

  6. Kevin C. says:

    So Orthodox Jews have Shidduch and the shadchanim. Japanese have omiai and the nakōdo (which accounted for almost 70% of marriages in the 1930s, with “love marriages” only becoming the majority in the 1960s). Koreans have jung-me. In India, familes often have the assistance of Hindu astrologers, and “South Asians” in the UK (and elsewhere) have the Suman Marriage Bureau. Singaporeans have the Social Development Network (formerly the Social Development Unit). The unification Church has Reverend Moon.

    But what about those from outside these groups? Cultures who don’t (or no longer) have such a system? Some might point to online dating as an attempt to (re)create such a process, but everything I’ve heard indicates that it doesn’t work that way in practice (instead, it mostly allows those already successful in modern dating/short-term relationship/ONS offline to increase their “hook up” success rates).

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      The unification Church has Reverend Moon.

      Minor nitpick: they had Reverend Moon. He died five years ago and the Moonies more or less collapsed with his death.

      I actually grew up near a few Moonie families, including one of my close friends. They were nice people but damn did they have a weird cult.

    • vV_Vv says:

      But what about those from outside these groups? Cultures who don’t (or no longer) have such a system?

      Men in these cultures have to git gud.

      Some might point to online dating as an attempt to (re)create such a process, but everything I’ve heard indicates that it doesn’t work that way in practice (instead, it mostly allows those already successful in modern dating/short-term relationship/ONS offline to increase their “hook up” success rates).

      Indeed. Developed societies tend towards winner-takes-all equilibria, both in terms of financial success and sexual success.

      I don’t know if this can be stable in the long term. The hypothesis is that traditional sexual norms (including, but not limited to arranged marriage) were invented and became widespread because by enforcing a degree of sex redistribution, they maintained social stability by rewarding with sex and children men who played by the rules, men worked productively instead of burning things down.
      Presumably societies that didn’t do this had lots of unattached single men who were mostly idle (or only working at subsistence level, not producing any taxable surplus) at best, and actively anti-social at worst, and in any case not willing to fight to defend the society against internal or external aggression, and therefore these societies collapsed.

      How this will play out with modern technology is anybody’s guess. One possible scenario is that most of the population will be unemployed and living in relative material comfort on UBI or something, and among these idle people, only a fraction of the men, the “bulls”, will have all the sex with non-elite women and father all the kids, while the other non-elite men will be basically hikikomori jerking off to anime porn. Another possible scenario is that that due mass immigration and different fertility rates, Westerns will be replaced by non-Westerns with more traditional sexual norms (and the Japanese, even with their strong opposition to immigration, aren’t headed towards a much brighter future with their oldest population and highest public debt/GDP in the world).

      • Kevin C. says:

        I don’t know if this can be stable in the long term.

        I doubt it. (But then, I would, wouldn’t I?) But even so, we don’t generally live in that sort of “long term.” And in the short term, it leaves a lot of unhappy, miserable people, doesn’t it? The Luddites did have a point, even if things worked out down the line. “Your life sucks, but the problems will be solved a few generations from now, well after you’re dead” is poor consolation, is it not?

        As for “lots of unattached single men,” in my reading of Chinese history, I find a recurring concern on the parts of the rulers about large numbers of “bare branches” — young men with poor prospects of finding a wife/mate. The usual solution looks to have been taking whichever Mongolic or Turkic steppe people raided/attacked the border most recently and launching a retaliatory war, which, per the traditional methods of Chinese warfare, served to get a lot of young men killed, and the resulting shift in the effective sex ratio — plus the occasional “war bride” — ameleorated the problem. When that didn’t happen, the result tends to have been things like the Nian Rebellion.

        In fact, that seems to have been the historical “solution” to lots of single men with poor prospects with women: have them go attack a neighboring people, and, much in line with Anonymous’s ‘die trying’, either get killed, obtain a bride from the enemy, or win glory to attract women back home. This doesn’t exactly work anymore, does it? I note there’s only one group today pursuing this strategy, and I don’t think many on SSC would actually consider “join ISIS” a viable solution.

        (I did though see recently on Tumblr where someone, in response as much to the “problem” that men generally have to do most the initiating/seeking as compared to women as to the “bare branch” problem, proposed using broad sex-selective IVF to skew the sex ratio bit by bit toward more females until the situation equalizes.)

        and among these idle people, only a fraction of the men, the “bulls”, will have all the sex with non-elite women and father all the kids,

        I recall once reading, if not here then somewhere in the “rationalsphere”, someone, as an idle proposal, putting forth that with regards to this dynamic, one might consider comparison to domesticated livestock, and how we handle those males who aren’t in the minority that will be doing the breeding. That rather than leave large numbers of individuals tormented by a drive they cannot fulfill, we, as a mercy, take steps to remove or ameleorate the drive.

        basically hikikomori jerking off to anime porn.

        Yeergh. I have a hard time understanding why anyone accepts such an existence — I say “existence” because that isn’t living. See my thread above about “taking the exit.”

        Another possible scenario is that that due mass immigration and different fertility rates, Westerns will be replaced by non-Westerns

        Funny, when I made similar projections on demographic trends and fertility rates to predict exactly that sort of replacement, I got a lot of pushback from people here on SSC saying that is crazy and ridiculous and could never, ever, ever possibly happen.

        • vV_Vv says:

          The usual solution looks to have been taking whichever Mongolic or Turkic steppe people raided/attacked the border most recently and launching a retaliatory war, which, per the traditional methods of Chinese warfare, served to get a lot of young men killed, and the resulting shift in the effective sex ratio — plus the occasional “war bride” — ameleorated the problem. When that didn’t happen, the result tends to have been things like the Nian Rebellion.

          This is the usual solution.

          I wonder if this is also related to a possibly structural problem of Islamic societies. I conjecture that Islamic societies have difficulties remaining in a stable steady state: they either aggressively expand or go into crisis.

          Islam allows polygamy (although restricted), which generates a surplus of unattached young men. This surplus is great if there is room for expansion, as these men will be eager to prove themselves on the battlefield, the weak will die and the strong (or the lucky) will conquer status and war brides for themselves and lands for their rulers. But once an Islamic society encounters neighbors who are strong enough to contain its expansion or even push back and reclaim territory, it becomes much more difficult for the rulers to persuade this surplus of men to die in hopeless wars at the borders, these men will either become idle and demand government handouts (see modern Saudi Arabia) or turn their violence inwards (see any Muslim country plagued by criminality, civil war and terrorism).

          I don’t know if there are historical examples of Islamic societies that remained stable and prosperous for a long time without expanding. Maybe the Ottoman Empire almost did for some time, but even when not expanding it was very actively involved in piracy and raids on the coasts on Southern Europe, which was also a high-risk high-reward violence outlet/sexual strategy for unattached young men.

          That rather than leave large numbers of individuals tormented by a drive they cannot fulfill, we, as a mercy, take steps to remove or ameleorate the drive.

          Well, there is this big social trend towards not just the acceptance, but the celebration and encouragement of homosexuality and transexualism, in particular the recent push towards “transgender kids” as young as 4 being diagnosed with gender dysphoria and given “treatment” which will effectively castrate them. By contrast, “nice guy” heterosexual men who aren’t hyper-masculine are reviled.

          It’s not too hard to imagine a not-so-distant future where any boy who isn’t a hyper-masculine Chad from a young age will be pushed, possibly with the help of hormones and surgical scalpels, to live his life as some sort of “queer” identity which does not involve having sex with women. And if the statistics are to be believed, we know that many of these men will eventually end up “taking the exit” anyway.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Does anyone have numbers about what proportion of Muslim women were in polygamous marriages at various times and places?

          • That question occurred to me as well.

            The Modern Egyptians
            was written by an Englishman who lived in Egypt for a while in the 19th century. By his account, as I remember, fewer than one marriage in a hundred, among the ordinary people he knew, was polygamous. Our view of the system may be distorted by looking at a small number of very high status men who had multiple wives.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Large question: What effect would arranged marriages have on the availability of mates? On who is more likely to reproduce?

            When people discuss human evolution, mating choices, etc. I don’t think I’ve ever seen arranged marriages discussed, even though arranged marriages have been pretty common.

            For that matter, I don’t think I’ve seen pressure from parents discussed for cultures that don’t have arranged marriages. I guess I’ve seen pressure from parents mentioned in discussions of whether people marry, but not about who they marry.

          • The Nybbler says:

            What effect would arranged marriages have on the availability of mates? On who is more likely to reproduce?

            I would expect it to level things within the classes which had arranged marriages. The Chads will probably still be getting some on the side (and thus, pre-birth-control, fathering bastards), but mostly everyone gets a chance. Of course it’s really going to suck for couples who can’t stand each other. But I suspect most of them won’t find that out until after at least the first conception.

            Extreme cases would still not reproduce. But we’re talking things which would be seen as pathologies nowadays, like a literal fear of being touched, not just a lack of game.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            At a first whack (presumably not all cultures with arranged marriage are the same), we see selection for parents who are good at negotiation rather than young people who are good at seduction and/or establishing marriages.

            Also, I would expect lack of social mobility, since parents would mostly be able to arrange marriages with other parents of similar status.

            Fiction selects for drama, so we might know less about parents who avoid choosing partners that their children loathe.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            I would think that protecting the family fortune was/is the primary reason to have arranged marriages.

            Ironically, we see today that there is a strong preference to marry people of the same level of education and with the same beliefs, which mostly results in the same outcome.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Fiction selects for drama, so we might know less about parents who avoid choosing partners that their children loathe.

            Just based on my impression from reading historical records, most arranged spouses don’t seem to have ended up hating each other.

        • Rowan says:

          As a Hikkikomori jerking off to anime porn, I take offence to that.

          • Kevin C. says:

            Not sure if you’re serious, but if you are, let me ask: why? Why choose such a wretched, debased existence? How is it not a fate worse than death?

          • Winter Shaker says:

            How is it not a fate worse than death?

            Is your objection to porn in general, or hentai in particular, and if the latter, why?

          • vV_Vv says:

            I can’t speak for @Kevin C., but for me the objection is to the general condition of systematic social, sexual and romantic failure and subsequent learned helplessness that is typically associated with this kind of lifestyle.

            Whether you actually jerk off to hentai, or play video games all day, or shitpost on 4chan, or spend all your time on any other kind of Skinner-box distraction that provides you with a constant stream of minimal reward while not doing any productive activity that can improve your condition in the long-term and give you a fulfilling life, the result is the same.

            And yes, I know, theoretically there could be some utility monster out there who is perfectly fulfilled living all his life in his mom’s basement and jerking off to hentai with his left hand while playing WoW with his right hand and shitposting on 4chan with voice recognition, but in practice, let’s not kid ourselves, we know that the majority of people who engage in this lifestyle are not happy.

            Not that I find it morally objectionable, if you have no other options then go for it, but certainly this is not what most people long for.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Regarding jerking off to hentai, I wouldn’t say it’s intrinsically worse or “more depraved” than jerking off to live-action porn, if any of these becomes your main sexual activity then you are in trouble anyway.

            Hentai however is more escapist and thus higher on the scale of learned helplessness. It means that you have given up on real women even from behind a monitor. Think of the otaku who say that their waifus are better than “3D girls”, and “marry” their dakimakuras.

            Do you think that these people are happy? Are these behaviors healthy? I’m not saying whether these behaviors are symptoms or causes, probably there is a self-reinforcing feedback loop where you really don’t want to get caught.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Winter Shaker

            No, my objection is to the “masturbating” part. (I’d say previous eras that called it “self-abuse” mostly had the right of it.) And let me second much of what vV_Vv also said in reply.

          • Creutzer says:

            @Kevin C.

            Seems more like self-medication to me.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Kevin C., I’m inclined to agree with you re:”self-abuse” on religious grounds.

            However, my argument (insofar as it exists; it isn’t anywhere near a syllogism) is largely based on Christian presuppositions, so I can’t expect anyone who isn’t Christian to share it anymore than I can yell at them “STOP WORSHIPING IDOLS!” Since AFAIK you’re an agnostic, I’m curious how you came to the same conclusion? Do you believe in a moral obligation to subliminate sexual energy for the sake of the larger society? If so, whence do you derive your moral obligation to support the larger society?

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Evan Þ

            These are good questions, but my reply is rather lengthy, and we’re down at the narrow end of the reply limit, so I’ll put it in the new open thread.

        • birdboy2000 says:

          2d women are cuter though.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Quoting what I just wrote

            Think of the otaku who say that their waifus are better than “3D girls”

            Q.E.D.

      • Incurian says:

        Developed societies tend towards winner-takes-all equilibria, both in terms of financial success and sexual success.

        This does not ring true to me. Are there stats on this?

        • vV_Vv says:

          I was thinking of things like Google replacing almost all search engines, Facebook and Twitter replacing most online social networks, Amazon replacing retail shops.

          In terms of actual poverty, there is much less of it in developed societies than in undeveloped ones. Money is easier to redistribute than sex.

          • rlms says:

            One of those things is not like the others: Amazon’s dominance of the (not exclusively online) retail market is much less than Google and Facebook/Twitter’s dominance of their (online) areas.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Amazon’s dominance of the (not exclusively online) retail market is much less than Google and Facebook/Twitter’s dominance of their (online) areas.

            Yes, but the trend is clearly towards Amazon becoming more dominant in the retail market. Any foreseeable technological innovation, better product suggestion ML models, more automated warehouses, driverless trucks, delivery drones, etc., will push more in this direction. No retail store can compete with Amazon on this ground.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            I mean, the jury’s still out on Twitter’s continued existence, no? Or are they actually making money now?

          • Incurian says:

            I was thinking of things like Google…

            Isn’t individual inequality a lot more salient for the topic at hand than what corporations are doing?

            In terms of actual poverty, there is much less of it in developed societies than in undeveloped ones. Money is easier to redistribute than sex.

            Is this true though? I tend to think of undeveloped countries as the ones that are more likely to practice polygamy.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            “Any foreseeable technological innovation, better product suggestion ML models, more automated warehouses, driverless trucks, delivery drones, etc., will push more in this direction. No retail store can compete with Amazon on this ground.”

            Foreseeable is such a good word.

            The problem is that these dominant innovations don’t get foreseen. I don’t think anyone was expecting that google could go for such a long time before it started making money.

            Major companies getting lots of investment without making profits

            Was that predicted?

        • Kevin C. says:

          I don’t have much in the way of hard stats, but I’d point to the works of Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, like their Race Against the Machine, and specifically what they refer to as “talent-biased technological change” or “superstar-biased technological change”. One of the go-to examples I’ve seen is music, pre-Edison to now. 100+ years ago, even the world’s best cello player could only reach a limited (physically-present audience), and one didn’t need much talent as a player to make some money as the best — or only — cello player in one’s town or area. Now, anyone in the world can listen to Yo Yo Ma on CD or MP3, and that local guy makes far, far less. I’ve read articles by “lower-tier” writers complaining about similar dynamics in publishing; that “superstars” like J.K. Rawling and Stephen King make record sales, but folks you used to be comfortable with the likes of a local press are now seeing lower and lower financial returns to their writing as they increasingly compete with self-published e-books and free (or donation-backed) web-fiction.

          From an interview with Brynjolfsson and McAfee in Harvard Business Review:

          Do digital technologies create winner-take-all economies?

          Brynjolfsson: Digital technologies allow you to make copies at almost zero cost. Each copy is a perfect replica, and each copy can be transmitted almost anywhere on the planet nearly instantaneously. Those were not characteristics of the First Machine Age, but they are standard for digital goods, and that leads to some unusual outcomes, such as winner-take-most markets.

          In many industries, the widening wage gap between people with and without a college education has been dwarfed by bigger changes among the highest income brackets. From 2002 to 2007, the top 1% reaped two-thirds of all the gains from the growth in the U.S. economy.

          Where are the 1%? Well, they aren’t all on Wall Street. The University of Chicago economist Steve Kaplan has found that they’re also entrepreneurs, senior executives, and the icons of media, entertainment, sports, and law. If the top 1% are stars of a sort, they look up to superstars who have seen even bigger increases. While the top 1% earned about 19% of all income in the United States, the top 0.01% saw their share of national income double, from 3% to 6%, from 1995 to 2007. It’s hard to get reliable data at income levels higher than that, but the evidence suggests that the divergence in incomes continues to grow with a fractal-like quality, with each subset of superstars watching an even smaller group of uber-superstars pulling away.

          Several factors seem to be at work, including the rise of enormous companies that give their top executives enormous compensation, as well as tax cuts in the United States and other countries that allow people with higher pay to keep more of it. The tech sector has created many wealthy entrepreneurs and investors too. My research with Heekyung Kim has found that companies that use IT more intensively also tend to pay their CEOs more, perhaps because technology amplifies the effects of their decisions. Superstar-biased technological change appears to be an increasingly important trend.

          • vV_Vv says:

            And I hypothesize that the same dynamics applies to Tinder, OK Cupid and the like.

            Before online dating, the dating pool of a woman was more or less limited to the men available in her social circle. Sure, she could go to the clubs cruising for d*cks, but this takes time, effort, is potentially unsafe, and most women probably don’t like it very much. This meant that in order to get a woman you just needed to compete with other men in her social circle, or occasionally in a bar or two.

            Now she can comfortably swipe left and right on her smartphone on a limitless supply of men, safely flirt with them, arrange meetings when and where she sees fit, and so on. It’s more like shopping on Amazon rather than going to a street market to buy whatever they have on sale today. Now in order to get a woman you have to compete potentially with every other man in her dating radius.

            And just like the goods and services markets, the sexual market is asymmetric: vendors/men have excess supply and want to maximize the number of units of product sold/sex had, while customers/women have limited purchasing power/number of eggs and want to get the best bargain. Digital technologies act as a multiplier of the advantage of the best vendor.

      • Mark says:

        Indeed. Developed societies tend towards winner-takes-all equilibria, both in terms of financial success and sexual success.

        No they don’t.

    • Mark says:

      Friends of friends.

  7. Granjoroz says:

    “If you give ten percent, you can have your name on a nice list and get access to a secret forum on the Giving What We Can site which is actually pretty boring.”

    OK, I was going back over nobody is perfect, everything is commensurate again, and…how secret is this place? Because I took the pledge, and I was told nothing about this, I can find nothing about this, and even if it is boring I do want to look it over at least.

  8. blah says:

    I was intrigued by Scott’s hypothesis in Why Were Early Psychedelicists So Weird?, that psychedelics might permanently change users’ personalities.

    It seems like we might have another data point in vegan hippie, turned conspiracy theorist, turned neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin:

    [During his vegan phase, Anglin] also got deeply into drugs, according to half a dozen people who knew him at the time. He did LSD at school or while wandering through the scenic Highbanks Metro Park, north of the city. He took ketamine, ate psychedelic mushrooms, and snorted cocaine on weekends.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/12/the-making-of-an-american-nazi/544119/

    I find the topic of political conversion interesting in general, and the idea that psychedelic drugs might play a role in some cases is a very surprising but extremely interesting possibility.

    • Creutzer says:

      There have been some results indicating that psilocybin changes openness to experience. Personally, I’m quite ready to believe that it can do more than that.

      Now naively, you’d expect the direction of change induced by psychedelics to be exactly the opposite of what happened to Anglin, but one can imagine that perhaps they put you in a frame of mind where you’re more open to new ideas and more ready to change your mind in general.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        This suggests an ethically questionable experiment. Both study groups are given psilocybin, and group one is asked to read pro-Nazi literature, while group 2 reads pro-the-sort-of-stuff-you-would-expect-psilocybin-users-to-be-into literature, while the control group is also split into two and gets just the literature plus, I guess, non-psychoactive mushroom soup or something, and we ask people afterwards how persuasive they found the literature and see if there are differences.

        Somehow I imagine it being difficult to persuade Rick Doblin to take this one one 🙂

    • J Milne says:

      Data point: I think LSD use made me more right-wing. But moreso in that it increased my uncertainty about my opinions (essentially Openness I guess) — I went from being 100% social democrat to worried-about-current-direction-of-the-left.

      • Standing in the Shadows says:

        It made me less certain of my own opinions and foundational-assumed-to-be-true facts. (Yes really, you can all laugh now.) It also made me realize how little to should trust other people’s certainty in their own base knowledge.

        It also made me entirely too aware of how much of what everyone thinks they are literally visually seeing in front of them and next to them is being made up and faked up by the brain, constructing fast-near-fit-roughly-good-enough models of reality out of the low bandwidth high noise garbage signal that is coming out of the eyes.

        That deep realization continues to stick with me even right now, cold sober, and it has been many many years since I last tripped.

        LSD is amazing, and powerful. And used a small handful of times under controlled and in physically safe environments with good enough “ground control” is probably a positive thing for most people to experience a few times.

        But that said, I can’t recommend it, because something that powerful really shouldn’t be tried just because someone else recommends it. Nobody should trust anybody that much.

        • J Milne says:

          But that said, I can’t recommend it

          Yeah that’s the curious thing about it. I have generally positive views about my experiences* but got very worried when my boyfriend expressed an interest in trying — I wanted him to stay precisely as he was, and knew LSD would change something.

          *the sole exception being when I did it as part of a clinical trial ~10 years ago.

  9. nimim.k.m. says:

    A thought. This might have been come up in the comments of the post on Kolmogorov complicity, but I don’t recall reading it in this particular form, and during the last couple of weeks it has started to bother me quite much.

    What if Kolmogorov keeps his mouth shut because he really does believe that the continued existence of the prevalent dogma is a moral priority, and thinks two steps ahead about the consequences of challenging it without a plan to deal with the ill effects of its collapse? (We are not talking about historical but the metaphorical Kolmogorov; but if you want to stress the metaphor to its limits, I believe that many Russians do view the unplanned collapse of the Soviet regime as a step back that had a net negative impact on the society. But I’m taking for granted that the discussions about Kolmogorov option are thinly-veiled discussion about something else entirely. Unfortunately I’m not good at navigating discussion that is not real discussion but a game of shadows and mirrors, but I’ll try it anyway.)

    I’d like to connect the topic of Kolmogoroc complicity with another famous post of Scott’s, the one about medical research red tape. In particular, all the parts how Scott promises not be a Nazi:

    The training was several hours of videos about how the Nazis had done unethical human experiments. Then after World War II, everybody met up and decided to only do ethical human experiments from then on.

    And so on.

    But in reality, as was then pointed out in the comments, the purpose of that particular kind of ethics bureaucracy is not only to prevent Nazi concentration camps, but the kind of unethical experiments and programs and policies that were commonplace in the non-Nazi West (from Sweden to US) many years before and after the WW2.

    So, what this has to do with Kolmogorov posts?
    I’m slightly fuzzy on the details and I have not done proper literature review, but my current understanding is that the real-world social norm that gets called “church dogma” in Scott’s lightning parable does not exist today because the eternal church has always banned all discussion on such matters solely because of [irrelevant reasons] since the beginning of times. (Put like that, it sounds like something that would not be out of place in a story written by Philip Pullman.). The predominant dogma of “lightning and thunder” exists because of moral antireaction and pushback against the all kinds of horrid fruits produced by the line of thought on such matters that was fairly dominant well until the 1950s, maybe even 1960s and 1970s.

    Putting this two articles next to each other, I’m now seeing implications I’m extremely uncomfortable with: namely, either ignorance and lack of thinking two steps ahead, or worse. Because it appears that the nature of this game is to avoid talking about things with their true names, I’ll try to express it in terms of Chesterton’s fence:

    If you are very busy arguing for dismantling the protective fences laid by the previous generation, you should also present your plan for dealing with the tabooed monster that was meant to be cordoned off when the fence was built, because otherwise others will rightly believe that you actually want to welcome it with open arms. Because everyone surely knows about the taboo in first place?

    And here I drop the smoke and mirrors part.

    If the narrative of all human beings being created equal and having unalienable rights is contingent on ideas and principles that can be described rather as a shared cultural fiction than as a strict scientific truth, and if other societies known to history that did not believe in such narratives often organized themselves in reprehensible power structures (because humans love any explanation that amplifies their natural tendency to believe in the just-world fallacies that justify prevalent injustices), and furthermore, if we have no reason to believe human nature has changed, is it wise to challenge the shared cultural fiction just because of science?

    Or maybe everyone else here has been thinking three steps ahead all the time and really do not share the belief that monsters behind the fence are really that reprehensible after all, and maybe even believe the fence should be dismantled because the Chinese didn’t build it in the first place anyway.

    • quanta413 says:

      If the narrative of all human beings being created equal and having unalienable rights …

      I’d agree with the claim that when stuff about equal and unalienable rights, etc. etc. was made up, it wasn’t any sort of scientific or literal claim in the first place. It all stands on its own as a sort of aspirational goal/good basis for the rule of law. Or more cynically, it was good propaganda for getting rid of the last set of rulers.

      Furthermore, the U.S. and Europe post enlightenment yada yada was/is full of reprehensible power structures.

      What is totally unclear to me is how science provides any sort of interesting challenge to the shared cultural fictions unless you choose to be some sort of enlightenment literalist.

      In short, why exactly should I think the shared cultural fiction of the U.S. is meaningfully threatened by any even vaguely plausible scientific claims? It seems like a category error to me. Like asking why doesn’t Christianity fall now that we know that the earth orbits the sun.

      • Baeraad says:

        In short, why exactly should I think the shared cultural fiction of the U.S. is meaningfully threatened by any even vaguely plausible scientific claims?

        In the long term, it probably wouldn’t. Some new version of egalitarian principles would eventually form to replace the old one.

        But people can be understandably reluctant to go along with plans that amount to letting the tabooed monster rampage around on our side of the fence until it wears itself out and goes to sleep. “In the long term” isn’t always a convincing argument. In the long term, we’re all dead.

        • albatross11 says:

          What fraction of people do you suppose actually believe that all individual humans are equally intelligent, wise, or hard-working? You don’t need IQ tests or Muggle Realism to see that this isn’t a good description of reality–you only need your eyes.

          It’s possible that the functioning of modern US society depends on the belief that all identifiable groups (race, religion, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, sexual identity) have identical distributions of intelligence, wisdom, behavior, etc. However, it sure doesn’t seem like most people believe that–indeed, it would be kind-of silly to have the huge propaganda effort we constantly see trying to convince people of this, if there weren’t a lot of people who believed the opposite. And of course, pretty much all of observable reality contradicts this view of the world. So if keeping our society functioning peaceably requires that everyone keep believing this, I think we’re in a pretty bad situation.

    • The Nybbler says:

      You can’t think two steps ahead. There are too many variables. Kerensky couldn’t have predicted his revolution would lead to Stalin’s Soviet Union, and nobody could have predicted and planned for the entire aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union. If you insist on thinking two steps ahead, you fall into the trap that, while the proponent of your “two steps ahead” plan will think it’s great, its opponents will first of all compare it, not against the current system but some theoretical ideal. They will also find any potential problems in the plan and treat them as actual problem, even though there is no way to know if those problems will become actual. If you have to come up with a complete replacement for an awful system, that withstands all objections, before you can knock it down, you never will.

      As for the monster… if the trouble caused by the fence is worse than the trouble caused by the monster, the fence should come down. Even if there’s no other plan for dealing with the monster. The problem is no one counts the cost of the fence. They see all that we no longer do things like the Milgram experiment, and they are happy, not realizing all the people they’ve condemned to misdiagnoses because few can run studies to figure out what a good diagnostic tool is.

      If the narrative of all human beings being created equal and having unalienable rights is contingent on ideas and principles that can be described rather as a shared cultural fiction than as a strict scientific truth,

      That’s not the fence most are suggested to knock down. Jefferson’s line was not referring to ability or intelligence or anything like that; any fool could see that NOT all men are created equal in those ways. Thomas E. Patterson claims it meant only “people are of equal moral worth and as such deserve equal treatment under the law”, though I haven’t found his source for that.

      The fence is that all racial groups, statistically, have the same ability and intelligence. This is a different fence, and as far as I can see it’s cause a _lot_ of trouble.

      • Eugene Dawn says:

        You can’t think two steps ahead. There are too many variables.

        I think this “thinking two steps ahead” thing is a bit underselling the argument: it’s not a matter of anticipating what might happen in the future, it’s a matter of seeing what did happen in the past. The fact that African-Americans were “regarded as beings of an inferior order” was an actual justification for the position that “they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”

        What’s more, Jefferson’s fence wasn’t strong enough to stand against this line of reasoning:
        “The general words above quoted [that “all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”] would seem to embrace the whole human family, and if they were used in a similar instrument at this day would be so understood. But it is too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration […] they knew that it would not in any part of the civilized world be supposed to embrace the negro race, which, by common consent, had been excluded from civilized Governments and the family of nations, and doomed to slavery”.

        While one can certainly argue that the cure is worse than the disease, or that the ‘cure’ is not actually curative at all, I think your comment fails to grapple with the extent to which there really was a disease in the first place: one doesn’t have to imagine or anticipate that the Jeffersonian fence might not be enough to act as a restraint on the denial of rights to a community seen as in some sense ‘inferior’; it’s right there in a huge chunk of actual American history.
        This makes me much more skeptical that “the trouble caused by the fence is worse than the trouble caused by the monster”–I would have to be convinced of some pretty serious harms done by the ‘fence’ to consider them equal to the harms done by 90 years of slavery and 70 years of Jim Crow.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I think this “thinking two steps ahead” thing is a bit underselling the argument: it’s not a matter of anticipating what might happen in the future, it’s a matter of seeing what did happen in the past.

          Again, there are too many variables, and too many of them are different between now and the past.

          “But it is too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included”

          I’m afraid Chief Justice Taney was pulling a fast one, and using “too clear for dispute” is a red flag. It’s true the Declaration of Independence included no condemnation of slavery. But that’s because it had to be acceptable to the slaveholding states, not because it was obvious to all concerned that slaves weren’t included.

          Jefferson’s words, one of the grievances in the “Rough Draft” of the Declaration:

          he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, & murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.

          The idea that black people were inferior was not a reason for their mistreatment. It was a post facto rationalization.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            The idea that black people were inferior was not a reason for their mistreatment. It was a post facto rationalization.

            I don’t think we disagree on this, exactly–I’m not arguing that Taney is correctly summarizing the beliefs of the founders; rather that he was able to use a belief in the inferiority of black people to retroactively impute this belief to them. More to the point, he was able to use this as a defense for denying legal rights to black people.

            Obviously, not all believers in racial inferiority had an interest in doing so (see Nabil ad Dajjal below), and obviously not all who denied rights to black people were motivated to do so by a belief in racial inequality. But I think a weighing of the harms of the ‘fence’ vs. the harms of the ‘monster’ has to grapple with the fact that a widespread belief in racial inequality was at least a rhetorical justification for a pretty thoroughgoing trampling of black peoples’ rights, and that the people who did this were not at all constrained by the Jeffersonian ‘fence’.

            So, I suppose in summary, my point is, there is evidence that the Jeffersonian fence was not, in fact strong enough to contain ‘the monster’, and I think your comment under-weights the harms of the ‘monster’. I’d be curious what harms you’d attribute to the ‘fence’ that stand against a pervasive denial of rights to the black community for decades, if not centuries.

            And, while I’ll certainly concede that attributing all of those harms to the doctrine of racial inferiority ignores the fact that racial inferiority was often a post facto rationalization, I think one can make a similar argument re: your claim that the belief that “all racial groups, statistically, have the same ability and intelligence. This is a different fence, and as far as I can see it’s cause a _lot_ of trouble”–are you sure that all the trouble you see is necessarily an effect of this belief, and not that arguments for complete equality are being used justify positions that people hold for other reasons?

          • The Nybbler says:

            I don’t think we disagree on this, exactly–I’m not arguing that Taney is correctly summarizing the beliefs of the founders; rather that he was able to use a belief in the inferiority of black people to retroactively impute this belief to them.

            If you’re willing to BS as much as Taney does in Dred Scott, you can prove black is white and vice versa. But I don’t see anywhere that he refers to black people as intellectually inferior. Rather, he says that they were “considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings” and “by common consent” “doomed to slavery”. And his logic does not depend on him believing that they were inferior, but in him believing the founders did so. A fence against believing that races have any differences at all besides skin color wouldn’t have helped, because he was pretending that he, Taney, was a modern person believing no such thing (“The general words above quoted would seem to embrace the whole human family, and if they were used in a similar instrument at this day would be so understood.”), but the Constitution wasn’t written by men like himself.

            Taney would have run over any fence you could construct; he certainly ran roughshod over the text of the Constitution (e.g. it distinguishes between “free persons”, “Indians not taxed”, and “other Persons”, but Taney claims there was no distinction made between free blacks and slaves). But he in fact did not run over the one fence you claim is vital.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Taney would have run over any fence you could construct[…]But he in fact did not run over the one fence you claim is vital.

            I have a hard time believing that Taney’s argument would have held in a society with our taboo on discussing innate differences. Imagine a Supreme Court justice making an argument about racial inferiority like that today.

            I also don’t want to focus too much on Taney’s reasoning in one egregious instance: while I certainly won’t claim that one can hang all of slavery and Jim Crow on the particular belief that blacks are, as a group, less intelligent, I think it’s difficult to argue that ideas of innate racial difference had no effect on the lasting of those institutions.

            I’m not defending the fence. I just think the discussion above treated the potential harms as abstract and hypothetical, when in fact the taboos we’re talking about are a response to what was, in actual fact, a serious and persistent problem in American history: I think any claim that tabooing discussion of innate difference is more dangerous than the harms that follow from these beliefs needs to at least cite a harm commensurable with an ongoing, pervasive denial of rights to a community.

            And if you contend that a belief in innate differences is only accidental to that history, and as you say with Taney, any argument would have done, why isn’t that equally true of the harms you attribute to our taboo? Couldn’t they be justified by someone “willing to BS” enough to “prove black is white and vice versa”?

          • lvlln says:

            I think any claim that tabooing discussion of innate difference is more dangerous than the harms that follow from these beliefs needs to at least cite a harm commensurable with an ongoing, pervasive denial of rights to a community.

            This, to me, seems to be the key issue. The harms didn’t follow from those beliefs – it was the other way around, the beliefs followed from the harms, to serve as post-hoc rationalizations.

            And that’s wholly different from what’s currently being talked about, which are scientific inquiries into the differences in populations wrt various traits including intelligence. It seems to me that belief that there exists a difference in the mean intelligence of 2 different populations because scientific research indicates it’s probably true is categorically different from the belief that there exists a difference in the mean intelligence of 2 different populations because it makes me feel better about treating one of those populations like shit. Given our history, it seems entirely reasonable to set up a strong fence against the latter, but there is no reason why that fence would also have to affect the former.

            Of course, people are incredibly good at fooling themselves into thinking that they’re basing their beliefs on science when in fact they’re basing them on what makes them feel good about beating up on other people. But they’re also not indistinguishable, and we have tools for helping us to figure out when cases fall into the former and when they fall into the latter, such as empirical evidence and vigorous debate between people who disagree with each other, even if they’re imperfect and require constant vigilance. Certainly the harms that could result from confusing the 2 are truly monstrous, but at the same time, our society has built up an incredible amount of protections against those harms beyond just the taboo on doing or talking about the science on this subject. And the harms that could result from throwing our hands up in the air and just declaring that we should just presume that all such beliefs are motivated by animus rather than truthseeking makes me inclined to think that the best course of action is nuance rather than indiscriminate fencing off.

          • The Nybbler says:

            I have a hard time believing that Taney’s argument would have held in a society with our taboo on discussing innate differences. Imagine a Supreme Court justice making an argument about racial inferiority like that today.

            Taney didn’t make an argument about racial inferiority. He made an argument about what the founders thought about racial inferiority.

            And if you contend that a belief in innate differences is only accidental to that history,

            I don’t. I only contend the belief is effect rather than cause.

            and as you say with Taney, any argument would have done, why isn’t that equally true of the harms you attribute to our taboo?

            Taney would not be stopped by any rhetorical fence; he had the conclusion he needed to get to and he was going to get there come hell or high water. That is not an argument for or against any particular fence; they may be useful in other circumstances.

          • At a slight tangent, it’s clear that Kipling’s support of imperialism did not depend on beliefs about racial inferiority. The whole point of “The White Man’s Burden” is that the uncivilized people can be brought up to the standards of the civilized people–it’s just hard work and takes time.

            That implies that the difference is cultural, not genetic.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            The harms didn’t follow from those beliefs – it was the other way around, the beliefs followed from the harms, to serve as post-hoc rationalizations.

            I only contend the belief is effect rather than cause.

            This seems to be the core of the argument against the fence, so:

            The fact that Justice Taney might have found other justifications for his preferred ruling, or that slavery and Jim Crow might have found other rationales to uphold them is true enough, but I think it’s implausible to accept that other rationales would have been as successful. I don’t want to argue that the causal arrow runs entirely in one direction from ‘belief in racial inequality’ to ‘disenfranchising blacks’, but I think it’s too simple to argue that the arrow runs entirely in the other direction. It seems to dismiss intermediate positions such as, ‘rhetoric of racial inequality was not responsible for the initial disenfranchisement, but was used to perpetuate it’; or ‘other justifications were available, but could not have commanded as much public assent and would have been less successful’.

            Second, this argument cuts both ways: are the harms that you attribute to the taboo causal; or rather, might it be that the taboo is just a convenient justification for actions that might have happened anyway, only rationalized differently?

            I’ll also note that, despite earlier assertions that the harms of the taboo outweigh the harms of a belief in racial inequality, no one has yet actually named a specific harm resulting from the taboo.

            Finally, I want to argue that the whole discussion so far has dismissed the premise of the “Chesterton’s fence” framing in the initial comment. When presented with a Chesterton’s fence, it’s not responsive to say, “I think this fence does more harm than good”, or “are we sure the fence is doing what its defenders claim it’s doing”? Everyone who wants to tear down a Chesterton’s fence says that. The point of the Chesterton’s fence move is to force the advocates for fence removal to demonstrate that they understand the argument for keeping the fence up.

            For 151 (1776 to 14th Amendment and Plessy v. Ferguson to Voting Rights Act) years of the 254 that the United States has existed there has been a serious, pervasive denial of rights to a specific community of Americans, justified in part by rhetoric of racial inequality. About a quarter of the current American population was alive before the most recent instance ended.

            I agree it is implausible to hang the entirety of slavery and Jim Crow on a belief in racial inequality. I also think it is implausible to hang all of Stalin and Mao’s crimes on their belief in a particular theory of history and economy; that absent Marxism they could easily have invented other justifications.
            And yet when someone says that the harms of capitalism (which they don’t specify) outweigh the risks of revolution (because tyrants are opportunists who might have found any justification for tyranny, not just Marxism) my instinct is to spam their inbox with this link.

            Communism really does seem to have a Red Terror problem, and I’m uncomfortable when people roll their eyes dismissively when confronted with it. Similarly, the United States really does seem to have a disenfranchising and mis-treating black people problem, and I’m uncomfortable seeing people assert that its harms are outweighed by unspecified harms arising from a taboo against discussing innate racial differences.

            Hopefully my position is clearer, so I think I’ll bow out of this discussion.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Prejudice against black people wasn’t just about a belief in intellectual inferiority. It was also about a belief in moral inferiority– both the “childlike” model and the “savage” model include both categories of belief, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they were entangled.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The fact that Justice Taney might have found other justifications for his preferred ruling, or that slavery and Jim Crow might have found other rationales to uphold them is true enough

            I’ve already shown that Taney did not base his ruling on the intellectual inferiority of the black race, nor indeed on any contemporary (to Taney) belief of the inferiority of the black race at all. You have not made any case about the rationale behind Jim Crow. Your remaining argument is based entirely on your own priors (“I think it’s difficult to argue”, “I have a hard time believing”, “I think it’s too simple to argue’)

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      The men who abolished black slavery and gave African Americans equal rights (I’m talking about during reconstruction, pre-Jim Crow) empathically rejected the idea that the people they were championing had intellectual abilities equal to their own. You can very easily find Lincoln’s own thoughts on the subject.

      The men responsible for the Holocaust never denied that the Jews they were murdering were at least as intelligent as they were. Again, you can easily find their own thoughts on the subject of the “cunning” of their victims.

      Which makes sense. Just because someone is dumber than I am doesn’t mean that they don’t have a right to life, liberty and property just as much as I do. And if I have a grievance against someone I’m not likely to drop it just because they’re my intellectual peer or better!

      Pretending that meaningful physiological and psychological differences between ethnicities don’t exist has only exacerbated tensions by casting natural differences in outcome as the result of oppression. There’s no conspiracy to keep Asian men out of the NBA and insinuating that there is one creates a rift which can never heal. It’s great if you’re a politician who wants to exploit racial grievances but it’s toxic to a society.

      TL;DR: This fence isn’t keeping the monster at bay. It is the monster, encouraging the very hatred which it’s supposed to prevent.

      • Don_Flamingo says:

        Assuming it’s commonly accepted and completely uncontroversial, that differences in intelligence and ability between ethnic groups have a meaningful genetic component and that even in a perfect world without oppression, there’d be disparate outcomes…

        (which I believe, because people I find trustworthy and non-biased are attacked for it, by obviously biased, cognitively less impressive people who like to shout and be overly dramatic, like American Liberal Arts college students)

        How is that world (who are we kidding, we’re talking about America and black people) so much better? Wouldn’t it make identification with your ‘race/ethnicity’ and needed collective action much harder, if the spectre of “you’re one of the dim people campaining for the rights of the on average genetically less capable” hangs over all of it? Intelligence and capability is an important source of self worth. Pushback/resistance against the idea might be rational, just because it’s an info hazard and unnatural outcomes can be more easily justified now (if the war on drugs is seen as less racist, will it ever be stopped?).

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          The reason why it would be better is twofold. Firstly, because it would prevent us from wasting enormous sums of money on policy initiatives which can’t work even in principle. Secondly, and in my view more importantly, it would stop scapegoating the successful as somehow to blame for others’ lack of success.

          That scapegoating is a more immediate concern to me than the wasteful policies I’m talking about below, because the harm from government waste is diffuse while the harm of riots and random racially motivated attacks is concentrated. I’m trying to start a family and can’t afford to move to the suburbs, the last thing I need right now is for a new crime wave courtesy of the Ferguson effect.

          Wouldn’t it make identification with your ‘race/ethnicity’ and needed collective action much harder, if the spectre of “you’re one of the dim people campaining for the rights of the on average genetically less capable” hangs over all of it?

          What collective action is needed beyond obtaining legal equality?

          Men my age pay more for insurance premiums and that’s eminently reasonable: we are much riskier investments! Collective action on behalf of young men to equalize insurance premiums would be an unjustified wealth transfer from women and older men to young men.

          Policies like that aren’t put into place, in part because if someone were to suggest it others would quite correctly note the reason why this inequality exists. If it were forbidden to acknowledge that, however, young men would be able to push through this sort of measure much more easily.

          Intelligence and capability is an important source of self worth.

          Height and physical strength are also important sources of self worth. But we as a society don’t feel the need to lie to short people, or to shorter populations for that matter, about their relative height.

          If this is a question of politeness, then yes it’s a bit gauche to bring up differences in intelligence totally unprompted. But politeness has a limit, and multi-billion dollar social engineering projects are well over any sane limit. At some point you have to ask how much avoiding offense is really worth.

          • Don_Flamingo says:

            @Nabil al Dajjal
            Height and physical strength aren’t as important for self worth. Intelligence is the trait that defines our very humanity, because it sets us apart from animals. Talented, smart young black people are already confronted by their peers as ‘sounding white’. No reason to discourage them further, by making it seem, that doing anything intelligent at all is an exclusive white domain, because of genetic destiny.

            The war on drugs is a policy that hurts the poor the most. A significant percentage of the black population is poor and therefore at an increased risk of staying in poverty (whether due to lack of good genes or bad starting conditions, once they had the legal opportunities, to actually change that status, does not matter for that point). A non-poor person, de jure has the same legal right to take drugs as a poor person. De facto however, only poor people ever go to prison for something, everyone seems to want to do. And only they are exposed to the inherent risk of being offered a locally high status career path of creating and violently defending a black market. I believe that without the massive social engineering experiment of creating a drug free society, the average wealth/income/crime rates/upward mobility of poor people would be much lower in general. I don’t think there would be such a thing as gangs controlling every corner, thugs roaming the streets an anti-police culture [insert other bad things here] at all, or to a significantly lower degree. Many black people are poor and will remain poor because of that. I don’t believe, that the genetic component of the current IQ gap is so significant, that a large subset of them ‘naturally’ would this make up this violent underclass.

            I do believe you, that your life and your familie’s life is more in danger, because of potentially racially motivated attacks and/or rioting at the hands of that particular minority or being constrained in where you can go in the city you live in, I believe you. That sucks. Poor people who know they’ll stay poor get angry and violent. Their shared ethnicity and poverty just gives them a Shelling point on who and what to lash out onto (non-black and non-poor people, property). Do you think, that the widespread knowledge of the fact in question will make people less violent, less dangerous, because they know, that to some degree they themselves are not quite as smart on average?

            You mentioned ‘failed social engineering projects’. I vaguely know of perverse incentives of the American welfare state and it’s unintended consequences, disincentivising work and marriage (don’t really know the details) and the law of job applicants not being allowed to ask whether or not someone served jail time, leading to black people, who never commited a crime, not being employed, because they now have present the same (way too high) risk of an average black.

            What other moneywasting, ineffective government social engineering projects, were you thinking of, that would get defunded/would never have been tried in the first place if this statistical fact was known (with the United States, you have to be more specific, than just saying moneywasting, ineffective government social engineering project, I’m afraid).
            Affirmative action comes to mind and insurers not being able to discriminate on race for insurance premiums you mentioned. I don’t think, they’re that big of a deal.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @Nabil al Dajjal

            A major difference is that testing intelligence is harder than testing height, or, testing it accurately and fairly is harder. Some (English) test results had the Irish testing significantly lower than English – the gap was about 10, 15 points, IIRC. Then the gap disappeared. Some say it was the Irish economy booming and environmental factors narrowing a gap that was due to poverty. Or maybe some Englishman had his thumb on the scale. In either case, the implication is kind of obvious for what you’re saying.

            The argument for genetic IQ gaps is a lot weaker than some present it, basically, and examples like the English-Irish gap that mysteriously disappear illustrate that. I think that the adoption of large numbers of people, not just on the political left (mainstream conservatives love the idea that personal responsibility is the determining factor, for example), of a position that either denies IQ (“it’s just your ability to take tests”) or denies the role of genetics in IQ has led to one “team” not taking the field, so to speak. You could take a AA team to a World Series title if all other teams decided that baseball doesn’t matter or doesn’t exist.

            The fact that some attempts to fix social problems were terribly designed does not mean that social problems are unfixable, that they must be genetically determined, etc. Something went really wrong in the middle-20th century, but the explanation need not be genetic, and I don’t think it is.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @Don_Flamingo,

            Intelligence is the trait that defines our very humanity, because it sets us apart from animals.

            As a species, sure, but not as an individual.

            If you really see intelligence as the source of individual moral worth, Peter Singer’s arguments about the relative value of human infants and pigs are inescapable. By that logic infanticide is less immoral than eating a BLT.

            Argumentum ad absurdum: we cannot base moral worth on intelligence.

            [very long drug war paragraph]

            This is actually a good example of the sort of thing I’m talking about.

            You’re claiming that the Drug War is racist, if not in motivation then in effect. You base this on the claim that it disproportionately affects the lives of African Americans. According to self-reports African Americans don’t use drugs at a higher rate than whites, yet they’re the ones most likely to be arrested and the most likely to die in gang violence.

            Except that the self-reports aren’t accurate. Drug tests show that African Americans are much more likely to lie about their drug use on surveys than everyone else. If I’m interpreting the concordence rate correctly here, they’re an order of magnitude more likely to lie than non-black Americans. The real rates of drug use are more likely closer to what the crime statistics suggest.

            Disparate impact analysis is useless because it assumes it’s conclusion. It leads people to reliably misidentify the cause of problems and offer counterproductive solutions. Just as you did.

          • MrApophenia says:

            On the topic of the drug war, the people who started it during the Nixon administration have literally gone on record to state it was explicitly designed as a means to target black people without admitting that was what they were doing. How much more evidence than that is needed?

          • The argument for genetic IQ gaps is a lot weaker than some present it

            There certainly is no proof of genetic differences by race, although it seems likely to me there is at least a small difference. The bigger problem here isn’t whether there is a difference; it is that it is impossible in today’s society for respectable people to make the suggestion. But more important than the unknowable about whether there are genetic racial differences, is the proven fact there are racial differences in intelligence, whether caused by genetics or otherwise. But even that is not acceptable for respectable people to say out loud (luckily we are a bit less then respectable in SSC). And ignoring that fact causes enormous problems in governance today. In my home city of Minneapolis, one of the biggest issues in our elections is how we will eliminate the racial gap in income, education, etc. We do have a larger than normal gap in my city, so it is probably due to more that an intelligence gap. But accepting that there is an intelligence gap seems to me vital information in trying to solve the problem.

            Affirmative action comes to mind and insurers not being able to discriminate on race for insurance premiums you mentioned. I don’t think, they’re that big of a deal.

            In my opinion, affirmative action has done more to increase racism than any other policy of the last 50 years. When people see Blacks in professional positions (especially in government professional positions), how many assume that they got their job because of their color? We already know that Blacks are accepted to colleges in much greater numbers than their test scores would indicate, and it is also clear that most government agencies have strong affirmative action guidelines. Just because Blacks on average have lower intelligence doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of smart Blacks in this country. But pretty much every one of them are suspected of being tokens until one finds out differently. These social engineering programs give the impression that Blacks cannot compete without special programs. The way to reverse racism is for all good people to do their best to act in a color-blind manner. That sounds polly-annish, but I think it is all that will work. And it is difficult, because people are very visually oriented and it is very easy to make judgments based on distinctions we can see. And affirmative action greatly enhances this effect.

          • Aapje says:

            I agree with some other commenters that the real issue is much more that the very existence of racial IQ differences is anathema (or even the denial that IQ tests are valid in the first place), rather than the denial of a possible genetic component.

            Denying racial IQ differences, while blaming all differences in outcome on institutional discrimination, leads to racist ‘equal outcome’ policies. A society that promotes meritocracy, rejects racism and yet makes racist exemptions, will logically create resentment among the people who don’t believe in institutional discrimination (to the extent that explains the different outcomes fully) and are victims of the racial discrimination.

            Furthermore, the policies cause a cascade. Put low IQ people in college to counteract supposed institutional discrimination during the admissions process and they will do relatively poorly. By ‘institutional discrimination’ reasoning, this means that college is racist and solutions are needed to make these people do better. The only thing that can result in ‘equal outcomes’ is to make college easier specifically for the low IQ people for whom the admissions standards were lowered. Of course, the outcome is then not truly equal because these people are not lifted up to the same academic level. They just get the same stamp of approval despite not measuring up to the same standard.

            When job-hunting, businesses don’t just look at the stamp of approval/college degree, so they will correctly reject the affirmative action beneficiaries more than others, because they are actually less capable on average. By ‘institutional discrimination’ reasoning, this means that businesses are racist, so we need affirmative action….etc…etc.

            Promoting the less capable over the more capable causes jobs to be done more poorly, which causes harm. Furthermore, it’s actually impossible to implement affirmative action everywhere. So in reality, affirmative action pushes people in situations beyond their ability, which harms their self-esteem.

            A belief in racial IQ differences due to either environment or genetics logically leads to rejecting society-wide affirmative action as a viable solution. However, people can still preserve their goal of equal racial outcomes and their belief in extra help for black people by favoring early-life interventions to make the environment in which black kids grow up better. That may actually work and if it doesn’t, it’s not very harmful to society.

            In contrast, a belief in a large genetic component can merely lead to abandoning the goal of racial equality or support for eugenics. The evidence that the latter will work doesn’t exist as of now, so it’s not like people are wrong to reject such dangerous experiments. So in practical terms there is little to gain by trying to get people to adapt this position.

          • Incurian says:

            a belief in a large genetic component can merely lead to abandoning the goal of racial equality or support for eugenics.

            I always thought that was a weird conclusion to jump to, but it just occurred to me that possibly people who hold that opinion are projecting their own thought processes rather than modeling others’. Typical-minding.

          • The Nybbler says:

            However, people can still preserve their goal of equal racial outcomes and their belief in extra help for black people by favoring early-life interventions to make the environment in which black kids grow up better. That may actually work and if it doesn’t, it’s not very harmful to society.

            Except that’s one of the ways we got here. Suppose we do early-life interventions and they don’t work. We can continue to keep doing the same thing and expecting better results for a while, but not forever. Eventually people start looking for another explanation, and with everything else ruled out, it ends up being “later discrimination”.

          • albatross11 says:

            Nabil ad Dajjal:

            I’d add one other point here: There is a lot of stuff that “everyone knows” that’s actually wrong–either subtly wrong or utterly 180 degrees out of phase with reality wrong. The stuff that “everyone knows” but that is not acceptable to discuss in public is *even more* susceptible to being wrong than socially acceptable conventional wisdom.

            One of the strongest reasons to support open discussion about race, IQ, performance in life, etc., is because we want to get to a more correct picture of reality. Some of that will look more like Steve Sailer’s view of the world, some will look less like his view of the world. We can’t know which is which until we actually have open discussions where everyone can say their piece.

            As an example of this, I can’t even count the number of times I’ve seen h. beady people whose internal model was that blacks were never in the top tier of intelligence. That’s a completely wrong reading of the data from which someone Murray is working, but it’s an easy way to think for people who’ve kind-of internalized the “whites are smarter than blacks but we can’t talk about that” lesson without really having much intuition for the difference between a distribution and its mean, or how much overlap there is between two normal distributions, one with a mean at 100, the other at 92.5.

            When nobody is allowed to have those discussions in public, a lot of dumb ideas persist. Including among smart people, because you and I and everyone else who is smart by most measures have had dumb ideas we held embarassingly long, until we ran into some correction for them.

          • When nobody is allowed to have those discussions in public, a lot of dumb ideas persist. Including among smart people, because you and I and everyone else who is smart by most measures have had dumb ideas we held embarassingly long, until we ran into some correction for them.

            Yes indeed. Thomas Sowell is a very smart Black libertarian leaning philosopher. In one of his books, he talks about the problem of not being able to study racial intelligence. Sowell theorizes that Blacks may have higher than average intelligence in the area of “quick thinking” (although I think he called it something else), that is the kind of quick reaction in a fast changing environment, as is needed to excel in things like basketball and improvisational jazz bands. I think the reason research in this area is somewhat verboten is that our culture is worried that the findings will put a scientific confirmation that Blacks are dumber (which I think is more indication that the politically correct really do believe Blacks are dumber). But it isn’t necessarily so. In any case, most folks already believe that Blacks are less intelligent. The truth is always better than a guess, and it won’t necessarily be worse.

            I think I am preaching to the choir here — no one disagrees a whole lot. I wish this could get out to the general populace somehow.

          • No reason to discourage them further, by making it seem, that doing anything intelligent at all is an exclusive white domain, because of genetic destiny.

            But accurate information in IQ distribution, insofar as it is available, doesn’t imply that–merely that the percentage of blacks with high intelligence is probably lower than the percentage of whites.

          • Aapje says:

            @Incurian

            Just to clarify, when I said this:

            a belief in a large genetic component can merely lead to abandoning the goal of racial equality or support for eugenics.

            I meant equal outcomes when I said ‘racial equality,’ not equal treatment.

            Of course one can believe that certain ethnic groups will on average do worse than another ethnic group in a certain domain (like basketball) and also that each ethnic group should be treated equally. However, those two beliefs then require an acceptance of unequal outcomes.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            It can actually encourage intelligent black people, if they know that their intelligence gives them a very good shot at success, much better than the low representation of black people at the top would suggest.

            After all, Barack is not the average black person anymore than Donald is the average white person. They clearly could both become President.

            I think that the current message of enormous levels of discrimination is extremely discouraging to black people in the West and causes a lot of self-sabotage, where people don’t even try, because they don’t expect that their efforts can pay off.

            This kind of self-sabotage, where people under-perform because they underestimate what they can achieve with hard work is not specific to black people, BTW. It also seems to be a very serious issue for lower-class people in general.

          • Don_Flamingo says:

            @Nabil al Dajjal
            Maybe blacks really do take more drugs and lie about it disproportionately, independent of SES. And neither the intention nor the execution of the drug war is or was in any way racist and the law was executed in a truly color blind way. Maybe there just happens to be an immutable cultural preference for taking lots of drugs. (no good idea, how close to the truth these assumptions are, I’ll just take your word on the first one). And the drug war just targets certain demographics, just exactly the way, they’re supposed to be targeted by the logic of fighting drug use. Doesn’t mean, that we can’t blame a lot more of the horribleness of the current situation on that, rather than some genetic difference in IQ. Maybe, you’re right and in that particular demographic, there are just lots of people who’d fuck up their lives with drugs, anyway.

            Criminalizing drug use (especially with the fervor the US does it) still subsidizes a dangerous, violent black market into existence, makes cheap/dangerous/effective drugs much more competetive with the relatively harmless pot and makes getting treatment risky. If you could buy Pot and Crack at WalMart (or even some free, safe socialist distribution scheme for addicts) you wouldn’t have gun fights about it in the street and very little raison d’être for most street gangs, hence most of the safety problem you’re complaining about.

            tl;dr: It doesn’t matter if the drug war is racist, it transforms potential stoners into complete outcasts and the enterprising people, who sell to them into killers.

          • Don_Flamingo says:

            But accurate information in IQ distribution, insofar as it is available, doesn’t imply that–merely that the percentage of blacks with high intelligence is probably lower than the percentage of whites.

            Not saying, that it does. This is how people might spin it to justify their own continued lack of effort. If this is widely known, people might look at the color of someone’s skin and expect less of them and people to expect less of themselves. Societally, I think this might be a bit of an info-hazard.
            I’m not saying, that it’s worth to suppress it with censorship and protests, like it is happening right now to a degree.
            I’m just skeptical, that this knowledge or it’s widespread acceptance does anybody ultimately that much good and it might cause some harm.

  10. Baeraad says:

    A question for the abstract-problem-loving crowd here: what would it take, theoretically, for our society to develop a notion of civil adequacy? Is it even possible to get to there from here?

    I don’t just mean rules for how to behave in polite society. We have those, by and by. I mean an ideal to go behind them – the notion of being a gentleman, or being a lady, or being a hypothetical non-gendered or third gender equivalent, I’m not too picky, the point is of there existing something to aspire to. A conceptual reward for following the rules, in that if you adhere to social expectations, you get to see yourself, and be seen as, a manifestation of that ideal.

    Because I think we really need that. There needs to be a carrot to go along with the stick of “if you break the rules, people yell at you.” There needs to be some positive reinforcement. And as far as I can tell, our society lacks that. The only distinction is between people who are Bad, and people who by and large probably aren’t Bad (but will probably be found out to be Bad later, when someone bothers to take a closer look at them). No wonder, then, that a lot of people seem to actively aspire to being as gleefully horrible as possible, and that a lot of other people define themselves by how remorselessly they hunt down and persecute anyone who’s been found out to be Bad. Those two are the only alternatives to pointless blandness.

    Understand, I’m not talking about anyone being given any medals for basic decency. The reward for following the rules and being polite should be the simple right to hold your head up high, to walk down the street without shame, and to deserve politeness from other respectable people. Being a good citizen. Being okay. That should be a thing to recognise.

    But I don’t know that that’s even possible from the point we’re at today. Part of it is because the information society has just made us too jaded and wise in the ways of the world. We know that an astonishingly large portion of the time, people who seem respectable are hiding massive skeletons in their closets, so rewarding respectability feels a lot like it’s probably rewarding being better at lying and putting up a false front than the overtly disrespectable. We know that our society is having a large and painful impact on other parts of the world and on the environment itself, so being a member of it just doesn’t look so great. We’ve seen too much that we can’t unsee. Even if you (like me) think that innocence might be a vital social virtue, how do you regain it? Honestly, you probably can’t.

    There’s also that we are so far out on a branch that we just can’t make a graceful turn back. We spent the twentieth century gradually deciding, essentially, that freedom was the highest value and that the best sort of person was the one most in tune with their native, natural feelings and urges. And given that that was so, if people behaved badly it must be because they were unnatural and oppressive and suffering from internalised one-thing-or-another. And while most people seem to have backpedalled on that notion in one way and started piling on rules upon rules upon rules to try to make people behave better, these efforts are still framed in the rhetoric of restoring a “natural” state of perfect compassion and open-mindedness – meaning that their idea of adequate behaviour that might be deserving of respect lies at a level that most if not all actual human beings will be unable to reach, because we’re not actually that naturally good.

    But then, even if they realised the problem, what could they reasonably do differently? When people set out to try to improve their society, they do so by appealing to that society’s existing values and beliefs. You can’t make up entirely new values and beliefs and then try to make the wider public adopt them. At best, that will make you the leader of a small cult of disenfranchised people looking for something completely different.

    So to summarise, I see a need for there to be an achievably cultural standard for being adequate. And I do not think that our society has one. And I do not think that our society is capable of developing one, with anything less than a complete collapse causing us to basically start over and rebuild our culture from scratch. Would anyone like to contradict me, especially on the third part? I could use a reason to think that there’s more cause for hope than I can currently see.

    • 天可汗 says:

      virgin/chad memes

    • cassander says:

      “The difference between a moral man and a man of honor is that the former regrets a discreditable act, even when it has worked and he has not been caught.”

      HL mencken said that almost 100 years ago. As you’ve defined it, I’m not sure any society has ever had a standard of civil adequacy. Or, more accurately, they all have, and they’ve all been honored more in the breach than the observance, and they’ve all been based on punishment for bad behavior than rewards for good.

    • The Nybbler says:

      You’ve got it backwards. The standards don’t determine who the Good people are; the Good people determine what the standards are. Some societies are less hypocritical than others about that, that’s all.

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      You mean, like in WW1 UK, with young women handing out white roses to non-fighting young men, who are violating the standard?
      I don’t think such a thing can be had in a large ethnically and culturally diverse society. I think, that’s for the better.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Exhume Rousseau’s corpse, decapitate it and fill the mouth with garlic, and have a public burning with a wooden stake pinning the corpse’ s chest to the pure?
      I mean, it’s not entirely his fault. This isn’t the 1790s, when people took his heretical Christianity literally. Scientism is more popular, as long as the science doesn’t contradict the sacred values people learn from the Cathedral. So the popular version of Rousseau’s sentimentalism has changed from “Everything leaves the hand of God perfect and is corrupted by society” to “Everyone is good unless corrupted by the outgroup or born a sociopath/psycho/creep.” I fear that as more progressives become aware of the science Jonathan Haidt does, they’ll simply collapse the outgroup into the predestined reprobates.

      The whole idea that when you embody a standard, you’re participating in something good and real and can walk with your head held high and be recognized for it by others wise enough to know is rooted in Plato. Ideas have consequences, and what we need is a renunciation of ideas popular today in favor of good ones.

  11. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    It’s not all that rare for people to suffer from a self-hating monologue. Any good theories about what’s going on there?

    • The Nybbler says:

      It’s not all that rare for people to suffer from a self-hating monologue. Any good theories about what’s going on there?

      If there’s things you don’t like about your life, you can blame yourself, or you can blame others. If you blame others and you’re of low status, you’ll be told to cut that out and start blaming yourself. If you blame yourself and you can’t solve the problems, self-hate is the result.

  12. johan_larson says:

    I’m wondering what to make of the Fragile States Index (formerly the Failed States Index). On the one hand, it seems to be based on sensible criteria (12 social, political, and economic indicators). But on the other, the ranked list of countries it produces sure looks like the favorite holiday destinations of a Nazi ski team. The best countries in the world by the standards of the Index are Finland, Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, and Sweden.

    Is there some sort of inadvertent bias there, or some aspect of good government the Index is just blind to?

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Finland strikes me as an ought-to-be-exception to ‘favorite holiday destinations of a Nazi ski team’, given that not only are the Finns not Germanic, they’re not even Indo-European. A quick google search suggests that the common interest of Finland and Nazi Germany against the USSR led to them being ‘honorary Aryans’, but, I don’t know, maybe my mental model of a Nazi true believer is deficient but I’d have thought that anyone who took the Germanic blood-and-soil ideology seriously would have rejected the designation as nonsense.

      On an unrelated note, the papers today are full of a military coup against Robert Mugabe. Will be interesting to see if Zimbabwe manages to transition from red to at least orange on that map.

      • Civilis says:

        More interestingly, it seems to be a pre-emptive coup against Mugabe’s wife by supporters of the recently ousted VP. Apparently, they don’t want her to succeed him, because she’s got the loyalty of the ruling party’s paramilitary youth wing.

        This ends up looking less like a bid to replace the government than a succession fight conducted while the ruler is still alive (however barely).

        • johan_larson says:

          Virtually anyone will be better for the country than Mugabe. Zimbabwe is an economic basket case.

          Unfortunately the most likely successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is a thoroughly nasty sort. He’s the man who was in charge of the Gukurahundi, a campaign of ethnic clensing against the Ndebele people.

    • Why can’t those countries actually be good?

    • Civilis says:

      The obvious test is to compare it with other similar lists and see if the results are comparable, then look at any outliers and see if they can be explained by differences in what the results are supposed to measure.

      I tend to believe that there’s a correlation between economic freedom and stability (lack of fragility). I use the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Index_of_Economic_Freedom) as a good measure of how free a nation is. The three least fragile countries in Latin America are Uruguay, Chile, and Costa Rica, while the three most economically free are Chile, Colombia and Uruguay; that’s two out of three that match, and we know why Colombia has a history of instability. The best example, I think, is Mauritius, way up at 148 on the stability list (with higher being more stable). The next most stable country in Africa (for geopolitical definitions of ‘in’) is back at 125. It’s also at 8 on the Index of Economic Freedom (with lower being more free). The only other country in Africa that rates as Mostly Free is Botswana, which is the third most stable country in Africa.

      Pick a development index you trust, and take a look at how countries compare on both lists, looking for outliers, especially ones you don’t recognize.

    • bean says:

      I’d call it the US News and World Report Effect, after the college rankings (one of the major factors in that list being school reputation via polls of various people). A lot of these lists are, IMO, set up to give the answers you expect, and if we asked a typical sociologist/political scientist to give the best countries, they’d probably rank the Scandinavians at the top. I’m suspicious of any list of this type which don’t have anything surprising on it.

      • albatross11 says:

        Has anyone ever tried using the US News college rankings to predict anything useful? I’ve always suspected those rankings of being basically rational astrology–we need a ranking for social reasons, here’s a sort-of plausible one, we’ll all pretend it’s a good ranking even though it’s obviously kind of BS.

        • Brad says:

          They line up pretty well with prestige. If you have a smart and ambitious kid from a family that isn’t rich and doesn’t know a lot about colleges he can do a lot worse than going to the highest ranked school he can get into.

    • The Nybbler says:

      The difference between “Moderate” and “Sustainable” appears to mostly be inequality. You make the call.

    • Aapje says:

      @johan_larson

      Many of these indexes have criteria that obviously favor high-trust welfare states. Nations who believe that a higher levels of inequality results in better outcomes, like the US, do worse.

      I think that these criteria probably reflect the politics of those who create the index. There are no objective criteria, so it’s pretty much impossible to keep subjective beliefs out of it. Ultimately, the exact criteria you choose and how you score them can greatly change the outcomes.

      In some indexes the bias is quite obvious. An example is that the The Global Gender Gap Index by the World Economic Forum gives maximum scores when women do better than men. In their eyes, if men do worse, it doesn’t count as a gender gap.

      In contrast, the Gender Equality Index made by the EU does count any gap between men and women as gender inequality.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        I think that these criteria probably reflect the politics of those who create the index.

        This was largely my thought as well.

        One solution I can see to this would be to approach organizations that put other nations on top, and see what their criteria are. Another would be to try to overcome your own internal biases and build the best case you can for why, say, Zimbabwe should be at the top of the list. (I’m sure Mugabe’s got some sort of argument for why it was doing great until he was placed under arrest.)

        The result would likely include some inconsistent criteria (say, intellectual diversity vs. religious harmony), but it might at least give you a more complete model.

        • Civilis says:

          You’re always going to be at the mercy of the impartiality and accuracy of the people compiling the data.

          Start with what you think you know based on your experience, and what you think you can reliably take to be objective raw data sources. It’s a lot easier to spotcheck comparisons of raw numbers like GDP per capita or life expectancy than it is to compare such nebulous subjective things like ‘economic freedom’ or ‘quality of healthcare system’. Once you have that, you can compare indexes to known objective data and look for anomalies. If there’s a country with a high life expectancy and a horribly-rated healthcare system, it’s worth looking into why there’s a discrepancy, which will tell you whether you can trust that index. You can also compare indexes to each other if you think there’s a correlation between what they index, the more indexes the better.

          I just looked up Mauritius, because I’m fascinated to read up on a country I was only dimly aware of that seems to be a success story. (All the following info taken from Wikipedia:) It’s 148 out of 178 on the fragile states list, which is respectable. It’s ranked 15 for 2016 for the Economic Freedom index. It’s rated Free by Freedom House on the Freedom index, and ranked 56 for Press Freedom (still in the Free range). The Fraiser House index of Economic Freedom ranks it 6th. GDP per capita is somewhere around 70th. HDI rank is 64. All of this information seems relatively consistent, and while some of it might not be objective, none of it seems wildly inaccurate.

        • John Schilling says:

          Another would be to try to overcome your own internal biases and build the best case you can for why, say, Zimbabwe should be at the top of the list.

          Oh, that’s easy. You get good government by standing in opposition to bad government. The people currently running Zimbabwe are opposing the very worst government on the planet, so they have to be really, really good to pull that off. Right?

        • Aapje says:

          A useful heuristic to quickly judge an index might be to see if North Korea is on the list. AFAIK, the transparency level of North Korea is between zero and negligible, so it will almost always be impossible to score the country with any accuracy.

          So if the country is nevertheless scored, this would normally suggest a lack of rigor in the methodology.

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      Switzerland wouldn’t qualify either. Hitler called them “…a misbegotten branch of our Volk.” A Nazi skiing team would also very muck like to to train in Bavaria, Austria or Italy, which are not on the list. I’d suspect that the people running this index care more about mapping varying degrees of dysfunction accurately, rather than it’s opposite.

  13. dodrian says:

    A while ago someone tweaked SSC so that you could auto-collapse topics that didn’t have new posts in them. Does anyone know where the link to do that is?

    In somewhat related news, I’m trying the new build of Firefox. My main complaint with Firefox was that it was just slow when compared to Chrome, but with this build they’ve leveled the playing field a lot, and are promising more updates to come. I certainly prefer supporting open source initiatives to those from a company with a dubious data-mining record, and so far I’m not missing Chrome.

    • James says:

      In somewhat related news, I’m trying the new build of Firefox. My main complaint with Firefox was that it was just slow when compared to Chrome, but with this build they’ve leveled the playing field a lot, and are promising more updates to come. I certainly prefer supporting open source initiatives to those from a company with a dubious data-mining record, and so far I’m not missing Chrome.

      Yeah, but they crippled what was to me its USP: good addons. I am impressed by how fast it is now, but it just feels like a Chrome clone.

      • dodrian says:

        I understand that a lot of older add-ons are broken by the new release, but is there anything about the new format that means some can’t be recreated?

        • Don_Flamingo says:

          Other than developers no willing to do it, because it takes a lot of time and effort? Not sure. I’m not upgrading for now, because VimFx isn’t Quantum compatible and without it, I feel like a cripple. The developer is helping out with SakaKeys to create an universal keyboard control extension, that has a VimFx preset now, but it’s still lacking in important features.

          • James says:

            Yeah, SakaKeys is just slightly, subtly worse (maddening peeve: none of the keybindings work on ‘new tab’ or similar pages) than VimFX, which is just slightly, subtly worse than pentadactyl.

            Sigh. I feel so sad when we break things like this.

          • Don_Flamingo says:

            The main thing I’m missing there, is that I can’t open multiple background tabs at once with ‘af’. As long as I don’t get that, I’ll stay happily with 56 (or maybe one of the ESR releases). At least there are VimFx preset keybindings on the dev version now, though.

        • James says:

          Yeah, it seems that the new API is much more limited than the old one. (Actually, it’s pretty much the same API as Chrome uses, maybe with some small differences. Not sure why.)

          Addons like vimperator/pentadactyl, which radically changed the behaviour of the browser, are no longer conceivable. Only relatively small tweaks seem to be possible.

          • Iain says:

            Old Firefox extensions had nigh-unlimited access to the internals of the browser. In addition to being a security nightmare, this was bad for performance, stability, and Mozilla’s ability to improve Firefox in general. If every part of the browser’s code is a public interface, it becomes impossible to change anything without breaking somebody’s extension, and the pace of development is crippled.

            From the original 2015 post announcing changes:

            The tight coupling between the browser and its add-ons also creates shorter-term problems for Firefox development. It’s not uncommon for Firefox development to be delayed because of broken add-ons. In the most extreme cases, changes to the formatting of a method in Firefox can trigger problems caused by add-ons that modify our code via regular expressions. Add-ons can also cause Firefox to crash when they use APIs in unexpected ways.

            Firefox has made huge strides in the last couple of years in terms of performance and security, and has more stuff coming down the pipe. It could not have made those changes under the old system.

            (Also, the justification for using the same WebExtensions API as Chrome is simple: if Chrome extensions are easily portable to Firefox, and vice versa, then that’s good for everybody.)

            It looks like there is ongoing work to build the APIs necessary to implement this sort of thing, so this is hopefully just a temporary problem.

          • James says:

            Yeah, I get that there are tradeoffs involved, and justifications for what they’ve done, but it’s still a shame to me: the drawbacks outweigh the benefits for me. But I admit that I’m an atypical user, and if you’re chasing the average browser user, who probably doesn’t even know what an addon is, then the tradeoff they’ve made is the right one.

            (But I’m not sure I like this situation: having every product chase the modal consumer seems like an unhealthy situation for a market. It would be nice if there were at least one major browser at least somewhat aimed at least a little at the ‘power user’ niche.)

            If they do reimplement what’s needed for the addons I want to work properly then I’ll be happy, but I’m not holding my breathe. We shall see.

    • CatCube says:

      https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/04/09/ot73-i-lik-the-thred/#comment-486219

      Just remember that the widget works independently for http://slatestarcodex.com and https://slatestarcodex.com, so if you typically browse on the non-https site, you’ll need to edit the link to navigate to that one.

      I’m going to lobby again to get this link posted on the “Comments” page or something, because it takes me forever to remember the search-engine incantation to find this link when I need to do it for another computer. (Or the same computer that has lost its mind)

      • dodrian says:

        Thanks, that’s what I was looking for, and the https comment explains a couple of issues I was having with logging into the site!

        • CatCube says:

          No problem. Once I’ve gotten used to using it, I find the comment section practically impossible to follow without it. It saves so much time to just scroll until you start seeing expanded comments–and you can tell on the way down if the new comments are in a thread you care about!

      • James says:

        Thanks, this is great. I had it, really liked it, somehow deactivated it, lost the link, and am really glad to have it again.

        Edit: Actually, wait, does this work? It doesn’t seem to work for me any more.

        Edit edit: it was the HTTP/HTTPS thing.

      • James says:

        To go with this, I seem to recall some kind of tweak that showed the first line of a collapsed comment. It makes this much more useful. Don’t suppose you’ve got a link for that one, too?

        • CatCube says:

          I think that was in the next OT or so. The link to these widgets was posted and reposted in a few OTs, but it’s a pain in the ass to find. There’s another OT where Scott posted links to them, but that didn’t come up when I was looking for this one. I’ve usually done a site-specific search for bakkot, (or in this case, bakkot and my username, since I reposted the link for somebody else recently and tried to make it distinctive enough for me to find again–then promptly forgot what would be a good search to find it.)

          • James says:

            Yeah, these things are too hard to find. We need a good repository for them so they don’t get lost.

            Thanks for looking. I might try myself later. I’ll post here if I find it.

          • CatCube says:

            Another thing that’s buried in OTs is the really good “E-mail me when somebody replies” by @the verbiage ecstatic, which can be found here. Unlike the WordPress reply function, which e-mail you for every comment, this one only does it when you get a reply to your post, or somebody calls you out with @username.

            Like the collapse inactive threads thing, you have to know it exists and then go on a hunt to find it.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’ve confirmed it, and am looking forward to getting my replies. I’m curious about how the widget(?) knows my name from my email address.

            I strongly recommend a tab for comment management tools.

          • CatCube says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            You’re supposed to edit the URL given in the comment to your username (Where it says “INSERT YOUR NAME HERE”, or that says “INSERT” after clicking on the link.)

            I don’t know how that works with usernames with spaces.

            Note that this system works by scraping the comments for new ones every 20 minutes or so, so it doesn’t e-mail replies immediately.

            Edit: OK, I just played around with the URL, and you apparently just put in the username with the space and all. I thought that the browser would have a fit about putting a space in a URL.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I couldn’t get my name to work. It never offered me a url.

            When I put in my email address, that seemed to work (got a verfication email), but I haven’t gotten any comments emailed to me.

            On the other hand, this was in my verification email: “subscribed to replies to INSERT’s comments on Slate Star Codex”, so maybe I didn’t enter what was needed.

          • CatCube says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            Yeah, the signup isn’t the most obvious if you’re not familiar with working with URLs. You left the default username of “INSERT” in there. So @INSERT should probably reach you. If you go to this link:
            https://sscnotify.bakkot.com/subscribe?author_name=Nancy Lebovitz and put in your e-mail, that should do it.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            @catcube, thanks very much.

            I think it’s only taking Nancy rather than Nancy Lebovitz, but I think that will work as long as there isn’t another Nancy who’s an active poster.

            I didn’t capitalize your name because I was curious about whether the widget was case sensitive.

          • CatCube says:

            OK, so apparently the fucking comment system is going to try to divine what I want instead of just doing what I told it to do. I used markup to surround the URL, but it stripped out the [a] and [/a] tags to do its own thing. Here is the proper link.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Thank you very much.

            I’ve confirmed the link.

            Replies are coming in!

          • CatCube says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            No problem. It really does make it easier to keep track of a thread you’re participating in.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            And now, of course, I have a request

            Would it be worth it to put the post title in the subject line?

            I’m more interested in that than in who posted the replies because the post title (or date of the post) would tell me whether it was a post I’d stopped following.

          • CatCube says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            Yeah, it buries the post title and URL deep enough that it doesn’t show up on one-line previews either, so you pretty much have to open it to find out which post has got the response.

            Another issue is that it sends an e-mail for if you get @username responses OR if it’s below* a post of yours in the tree structure. This means that if your post is the second-lowest, you’ll get all of the responses to new subthreads even if they’re not a direct response to you anymore. Also, under those circumstances you get an e-mail for your own posts (e.g., I’ve got 5 “CatCube replied to you…” e-mails in this thread already, and I’ll get a 6th for this one).

            This isn’t a big bother for me, because I find I’m not one who usually gets a massive number of responses below my second-lowest posts. So the benefits of getting e-mail notifications more than outweigh the extra e-mails.

            *EDIT: By “below” I mean a direct reply made by clicking the “Reply” link, not every single post below yours.

          • the verbiage ecstatic says:

            @CatCube, yeah, I think the plan was that @Bakkot was organizing a beta test, and then maybe we’d integrate the sign up into the comment system so you don’t need to hand-build the urls. But I got busy and dropped the ball on following up on that plan :-/

            If people are actively using it and finding it useful, though, happy to keep taking feedback and improving it.

    • toastengineer says:

      I certainly prefer supporting open source initiatives to those from a company with a dubious data-mining record, and so far I’m not missing Chrome.

      Mozilla also appears to have every intention of sharing its users data with its buddies. At least Google keeps your info to itself after it collects it.

      Users who receive a version of Firefox with Cliqz will have their browsing activity sent to Cliqz servers, including the URLs of pages they visit

      They do also say

      Cliqz uses several techniques to attempt to remove sensitive information from this browsing data before it is sent from Firefox. Cliqz does not build browsing profiles for individual users and discards the user’s IP address once the data is collected. Cliqz’s code is available for public review

      but “Cliquz” isn’t a paticularly reputable organization; they’re owned by a tabloid media group.

      Mozilla has also taken a pretty strong stance in the good ol Culture War, if that’s the sort of thing that matters to you.

  14. Anatoly says:

    SKILL: TUNE YOUR MOTOR CORTEX

    This looks… sketchy. Has anyone tried this? It feels like it’d be too easy to convince myself that I’m having all these sorts of positive feelings, and the sciency-looking explanation seems too sciency-looking. But maybe I’m too jaded?

    • lvlln says:

      I’m not an expert on this by any means, but from a cursory reading of it, my guess is that it’s mostly scientifically sound but perhaps way overselling what can be accomplished or just dressing it up in fancy words.

      I developed Bell’s Palsy a couple years ago and have been doing physical therapy on my face for over a year now for it, and the physical therapy is pretty similar to the process that’s described in that link. The main issues are muscle weakness and synkinesis, with the latter being the far greater problem (the former isn’t trivial, but general muscle strengthening principles that apply to other muscles tend to work decently). Synkinesis refers to multiple muscles being activated when you want to just activate one muscle or some smaller subset of those muscles – in my case, my eyelid closing when I want to move my mouth (common in Bell’s Palsy cases). The physical therapy works by having me look in the mirror and focus heavily on activating only specific muscle groups at a time, while also focusing on making sure other groups are relaxed. The idea being to retrain the parts of the brain that send signals down to the muscles so that I can re-isolate the groups that I used to by default just from normal development when I was an infant.

      After about 1.25ish years of doing this consistently, if my synkinesis level at the beginning was 10/10, today that level is probably around 8/10 or 9/10. Those 1 or 2 ticks of movement aren’t nothing, but neither are they life-altering. It’s just slightly better than it used to be.

      Of course, that’s just my experience, and it’s with a disorder rather than from some sort of default healthy state. But I think the same general phenomenon would apply with other aspects of training muscle isolation, based on what I’ve seen in weight lifting. Maybe there’s some inflection point where with enough training, you suddenly start seeing massively greater benefits than before. I’m skeptical of that, though.

  15. Paul Brinkley says:

    A Facebook friend of mine recently linked an article claiming that National Poll Shows Voters Are Widely Misinformed About Key Issues. My response is below. Comments welcome.

    One confounder I can see to this study is if the voter answers the question incorrectly, but doesn’t consider the question to be pertinent to their voting decision. For example, the first question they show under Education is about fourth graders. The voter might not know how well fourth graders might be doing (according to the study, they’re doing quite well), but if their main issue is, say, foreign trade, it may make sense for them to back a candidate who supports their views on trade but disagrees with them on education. The voter might even be focused on education, but specifically on high school graduation rates or college admissions or tuition prices or teacher salaries.

    Another confounder is that the questions are selective. I like that the poll attempts to choose a topical issue, which should maximize the chance that any given voter is informed about it. However, many voters focus on their key issue for long periods, even when it’s not a headliner. Also, there’s no guarantee that the specific question the poll chooses is the essential litmus test voters use.

    A third confounder is that the voter may know the correct answer – let’s say there are two choices, A and B, and B is the correct one – but the voter’s answer is actually “B, however…”.

    I’m not sure it’s fair, as a result, for the headline of the post to flatly state that voters are uninformed. (I happen to suspect it’s true, but I don’t believe the evidence presented necessarily proves it.)

    There’s a “cathartic conclusion” I can visualize.

    Imagine a poll that finds frequent voters (as the study cited above did – overall, I liked the article, esp. since it included the text of the questions). Then it asks them what their key issue is, and its importance relative to everything else – 10 meaning no other issue matters to the voter, 0 meaning it’s about as important as the rest, 1 meaning it’s the most important but other issues could change their vote anyway, etc.

    Then the poll asks for their key test within it – a question which a candidate answered to their satisfaction and won their vote, or which the candidate muffed and lost their vote.

    Then the poll asks them what the other major candidate’s answer to that question is. If they answer correctly, then that’s arguably an informed voter. If they answer incorrectly, then that’s a very good example, IMO, of an uninformed voter – they’ve very likely voted against their own preferences.

    One catch, of course, is that the poll would have to accurately capture what the voter’s key issue and question are. In many cases, this will be vague – the key question might be “how strong are you on tax reform?” and one candidate answers “very” and the other is “extremely”. Or it’ll hang up on how many bills they actually passed on a given issue, and what those bills actually did, and be confounded by whatever riders were on them, etc.

    • JayT says:

      I feel like the wording on a lot of the questions favored Republicans because the correct answers were things that reinforced more Republican points of view. Stuff like the questions about Obamacare price controls and African Americans being shot by the police. The Democrat/Republican correct answer split on those was 24%/69% and 13%/79%, respectively. I doubt the Republicans did so much better because they were far more knowledgeable about these issues, but because the question could be boiled down to “is Obamacare bad?” and “are the police good?”

      Also, in general, I feel like the questions kind of leaned towards the “gotcha” variety. For example, something like the fourth grader question would require that you know about American fourth graders, not just about American schools. They point out that by the time American kids graduate they fall below the 50% mark. Expecting someone to know at what grade that happens doesn’t seem terribly reasonable to me. Also, the fact that only 25% of the questions were answered correctly when random guessing would have produced something like 40% makes me think this.

  16. Don_Flamingo says:

    In the spirit of “singular experiences, that everybody else is missing out on (or maybe not)”, does anybody, when surrounded by overly loud noises or music, explosively suck in air through their nose (with their mouth closed) to build counterpressure through the eustachian tube (or at least, I think that’s what I’m doing). Is there a name for doing that? Tried googling around a bit and asking people, but only got blank stares.

    It’s less comfortable and less effective than wearing earplugs, but when they’re not at hand, I’ll resort to that (for example at my overly loud fitness class or when a smoke detector goes off nearby) and I can keep it up indefinitely.

    • Eltargrim says:

      I know the experience you’re talking about, but I don’t need to breathe in, I just generate the pressure. I also find it helps with loud noises, though I have trouble maintaining it for long.

      • rahien.din says:

        IE you can make yourself hear a rushing/rumbling sound?

        • Eltargrim says:

          Yup, on command. According to this reddit post I’m manually contracting my tensor tympani muscle. Sounds plausible.

        • Don_Flamingo says:

          More of a popping sound, I think.

          I can hold my nose as well and then I can do it, but I can adjust the pressure with an open mouth/nose only to a very limited, non-useful degree.

          • Don_Flamingo says:

            Looked up what a ‘rumble’ actually sounds like (not a native English speaker). Yes, kinda like that. We have our own subreddit!
            And we can annoy our dentists with that skill!
            This has been a day of marvelous discovery.

        • Chalid says:

          For me I’d say it’s like the sound a strong wind makes as it blows past your ears.

          I can do it long enough to feel a bit more comfortable walking past a very loud thing like a jackhammer, or when an ambulance passes.

        • jeqofire says:

          I can do that. I can also do the popping thing. And if I do the popping thing and hold that position, sound passing through my nasal cavity is enhanced, as though my ears are pointed inward (is great for meditation).

          I discovered the rumble thing around kindergarten, and quickly started using it to make music in my head when I was sufficiently bored. I’ve been kinda unsure if I’ve been actually changing the pitch or not, but quick tests tell me I’m not just imagining that part (separating pitch from volume is difficult. Getting lower-pitched rumbles loud enough to compete with baseline higher-pitched requires more concentration than this normally does.)
          The popping thing came later and was not so easy at first. I think I got it from holding my nose and trying to force air through, and made the connection to the rumble thing. I can separate them, but it’s easy to mess up and for one to trigger the other (maybe this depends on airpressure, I dunno). My first uses of the popping thing were mainly for the internal mic aspect, because it made muttering to myself seem more like the way thoughts are portrayed on television and that was kinda neat. Once i got better control over it, mixing it with the rumble for more complex inner music kinda just happened. Even though the sounds are both musically terrible and really don’t go together. And there’s always the meditation use. I generally include those muscles in the “tense, relax, withdraw attention” exercises.

    • toastengineer says:

      Dear god, is there a tutorial for this sort of thing? Sounds like an amazing alternative to giving myself tinnitus.

  17. johan_larson says:

    IO9 has a review of “Artemis,” the second novel by Andy Weir, who rocketed to fame on the back of his first novel, “The Martian.”

    When your first book is as successful and well-known as The Martian, it’s inevitable that your follow-up will be compared to it, so here goes: Artemis is not nearly as good as The Martian. Parts of it comes close but it falters when Weir tries to take a step forward as a writer. When the story is focused and simple, like The Martian, it works. But when there are multiple characters and large action sequences, it doesn’t.

    One understands why Weir tried to do more in a second novel and that he doesn’t want to keep writing the same story over and over again. But in attempting to broaden his horizons, he lost some of what makes him special… and readable. As a result, Artemis is a ho-hum, forgettable story with a killer, unforgettable setting.

  18. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Have a couple of links about whether the Electoral College was intended to protect slavery, and whether it still promotes racism– as I recall, Deiseach was curious about what Americans were talking about on the subject, but racism didn’t get covered. Instead, there was a general discussion of the EC.

    https://www.salon.com/2016/12/15/the-electoral-college-born-of-slavery-could-stand-against-racism-in-2016/

    http://thefederalist.com/2017/08/28/no-jesse-jackson-electoral-college-isnt-racist/

    I’ll note that to the extent that the EC is biased against cities, it might be racist in effect.

    Also, I’ve seen the claim that slavery was a major engine of the American economy. This seems dubious to me– the north was more prosperous than the south. I’ve wondered whether there was some economic illusion involved because slaves were monetized while free people weren’t, so it looked as though slavery were doing more for the economy than it actually was. (This is tentative.)

    • Brad says:

      As to the first question: meh. Okay, maybe the EC itself looked at in isolation wasn’t intended to protect slavery. But the question of power between the northern and southern states was critical to the design of the whole thing and that in turn had a lot to do with slavery and preventing abolition. Regardless, even if a provision was originally “about slavery” I don’t think that automatically means it is bad today and we should get rid of it.

      As to the economics, as I understand it the northern economy in the late 18th century was indirectly very reliant on slavery. Specifically the trans-Atlantic trade network only worked if the ships going west were filled with slaves. The only other things they could plausibly be filled with would be manufactured goods from Europe, but those would have competed directly with Northern manufacturers, and having an empty leg would have made trade far less valuable.

    • ManyCookies says:

      This seems dubious to me– the north was more prosperous than the south.

      Well a sector that’s a minority of economic output can still be a “major engine” in the economy, especially in the local southern economies (though if that’s being used as an argument for slavery, it’s still a ridiculously terrible one).

    • vV_Vv says:

      Also, I’ve seen the claim that slavery was a major engine of the American economy. This seems dubious to me– the north was more prosperous than the south.

      But the South was still pretty big and its economy was highly reliant on slavery. How many cotton plantations survived the abolition?

      I doubt this has much to do with the Electoral College though. If I understand correctly, the US was initially intended as a loose federation of mostly sovereign states, therefore the electoral college acted as a safeguard against the most populous states dominating the federal government. It’s the same reason why each state gets two senators, counterbalancing the approximately proportional representation in the House of Representatives (and in fact, it is no accident that the number of electoral votes each state has was set to be equal to its combined number of senators and representatives).

  19. Shion Arita says:

    Thouhts on the potential new US tax bill?

    The part of it that’s most relevant to me is that gradiate students usually have their tuition covered by the university and are paid a stipend for teaching. the tuition and stipend varies from school to school, but the former can be as high as $50k, and the latter is rarely much over $30k.

    Currently, the students are not taxed on the tuition coverage they recieve, but the new bill would tax that as income, even though we never see that money and it’s really just paid to the university by itself. the result of this would be someone who really makes $20-30k being taxed as if they made $50-80k, which would be up to a 400% tax increase and in some cases would be half or more of their real income. This would result in graduate student stipends no longer being a living wage in many cases and they would pay the highest proportional tax rate in the country.

    Obviously i think this is a really bad idea. if it passes the system will have to reequilibrate somehow but i can see graduate enrollment going way down and attrition increasing.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      The GOP tax bill is full of bad ideas, and it’s disappointing that President Trump is being a standard Republican

    • The Nybbler says:

      It’s no different than any other similar transaction. If I fix a restaurant’s computer in exchange for a $10 and a free meal, I owe tax on both the $10 and the price of the meal. If the tuition is actually an accounting fiction and no one pays it, the schools can stop charging for it and waiving it.

      i can see graduate enrollment going way down and attrition increasing

      Presumably as designed. The Republicans are now shelling the institutions they’ve been driven out of.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Here we see the danger of Red anti-intellectualism. It’s bad for the public weal increase by 400% the taxes of people training to become scientists and engineers. If they could increase by 400% (or more!) the taxes of those studying leftism, that would be all to the good. It’s not good that useful higher education is acceptable collateral damage to the GOP.
        Why not limit Pell Grants and interest-free loans to socially useful majors?

        • gbdub says:

          Engineers are largely not getting PhDs, they are getting unsubsidized Masters degrees at or near the sticker price and paying off the resultant loans with post-tax dollars (excepting the tuition loan interest, which is often deductible).

          • Shion Arita says:

            Yes, science specifically is the area that is hit hardest by this over most others. Med and Law students already pay through the nose for their postsecondary education (usually using loans that they are supposed to be able to pay off with their high salaries after school), engineers and business and that kind of thing don’t really pursue long advanced degrees, and while I know little of humanities, I think they’re in trouble too.

          • John Schilling says:

            Engineers are largely not getting PhDs, they are getting unsubsidized Masters degrees

            I’m not sure this is true for the most part. The young engineers I work with now, and the ones I remember going to school with in the past, were mostly a mix of Masters degrees being paid for by the company they worked for and PhDs being paid for by fellowships and assistanceships. Self-financed degrees seem to be a distinct minority.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            mostly a mix of Masters degrees being paid for by the company they worked for and PhDs being paid for by fellowships and assistanceships

            Are the companies or fellowships negotiating a reduced rate from the universities or are they paying the unsubsidized sticker price on behalf of the employee/fellow?

            Do these organizations get a tax write-off for the expense, and would this bill shut it down?

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            So this might vary by company. But among my group of educated business professionals, companies do not negotiate breaks. You choose which college you go to, you get whatever price break you can (or scholarship or whatever), and the company reimburses a portion of your expenses.

            The company can deduct these expenses, subject to certain guidelines, that I am sure are extremely complicated. I do not feel like reading the IRS rules at the moment.

            However, if you get tuition benefits from your employer, any value above $5,250 is taxable income. So if your company pays for you to go to Northwestern for an MBA, where full freight is like $120k, and pays for the whole thing, you will have a taxable income of $109,500 over 2 years.

          • John Schilling says:

            That’s how it works in engineering as well. The students negotiate admission and tuition with the university, and then negotiate reimbursement with their employers. That said, there are universities with engineering Masters programs that are geared to such students, and they know what the big local companies in relevant industries will reimburse.

      • Shion Arita says:

        Private universities will be able to reduce the tuition in response, and that’s what I expect to see happen if it passes, but public universities are not allowed to charge different tuitions for undergraduate and graduate students, so they will be in more trouble.

        • Randy M says:

          That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. A graduate degree and a bachelors degree are different products, with different costs, customer bases, etc.

        • gbdub says:

          public universities are not allowed to charge different tuitions for undergraduate and graduate students

          Where is this true? It certainly was not at the public university I attended.

          • JayT says:

            Yeah, my public university had different tuition costs for undergraduate and graduate programs. They also had different prices depending on how many units you took. I never saw any evidence that they were tied to one cost for everything.

          • gbdub says:

            Hell, at mine the price for undergraduate tuition jumped like 20% once you had junior standing (which sucked for me with a lot of AP credits).

          • Shion Arita says:

            I read it in an article somewhere that I can’t find now. Maybe it was wrong. Maybe it varies by state. I don’t really know to be honest.

    • Jiro says:

      If you never see the money and it’s all creative accounting, the university could easily “increase the stipend” or “reduce the cost of tuition” to make up for the taxes.

    • bean says:

      Been watching this from a distances, and I’m sort of confused. Two questions:
      1. Why is the GOP doing this? I don’t think it’s part of some plan to hurt grad students or colleges directly. They aren’t exactly friends, but I wonder if this is targeted at something else, and tuition waivers are just collateral damage.
      2. Does anyone seriously believe that accountants won’t route around this? AIUI, scholarships will still not be taxed. Change the tuition waiver to a scholarship, and the problem goes away. Or something like that. I suspect that the Democrats are whipping up fury on this issue because it’s a good one to mobilize people on, even though it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

      • Iain says:

        As far as I can tell, the Republicans started their tax reform plans by slashing the corporate tax rate, looked at the gaping hole it would leave in the budget, and went around searching for exemptions they could cut as partial mitigation. At one point they were also planning on eliminating the tax credit for adoptive parents, until the outcry from (among others) the religious right convinced them to stop.

        So it’s less that the GOP hated this particular exemption, and more that they just weren’t very attached to it and needed something to throw overboard.

      • MrApophenia says:

        The GOP are doing this because they can’t pass the bill without 60 votes in the Senate if it raises the deficit after a 10-year budget horizon, due to the rules of budget reconciliation they’re trying to pass it under. Since the actual goal of this tax reform is a massive reduction in taxes on corporations and the very rich, they are desperately scrounging around trying to find any way they can raise enough money elsewhere to offset it, ideally among populations that traditionally vote Democrat. Thus changes that raise taxes for graduate students, or wealthy people in states with high state taxes (ie, mostly blue states).

        This is also why most of the tax cuts that are only in there to provide political cover for what they actually want to do – ie, all the ones that affect the middle class – have a sunset clause to expire before 10 years, with only the corporate tax cuts remaining permanent.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          The Red tribe is full of Christians and/or people who want a welfare state for loyal Americans. No matter how many of them vote, it’s impossible to elect Republicans who won’t try to cut taxes for the wealthy so they can eat caviar off the naked thighs of whores during a swim in their Money Bin.

        • Randy M says:

          wealthy people in states with high state taxes

          Now this I am (provisionally) in favor of. Is there any reason for this sort of hidden subsidy? Do high tax states use less per capita of federal expenses (obv. not for defense, etc.)? Do out of state residents use state services such that they should pay more federal taxes?

          Disclaimer: I’m a non-wealthy CA resident.

          • MrApophenia says:

            My understanding is that the high tax states actually pay more in federal taxes than they take in, since they also tend to be the richer states in general. One of the great ironies of blue/red politics is that federal taxes are largely a wealth transfer from rich Democratic states to poor Republican ones, with many policy disagreements consisting of blue states wanting to even more of that and red states wanting to cut back on it.

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t think that really speaks to why this particular deduction is warranted; that’s more a factor of relative proportion high earners I’d wager, or else due to more corporate taxation coming from blue (coastal, urban) areas.

            Now, you could make the argument that state policies which require high taxation lead to booming businesses (something like high levels of policing keeping industrial areas safer, say) which in turn generates more federal corporate taxes, thus entitling those state taxes to be thus subsidized; but I’d want to see the argument made with numbers before assuming it was valid.

          • Brad says:

            In an ideal tax system the SALT deduction would go away. But when you have a whole range of crappy tax giveaways and you choose to eliminate all and only those which disproportionately benefit people that vote for the other party it doesn’t exactly look principled.

          • Matt M says:

            those which disproportionately benefit people that vote for the other party

            It doesn’t have to, though. California could, in theory, lower their taxes in response to this. They won’t, of course, but that’s their own decision to make.

          • Brad says:

            I know California won’t. You know California won’t. The people that drafted this legislation know California won’t. So I don’t see any relevance to the point I made about lack of principle in the fact that California could theoretically radically cut taxes at any time.

          • Randy M says:

            I’m glad you agree this deduction should go away (at some point). I agree that the people trying to do so now have no principles.

          • gbdub says:

            federal taxes are largely a wealth transfer from rich Democratic states to poor Republican ones

            Isn’t a lot of this driven by population density and the fact that it makes sense to put nuclear missiles in the middle of nowhere?

            A good chunk of the federal spending that goes to “flyover country” is in the form of military bases and highway funds, resulting in high per-capita federal spending. But the benefits of that spending aren’t limited to that state – the interstate system adds value to California ports, and the nukes in North Dakota help deter missiles that would be aimed at LA.

          • Matt M says:

            I know California won’t. You know California won’t. The people that drafted this legislation know California won’t. So I don’t see any relevance to the point I made about lack of principle in the fact that California could theoretically radically cut taxes at any time

            But why won’t they?

            Might the answer be “Because they don’t actually really care about their residents having to bear the burden of high taxes?”

            I feel like their protestations here are pretty disingenuous. If you’re really worried that much about your residents having to pay X% higher taxes, then lower your own corresponding taxes by X% to make them whole. The fact that this is not even up for consideration speaks volumes.

            Edit: And as an aside, I feel like a candidate running on a platform of “I promise to increase federal taxes by X%” would be immensely popular in California. So the tax increase, in and of itself is not what’s unpopular here…

          • Brad says:

            But why won’t they?

            States can’t print money. In many cases they aren’t even allowed to borrow for general purposes. Cutting taxes means cutting spending.

            In any event why they won’t is, again, irrelevant to the point I made.

            when you have a whole range of crappy tax giveaways and you choose to eliminate all and only those which disproportionately benefit people that vote for the other party it doesn’t exactly look principled.

          • Matt M says:

            But you’re not addressing my point, which is that the “disproportionate benefit” exists at the pleasure OF the other party.

            It ain’t Republicans who caused California to have higher than average state taxes.

            If Californians don’t want to suffer from this disproportionate punishment, they should vote for lower state taxes. The fact that they won’t means that they are choosing this fate, therefore I don’t have much sympathy for them.

          • Brad says:

            I don’t think anyone is looking for your sympathy, but thanks for sharing.

          • JayT says:

            @Matt M, I’ve actually been wondering if this isn’t the main reason the Republicans want to target high-tax states. It’s not to punish Democrats, it’s to open up opportunities for Republicans to get a foothold back in those states.
            For as Democratic a state like California is, it really isn’t so far out of reach that it isn’t worth making a play for. I’d bet they could make some decent headway in the state politics with some socially moderate politicians promising a lowering of the state taxes.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            But when you have a whole range of crappy tax giveaways and you choose to eliminate all and only those which disproportionately benefit people that vote for the other party it doesn’t exactly look principled.

            I haven’t read the bill – does it also introduce more crappy tax giveaways for people who vote GOP? (AIUI the corporate reduction is a straightforward rate reduction instead of loophole tomfoolery, could be wrong on that.) I would love for Washington to get into a fight about who can screw over each others’ byzantine tax breaks the hardest — so long as they aren’t shoring their own at the same time. Probably unrealistic to expect the latter but a man can dream.

          • Iain says:

            I haven’t read the bill – does it also introduce more crappy tax giveaways for people who vote GOP?

            2017 is immune to satire. The Senate version of the bill lowers “taxes on some of the payments made by owners of private aircraft to management companies that help maintain, store and staff those planes for owners.”

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            Isn’t a lot of this driven by population density and the fact that it makes sense to put nuclear missiles in the middle of nowhere?

            A good chunk of the federal spending that goes to “flyover country” is in the form of military bases and highway funds, resulting in high per-capita federal spending.

            I’ve seen this claim made in SSC comments a few times, but never with any numbers attached. I’m curious what the source of it is, and how confident people are that military bases really are what’s behind the phenomenon of blue states subsidizing red states.

            Someone who thinks this: where did you get it from? Any links I can read?

          • Chalid says:

            I’ve seen this claim made in SSC comments a few times, but never with any numbers attached. I’m curious what the source of it is, and how confident people are that military bases really are what’s behind the phenomenon of blue states subsidizing red states.

            Yeah it seems extremely unlikely to me that this is the whole phenomenon or even the majority of it. If Blue states are richer on average then they will pay more income tax (a very big effect) and receive less poverty-related aid. For spending to be “fair” you’d need the rest of spending to be disproportionately higher in Blue states and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone make the case that it is.

          • Jiro says:

            It’s not the only factor. There’s also the problem of lots of money going to blue areas within red states (such as heavily minority inner cities), and of people moving to Florida or another red area to retire so that they paid to the Federal government in a blue state and got some money back in a red one.

            Also, even ignoring the fact that nuclear missiles don’t get put next to populated cities, the amount of military base or highway spending is going to roughly scale with the size of the state, causing a greater effect on the per-capita calculation in a more rural state.

          • MrApophenia says:

            I find it very difficult to believe that’s the explanation; the primary difference between blue states and red states is how large a portion of the population live in urban vs. rural areas; if urban areas were the ones sucking up all the federal funds, you’d expect the blue states to be heavier users than red ones.

            Here’s a chart from the Economist on which states are paying more than they receive and vice versa: https://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/08/americas-fiscal-union

            After some Googling I was able to find several scholarly articles on the causes, but all were behind paywalls, so I can’t say what they said with any specificity, but from abstracts the general answers either seemed to be “It’s very difficult to say” or “New Deal programs benefit poor people in Red States more than they pay, because of the general lower income in those states.”

          • Matt M says:

            I’m curious what the source of it is, and how confident people are that military bases really are what’s behind the phenomenon of blue states subsidizing red states.

            I think the generalized population density argument makes a ton of logical sense, without getting into military bases specifically.

            Of course infrastructure spending scales. Of course it’s cheaper, per capita, to provide government services to the population of Rhode Island than it is to the population of Wyoming. Do we really need data on this?

          • Brad says:

            @Gobbobobble
            * The single biggest new tax giveaway are the new rules on some pass through corporations (but not personal service corporations because FU lawyers and accountants).

            * The elimination of AMT has the effect of making the remaining crappy tax giveaways more salient for the rich while the increase in the standard deduction makes them less salient for the actual middle class.

            * The child tax credit is increased, and the family flexibility credit amounts to an additional child tax credit.

            * The bill allow for full immediate expensing on capital purchases for business ($25B over 10 years, so I fair sized giveaway).

            * There’s another $41B over ten years worth of changes to the corporate tax code that the Joint Committee on taxation refers to as “increase small business write-offs”

          • Gobbobobble says:

            @Iain & Brad

            Thanks. Sucks to have “we don’t get nice things” confirmed yet again, but such is life. That private jet one is a real doozy…

          • Iain says:

            Adding a bit of nuance to the private jet tax: the WSJ has an alternate take: private jets pay higher fuel tax to make up for the fact that they don’t pay ticket tax, and this measure is just designed to clarify that aircraft management services don’t qualify for the ticket tax.

            Skimming through the more comprehensible parts of this article, it looks to me like there has been some dispute about which side of the line aircraft management services should fall on. The IRS argued that some of them were acting as commercial operators, the aircraft management services argued that they were not, and the Senate bill comes down on the side of the latter.

            Whether or not you think this is a giveaway to people who vote GOP probably depends on who you think was in the right in the original dispute. In any case, the net effect is still that private jet owners would pay less tax than under the status quo (although the overall numbers are small).

    • Iain says:

      One other fun impact of repealing the tuition exemption: in cases where universities give tuition waivers to the children of their employees (janitors and so on), the House bill would end up taxing those employees at the sticker price of the tuition, even though nobody ever pays sticker price.

      Meanwhile, the Senate’s version would apparently end up raising taxes on people making less than $75K by 2027. (pdf)

      • Sfoil says:

        If “nobody ever pays the sticker price”, maybe they should lower it.

        • Randy M says:

          But a high sticker price lets them offer scholarships that sound more impressive, and presumably attract more substantial loans if those are based on some percent of tuition (especially if everybody does it).

        • John Schilling says:

          Some people do pay the sticker price, e.g. the Chinese noveau riche buying the cachet of a Western university education for their favored sons. These people bring in a lot of money for universities even if they aren’t a majority of the student base, and the trustees aren’t going to want to give that up. If the price of keeping that revenue stream is that a bunch of locals get taxed farther into the starving-grad-student cliché, well, those people don’t have a choice if they want a successful career in their field whereas the rich Chinese parents could send their sons off to school in England.

          Price discrimination, while it does tickle our innate unfairness detector, is to massively useful for even non-profit market actors to really give up. And high sticker prices that most people never pay, are one of the best tools for that job.

          • rlms says:

            Are there regulations that stop American universities just setting different prices for foreign students? That’s what British ones do.

          • Sfoil says:

            I wouldn’t mind the high nominal cost if it weren’t for the part they play in student loans. I also find the practice of “needs-based financial aid” in which educational institutions demand to see the financial records of the student’s family prior to negotiating attendance costs to be way more distasteful than typical price discrimination.

    • secondcityscientist says:

      If you’re a grad student in a relatively prestigious private institution, you shouldn’t worry too much about this. The current setup allows the university to take a cut of lots of grants – training grants and research grants mostly. With this change, they’ll have to find new ways to get that cut, but they’ll still get it and (probably) won’t screw over their students too badly in the process. Tuition rates for PhD students can change pretty easily, and the overhead rates taken out of grants can be massaged to minimize the impact of this bit of the bill.

      If you’re a grad student at a public university, you should probably panic and/or call your Senators daily. Changing tuition schedules are much, much more difficult there, and everything is much more bureaucratized. Many of the things a private institution might be willing to do will, for a public institution, involve changing actual laws which could be quite difficult.

      I don’t think this provision will last to the final bill. Individual representatives might be insulated from the anger of large educational institutions, but Senators are less so. Does Rob Portman want to be known as the guy who killed cancer research at Ohio State? Will Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst be willing to destroy research in Ames and Iowa City? Senators generally have a bit of state pride about their large state universities and university medical centers are frequently the best in state, especially for non-coastal states.

    • Brad says:

      Thouhts on the potential new US tax bill?

      I think how it is going down is a significant missed opportunity. The corporate tax system is in desperate need of reform. This could have been a bipartisan effort, but Republicans are too focused on corporate tax cuts over reform and Democrats are too interested in demagoguing any changes as giveaways to big business. Finally, a third culprit is the media which is lavishing much much more attention on the minutia of the proposed changes to the individual income tax than on even the broadest strokes of the proposed changes to the corporate income tax. This even includes the “wonkish” media sites.

      As far as I can tell from what little has been reported the change over from a worldwide system to a territorial one will only be partially accomplished by either House’s bill and instead of the standard reform package of broadening the base and reducing the rate, both bills opt for narrowing the base and reducing the rate. The only significant base broadening provision I know of is the limitation on interest deductibility. The new pass through provisions look like a giant mess that will primarily act as a full employment act for accountants and tax attorneys.

      • quaelegit says:

        Can you explain the last paragraph for a person clueless about corporate taxes? Particularly interested in what you mean by “worldwide/territorial system” and how changing interest deductibility broadens the base?

        • Brad says:

          Almost all countries tax companies that are incorporated in their country only on revenue earned in that country. The United States in theory taxes companies incorporated in the US on their worldwide income, only giving credit for actual taxes paid to other countries with which we have a tax treaty. We also have one of the highest nominal corporate tax rates in the world.

          This seemingly very harsh corporate tax regime is considerably softened by many many loopholes. In particular, in terms of the worldwide part, we for a long time have had a rule that allows companies to defer taxation on money earned abroad so long as it is kept abroad. Moreover we have in the past had “tax holidays” where this money could be repatriated to the United States and taxed at a much lower rate than the nominal 35% corporate tax rate. Having had several of these corporations have almost altogether stopped repatriating this money in anticipation of a future holiday. This worldwide system also drives inversions which have been in the news the last few years.

          A genuine reform would have brought our system in line with the corporate taxation system of virtually the entire rest of the world and not taxed foreign earnings. These territorial systems have their own problems — above all something called transfer pricing which enables companies to shift earnings around — but by aligning our system with the rest of the world we could work with them on common solutions to these problems.

          Instead we went only part of the way there. The bills, at least as far as I can tell, would tax domestic earnings at 20% and consider foreign earnings in calculating a global minimum tax rate of 10%. There’s also talk in one of the bills about a tax on payments to a foreign subsidiary but I don’t know enough about that to comment. It would eliminate the deferral provision but give a one time lower tax rate to money currently held abroad.

          In terms of broadening the base, the general outline of a reform package is to eliminate deductions, eliminations, exemptions, write-offs, and so on while lowering the overall rate. This is broadening in the sense that it makes more money overall subject to taxation but taxes it at a lower rate. Unlimited interest deductibility is one such “loophole”. I am disappointed that the Republican plan mostly just cuts the rate and doesn’t eliminate the special provisions that have accreted to the corporate tax system over the last few decades (as it always does after every reform).

          • quaelegit says:

            Thank you very much! This also cleared up some things I’ve been vaguely wondering about for a while…

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Transfer pricing isn’t really solved by a territorial system, either. If it were, the states with territorial systems would not be complaining about Irish and Swiss tax havens.

          • Brad says:

            Isn’t that what I said?

            These territorial systems have their own problems — above all something called transfer pricing

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Sorry, I read that too fast. Either way, the issue of “moving HQ to Bahamas” is not something any politically feasible tax reform can easily fix. It’s baked into the cake of our modern economy.

          • Brad says:

            You can negotiate a multilateral treaty to prevent shenanigans between the main Anglosphere countries (US/UK/CAN/AUS), the EU, and maybe the BRICs (but they aren’t particular relevant in this arena yet). The Netherlands, Ireland, and Lichtenstein won’t be too happy, but presumably Germany and France can twist their arms.

            Then you tell the Bahamas and Vanatus of the world to sign on the dotted line or be frozen out.

            I think the first part would be harder to accomplish than the second part.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            Right, it requires a multi-lateral solution. 100% agreement. My major point is that situations where companies pay little income tax because they HQ in the Bahamas or whatever is not something that can be resolved by the US alone, so it’s not just an issue of corruption. It’s a difficult issue.

          • birdboy2000 says:

            The US could absolutely slap sufficiently high tariffs on tax havens to make relocating there unprofitable (at least for companies interested in access to the US market) if it wanted to. It’d probably draw the ire of large multilateral organizations like the WTO, but said organizations themselves are often seen (not without cause) as tools of US foreign policy, and US withdrawal/sponsorship of alternatives would greatly reduce their power and influence.

      • gbdub says:

        A significant part of the badness seems to be driven by various kludges to pass this under budget reconciliation.

        It’s frustrating that there is essentially no corporate tax reform (which would almost certainly drop the nominal rate) that wouldn’t be demagogued by Democrats into “giveaway for big business”, or for which a Democrat could vote for without being labeled a traitor.

        I’m not strictly blaming Democrats here, just noting that it seems like something that ought to be possible for bipartisanship to achieve (a relatively sweeping corporate tax reform that results in a modest net cut to taxes in / increase to the deficit) is going to instead, due to partisan gridlock, turn into a crappy bill that’s worse from both a GOP and a Dem perspective.

        More and more I’m wondering if we should just nuke the filibuster. The shenanigans needed to avoid needing 60 votes seem to be much worse (for both this bill and e.g. Obamacare) than the actual negatives of just giving the majority party what they want in the first place.

        • Brad says:

          I’ve long thought the filibuster should go. Admittedly I would have been happier to see it go eight years ago, but I’d still be happy to see it go today or any other time. Blue slips too.

          Agree with you on the demagoguing point. Worse still I hear the same sort of things from ordinary citizens that should be smart and well informed enough to know better.

          A revenue neutral reform bill might be an exception, even if it lowered the nominal rate, but I wouldn’t bet on it. On the other hand it doesn’t help that the Republicans have no interest in anything close to revenue neutral, either within the corporate tax reform itself or in the bill overall. Not even the heretofore deficit hawks. Plenty of bad faith to go around I’m afraid.

        • Iain says:

          A revenue neutral reform bill might be an exception, even if it lowered the nominal rate, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

          The Senate Democrats released a letter back in August laying out their requirements to support a tax reform bill: it should go through regular order, it should not cut taxes on the top 1% or raise taxes on the middle class, and it should not increase the deficit. That’s clearly a Democratic set of priorities, but it’s not unworkable. The whole point of broadening the base and lowering the rates is that it should end up revenue neutral. All but three Senators signed on to the letter; the three who did not were conservative Democrats (Tester, Heitkamp, and Donnelly) who would be even easier to sway.

          I don’t know what more the Democrats are supposed to do here. They offered their support for precisely the reasonable bipartisan compromise that you are suggesting, and the GOP rejected it. The Republican bill is about as far as you can imagine from bipartisan outreach. (Heck, the Senate has even decided to throw in Obamacare.) The wonkish lefty sites did write articles about tax reform, back when it seemed like it was up for consideration.

          • Jordan D. says:

            Yeah, I don’t think it’s right that the Senate Democrats were unreachable on this- wasn’t it just a few months ago that they were hoping to make a deal with Trump himself over DACA? There is definitely a bipartisan path to reform, and it was not even attempted.

            Now, there might be good reasons for that. If this tax bill really does show Ryan and McConnell’s legislative priorities, they would have known the Democrats would never support those. Plus a lot of legislators are desperate for a party win after the healthcare debacle, and might prefer to be able to spread a message about defeating the tax-loving Democrats to instituting a bipartisan reform.

            I personally would have preferred a bill that solved any of the major problems that I think afflict the tax code, but I’m not a legislator.

          • Brad says:

            I didn’t know about that letter, mea culpa (why can’t CNN print the damn think instead of just talking about it?)

            But “cut taxes for the 1%” and “raise taxes on the middle class” are flexible enough to be deployed against any reasonable tax reform proposal. First because any reform is going to have winners and losers within the 1% and second because in American discourse middle class has an obnoxiously wide range. Remember back in 2008 when Clinton and Obama ultimately came to an agreement that the middle class ended at $250,000 / year (>$290,000/year in today’s dollars)?

          • Iain says:

            The Democrats certainly left themselves room to reject any offer from the Republicans. But the same vagueness works in both directions: if the Republicans come up with a plan that has vaguely comparable numbers of winners and losers in the 1%, and there’s a plausible definition of middle class that doesn’t see an increase, then the Democrats are free to accept. It’s also just an initial bargaining position. If there were actual bipartisan negotiations, I can easily imagine the Democrats easing up slightly on some of their demands.

            See the Alexander-Murray stabilization bill for another instance of bipartisanship: it had enough Republican co-sponsors to beat a filibuster if the leadership were willing to bring it to the floor, but McConnell declined.

            I can’t think of any equivalent cases in the other direction, where there is clear common ground between the two parties but the Democrats refuse to play ball. Can you point to an instance where the Democrats got up and demogogued on an issue they could reasonably have been expected to support?

          • Brad says:

            I’d say individual provisions of the existing tax bill are examples of exactly that. I, of course, expect the Democrats not to support the bill as a whole and to vote against it. But that doesn’t haven’t mean demagoguing every last provision as terrible even when it comports with what should be the Democrats’ values (i.e. even when a particular proposed change is quite progressive). I thinking here of the proposed 401k changes, the proposed mortgage income tax deduction changes, and the proposed doubling of the standard deduction.

            If the Democrats want to stand up and say we are the party of wealthy urban professionals and will stand up for their interests — fine. But don’t deploy language about the middle class or worse yet working class to do it.

          • MrApophenia says:

            But who cares about every provision? They’re incidental, for the most part. This is a bill to permanently and drastically cut corporate taxes and the estate tax, and everything else in it is a paper-shuffling accounting trick to allow them to ensure corporations pay less taxes, and rich peoples’ kids inherit more money.

            Everything else in this bill is a sideshow.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            drastically cut corporate taxes

            You did see the text upthread about how the US has pretty much highest corporate tax rate in the world, right?

            Corporations do not pay taxes, they just collect them, so foolish people can pretend that “teh rich bastards” are getting taxed, instead of having it passed mostly invisibly into the bundled costs of things.

            See the “cost disease” post, a few months ago.

            Or, as is fun to say to people unaware of reality “hey, let’s tax corporations like Sweden does!” just to trip them up.

          • Brad says:

            @MrApophenia
            Because it poisons the well for future reform efforts.

          • MrApophenia says:

            @Standing In The Shadows

            If we’re talking about the same text, what Brad (correctly) pointed out is that the US has one of the highest nominal corporate tax rates, but that due to the many, many exploitable loopholes, no one actually pays those high tax rates. In actual practice, the US’ effective corporate tax rate fairly middle of the road for a developed country – still on the high side, but not drastically so.

            https://www.npr.org/2017/08/07/541797699/fact-check-does-the-u-s-have-the-highest-corporate-tax-rate-in-the-world

            The Republican plan is to cut the nominal rate like crazy, while not actually doing very much to close the various loopholes.

            Oh, and of course big permanent cuts to the estate tax, because the one group in America who most need an unambiguous, permanent tax relief are millionaires and billionaires.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            I would rather the children and grandchildren of multimillionaries get the cash when Daaaddy dies, and then spend it on anything between angel investing to a Paris Hilton lifestyle, than for it to keep getting locked up in foundation trusts that within two generations get suborned by entryest leftists with socjus cred who then redirect to causes that the original owner would despise.

            I support not taxing inheritance for that one purpose by itself.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The US effective corporate tax rate is much lower than nominal largely because American companies avoid repatriating taxable profits. You don’t need to do anything but lower the corporate tax rate to close that “loophole”.

          • Iain says:

            @Brad:

            I thinking here of the proposed 401k changes, the proposed mortgage income tax deduction changes, and the proposed doubling of the standard deduction.

            Again using Vox as a representative of the wonkish lefty/wonky leftish viewpoint:

            In total, the [mortgage interest deduction] change will mostly serve as a tax increase on the rich and on upper-middle class residents of expensive cities. If the money were going to finance almost any government program under the sun, the net distributive impact would be highly progressive. But instead, it’s part of a means to finance a tax plan whose overall benefits are very skewed to the rich — including provisions like estate tax repeal that exclusively benefit the extremely rich.

            Or this bit:

            Other, smaller provisions of the reform package also have reasonable cases for them. Opponents of the state and local tax deduction, which the bill would largely eliminate, argue it’s regressive and concentrates benefits on rich states rather than poor ones that actually need the money. The current mix of standard deductions, personal exemptions, and child credit is needlessly duplicative, and the bill simplifies it a bit, while creating new winners and losers.

            Those are a far cry from poisoning the well.

            In terms of Democratic politicians, I’ve certainly seen elected officials calling the whole bill a giveaway to the rich — which, let’s be clear, it basically is — but I haven’t seen anybody really get up and stand on their soapbox about the mortgage interest deduction specifically. Can you link to any examples of the demagoguing you mean?

          • Brad says:

            https://www.newsday.com/long-island/politics/sen-chuck-schumer-gop-tax-bill-punch-in-the-gut-to-middle-class-1.14434667

            Sen. Chuck Schumer stood with a Rockville Centre family Thursday morning and called for New York representatives to vote against a GOP tax bill that would eliminate state and local tax deductions for homeowners.

            At a news conference at the home of Maureen and Jeff Orosz, a family that Schumer said depends on the mortgage deduction for their $20,000 in annual property taxes, the Senate minority leader urged all New York representatives to vote against any bill that excludes property-tax deductions.

            “It’s a punch in the gut to middle-class families across New York,” Schumer said. “It’s not good enough for representatives to say, ‘I’m against it.’ You can’t vote for any bill that has it.”

            Middle class people don’t pay $20,000 a year in property taxes. The house in question was apparently bought for $733,000 seven years ago.

            Here’s Schumer on the proposed reduction of the mortgage income deduction from $1 million (!) to $500,000:
            https://www.c-span.org/video/?436727-1/us-senate-debates-judicial-nominations&vod&start=2464

            TAXPAYERS WILL SEE THAT THE REPUBLICANS HAVE CAPPED THE AMOUNT OF MORTGAGE INTEREST THEY CAN DEDUCT FROM PURCHASING A NEW HOME NOW. THAT’S THE LATEST. AGAIN, RIGHT AT THE MIDDLE CLASS CLASS. THE MORTGAGE DEDUCTION DOESN’T REALLY AFFECT THE WEALTHIEST. THEY HAVE ALL THEIR MONEY IN UNEARNED INCOME, CAPITAL GAINS AND ALL OF THAT IS WHAT AFFECTS THEM THE MOST. BUT THE MORTGAGE DEDUCTION IS ONE OF THE HEARTS OF THE MIDDLE CLASS. TO PLAY WITH IT, TO REDUCE IT, TO CAP IT SO THEY CAN DO TAX GIVEAWAYS FOR THE VERY WITCH? NOT GOING TO FLY, I DON’T THINK. NOT IN THE AMERICA MOST OF US KNOW.

            His rhetoric around the proposed reduction in 401k limits was even worse. I belive they even proposed increasing the cap despite the fact that last time that was done — at behest of George W Bush! — it overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy and not the middle class, much less the lower class.

            If there was bipartisan tax reform, I’d want to see the mortgage interest deduction, most tax advantaged savings accounts, and yes ultimately the SALT deduction too. Democrats ridiculous definition of middle class that includes wealthy professionals and intransigent opposition to eliminating tax expenditures that benefit these wealthy professionals make it difficult to imagine how that is going to happen. But government of the size that Democrats want it to be cannot be wholly funded by the 1%. The math doesn’t pencil out. So these not-really middle class people have to be part of the conversation.

          • If we’re talking about the same text, what Brad (correctly) pointed out is that the US has one of the highest nominal corporate tax rates, but that due to the many, many exploitable loopholes, no one actually pays those high tax rates. In actual practice, the US’ effective corporate tax rate fairly middle of the road for a developed country – still on the high side, but not drastically so.

            I am a corporate tax accountant, and I’ve been trying for years to figure out what was meant by all these comments about the US having such a low effective corporate tax rate. The NPR link just after the quote above comes from this source in the Congressional Record, and indicates a US effective tax rate of 18.6%. To me this made no sense at all, because there simply do not exist that many tax breaks for lowering the effective tax rate so much. When I ran a tax department at a medium sized firm about 15 years ago, I was very proud to have an effective tax rate of about 32%, because it was lower than most of my peers at the time. The tax code hasn’t changed that much in the intervening years to make 18.6% an reasonable average.

            I think I’ve finally figured out what this is about. The Congressional Record defines effective tax rate different from normal accounting practice, and is not the same definition that you’d see looking at an annual report of any given corporation.

            In Appendix A of the Congressional Record, they seem to be defining the effective tax rate as the statutory tax rate less accelerated tax depreciation above economic depreciation. Normally in accounting lingo, accelerated tax depreciation has no effect on effective tax rate at all, because it is a timing difference, not a permanent tax difference. Perhaps the Congressional Record’s method is a reasonable sense of effective tax rate in an economic sense, but be aware that they aren’t using it in the sense that accountants normally do so. I see how the effective tax rate is indicated as being so low, because the tax laws in the US do allow ridiculously fast depreciation these days.

            It is amazing how prevalent this usage of these effective tax rates has become, when I suspect that very few people know what they mean.

          • Brad says:

            The current pending bills would allow full depreciation in the first year for anything with an anticipated lifetime of 20 years or less. If that’s what’s driving these low numbers than there is likely to continue to be a large gap between the new lower nominal rate and the effective rate so defined.

            I had always assumed much of the gap was deferred money held abroad. So if apple’s worldwide income was $30 billion but its domestic income, even before things like royalty payments for IP licensing to exotic foreign subsidiaries, was only $15 billion of that, then the highest effective rate it was going have was 17.5%. Not a whole lot of companies are so multinational but a dollar weighted basis it is a different story.

          • @Brad.

            Yes, when I looked into this, it was my suspicion that the low effective tax rates reported had something to do with international taxes, even though that makes no sense when one implies the low rate is because of US tax breaks. For example, I’ve heard that many large multi-national corporations have effective tax rates way below the US statutory rate of about 39% (and this is using the usual accounting terminology of effective tax rate). But that is mostly because much of their income was earned overseas, so their taxes are mostly based on the lower foreign rates, not because of US tax rules. In a sense that is an argument in favor of lower US tax rates, to equalize the tax rates of those that do business wholly in the US to those that do business everywhere.

            But in this case at least, it turned out to be a totally different definition of effective tax rate.

          • Aapje says:

            But that is mostly because much of their income was earned overseas

            Income can become ‘overseas income’ by various tricks. A common one is paying enormous royalties to a foreign subsidiary that owns some IP.

    • Kevin C. says:

      What I’ve found most interesting about the proposed bill is what it’s revealed about many of my fellows on the right, with regards to both hypocrisy and to shifts in political alignments.

      First, plenty of right-leaning pundits and sorts have spoken frequently about “simplifying the tax code”, “closing loopholes”, etc. But when someone actually makes a concrete proposal, these same people complain about this or that subsidy or exemption being eliminated. It’s all “how can you do away with the adoption tax credit; that’s an important tool in making adoption more attractive, which we need to promote adoption as an alternative to abortion, as part of the pro-life cause” or “you can’t call this a tax cut, even if you lower the rates, because it closes so many of my personal credits and loopholes that my personal tax bill will go up!” And I just want to say that this is what ‘closing loopholes’ and ‘simplifying the tax code’ looks like; you like it in the abstract, but when it’s your ox that’s getting gored…. Concentrated benefits and diffuse costs strikes again.

      Second is how many Republicans I see adopting what one would think was left-wing language about the corporate tax cuts, about how it’s nothing but a handout to filthy-rich corporate fat-cats (despite the comparisons to rates in European countries that these same Republicans denounce as overtaxed hotbeds of “socialism”). It seems increasingly clear that plenty of “R” voters’ opposition is not so much to redistribution per se, but to redistribution percieved as taking tax dollars from “us” and giving it to “them” (c.f. the ‘Scandinavian social democracy welfare states work because of ethnic and cultural homogeneity’ thesis). Another point for our political divides being ever-more “tribal”.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        To be honest, I’m not paying much attention to what’s in the tax bill because no tax bill (or any other major piece of legislation) has any chance of making it past the senate. The house knows this, also, so if you’re inspecting anything in the bill, you’d have to suss out “things they actually want” from “things they’re passing because they sound good but don’t actually want but it’s okay because they’ll never become law” and “things they’re apathetic about but who cares because this is all a show anyway.”

        There will be no senate bill passed, there will be no reconciliation, there will be no final bill sent to the President’s desk. I wouldn’t alter my (already very low) opinions of house or senate Republicans or Democrats based on this tax bill because it’s garbage in garbage out.

        • MrApophenia says:

          I’m actually not so sure now. I was skeptical for a while because none of the drafts of the bill were even capable of passing under reconciliation, but the new Senate draft seems to have solved that problem. It’s got a big Alaska oil drilling kickback to get Murkowski onboard, even Susan Collins hasn’t come out openly against it, and the one Republican Senator who has, Ron Johnson, has demands they can grant pretty easily.

          The Obamacare bill ultimately failed because when push came to shove, a number of Republican Senators were actually pretty leery of the prospect of thoroughly screwing over their own voters in a way that would be tough to deny; whether you think Obamacare is awful or great, it’s hard to argue with the idea that the Republicans had come up with something spectacularly bad, and ultimately that does make it hard to get something passed.

          On the other hand, deep cuts to taxes for rich people is just not going to elicit the same kind of deep resistance from their own caucus they wound up needing to fight in the healthcare process.

          I’m not in any way sure they’ll pass something, this Republican Congress
          have certainly shown themselves to be outlandishly bad at governing. But if they can pass anything, they can pass this.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      It’s a modest proposal that moves in the right direction. Most tax deductions are eliminated or reduced in favor of an expanded standard deduction. Continuing to move in this direction will eliminate the need for the AMT in the first place.

      The changes to corporate taxation are mostly positive. The pass-through income is mostly excessive, particularly for passive investors, IMO. I guess the idea is to encourage “small business,” but I think “small business” is a romanticized concept with economic drawbacks roughly equivalent to protectionism.

      The budget implications are pretty small compared to the deficits we will already BE running in 2026.

      I am personally in favor of reducing my tax burden, and not increasing further to pay for programs of questionable worth.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Do for-profit colleges deduct any such fictional tuition from their own taxes?

  20. Mark says:

    How do you guys feel about honouring the military?

    I’m English. Last week I went and saw a bunch of guys in red coat uniform perform a reenactment of Napoleonic era drills.

    And, watching them, I was struck by a kind of visceral fear and loathing of them. I don’t know if it was some ancestral thing, but I had this real feeling of red-coats as enemy. These guys would have been shooting me.

    So, that got me thinking. When I wear a poppy for remembrance Sunday, the people I’m thinking of are the citizen soldiers who fought in the First and Second World War. I don’t really have any interest in glorifying professional military forces.
    I might respect their individual heroism, but perhaps I also fear them as a force of oppression.

    They have to be kept in their box, to an extent.

    • Randy M says:

      These guys would have been shooting me.

      I’m confused; are you sayng you see English soldiers as an instrument of oppression against an English citizen? Or were the red-coats acting out Napoleon’s army or some other meaning?

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I’m surrounded by people who, either honestly or as a performance, regularly denigrate military personnel so it’s not an alien viewpoint to me. That said I cannot understand it at all.

      The area I grew up in had a lot of Navy families, due to the Filipino population, and my dad was a sailor himself. One of the players in my college D&D group served in Afghanistan. And I strongly considered ROTC myself after seeing my roommate do it in undergrad.

      The reason I said all that is basically to get across how completely normal these guys are. They’re not a bunch of bumpkins on “hillbilly welfare” and they’re not slavering murderers or crypto-fascists. They’re perfectly ordinary working and middle class guys who love their country.

      Anyway, don’t worry. They aren’t going to shoot you. They’re actually decent guys and if you want to see that firsthand I’m sure you can find one to talk to over a beer.

    • dndnrsn says:

      Sounds like you’ve got a pre-WWI view of the British army. Prior to WWI, people liked the Navy, but due to the British army’s role in putting down various demonstrations, strikes, riots, etc, Tommy Atkins was not too popular. This wasn’t just in the less-willing parts of the British Isles, they got used on Englishmen too. For example.

      Personally, I feel a great gratitude towards the Canadian military for their role in liberating parts of NW Europe in WWII.

      • AlphaGamma says:

        Although note that Peterloo was not largely carried out by professional soldiers. The charge was by the Manchester & Salford Yeomanry, a militia unit recruited from tradesmen and shopkeepers and commanded by factory owners.

    • bean says:

      Mixed. There are a lot of people I respect deeply, because they did really hard jobs. But at the same time, I also know people who went in, did work that was pretty much identical to what they might have done in civilian life, and got out. Them, I don’t really respect much more than someone doing the same job on the outside. There’s the possibility that something goes wrong and they end up getting shot at/blown up, but it’s not really that high these days.

      That said, I know a lot of veterans. They’re normal people, and I don’t see any reason to keep them in a box. Force of oppression? Where? I’d probably be serving now if not for the ADD meds. I have no real desire to oppress anyone, except when I’m being ironic. Which I’d probably do less if I thought I might be taken seriously.

      • Incurian says:

        I also know people who went in, did work that was pretty much identical to what they might have done in civilian life, and got out

        There are a lot of jobs that should probably be done by civilian contractors. I suspect the military chooses not to so they can avoid labor regulations.

        • johan_larson says:

          Well, it also gets very expensive and troublesome to hire civilian contractors to work in forward areas, where armed forces have to operate a lot, particularly if the work is too sensitive to entrust to locals.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            There is the mechanism used in the UK of having some jobs (crew of certain sealift ships and tanker aircraft, for example) done by civilian contractors who are required as a condition of the contract to be military reservists, so in the event of war they would be “activated” and therefore subject to military discipline and treated as military personnel should they be captured.

          • hlynkacg says:

            The US does something similar with rank and file members of the Naval Reserve and of the Army Corps of Engineers. The officers are “regular” Army/Navy but a good portion of the crews are reservists who are “activated” for the purposes of a specific mission/job.

        • bean says:

          There are a lot of jobs that should probably be done by civilian contractors. I suspect the military chooses not to so they can avoid labor regulations.

          I don’t think it’s just labor regs. On one hand, yes, it’s obviously better to use contractors in most of those cases. On the other, contractors are not particularly good near the front if you’re in a major war, and if you’re going to maintain the capability to do, say, supply work in a major war, you’re going to need some uniformed personnel in those jobs. It might be enough to thin some occupations, and make up the shortfall with draftees/new enlistees in the event of a major war, but even that could come back to bite you.

          • Incurian says:

            if you’re in a major war, and if you’re going to maintain the capability to do, say, supply work in a major war, you’re going to need some uniformed personnel in those jobs.

            Why?

          • bean says:

            Legal reasons. If you have personnel in danger of capture, you want them in uniform so they’re protected. Also, they’re less likely to run if they’ve had military training, and if you can shoot them for doing so.

          • johan_larson says:

            @Incurian,

            Because soldiers are expected to take risks that civilians generally refuse (or do only for a lot of money.) Soldiers are also subject to military justice if they refuse, while civilians are not. And solders are trained to operate effectively under combat conditions, while civilians are not.

          • dndnrsn says:

            Plus, it means that if things really go bad, you’ve got people already in the military with some training who can be combed out and used to replace losses in combat units.

          • John Schilling says:

            Roughly speaking, you can’t pay people enough money to e.g. sail the SS Ohio into Malta. There may be a few people who would take the job if you offered them enough money, but there aren’t enough of them to win a war and you couldn’t afford them if there were. If, instead, you offer them a modest amount of money but also a uniform that gets them the sort of sincere respect that the OP finds anathema, lots of people will take that deal and your front-line soldiers will get the supplies they need to win the war.

            Contractors are for peacetime, or for lopsided little wars where only your pilots and special-forces operators face significant danger. And winning the really big wars is a privilege reserved for nations which can honor and respect the people who do it for them.

          • Incurian says:

            I need to think about this. My spidey-sense is tingling but I’m not exactly sure what’s going wrong here.

          • bean says:

            Roughly speaking, you can’t pay people enough money to e.g. sail the SS Ohio into Malta.

            This is true, but it does raise some questions, given that those people, AFAIK, were merchant sailors and not naval personnel. Those men have never gotten the recognition they deserve, even though taking ships across the Atlantic was one of the more dangerous jobs of the war. To say nothing of trying to get them to Malta in 1942.
            (Note to self. Add topic to Naval Gazing list.)

          • John Schilling says:

            SS Ohio had a mixed crew on the Malta run; I had misremembered it as being all-navy, which is why I chose it as the example, but on examination it turned out not to be the case.

            And you’re right, of course. Traditionally, the merchant marine was an intermediate case, uniformed and disciplined similar to a military service while facing lesser (but still substantial) risks in the service of commerce rather defense. Being a merchant sailor or officer was a respected profession, if not in quite the same way as naval service. I would guess that in 1939, the expectation was that uniformed merchant sailors serving the cause of defense would get the full measure of respect that they had earned, while in 1945 there were more than enough heroes to go around and huge bills looming under the label “Veteran’s benefits”.

            Now that they’re all safely dead and we don’t have to pay them anything but memorial respect, that makes it easy to do the right thing.

          • bean says:

            SS Ohio had a mixed crew on the Malta run

            Not really. It had a naval guard onboard to man the guns. That was entirely standard throughout the war, but at least in the USN they weren’t part of the crew.

            Being a merchant sailor or officer was a respected profession, if not in quite the same way as naval service. I would guess that in 1939, the expectation was that uniformed merchant sailors serving the cause of defense would get the full measure of respect that they had earned, while in 1945 there were more than enough heroes to go around and huge bills looming under the label “Veteran’s benefits”.

            In 1939, the expectation was that being a merchant sailor wouldn’t be nearly as dangerous as it turned out to be. (They suffered higher per-capita casualties than any of the services.) I do know that the merchant mariners got paid pretty well, particularly on some of the more dangerous convoys, but I’m slightly confused as to the drivers of how.

            Now that they’re all safely dead and we don’t have to pay them anything but memorial respect, that makes it easy to do the right thing.

            I’ve seen a couple memorials recently, but it’s still something that I think is underappreciated in popular culture.

    • buntchaot says:

      I don’t get it.
      Being from Germany, we don’t have a positive tradition on honoring the military I can relate to, as other countries have.
      Also, soldiers are to me The Outgroup, but with guns, thus worse . Looking at military engagements after WWII I am clueless as to how one would want to actively participate in that and give special status points for people who do. And being post WW2 Germany socialized i am not at all reassured of them being “perfectly ordinary working and middle class guys who love their country”, we have a trope about those.

      My guess is that kinda symmetrically to that honoring the military is indended to honor the heroes selflessly fighting the big bad Evil. They are the ones saving us from nazis/communists/terrorists or whoever it is that day who Hates Our Freedom.
      Or maybe having a military is in itself valuable enough to outweigh the occasional misguided war?

      I am obviously not very good at steelmanning the pro military view, anyone care to help out?

      • marshwiggle says:

        I’m sure someone can do better, but here’s my shot at briefly steelmanning it:

        It starts with the idea that in the absence of someone prepared to competently wield force you don’t get peace – you get warlordism or sometimes even worse. The respect comes out of respect for that competence, thankfulness for (compared to some of the alternatives) peace, and an understanding that sometimes there is a price paid in lives for that peace.

        Yes, all of that can get mixed up with tribalism and worse. But there is a core of sanity in giving respect to the military – at least in America, where on a good day we do have a competent military, peace, and soldiers who will sacrifice to protect others if that is the only way to do it. We can and should wish for a more competent military, less violence, and more upright soldiers. But there are undoubtedly worse possibilities as well.

      • quanta413 says:

        Ideally perhaps, wars would not be fought. However, the odds of no country in the world fielding a military are far too low. If no one has a military, first country to field a military gets to claim untold riches and power for itself. Given that, your country either needs a military or needs to be protected by a country with a military.

        Because as much as militaries are used to fight pointless and expensive wars, it’s way worse for everyone to be defeated by the Romans/Huns/Mongols/Mughals/Nazis/Soviets.

        Also I feel like you’ve answered “why special status points” in your question. It’s because otherwise almost no one “would want to actively participate” in a war. If you treat the military as the outgroup, you’re either encouraging them to interfere with government (which I think we can agree is bad). Like the Janissaries in the Ottoman Empire, outgroup turned into unofficial decider of Sultans. Or you’re not going to have a military, and then you are going to be obliterated by someone who does have one. I’m having a hard time thinking of countries with no military and no protector, but the Moriori were a pacifist culture and we can see where that got them when the Maori invaded.

      • Incurian says:

        The same events that led Germans to dislike the military led the rest of the world to like them.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Think about it this way:

        Whatever you think about the Bundeswehr and the US Army, the alternative to their existence wouldn’t have been peace. It would have been the Nationale Volksarmee and the Soviet Army.

        Everything you like about modern Germany only exists because someone was willing to put on a uniform and stand in between your family and the people who would have seen their way of life come to an end.

        Communism no longer exists but there are still states and non-state actors who oppose the existence of a free Germany. The men and women who stand between us and them are no less important now than they were during the Cold War.

      • hlynkacg says:

        On the intellectual front marshwiggle is absolutely correct. In the absence of someone prepared to competently wield force you don’t get peace. You get warlords. See Peter van Uhm’s TED Talk on “choosing one’s instrument”, or Robert Heinlein’s The Pragmatics of Patriotism for the long form explanation.

        On a personal note I always feel vaguely awkward when civilians thank me for my service. Partr of me wants to be flippant and respond “No, thank you for your tax dollars” another wants something a bit more cutting like “I’m not the one you need to thanking” but we all have our roles to play, and cutting someone down who’s just trying to be polite is not who I want to be.

        • buntchaot says:

          Thank you everyone for your answers and extra cookie points for the Heinlein speech. While i have known most of this on some level, this helped me consolidate these ideas better into my worldview.

  21. maintain says:

    Why is Google so popular? Shouldn’t economics predict that there will be several popular search engines that are all about the same quality? It’s not like Facebook or Microsoft, where someone can’t easily start a competitor because of network effects.

    • toastengineer says:

      Google is just genuinely way better than all alternatives. Mostly because they collect massive amounts of information on everyone and use it to tailor results.

    • James C says:

      Unfortunately, it’s exactly like Facebook. You could with enough money, some genius programmers and a hell of a lot of severs build a system that competes with Google in every technical aspect, but you’d still be at a major disadvantage. Google just has so much data, not just on websites but on its users which is incredibly valuable in providing a search service. A competitor would have to start from scratch for all the contextual clues (location, word order, search history, misspellings, etc) that Google knows about and can refine their search engine.

      It’s a worrying trend of the digital economy that there really isn’t anything that can unseat this kind of intrinsic market leader advantage.

      • It’s a worrying trend of the digital economy that there really isn’t anything that can unseat this kind of intrinsic market leader advantage.

        The obvious exception is when someone comes up with a better way of doing whatever the market leader does. Margolis and Liebowitz have looked at the pattern with regard to software, where there is again an advantage, although not exactly the same one, to the incumbent. Their conclusion was that you have serial competition. At some point a new program appears that is significantly better than the incumbent and rapidly replaces it.

    • S_J says:

      I don’t think you have the correct mental model of Google’s business.

      Google is also supported by network effects. Website-creators fine-tune their sites to increase page-rank on Google. Users interact with Google in ways that improve the search results, both for themselves and for other users.

    • Anon. says:

      Bing had a marketing campaign a few years ago where you were encouraged to compare Bing and Google search results (blinded). I tried it. It was a pathetic failure on the part of Bing. Making a good search engine is really difficult.

      • Deiseach says:

        Bing is dreadful and is only surpassed in awfulness by Ask.com* which is the drippings from the devil’s arsehole (my boss at work uses that as her search engine) and every time I look for a simple search for a local service it returns results that would not even qualify as manure, since manure is a useful by-product. I end up tearing out my hair and going to Google, which may be selling what remains of any soul it ever possessed, but still to date manages to give me the result I want as one of the top three returns (if I ignore the paid-for results taking up the top slots on the search page, grrrr).

        This is work-related and only when using the boss’s PC (there’s particular software packages and files only on her PC), for my own work PC and at home I have Google (and Chrome) installed.

        *Ask Jeeves as was used to be okay, I have no idea what happened with Ask.com but it’s all paid-for and advertisement results which really fucks up the returns for even simple queries: pages of spam to wade through and a hellish lay-out on top of that.

    • Deiseach says:

      Shouldn’t economics predict that there will be several popular search engines that are all about the same quality?

      You would think, given that when it started out there were several other contenders all looking strong in competition against it. But Google for whatever magic reason was just better – easier to use (the way you phrased queries really made a difference on the results other search engines returned), higher quality and really did nearly always produce exactly the result you wanted in the top ten results.

      I used to try different search engines and even the good ones involved a lot of trawling through the results “nope, no, no good to me, what the heck is even this one?, no” while Google invariably was “try first result returned – yeah, that’s exactly what I was looking for!”

      So it vaulted over the competition and established itself as the best, then as more users came on-stream and heard about its reputation, they used it in preference to others or as their only search engine ever, and that built up a dominance that has been very hard to overcome.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      What do people think of duckduckgo?

      • James says:

        Desperately want to like it, but whenever I check, it just isn’t quite good enough. That was a couple of years ago, mind, so it might have improved since then.

        Their ‘bang’ feature (prepend your search with an exclamation mark and a letter to search other search engines) is a crappy gimmick, though. Anyone who thinks that’s useful needs to set up their browser search engines.

      • Well... says:

        I use it exclusively. Love it.

      • Creutzer says:

        I want to like it and tried it for some time recently, but I’ve given up because it’s still noticeably worse than Google.

      • achenx says:

        Having been using it near-exclusively for the past several years. To the extent I give up on a search and repeat the search with Google, it rarely helps. (That is, if DDG isn’t finding a good answer easily, then Google doesn’t find one either.)

        That said, I do not search Google while logged in and do not let them keep track of me to the extent I can prevent it. Those who let Google return “personalized” results may find it better. DDG never returns personalized results of course.

      • Protagoras says:

        Shouldn’t it be duckduckgreydu? (Sorry, I’m from Minnesota).

    • Randy M says:

      Shouldn’t economics predict that there will be several popular search engines that are all about the same quality?

      I suspect economics works a bit differently in the case that the user doesn’t pay for it.

      In which case the consumer is the advertiser, and the “user” is actually the product. Hmm…

    • JayT says:

      One network effect is that something like 75% of people use Chrome or Safari as their browser, and so by default they also use Google as their search engine.

  22. Mark says:

    In the olden times, aristocrats tended to beat peasants when it came to battle fighting.

    Yet, modern farmers tend to be incredibly physically strong, when compared to most people.

    What training regime did aristocrats use to make sure that they weren’t physically outmatched by peasants?

    • Shion Arita says:

      I think it was largely due to them having much better equipment, like metal plate armor, and weapons specifically designed for combat like swords.

      • Mark says:

        I don’t know. If you put me in a suit of armour and gave me a sword, would I have an advantage against an Arnie-type with a stick? I suppose I’d have better training in how to fight, also, which might be decisive.

        • quaelegit says:

          In addition to the equipment, they grew up learning to use it and regularly practice — hunting, tournaments, a lot of leisure involved using tools and skills that were useful in fighting peasants.

        • lvlln says:

          Is that a good approximation of hypothetical combat between an aristocrat and a peasant? My guess is that the typical peasant – even within the subgroup that is able and willing to fight – isn’t quite as big and strong as an Arnie-type. Of course, if you are also bigger and stronger than what a typical aristocrat was – to about the same extent that an Arnie-type is bigger and stronger than a typical peasant – this might still be a decent approximation.

          And if it’s the case that you are bigger and stronger than a typical aristocrat to about the same extent that an Arnie-type is bigger and stronger than a typical peasant, my guess is that having a suit of armor and a sword against his stick and less durable armor would give you a huge advantage. Maybe not insurmountable, but I’d guess that the Arnie-type would have to rely on something other than sheer strength to defeat you – whether that be better technique or just disregard for his own life and safety.

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          Yes. You would have an incredible advantage over an Arnie type with a stick. People don’t get how GOOD armor is. It is really hard to hurt someone in plate or mail armor, and it is really fucking easy to stick a sword or spear into someone unarmored.

          I mean, don’t get me wrong, military aristocrats weren’t fat pampered slobs. You’re thinking of later days when aristocrats divorced themselves from the fighting. And they trained.

          But a guy in well-made plate armor with a weapon of battle in his hands, surrounded by peasants with no armor and spears, was like a fucking weapon of mass destruction. They can’t do anything to him unless they manage to weight him down with sheer numbers, and still may have a difficult time actually finishing him off, and he can kill them very easily.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            Until someone invented good enough handheld firearms.

            Or even before that, so I have been told, learned how to grow English bowmen.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            Yes, until high-powered firearms.

            It is possible to penetrate armor with non-firearm weapons, of course, yes, potentially including longbows. But you can’t do it with untrained troops. English longbowmen were elite specialists who required lifelong training, which is the reason why it wasn’t trivial for everyone to just go, “Oh, we’ll add longbow yeomen to our fighting forces.”

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Or even before that, so I have been told, learned how to grow English bowmen.

            Much as it pains my patriotism to say it, English longbowmen weren’t quite the super-soldiers of popular history. The English victories in the Hundred Years’ War had more to do with superior generalship and good use of terrain than superior archery.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            English longbowmen in their heyday were really excellent archers.

            I mean, let’s distinguish this from “action movie protagonists.” And a longbow is probably pretty close to the bottom of the list of weapons that you’d like to have if you’re facing someone who has a sword or other useful sidearm, fifteen feet away from you, whether they’re armored or not.

            No matter how good your archers are, they’re going to get snowed by cavalry, unless say your cavalry would have to charge into prepared fortifications and in unfavorable terrain (ie, Agincourt). But English longbowmen were really genuinely awesome archers. The problem is, you needed to train seriously for decades to get to be able to use that heavy a bow draw with accuracy and without only being able to fire a few arrows before tiring. There was only about a hundred year period in which England managed to convince its people to put in the necessary training to produce large corps of longbowmen.

          • johan_larson says:

            Sandor, I think you’re overselling the advantages of armor a bit. Yes, it’s a real advantage, but no armor protects perfectly. I would guess that if you pitted a guy with armor, shield, and sword against guys with quarterstaffs and dirks, the results would equalize at 3-1 or 4-1. The best bet for the light fighters would probably be to get the heavy guy off his feet and then stick him where the armor ain’t.

          • sandoratthezoo says:

            Whenever one starts talking about many-on-one fights, there are a lot of variables to contend with. I think that three or four dedicated, well-trained, well-coordinated guys with quarterstaves could potentially disarm and knock down a well-armored guy and then having immobilized him, work dirks into the weak points of his armor, sure.

            But have you ever tried to gang up on a guy when nobody can immediately grapple him? It’s surprisingly tough to coordinate your attacks. And when you’ve got a situation where you’re looking at a bunch of guys against one much-more-lethal guy, you’re often dealing with a situation where the group can win, as long as they’re willing to accept the loss of the first and/or second person to engage. Which tends to lead to nobody wanting to engage.

            But ultimately, my point here is that good armor is very, very protective. Yes, you can knock down someone in armor, get a bunch of people to sit on him, and then work a knife through a gap in the armor, for sure. There are also weapons that are decent at penetrating or denting armor (maces, for example). But being in good armor in a fight is a HUGE advantage.

          • marshwiggle says:

            I’ll second that point about many vs 1 fights. Even without armor and without hits causing a screaming guy bleeding out on the ground, it is entirely possible to use superior skill to threaten an untrained group and keep them from coordinating. But if they ever decide to sacrifice half their number, well, you can only kill one at once. Swords kill or disable way faster than quarterstaves in a group against armor, so that’s even more of an advantage to the aristocrat.

          • But have you ever tried to gang up on a guy when nobody can immediately grapple him?

            I’ve been on the other side of that fight many times, in the context of SCA combat. Of course, my opponents had the same armor and weapons as I did, just, usually, less skill.

            If they are not trained in how to do it, the better fighter has a reasonable chance against two or three opponents, because he can engage them one at a time. If they know what they are doing, every time you close on one the others close on you, and you lose even to people significantly worse than you are.

            Note, by the way, that a shield is a lot less expensive than armor, and to some degree a substitute.

          • John Schilling says:

            Note, by the way, that a shield is a lot less expensive than armor, and to some degree a substitute.

            I would expect that a shield works best against the enemy you are paying close attention to, whereas armor is better for turning a pitchfork to the head from a fight-ending blow to a painful reminder that there’s a peasant you weren’t paying close enough attention to.

          • I would expect that a shield works best against the enemy you are paying close attention to,

            Yes. And in a many against one fight, each of the many is paying close attention to the one.

          • Nornagest says:

            From what I’ve heard in the Eastern martial arts world, the stories about one highly skilled fighter killing five or ten others mostly take place in the context of protracted battles. If everyone’s fresh, unharmed, with sound equipment, and you can see them coming, and you pit ten moderately trained amateurs against one really good professional with commensurately good gear, the professional’s going to die almost every time. But an hour or two into a battle (or even less — fighting seriously is really tiring), less skilled fighters are going to be a lot more tired, a lot more likely to have minor wounds slowing them down, a lot more likely to have lost or damaged weapons and armor. And the tactical situation’s probably a lot more confused. That all adds up.

    • johan_larson says:

      Eating their fill every day, for starters. If you’re a peasant living somewhere near the $1-a-day level of absolute poverty, hunger is an occasional visitor. It’s hard to grow strong with that sort of lifestyle, particularly if you start running into various deficiency disorders, like rickets. But that won’t be a problem for aristocrats unless things go completely to heck.

    • Sfoil says:

      Your statement is overbroad but to the extent that it was ever true, it was mostly the result of specialization and equipment, along with some intangibles like motivation/mindset. Also, it’s not clear whether you’re talking on a individual or collective level, but for the latter “aristocrats” are almost by definition part of a structure that has established methods to recruit, train (maybe), and field organized bodies of armed men, peasants probably not.

    • Randy M says:

      Being able to afford real weapons and war horses was probably a big one. Older armies didn’t always provide weapons to every militiaman, let alone high quality ones.

    • quaelegit says:

      They spent all their time hunting and riding and jousting, so they were also in good physical condition — an practiced in using fighting weapons 😛

      (Overly broad stereotypical answer to broad question.)

    • hlynkacg says:

      In addition to the nutrition and equipment issues already mentioned don’t underestimate the utility of actually knowing how to fight. Dedicated training, the time to practice, and friends/retainers who have the same, are luxuries that the average peasant didn’t have.

    • bean says:

      What training regime did aristocrats use to make sure that they weren’t physically outmatched by peasants?

      The same regime that taught them how to use their weapons. Fighting in armor is hard work, and training in armor means that your typical knight wasn’t that much weaker than a peasant. And he had armor, and knew what to do with it.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I think you overestimate how physically fit peasants were back then. They probably suffered from various ailments like back problems or issues from lack of variety in their diet.

    • Rick Hull says:

      Please correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that in feudal times in most feudal areas, taking up arms was illegal for non-nobility or non-military. Thus, peasants lack access to weapons and armor and the requisite training to use them effectively.

      • John Schilling says:

        Peasants would usually need to have spears and/or bows(*) for hunting / livestock protection, and of course knives and axes and pitchforks and the like. Good swords and armor were sufficiently expensive that it probably didn’t matter whether they were legal for peasants. And training to a high level of proficiency with good swords and armor, or with spears and axes against people with swords and armor, was tedious enough that nobody who had to work 60+ hours a week in the fields could do it.

        Swords are only modestly better than axes, but armor is hugely better than no armor and combat training vs being good at chopping wood is no contest at all.

        * Notwithstanding all the Agincourt mythology, most bows were next to useless against plate and not all that useful even against shield and mail.

        • roystgnr says:

          Notwithstanding all the Agincourt mythology, most bows were next to useless against plate and not all that useful even against shield and mail.

          Could you clarify? The Agincourt mythology I’ve heard would *agree* with the second half of your sentence, but would then (rightly or wrongly; I’m no expert) claim that longbows were special: much heavier in draw weight, which required much more training to be of benefit in war, and which had no benefit for hunting. (Are you choosing a shot designed to pierce armor? Only if the point is archery practice, not just deer meat.)

  23. Granjoroz says:

    So…does anyone have any ideas about how I might be able to meet fellow vegetarians to make friends with?

    Not to talk to them about vegetarianism in particular, mind. Just…friends I could make, who are vegetarian, who I could then talk to about normal every-day stuff. Normally I don’t bother too much with ensuring my friends and I have beliefs that are all that similar, but…it’s an important belief to me, and not a single friend I have, out of dozens, shares that belief. It’s not a big deal, but it would be nice to have some people to talk to who are on a similar wavelength to me on this.

    It’s tricky though, because just about any vegetarian meetups or forums you could find, are particularly fixated on vegetarianism itself, as opposed to a place where vegetarians can find each other and talk about whatever. Anyone have any advice on how to get past that?

  24. rlms says:

    Today in political correctness gone mad: British bakery chain Greggs forced to apologise for portraying Jesus as a sausage roll. Isolated incident that doesn’t reflect on Christians as a whole, or yet another step down the path towards religious tyranny?

    • Aapje says:

      British sausage rolls are not very good, so I agree that they should apologize and start selling better food instead.

    • johansenindustries says:

      The notion that if you wish me to purchase your products, then you don’t portray my lord as a food stuff – or if you do you apologise – seems to me entirely reasonable and doesn’t reflect poorly against Christians at all.

      I would suggest – although I’m certainly not willing to test it out – that the reaction would not be so peaceful and free if it were Mohammed as a sausage roll; at the very least collars would be felt.

      • Mark says:

        How do Muslims feel about the portrayal of prophets as sausage rolls? Do they only object if it’s Muhammed?

        • johansenindustries says:

          My post didn’t mention Muslim’s reaction to anything, so I’m surprised you asked me as I don’t really consider myself an expert on Muslim reactions.

          I’m afraid I don’t know. However, Christ is actually seen as a prophet in Islam – I don’t know if they call him Christ – and if you consider the difference in reactions to {Hebdo compared to Christ satires, South Park’s censoring of Mo, the attempted shooting at the ‘Draw Mohammed’ contest, the famous Mohammed cartoon controversy and riots etc.} thus we can say that they do hold ‘the perfect man’ in more reverence than at least one of their prophets; and thus not reacting to the manger (which isn’t symbology in Islam regardless; that Christ was a baby of course they’ll recognise, the trappings of Christmas they’ll recognise too from Christanity, but its not part of their religion I don’t think) is not evidence that they wouldn’t react if they did an advert of a recognisable act where Mohammed is replaced with a sausage roll.

          I hope that helped.

          • Mark says:

            My post didn’t mention Muslim’s reaction to anything

            Well, you did say: “I think that perhaps the reaction wouldn’t be so peaceful and free if it were Muhammed as a sausage roll; at the very least collars would be felt.”

            So, who is it that is going to be reacting “less peacefully” with a more extreme reaction than arrest (“collars felt”), if not Muslims?

            I’m just thinking that if there were to be a religious reaction on the part of angry Muslims to the hypothetical sausage roll Muhammed, they should probably be just as angry by the portrayal of Jesus as sausage roll (whether they agree with the general iconography of the nativity, or not).

          • johansenindustries says:

            Worst than arrest is imprisonment, which would be done by the secular authorities. There is also the possibility of a social media mob lead by some like Harman (you might consider that not quite as bad or less peaceful as arrest; conviction certainly is worse).

            If you do wantto make the claim that their is no greater objection on certain Muslims’ parts to disrespectful portrayal of Christ* as there are of portrayals of Mohammed then this frankly doesn’t pass the laugh test.

            * I use Christ deliberately, its possible that the reaction would be different if it was unambiguously and uniquely Iyr.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            I’m just thinking that if there were to be a religious reaction on the part of angry Muslims to the hypothetical sausage roll Muhammed, they should probably be just as angry by the portrayal of Jesus as sausage roll

            I’m not sure. Apart from Jesus being less important than Mohammed is in mainstream Islam, I’d expect that even if I were a) a Muslim and b) someone self-entitled enough to demand that non-members of my religion should treat my religion with the same reverence I do, I’d still be able to recognise the Greggs’ sausage roll nativity as not being intended to poke fun at Islam, and, to the degree that I considered Christianity a false religion anyway, probably not be particularly bothered by it.

          • I don’t know if they call him Christ

            Issus Ibn Mariam is the form I’ve seen.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        The notion that if you wish me to purchase your products, then you don’t portray my lord as a food stuff

        Cheap shot, but, um…

    • smocc says:

      The use of the word “forced” seems poor. The company did something silly, people got offended (not terribly unreasonably, imo), and then the company apologized, at least according to the linked article.

      If that’s really all that happened I think that this is a good example rather than a bad one.

      It matters, I suppose, that the offense seems reasonable. The company replaced a well-known and popular sacred symbol with a commercial food-product. I think that warrants at least a “really, guys?”

    • Randy M says:

      Isolated incident that doesn’t reflect on Christians as a whole, or yet another step down the path towards religious tyranny?

      That depends on what the “or else” was, I suppose.

    • Deiseach says:

      It was stupid, to be fair. There’s a witty way of doing this and a stupid way, and they picked the stupid way. Using traditional manger figurines of the Three Kings and then sticking a sausage roll in the manger isn’t clever or funny. I wouldn’t be horrified and offended by it, but it was clumsy and lazy and would have had me rolling my eyes.

      I think getting a response from British Anglicans that “hey, this is also a sacred festival of our faith and this is not funny to us” is no harm as a reminder that Christianity is not simply about “let’s all be nice and the local church is a centre for social work” but is a religion; they should and could have stuck to secular Christmas/Xmas/Winter Festival imagery for their Advent calendar, then they could have put their sausages where they liked.

    • quanta413 says:

      I’m very disappointed by the fact the sausage roll hasn’t been artistically sculpted to look like Jesus. I feel like your description really got my hopes up for no reason.

      It’s just a sausage roll in the place where Jesus would normally be placed in a nativity seen.

      I’m also disappointed by the milquetoastness of the pastors’ criticisms in the article. They seem mad more about the commercialism of it than the portrayal. One gets the impression they wouldn’t care if it wasn’t an advertisement to sell stuff. And there are no threats of hellfire, damnation, or stoning.

      • lvlln says:

        I’m also disappointed by the milquetoastness of the pastors’ criticisms in the article. They seem mad more about the commercialism of it than the portrayal. One gets the impression they wouldn’t care if it wasn’t an advertisement to sell stuff. And there are no threats of hellfire, damnation, or stoning.

        That’s what struck me about this, too.

        Some passages from the article, including the headline (bolding mine):

        Greggs forced to apologise after replacing baby Jesus with a SAUSAGE ROLL in advent calendar nativity scene

        The high street chain came under fire after showing the pastry in a manger – instead of Jesus – in publicity photos for its special Christmas countdown.

        Christians hit out at the chain for being disrespectful and creating a controversy to boost sales.

        The Rev Mark Edwards, of St Matthew’s Church, Dinnington, and St Cuthbert’s Church in Brunswick — both near Greggs’ headquarters in Newcastle — said: “It goes beyond just commercialism.”

        Daniel Webster, from the UK Evangelical Alliance, said his group was “not too outraged” by the stunt — but reckoned that the row raised the issue of Bible stories being misused to sell products.”

        Aletha Adu, the author of the article, consistently uses fairly imprecise language when describing Christians’ reactions, like “forced,” “came under fire,” and “hit out.” But as imprecise as those phrases are, I wouldn’t really consider them to be broad enough to cover the actual quotations from Christians in the article. Complaining “it goes beyond just commercialism” or complaining that it “raised the issue of Bible stories being misused to sell products” doesn’t strike me as actions that reach the level of “forcing” the chain to apologize. It certainly doesn’t rise to the level of what I think most people would consider “political correctness gone mad” to reach, when it comes to “forcing” an apology or “hit[ting] out” at someone for creating imagery they consider offensive.

        Either the quotations in that article are woefully incomplete (this would strike me as strange since I would expect the quotations included to be selected for in such a way as to support the author’s descriptions, but also not inconceivable) or inaccurate, or the author’s description of the event is misleading, I would say.

        • Randy M says:

          Buzzfeedification of news.
          “Local pastor DESTROYS blasphemous ad–you won’t believe what happens next!”

        • rlms says:

          I assumed that the last quote was included for contrast with the implied angry letters to Greggs from individual Christians.

          • lvlln says:

            Perhaps that’s the case. It’s hard to properly contrast the direct quotation with angry letters that are only implied, though, when the author, again, uses such imprecise language to describe the response. I’m not even convinced that we’re justified in believing that angry letters are implied! What does “hit out at the chain” really mean, as in, what literal physical actions did Christians take due to the offense they felt by the existence of this imagery? It could be an angry letter-writing/boycott campaign, or it could be a coordinated stalking campaign with threats of physical violence, or anything in between.

            It’s unfortunate that the article and the headline make a point to use such strong-yet-imprecise language but only provides supporting evidence that is in contrast to that.

            I did try Googling this news and found this article which provides some more supporting evidence, such as:

            Simon Richards called for a boycott of the bakery chain on Twitter, writing: “Please boycott @GreggsOfficial to protest against its sick anti-Christian Advent Calendar. What cowards these people are: we all know that they would never dare insult other religions! They should donate every penny of their profits to @salvationarmyuk.”

            This definitely does look a lot like some version of political correctness gone mad. In general, I think hypersensitivity about insufficient reverence to Christianity doesn’t tend to get labeled as “political correctness,” but I think it’s a very similar phenomenon.

        • Deiseach says:

          Aletha Adu, the author of the article, consistently uses fairly imprecise language when describing Christians’ reactions, like “forced,” “came under fire,” and “hit out.”

          You tend to get that in stories about religion, though. There used to be plenty of “Vatican slams”, “Pope hits out at”, kind of headlines where, when you read the actual story, it turned out “A bishop said it might be nice not to do this kind of thing” or “Pope actually is Catholic and so repeated Catholic teaching during homily at Papal Mass” was the matter in question.

          “Local Methodist thinks this is not quite on” is not going to make a sensational eye-grabbing story the same way as “Angry Evangelical hits out in outrage!”

          I think a lot of recent reaction, especially in this context, is that there are sincere believing Christians in the UK (whether Church of England or other denominations) and they’re getting tired of being the butt of jokes, regarded as either nice but ineffectual and a bit feather-headed, or eccentrics, or at most out-of-touch old prudes and grumps. Judaism, Islam and other faiths would never be presented in the same way, but it’s safe and unremarkable for comedians to fall back on jokes about Christians as “but really aren’t these people just too silly?” or for companies to use Christian feasts like Easter and Christmas as commerical exercises (it’s only the middle of November and already they are running the Christmas ads). Sticking to the secular Santa Claus Christmas would be okay, but using specifically religious imagery in this fashion is just bad taste and poor manners. It’s like taking a real photo of a real grieving family around the grave as Granny is being buried, only they stuck a sausage roll instead of a coffin into the middle of the picture. Nobody (or only a very few) would think it was funny or good form even if it’s legally okay and even an expression of free speech.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Either the quotations in that article are woefully incomplete (this would strike me as strange since I would expect the quotations included to be selected for in such a way as to support the author’s descriptions, but also not inconceivable) or inaccurate, or the author’s description of the event is misleading, I would say.

          British tabloids generally love a bit of effluence-stirring, so the explanation is almost certainly that the journalist is exaggerating things to make it look as if people are angrier than they actually are.

  25. Eponymous says:

    Apropos of nothing much:

    Slate Star Codex is not actually an anagram of Scott Alexander. But you know what is?

    Learn Stat Codex

  26. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    https://energyarts.lpages.co/webinar-tai-chi-mastery/

    Folks, I’m not sure if or how you can get at that link– it’s part of a free course, but I can’t see where to sign up now.

    In any case, I’m posting it because the Ars Longa, Vita Brevis discussion may be dead, and there’s a detail which fits nicely.

    The video is mostly Bruce Frantzis talking about his lineage, his personal history of studying, etc.

    He talks about what he studied with his last teacher, and how hard he studied. He learns one thing after another, and then he gets to internal alchemy, but his teacher died.

  27. Deiseach says:

    I’m going to pre-emptively declare this is not about Culture Wars; I don’t know the local politics involved but Wikipedia leads me to believe that the owners of the Seattle Times lean Republican, and so I’ll assume the paper’s editorial stance inclines that way too.

    I was interested by this story because it involves what seems like a really progressive and up-to-date church (they appear to be Unitarian Universalists) in a complicated situation, and the reporting doesn’t take a hatchet to them but does manage to skewer some attitudes that are teeth-achingly hip by contrasting them with the attitude to the people on the receiving end; you need to read the entire story for yourself but there were parts where I was wincing over “do these people not see how clueless they look?” Maybe the reporting is unfair, I can’t say.

    The interesting part was that this is a progressive, liberal church – you know, the good type of Christianity. Usually these kind of “they say they’re Christians but look how they’re behaving towards the poor and needy!” stories lean on conservative churches (though are UUs Christian, as such?)

    Here’s the problem:

    When University Unitarian Church leaders asked their congregation for thoughts on its $17 million renovation of their almost 60-year-old church in Ravenna, the response was mostly typical of a liberal Seattle church.

    Will it have all-gender bathrooms? Could it be solar-powered, with electric-car charging stations? Is the new sanctuary ceiling too high, contributing to a corporate, rather than spiritual, feeling during worship?

    Only one of the UUs — a casual term for Unitarian Universalists, whose roots began in Christianity but count many agnostic and atheist churchgoers among their numbers — asked about a cluster of three cottages on the property, which house 10 formerly homeless people. What would happen to them?

    Preserving the houses and bringing them up to code would cost an additional million. Instead, the church will tear them down — and replace them with 17 parking spots.

    Here’s one of the “had me going ‘ow ow ouch'” moments:

    One night in June, London and the other cottage residents were told to come to the church for a meeting. She was nervous; it was her first meeting at the church. In fact, she’d never met anyone who worked there.

    There were whispers among residents, too, that construction workers had been walking on the property talking about demolition. London also saw churchgoers on the property putting their hands on the trees, praying and chanting; there was concern among congregants about the renovation’s effect on the trees.

    Another one of those moments: all worried about the trees, don’t mix with the formerly homeless people living on the grounds because, you know, privacy. Yeah.

    She still hasn’t met any of the people who decided to demolish her home. Church members intentionally don’t meet the residents of the cottages for privacy reasons, they say.

    But if she could, she’d ask them why she’s less important than a few parking spaces.

    • Randy M says:

      Seattle

      Could it be solar-powered

      Let it not be said that progressive Christians don’t believe in miracles.

      Also, she lived on the property, and never met anyone who worked there? That’s an impressively large chunk of land.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yeah, that sounded odd to me. But it seems to be a large site, with these cottages tucked away in a particular area, and the occupants are “formerly homeless”. The woman quoted in the story (Ms London) is black, and I’m going to take a wild guess and assume a lot of the other occupants are also black/POC/poor, and even if they are church-goers they’re probably not gonna visit the “rich white liberal not-really-Christian” church.

        The line about “church members intentionally not meeting any of the residents” killed me, because it underlines the absolute cluelessness of the people and gives a very pointed portrayal of them: nice white well-off (relative or not) folks who are high-minded, give to proper charitable organisations, and don’t mix with the poor folks who are the recipients of that charity. Had it not been for that, I’d have had a great time laughing at the “laying on of hands for the trees, solar-powered in Seattle, gender-neutral bathrooms because that’s the first thing anyone will look for in a church and is our ceiling too high because that would be corporate capitalist consumerism (as we park our SUVs in the lot)” story.

        I do appreciate it’s a problem for the church in question, who never set out to be landlords, provided this facility as a charitable function back years ago, and now have (probably not up to modern code) houses that it is a lot easier and cheaper to simply knock down, but the unfortunate thing is that there are a set of people going with them, and what happens next? Okay, the story answers that, there’s a Community Psychiatric Clinic which is in charge of case management for the residents and will get them rehoused, but that’s why I was wondering about any political involvement behind the scenes either from the paper’s angle or the church; it’s unusual to see a news story that’s any way vaguely critical of a right-thinking, right-on church (there’s a photo of the congregation attached to another story with a big supporting same-sex marriage banner) as distinct from “here’s another mega-church pastor scandal, boy those fundies talk the talk but they sure don’t walk the walk”.

        The decision to demolish the homes is also part of a larger cultural shift at the church. After a “year of discernment,” church leaders decided that “the culture of social justice at UUC leans more towards advocacy than direct action,” such as housing formerly homeless people, as leadership said in a church meeting in April 2016.

        • dndnrsn says:

          I think there’s a real gospel message here, though. Homeless people – destitute people, “destitute” being the best meaning of the word “poor” as used in the Greek gospels – are not convenient, easy to deal with. Fulfilling the teachings of Jesus is demanding. It’s too bad that this church has chosen to put human things (such as electric-car charging stations) ahead of the things of God.

          • bean says:

            At the same time, I think that it would be fair for the congregation to look at other ways to help the relevant homeless. If you’re looking at spending $1 million/10 people, then it’s fair to say “maybe we could get more for the money”. Not necessarily donating it to AMF, but tearing down the cottages and building something that houses more people for the same money.

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Is the new sanctuary ceiling too high, contributing to a corporate, rather than spiritual, feeling during worship?

      Leaving aside all the other stuff, surely places of worship traditionally have high ceilings specifically because the grandeur and the echo helps to create a sense of awe that a low, strip-lit plasterboard ceiling can’t?

      • Jordan D. says:

        I always assumed it was for the otherworldly quality it imparts to choirs, which can help turn a mediocre group of singers into something very pleasant and transforms excellent groups into something spiritually moving.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          Yeah, that’s part of what I meant. But even the visual effect of the ceiling being really high / you feeling really small by comparison with the building, must surely be part of the magic.

        • Peffern says:

          I would like to agree, as someone with a lot of experience singing in choirs, the effect of good acoustics cannot be overstated. It really does turn a good sound into something phenomenal.

          I distinctly recall at state chorus, when we were first starting, the conductor started by just instructing the group to sing a chord and listen to how it sounded in a space designed for it.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        For some brands of progressive Christianity, grandeur and awe are bugs, not features.

        • Iain says:

          This seems both unkind and unnecessary, and I have severe doubts about its truth.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Just look at the direction of the post-1960s liturgical reforms, in both the Catholic and Anglican Churches. The overwhelming trend has been towards making things simpler, plainer, and more easily comprehensible.

          • JayT says:

            I don’t see how that comment is unkind or unnecessary. It’s absolutely true that certain Christian denominations eschew ornate churches in favor of very plain places of worship because they feel like spending large amounts on their church goes against the teachings of the Bible, so acknowledging that these people exist isn’t unkind. As far as unnecessary goes, it was on topic, so I don’t see the issue.

          • quanta413 says:

            Wait, why is that unkind? I don’t think grandeur and awe are necessarily good things. It’s not like it’s only a feature of some progressive Christians views either. I don’t think anyone would say the Amish are big on grandeur and awe either.

      • Deiseach says:

        The cynical part of me thinks the high ceiling worries are really about the heating bills because solar power or not, and deep pockets congregation or not, you are still going to burn a lot of energy heating all that amount of large, empty space!

      • keranih says:

        Grotto is a non-trivial part of local, personal Catholic faith in many (most?) parts of the world.

        This is not to say that UU – who strike me as the uber-Protestant form of Christianity – have the same sense. But it’s not like the high ceilings are a required part of the awe.

    • SamChevre says:

      I suspect, while knowing exactly what is in the article, that it’s the million dollars, not the parking spaces, that are the key issue.

      Also, how in the whatever is something suitable to serve as housing for 10 people, but it would cost a million dollars to renovate?

      • CatCube says:

        I could believe that seismic retrofits will do it. Depending on the occupancy group ADA compliance could also add quite a bit.

      • Standing in the Shadows says:

        I know that area. I know that exact intersection.

        Those 3 houses are old, run down, about worn out, and the roofs have obvious signs of moss and water damage. And they are often filthy and have soggy cardboard boxes of junk piled around them. Every now and then the church tries to have the exterior cleaned and the gardening done, and within a few months, it’s back to the same mess.

        Most of the rest of the neighborhood has gentrified, especially after the UW demolished all of the old worn out houses on the land it owned in that neighborhood, and constructed high density student and facility housing.

        Also, housing that old in Seattle has not been earthquake proofed. Earthquake remediation, especially in old houses, is Not Cheap. When the big one hits, those houses are going to fall down, kill everyone inside them, and catch on fire, right at the moment when the SFD can’t get to them. You don’t have to do earthquake remediation on houses left in place, but as soon as you start doing major work, those rules start kicking in.

        Backthread there was discussion of lead and asbestos. I will bet $100 that those houses have lead paint and asbestos, currently safely encapsulated and entombed. But again, if you start doing any major work that will disturb it, the rules kick in, and out come the inspectors, permits, respirators, and hazard suits.

        IMO, the UU church there should do what many other churches in Seattle have done, and just sell their parking lot and also that land those houses are on to a developer, who will then build 5 story high density housing on it, and the city then gets a bite of property tax, and can spend some of it on subsidized housing. The local big black congregation church a few neighborhoods over, the First African Methodist Episcopalians, did exactly that a few years ago, and even put together an outreach program to other black congregation churches in the larger area showing them how to do the paperwork.

        The richer white folk at the UW UU probably don’t want a 5 story condo stack next to their ugly 1960s-style building though.

        • Deiseach says:

          The richer white folk at the UW UU probably don’t want a 5 story condo stack next to their ugly 1960s-style building though.

          Hey, I looked the place up online and that ugly building won architectural awards and is a reason for prospective historic listing! (Ignore my superior European smirking over the “it’s a whole fifty years old, it qualifies as historic!” rule):

          The University Unitarian Church, given both its age and architectural significance, may now be considered for historic preservation. The church, having been built in 1959, is now eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places in respect to the ‘fifty-year rule.’ This rule is a commonly accepted principle that for a building to be listed on the National Register for Historic Places, it must be at least fifty years old, that is, unless they are of ‘significant importance.’ Aside from its age, there must be a case made for the building’s historical significance and/or aesthetic significance to be considered for acceptance. In the case of the University Unitarian Church, it has clear architectural significance, with its ties to the roots of Northwest regionalism. The justification for acceptance of buildings on the National Register based on aesthetics came around the late 1880s, with the desire to preserve colonial revival style buildings. The National Register’s currant stance on determining significance of a property is association with events, activities, lives, or developments that were important in the past, have significant architectural history, landscape history, or engineering achievements, or if it has the potential to yield information through archeological investigation. The University Unitarian Church has the potential to argue for significance based on its connection to Paul Hayden Kirk as well as its connection to the origins to Pacific Northwest Regionalism, allowing it to be deemed significant in terms of architectural history.

          I agree it’s ugly but that was the run of modern church architecture; you have not seen “putting the ugh in ugly” until you’ve seen 70s renovated/new build Catholic churches. One of the strong contenders for the inaugural Annual My Eyes They Bleed Church Architecture Prize is the Temple of the Esoteric Order of Dagon UC Berkeley Newman Centre (yeah it would be Berkeley, wouldn’t it?)

          • hlynkacg says:

            One of the strong contenders for the inaugural Annual My Eyes They Bleed Church Architecture Prize is the Temple of the Esoteric Order of Dagon UC Berkeley Newman Centre

            That’s going in my Unknown Armies/SCP inspiration folder.

          • CatCube says:

            UC Berkeley Newman Centre

            Is that altar for Christian services, or pagan services at which they plan to conduct human sacrifices?

          • John Schilling says:

            Is that altar for Christian services, or pagan services at which they plan to conduct human sacrifices?

            Per the Center, “It is an architectural statement of Christianity with its roots in the altar of Abraham and in the catacombs of Rome”.

            So, pre-Christian human sacrifice, check, and then they’re all set to dispose of the bodies.

          • johan_larson says:

            I don’t see any runnels for the blood. Either they’re going to make a huge mess, or the faithful will gather around the altar like kittens around a saucer of cream.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            One of the strong contenders for the inaugural Annual My Eyes They Bleed Church Architecture Prize is the Temple of the Esoteric Order of Dagon UC Berkeley Newman Centre (yeah it would be Berkeley, wouldn’t it?)

            Ugh. It’s like a five-year-old designed the altar and lectern as part of his primary school arts and crafts project.

          • John Schilling says:

            or the faithful will gather around the altar like kittens around a saucer of cream.

            Please, these are at least theoretically Christians we are talking about.

            Saucer of wine.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Is that altar for Christian services, or pagan services at which they plan to conduct human sacrifices?

            It’s Berkeley; they’ll never find anyone pure enough to be worthy of sacrifice.

          • John Schilling says:

            If the sacrifice is sufficiently “contaminated” peyote or LSD, the Old Ones don’t always notice the lack of purity in other respects. The response to prayers heralded by such a sacrifice, however, can be amusingly and/or dangerously unpredictable.

          • dndnrsn says:

            How dare you accuse the Esoteric Order of having such bad architectural taste.

          • Deiseach says:

            I don’t see any runnels for the blood.

            Note the two holes in the ‘altar’ (which I strongly doubt is according to the rubrics, and as for the ambo, I’m not even going there – literally or metaphorically). Though probably the evoked entity will be lapping up the blood anyway, and any spills or remaining stains – well, that’s the beauty of the all-stone design for easy cleaning!

            It’s one of those “bare concrete” designs that works okay-ish in a climate like Berkeley where I am going to assume the song “It never rains in California” is climatically accurate and you have warm temperatures and sunshine for enough of the year so that it’s not cold, damp and grey inside. But yeesh – even the real catacombs are not as creepy!

          • Nornagest says:

            Berkeley is moderately rainy in normal years, though affected by periodic drought. The famous California climate is mostly a southern California thing.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            Berkeley is moderately rainy in normal years, though affected by periodic drought. The famous California climate is mostly a southern California thing.

            I have to disagree with that last bit. Berkeley is – along with San Francisco – a special case. Fog rolls in off the San Francisco Bay making parts of SF and most of Berkeley cold, wet and overcast through the summer, hence the famous quip usually attributed to Mark Twain.

            But you only have to go a TINY BIT inland – just past a row of low hills that blocks the fog – to recover that famous California Climate. Silicon Valley proper – Stanford and Palo Alto and San Jose and Mountain View and Cupertino and such – all arguably have better weather than Southern California. There’s just a week or two of rain in the winter but the rest of the year temperatures are mild and skies are blue and houses don’t need air conditioning and only rarely need heating.

          • Silicon Valley proper – Stanford and Palo Alto and San Jose and Mountain View and Cupertino and such – all arguably have better weather than Southern California. There’s just a week or two of rain in the winter

            That is not consistent with my experience. The rainy season is about half the year. That doesn’t mean there is rain all the time, but it does mean that there is rain sometimes. A lot more than a week or two.

          • Protagoras says:

            @Glen, No need for air conditioning, only a little heat needed, only a little rain in winter doesn’t sound better than SoCal weather, it just sounds exactly like SoCal weather (or at least Santa Barbara weather, the only place in SoCal where I spent any length of time).

          • Glen Raphael says:

            I should have looked at some actual statistics first. By this comparison, Berkeley consistently qualifies as “very cold” on winter mornings whereas Mountain View and LA don’t have any “very cold”. Meanwhile, LA has an extended period in the summer that qualifies as “warm” with a good chance of “muggy”, whereas Berkeley and Mountain View are virtually never “muggy” or “warm”.

            I’m not a fan of muggy or uncomfortably warm weather, so I prefer northern California, which errs slightly on the side of “bring a light jacket in case it gets cool”. Though an advantage LA has is that when the outdoor weather is too danged hot and muggy, the water temperature is really comfortable and not at all cold.

            If you toss in some other part of the country, say, Manhattan, the difference versus anywhere in California tends to be pretty stark.

    • Garrett says:

      The Unitarian Universalist church is open-minded almost to the point of parody. It’s been joked that their theology boils down to the statement that “there is at most one god”.

      On a more interesting note, my experience has been that it’s an attempt to provide much of the structure/community that a standard congregation might have, but without really the theology. It’s been my experience that this is then substituted with Social Justice movements internally, though that need not be the case.

      • It’s been joked that their theology boils down to the statement that “there is at most one god”.

        And that they address prayers “to whom it may concern.”

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          My stash of Unitarian Universalist jokes:

          At meetings someone speaks and says nothing. Nobody listens — and then everybody disagrees.

          How many gods are there? Polytheist: Many. Monotheist: One. Atheist: Zero. Agnostic: “Don’t know.” Unitarian: “Any number except three. Well….maybe, but which three?”

          To have a few doubts is normal. To have many doubts is a crisis of faith. To have contant doubts is to be a Unitarian Universalist.

          Unitarian Bible Study Today! Bring your own bible and scissors

          Unitarians are bad at congregational singing because they’re always looking ahead to see whether they agree with the lyrics

          Universalists think God is too good to send them to hell. Unitarians think they are too good for God to send them to hell.

          What do Unitarians do when they’re really mad at you? They burn a question mark on your lawn

          What do UU’s and Dracula have in common? They both originate in Transylvania, and they both shy away from the cross

          The fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, the neighborhood of Boston

          What do you call the guest of honor at a Unitarian funeral? All dressed up and no place to go!

          UU Time–why nothing important happens until fifteen minutes into the meeting

      • Deiseach says:

        It’s been joked that their theology boils down to the statement that “there is at most one god”.

        I thought some UUs found that level of theological rigour much too constricting and overbearing, not to mention being judgemental and prescriptive to prospective/current congregants who are atheists/agnostics/other?

      • SamChevre says:

        I’m a fairly conservative person, and I’m Catholic, so UU’s always seem like an odd knock-off. But–two of my favorite bloggers are UU’s–Rivka (Respectful of Otters, Tinderbox homeschool) and Doug Muder (Red Family Blue Family). Doug Muder’s “The Hallowe’en Cat” and “Seeker of Dishonor” have an aweso