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Open Thread 89.5

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

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577 Responses to Open Thread 89.5

  1. Le Maistre Chat says:

    First!
    Can anyone recommend a good book on Old World prehistoric cultures that existed after 3000 BC? Archaeologists have a ton of fascinating data on these cultures, but I’ve found it terribly organized.

    • littskad says:

      I second this request, especially if there is anything available about the ancient middle east which is not heavily politicized.

      • Rob K says:

        I will say, from my experience taking a class in college from a fairly prominent archaeologist, that this is a field where things are so up in the air that it’s hard to have such a thing as a survey text.

        Like, most archaeologists would assert that such and such cities were part of the Ur III empire at a certain point. And the guy teaching us the class told us that was the majority opinion, but he was also quite clear that his opinion was that there was no Ur III empire, that the dynasty so identified didn’t have broad territorial control, and that the things the other archaeologists were looking at as evidence of those cities being part of the empire actually represented a common culture and trading network. (Was he right? I have no idea. Wikipedia seems convinced there was an Ur III empire, and that matches what the prof said conventional opinion was, but it’s hard to know much about a polity that at least one serious scholar believes didn’t exist.)

        And this was only one such example. I think it’s real hard to write a survey history on a period where the basic facts are still up for debate.

        • Protagoras says:

          Huh. From my ancient history classes, I remember the professor mentioning the Ur III having a particularly unspectacular fall; they just seemed to fade out of existence, with no clear collapse event. I suppose that would make sense if it never existed to begin with.

          • Rob K says:

            If you put a gun to my head, I’d say there probably was an Ur III empire, just because the consensus of the field is likelier to be right than my slightly crazy-seeming professor.

            I considered at the time that maybe this guy was just uniquely intellectually honest about highlighting the places he differed from the field (although his phrasing was usually along the lines of “here’s the laughably wrong thing you’ll read in most papers”), but even if I compare that class to some ancient Greece seminars I took where we spent a lot of time on differing historical takes, the common scaffolding of accepted facts was much sparser for the ancient near east.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I agree that a survey “history” of prehistory is an epistemic problem, but I’d happily take an atlas that just lists all illiterate bronze and iron age archaeological cultures of regions of Eurasia one by one, with an encyclopedia-level article archaeology’s consensus position on each one in chronological order.
          Academics go around publishing books on late prehistory/early history that discuss things like “the Fo-Shizul culture of the Caucasus’s exchange with Sumer and its implications for Indo-European origins”, which could be fascinating if you could contextualize and think for yourself it rather than taking them on faith.

    • Brad says:

      I have a disrecommendation: 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed. The flap text made it seem so promising but the book was unreadably boring.

    • winchester says:

      Ancient Mariners by Lionel Casson is great. It covers the ancient mediterranean/near east and jibes with this board’s love for naval history. Anything by Casson, really – he’s a great writer.

  2. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    So here’s something I don’t think we’ve talked about here before. Facial hair!

    Men of SSC: are you clean shaven, bearded, or mustachioed? Why do you prefer your style of facial hair?

    Women and MSM of SSC: how do you prefer your man’s facial hair? Why?

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I’ll go first.

      I’m clean shaven and shave every morning with a safety razor. I prefer straight razors but when I mentioned getting one my girlfriend made me promise not to (she’s afraid that I would accidentally slit my throat).

      I’ve had a beard before and liked it, but I dislike how my face looks during the transitional period between clean shaven and bearded. If I had a month-long vacation I would consider growing it back out but right now it’s more convenient to keep it as is.

    • Well... says:

      More catnip!

      I’ve got what’s apparently called a “short boxed beard.” Keep my cheekline pretty low, basically at my jawline. Had this beard since I could grow one (around age 16). Reasons in no particular order:

      – Wanted facial hair since I was a little boy (when very young–5 or 6–I even drew it in with marker once or twice); wasn’t about to shave it off when the real thing finally arrived
      – I razorburn easily
      – Men in my family look better with beards; maybe something about our facial shape? But a kind of family custom anyway
      – My wife forbids me to shave it
      – I’m a man, men should have beards
      – Related to above: I’m all about that sexual dimorphism
      – God told me not to shave that hair–He was pretty clear about it
      – I can’t imagine how much I’d be spending on razors and shaving cream if I shaved everyday, even just my neck and cheeks (I shave those twice a week currently)

      For about 2 weeks in my early 20s I shaved off everything but my mustache, just out of curiosity. My wife said I looked like a Russian Comrade, which I did.

      I look pretty much exactly like a real life version of the main character in the Don’t Hit Save webcomic. I look more like that character than its creator on whom it’s based. It’s uncanny.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Nice, sounds like a good style.

        God told me not to shave that hair–He was pretty clear about it

        I’m not 100% sure what you mean by this. Does your sect not shave? Is it a private revelation? Or are you being playful?

        Sorry but it’s hard for me to read your tone.

        I can’t imagine how much I’d be spending on razors and shaving cream if I shaved everyday, even just my neck and cheeks (I shave those twice a week currently)

        It’s dirt cheap as long as you don’t have strong brand loyalty.

        Disposable razors come in a pack of four or five for a few bucks. And you can buy a can of shaving cream for the same price. So maybe $15-20 a year? I don’t budget it out but it costs way less per year than one dinner out.

        • Well... says:

          Does your sect not shave?

          Individuals in my sect (Karaism) try to interpret the Torah in a straightforward way. Somewhere in Leviticus and Numbers, a few different times, God instructs men of His chosen tribe not to shave the hair on the sides of our faces.

          It’s dirt cheap as long as you don’t have strong brand loyalty.

          I agree about the shaving cream, but I can’t use the cheapo plastic disposable razors. I have to use at least the Gilette “Mach 3” or generic equivalent. Anything less and I’m looking at serious razor burn. I try to rinse those blades in alcohol and fully dry them out between each use and keep them in good shape but even then I can only get a handful of uses out of each one before I’m getting razor burn from them. Each refill pack is like $9 and comes with 4 or 5 cartridges, so shaving twice a week I have to replace the cartridge once every few months and that means I’m buying maybe one of those refill packs a year. If I shaved every day it’d be maybe ten times that.

    • Fluffy Buffalo says:

      I took the opportunity to look up what my style is called. Apparently it’s referred to as a circle beard. I grew it to compensate for the fact that my previously shoulder-length hair became kind of thin and wouldn’t grow quite as long anymore. It gives me a more serious look.
      My wife likes it, but wouldn’t want it to grow any longer than I keep it.

    • Jade says:

      It’s kind of a toss-up for me between liking heavy-ish stubble and clean shaven…really depends on who it is. Though usually a bit of stubble ends up making an already attractive man even more attractive to me, so I guess I lean stubble!

    • Telminha says:

      I think men in general look more attractive with beards.
      A beard makes a man look stronger, more trustworthy, and profound.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Clean-ish. I have a heavy beard, so like Homer Simpson it’s visible right after I shave.

    • Eltargrim says:

      Full beard, at this point quite unkempt. I generally prefer it to be a bit shorter than it currently is. It’s a playoff beard, of sorts; once a certain project I’m working on is published, the beard is going back to reasonable levels.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I am a guy. I have a goatee (NOT a van dyke, so no mustache) that’s very short. Sometimes I additionally grow a bunch of stubble besides my beard.

      I wish I could go heavier on the stubble or even a full beard, but my facial hair is very patchy and thin, and really a goatee or van dyke are my only options. And mustaches tickle my upper lip.

    • yossarian says:

      Gordon Freeman’s sort of beard. Wife likes and my education sort of ties into the theme. Sadly enough, the beard does not come with an HEV suit and a crowbar (

    • Trofim_Lysenko says:

      A neatly trimmed full beard, somewhere in the 2-3″ range.

      After five years in the Army of imposed clean shaven-ness, often having to shave without lather on sensitive skin due to time and/or logistical constraints, growing a beard was a project I started on almost immediately upon ETS-ing in 2005. I like it, and the only person who could convince me to change it would be a significant other. Since I don’t have one ATM and don’t appear likely to have one in future, it’s probably here to stay.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      This is what I look like with two weeks’ growth, so I stay clean shaven. (I shave every three days or so with a Merkur safety razor in the shower; I get the cleanest shave with the least irritation by using as much running water and steam as possible and no shaving cream/similar; I do often rub down my face with a bit of coconut oil after shaving, or sometimes before if my stubble is particularly long. My terrible facial hair grows pretty slowly, so 2.5 days looks like normal 5-o’-clock shadow; so my periodic shaving qualifies as “always clean shaven.”) Since no one wants curly pube neck beards, I don’t really see this as a stylistic choice: clean shaven is the only thing that looks at all reasonable.

      I once was in a production of Fiddler on the Roof; day one all the men were told to stop shaving and grow the longest beards possible. One week out from opening the director looked at me, shuddered a little bit, and told me “You know, Andrew, Perchik is a rebel–he bucks social trends, right? Let’s make him clean shaven to set him apart!” We were all happier that way, but still a bit embarassing.

    • Acedia says:

      Full beard, because without it my face is kind of androgynous-looking, which bothers me. I prefer to look clearly male.

    • johnjohn says:

      I don’t have a chin.

      So I have a fairly neat full beard. Shaped to make me look like i have a chin, I don’t just trim all of it to the same length, although I still just use a trimmer. Tried going the scissor route for a while but it don’t have the hand-eye coordination for it and I can’t live with looking bad for the amount of time it’d take me to learn.

      I shave the edges daily with a normal gillette razor, only change the blades about twice a year

      I shave it off completely once every 3 years or so. Just to remind my friends and coworkers why I have a beard

    • Anonymous says:

      Fu Manchu plus short (about a month’s growth) full beard. Because being clean shaven is itchy and uncomfortable. I experimented with a year-long full beard, but it was too annoying to manage, and didn’t look particularly good on me.

    • James says:

      Clean-shaven, for that delicate, innocent, boyish look (like “a taut pre-teen swedish boy”, as Kramer memorably puts it). The women go wild for it—erm, some of them, some of the time, maybe.

      I’m fair and have pretty light growth, so I usually only bother to shave once a week.

      Is everyone here using safety razors? You should be.

    • johan_larson says:

      Clean shaven. The thought of getting hair in my mouth is disgusting, so if I did have a beard or mustache, it would have to be a very short one.

      I use an electric. I’ve tried shaving with blades a few times. It was clearly more work for a result that was not clearly better.

      • johan_larson says:

        Hmm. the grammar imp is biting my ear. Is “shaven” here an irregular usage? We wouldn’t talk about a clean “mowen” lawn. “Clean” makes sense, in the sense of “completely”, but shouldn’t “shaved” be preferred over “shaven”?

        • Nornagest says:

          “Mowen” isn’t grammatical, but “mown” is. Sounds more British than American to me. Likewise “shorn”, “torn”, “sawn”, etc.

          • Well... says:

            I’ve never seen “tored” (as in “When I got my playing card out of my bike spokes it was tored”) but I’ve seen both “sawn” and “sawed”, “sheared” and “shorn”, “mowed” and “mown.” I chalk it up to one of those quirks of English that makes being highly literate in English a kind of exclusive club.

        • rlms says:

          It’s irregular (as in exceptional but grammatical). Compare “a shaven face” with “some molten iron” (not “melted”) and “a proven theorem”.

        • Nick says:

          English verbs have both a past tense form and a past participle. For a lot of verbs, these are the same, e.g. “I fought hard all my life” vs. “I have fought hard all my life” or “They played baseball today” vs. “They’ve played baseball before.” It’s common for irregular verbs in English to have a different form for the past participle, though, such as past tense “I ate dinner early” vs. perfect tense “I have eaten dinner early.” And owing to its being a participle, it may used as an adjective, unlike like the past tense form, so that “That dinner is half eaten” is correct where “That dinner is half ate” is not. The past participle is also used in passive expressions (“I was eaten by a bear,” “Our enemy is fought all day for our protection,” etc.).

          Unfortunately, a lot of these forms have also fallen out of usage, so that in the case of “shaven” it’s used almost exclusively as an adjective but not in perfect or passive constructions. “I have shaven every day” or “The boy’s head will be shaven tomorrow” is the “correct” form, I suppose, but you’ll never hear it used. As rlms points out, this has happened with other verbs too. Wrought, as in wrought iron, also comes to mind. And “swum” is another one that feels just wrong to me, despite “swim” conjugating just like “sing.”

          • James says:

            Always been puzzled by but never really understood this. Thanks.

          • Deiseach says:

            “That dinner is half eaten” is correct where “That dinner is half ate” is not

            Of course not. Everyone knows the correct formulation in that second example is “That dinner is half et” 🙂

            (Hiberno-English pronunciation: “ate” is “(to) eat”, “et” is “(have/has been) eaten”, e.g. “If I don’t apologise, she’ll ate the face off me”, “I didn’t have my homework done and the teacher et me”).

          • Nick says:

            Deiseach, yeah, it occurred to me that someone might object on those grounds. I heard “et” a lot growing up, so it’s a thing here in America too. 😀

          • Winter Shaker says:

            I am disappointed that, with the rise of the notorious social networking site Twitter, we did not take the opportunity to normalise a set of old-timey verb forms related to its use, thus, I tweet every day, yesterday I twet, and this morning I have already tweeten.

            But as someone with no Twitter account, I have no right to complain.

          • rlms says:

            “twote”, surely.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            I can live with that, if we can manage to get that out to the world. Sounds very Anglish.

          • Nick says:

            Sounds very Anglish.

            Wow, how have I never heard of this? The practice of coining Germanic equivalents to Latinate words sounds like fun. I like “wordstock.”

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Uncleftish Beholding Poul Anderson introduces physics and chemistry without using any words derived from Greek or Latin.

          • Randy M says:

            As Gandalf would put it, “At last, I threw down my enemy and twote his ruin upon the twitterscape.”

        • Deiseach says:

          Is it more to do with “shaved” being a tense of a verb, but “shaven” being adjectival? (If I’m mucking up the grammar forms, go ahead and tell me that should be an adverb or something), i.e. “the shaved [verbed] head is shaven [adjectived]; a shaven [adjectived] head has been shaved [verbed]”?

          Or indeed “a shaven head has been shorn” 🙂

          • Nick says:

            “Shorn” is actually the past participle of “shear.” 😛

          • Deiseach says:

            Whether your head is shaved or shorn depending on whether the hair cutting was done with a razor or with shears, presumably? 😀

            Or, like the verse from “This is the House that Jack Built”, you can be both! (Again, presumably the face shaved and the head shorn):

            This is the priest all shaven and shorn
            That married the man all tattered and torn
            That kissed the maiden all forlorn
            That milked the cow with the crumpled horn
            That tossed the dog that worried the cat
            That killed the rat that ate the malt
            That lay in the house that Jack built.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            In particular, “shear” is a Germanic “strong” verb, which in contrast to weak verbs, which mark past tense by adding a dental preterite (a ‘t’ or ‘d’), indicate past tense by vowel change. According to Wikipedia, there are seven ‘classes’ of these verbs, organized by sound changes.
            If I’m not mistaken, “shear” conjugates like the more familiar “swear”:
            I swear, I swore, I could have sworn.

            According to Wiki, this is a somewhat complicated case as “swear” has migrated from one class to another.

            “Forlorn” is another interesting one; I’m pretty sure “lorn” was originally the past participle of the verb “leosan”–to lose. This regularized to a dental preterite to make the past tense: “lost”, but the older form has been preserved in archaic words like “forlorn”.

            Using the ‘-en’ past participle is a nice way to give a piece of writing an archaic feel: Tolkien does it, for example: “But Eowyn stood still as a figure carven in stone”. “Carve” was initially the Class 3 strong verb “ceorf” whose past tense was “cearf” and part participle “corfen”–you can see the sound change in the changing vowel. But most people would use “carved” for past tense and past participle, regularizing it to the weak verb form. Although even Tolkien didn’t have the guts to have Eowyn looking like a figure “corven” in stone 😛

    • bean says:

      Clean shaven. The last time I tried to grow facial hair, I got to about 5 days before it got to the point of “get it off me now”. I’ve been told it gets better, but I’d have to be somewhere where I couldn’t shave to find out.

    • SamChevre says:

      I have a mustache–a narrow handlebar/English mustache. I can’t stand having hair between my lips.

      I have had a mustache since I could grow one; I’ve had a full beard at times, but I’ve never shaved my mustache. At this point, my beard is really gray and would make me look old.

      The last time I had a full beard, my wife looked at me one day and said “I really wish you would go back to your mustache like you had when we were dating.” She was 7 months pregnant with our fourth child, so “Yes, dear” seemed like the only reasonable response.

    • andrewflicker says:

      Clean-shaven, but I’ve worn a short beard in the past (usually what some people call the “bold and thick” style, though I’ve worn a few others). I prefer wearing facial hair, but my wife and I have worked out an agreement that she’ll grow her hair longer if I remain clean-shaven, as both of us prefer that respective appearance on our partner more than we care about our own self-preference.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      I had a sizable beard until last saturday, though I think I’ll be growing one again. I have a rather weak jaw, so not having a beard makes it very unfitting with my rather large body.

    • zenmore says:

      I prefer to let my beard grow to the point where it makes my significant other uncomfortable. Then often I’ll get a snide remark and I’ll slink away to shave it… I only go through about 3 blades a year this way, although I lose razors all the time.

      Mostly a result of laziness.

    • baconbacon says:

      are you clean shaven, bearded, or mustachioed?

      D: other. Probably classify as clean shaven, but at 38 I can’t grow a full beard if I try, or really anything thicker than what most people grow in high school. I shave on average about once a week, so I am both rarely “clean shaven” but also never have a beard or mustache.

    • IrishDude says:

      Shortish beard. I look better with it and it makes grooming lower maintenance.

    • Nornagest says:

      Clean shaven. I experimented with beards and goatees in college and shortly after, but felt too much like a scruffy nerd. Maybe I’ll give it another try now that I’ve grown up and started looking a bit less nerdy, but I’m not in a hurry.

      Like Nabil above, I use a safety razor.

    • Lillian says:

      In my opinion men usually look better with facial hair, but what kind of facial hair is going to depend on the individual man. Generally speaking, i find the most attractive men tend to look best with some short-cropped or stubbly facial hair. The results of a quick image search of the term “handsome man” seem to agree with me. That said, my absolute favourite look is like a viking: big, strong, full beard and medium length hair. Though since my Boyfriend is going bald young he instead goes for the biker look: shaved head with full beard, and i like that too.

      This all assumes the man is trying to be manly, since i’m bisexual i do also like androgyny and femininity, and if a guy is going for that then no facial hair is obviously best.

    • Loquat says:

      In general I prefer clean-shaven when the man in question looks good that way, but my husband has a sufficiently round chin/neck interface that his usual circle beard is a superior option. Some years he’s shaved his chin, leaving only a mustache, for Movember, but IMO he looks much better with the beard.

    • Kevin C. says:

      Van Dyke, with the tips of the moustache curled (fairly easy, since it tends to naturally curl upward anyway) and occasionally waxed.

      Why that particular style? I like how it looks, it fits with how my hair grows, and it’s a very classic style.

      Why facial hair in general? Several reasons. First, I inherited my Dad’s tendency to have ingrown hairs where I do shave (hence his rather sizeable full beard). Second, all the men in my family — my Dad and my brothers — have facial hair as well. Which is at least partially related also to the third reason, which is because facial hair on men is much more common here in Alaska than the national average.

    • CatCube says:

      I tried to go for a beard (post-Army), but after letting it grow for a month it was just really scruffy and didn’t seem to be heading for improvement so I just went back to clean-shaven. The scruffiness also looked really strange with my normal dress shirt and tie at work.

    • Zorgon says:

      Long stubble to short beard, currently trending towards the latter as I’ve put on quite a bit of weight lately and every time I shave my SOs tease me about my multiple chins.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      I prefer a bit of stubble, but I can’t get my electric razor to cut it right. Also, my wife hates it, because it feels like daggers.

      But people seem to prefer it….

      Most of the time, I go clean-shaven. But I look like a little boy with a clean shaven face, unfortunately. Oh well.

    • christhenottopher says:

      Bearded! Got it during “no shave movember” in grad school since I figured “hey might as well try it before I get a real job and look terrible while people are paying me real money.” I went through a few iterations of my beard and current style is a short full beard, using an electric shaver on the lower part of the neck. It’s easy to take care of, is a bit warmer in winter, and adds some maturity to my face. My driver’s license still has my clean shaven face and I hate it. I really never want to go back.

      EDIT:Side note, it’s also been a nifty health indicator for me. At one point I had gained weight, I was inactive and eating crap basically every meal and I started getting bald spots on my beard. Lost the weight, started exercising and the beard came back gloriously full. Having a very visible facial indicator/motivator for healthier living has been pretty nice.

    • pontifex says:

      I dry shave with a disposable razor. I replace the razor about every two weeks when it gets too dull.

  3. Fluffy Buffalo says:

    Okay, so I’ve been listening to quite a few of Jordan Peterson’s lectures in the last months, and one theme he keeps harping on is that certain stories – mythologies and religious stories, mostly – are foundational for a society. They present the archetypes, the heroes that are worth imitating, the values that are worth striving for, the common problems one will encounter and the approaches to overcome them. That sort of makes sense.
    Now since the introduction of universal literacy, cheap books, comic books, television, and cinema, we are absolutely inundated with stories, many of which consciously try to be epic and mythological and, in fact, create their own “pantheon”, and some of which have spawned quasi-religious groups (aren’t Jedi registered as a religious group somewhere?). At the same time, church attendance has gone down massively in most first-world countries.
    One might naively think that the oversupply of different archetypal stories undermines the coherence of a society, but that doesn’t seem to have happened. Where first-world societies get polarized, it is not over Batman vs Superman, or even Batman vs. Jesus Christ.
    Does that mean that the assumption that the stories play a significant role in transmitting values was wrong in the first place? Or are the old stories still working their mojo somehow? Have they been replaced by some other mechanism? Or is society indeed fractured already, and we just haven’t fully realized it?

    • toastengineer says:

      Well, a lot of the modern radical social justice movement did grow out of fandoms…

      If the stories transmit values then why should the fighting be about the stories and not the values? People might not fight about Batman vs. the Bible, but they sure do fight about whether or not we should execute murderers. Stories are just a part of culture.

    • skef says:

      Okay, so I’ve been listening to quite a few of Jordan Peterson’s lectures in the last months, and one theme he keeps harping on is that certain stories – mythologies and religious stories, mostly – are foundational for a society. They present the archetypes, the heroes that are worth imitating, the values that are worth striving for, the common problems one will encounter and the approaches to overcome them.

      Huh. I always figured that acute Joseph Campbell Syndrome would end with Joseph Campbell.

    • outis says:

      Blue tribe has almost complete control of culture, including pop culture. Blue tribe values are culturally ascendant. Seems more like a confirmation to me, although of course it’s hard to discern the direction of causality (it’s really a feedback loop).

    • onyomi says:

      One might naively think that the oversupply of different archetypal stories undermines the coherence of a society, but that doesn’t seem to have happened. Where first-world societies get polarized, it is not over Batman vs Superman, or even Batman vs. Jesus Christ.

      US society certainly seems a lot less coherent to me now than even 25 years ago. Sure, the disunity isn’t literally over Batman vs. Jesus Christ, but one could at least make a case that the surface-level disunity we observe in the flourishing of a million sub-cultures has some roots in the loss of a shared “core” of Western mythology, Bible stories, etc.

      In somewhat related news, Americans can’t even agree we like football anymore, apparently, though for different stated reasons in different tribes.

      • Matt M says:

        Just here to say I’m a big fan of the linked article. I disagree with a couple things (I don’t buy the “over-saturation” argument, and I don’t think the NBA is going to take over due to a profound lack of parity), and I think there’s some big things they left out (Goodell being an activist commissioner doing a terrible job on off-field non-CTE scandals to include Ray Rice and Deflategate, and excessive penalties damaging the pace of play that aren’t concussion related either), but overall, it makes the point that it’s not JUST a Trump issue. There’s a perfect storm brewing against the NFL, and Trump/Kapernick is one ingredient, but this downfall started before either of them.

        • baconbacon says:

          and I don’t think the NBA is going to take over due to a profound lack of parity

          The most watched NBA finals games (total viewership) of all time are #1: Game 6 in 1998, which was the final game of Jordan’s 6th title in 8 years, #2: Game 6 in 1993, which was the 3rd of those titles, for 3 in a row. #3: Game 7 in 2016, which was the 2nd year of the Warriors meeting the Cavs in the finals, and the 6th straight year of Lebron making the finals.

          The least watched games are #1: 2003 game 2, coming after 3 dominant Lakers years featuring the Spurs and Nets, and 2007 games 1 and 2 between the Spurs and Cavs. The Nets had made the finals the year before, but had not made it out of the first round prior to that since 1984, and had not made the finals since 1976, and the Cavs were making their first trip to the finals ever, and were only out of the first round for the 2nd time since 1994.

          Finals viewership is probably a mediocre proxy, but the NBA has no issue drawing eyeballs for two high end teams playing each other. Where they lose interest is when one team is a heavy favorite with no real challenger. This has only really happened once since 2010, and is unlikely to happen this year (although the finals might not be exciting itself, the WC playoffs at the least should have one or two major challengers to the Warriors).

          Lower level interest, that is hometown fans watching, is probably more closely tied to churn in and out of the playoffs than with actual title contention.

          • Matt M says:

            Finals viewership is probably a mediocre proxy

            Indeed. Having a team full of all-stars in Golden State and a team with mostly all-stars in Cleveland meet each other in the finals is certainly great theater.

            But it also makes nearly every other game played essentially irrelevant (even in the first three rounds of the playoffs).

            I went with some buddies from work to Game 6 of Spurs/Rockets in the second round last year. These were the second and third best teams in the west in what would end up being an elimination game. The arena didn’t even sell out. There were a ton of empty seats. I have to believe the fact that everyone knew that regardless of who won, their ultimate fate was to get destroyed by Golden State plays a part in this.

          • baconbacon says:

            Indeed. Having a team full of all-stars in Golden State and a team with mostly all-stars in Cleveland meet each other in the finals is certainly great theater.

            But it also makes nearly every other game played essentially irrelevant (even in the first three rounds of the playoffs).

            This has only happened once in recent years though. In the Warriors 2 previous years they have gone to 7 games and 6 games twice each in 8 total series, and only have 1 sweep in those 8 (the Cavs were actually more dominant playoff game wise in the East over the past 3 years with 6 sweeps out of 9 total series, and none going 7 games).

            There is also little reason to think that the Warriors dominance will be as great this season in the West. Houston, OKC and Minnesota have upgrade their rosters and a player of Kawhi’s caliber is unlikely to get injured in game 1 of a series.

            As a parallel the 00/01 Lakers also managed to win a title with only 1 postseason loss, the next season they went 7 games vs the Kings (they had swept them year before) in the WCF. The season after that they were knocked out of the playoffs in the 2nd round 4-2 by the Spurs, after beating them by a combined 8-1 count the two previous years.

            Top teams in the NBA have had shorter dominant lifespans in recent years. The Lakers and Celtics dominated the 80s, the Bulls the 90s, but since then the best “team” runs are 5 wins from 99-00 through 09-10 (and this is trimming Shaq’s first three years of the Lakers out, and they also failed to make it out of the first round 3 times in this span).

            It is very unlikely that the current incarnation of GSW lasts more than two additional years (counting this year) and isn’t that likely to have them make the finals in both of those seasons.

          • baconbacon says:

            For some more context, the previous “super-team” was formed when Lebron, Bosh and Wade teamed up in 2010. Wade was playing in his age 29 season, Lebron and Bosh in their age 26 seasons. If you take last year as distinct with Durant joining the Warriors he and Curry were in their age 28 years, Green and Klay their age 26 years. As much as anything salary cap implications basically killed that Miami team off, as by the end of their run their team was filled with sub 5 million dollar salaries (the 4th highest player that year was Haslem at 4.3 million). Adjusting for the larger salary cap the Warriors have 5 players with a salary well over Haslem’s, and a 6th very close.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I agree, I thought it was a good article, but silly to focus on Trump.

          A lot of this is attributable, like so much else, to the president.

          In one paragraph, and then start the next with:

          Television ratings have been down for the past several years, with this year’s down 5.7 percent.

          Trump is not an instigator of the NFL’s problems, he’s one (very large) voice reacting to the NFL’s problems.

          Relevant Bill Burr ranting about CW/politicization of sports.

      • albatross11 says:

        ObSFReference:

        In Benford and Niven’s _The Bowl of Heaven_ and _Shipstar_, aliens are trying to intimidate humans into not visiting their star, based on radio/TV transmissions they’ve seen. They transmit cartoons showing both Jesus Christ and Superman being beaten up by the aliens.

        • quaelegit says:

          That is adorably hilarious, but I hope they have a plan for when CNSA gets there 😛

        • Deiseach says:

          They transmit cartoons showing both Jesus Christ and Superman being beaten up by the aliens.

          If ever there was anything guaranteed to make humans want to visit an alien world, this is it: half of Earth would be “they think they’re so tough, wait till they get a taste of the can of whup ass I’m opening” and the other half would be “Cool, can I learn how to do this? Teach me, O alien masters of mystic whup ass!”

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        This. Capitalism and IP law made it very profitable to replace the Bible and Classical mytho-history as the stories that organize the world for us.
        Right now people understand politics by pattern matching to Star Wars or Harry Potter. In a generation, some new story product is likely to usurp Harry Potter (Disney, the 800-pound gorilla of copyright rent-seeking, is likely competent to keep Star Wars mainstream).

    • Civilis says:

      About twenty years ago, one could argue that ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ was an American value, transmitted through culture.

      I’d like to discuss this in more detail, but this is very definitely a culture war adjacent topic.

    • lsmel says:

      I feel that one potential source of value is that these mythological stories provide the sense that there is are ‘higher powers’ than oneself. There seems to be reasonably common opinion that this is a useful psychological position to hold for a few reasons, often with a humbleness-promoting aim (i.e. many religions do this, obviously, but so does Ietsism, as well as more explicitly secular spiritual and moral pursuits).

      That said, while I don’t know much about Peterson, it seems like he might be not quite hitting those notes since his pitch appears to be more aspirational?

      P.S. I actually would love a quick explainer on him if anyone feels qualified to provide it, I see he’s now a top 20 Patreon creator and is getting referenced all over the place. 6 months ago I’d never heard of him (Google trends has him springing into existence ~1yr ago).

      • toastengineer says:

        I’m a little surprised you didn’t hear of him hanging around places like this, actually. Peterson is the original “academic resisting the Campus Crazies,” he’s a University of Toronto psychology professor who criticized their pronoun policy and got a lot of shit for it, so he started talking to a lot of the online anti-SJW people back when that movement was still kinda starting out and was a great hit with them. Kept his job too, as far as I’m aware.

      • Fluffy Buffalo says:

        As toastengineer wrote, Peterson came to prominence when he resisted a piece of Canadian legislature that would have compelled him to use the whole spectrum of new-fangled pronouns.
        At that point, his Youtube channel, where he had posted entire lecture series of his, found quite a bit of attention, he appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcst and Dave Rubin’s show and who knows where else, and became a meme, so to speak.
        Academically, he offers an interesting mix of standard psychometry, evolutionary psychology, Jung, Freud, the Bible and Nietzsche. He is very explicit about the importance of personality traits, but also talks a ton about archetypal stories, religious and mythological symbols and so on.
        Politically, I’d say he’s a conservative-leaning centrist with a flaming hatred of nazis, communists and postmodernists, and strongly emphasizes free speech and personal responsibility.
        As to whether he hits the point of religious stories pointing to a higher power, I’d say yes. He kind of waffles when it comes to the question whether that higher power is a metaphor, or an emergent property, or an actual entity. He has a lecture “God and the idea of ultimate authority” or something along these lines, so you can check that out dir yourself.

    • Matt M says:

      Now since the introduction of universal literacy, cheap books, comic books, television, and cinema, we are absolutely inundated with stories, many of which consciously try to be epic and mythological and, in fact, create their own “pantheon”, and some of which have spawned quasi-religious groups (aren’t Jedi registered as a religious group somewhere?).

      One key point is that most of these things came about as a result of capitalism, and were created by companies whose goal was to maximize positive reactions and appeal to as broad of an audience as possible. They weren’t organic creation myths, they were intelligently designed to be wholly inoffensive by borrowing significantly from the existing stories and myths.

      Batman has no interest in fighting Jesus. He’d rather adopt a no-kill policy so that all the Jesus people can respect him.

      • Fluffy Buffalo says:

        That’s actually a good point – capitalism or not, the mythologies that really catch on have to resonate with an audience that has been brought up in a Christianity-influenced culture, so many of them would be more or less compatible.
        Two counterpoints: much of popular culture.is aimed at teenagers, who tend to rebel against adult culture; and some pop culture icons are definitely not Jesus-compatible – a cold-blooded killer like James Bond would be more suitable for Greek mythology.

        • Matt M says:

          Right – James Bond doesn’t play well with Jesus, but he does play well with the general nationalism of the Anglosphere. Consider how the ethnicity of his enemies changes to keep up with the current geopolitical environment.

          Also to really sell, you can’t just copy existing stories, you have to be somewhat additive, or at least combiniative.

      • Jiro says:

        Almost all of this kind of thing was created by individual human beings, even if they have been later modified by committees. We know who created James Bond or Superman or Star Wars, and that while they were appealing to an audience, they were also legitimately creative.

    • Levantine says:

      Does that mean that the assumption that the stories play a significant role in transmitting values was wrong in the first place? Or are the old stories still working their mojo somehow? Have they been replaced by some other mechanism? Or is society indeed fractured already, and we just haven’t fully realized it?

      Some of us see it as seriously and obviously fractured, some of us don’t, which is a fracture in itself.
      The more serious point: mythologies are not just religious or fairy tales. They’re also historical. Like, there being “Founding Fathers”, as rather exemplary figures (viz. Washington with the cherry tree). Mythological culture includes statues of Confederate leaders, a number of which were recently toppled. Figures like Jefferson and Lincoln are heavily criticised and even condemned, but each from certain parts of the political spectrum.

    • cmurdock says:

      He has his features, but I’ve never been able to take Peterson too seriously since his appearance on the Sam Harris podcast where he said that “Satan” comes from Egyptian “Set(h)”– which is both historically and etymologically incorrect, and is the kind of you-literally-just-have-to-look-it-up-in-literally-any-reference-work-to-find-out-it’s-wrong statement I usually expect from the same crowd that says “Easter” comes from “Ishtar” or that “Argonaut” comes from “Ark-of-Noah” (yes, there are people who say that). And I can’t help but suspect his affinity for Freud-&-company makes him susceptible to this, since that school of thought (or at least Campbell) seems to be based entirely around “X kinda looks like Y which kinda looks like Z and therefore everything is kinda like everything else” connect-the-dots association games.

      • Protagoras says:

        That association game is much more Jung than Freud. For the most part, Freud thought things were associated for the patient when the patient thought they were associated; it was Jung who gave everything specific fixed meanings and connections.

    • Fluffy Buffalo says:

      I only now noticed Scott’s decree that this thread should be culture-war-free. If my post violated that, I apologize – that was not my intent, and I hope that it can be discussed without treading on culture-war territory.

    • rlms says:

      “aren’t Jedi registered as a religious group somewhere?”
      According to the census, they are the second largest religion in New Zealand.

      • Randy M says:

        Only because the LotR doesn’t have any religious orders with catchy names, I’ll wager.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          It might be interesting that LOTR doesn’t have any groups to join as emotional hooks. The seven walkers are very situation-specific.

        • The reason why LotR doesn’t seem to have any religious orders with catchy names is simply that, in LotR, religion is not a separate sphere of life that one does in one’s leisure time as a carefully-demarcated ritual. Religion is simply a part of life, as unquestioned and un-marked-out as breathing air.

          For example, the Elves clearly have their holy relics (the Silmarils, the shards of Narsil), their holy land (Valinor), their holy chants (“A Elbereth Gilthoniel”), and yes, their gods (Manwë, Varda, Ulmo, Aulë, etc., with Eru Iluvatar above all as some sort of detached, abstract, Christian-like god)

          But, you don’t see any elves clearly demarcated as “priests” because that would just be silly. Elvish religion isn’t something for which you sit on comfy seats on Sunday to watch others do. It’s something that everyone does, to whatever extent they feel the need to draw upon it. Heck, even Frodo draws upon the mythos (crying out for Varda) when facing Shelob and using his light of Earendil to ward Shelob off.

          There is no need to drill it into people’s minds or mark it out with regular rituals because nobody doubts it in the first place. It’s not even up for debate that Valinor exists, that Varda created the stars, that the Valar rescue the elves at Cuivienen from Meklor, that the Valar and the Eldar of Valinor rescued elves and men from Morgoth at the end of the First Age, etc.

          There IS actually one place where religion-proper enters into Middle-Earth: in the last days of Numenor, when the Numenorean men are starting to doubt the benevolence of the Valar and start to think about making war on them. Then you have a split between the faithful who try to perform rituals to the Valar atop the Meneltarma, and those who are seduced by Sauron into making sacrifices to Melkor. It’s precisely when “religion” comes into doubt that it starts being recognizable to us as “religion.”

          Hence, the Jedi also clearly stand out as a “religion” in the context of a world where your average Han Solo thinks that the Jedi stuff is just a bunch of mystical woo-woo magic tricks. Even before the fall of the Old Republic, it’s not like everyone could be a Jedi (thanks to the whole midichlorian nonsense), so religion there is likewise something that most people could only watch others do, not do themselves.

          Edit: I just want to add, though, that if someone tried to make a religion out of the Silmarillion, it would be pretty badass and ethically unimpeachable as far as religions go. At least Iluvatar never calls on Elrond to go up into the Misty Mountains to sacrifice one of his sons or some shit like that.

          The most morally questionable part of it from a modern point of view would probably be the LOTR-universe’s tacit endorsement of hereditary monarchies and land-owning aristocracies.

          On the other hand, you’ve got heroic women, a theme of anti-greed and anti-authoritarianism, etc. And a really neat and coherent creation myth and history.

        • bean says:

          And my mind immediately goes to the later Emberverse books, where this basically happens.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Edit: I just want to add, though, that if someone tried to make a religion out of the Silmarillion, it would be pretty badass and ethically unimpeachable as far as religions go. At least Iluvatar never calls on Elrond to go up into the Misty Mountains to sacrifice one of his sons or some shit like that.

          Well there’s that part where the clergy are oath-bound to kill anyone who gets their hands on one of Silmariliîsm’s relics…

          • That’s something that the sons of Fëanor brought upon themselves, though. The Valar were actually being the voices of reason in this instance. It would have been different if the Valar had said, “Bring back a Silmaril from Morgoth for us…or else we will kill all your firstborn sons.” The only character who comes close to such a demand is Thingol, who demands that Beren bring him back a Silmaril in exchange for Luthien’s hand in marriage. And Tolkien is very morally critical of this decision of Thingol’s. I see no similar reaction from Christians, no argument that God was morally wrong to demand (or at least pretend to demand) that Abraham sacrifice his son Isaac.

    • MereComments says:

      I think you’re missing the forest for the trees. I think A) the myths we’re getting our values from have been dispersed enough that they’re in an entirely different category from societies that are all striving towards the Judeo-Christian God, or all striving towards the heroes of the Iliad. B) I think the fact that Batman and Spiderman and Luke Skywalker et al are obviously fictional, and we know that they’re “just comic books” or “just space operas”, greatly dilutes the amount they serve as real archetypes to imitate. We might agree with “don’t kill people” or “with great power comes great responsibility”, but those are optional suggestions from our contemporary man rather than an admonition to align your life towards the worship of God. Or the admonition to be Christ-like. C) For the archetypes that do have a foot in the real world, at least, I think they can exist as part of the process that can fracture society to some extent. Is your most admired hero in film an Erin Brockovitch, the underdog taking on corrupt corporations (the “care” or “justice” aspects of moral foundation theory) or the soldiers of Saving Private Ryan (the “loyalty” aspect of MFT)? Are the military/cops the heroes of your story, or the villains? Ditto politicians. Ditto criminals and terrorists— err freedom fighters.

      Combining A) B) and C), I think the diffusion of modern archetypes means don’t have the strength of the older, original archetypes, but they do exist, and they definitely have the potential to lead to fracturing that does not map to “Batman vs. Jesus”.

  4. Ventrue Capital says:

    I’m still hoping for more players for my GURPS game set on the planet Terramar, a backwater colony world. It’s a sword-and-sorcery / planetary romance in the style of Nehwon (by Fritz Leiber), the Dying Earth (by Vance), Majipoor (by Robert Silverberg), and Bas-Lag (by China Mieville), but with very different political and economic views from Mieville’s. (I’m an anarcho-capitalist who loves Mieville’s writing style and despises his political and economic views. And I welcome non-libertarians to the game — anyone intelligent enough to read SSC is worth talking to and gaming with.)

  5. greghb says:

    Can anyone recommend a Scott-quality explanation of the whole net neutrality debate, ideally including a steelman argument for the con side (con = anti net neutrality)?

    • Well... says:

      I’m specifically interested in that steelman for the con side.

      • toastengineer says:

        Hey, the real thing’s right here. I mean, I like the principle of network neutrality, but liking patriotism doesn’t mean I have to like the PATRIOT Act.

        tl;dr Net Neutrality is an upward wealth transfer. It makes average people pick up big internet companies’ ISP bill, and makes it impossible to offer reduced, reduced-price services to the poor.

        I’m only aware of two arguments for it; one is that ISPs will discriminate against competing services to support their own streaming video services, which is already illegal, and the other is that ISPs will charge you extra for access to Netflix etc… just because they have a monopoly, which… I mean, they can do that, but why not just raise your rates, and make even more money from your monopoly while simultaneously freaking people out less?

        • skef says:

          one is that ISPs will discriminate against competing services to support their own streaming video services, which is already illegal

          Can you clarify what you mean by “already illegal”? What is the other legislation relevant to this?

          • gbdub says:

            I believe the point is that ISPs would still be subject to antitrust law, which that scheme might violate.

          • skef says:

            I believe the point is that ISPs would still be subject to antitrust law, which that scheme might violate.

            If Comcast isn’t considered a monopoly, and Netflix isn’t considered a monopoly, then why would Comcast discriminating against Netflix violate antitrust law?

          • Jiro says:

            I believe the point is that ISPs would still be subject to antitrust law, which that scheme might violate.

            The key here is “might”.

            Remember back when the Supreme Court was deciding Kirtsaeng. It was possible that there were laws other than fair use which would allow a museum to display a painting. But you don’t get rid of the law that makes it legal and think that it “might” still be legal for some other reason. It might not; you’re just guessing.

          • CatCube says:

            I think it’s the having “their own streaming service” half of this that could fall afoul of antitrust law. Considering that theaters were forcibly separated from studios, I can believe it going that way.

          • toastengineer says:

            I probably should’ve stuck a “it’s my understanding” in there.

            My understanding is that you’re not allowed to use your influence in one area of business to try to get people to use your other area of business. That’s what they got Microsoft with over Internet Explorer; they were using their operating system market share to try to gain web browser market share.

            ISPs are near-monopolies almost everywhere in the U.S. and in a lot of places there really is only one ISP. Considering Microsoft was considered a monopoly I would assume any ISP in a position to pull these kinds of stunts would be as well.

        • Jiro says:

          I mean, they can do that, but why not just raise your rates

          Price discrimination.

          • Matt M says:

            Right.

            Consider that the outrage over NN is mostly coming from younger people who are disproportionately more likely to be cord-cutters, and to fall within the 20% of people who are using the 80% of the bandwidth (I think it’s actually more like 95:5, but let’s stick with the general ratio for now).

            They see NN as the thing that protects ISPs from charging them more, which may very well be true. Of course it also prevents ISPs from charging your Grandma, who uses <1GB/month to check her emails and post chain letters on Facebook, a whole lot less.

            The point of price discrimination is that some people pay more, and others pay less. But this issue is being presented as, "Without NN, everyone will suddenly have to pay a whole lot more!" which strikes me as implausible, because if ISPs could increase their profits by simply raising rates across the board for everyone, they'd already be doing that.

          • Jiro says:

            The point of price discrimination is that some people pay more, and others pay less.

            … and the manufacturers capture all the consumer surplus.

            With price discrimination your grandma who just checks email may be charged less, but on the average people will be charged more, even throwing your grandma in there as part of the average.

          • Steven J says:

            “With price discrimination your grandma who just checks email may be charged less, but on the average people will be charged more, even throwing your grandma in there as part of the average.”

            Under (third-degree) price discrimination, consumer surplus often goes down, but not always. If the price discrimination causes total output to increase, consumer surplus can increase even as producer profit goes up. In other words, even if the firm is successful in extracting a greater share of the total surplus for its own profits, the average consumer can gain if the total surplus increases sufficiently. For a recent paper giving conditions under which price discrimination increases consumer surplus, see Cowan (2012) (https://ora.ox.ac.uk/objects/uuid:b18338f7-f3cf-4603-b9df-7f61ed8e4934/datastreams/ATTACHMENT01).

          • A1987dM says:

            @Matt M:

            If the issue was just bandwidth, couldn’t ISPs just charge by the megabyte?

          • A1987dM says:

            @Steven J:

            It would be nice if that paper made even one concrete example. 🙂 Anyway, I’ve heard that if airlines weren’t allowed to price-discriminate, there would be so many fewer flights that passengers would be worse off, which sounds plausible to me.

          • John Schilling says:

            If the issue was just bandwidth, couldn’t ISPs just charge by the megabyte?

            Not easily, i.e. without negotiating a new set of protocols for basically the whole internet.

            Which may be the only long-term fix, but the internet was built around the assumptions that A: the only users would be non-commercial, basically the US government and universities doing government-funded research and B: the wonders of technology would make bandwidth (all together now) Too Cheap To Meter. So the current protocols have no room for meters.

            The too-cheap-to-meter trick never works, and now we’re trying to come up with kludges that are less disruptive than reengineering the whole internet for pay-per-byte. With a side order of fearing that the kludges are part of someone’s secret master plan to Take Over the Internet.

          • Matt M says:

            If the issue was just bandwidth, couldn’t ISPs just charge by the megabyte?

            They could and they want to, but every time they let out a peep about it the same people howl about how wicked and evil that would be, a bunch of negative PR comes out about it, and they back down.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There’s no technical reason ISPs can’t charge by the megabyte, and many of them (mostly mobile) do.

          • bean says:

            They see NN as the thing that protects ISPs from charging them more, which may very well be true. Of course it also prevents ISPs from charging your Grandma, who uses <1GB/month to check her emails and post chain letters on Facebook, a whole lot less.

            Assuming Grandma is sensible, why wouldn’t she be on the ‘super low bandwidth’ plan? Right now, most of this is taken care of because ISPs charge for the size of your pipe. Someone who uses more total data also is likely to have more bandwidth.

            I think my ISP does have a data cap, but it’s at the point where I’m only using 10-20% a month, IIRC. It’s only likely to be a problem if you’re doing something that keeps you using most of your bandwidth all the time.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            @John Schilling

            Maybe the person was premature in assuming that the best use of free hot water is to use it to generate electricity.

            If heating wasn’t included in the rent, then maybe the hot water could be circulated for warmth and save a little money that way.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            With a side order of fearing that the kludges are part of someone’s secret master plan to Take Over the Internet.

            That has never been not the case. I have been in this business for a very long time. (How long? The Morris Worm caused an unplanned day off for me.) Every single time, any seriously proposed set of those kludges has been someone’s master plan to defang this annoying Internet Protocol thing, and has included a magic box where money is supposed to fall out into some threatened rent-seekers treasury, with a side stream to a fat industry-captured regulator.

            If someone wants to do long-distance revenue-generating data transmission from approved paying producers to approved controlled gatekeepers to approved paying consumers, well, there is a huge inventory of dark fibre right there for anyone to lease, the poles are right there to lease space on, and the ATM protocol specs have already been written, and all the necessary switching silicon and all the necessary transceivers are already listed in the catalogs. Have at it.

          • Steven J says:

            “It would be nice if that paper made even one concrete example. Anyway, I’ve heard that if airlines weren’t allowed to price-discriminate, there would be so many fewer flights that passengers would be worse off, which sounds plausible to me.”

            Ask and ye shall receive.
            Here’s a recent empirical paper estimating the effect on consumer welfare of preventing price discrimination by airlines.
            http://www.johnlazarev.com/Lazarev_JMP.pdf

            Consumer welfare goes down, but only by a small amount relative to the decrease in airline profits. Ending price discrimination improves the allocation of seats to the consumers who value them the most, but this effect is more than offset by the reduction of passenger-seats.
            It’s only one paper (albeit a good one), so the estimates should be taken with the usual grain of salt.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            @John Schilling:

            B: the wonders of technology would make bandwidth (all together now) Too Cheap To Meter. So the current protocols have no room for meters.

            Note that marginal bandwidth really is *free*, until we fill all the peering ports. The only thing that costs actual factual money, on the backbone level, is capacity, and even that is cheaper than you think it is. It is not free to be able to route 10 Tbps compared to 5 Tbps, but there are many cases where it really is a question of plugging in a few extra ports…except someone wants rent.

          • John Schilling says:

            Note that marginal bandwidth really is *free*, until we fill all the peering ports.

            Agreed, but if you literally give it away for free (at the margin), someone will eventually figure out how fill all the peering ports. And probably for a very small marginal return on their end. The service providers genuinely are going to need either a more sophisticated pricing structure than the internet was ever designed for, or a kludge to deal with the bandwidth hogs.

            The kludges are easier for any particular ISP/ITP to implement on their own, and they are mostly having to deal with the problem on their own.

          • Aapje says:

            @John Schilling

            That’s why it’s common to have fair use policies, which don’t set a fixed limit, but can be used to prevent someone from saturating the bandwidth.

        • syrrim says:

          It makes average people pick up big internet companies’ ISP bill,

          Of course average people will pick up the bill’s of big companies. Where do you think the big companies get the money to pay for anything from? If you increase their costs, they’ll be forced to charge their customers more. Their customers are those same average people.

          makes it impossible to offer reduced, reduced-price services to the poor.

          Of course you can offer reduced prices to the poor. In order to do so, however, you have to find a way to lower your costs when serving poor people. Removing net neutrality would be an accounting shuffle – some people might pay less, others would pay more, the ISP would make the same money overall. And sure, some poor people might pay less for internet – but what of those poor people who want access to the extent of the internet? They would have to pay more than they pay now.

          If you really want to subsidize the internet of poor people, I say do it through an income tax. That way you’ll be giving people access to the real internet, and won’t be screwing anyone over, or leaving anyone out.

          • toastengineer says:

            Do I really have to explain why making people pay for things other people bought is a Bad Idea?

      • Jaskologist says:

        I’m not strongly con, but here goes. (Item 2 skirts closer to culture war than I’d like.)

        1. This is returning us to the dark days of 2015. I can remember 2015 pretty well. Anybody who tells me going back to that will be the end of the internet automatically loses credibility, which eliminates most pro-NNs I’ve seen.

        2. If we’re worried about the net being neutral, it looks to me like the current big threat is not coming from the ISPs. Web hosts will shut down sites they especially hate, Google will lock you out of documents it thinks contains hate speech, Twitter censors/downtrends hash tags it doesn’t like, Facebook is being grilled by Congress for not blocking “Buff Bernie” memes. Comcast seems pretty low on the list of actual censors as far as I know.

        3. Biggest one for me: NN came about by an agency simply declaring it had a new power. For that reason alone, it should be rolled back. If you want to pass a law, pass it through the legislature.

        • Matt M says:

          Comcast seems pretty low on the list of actual censors as far as I know.

          Not that this will do much to persuade critics, but Comcast has publicly vowed that they will not do any of the crazy evil things everyone assumes they are going to do. They’re currently paying for social media ads on FB and Twitter to re-state all of these positions. Seems like a dumb thing to spend money on if they’re planning on imminently doing the exact opposite.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Seems like a dumb thing to spend money on if they’re planning on imminently doing the exact opposite.

            The tale of the scorpion and the frog applies here.

        • Jiro says:

          This is returning us to the dark days of 2015.

          The FCC lost a net neutrality court case in 2014 (and some other cases in earlier years), which was part of the impetus for the current net neutrality rules. So pointing out that things were okay before 2015 refers to a legal environment that does not exist today.

          If we’re worried about the net being neutral, it looks to me like the current big threat is not coming from the ISPs.

          Yes, and? There’s more than one threat. Both need to be fought. It’s not as if the hate speech threat will go away if we don’t fight the other one.

          Comcast has publicly vowed that they will not do any of the crazy evil things everyone assumes they are going to do.

          If they weren’t going to do those things they’d say that. And if they were going to do those things they’d still say that. So as Bayseian evidence, that is perfectly useless.

          • Matt M says:

            If they weren’t going to do those things they’d say that. And if they were going to do those things they’d still say that.

            I’m not so sure. Customers don’t really like being told bold-faced lies. It would be absolutely horrible PR. Much better to just stay quiet on the issue and then do your evil thing, rather than constantly shout “WE WILL NOT DO THE EVIL THING” and then do it anyway.

            I mean there’s even a middle ground where they couch their language. Instead of saying “We will never throttle the internet” they could easily say something like “Throttling the internet is not currently a part of our strategy.”

            And given that these rules seem liable to change every time there’s a national election, a strategy of “lie to everyone, wait for the law to change, then spring the trap and be all HAHA F YOU GUYS HERE COMES THE PAAAAAAAAAIN!” seems like a poor idea as well. Like great, because Trump is in they can get greedy and reveal they were lying and gouge their customers. Then what happens when Bernie comes in?

          • Gobbobobble says:

            It would be absolutely horrible PR.

            It’s Comcast. Their de facto motto has long been “What’re you gonna do about it?”

          • Matt M says:

            It’s Comcast. Their de facto motto has long been “What’re you gonna do about it?”

            Really?

            Then why bother lying in the first place? Why not just come out and say “Yeah we’re gonna throttle your internet and raise your prices and charge you extra for every single website you view – but we’re a monopoly so who cares what you think!”

          • bean says:

            @Gobbobobble
            Angry customers are also angry voters. Utility bad behavior is heavily constrained by the fact that angry voters lead to angry regulators, which is bad place to be as a utility. If Comcast breaches its promises badly enough, they will feel it where it hurts (in the pocketbook). Saying “we won’t throttle the internet” very publicly and then doing so is going to end up with them being subject to a rather punitive net neutrality. They’re unlikely to be stupid enough not to know that.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Then why bother lying in the first place? Why not just come out and say “Yeah we’re gonna throttle your internet and raise your prices and charge you extra for every single website you view – but we’re a monopoly so who cares what you think!”

            Because they don’t want opposition to the new rules to succeed. Most likely what they’ll do is wait until the new rules are finalized, then a bit longer for most people to forget, then start quietly messing around (e.g. throttling Netflix)

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Saying “we won’t throttle the internet” very publicly and then doing so is going to end up with them being subject to a rather punitive net neutrality.

            I don’t think this is a given. The people who could impose a punitive net neutrality are a) The FCC, who this whole battle is about whether they’re allowed to regulate ISPs at all, b) the sort of Federal critter that gives us a new draft of SOPA/PIPA every other year and, more importantly, whose elections are based on larger issues than ISP behavior, c) local govts who the big telcos have a long track record of legalistally quashing when they try to get their citizens a better deal, or d) state govts that enjoy the comfortable middle ground of “not my problem”

            Comcast just needs to weather the storm until people get used to it. Which will happen. Remember when cable didn’t have commercials?

            ETA:

            Most likely what they’ll do is wait until the new rules are finalized, then a bit longer for most people to forget, then start quietly messing around (e.g. throttling Netflix)

            And they’ll be smart enough to not do it all or everywhere at once. Start adding new charges to folks’ bills in areas with the least competition first – with special temporary “discounts” to keep around people who want to bail right away

          • bean says:

            Comcast just needs to weather the storm until people get used to it. Which will happen. Remember when cable didn’t have commercials?

            I don’t. I’ve never had cable, and had never ever heard that that was a thing.
            That said, there was no organized ‘anti-cable-ad’ lobby group. Netflix does have lobbyists. I don’t think you’re quite right about the state PUCs, but that’s not the main issue. That’s the fact that the FCC is beholden to the White House, which changes hands about every 8 years. Unless they assume that the GOP is going to stay in control indefinitely, Comcast is going to do what it needs to to avoid getting spanked in 2024 (or 2020) when the Democrats take over. If they use the current FCC to squeeze the public as hard as they can get away with now, you’d better believe that they’re going to have serious trouble then. And I don’t think Comcast is that stupid.

          • albatross11 says:

            bean:

            My concern isn’t Netflix, because, as you say, they have lobbyists and PR people and lawyers and friends in congress and existing customers. But I’m worried about some startup with like ten people on staff, who doesn’t have any lobbyists or PR people or a budget for those things, and whose business is really easy for Comcast to stomp for its own reasons.

          • bean says:

            @albatross11
            What sort of startup is this, and what makes Comcast certain enough it will be a threat? Most startups go out of business. Those that have 10 people and no lobbyists are not something Comcast is likely to see as threats. Big businesses are like that. And if they stamp on every startup that looks like it might conceivably be a threat, Comcast knows they’re going to end up with lots and lots of bad PR. Everyone loves an underdog, and everyone hates Comcast. Their best opportunity is probably to wait and then buy the startup if it looks like it’s going to work out well.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            The thing about the failure of NN that Comcast et al do not have to stamp on *each* startup.

            It stamps on ALL of them at the start of their initial growth phase, automatically and mostly invisibly.

    • knownastron says:

      Here is Tyler Cowen on anti-net neutrality.

      He has two links at the bottom of the post which are extensions of the argument.

    • greghb says:

      Good stuff Ventrue Capital and knownastron, thanks! Any recommended steelmen of the pro side? It’s easy to find arguments, but if someone has already sorted out the good arguments — or even just the arguments that keep name-calling to a minimum — that would be so nice.

      • outis says:

        I think this is one of the strongest arguments. However, coming from that pulpit, it’s also one of the worst.

        The biggest issue with leaving things to the market, IMHO, is that in many parts of the US there is a single-ISP monopoly, so there is effectively no market.

      • skef says:

        I’m not sure this counts as a steelman, but I do think Tyler Cowen has things backwards.

        Cowen seems to assume that with net neutrality gone, the worry over leverage would remain at the ISP level. So Comcast might not offer, or offer a a crappier version of, CNN. He thinks that’s not a substantial worry:

        The main exception to this argument is that the monopolist may favor its own content. Monopolizing instances of that practice still would be regulated under standard antitrust law, and also transparency requirements, and most of the critical discussion seems to ignore this. Furthermore, it is harder to make a profit this way than you might think. If Comcast promotes “the stupider Comcast version of CNN,” a lot of people just won’t be interested. Most of these websites aren’t that valuable — look at the recent revenue results for Buzzfeed. Nor do I think Comcast can get away with denying its customers say Google or Skype, either legally or economically.

        I think the worry should instead be what happens when media-ISP conglomerate X decides ISP Y can only have the crappy version of property-X. As Cowen seems to concede, if (and only if) propery-X is desirable enough, then Y is proportionately less desirable.

        Since ISP innovation is slow, and the market is very expensive to enter, a natural way for the overall system to evolve is for (basically)
        all of the ISPs to wind up as part of the big media companies (we’re pretty close already), with detente the result of mutually assured destruction. (“You give us crappy property-X, we give you crappy property-Y.”)

        The problem with this arrangement is that it puts the transport technology in the hands of today’s entrenched media companies, and makes it every unclear why or how there would be further communication innovation. Scrappy startup with a great wide area wireless solution? Better have a Netflix or Disney to bargain with, or you’ll get the crappy version of everything and no one will buy your service. Does your VR MMO need higher bandwidth at lower latency? Maybe Time-Warner’s media properties would rather not compete with you, and certainly won’t want to spend huge capital resources on a build-out just to subject themselves to competition with you. “We’re happy with how things are.”

        So, basically, what neutrality establishes is a market for communication technology. The competition in that market is limited due to not only the entrance costs but also the difficulty in getting “pole access”. But at least there’s some competition. Mixing media in could dissolve it into just media competition, with the result that both the media and the technology become more entrenched than they are now.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I think the worry should instead be what happens when media-ISP conglomerate X decides ISP Y can only have the crappy version of property-X.

          That’s already legal and already happening. I’ve run into websites which only let you access if you’re coming from Comcast. I think these were all TV shows, but there’s no reason in principle they couldn’t do it to others.

          • skef says:

            The difference is that with neutrality, internet media company Z (e.g. Netflix) has no particular incentive to affiliate with an ISP. Letting ISPs choose the size of the bill will prompt that sort of consolidation.

      • pontifex says:

        Any recommended steelmen of the pro [NN] side?

        Net neutrality might seem like a complicated topic on the surface, but it all comes into focus when you realize that the “last mile” internet service providers in the United States (Comcast, AT&T, etc.) are essentially legally protected monopolies.

        Do you want to open a new cable company in Anytown, USA? With a few exceptions, you mostly can’t. The government will use force to prevent you, because it has already granted Comcast (or some other cable company) a legal monopoly on servicing that town.

        For the most part, the only competition that enters into this system is that sometimes there is also a local phone company like AT&T that also offers internet. So in a “market” where you can only drink Pepsi or Coke, but all other choices are strictly forbidden, you suddenly become very interested in how the government is regulating PepsiCo and Coca Cola, Inc.

        Most of the ant-NN arguments are based on an idealized view where consumers can always switch internet service providers if they don’t like their current one. But this is very far from reality. If Comcast says it doesn’t like Slate Star Codex, and refuses to send people that traffic, the reality is that most people will just not have SSC. (You can insert “Netflix,” “HBO”, “Fox News”, whatever you like into that previous sentence and it will still be true.)

        The bare truth is that because there’s no real market, people in the US pay more for slower service. And because of regulatory capture and political apathy, it’s probably not going to change any time soon. The ONLY protection you have against Comcast or AT&T doing $BADTHING is political. The “market” can do nothing, because there is no market.

        • Matt M says:

          The government will use force to prevent you, because it has already granted Comcast (or some other cable company) a legal monopoly on servicing that town.

          Why don’t we just, you know, stop doing THAT?

          • Nornagest says:

            That would be a better solution, but it seems less politically feasible in the short term. And for that matter less practically feasible: it’s a lot easier to change laws than to lay that much cable.

          • johan_larson says:

            Because if we left things like phone service to the market we would have excellent, competitive service in densely populated places, like major cities, and generally no service at all in sparsely populated places, like little farming towns. This dramatic inequality tends to piss people off. So we make deals with providers whereby they are granted regulated monopolies over broad areas, but in turn have to offer service everywhere.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m not sure I buy that, Johan; Comcast et al. basically don’t provide rural broadband, so if that’s the deal, they’re already reneging on it. I have relatives in one of those little farming towns, and their only options for broadband (using the term loosely; we’re talking the low end of DSL speeds) are satellite and microwave. They both kinda suck, but more importantly neither one’s through a major telecom.

            Cable has been coming Real Soon Now for about fifteen years. (Mobile data service has gotten dramatically better in the last five, though.)

          • Brad says:

            @johan_larson
            In addition to what Nornagest said, even if it were what was going on, it is a terrible way to subsidize something we want to subsidize.

            It has a similar structure to the ACA actually, where because we are allergic to taxes we force some people to cross-subsidize others and pretend that somehow that doesn’t amount to a tax. And worse still these taxes aren’t progressive, they aren’t even flat. The distributional consequences are almost entirely othoganal to income and wealth.

            If we want to subsidize rural broadband, and in light of the culture war free nature of this thread I’ll abstain from offering an opinion on that, we should take money out of the treasury and use it to subsidize rural broadband.

          • johan_larson says:

            I’m willing to believe things worked a bit differently for cable TV, because phone service is generally considered an essential service but cable TV is more like a broadly consumed luxury item.

            But for phones at least, back in the Ma Bell era, the deal was definitely that local phone service had to be provided cheaply and broadly, and the phone company could make its money on overpriced long distance service. Cross-subsidization, in other words.

            Internet service is now provided by companies that started out as either phone or cable TV providers, which I’m sure is all sorts of fun from a regulatory perspective.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Why don’t we just, you know, stop doing THAT?

            A great idea. How about we do that before we tear down the monopoly safeguards? Or at least at the same time

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Why don’t we just, you know, stop doing THAT?

            Local cable monopolies are already illegal, and have been so for around 20 years. (I think it was the Telecom Act on 1996 but my memory is hazy.) And the contracts were generally around 15 years or so, so, there are generally no legal cable monopolies any more.

            Now, there might be some others laws that entrench local monopolies, like requiring universal service for all comers: if you cover RichTown you also have to cover PoorTown, all at once. Those are harder to strike down because they have the populist gleam of “fairness” behind them.

          • pontifex says:

            So, there have been a few attempts to introduce some competition into local internet service. Probably the biggest one was Google Fiber, which was backed by the full might of the colossus of Mountain View. Google Fiber did succeed in wiring up a few cities, but it was consistently blocked by local governments and entrenched players. Google wasn’t even able to wire up anything remotely near their own headquarters. Eventually they killed the program (although they continue to maintain existing deployments, for now.)

            The other big attempts to introduce competition have been cities attempting to build municipal broadband. Predictably, the incumbents responded by lawyering up and deploying paid-off politicians.

            Local cable monopolies are already illegal, and have been so for around 20 years. (I think it was the Telecom Act on 1996 but my memory is hazy.

            Oh, interesting, I didn’t know that.

            Now, there might be some others laws that entrench local monopolies, like requiring universal service for all comers: if you cover RichTown you also have to cover PoorTown, all at once. Those are harder to strike down because they have the populist gleam of “fairness” behind them.

            Yeah, from what I understand, the local regulators have been completely captured. There are maybe a few tiny spots where competition hasn’t been completely crushed, but they’re working on it.

            But for phones at least, back in the Ma Bell era, the deal was definitely that local phone service had to be provided cheaply and broadly, and the phone company could make its money on overpriced long distance service. Cross-subsidization, in other words.

            Right. Americans hate “socialism” but they love cross-subsidization. Sweep those costs under the rug!

            Personally I think this would all work if local governments paid for their own local last-mile infrastructure, with their own local tax money. The UK has a model very like this, I believe.

          • Brad says:

            I would have thought the biggest one would have been (and continue to be) Verizon FIOS. And it’s been pretty successful AFAIK.

            That’s if you discount entirely what DF mentions elsewhere — high speed mobile. In order to do that, I think you need to define broadband as a moving target. It’s now exceeding any reasonable fixed one.

          • The Nybbler says:

            They stopped expanding FIOS in 2010. They’ve since added Boston, but little else.

          • Brad says:

            I just looked it up, it’s available to 10-15% of US households. That dwarfs Google Fiber and municipal broadband though dwarfed in turn by 4g mobile.

        • Brad says:

          Do you want to open a new cable company in Anytown, USA? With a few exceptions, you mostly can’t.

          When you treat those “few exceptions”, which aren’t actually that few, exactly the same as the rest you trash any incentive for new entrants into heretofore monopolized markets.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            When you treat those “few exceptions”, which aren’t actually that few, exactly the same as the rest you trash any incentive for new entrants into heretofore monopolized markets.

            Forgive me, I’m not confident I’m understanding what you’re saying here. Is it that making new players in the ISP market play by NN rules trashes their incentive to compete with Comcast/AT&T/etc?

          • Brad says:

            Yes. Stifling government regulation is the price for having a monopoly. If we make everyone in the market pay that price regardless of whether or not they have a monopoly then being a second entrant becomes that much less attractive and fighting off a second entrant becomes that much more valuable.

            If the NN rules didn’t apply to competitive markets then new entrants could try novel two-sided business models as a means of competing with the existing monopoly. And the existing monopoly, while still probably preferring to remain a monopoly, would not fight it as hard because at least they’d get out from under the NN rules when a competitor entered the market.

          • pontifex says:

            When you treat those “few exceptions”, which aren’t actually that few, exactly the same as the rest you trash any incentive for new entrants into heretofore monopolized markets.

            Brad, government intervention can actually make markets more efficient.
            Consider the famous “market for lemons.” If half the used cars for sale are good cars that are worth $5,000, and half are “lemons” that are worth nothing, the cars must be sold at an average price of $2,500, because there’s a 50% chance that they have no value to the buyer. But if the government makes the sellers disclose that the cars are lemons, the good cars could be sold for $5,000. The market becomes better at pricing things correctly, and meeting consumer demand.

            It frustrates me that people think that “the market” is something that magically happens when government doesn’t exist. In reality, markets are created by having a set of ground rules and a culture that allows them to exist. Without things like the enforcement of contracts or a financial system, there is no market.

            If the NN rules didn’t apply to competitive markets then new entrants could try novel two-sided business models as a means of competing with the existing monopoly. And the existing monopoly, while still probably preferring to remain a monopoly, would not fight it as hard because at least they’d get out from under the NN rules when a competitor entered the market.

            That scenario already kind of happened in the US. The highly regulated incumbent, AT&T, was sometimes outcompeted by the scrappy up-and-coming local cable company. Now AT&T is trying to argue that it shouldn’t have to do things like provide 911 service in rural areas, because Comcast doesn’t have to do that. (I’m oversimplifying a bit– there are other arguments being made, but this is certainly one of them.)

          • Brad says:

            @pontifex

            It frustrates me that people think that “the market” is something that magically happens when government doesn’t exist. In reality, markets are created by having a set of ground rules and a culture that allows them to exist. Without things like the enforcement of contracts or a financial system, there is no market.

            This reads to me as a non sequitur. I could see why it might frustrate you, but you haven’t mentioned anything that actually relates to the question at hand. This isn’t a market for lemons and no one is suggesting abolishing contracts or property rights.

            I acknowledge that government regulations can help create and maintain competitive markets. That doesn’t mean universal NN rules (i.e. including in competitive markets) are a good idea. If you want to make that argument you need to make that argument. Including dealing with the point I made elsewhere that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with two sided markets, and indeed that can unlock value.

            Now AT&T is trying to argue that it shouldn’t have to do things like provide 911 service in rural areas, because Comcast doesn’t have to do that. (I’m oversimplifying a bit– there are other arguments being made, but this is certainly one of them.)

            That seems like a reasonable enough argument to me.

            Again, it’s one thing to say that all regulation isn’t bad (I agree) but that doesn’t justify jumping to the opposite conclusion and claim that all regulation is good. With regard to universal service requirements, I think they very rarely make sense. In the specific case of telephony I’d be happy to see them repealed.

          • If half the used cars for sale are good cars that are worth $5,000, and half are “lemons” that are worth nothing, the cars must be sold at an average price of $2,500, because there’s a 50% chance that they have no value to the buyer.

            Probably not. If we assume that a creampuff (the opposite of a lemon) is of some value to the potential seller as well as the potential buyer, the equilibrium may be no cars being sold.

            If that isn’t obvious, assume that a used car is worth 60% as much to the seller, who knows whether it is a lemon, as to the buyer. If all cars go for $2,500 owners of creampuffs never sell, since the car is worth $3000 to them. Buyers, realizing that, conclude that if a car actually sells for that price it must be a lemon so only offer a lemon price–zero. I leave the equilibrium in more complicated cases as a problem for you to work out.

            If there is a reliable way of checking whether a car is a lemon or a creampuff, which there has to be for your regulatory proposal to work, then you don’t need the regulation. The owner of a creampuff promises in the sales contract that the car is a creampuff and agrees to give the price back if it isn’t, so he gets a creampuff price. Anyone who won’t make that promise is selling a lemon, and gets a lemon price.

            On your more general point about the virtues of government regulation, note that the major current example of adverse selection is the medical insurance market. Under the ACA (aka Obamacare) insurance companies are legally required to sell insurance at the same price to people who are healthy as to people who are sick, although the insurance is worth much more to the latter and costs the company much more for the latter. At that price, insurance is a good deal if you are sick, a bad deal if you are not, which pushes healthy people out of the market, driving up the price of insurance. The mandate was supposed to solve that problem, but the penalty was not large enough to do the job.

            Young people are much cheaper to insure than old people, but the ACA limits the insurance company to rates that differ by no more than a factor of three, which makes insurance a bad deal for the young, a good deal for the old. Similar effect.

            In the real world, it is government regulation that is producing adverse selection, aka the market for lemons, not eliminating it. The insurance companies have the information to tell them which customers are lemons but it is illegal for them to act on it.

          • Without things like the enforcement of contracts or a financial system, there is no market.

            You are assuming that neither of those exists without a government.

    • gbdub says:

      I know they aren’t really the same thing, but I do find it a bit odd that people are, on the one hand, increasingly demanding a la carte TV channels / services, while on the other hand, freaking out that ISPs (often cable companies) might be legally allowed to “unbundle” the Internet.

      • Matt M says:

        I think it’s a very relevant point.

        This image has been going viral, posted by supporters of NN. I find it hilarious because depending on how you read the Netflix and Facebook buckets, it basically shows the non-NN alternative below to be superior to the current state, given that the worst-case-scenario is that you pay the same amount and get the same thing, but it gives you the option to un-bundle and pay less, if you would so choose.

          • syrrim says:

            In the upper portion of the graphic, bundled internet appears for $54.99. In the lower, post–net neutrality world, internet service is divided into specific uses one can opt in or out of. The total price is $54.96. Khanna’s graphic even appears to depict an option where that price could be even lower, if you use only one streaming service or social media network.

            In a bundled internet scenario, this simply wouldn’t be the case. Bundling internet doesn’t make it cost less to the ISP*, so the amount of money they need to earn would need to stay constant. Therefore, for every person who paid less for internet, their would need to be somebody who paid more. In particular, those paying more would be subsidizing the cost for those paying less.

            *Except insofar as you use less of the internet in the unbundled scenario. At which point, under the current regime, you could get a cheaper plan already.

          • gbdub says:

            Bundling internet doesn’t make it cost less to the ISP*,

            Thanks for bringing that up, because it’s a key to why it’s not really the same thing that I was having a hard time articulating.

            With internet, you pay Netflix a subscription fee to give you access to content, and a fee to the ISP to deliver you fungible bytes.

            With cable, the cable company is more of a middleman – you pay them a monthly fee, and a portion of that is paid out to ESPN or whatever. So not giving you ESPN WOULD be a cheaper package from the cable company’s perspective, even if you watch the same amount of TV (just as your total internet bill will be lower if you replace your entire Netflix viewing time with free YouTube videos).

          • toastengineer says:

            Bundling internet doesn’t make it cost less to the ISP*

            *Except insofar as you use less of the internet in the unbundled scenario.

            Don’t forget that Netflix traffic is the vast majority of Internet traffic in the evening in the U.S.

            That’s what kicked all this off; providing service to Netflix was way more expensive than providing service to anyone else, so the ISPs asked them to pick up that cost and Netflix asked the government to help them refuse.

            I presume a large fraction of the people who use Netflix would not if they had to pay for the bandwidth it consumes. I know I wouldn’t even pay Netflix’s own bill if I wasn’t sharing an account with a few other people.

          • Matt M says:

            Right. If the ISPs had the technical and legal ability to engage in perfect price discrimination (i.e. you pay for what you use), the result would be that all the millennial cord-cutters would have to pay a hell of a lot more, and the e-mail grandmas would pay close to zero.

            Gee, remind me again which group are hugely overwhelmingly in favor of NN…

          • Gobbobobble says:

            @Matt M

            Culture-war-free, dude. Less of this ad hominem crap in regular threads though too, please.

          • JulieK says:

            the e-mail grandmas would pay close to zero.

            Depends if they’re savvy customers or not.

        • CatCube says:

          That’s supposed to be a pro-Net Neutrality graphic? Because the a la carte option sums to the same as the all-in-one package, assuming I haven’t forgotten how to add. So if you didn’t want all of those options, (and many people would forgo the “Gaming” slice) you could realize significant savings under the purported “No Net Neutrality” option.

          Overall, it’s a pretty powerful argument for the anti-Net Neutrality side.

          • Randy M says:

            Of course, only if the numbers are accurate. I’m not saying they aren’t, but given that the person pushing it around doesn’t understand the implications, I doubt they can accurately forecast the results.

          • CatCube says:

            @Randy M

            I doubt the numbers can be “accurate” in any meaningful way. After all, prices vary so much across so many locations that a single price number is more of an illustration than anything you could count on.

            But since they’re pulling numbers out of their fourth point of contact, you’d think they’d avoid pulling out numbers that make the other side look good.

          • Randy M says:

            Yup. It’s amusing because the ad is trying to illustrate his point and instead illustrates the opposite, but it isn’t actually evidence either way, to know which outcome is preferable we’d have to predict what the final suite of options would look like.

        • A1987dM says:

          the worst-case-scenario is that you pay the same amount and get the same thing

          There are also things other than video, e-mail, gaming and social media on the Internet, you know. I’d be pretty annoyed if I wasn’t allowed to, e.g., SSH to my university cluster so I can submit jobs from home.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I think in the case of TV channels, whether “all or nothing” beats “a la carte” depends on who you are, but “The cable company picks the bundles” is worse than either.

        • Matt M says:

          Disagree. Because the true “all” component would include all of the premium channels like HBO, and would end up costing like $500/month, and virtually nobody chooses this.

          Yes, most current cable company channel tiers are awful and designed to exploit you for all the money you’ve got. But it’s still better than being forced to pay for absolutely everything.

          • The Nybbler says:

            DirecTVs everything package (including those premium channels) appears to be under $200/month. People _do_ buy that, and I suspect prices would be different under an all-or-nothing regime (more expensive for most, but cheaper for the people who now buy the everything packages).

      • Gobbobobble says:

        TV is much more centrally provided, cable providers are in the business of pushing programming out to customers. The ISPs are in the business of connecting computers to each other – the uploader pays for bandwidth used to upload and the downloader pays for bandwidth used to download – it doesn’t make any more sense to “unbundle” Google from Facebook data than it does to “unbundle” the road connecting your house to the grocery store from the one connecting it to the hardware store. (Which, to be fair, is a compelling case if you live in Libertopia)

        [crappy metaphor redacted; gob needs coffee]

      • Reasoner says:

        That site is amazing*, why is it that I’ve only recently become informed about it? Also, why are people still debating politics on the internet, given that site’s existence?

        *possible that I only believe this because I first encountered it while stoned… awaiting confirmation from someone who did not first encounter it while stoned

    • HeelBearCub says:

      People seem to be making some fundamental mistakes here in the assumptions they are making about what net neutrality is.

      Net neutrality is about my freedom to use the bandwidth I pay for to get anything I want. Non net neutrality is the ability of the ISP to charge both me for my access, and **also charge** the content provider.

      The fundamental issue isn’t whether “large media corps will be discriminated against”. They will pay the freight. The issue is that a company like imgur, Netflix streaming, Sling, etc. may never gets off the ground because it isn’t enough for them to pay for their own bandwidth, they also have to pay for access to my bandwidth.

      • Standing in the Shadows says:

        I find myself agreeing with HeelBearCub, which is an odd place to be.

        Those bits are already paid for. I paid for them.

        And in the specific case of Netflix, Netflix even gives ISPs and ITPs a simple shared capital cost mechanism for reducing the cost of moving those bits. And Netflix generally doesn’t overeat the ITP capacity either, they rather famously automatically push as much as technologically possible into every CDN they can. If the ISP isn’t being a dickhead, Netflix costs *less* for them to deliver to your home than random web browsing.

        Pretty much every other major streaming source does the same shared capital cost peering, in similar ways.

        The other problem with anti-NN ISPs is that they want to start mucking around with and transparently screwing with the content of my data streams.

        What is really amusing is that Comcast, and the broadcast TV cartel, and the Hollywood cartel think that if they can get NN crushed, they can go back to the fabled glory days of profit on their gatekeeper and production roles.

        Not going to happen.

        No, what will happen if NN falls is that Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Steam and its peers, and Netflix will take the gloves off, and we will get to witness the power of their fully armed and operational content financing, production, and delivery pipelines a few years ahead of schedule.

      • Matt M says:

        The issue is that a company like imgur, Netflix streaming, Sling, etc. may never gets off the ground because it isn’t enough for them to pay for their own bandwidth, they also have to pay for access to my bandwidth.

        See, this leads me to why I think this issue ends up breaking pretty evenly among partisan lines. At the end of the day, your position on this is almost entirely dependent on how afraid you are of “monopolies.”

        If you believe that consumer sovereignty reigns supreme, that monopoly pricing isn’t really a thing, because consumers can simply opt-out entirely, etc. then you aren’t afraid of this.

        If you believe that we are all slaves to monopolists who can unilaterally set whatever price they want and us plebs have no choice but to suck it up and pay it, then this scares you a lot.

        Because the fact of the matter is this: People don’t want the product of “Internet but only the top 10 richest sites who have paid us to include them.” They want the product of “Internet including small/poor sites that are just getting off of the ground.” No company, not even a government-protected monopoly, can expect to either unilaterally raise its price and/or lower the quality of its product and expect sales to go unaffected. The thing stopping Comcast from limiting the Internet to only those companies willing to pay it a bunch of money to be “included” isn’t the FCC. It’s the fact that, monopoly or no, they still have to serve the needs of customers, or the customers will walk. And nobody actually wants that product. At least, not at current price points.

        • baconbacon says:

          I’m not sure about this. I think a lot of people would be happy with access to the 10 most visited sites, but I think the prices for that package would have to be higher, not lower. The guy who only wants Netflix and Youtube is using a ton more data than the guy who visits 30 small blogs and their mostly text based interface a day. ISPs want to charge youtube et all for access to their sites because they want to hide the costs from their customers as much as possible.

          • bean says:

            That’s kind of missing the point. Someone who doesn’t use much data now can buy a plan that gives him less data. The proper comparison for someone who uses Netflix, Youtube, and Facebook is someone who uses the same bandwidth, but mostly plays non-subscription video games with his friends.

          • baconbacon says:

            I don’t think either ISPs or content aggregators want people paying by data usage. If you take 10 strangers to a restaurant and tell them they are splitting the bill evenly more expensive food will get eaten than if everyone ordered separately. The restaurant would love this, as would the server who expects his tip to be a % of the bill. NN seems mostly to be a fight over monopoly rents between ISPs and the largest data using sites, nothing more.

          • gbdub says:

            I don’t think your analogy applies – at the expensive restaurant, the restaurant still gets paid by the bite, it’s just that you take more bites if you being frugal doesn’t save you money.

            The ISPs don’t (currently) get paid by the byte, so they are actually incentivized to make you want LESS data. Giving you more requires lots of expensive infrastructure upgrades. Getting new subscribers is more bang for the buck. Content creators might get paid by the view from advertisers though, so in those cases they are incentivized to give you “all you can eat” because you’re the product, not the customer.

        • albatross11 says:

          I’m concerned about the concentration of social/political power in the guise of deciding either:

          a. What sites I will/won’t be able to see.

          b. What sites/services will be throttled.

          In a lot of the US, the main providers of internet service are local monopolies or near-monopolies. We get our home internet from Comcast, which is a regulated[1] monopoly providing local cable services. Comcast has commercial interests which would benefit from suppressing some kinds of services (file sharing, Netflix/Hulu/Youtube). They may also have a political agenda which would support blocking some content, and if not, they will certainly be a nice easy target for people with a political agenda applying pressure to block some content. They likely would benefit commercially from blocking my use of a VPN so they could more efficiently track me to sell my information to advertisers.

          Up until now, we’ve had substantial freedom of innovation on the internet, including all kinds of useful and interesting sites and services that, probably, Comcast or Verizon or whomever would have preferred to kill in the crib. Perhaps they even had that power in the past, and just didn’t move fast enough to use it. I don’t want them to have that power in the future–I don’t think they’re trustworthy enough to have it, I know very well that their interests are not my interests, and I think they’re likely to succumb to social and political pressure, as well as acting on their own business interests, to make the internet less useful and less free for me to use.

          [1] For some value of regulated that involves massively captured and outgunned regulators.

          • Matt M says:

            They may also have a political agenda

            They may.

            You know who definitely is a monopoly with a political agenda?

            The government.

          • Comcast has commercial interests which would benefit from suppressing some kinds of services

            One problem with the argument being made here is that if Comcast is the only provider where you are, that’s a market outcome, not a fact of nature. Other ISP’s could provide service, and would have an obvious incentive to if Comcast was deliberately lowering the quality of the service they provided.

            I should add that unless you are in the middle of Nevada or one of a few other very low population density places, you have at least one provider other than Comcast–Verizon. Getting your internet connection via 4G isn’t a very good option if you are consuming large amounts of data, but if all you want is to access the sites Comcast hypothetically is suppressing and those are not streaming video or the equivalent, it works.

          • The Nybbler says:

            One problem with the argument being made here is that if Comcast is the only provider where you are, that’s a market outcome, not a fact of nature. Other ISP’s could provide service, and would have an obvious incentive to if Comcast was deliberately lowering the quality of the service they provided.

            Except they won’t be allowed to build by the local municipality, or by the contract Comcast has with the multi-unit building or development.

          • John Schilling says:

            Except they won’t be allowed to build by the local municipality, or by the contract Comcast has with the multi-unit building or development.

            Hughesnet is available pretty much everywhere, and doesn’t need any municipality’s permission. It is more expensive than landline broadband, particularly if your usage model is hours/day of streaming video, but if that’s your usage model you are part of the reason the internet can’t be both cheap and neutral.

            And there are economies of scale and technology which promise to make satellite internet cheaper in the future. Particularly if the demand increases because the Comcasts of the world actually are choking off content that lots of people actually want to pay for.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            You know who definitely is a monopoly with a political agenda?

            The government.

            Okay so now we’re just playing “My boogeyman can beat up your boogeyman”?

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            I thought the Nybbler was playing “That guy you want to call in to save us from the boogeyman is also a boogeyman.”

          • The Nybbler says:

            Satellite internet works for streaming video, but it’s terrible for anything interactive, and that _is_ a fact of nature, and not one technology is likely to fix. And people in multi-unit developments are still often out of luck (no ownership/control of the outside, or no southern view). It’s a substitute but an inferior one.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            Satellite internet works for streaming video, but it’s terrible for anything interactive, and that _is_ a fact of nature, and not one technology is likely to fix.

            200 km / c = 667us. Geosynchronous satellite internet is necessarily high latency, but LEO satellites absolutely can (in principle) deliver interactive internet. (SpaceX is openly claiming this is their plan, though at about 1100 km altitude according to Wikipedia–this is still a pretty reasonable 7ms ping.)

          • bean says:

            SpaceX is openly claiming this is their plan, though at about 1100 km altitude according to Wikipedia–this is still a pretty reasonable 7ms ping.

            1. Probably more than that, as I doubt they’ll be able to put the satellite directly overhead.
            2. This is SpaceX, who work on Mars Time. Multiply any calculated pings by 1.88 for best results.
            3. Did they say they were going to do it in Low Earth Orbit, or is it possible that they’re only planning to offer the service on Mars?
            4. LEO internet seems likely to have fairly serious issues with antennas. The nice thing about GEO is that you don’t have to track the satellite. The alternative seems like it’s going to involve really poor spectrum use, or really complicated systems. And it doesn’t solve the problem of needing to be looking in the right direction. Satphone data is really, really expensive. (I’ve looked into it before.)

          • albatross11 says:

            Matt M:

            Sure, and that’s why I also don’t want the government deciding what sites will be slowed down or blocked. However, having the government enforce a rule that says that internet carriers may not do that either seems pretty safe w.r.t. the government’s political agenda.

          • albatross11 says:

            DavidFriedman:

            Sure, we could get Verizon instead of Comcast. But if we end up with a dozen companies who together effectively get to decide what internet services may be offered, or worse, what sites may be seen on the internet, I think we’re very likely to see a lot less innovation and a lot less practical freedom in the future.

          • John Schilling says:

            But if we end up with a dozen companies who together effectively get to decide what internet services may be offered, or worse, what sites may be seen on the internet,

            That would be a huge improvement over the world we have in which one company may unilaterally decide what sites may be seen on the internet.
            I’m interested in this outcome, sure, but how does NN get us eleven new search engines with enough market share to matter?

          • Gobbobobble says:

            I’m interested in this outcome, sure, but how does NN get us eleven new search engines with enough market share to matter?

            How does taking it away make anything better? Despite the propaganda that in 2015 a power-grubbing FCC created net neutrality ex nihilo via the Title II reclassification, a common carrier environment is what the current crop of Internet companies were created in.

            Killing off common carrier regulations is just so much pulling up the ladder.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @John Schilling

            Everything The Nybbler said about “people in multi-unit developments” vis-a-vis satellite internet, plus add snow cover much of the year and the known issues with GEO satellites when you live in a polar region (low elevation angle meaning harder line-of-sight, more potential ground interference, Lambert’s cosine law, etc.).

          • @albatross11:

            I don’t see why, if there are eleven companies and blocking something requires all eleven to block it, you would expect things to get blocked. From the standpoint of a company selling access to the internet, the more things there are that people want to access, the better.

            Currently, there are three companies I can think of (UPS, FedEx, USPS–I’m probably missing one or two more) that have essentially all of the package delivery business. Are you worried that you won’t be able to buy products because they will get together and agree not to deliver them for some sinister reason of their own?

          • SamChevre says:

            @David Friedman
            Package delivery is a good analogy. I think that the problem Net Neutrality wants to solve is real, but the solutions are at this point worse than the problem. That problem is that if the only delivery service in my city were run by Sears, I would be unsurprised if buying from Amazon resulted in a lot of packages showing up late, or damaged. Similarly, if internet is provided by someone who also sells online video services, I wouldn’t be surprised if other online video services didn’t work very well.

            When there was only one long-distance package delivery service (US Mail) being banned from the mail didn’t make things impossible to get, but it definitely made it more difficult.

            And that’s still the case: have you bought cigarettes from an on-line vendor recently. (For non-US readers: you can’t, because it’s illegal to ship them.)

          • Matt M says:

            Similarly, if internet is provided by someone who also sells online video services, I wouldn’t be surprised if other online video services didn’t work very well.

            Comcast owns NBC. As far as I can tell, Comcast subscribers do not have any problems with FOX coming in at a lower picture quality, etc.

            Sears used to own Kenmore or whatever. But it’s not as if the salesmen wouldn’t sell you competing brands, wouldn’t provide customer service for them, etc.

            A lot of these worries are assumptions that hold “capitalism is evil” as its core baseline. Yes, it’s plausible that businesses might do something like this. But actual examples seem to be few and far between. Even in intensely competitive industries, there’s some level of cooperation. I can download the Google Play and Amazon Video apps on my iPhone and use them just as well, eliminating the need for me to buy an Apple TV. Why?

          • Gobbobobble says:

            @David Friedman

            FedEx and UPS have shipping as their core business. They don’t have product competitors to shut out. Comcast and Time Warner have internet as one wing and media services as another, so they have conflicts of interest that FedEx/UPS do not.

            USPS is a govt entity, the postman-of-last-resort that folks can turn to if FedEx and UPS (and whoever) get froggy and set up some sort of bullshit cartel (or just merge like telcos do). And we have repeatedly seen that the big telcos will fight tooth and nail to block govt-run ISPs-of-last-resort.

            Additionally, shipping services are not natural monopolies, at least nowhere near the scale of cable infrastructure. Any damn fool can buy a truck – all you need is to build some brand recognition and you’re set. And if the shipping business goes to pot you can take your truck elsewhere and do something else with it.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            @Matt M

            But actual examples seem to be few and far between.

            Well there was the time AT&T tried to block FaceTime

            Or when a Canadian ISP (yes, different laws, but same industry) blocked pro-union websites when its workers were trying to unionize.

            Or that time when a phone&internet company blocked VoIP traffic

            Even in intensely competitive industries, there’s some level of cooperation. I can download the Google Play and Amazon Video apps on my iPhone and use them just as well, eliminating the need for me to buy an Apple TV. Why?

            Maybe because they know you can trivially throw your iPhone in the trash and get an Android or an Amazon phone.

            A lot of these worries are assumptions that hold “capitalism is evil” as its core baseline.

            This is horseshit. It is “unregulated natural monopolies are dangerous”. Especially these ones in particular that have a long track record of not giving a shit about their customers and being the most hated companies in the country.

            Capitalism works when there is an actual market. Fix the problem of competition before you remove the safeguards. Fiber/copper infra is not the same thing as widget manufacturing, we can’t just switch over if the only local ISP goes off the rails once common carrier protections are yanked.

          • pontifex says:

            In related news, the telcos are now going to be allowed to walk away from copper lines in rural america, and leave people without 911 service (except for places cell phones cover).

          • Matt M says:

            Maybe because they know you can trivially throw your iPhone in the trash and get an Android or an Amazon phone.

            The costs of switching smartphones isn’t trivial. But fine, that’s why my first example was also literally Comcast. They also have local monopolies when it comes to TV. And yet, they haven’t decided “we will provide NBC in HD but all other networks in SD only” to be a viable business strategy.

          • bean says:

            In related news, the telcos are now going to be allowed to walk away from copper lines in rural america, and leave people without 911 service (except for places cell phones cover).

            I followed the link to the FCC NPRM, and discovered that the ‘functional test’ basically means that the telecos are required to support any device that was previously hanging on the copper. So if someone is still using a dial-up modem, they have to prove that it still works under their replacement. Or any other device that uses what can be thought of as ‘bugs’ in the existing POTS implementation. Yes, they do exist. Even though those bugs are not part of the current regulatory standard, and are likely to drive up the cost of the replacement significantly, they have to be supported.
            (I suspected that something like this was the case. But I’ve also had contact with government regulatory paperwork before.)

          • Gobbobobble says:

            But fine, that’s why my first example was also literally Comcast. They also have local monopolies when it comes to TV. And yet, they haven’t decided “we will provide NBC in HD but all other networks in SD only” to be a viable business strategy.

            Why is your one hypothetical a lynchpin and all the alternative examples of bad behavior provided are beneath acknowledgement? I’m sure there are some clever people at the telcos doing cost-benefit on these sort of things. Just because your armchair theory says Comcast shafting NBC would make money doesn’t mean the people with the relevant business information do.

            I don’t claim to have such information, either, but I can look at what they’ve actually done

          • The Nybbler says:

            Must-carry rules prevent Comcast from (legally) only carrying the local broadcast channels in SD.

            https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/47/76.62

          • SamChevre says:

            Matt M,

            Comcast may not interfere with Fox, but it’s worth remembering that the whole net neutrality argument became a big deal in 2008 because Comcast was using forged reset packets to disrupt connections via the Comcast ISP with specific internet sites–pretty much the equivalent of Sears dropping the Amazon boxes off the loading dock a few times before delivery. See here or here for overviews.

      • Brad says:

        Net neutrality is about my freedom to use the bandwidth I pay for to get anything I want. Non net neutrality is the ability of the ISP to charge both me for my access, and **also charge** the content provider.

        There’s nothing inherently illegitimate in a two sided market. I don’t know if it works this way, but if AirBnB charged hosts a fee to be listed and guests a fee to book a listing that wouldn’t be at all oppressive or unfair. It’s just another business model.

        The one and only thing that’s problematic here is that some parts of the country have an ISP monopoly. If the NN rules were written such that they only applied to monopolies — preferably on a fine grained intra-company level but if necessary on the basis of a monopoly anywhere is a monopoly everywhere — I could support them. But since they don’t make that distinction I oppose them.

        • gbdub says:

          I’m pretty sure AirBnB takes a cut of the booking fee. Not a host, so I don’t know how much exactly.

          But isn’t print advertising a classic two-sided market as you describe it? I pay the publisher to buy the magazine/newspaper, and the advertiser pays the paper to run the ad.

          Oddly enough, this generally doesn’t result in massive advertising censorship, or preventing readers from seeing the ads they want, because being an equal-opportunity seller of ad space is apparently the better business model. Although it does mean that Joe’s Knick Knack Shack in Podunk Wyoming can’t afford to run a Super Bowl ad.

          Another model is e.g. FedEx. FedEx is under no obligation to treat all freight equally, but in practice they generally do – you can pay for a higher shipping speed, but you can’t pay extra to get your 2-day package extra special priority over other 2-day packages. And they won’t turn you away as long as you’re shipping something safe and legal to ship.

          • Jiro says:

            Oddly enough, this generally doesn’t result in massive advertising censorship, or preventing readers from seeing the ads they want,

            There are no ads I want, so of course you can’t prevent me from seeing the ads I want. That’s like claiming that the market for measles virus hasn’t prevented me from getting the virus I want.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            There are no ads I want, so of course you can’t prevent me from seeing the ads I want.

            Exactly. Materials with ads come at a discount, not a premium.

            But isn’t print advertising a classic two-sided market as you describe it? I pay the publisher to buy the magazine/newspaper, and the advertiser pays the paper to run the ad.

            You aren’t paying for the ad. You pay for the magazine/newspaper’s actual content and suffer the ads in exchange for a lower purchase price

          • Brad says:

            @Gobbobobble

            You aren’t paying for the ad. You pay for the magazine/newspaper’s actual content and suffer the ads in exchange for a lower purchase price

            That’s the classic feature of a two sided market. It is cheaper to each of the two sides than the alternative to where they paid for everything.

            In other words a magazine with ads is cheaper to the reader than it would be without ads and a magazine with a subscription price is cheaper to advertise in than it would be if it were given away for free. It unlocks value that wouldn’t exist at all if two sided markets were banned.

        • gbdub says:

          In both the case of the magazine and the ISP-acting-as-gatekeeper, the content provider (Ads for the magazine, Netflix for the ISP) pays the distributor to put the content in front of the distributor’s subscribers. The distributor is getting revenue from both of the other parties.

          As you yourself note, a major advantage to the distributor in this case is that they can offer their product at a lower price, earning more subscribers, making them more valuable to other pay-for-play advertisers/content providers.

          Anyway, my point was really just to agree with Brad that two sided markets are not inherently illegitimate, and that such markets do already exist with no one thinking them super evil or anything.

          It’s a bit more complicated here because yeah, subscribers WANT Netflix and probably don’t want / are neutral about ads. So any bill you’d send to Netflix would have to reflect this bargain – you can extract some fees from Netflix but if you charge too much, they take their ball and go home and your own customers get ticked at you. As Brad notes, this really only becomes an issue where ISPs act as de facto monopolies.

          • Brad says:

            I wonder if it is because of the FCC’s non-mandate over questions of monopolization (vs the FTC) that lead to a non-optimal framing of the problem and possible solutions.

  6. Well... says:

    If I want to set up a will, is there a decent way to do that on the cheap?

    • greghb says:

      In other words you’re asking whether, if there’s a way then there’s a will?

      The converse has been known for some time, but I don’t know about this direction, sorry.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      Assuming you’re not trying to do anything fancy, absolutely. There are tons of sites online you can use to auto generate the obvious forms from questionnaires, and they work great. (It’s mostly on you, see previous OT for my position here, to read the damn instructions.) You will also need to find your own notary, most likely, but that’s not hard either.

      I used Rocket Lawyer because my employer pays the membership. I hear good things about Legal Zoom too.

      (Again from previous OT, I’m not a lawyer but I do date them.)

    • AlphaGamma says:

      I don’t know about where you are, but in the UK there are various schemes where solicitors (the sort of lawyer who does that sort of thing here) will draw up your will for free in exchange for a suggested amount left to one of a list of charities.

    • Etc says:

      As a lawyer, I can’t emphasize enough that this is something I would not recommend doing without an attorney. If what an attorney is asking seems expensive, DIY estate plans are likely to cost several times more on the back end in increased probate costs.

      • gbdub says:

        But as a lawyer, of course that’s what you’d want me to think 😉

        In seriousness, could you elaborate a bit on what those backend costs might be, and what circumstances would put someone into a position where a document with all the standard legal boilerplate that just says, “give everything to my wife, or if she’s dead, my kid”, would be dangerously insufficient?

      • Well... says:

        Does using something like Legalzoom count as “DIY” or did you really mean just drafting something myself and getting it notarized?

      • Brad says:

        As another lawyer I think we overstate this. Lawyers see all the cases that blow up and rarely see the cases that work out quietly and without problems.

        If you have kids from multiple marriages and a net worth north of $500,000 then, sure you shouldn’t be cheaping out on a lawyer. But if you are married with no kids, for example, even intestacy might well be good enough.

        • Deiseach says:

          I’d agree with Brad, about a decade ago back there was a local case where two bachelor brothers inherited the family farm and lived quietly together, then one of them died and the other one was extremely surprised to find a woman popping up out of the woodwork to claim her half of the estate as the daughter of the deceased. Surviving brother contested this on the basis that if his brother had had a girlfriend and kid, surely he would have known about it, and this woman was just an opportunist liar.

          Turns out deceased brother had a whole other life on the sly which nobody knew about and yep, it really was his kid, who under Irish law had a claim on her father’s estate. In case you have any surprises like that in store, better to get professional advice 🙂

      • Etc says:

        In my experience there are two common drawbacks to DIY wills (and this includes any pre-printed form, internet service like Legal-Zoom, or getting advice from AVVO; i.e. any time there’s a huge disclaimer that there is no actual attorney-client relationship):

        1. No matter how good any online service may theoretically be, it still won’t execute the will for you or verify that it’s been executed correctly. Adding to the confusion is that what is technically a valid will according to the letter of the law is often quite different than what courts actually require. In my home state of PA, for example, the law only requires that a will be in writing and be signed by the testator to be valid, and are presumed valid unless proven otherwise. So one could theoretically write his will on the wall of a men’s room and it would be admitted to probate. Realistically, unless it’s witnessed by two parties not named in the will and accompanied by a self-proving affidavit it’s going to cause problems. A self-proving affidavit is a notarized statement of the witnesses that the will is valid. It’s not strictly necessary, but admitting a will to probate without one will require the witnesses to appear in court to testify to the validity of a will, and if the witnesses are deceased or can’t be located (which is likely), someone familiar with the decedent’s signature will have to appear in court to testify to the validity of the will. This is the best case scenario. The worst case scenario is that defects in execution provide someone looking to challenge the will an easy argument and, although they may not win it, it can cost the estate dearly. I bring this up in particular because, at least as of a few years ago, Legal Zoom didn’t even include self-proving affidavits as part of their will package, although this may have changed since then.

        2. The more compelling reason, in my opinion, to get a lawyer to draft the will is that nearly all non-wealthy individuals have a tendency to think that since they aren’t fantastically rich then their estate plan will necessarily be simple. That’s not always true. There are any number of complicating factors that could radically change the approach that an attorney takes to an estate plan. Have a small business? That complicates things. A disabled child? That complicates things. Did you know that in PA, if the widow doesn’t like what she got in the will she has the option of taking a statutorily predetermined share? If you own real estate, will it pass through your will or will it be disposed of by some other legal mechanism? Depends on what the deed says. What about your retirement fund? Is it advantageous to set up a living trust? Here in PA the answer is almost always “no”, but they can be useful in other states. There are countless other examples, but these are all complicating factors that the people whom they affect often don’t even think of as complicating factors until their lawyer brings it up.

        My point isn’t that using one of these services will necessarily lead to problems, it’s that the risk that they will is significant enough that if you’re concerned enough about the disposition of your estate that you feel the need to have a will then it’s worth the extra money to make sure it’s done properly.

    • Eric Rall says:

      If you live in California, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, or Wisconsin, you can use your state’s statutory will form. These are simple fill-in-the-blanks forms with basic options for dividing up your estate, and they’re set up by the states to be valid as long as you follow instructions, properly sign the form and get witnesses to sign, and are of sound mind when you fill them out.

    • Aapje says:

      If I understand correctly, a major issue was that nations at the time were trying to figure out the best way to build battleships, but the long build times meant that they couldn’t iterate quickly. Also, they wanted/needed more battleships than optimal for a research program. So they often figured out that their designs were obsolete when they were still building.

      Furthermore, as you’ve argued in the past, obsolete battleships aren’t just a little worse, but often a lot worse. So there is a lot of incentive to change the design and/or retrofit, rather than build to the plans.

      Interestingly, these are actually very similar to the issues that have plagued programmers and have resulted in ‘agile’ methodologies. Fortunately for programmers, software is a lot easier to redesign/retrofit than steel.

      • bean says:

        Furthermore, as you’ve argued in the past, obsolete battleships aren’t just a little worse, but often a lot worse. So there is a lot of incentive to change the design and/or retrofit, rather than build to the plans.

        I think I know which conversation you’re referring to, and I’m not sure I’d put it that strongly now. In a sense, every battleship ever laid down was already obsolete, because there was a better one already on the drawing board. But that doesn’t mean it was useless when it got to sea, or even for many years thereafter, if it was properly maintained/refitted. Kirishima could have handled South Dakota very roughly at Guadalcanal if not for Washington‘s intervention.

        The other issue is that making changes to an existing design often results in a ship that’s at most only a little better, and has serious side effects. Many ships of the time were so badly overweight that their main belt was almost or entirely submerged, and at least in the Russian case it was largely because of design changes. Also, major changes slow the ship’s production down a lot. The Russian approach was basically making the ship a year more advanced at the cost of taking two more years to build.

        Interestingly, these are actually very similar to the issues that have plagued programmers and have resulted in ‘agile’ methodologies. Fortunately for programmers, software is a lot easier to redesign/retrofit than steel.

        I’m familiar with agile, but that’s an angle I’d never have thought of.

        • gbdub says:

          Many ships of the time were so badly overweight that their main belt was almost or entirely submerged, and at least in the Russian case it was largely because of design changes.

          Gives whole new meaning to the sunk cost fallacy.

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          Battleships ain’t the only real world application of Agile. There are a lot of people trying to figure out how to speed-age whiskey well (there are a lot of bad implementations of this: the trick is making it not just old-tasting, but actually good.)

          A number of people in the scene are highly opposed to this as a cost-cutting measure (no need for 12 years of rickhouse storage! Those greedy MBAs! It’ll never be as good!) I am not one of them. If we can get this working well at *all*, it will eat the whiskey world’s lunch measured purely in quality. Even if a one-month rapid aging costs as much as 12 years off Skye (it won’t, by a mile) and is only 80% as effective (who knows), it means your OODA loop is 144 times faster. The ability to actually test new ideas, blends, balances, and find out *now*, not in a decade, if the direction you went was good, will let good distillers do infinitely better than they currently do.

          • Aapje says:

            @Andrew

            Agile is about being flexible to change, not about being fast (although being flexible can be faster). So speed-aging food products is not an example of Agile. That’s more about cutting corners without impacting the end result too much.

            Anyway, it’s not just whiskey that is speed-aged. A majority of old Dutch ‘Gouda’ cheese is speed-ripened nowadays. The classic method is to rest the cheese wheel for 10-12 months. With a more aggressive starter culture, you get somewhat similar results in 8 months. The cheese will be less dried out and sweeter, but a lot of people like that. An example is Old Amsterdam cheese, which is sold in the US. That particular cheese is not cheap for old Gouda either, so it may even be a superior product in the eyes of the average consumer.

          • bean says:

            Battleships ain’t the only real world application of Agile.

            That’s stretching it a bit. Lessons learned during construction are a minority of the reason for design changes. Most common are improved technology, followed by changes in national priorities. It was common, particularly during the 1890s, for the designers to be 2 or 3 classes beyond what had actually seen enough service to give useful feedback. For battleships, not just destroyers. There were a couple of missteps, but overall, the resulting ships were still pretty good.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            Regarding whisky, certainly in the UK it must be aged for at least 3 years before it can legally be sold as whisky (even the cheapest).

            This recently resulted in a lot of other high-end spirits being produced by new companies who actually wanted to make whisky, but needed something to sell to keep afloat in that 3-year period so would take the same neutral spirits and turn it into, for example, gin.

          • gbdub says:

            Same problem here in the States, although with the added wrinkle that startup “craft” distilleries can buy generic bourbon and rye from one of several major distilleries and repackage it under their own label.

            Basically, don’t buy craft whiskey unless you are absolutely sure they make the stuff themselves (and if they’ve been around less than a few years they almost certainly don’t) – you can probably get the same stuff for half the price at the liquor store. Unless you really like the bottle I suppose.

            (EDIT: in the US, there is no minimum aging limit for “bourbon” or “whiskey”, but “straight bourbon” must be aged at least 2 years. So you could get younger craft whiskey but it won’t taste very good unless the distillers have mastered some rapid aging concepts)

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            In Washington State, they wised up to that dodge. To get a Washington license to produce distilled spirits, you have to use a majority of locally grown ingredients, and locally sourced water.

            So the newly created Washington spirits companies started immediately producing vodka and gin, while begging their customers to keep them afloat for enough years while the whisky was aging in the basement.

          • Deiseach says:

            I saw nominations for a local business award in the paper last week and one of them was as follows:

            Irish Whitetail Distillery has developed a revolutionary process of aging distilled spirits with fantastic taste. Making craft spirits an exciting and affordable drink for all occasions. The Whitetail Distillery system takes all the seasonal elements of nature to produce some of the finest aged spirits you will ever taste. The system enables the company to offer special seasonal flavoured spirits and traditional favourites without having to wait years for the completed product.

            They have a Facebook page and damn all information on what exactly their product or products are, and I wonder if this is some kind of “artificial whiskey/whatever flavouring slapped into a vodka-style spirit base” that they are pitching. If they have some amazing new system for making whiskey that doesn’t take X years to age, that would be revolutionary, but the dearth of information makes me wary.

          • Nornagest says:

            revolutionary process

            exciting and affordable

            special seasonal flavour

            I’d give 80% odds that it’s regular old flavored neutral grain spirit. 20% that they’re doing some jiggery-pokery with high-pressure infusion or something.

  7. CorporatePeon says:

    Long time lurker, resorting to the OT for a legal/ethical question because I don’t know where to turn.
    At my job, I saw an internal “job offer” (to transfer to a different team) which concluded by saying that, for the sake of diversity, they’d like to add people with specific backgrounds, e.g. not born in the United States (this is a US company).
    Is that kosher? I can’t shake the feeling that there’s something wrong about this. I mean, they don’t say it’s required, but obviously they do express a preference. I can’t imagine the company posting a job offer that said “we’d love to hire a white candidate”; it would run afoul of the Code of Conduct, not to mention the law.
    Perhaps the law does not apply to internal opportunities? But the CoC still does, and it calls on employees to do “everything they can” to foster an environment full of bias. Does that mean I am supposed to report this kind of thing? I think it would be pretty bad for my career…

    • Aapje says:

      As you say, it’s discrimination by nationality, based on vague supposed benefits that cannot actually be proven to exist. These supposed benefits are all based on prejudice, where it is assumed that native Americans don’t have these benefits and the foreign born do.

      Federal and most state law prohibit discrimination by national origin, so technically it seems that your company is breaking the law. However, the courts have made exceptions in the past for ‘diversity’ reasons, so it’s hardly a clear cut case. AFAIK, the courts have ruled that hard targets or full on bans are not allowed, but it is allowed to be biased by traits that one is born with, as long as the trait is a minority trait.

      Also, assuming you are in a ‘blue’ environment, then the discrimination you see is socially approved by majority blue culture.

      Your hunch that the official rules aren’t actually the rules, but have exceptions that clash with your morals, is probably correct. You are also probably correct that going against the dominant culture is professional suicide & probably doesn’t achieve anything. So I would suggest sabotaging this policy silently if you can, but keeping quiet.

      PS. If you are not happy about staying quiet, you may want to consult a lawyer before doing anything that may hurt you.

      PS2. I like your Freudian slip: “the CoC still does, and it calls on employees to do ‘everything they can’ to foster an environment full of bias.”

      • Well... says:

        I second this entire comment. I propose we now brainstorm safe/subtle ways CorporatePeon could sabotage the policy.

        It’s too bad it’s based on nationality and not race, because then I’d say apply for the job and claim to be whatever race they’re looking for. To actually deny your claim I believe they’d have to break the law by officially noticing your race. (Maybe someone who knows the relevant law better than I do can tell me if this is wrong.) I always check the “African American” box on my HR forms even though I’m white.

        • Matt M says:

          Post a flyer next to it that says “It’s Okay to be American” and wait for the oncoming hate-storm.

          • CatCube says:

            I agree with the sentiment, but the company would probably put in the effort to find out who posted that. If you’ve made your fuck-you money, that’d be a good way to go out, but if you continue to have to work for a living that’s probably not advisable.

          • Matt M says:

            Maybe even more simply, just highlight the phrase about preferring non-Americans, and stop there. Add no commentary. Just shine the spotlight on what they are doing so it’s plainly obvious for everyone to see.

        • Randy M says:

          That seems anti-subtle.

          • Well... says:

            True. But I think it’s safe.

          • Randy M says:

            Really? I think rather they’d see you as a trouble maker and over look your application, possibly with a lecture from your boss about the need to collect accurate statistics for EEOC audits, and no, you are never going to convince anyone you are transracial, so unless your birth certificate says “Zimbabwe” knock off the nonsense.

          • Well... says:

            I don’t think they could do any of that without breaking the law.*

            The worst that could happen, I think, is your application gets put in the circular file.

            *Possible exception if you’d made other contradictory statements to the company about your race, e.g. checking a different race on some HR forms at some point. But even then I could see it still being illegal for them to try to call you on it.

        • Glen Raphael says:

          @Well…:

          I always check the “African American” box on my HR forms even though I’m white.

          I’m definitely American and if you go back far enough I’m sure I have African ancestors (since everyone does) so…hmmm.

          Hey, if we got EVERYONE to check the “African American” box, would tech-heavy firms stop having a perceived “diversity problem”?

          • Well... says:

            I was born in Israel, which at least one notable figure (Ali Mazrui) has argued is part of Africa (because it’s on Africa’s continental plate or something), which would make me literally as African-American as, say, Elon Musk.

            But I’d check the box even if it said “black.”

          • Jiro says:

            “It asks me if I’m a Democrat. I believe in democracy, so I think I’ll check the Democrat box.”

            This is stupid, or rather, this is the “clever” kind of stupid where people think that if they obey a rule to some level of extreme literalness ignoring context, they’re really doing exactly what it says and obviously all those normies can’t do anything about it because they literally obeyed the exact words of the rule.

            The world doesn’t work like that. If it’s at all possible to catch and punish someone for falsely picking “African-American”, and they catch you, they can punish you. Claiming “oh, I literally obeyed the exact wording” will gain you exactly nothing and will not be taken as an excuse. It’s your responsibility as a human being to understand what the phrase “African-American” is trying to communicate regardless of what the literal words mean.

          • Matt M says:

            The world doesn’t work like that. If it’s at all possible to catch and punish someone for falsely picking “African-American”, and they catch you, they can punish you.

            The question is, how exactly do they “catch” you? Asking someone to prove their racial purity is uncomfortable for anyone, but especially uncomfortable for the SJ-inclined human resources types. It’s a ridiculously awkward conversation to have, such that most people will probably just take your word for it.

            But say they don’t. Say they politely ask, “Oh, that’s interesting, I didn’t know you have African heritage” and you claim that your grandfather was half South-African. What do they do? Demand to know if he was white South African or black South African? Ask you to submit your genealogy? Demand the results of a 23andme test?

            They may whisper around about how you’re unfairly gaming the system to hurt minorities which probably damages your reputation in the office, but I find it unlikely that they’d bother going to the lengths required to “officially” punish you.

            ETA: It gets even trickier with things like sexuality. “Prove you are African” is so awkward it probably won’t happen, but “prove you are gay” definitely won’t.

          • John Schilling says:

            The question is, how exactly do they “catch” you?

            Finding a facebook photo of your pretty white face and a copy of the birth certificate naming your German and Czech-descended parents is demonstrably enough to get you fired, if your employer cares about that sort of thing. And while race and ethnicity are protected classes for employment, dishonesty isn’t. If your employer says they fired you for lying, you have to prove by preponderance of evidence that you weren’t lying before you see a penny of damages. Insofar as civil trials can usually be decided by a 9-3 supermajority and most juries include either zero or one rationalist nerds, that’s not going to happen.

          • Glen Raphael says:

            @Jiro:

            The world doesn’t work like that. If it’s at all possible to catch and punish someone for falsely picking “African-American”, and they catch you, they can punish you.

            In what world is merely checking the wrong “race” box on a form something somebody would “catch and punish” you for?

            My practice when confronted with “mark your race” on a form is often to check “other” and write in “mongrel”. Or leave the question blank. Nobody has ever come back to me and complained about those options, so my hunch is that if I randomly or strategically picked a “wrong” race it would be similarly uneventful. Am I wrong about that?

            (Note: this seems to be veering dangerously close to CW territory)

          • Matt M says:

            Dolezal is a special case in that she was highly public about it, worked for an explicitly racial organization, eventually settled on the fairly weak “transracial” argument, etc.

            Elizabeth Warren is probably a better example in that she was caught red handed, stuck to her guns, hasn’t offered any real “proof” one way or another, and does not seem to have suffered at all from the aftermath.

          • Randy M says:

            In what world is merely checking the wrong “race” box on a form something somebody would “catch and punish” you for?

            The world in which there are spoils to be gained for being of a certain race.

          • John Schilling says:

            In what world is merely checking the wrong “race” box on a form something somebody would “catch and punish” you for?

            I don’t think we’re crossing into CW territory to note that,

            A: If you work for a US employer with more than 50 employees, your boss is on the hook for an annual report of the exact racial breakdown of his workforce and can get in trouble with the EEOC if it looks like someone has been fudging the data

            B: If your employer has significantly more than 50 employees, they’ve probably designated that task to an “HR suit” who knows full well the level of contempt in which they are held by the people who do “real work”.

            C: Your boss and his HR suit are human beings with the normal human response to being lied to and held in contempt by smart-asses who don’t take them seriously and don’t think they are even smart enough to notice.

          • Jiro says:

            This is mixing up two things:

            1) Is it okay (or even safe) to lie about your race on a form?

            2) Does it count as telling the truth if you answer the question in a way that looked at from a certain literal angle is true, but which you know very well was not intended?

            I was objecting to #2. Variations on #2 are incredibly persistent among Internet literalists, and things just don’t work that way. You’re expected to understand the question on the form, even if there is a way to read the literal words that doesn’t match that understanding. “I read the words and it literally says that” will not work as an excuse.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            I’ve always just checked “more than one race”. And I have the 23andme results, and the Ancestry.com entries to support it. Nobody has ever said anything, or has asked me to prove it.

        • David Speyer says:

          There is a game theoretic incentive for everyone to report their race accurately. If blue people are a protected minority, and your workplace reports statistics that they employ X% blue people, but only Y% < X% of their management is blue, then they are vulnerable to legal or social pressure. Thus, if you are blue, you should report that you are blue so your employer is incentivized to promote blue people. If you are green, you should report that you are green in order to reduce the incentive to promote blue people, even if green people are not a protected minority.

          In other words, Glen Raphael’s scheme is not going to work.

          • Incurian says:

            We should play prisoners dilemma together some time.

          • Well... says:

            If you are green, you should report that you are green in order to reduce the incentive to promote blue people, even if green people are not a protected minority.

            I was following up until you got to there. How does accurately reporting that you’re green reduce the incentive to promote blue people? If the issue is that not enough blue people are promoted to ease legal/social pressure, then wouldn’t you want more people to report as blue?

          • Aapje says:

            @David Speyer

            The people who get upset about the ratios don’t seem to care whether the management ratio reflects the worker ratio, they care whether each ratio is greater or equal than the ratio in society.

            So that means it’s always advantageous to pretend to be blue. It’s just even more advantageous for the management to do so.

          • Nornagest says:

            I was following up until you got to there. How does accurately reporting that you’re green reduce the incentive to promote blue people?

            That threw me, too. I think he’s saying that a worker identifying as Blue raises Blue representation for workers relative to the general population, but lowers it for workers relative to management, and that the latter makes Blues more likely to be promoted than Greens.

            I don’t think this actually works, though. It assumes that you aren’t in management, and it assumes you won’t get promoted by identifying as a Blue.

    • Deiseach says:

      My first thought was “No, they can’t discriminate against American-born applicants” but then they may be able to do so under diversity rules, especially if we’re talking about “Well I was born in Uttar Pradesh but when I was three my family moved to Los Cisco and I’ve lived here ever since and am a naturalised citizen” candidates. It’s a tricky one – I agree that making a complaint that “I was discriminated against for this job because I’m white/native-born” is likely to run into all kinds of problems, including accusations of racism and Nazism (and as we all know, it’s perfectly acceptable for employers to fire Nazis).

      • Nornagest says:

        Letter of the law is that national origin is a protected category, full stop, along with race, color, religion, and sex. That means they can’t give preference to an American candidate for being American; it also means they can’t give preference to an Indian or Chinese or Ugandan candidate for being Indian or Chinese or Ugandan.

        But as I’ve said before, it’s only illegal if you can successfully prosecute it, and bias is tricky enough to prove when you’ve got a minority victim and a sympathetic audience. It’s probably safe to presume that CorporatePeon has neither here, and many would say he’s got the spirit of the law working against him. An overt statement that only foreign-born candidates will be considered would probably be blatant enough that you could get it struck down, sympathetic audience or no, but this is just vague enough to leave wiggle room. You could argue that it’s just encouraging diverse candidates to apply, for example, and that’s totally legal.

        If he just wants a stink, he can probably get one. Actually winning a case is possible but quite unlikely in my estimation (though IANAL). But it’s definitely a career-limiting move.

        • Alphonse says:

          It’s important to note that the actual practice of the law provides quite a bit of leeway to discriminate in favor of preferred (minority) groups.

          As you mention, discrimination on the basis of race is ostensibly verboten, and yet preferential treatment for people marking the box for “African American” is quite safe behavior by any HR department (and not having such a “pro-diversity” program might actually create greater legal risk).

          Is the same true for persons born outside of the US? I’m sure an employment lawyer specializing in the area would know, but I don’t. My suspicion is that the company is probably fine in giving a preference as long as they don’t go overboard, such as making it a requirement (just as special consideration for blacks in “holistic admissions processes” is fine, whereas quotas or defined point increases are not — showing your work too clearly can look like the real trigger for legal liability).

    • Brad says:

      t my job, I saw an internal “job offer” (to transfer to a different team) which concluded by saying that, for the sake of diversity, they’d like to add people with specific backgrounds, e.g. not born in the United States (this is a US company).
      Is that kosher?

      There is certain language that is safe to use. Things like “we are an equal employment / affirmative action employer” or “diversity is one of our core values”. Something more specific, like what you seem to be suggesting, can be trouble legally speaking. If it is phrased something like “we especially welcome applications from X” then it is probably okay but getting close to the line. If it is something like “this position is reserved for a candidate not born in the United States” it is definitely over the line.

      To know for sure you’d need the exact language and an employment lawyer, preferably one that practices in your state.

    • shakeddown says:

      Could it be something relevant, like “we intend to market this product overseas and would like people with other countries’ cultural background for input”?

      • Aapje says:

        That would only be legitimate if the job had a specific requirement (for example, designing products for that market) and if the job posting asked for the specific quality they needed.

        I don’t see nationality as being a good way way to determine cultural background, because a person with American nationality can have lived in China for most of his life, while a person with Chinese nationality can have lived in the US for most of his life. A foreign-born and foreign-raised person can gain the American nationality and lose his birth nationality (for example, Dutch people who gain a different nationality automatically lose the Dutch one). Furthermore, one can imagine a native American to have studied Chinese culture.

        A place of birth doesn’t automatically confer a specific cultural background or specific cultural knowledge; nor does it automatically mean its absence.

        The mere fact that there is a correlation between a trait that people are born with and some quality is exactly what anti-discrimination laws require us to move past, if possible, so people are not ‘branded’ at birth. If we give up this principle, the only way to disagree with racism or sexism is on utilitarian grounds, which is weak, since utilitarian arguments can rarely be definitively proven to be correct.

        A person who doesn’t want to hire black people can point at crime figures or IQ test averages and claim that the percentage of good black applicants is too low; so based on costs/benefits, he should be allowed to not hire any black people. The very point of anti-discrimination law is to not allow this kind of defense in court.

        I have trouble coming up any good reason to ask for a certain nationality (or absence of a specific nationality), other than discrimination that is mandatory by law (like certain security clearances only being given to the native-born or the job of US president being constitutionally limited to a native-born).

        • Matt M says:

          I will say that this does occasionally work the other way when marketing is concerned at least. It was common unspoken knowledge at business school that foreign students will do fine in competing for finance or consulting or operations jobs, but really struggled in trying to land any marketing jobs. There’s a general sense of “someone not from here can’t understand our market” out there in that world. And they may be totally right.

          • Aapje says:

            Sure. Some traits that people are born with, like nationality, map very closely to some desired quality, like cultural knowledge. However, my point is that the West decided to build a strict Schelling fence into the law and for a good reason.

            In most cases, it’s pretty easy to not break this law. For example, it’s perfectly fine to ask for ‘market knowledge’ and then by default assuming that the foreign students will not have this knowledge, but being open to the possibility that they might have acquired it in some esoteric way.

  8. dodrian says:

    I work for a small company doing internal software development (websites and C# apps used by the company to collect data and speed up processes, etc). For personal reasons, I expect that I’ll want to move elsewhere within 6 months to one year, and almost definitely within two years.

    My job doesn’t offer much in the way of professional development, there’s no use of any new technologies or buzzwords that I hear reading tech news, and I’m concerned that this might hamper my search efforts in the future. I see that Udemy is offering a big cyber monday sale – would completing one of these courses be beneficial to a future job search? Should I be looking at any particular technology? If not Udemy, then is there another site I should look at?

    • johan_larson says:

      If you know your way around website development, you’re probably in good shape. And C# is a perfectly reasonable choice for server-side work.

      How are your JavaScript skills? Are you comfortable with any of the big buzzwordy frameworks, like React? If not, that would be a good thing to develop some skills in.

      • dodrian says:

        I’ve not really done C# server side (Desktop apps at the moment), but I suppose it’s not a difficult jump given the other things I know.

        React is a good suggestion – I know JS basics of course but have never used a framework. Thanks!

    • JulieK says:

      Udemy courses go on sale all the time- don’t worry about missing their deadline.

    • gph says:

      >My job doesn’t offer much in the way of professional development, there’s no use of any new technologies or buzzwords that I hear reading tech news

      You should probably only be worried about that if your career goal is to work at start-ups or somewhere trendy. If you’re bored of business software I can understand that, but if you’re thinking about making the transition for money purposes I’d say in the long run you are most likely going to earn more with a “boring” resume that has years of experience in the technologies that are actually used in enterprise systems. If you’ve got 5+ years of C# full stack development you’ll easily be making over six figures anywhere in the US, and you won’t be pressured to work insane hours and basically dedicate your life to the company the way you might at a start-up. To me, even though I’m getting bored of working on the same C# apps and website, it pays well and the company I work at is pretty chill with the whole work-life balance thing. Maybe when I’ve got enough money that it’s not longer a consideration in my employment I’ll look for something exciting, but honestly I think that whole scene seems more glamorous than it really is. Most likely you’ll be into it at first but after awhile you’ll feel the burn-out coming.

      Along those lines, you already know C# so you should probably leverage that and keep advancing along those lines. Probably learn ASP.NET Core and specifically MVC, which is a very straightforward web framework that makes the server-side portion very intuitive (at least to me). And for the front-end they bundle in bootstrap and other common JS frameworks which is essential to get experience in for the majority of Web development work. Of course you aren’t limited to using bootstrap, you can use whatever front-end framework suits your fancy, like Angular or whatever. Microsoft Virtual Academy has a decent video course on learning MVC, and there’s a lot of good books and documentation around.

      If you’re intent on going the trendy route, I don’t really have any experience to share but what I gather is Ruby on Rails was the hot thing a few years ago, but it’s tapered off a lot recently. Django has been a stable server-side framework for python, but I still can’t get behind using a scripting language to build the server-side framework.

      I’ve also been hearing about the MEAN stack a lot recently (MongoDB + Express.js + Angular + Node.js). In fact my companies marketing department is outsourcing some side project they wanted and the vendor is doing that on the MEAN stack. I’m sort of mad about that since we’ll have to maintain it, but really most my beef is with MongoDB and the overhyped NoSQL craze from a couple years back. IMO NoSQL has a fairly narrow use case, and in most cases unless you’re trying to super-scale an app it’s simply unnecessary. But whatever.

  9. johan_larson says:

    Are there any signs that an acronym is emerging for the big dogs of the computing industry (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft?)

    GAFAM or GAMAF look pretty good to me. We should probably stay away from the ones with the A’s next to each other and the ones that contain “FAG”.

  10. bean says:

    So far, I’ve pretty much been able to illustrate Naval Gazing with images that are either from Wikimedia (and thus presumably public domain/under fair use) or the US government (and thus definitely public domain). However, I’m writing a post on the specifics of armor layouts, and while diagrams from old Brassey’s Naval Annuals (public domain) sort of work, the ones in some of my books are better, both for clarity and because they’re all in the same style. Can I scan and use them wherever? Just one or two that make the point particularly clearly? Or not at all? I don’t know either the legal or ethical boundaries here.

    • Aapje says:

      You cannot legally use these images without permission.

      The ethical boundary is more complicated. Arguably, reproducing a few images and pointing your readers to the full book is more likely than not to increase the sales of that book. So the copyright owner might plausibly not be harmed and even be helped. But of course, the copyright owner might not feel that way.

      There is also a practical angle: how likely are you going to get an angry letter or sued. I would rate the risk as quite low.

      Your call…

    • Eltargrim says:

      Ethically, if you’re using a) the minimal amount required to b) demonstrate for educational purposes while c) providing full attribution, I’d say you’re in the clear.

      Legally, it gets complicated. Using a minimal amount of reproduction helps, as does using it for a noncommercial, educational purpose. However, there really isn’t a bright line test to say whether a given use is “fair use”.

      By the way, you’ll probably want to check the specifics of your Wikimedia images. For example, the image of the Novgorod (what a weird ship) is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. I would not say that your use is currently compliant, as you don’t provide attribution. I’ve never been clear as to what triggers the Share Alike provision; I’ve been lucky enough to bypass it, as Canadian Fair Dealing is more permissive than US Fair Use.

      • Jiro says:

        Generally, in order to use an image from a book under fair use you have to specifically need that image. Unless you’re reviewing the book, or writing a guide “how to recognize this author’s books by his images” or something like that, it probably isn’t going to be fair use.

    • zenmore says:

      My replies keep getting eaten up but I wouldn’t say offhand that it’s always illegal to re-use images in this fashion. Try consulting Columbia University’s fair use checklist if you’re in the US. Then you can use your judgement and discretion to decide if you should use it. A common theme of fair use if that you should try to use a lower quality reproduction. Stanford’s library also hosts a good section on US fair use precedents which you can consult.

    • bean says:

      Looking over the replies, I’m pretty sure this would be fair use. Non-profit/educational, not copying the heart, small amount, not impacting the market, etc. That said, I may just use his drawings as a basis for my own, which should be a bit clearer on the points I’m getting at. (I’m not particularly good at that sort of thing, but I should be able to get something useful out. It’s just more work than scanning.)

    • cassander says:

      Perhaps you could draw “sketches” based on diagrams from books? If you’re making a line drawing of a battleship’s armor, it pretty much only looks one way, but you can’t copyright data, just presentation, so as long as you made your own diagram, you’d probably be fine.

  11. rlms says:

    Interesting article (Nigerian government turn former Boko Haram leader’s house into a museum) from interesting news source.

    • Matt M says:

      I see links to BBC-Pidgin posted in a somewhat humorous context rather frequently, and I keep figuring it must be some kind of running gag. But no, it seems to be entirely serious.

      • Iain says:

        Background. Pidgin is a lingua franca spoken by tens of millions of people across West Africa. Presumably the BBC decided that they could reach more people by supplementing their English coverage.

        • Well... says:

          I had some roommates (one from Trinidad, one from Guyana) who spoke in pidgin. I had no idea the BBC did coverage in it. That’s like them doing coverage in ebonics. Amazing.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            What would be accomplished by not using pidgin?

          • Well... says:

            Journalism institutions are usually pretty protective of their language styles, partly for branding reasons but especially because using language with an affect of educatedness and even pseudo-academic-ness is a major part of what makes journalism journalism.

            It might be that I don’t really understand how it fits into its culture linguistically but I thought pidgin was a kind of slang/street dialect. The American analog being thick ebonics (or what a generation or two ago they’d have called “jive“).

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Maybe the BBC doesn’t have to worry all that much about maintaining prestige.

            Anyway, here’s what they have to say about offering a pidgin service.

            http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-40975399

          • rlms says:

            Pidgins (such as the lingua franca) are different from dialects like AAVE; they are fully-fledged languages with grammars that differ significantly from the languages they are based on. So they aren’t intrinsically low status in the same way as dialects can be: BBC pidgin can use typical journalistic vocabulary in a way that wouldn’t be possible for a dialect (since vocabulary is the main defining feature of a dialect).

    • Nornagest says:

      I think Iain’s post covers the why of this well enough, but is anyone else getting some linguistic interest out of this? It’s totally illegible if I try to read it as I would an English article, but I can follow it fairly well if I slow down and subvocalize.

      This might be the first time I’ve seen a pidgin in print, outside of dialogue in 19th and early 20th-century travelogues and adventure books (and I usually don’t trust those to represent them faithfully) and the occasional local ad in Hawaii. And this one looks grammatically further from Standard English than Hawaiian Pidgin is.

      • rlms says:

        There’s some information about the grammar of Nigerian pidgin here. Some key points:
        It doesn’t decline verbs. Instead, it uses “go” and “don” to indicate future and perfect tense (“go arrest” for “will arrest”, “don arrest” for “arrested”), and “fit” for “could”.
        “wey” means who/that/which. “dey” is a false friend; it means “to be”. “dem” is used for “they” (and “im” for “he”/”him”/”his”). “na” seems to mean “is” or “it is”. Prepositions are often omitted, and “for” has several additional meanings (“in”, “by” etc.). If you’re looking for the meaning of a specific word, this is is the best dictionary I’ve found.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        You might be interested to read a bit about Tok Pisin, the official language of Papua New Guinea, which is what you get when the process reaches its conclusion and results in a fully grammatical new language. In this case, the percentage of English-derived vocabulary is less than in Nigerian Pidgin, as far as I can tell, but it still looks recognisably like English mashed up and reconstituted according to different grammar rules.

        (Also, I’m on a work computer and don’t have the chance to pre-vet this, but I know I’ve read interesting stuff about the formation of creoles in a book by John McWhorter, the other American linguist with a fair chance of being better known for his political commentary than his academic studies, so I would guess that he probably has something interesting to say about it here).

        • Dog says:

          I’m going to be moving from the US to Papua New Guinea early next year, and I’ve started making efforts to learn Tok Pisin, though unfortunately there aren’t many resources available. It does contain a lot of English loan words, along with German words and words from the local languages (of which there are over 800, more than any other country). I think the grammar is mostly derived from English, with modifications.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        It’s totally illegible if I try to read it as I would an English article, but I can follow it fairly well if I slow down and subvocalize.

        Also, it makes more sense if you read it in Boss Nass’s voice.

  12. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Is anyone experimenting with Eliezer’s light up the house to prevent SAD? If so, how is it going?

  13. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I’ve hit the point where I’m expecting something special for OT100. Anyone else? No pressure, of course.

    • Aapje says:

      Special topic or topics? For instance, we could discuss the things that happened in 100 AD. So that means the topics are bricks, paper, the Gospel of John, the Kama sutra and Ptolemy. Bonus points for those who combine these in one comment.

      Special style? We all write our comments like Shakespeare?

      We turn on the singularity AI and then do our last wishes in the brief period until we are all turned into paperclips?

      We get an interview with some famous or semi-famous person.

      More ideas?

  14. Mark says:

    What’s the best way to boost wittiness levels?

    I’ve recently realised that all of my funnies revolve around the observation or creation of ridiculous situations, rather than saying anything particularly clever or intrinsically funny. Has anyone here had any luck with becoming wittier?

    • Jaskologist says:

      Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit.

    • baconbacon says:

      “Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit.” – Jaskologist

    • Randy M says:

      Say more, and then less.
      I’ve got a little module that runs constantly that takes apart conversation in search of any potential pun, reference, homophone, quote, entendre (preferably multiple), obviously intentional and euphonic malapropism, etc.
      Cultivate this, and go ahead and blurt out the results in situations where it won’t get you fired or socially shunned (around your kids is great if you can keep it PG-13).
      Then over time you should get quick enough to add a filter and remove the low quality stuff. Viola, wit, at an acceptable signal to noise ratio. After that is affecting the proper demeanor.

      • Well... says:

        When I read the OP question I was skeptical whether wittiness could be learned, but I think you’ve convinced me it can. That is an excellent answer.

      • Incurian says:

        If you are a dad you can omit the filter.

        • Well... says:

          Here are three types of men making jokes:

          1. Men who tell jokes that are funny
          2. Men who tell think they are funny but aren’t
          3. Men who tell jokes they know aren’t funny but can get you to laugh at them anyway

          Some of the men in all three categories are dads.

      • James says:

        This, but in addition to listening for puns and homophones, keep your ears peeled for other (non-punny) interpretations: over-literal interpretations, weird edge cases and corner cases, that sort of thing. Then respond in a way that brings out the absurdity of your interpretation. (I think this is probably too abstract to be useful, but I also can’t think of any examples right now.)

        You can also get a lot of mileage out of well-placed inversions. A couple of examples, transparently variations on a theme when placed next to each other, but they both got a laugh:

        Q: So are you an effective altruist?
        A: Actually, I tend to think of myself as more of an ineffective altruist, but sure, whatever.

        In a conversation about ethical nonmonogamy:

        That’s great, but personally I prefer unethical nonmonogamy.

        I definitely got that template from Groucho.

        • gbdub says:

          over-literal interpretations, weird edge cases and corner cases, that sort of thing. Then respond in a way that brings out the absurdity of your interpretation.

          I think an easy example is the top-cliche-to-be-funny-anymore “classic” dad joke:

          Child: “I’m hungry!”
          Dad: “Hi Hungry, I’m Dad!”

          • johan_larson says:

            One of the positives of having kids is that there is a time when they find puns absolutely hilarious.

            Still, kids are kind of expensive if all you want are targets for your pun-slinging.

        • Randy M says:

          The absurdity is important; without it (and hence a reason for the filter) is just coming off as an uncooperative jerk. Which runs into the problem that if one’s children pick up the habit, they may come off as smart-asses.

          The goal is to hit something literally possible, grammatically acceptable, and socially or rationally foolish.

          • Nick says:

            The goal is to hit something literally possible, grammatically acceptable, and socially or rationally foolish.

            As with any joke, timing and setup can make good wit into great wit. This actually works especially well when folks are expecting it; if someone seems to realize that there’s an unintended reading of what was said, lead them on with speech that’s deliberately ambiguous as to whether you do or don’t get the intended meaning—there’s a kind of tension or suspense before the illusion is broken. Sitcoms (I’m thinking of Frasier in particular) use this sort of thing all the time, where the audience is aware of what was meant but our poor hero is in the dark, and all the dialogue is made carefully ambiguous.

          • Randy M says:

            Yup, that’s the kind of thing that can pay off bigger the longer it goes on. The genius of it is when you find the perfect ambiguity between two interpretations, especially when one is extremely taboo or crass and the other is perfectly appropriate.
            A la Arrested Development “Look who’s ridding that hog behind us!”
            (which I just realized juxtaposes well with the previous season’s “Don’t be afraid to ride her–hard.”

    • Wrong Species says:

      Probably practicing in a low pressure environment. Trying out social skills among strangers gets you practice and if you blow it, it doesn’t matter.

    • James says:

      I think I got funnier by studying old episodes of You Bet Your Life, with Groucho Marx. (There’s a gigantic archive, maybe a torrent, on archive.org, but you can also watch clips on youtube.) It was ostensibly a quiz show, but the interesting bit was how he would just ad lib with each contestant about their life story for five or ten minutes. I got a bit fascinated by just how funny he was able to be off the cuff. I eventually concluded that it was down to:

      i) having a part of his brain constantly on the lookout for other (absurd) ways that things said could be interpreted (like the module Randy M mentions, above)
      ii) having a huge library of stock jokes that can be applied, and hooks for working them into conversations
      iii) an intrinsic, natural quickness (hey, it is Groucho, after all!)

      I think listening to them carefully made me funnier, though I could be wrong.

    • CatCube says:

      Not intentionally, but in the military there can be a lot of banter, and due to the boredom people who are quick-witted can be especially prized. I found that spending a lot of time around the quick-witted improved my wit somewhat. I’ve never thought of myself as funny or quick-witted–and by Army standards I’m not–but since moving to a civilian job I’ve had some positive comments about my wit. This surprised me, but it seems that over time I moved to the right half of the bell curve for general office personnel on verbal wit without really knowing it.

      TLDR; just like any other skill, spending a lot of time around people who are good at it will probably improve your own ability.

      Edit: I should emphasize, as I do to my coworkers who comment on it, most of my jokes are stolen and have the serial numbers filed off. It’s just a matter of finding places they work. That can get you pretty far.

  15. Matt M says:

    I’m not sure if they still lurk around here or not, but I just tried my first MealSquare and it was… not terrible?

    But also not great. The taste was fairly bland which is about as good as can be expected from something like this I think, but the texture bugged me a bit, it was like eating a really thick brownie with nuts or raisins or something in it. I’m not sure if I’ll become a regular consumer, probably not.

    Also I microwaved it for 20 seconds as the packaging suggested which seemed like too much, it basically liquefied all the chocolate which I don’t think was helpful. Maybe I’ll just try 10 on my next one.

    • moonfirestorm says:

      I’ve gone back and forth on microwaving MealSquares. It feels like it makes them a little less dry, but melting the chocolate is unpleasant and it feels like it does something weird to one of the ingredients: I was getting this acidic aftertaste that doesn’t feel pleasant at all. There was a slight dairy taste to it, so maybe something to do with the lactase enzyme they add in?

      I just went back to eating them (10 minutes ago, as it happens) and my plan this time is to stick to cold and just eat them more slowly: small bites seem to help to reduce the dryness problem, plus there’s something satisfying in slowly gnawing off tiny bits of it.

      I still remain convinced that the big improvement they could make would be distributing the chocolate chips evenly across the entire square: getting an entire chip is unnecessarily sweet, and after you get one you know you’re in for flavorless scone for the next few bites. Unfortunately I was told this isn’t viable with their current manufacturing setup.

      • dodrian says:

        I’ve not tried Mealsquares, so this is just speculation, but would heating it for about a minute in an oven/toaster oven improve things? It should heat the outside of the scone, but probably wouldn’t be long enough to melt any chocolate.

        (Of course if this is eating lunch at work you might not have access to either)

    • Matt M says:

      Update: A couple hours after eating as I was going to bed, I felt a little unpleasant. A bit gassy and bloated. Perhaps entirely unconnected, but perhaps not. Also my current eating habits are horrible, so it’s quite possible these things contain some valuable nutrient I’ve been going without that my body is wholly unaccustomed to consuming.

    • Well Armed Sheep says:

      MealSquares: Extremely Adequate.

  16. Mellow Irony says:

    A silly question to pop my commenting cherry…

    Occasionally in the Sequences, Eliezer uses the phrase “the one” to refer to a generic person. Examples:

    It happens every now and then, that the one encounters some of my transhumanist-side beliefs…. And the one rejects them. [1]

    The one comes to you and says: Long have I pondered the meaning of the word “Art”… [2]

    And lo, the one said: Science also depends on unjustified assumptions…. [3]

    I hadn’t heard that phrasing before—is it a reference to something? A language difference specific to a particular culture or geographic region? I’ve just been mentally translating it as “someone” (or, if I’m feeling less charitable, “some unenlightened derp”), but I’m curious whether there’s some deeper subtext I’m not getting.

    • James says:

      It seems a bit like some kind of pseudo-zen/koan affectation/archaism.

      I’ve never seen it anywhere else.

      • johan_larson says:

        I’ve never seen it before either. It does look rather odd.

        It would sounds less out of place if he were talking about two people, and referred to them as “the one” and “the other”.

      • Nick says:

        Yeah, pseudo zen koan speech is my best guess too. Seems especially apt guess for the second example Mellow Irony quotes.

        • Matt M says:

          Yeah, pseudo zen koan speech is my best guess too.

          This kind of annoys me. When you know a lot of your critics are going to call you some weird creepy cult, shouldn’t you go well out of your way to avoid nonsense like this?

          • Nick says:

            There’s a tradeoff here between being an engaging writer and sounding like a cult leader. Eliezer could have gone the Thomas-Aquinas-write-as-dryly-as-possible route, but that would have been less effective, wouldn’t it? There’s an argument to be made for not adding fuel to the fire, I suppose, but people were going to call him a cult leader no matter what, and a bit of transparently silly affected speech is pretty weak evidence.

          • gbdub says:

            I think eloquence and engagement are entirely orthogonal to sounding “culty”. There are plenty of writers who do one without the others.

      • Deiseach says:

        Eliezer could have gone the Thomas-Aquinas-write-as-dryly-as-possible route, but that would have been less effective, wouldn’t it?

        Come back to me in 700 years time when we know if “Yudkowsky” is as recognised a name then as “Aquinas” is now and we’ll decide what prose style works best 🙂

        • Nick says:

          Haha, fair enough. I’ve actually wondered about this—whether, that is, our modern writing relies too much on cultural and especially pop cultural references to stand the test of time as well as earlier writers. We can talk all day, of course, about the influence of Augustine on Aquinas’ Platonism or the ways in which Aquinas relied on Averroes’ explication of Aristotle or his debt to Avicenna for ideas like the act of existence, but at the end of the day we’re talking about a finite number of exegetical issues. When the shared cultural canon was smaller (Homer and Vergil, Plato and Aristotle, et al.) these issues were more tractable. With the Sequences, by contrast, how much contemporary science fiction and fantasy alone would you have to digest to grok everything?

          • quaelegit says:

            We still like the Aeneid even though a large part of it is transparently sucking up to Augustus. And Don Quixote although its referencing and parodying a whole genre that no one reads outside Literature classes (hmmm… actually is Don Quixote any more widely read than the stuff he was satirizing now?) The point is I think a certain amount of the really good stuff is liking to survive even if it’s heavily motivated by the culture of its time.

            Also remember that the “smaller shared cultural canon” seems smaller than it was because a lot has been lost.

          • Matt M says:

            And Don Quixote although its referencing and parodying a whole genre that no one reads outside Literature classes (hmmm… actually is Don Quixote any more widely read than the stuff he was satirizing now?)

            I forced myself to read Don Quixote and had this exact thought. Something like “This was probably great for contemporary readers who understood all of these references and parodies, and there’s a few parts of it that remain entertaining on their own merits, but overall this is mostly boring and I don’t get it.”

            Like, imagine showing Spaceballs to someone who hasn’t seen Star Wars. How much would they enjoy it?

          • Nick says:

            Both fair points, quaelegit.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      It’s possible that Eliezer wants people to think of themselves as having heroic importance.

    • Standing in the Shadows says:

      I will myself end up writing that way myself after an edit. I will write text about a generic someone, and either call them “you”, or “he”, or sometimes “she”, and then go back in an edit pass and strip the gender, or strip the “you” when I don’t want it to be too personal or too accusatory.

      English is missing a pronoun here, and “they” ain’t it. “One” sucks too, but is the closest.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        But “the one” is not it.

      • toastengineer says:

        I just use he and she and assume people are smart enough to work out when I’m talking about them. The protocol allocates space for the gender bit in even when the recipient doesn’t care about it and offers no provision for leaving it unset, so just stick some arbitrary value in there and quit worrying about it.

      • Mellow Irony says:

        I was wondering if it might be meant as a gender-neutral pronoun, since for example The Simple Truth starts with a reference to “someone” and then refers back to it with “the one”. But then Excluding the Supernatural has a passage that introduces a character with “the one” and later refers to this character as “they”, which seems more consistent with “the one” acting as a full noun phrase rather than a pronoun.

        “Someone…they” sounds perfectly natural to me, as long as we’re not in a room full of high school English teachers with red pens. I use it deliberately, as I do putting punctuation outside of quotes.

        • Viliam says:

          “The one” as a definite form of “someone” (or a less weird synonym for singular “they”) also seems quite reasonable to me. On the other hand, English is not my first language, so my intuitions here are probably not worth much.

          I wonder whether this could be an influence of German. Google Translate offers “einer” (masculine form of “one”) as the second-best translation for “someone” (the best one being “jemand”; other alternatives also include “irgend jemand” and “irgendeiner”). But maybe in this context, second-best is actually quite bad; I don’t know. I do not speak German fluently, so maybe this is all wrong. It’s just that for some reason “German” comes to my mind as a possible answer (possible link: Yiddish seems similar to German). So in the spirit of “correlation is not causation”, maybe Eliezer just shares a cultural background with some translators of koans.

          • Mellow Irony says:

            Right, I even looked for a “someone” I had missed the first time I saw it! It’s not idiomatic English as a definite form of “someone”, but I would immediately understand it if it were used that way. In the Sequences, though, it’s pretty clearly an indefinite or a generic.

            A calque from Hebrew or Yiddish would have been my first guess, but with 1 out of 10 SSC-ers having Jewish background (according to the 2017 survey), I would have expected at least one “Oh yeah, I say that” by now.

  17. Thegnskald says:

    Complaining about the Hilbert Hotel (math thing, ignore if you don’t want to talk about math nonsense), because it vaguely annoys me.

    You don’t need an infinite number of people to make the “fit an extra person by moving people around” trick work. You can do that with a finite number of rooms and people in the real world. Imagine the Horrible Hotel, with capacity of 300 rooms; a new person shows up when the hotel is fully booked. Move people up a room one at a time; the five minutes it takes to change rooms creates, over three hundred people, an extra room-night.

    In the Hilbert Hotel, the efficiency on extracting an extra room-night is actually worse; we move an infinite number of people. Even reducing the transfer time to 0 just leaves us with an undefined for the amount of time spent.

    • smocc says:

      That’s clever and I appreciate, but I want to say that the point of Hilbert’s Hotel has never been to show off the cleverness of the room-swapping algorithm. It’s to demonstrate size relations between different infinite sets. The most basic setup demonstrates how an infinite proper subset of an infinite set can have the same cardinality as the set (which is not true for finite sets).

      Also, I disagree about the inefficiency. The usual scheme is definitely more inefficient than your finite setup, but it’s not as infinitely inefficient as you claim. Every occupant moves a finite number of rooms. If you set the transfer time to zero then every person spends zero time moving and everybody ends up with a room.

    • Iain says:

      The Hilbert Hotel is an intuition pump for thinking about bijections between infinite sets. Talking about the transfer time is meaningless in that context.

      Your finite trick for dealing with one extra person just turns the hallway into an extra room and forces all the guests to time-share it. The trick doesn’t handle any of the classic extensions of the Hilbert Hotel, like an infinite number of new guests (the guest in room N moves to room 2N, leaving infinitely many odd-numbered rooms empty) or infinite buses each containing infinite guests (see here).

      • Thegnskald says:

        In a sense, the Hilbert Hotel example does the same thing; for nonzero transfer times, there is an infinite amount of room-time-vacancy created by the transfers. For zero transfer times, it is undefined. The same sort of logic applies to infinite new guests, as well.

        The point isn’t that the logic is flawed, it is that the example is. Once you treat the product of the hotel as room-time instead of rooms, the logic falls apart.

        Really it should be the Hilbert Graveyard.

        • smocc says:

          It was never the point to construct a practical algorithm for getting people into their rooms. To see this, just ask what the algorithm was for filling up the hotel to begin with.

          The only point of Hilbert’s Hotel was to get intuition for bijections between sets. You are allowed to consider practical algorithms for filling infinite hotels, but you are then addressing a separate question from Hilbert’s Hotel.

    • beleester says:

      If you want to get pedantic about the logistics of it all (and I will, since you started it), you can’t move people one at a time – the guy in Room 1 isn’t going to be able to move into Room 2 while room 2 is still occupied. So multiplying the change time by the number of rooms doesn’t make sense. The change times have to overlap enough that Room 2 becomes available before Guest 1 finishes carrying his bags down the hallway.

      It makes far more sense to move everyone over in parallel, especially if you have an infinite number of guests you need to move!

  18. johan_larson says:

    Your mission: make yourself as famous in 3000 CE as possible.
    Your means: one billion dollars.

    Personally, I’d use it to build a big useless stone structure out in the middle of nowhere, such as a pyramid. It worked for the Egyptians just fine. Make the blocks out of some particularly durable form of concrete, and stamp my name and life story on every face in Chinese, Arabic, English, Spanish, Hindi, and Russian. Make sure the blocks are big enough that moving them requires serious equipment.

    They’ll call it Larson’s Folly. Actually, for one billion dollars, I may be able to build several.

    • cassander says:

      Invent guns, conquer the world, give yourself all the best titles in history.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        I was thrown off by the ‘CE’ as well, but we’re talking about future fame, not time-travelly past fame.

        Although I don’t believe in a divine Jesus, and am not fully confident there was even a historical one, I still think that BC / AD are far better negative/positive year markers than BCE / CE. Someone once suggested that we could officially rename the ancient time period as ‘Backwards Chronology’ (since you count the years backwards), and the more recent period as ‘Advancing Dates’ and thus avoid the whole kerfuffle 🙂

        • cassander says:

          That is excellent backronyming.

        • quaelegit says:

          > am not fully confident there was even a historical one

          What evidence we have fits far more with the theory that there was a historical person than that there wasn’t. Mike Flynn has a fun blog post on the subject.

          >Someone once suggested that we could officially rename the ancient time period as ‘Backwards Chronology’ (since you count the years backwards), and the more recent period as ‘Advancing Dates’ and thus avoid the whole kerfuffle

          I like it!

        • sandoratthezoo says:

          BCE / CE is awful. Look, I’m not Christian, but let’s be super clear: you’re numbering your years from the theological birth of Christ (not even the actual birth of historical Jesus), not anything else. 28 AD was not the “Christian Era,” there weren’t even any Christians then.

          Like, just suck it up. The Christians won the calendar. Accurately describing the what year we’re counting from does not mean you have to believe in their faith, any more than (correctly) using 中国 means that you accept that China is the center of the world. It’s just what it’s called.

          • Urstoff says:

            CE stands for “Common Era”, not “Christian Era”, but it is a silly naming convention nonetheless. The numbers are still anchored around Christianity.

          • Anonymous says:

            there weren’t even any Christians then

            Hey, don’t forget the pre-release supporters! 😉

          • The Nybbler says:

            We should put 0 at the beginning of history, or near there. I’d suggest doing as the Romans do, and use years from the founding of the city. Not Rome, of course, but Uruk. This has the advantage of all of history being positive years. A few disadvantages as well, chief of which is probably that we don’t know exactly when Uruk was founded.

            We could also use years since the big bang, but the numbers get unwieldy, and the same problem with not knowing exactly when it was (in relation to now) applies.

          • Randy M says:

            @The Nybbler
            I take it you enjoy being out of doors when the temperature is a nice cool 290?

          • Anonymous says:

            @The Nybbler

            Let’s not.

          • Standing in the Shadows says:

            The Nybble’s proposal is already done, and everyone who does inter-calendar conversions already knows and uses it.

            It’s called “Julian Day Numbers”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_day

            The zero is right around the start of actual date-able history, and several well attested early historical solar and lunar eclipses have known Julian Day Numbers, so the values are locked and can be independently recalculated and confirmed by historians.

          • albatross11 says:

            Everyone knows the world started on Jan 1, 1970 at 00:00.

          • Matt M says:

            One of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes.

          • albatross11 says:

            The Nybbler:

            Charles Murray’s _Human Accomplishment_ used the convention that BC/BCE dates were written as negative numbers and AD/CE dates as positive numbers. This works fine, even though you’ll get an off-by-one error if you try to do arithmetic to find out how many years happened between -43 and +100.

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Randy M

            290 is a bit cool for me; absolute temperatures are fine but I draw the line at metric.

          • Randy M says:

            Is there a Fahrenheit equivalent to Kelvin?
            (edit: Should probably have been “Fahrenheit based Kelvin equivalent” but I’m just happy to have spelled Fahrenheit right.)

          • Brad says:

            Rankine. But no one uses it anymore.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            What evidence we have fits far more with the theory that there was a historical person than that there wasn’t

            Sure. As a layperson, I’d estimate Jesus at more likely to have existed than, say, Robin Hood or King Arthur, but less likely than Julius Caesar. But as a layperson I’m not going to argue about it here – my point was that even if this person’s historical existence is harder to verify, and his exact birth date harder to pin down, than some of his near-contemporaries, I’d still rather go with the initialisms that formed around him.

            What I would change if I could, though, is the American (and, apparently, Micronesian and Marshallese) habit of putting dates in the order of medium-sized-unit, smallest unit, largest unit. Either come over to most-of-the-rest-of-the-world’s system where day/month/year go in ascending order of size, or we can all go over to the international year/month/day where they go in descending order.

          • Everyone knows the world started on Jan 1, 1970 at 00:00.

            I remember it well.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Oh, and while I’m on this high horse, I’d also like to standardise us all on either the long scale or the short scale, since that was mentioned downthread, but don’t really care which one. The long count makes a bit more mathematical sense in that the bi-, tri-, quadr- etc prefixes actually match up with the exponent that you’d stick on your initial million (I think…?), but the short scale contains more useful names for numbers we’re likely to actually use in real life.

          • Aapje says:

            Also, dates. Is it:

            * 11-29-2017
            * 29-11-2017
            * 2017-11-29

            The last is best for computers, as it sorts/compares most easily. The middle makes sense because it goes from small to large (and presumably, the day is most often significant to people, then the month and then the year). The first one makes no sense to me and seems to only be used by the US, Malaysia, Nigeria, Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Somalia. Is that a list you feel proud of being a part of, US of A? 😛

          • James says:

            Aapje: the last has the advantage of making it clear which one you’re using. (The trouble with DD-MM-YYYY and MM-DD-YYYY is that it’s tricky to differentiate between them.) It’s also better for the same reason that it sorts best on computers: because the digits are consistently sorted from most significant to least all the way through.

            But DD-MM-YYYY is better than MM-DD-YYYY. Reasonable people can reasonably disagree about big-endian or little-endianness, but middle-endian? Come on.

          • Aapje says:

            @James

            You can only be sure whether it’s DD-MM-YYYY or MM-DD-YYYY when the day is greater than 12.

            Anyway, I’m pretty amazed that there haven’t been any major incidents due to this, unlike for unit conversions, which has caused the Mars Climate
            Orbiter to be lost and other accidents.

          • dodrian says:

            @Aapje

            I nearly lost some money because of a date format mix-up – when booking plane tickets to an American friend’s wedding after getting their Save the Date card.

            Thankfully I had the presence of mind to wonder why my friend would be getting married on December 9th in Wyoming, with only a few months notice.

            (When later planning my own cross cultural wedding I was sure to spell out the month name on all documents)

          • Matt M says:

            I work in management consulting and one of my clients claimed they once suffered fines in the millions of dollars from regulators in the EU due to documentation errors that ultimately sourced back to “confusion of dates between American and European formats” as the root cause.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Okay, you know what? Can we also standardise the diameter and pitch of the screw threads that join the various components of microphone stands? Almost everyone makes the insert parts in a wide-pitch, narrow-diameter size, and the socket parts in a narrow-pitch, wide diameter size, and sells them with annoying little adaptor widgets, which is a problem that could be solved so much more easily than converting a whole large culture to a new date-writing system.

            I’m actually less surprised by the fact that this problem exists than by the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any active movement set up to solve it. My need to use microphones is tiny compared to a professional recording or concert sound engineer, and so I can only assume that there are many people far more pissed off than me about it.

          • John Schilling says:

            Everyone knows the world started on Jan 1, 1970 at 00:00.

            That’s when Neil Armstrong first walked on the Moon, right?

          • James says:

            @John Schilling: yeah, but which time zone was that in, again?

      • John Schilling says:

        Invent guns, conquer the world, give yourself all the best titles in history.

        s/guns/AI killbots/ and you may be onto something. Or, more benevolently, there are probably a number of useful emerging technologies that might be developed a bit quicker with a billion-dollar cash infusion. Pick one that will enable some great social or political change or otherwise transform the world, find the people who are currently struggling to bring it to fruition, and offer to solve all their funding problems if they let you put your name on the finished product.

        Extra bonus points if the technology is human life extension, because then you get to actually enjoy your fame a thousand years down the road. But beware the snake oil competing for your gigabuck if you take that path.

        • johan_larson says:

          A mere billion dollar might pay for the development of one new drug. Maybe.

          I think you’re going to need a lot more if you’re trying for significant life extension.

          • John Schilling says:

            I agree that life extension for a gigabuck is a stretch, hence the “bonus points” solution rather than the “why doesn’t everybody do this” solution. But:

            1. A gigabuck is about the cost for a successful new drug, including all the money wasted on all the candidates you had to abandon along the way. So if you were to pick some disease that wasn’t unusually difficult to cure but didn’t already have many gigabucks in funding, the odds are pretty good you could get your name in the history books as “The Man who Cured the [X] Plague”. For obscure doesn’t-already-have-gigabucks-of-funding values of X, which somewhat limits the fame potential.

            2. About 80% of that gigabuck, as I understand it, goes to the Phase III clinical trials needed for permission to sell a drug to the general public. So if you think you could cure aging for five billion dollars doing it by the book, you could cut out phase III and just use the stuff on yourself. “First Immortal: The guy who had the balls to live forever while the rest of y’all’s grandparents were content to die waiting for FDA approval” ought to be good for a fair measure of fame. But if you’re skipping Phase III, you’ll need substantial medical expertise to avoid all the snake oil that can manage to slip through Phase II.

            3. Maybe even five billion wouldn’t be enough, but how can that be when every SF story says that a single clever drug is all it takes? Granted, sometimes that drug requires the life essence of innocent sapient beings to make, but that ought to make you extra famous if you pull it off. Though at that point a horde of loyal AI killbots at your side might look attractive as well.

          • johan_larson says:

            I bet you could run a definitive study for a billion dollars to determine whether calorie restriction increases longevity in humans. Tests in animals have been very positive, but it’s hard to study in humans because we live so long.

    • Randy M says:

      I’m not sure how many nowheres there will be to be in the middle of in 900 years.

    • Matt M says:

      I feel like this is a conservative way of guaranteeing minor fame, but also guaranteeing you lack major fame. Yeah, you’d definitely be a footnote, but probably a fairly minor one that people read about on Cracked’s “5 weird monuments you’ve never heard of” article.

      Honestly, it’s a bit morbid and I wouldn’t personally do it, but planning and financing and carrying out some spectacularly large act of violent terrorism might be your best bet. Or even better, staging something but setting it up such that you’re the hero who stops it?

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        staging something but setting it up such that you’re the hero who stops it

        Wasn’t that the plot of The Incredibles?

        As far as evil goes, I’m not sure you can do it on a billion. I mean, are you going to be significantly more evil than Kim Jong-Un? He’s got a whole terror state with mass murder, starvation, amputations, forced abortions, and waving nuclear missiles in everyone’s face, and I doubt he’ll be anything more than a Final Jeopardy clue in 100 years, much less a thousand. Unless he actually does start nuking people.

        So I guess that’s your answer: start dropping nukes.

        And that’s not even guaranteed, because what if limited nuclear warfare becomes common in the future? What if every 50 years or so somebody nukes somebody? Then you’re not “Johan Larson, Nuclear Mad Man” but just “one of a few dozen a-holes who’ve nuked people.”

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          As far as evil goes, I’m not sure you can do it on a billion. I mean, are you going to be significantly more evil than Kim Jong-Un?

          I am quite convinced the answer is yes. Kim Jong-Un, as John Schilling likes to point out, is mostly trying to maintain power (he really doesn’t want to use his nukes.) The mass starvation and executions, well, yeah, you aren’t going to beat that, but you could try other methods.

          This is the part of the comment where I don’t really want to give my true opinions here, because, you know, info hazard, but I’m quite convinced a motivated smart person with even a few million dollars could kill quite a few more than most sprees manage; it just wouldn’t be emotionally satisfying in the way running around with guns is. This is one of the scarier things involved in technological progress: the average person has access to more energy and matter than any before.

          (Part of me wonders if gun access is actually a net positive for society: they provide an easily reached, emotionally cathartic way for someone to wreak havoc that, by objective measures, has reasonably small QALY impact. Which means that anyone unstable can’t wait for longer-running but more dangerous ways to hurt those around them.)

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m visualizing some kind of nefarious plot involving social media ads that convince everyone to take up smoking again….

    • The Nybbler says:

      Well, who are the most famous people from ~1000CE? William the Conquerer immediately comes to mind, but that’s about it. Looking further back, there’s various rulers; Charlemagne, Constantine, Justinian, Alexander, Cleopatra, and of course Julius Caesar. Even the ones with the stone blocks were rulers. Even the one famous for being rich — Croesus — was a ruler.

      So there’s no help for it. If you want to be really famous, you’re going to have to try to take over the world.

      • johan_larson says:

        Sigh. Again?

      • beleester says:

        The ones with stone blocks were rulers, but at the time, only rulers could get enough people and stone blocks together to build something awesome. I don’t think that’s still true today.

        • gbdub says:

          Sure, but that just means the bar for something truly awesome is higher. Like the modern pyramid is a skyscraper, and there are hundreds of those. Who remembers the architect of the building formerly known as the Sears Tower?

          Which is another problem – unless you’re a ruler or already famous there’s a serious chance that whatever edifice you build will either get knocked down to make space or renamed before it makes you immortal.

      • Newton. Ptolemy. Euclid. Aristotle. Homer. Archimedes. …

        • The Nybbler says:

          I mean, sure. Also Sophocles, Aristophanes, Euripides, Virgil, Thales, Diogenes, Socrates, etc. But those don’t get me a “Pinky and the Brain” reference.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Plus, those guys got famous due to being literary and/or philosophical geniuses, and whilst a billion dollars can get you many things, I don’t think it can make you as smart as them.

          • johan_larson says:

            I suppose you could try being a patron of the arts and sciences, sort of a modern-day Medici. That could work. A billion dollars is a lot of art and science. You could pay ample advances for 10,000 books for that money. It seems reasonable to assume some of them would be big hits. But you don’t just need hits, you need hits that resonate for a thousand years.

          • Protagoras says:

            Yeah, you can do a little better even than being a patron; you can pay people to be a co-author. Paul Oppenheim is somewhat known in philosophy of science, largely because of paying people to “co-author” papers with him (write them for him). Most famously “The Unity of Science as a Working Hypothesis,” the paper Hilary Putnam wrote for him (which helped give Putnam a reputation for changing his mind, since in that paper he argued for positions considerably different from those he later advocated). But hard to know who’s good enough that they’ll be able to produce something that will still be famous in a thousand years.

          • Plus, those guys got famous due to being literary and/or philosophical geniuses

            And Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, … got famous largely due to being political and/or military geniuses.

      • Montfort says:

        William I, sure, but also Anselm, King Cnut, El Cid, Erik the Red and Leif Erikson, Abelard, Avicenna. William I has a bonus for being a name British schoolchildren memorize, but Anselm has the whole catholic church, Avicenna has doctors, etc.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Build a super-powered laser and use it to write your name on the moon.

      • Protagoras says:

        But for this one there’s the risk that a giant blue superhero will stop you when you’re less than halfway done.

      • Gobbobobble says:

        Or throw enough money at SpaceX et al to give you a rocket to be the first person to die on Luna or Mars – can use the money you don’t need to spend on brakes to fund broadcasting of your “expedition”!

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      I’m fairly sure that you want granite blocks or something similar, not concrete.

      A route that might be possible is see if you can become dictator of some small country where a billion dollars goes a long way (bribery/assassination/etc), then relentlessly start regional wars in an attempt to drag major powers into a boondoggle of some kind, or even something that escalates into a world war. This does not strike me as a way to have your fame be positive in 1,000 years, nor to have a happy life, but we remember major actors in a fairly large number of more-than-1,000-year-old wars.

      You might also try to become a major player in private space and hope that this will eventually mean that you’re thought of as one of the founders of the off-world diaspora in 1,000 years, with towns on Mars named after you, for example. This would be a lot more plausible with $10B-$20B than with $1B, and there are serious questions about whether an off-world diaspora is really possible, but it strikes me as a not-impossible way to have significantly more fame than monument guy or war guy, and more positive fame.

    • gbdub says:

      How big of a nuke would you need to put a visible crater on the moon? Could you buy one from a minor nuclear power for $1 billion less the cost of a Falcon 9 on an LTI trajectory?

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        Nope.

        (Slightly more verbosely: No nuke is big enough to create a visible crater on the moon; you couldn’t buy one for $1B if it was; big thermonuclear weapons are heavy and I don’t think that you could deliver one to the moon with a Falcon 9; obviously nobody would actually accept that payload.)

        ((But the basic reason is that the craters you could create are definitely way too small to be seen on the moon. Like maybe you could create one that is 10km in diameter if let’s say you had a gigantic thermonuclear weapon that was well-optimized to creating craters. That’s too small to see from near-Earth orbit, much less the moon.))

        • AlphaGamma says:

          What if we thought in terms of spreading some kind of either reflective or black material on the Moon? Could you alter the albedo of a large enough area of surface sufficiently to make it visible?

          Orbiting mirrors to focus the Sun to melt the regolith and write your name on the Moon probably come well outside the billion-dollar budget.

          And now I’m thinking of the old joke about the Russians painting the Moon red…

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      Personally, I’d use it to build a big useless stone structure out in the middle of nowhere, such as a pyramid. It worked for the Egyptians just fine. Make the blocks out of some particularly durable form of concrete, and stamp my name and life story on every face in Chinese, Arabic, English, Spanish, Hindi, and Russian.

      Is this a joke?

      I met a traveler in an antique land
      who said:Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
      stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
      half sunk, a shattered visage lies whose frown,
      and wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command,
      Tells that its sculptor well those passions read
      which yet survive, tamped on these lifeless things;
      the hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.

      And on the pedestal these words appear:
      My name is OZYMANDIAS, King of Kings.
      Look on my works, ye mighty and despair!
      Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
      of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
      The lone and level sands stretch far away.

      I suppose Ozymandias is famous enough that we sort of remember his name, but given that it’s as a metaphor for impermanence this is maybe not the model you want.

      • Protagoras says:

        Ozymandius is a Greek name for Ramesses II, aka Ramesses the Great, who is more than “sort of” remembered among people who take any interest in ancient history at all. As a result, the poem always puzzled me a bit.

        • Deiseach says:

          Protagoras, you have to remember what time Shelley was writing. He wrote this poem in 1818; Egyptology in the modern sense had only kicked off big-time as far as European scholars were concerned with Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt (and the French scientists and others who accompanied his expedition or followed in his wake). Their findings were only being published during the period Shelley was writing, so now we know all about Rameses the Great, but at that time he was writing poetry based on cutting-edge modern rediscovery of “hey guys, ever heard of Ozymandias!”

    • Anonymous says:

      1. Invest the billion in a variety of ways, in order to accrue constant cashflow of considerable size. 5% per annum after taxes and expenses is probably reasonably possible, so that’s 50 million per year of profits.
      2. Start funding public buildings, with the provision that they be named after me, preferably in high-durability geo-regimes, such as the UK and Japan.
      3. Will everything to a multi-national foundation that will continue the mission after I’m dead (and pay a nice stipend to my descendants, based on the number of legitimate offspring they have).

      I think I can reasonably expect to have approximately Rockefeller level of fame by 3000 AD.

    • The original Mr. X says:

      Bribe the Cardinals to make me Pope. Do something noteworthy, like declare a crusade against somewhere, totally rebuilt St. Peter’s, buy back Latium from the Italian government and re-establish the Papal States, etc.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Or actually, calling an Ecumenical Council and anathematising a load of people could work, since those sorts of things tend to get remembered. Depending on how far I want to go, I could even dig up my predecessor and put him on trial for something.

      • rlms says:

        I’m pretty sure you couldn’t bribe your way into the papacy with only $1 billion (unless you specifically have a considerably higher position in the Church than the average SSC reader), but now I’m wondering how much money and time it would take.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Let’s see… You need a 2/3 majority to get elected Pope, and according to Wiki, there were 115 Cardinals taking part in the last Conclave, so let’s say I’d need to win over 78 Cardinals to get elected. This means that I’d have either 12.8 million (short count) or 12,800 million (long count) to bribe each Cardinal with. I’m not sure how venal the average Cardinal is, but that’s quite a lot of bribery money.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I would assume that the Papacy is only open to Catholics, probably only open to priests (and monks?). It would just be too implausible for even the largest bribes to get me elected. Those Cardinals would have a great deal to explain.

            Of course, if I could pull it off, I’d get a certain amount of fame for it, but not the world-shaking stuff.

            Controlling a Pope through bribery seems more feasible, but not a practical way of getting famous.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            I don’t think they mind converts. The gender operation seems like a bigger hurdle.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            @Nancy- Why am I reminded of a particular scene in the Wheel of Time. “The Amyrlin Seat, as Aes Sedai…”

            Explanation: The Aes Sedai are a quasi-religious order of female magic-users and probably the largest political power in the setting at the start of the series, as they have an effective monopoly on magic (they try to bring all female magic-users of any appreciable power into the order, and neutralise or kill male magic-users as the latter inevitably go mad) and also rule a small but very wealthy city-state. The Amyrlin Seat is their elected leader- so, essentially, Pope.

            Ng bar cbvag va gur obbxf, n ivrjcbvag punenpgre jub vf abg lrg n shyy zrzore bs gur Nrf Frqnv beqre (fur vf Npprcgrq, n fbeg bs fravbe abivpr) raqf hc orvat ryrpgrq Nzleyva. Crbcyr qrpvqr gung fur vf gurersber abj n shyy zrzore bs gur beqre, orpnhfr gur beqre’f ehyrf ersre gb gur Nzleyva nf bar.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Nancy, the requirement for “pope” is “must be able to be ordained a bishop.” So, any male Catholic. You do not need to already be a Bishop, priest or cardinal.

            From Wikipedia:

            Since the pope is Bishop of Rome, only those who can be ordained a bishop can be elected, which means that any male baptized Catholic is eligible. The last to be elected when not yet a bishop was Pope Gregory XVI in 1831, and the last to be elected when not even a priest was Pope Leo X in 1513, and the last to be elected when not a cardinal was Pope Urban VI in 1378. If someone who is not a bishop is elected, he must be given episcopal ordination before the election is announced to the people.

            Always nice to know that, as a male Catholic, if the whole electrical engineering thing doesn’t work out for me I could maybe fall back on “pope.”

          • Nornagest says:

            Why am I reminded of a particular scene in the Wheel of Time. “The Amyrlin Seat, as Aes Sedai…”

            I got the strong impression, reading those books, that Jordan substantially based his White Tower on the Vatican — both in terms of its history and politics, and in terms of the actual plot. Certainly there’s a whiff of Avignon floating around some of the story’s events.

        • John Schilling says:

          Hmm. The going rate in Crusader Kings 2 seems to be about 3000 “gold”, but I can’t find anywhere a conversion rate to any real currency. An average medieval city will yield about 30 “gold” in annual tax revenue to its liege, FWIW.

          You’ll also need to control eight bishoprics and an archbishopric, have a papal candidate with a Learning value of 20+ and other generally favorable attributes, and be willing to play a long game over 30-40 years because you’ll need to stack the College of Cardinals with your cronies before you’ve got a shot at the big hat.

          Probably a stretch to match this with a mere gigabuck in the modern age.

          • Anonymous says:

            The easiest way to prop up a bishop for Preferatus is to make him a King-Bishop. Normally, you can’t grant kingdom titles to clergy, but you can press some bishop’s claim to a foreign throne, turning that realm into a theocracy. Bonus points if you’re emperor-tier yourself, appoint the man your chaplain, and send him to Rome to butter up the cardinals.

            A King-Bishop basically can’t lose the election, once he’s into the College. Even if he’s seven years old and the Spawn of Satan. (I think, anyway. There are so many holes with the Papal elections, and they sometimes patch them.)

          • Steven J says:

            The papal election of 1492 had lots of bribes.
            Wikipedia has some of the amounts:
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papal_conclave,_1492#Allegations_of_simony

          • rlms says:

            Related and highly recommended: posts by Ex Urbe (Ada Palmer, author of Too Like The Lightning) on the Borgias.

          • Nick says:

            Her Borgia series is great.

          • Nornagest says:

            After going a ways down that rabbit hole, I have lots of thoughts and feelings, but mainly I just hope that one day someone makes a statue of me that has this look on its face.

      • gbdub says:

        Pope seems hard – for the bribery to work, you’d probably need to keep it a secret, meaning you’d need to be a semi-plausible papal candidate in the first place. And at that point you’re no more famous than any other pope.

        Maybe easier and more durable: do one of the other helpful-to-humanity things mentioned here (life extension, cure a disease) but do it in the name of Jesus. You get secular fame, plus a sainthood, which at a minimum means your name (which you should change to something unique first) survives as long as the Church does.

        • Nick says:

          That’s not how sainthood works! The BBC did a nice review of the process, although it glosses over, of course, conditions for “heroic virtue” or the process for verifying a miracle.

          If you want to hurry it along, though, you could die as a martyr, too.

          • gbdub says:

            Well no, you can’t really guarantee that you’ll become a saint. But for a megabuck and some piety you can probably do enough good deeds to give yourself a really good chance. Mother Teresa certainly started with less.

            If you affect enough religious people, some of them will pray for your intercession, and some of those will almost certainly get better in ways that seem miraculous. That’s the big hurdle, but “cure serious disease and give it away for free” is probably close enough to miraculous on its own to get your foot in the door.

          • Nick says:

            Sure, but the heroic virtue part is just as important for canonization. It’s also important because I think people would need more reason than that you cured a disease to pray to you—seeing you as saintly material is really helpful there, and of course heroic virtue is a big part of that. If you’re not going for a life of heroic virtue, therefore, you’re going to have a harder time getting people to ask you for intercession. That’s why I suggested becoming a martyr—you can actually dispense with the miracle requirements!

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Pope seems hard – for the bribery to work, you’d probably need to keep it a secret, meaning you’d need to be a semi-plausible papal candidate in the first place. And at that point you’re no more famous than any other pope.

          To be fair, the rampant corruption attendant upon my election would probably be pretty (in)famous. And of course, becoming Pope was only the first stage of the plan.

    • johan_larson says:

      I wonder if having a truly enormous number of children would ensure you are remembered.

      Assuming you are a man, you could set up a program of free fertility clinics that help with the specific problem that the husband’s sperm is somehow unusable. You offer free IVF or direct insemination, but only with your own sperm. That’s a bit weird, so you sweeten the deal with a $50,000 scholarship fund for each child.

      This might cost $100,000 per child, so a billion would get you 10,000 children.

      • Aapje says:

        The only person who is remembered for this is Genghis Khan and I doubt he would be remembered for it if he achieved it by setting up sperm banks, rather than raping and pillaging.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Let’s not forget Father Abraham. And he didn’t even have that many children.

          • Aapje says:

            I don’t think that he is remembered for having children in itself, but rather for being a Judaic patriarch. That’s not a title that a modern person can achieve merely by having children.

            In Dutch, we call the Biblical Abraham a patriarch, not a father. We recognize only one Father Abraham, most famous for “The Smurf Song,” which reached the #1 position in 16 countries.

          • Randy M says:

            @Aapje: There’s a Sunday school song that starts “Father Abraham had many sons… many sons had Father Abraham”
            Given that many of these are metaphorical sons, that brings up the option of starting one’s own religion. I’d say that’s a high risk, high reward option.

          • Matt M says:

            L Ron Hubbard pulled it off with less of a financial base…

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Not in Genghis Khan territory, but here’s how to have a lot of descendants if you’re a man. It seems unlikely that you will get major fame from it unless one of the descendants becomes very famous.

        Not the case I was looking for but !!!

        More.

        Those poor kids. Even if there’s nothing wrong with them, their parents are going to be weird around them.

        I feel as though I should have predicted this would happen. I now predict that there are many similar cases which haven’t been discovered.

        Sperm storage gone wrong. When people would say “But why would anyone bother to revive cryonically stored people?”, I have answers, like honor and reputation.

        However, I didn’t think about the possibility that some storage facilities would get it right and others would fuck up. The possibilities for comic and/or bleak sf are endless.

        Podkayne of Mars is only the beginning, but I give Heinlein credit for noticing some fraction of the problem.

        See also Simak’s Why Call Them Back from Heaven?, in which a whole society is distorted by people trying to be rich after they’re revived, ohg pelbavpf gheaf bhg gb or n senhq.

        I have one more link saved for the CW thread.

    • Wrong Species says:

      1. Invest money so you have more money
      2. Invest in SpaceX or some other aerospace company
      3. Get trained for being an astronaut
      4. Become first person to land on Mars

  19. Well Armed Sheep says:

    How to put this politely…

    I am sure that Eliezer Yudkowsky’s writing has been genuinely useful to lots of people, and the fact that SSC is sort of an outgrowth of EY’s general project is strong evidence that there’s something great going on there.

    However.

    I cannot for the life of me understand what people see in his work. (For starters, I cannot for the life of me understand how anyone makes it more than a few paragraphs into his work without experiencing such profound boredom (Sequences) or cringeyness (HPMOR, anything he writes on FB) that they are unable to keep reading, which is my basic experience.) The complete disjuncture between my experience of his work and the experience of a group of people who seem to share my interests (SSC readers) is just… baffling. The only analogous experience I’ve had is my complete confusion upon attempting to read a Brandon Sanderson novel on the recommendation of several friends with mutual interest in SFF. Just absolute puzzlement on what they could possibly see in it.

    Two questions:

    1) How unusual is this for SSC fans? Are there others who, like me, were astounded and delighted to discover Scott’s blog and then confused and disappointed upon linking through to LW/general EY material?

    2) Has anyone gone from EY skeptic to at-least-understanding-why-people-are-so-excited? If so, what did you read that changed your mind?

    • James says:

      Oh, yeah, Eliezer’s a terrible writer. (See “the one”, above.) There are some thoughts in the sequences that I like, but a lot of it strikes me as either “well, obviously“, or “who cares?”, and all expressed so clumsily. But I gather that the obvious parts aren’t obvious to everyone, and maybe some people care about the who-cares parts.

      Usually when I go back to reread a good lesswrong post that I vaguely remembered as being part of the sequences, it turns out to actually be a yvain (early Scott incarnation) post.

    • Matt M says:

      1) How unusual is this for SSC fans? Are there others who, like me, were astounded and delighted to discover Scott’s blog and then confused and disappointed upon linking through to LW/general EY material?

      This describes me as well.

      In theory, the sequences sound like some perfect thing for me that I’d love to read and get a ton of value from.

      In practice, after like two minutes of reading it I want to jump off a bridge.

      • johan_larson says:

        Yeah, the topics are appealing but the presentation is off-putting. Eliezer’s educational background is idiosyncratic, and that may be why his writing style is odd. No one ever forced him to do it in the usual way. That’s why I’ve been thinking about where one could get the same stuff but presented differently. And I suspect quite a bit of it is available in various college courses.

        Math has courses in stats.
        Philosophy has courses in logic.
        English has courses in rhetoric.
        Cognitive science and psychology have courses about how we think.
        Computer science has courses in how to build artificial minds (or mind-like systems, if you prefer.)

        A good broad liberal arts degree (in the traditional sense) would cover quite a bit of this stuff. But the material is very scattered.

        • Matt M says:

          Reading SSC and engaging in the comments on a regular basis consists of like 99% of my rationality education. Seems to be working well enough. *shrugs*

        • Well Armed Sheep says:

          This might be the source of some of my frustration, I attended a pretty archetypal LAC for undergrad. Might contribute to some “well duh” feelings?

          But I really don’t think it is that significant of a source of frustration; there’s a lot of stuff that I don’t have a solid grounding in (Bayesian stats?) that I’m curious about. It’s just that EY’s writing is like the opposite of what I need to get me interested in Bayesian stats to the point where I can overcome my anti-math biases (it’s always been my weakest subject).

        • Nick says:

          Johan, can you raise this same point top-level in the next open thread? I feel like it deserves more discussion than it’s likely to get at the bottom of a post a day before the thread is superseded.

      • Deiseach says:

        The illustrative parables with the Magisters and secret societies and the rest of it amuse me for about five minutes, then I start thinking “yeah but this would never work in reality because [mainly we’ve had secret societies only instructing initiates after the initiates have jumped through hoops to solve abstruse puzzles to show they are worthy, see the alchemists, and that’s a terrible way of passing down knowledge]” and then I want to slap the faces off all involved for smuggery (the characters seem to like engaging in humble-brags and I can never quite figure out if they’re supposed to be self-aware of their smugness and indulging in it in an ironic fashion, if the author is intending us the readers to be aware that he is indulging in it in an ironic fashion, or if it’s ‘yeah this is ironic smuggery but also I totally mean it that these guys are super-cool’).

        HPMOR – the little that I could force myself to read, mainly extracts quoted by others as to why it was so great and you should read it – made me want to engage in wholesale slaughter on Biblical scales of “smiting Egypt with the ten plagues and then smiting some more because they were not sufficiently smitten by being smote in wrath in the first place” since everybody was objectionable in it, especially Harry I’m Getting More Surnames Than My Canonical Inspiration Because I’m Just That Great. I know everyone says “but it gets better later on and Harry ThreeNames is meant to be a horrible little toad and he gets taken down a peg for his conceit as the work goes on” but nah. I’ve done my time reading bad fanfic and you can’t make me!

    • Elephant says:

      I totally share your view! I can’t figure out if EY simply needs an editor, or if there are deeper problems of tone and style.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think most self-published (and even professionally published, when authors get Too Big To Edit it generally goes downhill) authors need an editor. Yudkowsky has good points (and he is definitely Brainier Than Me, no argument there) but the delivery system can be off-putting (see my rant about smug characters above). A disinterested third party to go “I neither know nor care about anything but readable prose” to fire up the chainsaw and go through the work is always a good resource.

    • Nick says:

      I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of it, but I don’t mind Eliezer’s writing style. I don’t mind Sanderson either, btw—I tend to have issues with his characters, but I think there’s a lot to like in his books.

      • Randy M says:

        I’m pretty middle of the road on EY as well; I thought the sequences were mostly readable and interesting enough, but not life changing or terribly revelatory.

        • Nick says:

          Yeah. I’ve long had the impression that ire directed at the Sequences and the rationalist community in general is inversely proportional to the time actually spent with it—but that’s not to say, of course, whether it’s because of misunderstanding or lack of charity or some other failure on the part of the reader versus some failure on the part of Eliezer or the rationalist community. After all, the ire I direct at authors I hate is probably inversely proportional to the time I’ve spent reading them.

          • gbdub says:

            Well yeah, why would you spend more time on something that you hate after 5 minutes, with no expectation that it will get better and no guarantee it will be useful?

          • Nick says:

            Well, gbdub, for one thing, hatereading is totally a thing; I wanted to bring it up, but couldn’t really work it in with the point I was making. More to the point, though, I don’t think it’s the case that folks think there’s no expectation it will get better or have no guarantee it will be useful (or that “a guarantee it will be useful” is even what people are looking for, as opposed to a reasonable confidence—and they may not even care about that, if engaging with it is relatively easy, like being willing to watch one recommended movie versus watching a recommended multiseason show). In the case of Eliezer, according to the testimony of folks here, they seek the Sequences out genuinely interested and hearing great things but are disappointed—so an expectation, on the high praise they’ve heard, that some of it is better is pretty reasonable, likewise a reasonable confidence that it is useful. And I’m not sure I really believe people when they say after five minutes that they’ve read all of something that they need to—1) my reflex response when I’ve been told I’ve been hasty is to insist I’ve given it a fair hearing, and 2) I know I’ve been wrong about first judgments before. So yeah, with no expectation that it’ll get better and no guarantee it’ll be useful, you’re right, I just don’t think that necessarily applies here.

          • gbdub says:

            All I was getting at was that it’s not surprising that people who hate something the most are the ones who spend the least time with it. If your reaction is that strong, you’re less likely to continue on. Except for the case of hatereading, which you note.

    • dndnrsn says:

      There’s a reason that we, the Scottites, believe that he is the true caliph.

      1. Yes. I never read HMPOR; I’m not into fanfic. The sequences seemed… I don’t know, pretty much what James said.

      2. I suspect that the people who are more excited are STEM’y types for whom discussion of AI is more than “so, you’re saying that, instead of whatever bad shit happens when the oceans rise or antibiotics stop working, I can become paperclips, which are both aesthetically pleasing and useful?”

      • James says:

        There’s a reason that we, the Scottites, believe that he is the true caliph.

        Part of the reason I prefer Scott as a cult leader to Eliezer is that I don’t get the impression that Scott wants to be a cult leader, whereas Eliezer all-too-obviously does.

        • dndnrsn says:

          Lo, he is humble, that he be exalted.

        • Alphonse says:

          I completely agree here. Identifying as part of a “plausibly a cult” group is decidedly not good social practice. LW has some tendencies towards cult-like traits, and EY has a tendency to give off strong vibes in this direction, even on places where I like his substance.

          Scott always just strikes me as the improved version of the smart, knowledgeable, and reasonable person I know at graduate school who is liked by everyone, and that makes it a lot easier to feel willing to send links to SSC posts to people I think might be interested, without worrying that they’ll reply and ask me about the author’s endorsement of polyamory or some-such.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Sanderson’s earlier stuff tends to be somewhat better; I think after he achieved a measure of success his editor(s) backed off a bit, so his books tend to repeat themselves unnecessarily.

      They’re both far more tolerable if you have developed a talent for skimming, for example by reading The Wheel of Time a few dozen times. I imagine that is a large part of the divergence; the skill of skipping past the padding.

      ETA:

      Also, if you are even peripherally involved in the rationality community, you have already encountered most of the interesting things EY had to say, which greatly reduces the value of reading the original. What made the sequences valuable – that they were a compendium of rationality-adjacent insights, collated from a large number of sources – doesn’t quite apply to somebody who encounters those ideas elsewhere. But it is important to remember, in evaluating them, that at the time they were created, there wasn’t a community that knew all of them. They created an environment that made them less necessary.

      • Well Armed Sheep says:

        It’s not a structural thing, I find the nuts and bolts of his prose intolerable. Every sentence is a new torture inflicted on the innocent body of the English language. Not to mention the near-parody levels of bizarre in-world words and names.

        I find it painful on a sentence by sentence basis. I can’t comment on the structure or plot, because I can’t get more than a few pages into anything.

      • Well Armed Sheep says:

        Re: your edit — that is a good point, retroactive cliche is a real thing. I’ve met people who think The Big Sleep is a bad novel because it’s nothing but a bunch of hardboiled/noir tropes. Which is true, but the tropes didn’t exist when it was written.

      • Deiseach says:

        for example by reading The Wheel of Time a few dozen times

        Isn’t that banned under the Geneva Convention, as well as being considered as cruel and unusual punishment under various nations’ constitutions and bills of rights? 🙂

      • Although there were plenty of scattered people who new most of them, because he didn’t invent that much.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yudkowsky is hit and miss for me. 3WC was pretty good, HPMOR was Unabridged Pride and Prejudice-level bad. I have a friend who considers himself deeply in debt to Yudkowsky for the mental tools, but thinks Yudkowsky stopped being sane around the time he stopped associating with Hanson.

    • Witness says:

      I had a similar experience trying read LessWrong and the sequences. I didn’t get very far before deciding I’d already internalized the parts I found useful and didn’t feel like I was getting enough out of the rest to be worth my time.

      But as James said above, “the obvious parts aren’t obvious to everyone” and there was a time in my life where they weren’t obvious to me. Perhaps if I’d stumbled onto his work at a different time, I’d feel different.

    • Urstoff says:

      At the risk of sounding pretentious, I can see the value in some of his stuff for people who are not already familiar with various topics in philosophy, cognitive science, statistics, etc. The part of the sequences on language that Scott found to be transformative, for example, is interesting in a “baby’s first philosophy of language” kind of way. I think EY writes in a way that is less rigorous but certainly more compelling to a certain type of individual than the actual source material in philosophy, statistics, etc; a bright teenager who wants their “mind to be blown”, for example, or an adult who thought Ready Player One was good.

    • Incurian says:

      I did not like the style of the sequences, but I did learn a lot from them. I thought HPMOR was 10/10, though. Really loved it.

      • Alphonse says:

        This is largely how I feel, although I’d rate HPMOR a bit lower (maybe 9/10?). It may be worth mentioning that I tend to like lengthy web-serials; for instance, I greatly enjoyed Worm. Regarding the Sequences, I read bits and pieces of them over time, but while there were some valuable insights, the writing style and infrequency of new insights (for me) were enough that I never could bring myself to make a systematic attempt at reading all of them.

        I don’t follow EY on FB, and the occasional posts of his that I see linked generally do not leave me desiring to read more. I find Scott’s summaries of any interesting ideas tend to be quite sufficient for me.

    • xXxanonxXx says:

      I found LW through HPMOR and SSC through LW. What Urstoff said is probably true (I liked Ready Player One and will not apologize for it). The sequences were engaging because that was a point in my life I was trying to get a better handle on those subjects. I wasn’t challenged often by school, but when I was I tended to start drawing comics rather than putting my nose to the grindstone. It’s a combination of being lazy, impatient, easily distracted, and also just really, really liking juvenile things. A Harry Potter fan fiction leading to a collection of nerdy and disparate concepts all presented in blog rather than textbook format would seem custom made for my personality type.

      That said I can only barely tolerate Sanderson’s writing and I think I’d literally rather stab myself than finish reading Worm, which likewise adored by people I otherwise overlap with.

    • rlms says:

      I don’t particularly dislike his style, but I have a fairly low sensitivity to bad prose and can see why others might dislike it. I found HPMOR moderately enjoyable, a possibly relevant point is that I haven’t read Ender’s Game. I expect that people find the content of the sequences interesting if it’s new to them, and not otherwise.

    • Nornagest says:

      I don’t know how I’d feel about his work now; I discovered it when I was a lot younger and less jaded, with a self-image closer to his target audience of arrogant autodidactic shut-ins. But at the time, I found it generally but not uniformly insightful (Sequences) or entertaining (HPMoR, other fiction). Even then it was sprinkled with occasional nuggets of profoundly cringey material, but I didn’t find them especially hard to overlook. He did mishandle the administrative end of LW pretty badly, overlooking stuff he shouldn’t have and making these occasional bizarre tantrums, and that’s probably about when my opinion of his general competence started slipping.

      I didn’t think his work really started suffering, though, until he left LW and started posting on Facebook. Don’t remember if he explicitly said so or not, but I gather he was trying to get away from the stuffy, nerdier-than-thou, hyper-nitpicky atmosphere of those boards. Fair enough; that’s why I ultimately left, too. But it seems to have surrounded him with sycophants and removed whatever restraint he had before, back when anything questionable he said would get well-actuallyed to death by a thousand geeks who all wanted to be the guy that made him look stupid. EY on Facebook was an EY with no filters and no brakes, and suddenly I understood what his critics had been saying all along.

      Or maybe I just grew up. That’s possible too.

    • Anon. says:

      Agreed. The writing style is a big part of it. I also find it endlessly frustrating that EY keeps making fairly huge errors of exactly the type the Sequences are supposed to prevent. The metaethics sequence (and especially “The Meaning of Right”) is a good example. Many such issues in Inadequate Equilibria as well.

    • toastengineer says:

      I found the Sequences to be completely enrapturing and literally life-changing, so… [shrug].

      You probably have to be in the right kind of place to receive it; to a young man who’s just realized that all the world’s institutions are broken and that it’s impossible to actually know anything for sure, a guy saying “yeah but there is actually a mathematically correct way to integrate new knowledge, and I’m gonna explain how to do it and what effects that ought to have on your thinking in several chapters worth of detail” is going to sound pretty nice.

      I suppose a lot of the great life-changing texts are like that. 99% of the people who read the Bible or the Sutras or Ayn Rand or Battlefield Earth say “the fuck is this shit” and drop it, 1% say “oh my god this guy knew exactly what I needed to hear” and those people get together and start a religion or a movement.

      • Viliam says:

        I think the impressiveness of a text is often about “this gave me the last piece of the puzzle I have been building for years”. But for different people, there is a different “last missing piece”, so a text that excites some people inevitably makes other people go “duh, everyone already knows that”.

        Speaking for myself, I had this “last piece of puzzle” moment quite often reading the Sequences, which makes me alieve that everyone would benefit from reading them; and this seems to be quite wrong. Within rationalist community, it feels more efficient to link to the existing concepts rather than to try explaining them; just like I did here. (Outside of rationalist community, both linking and explaining fail predictably; the inferential distance is just too large. Sometimes it’s about what people don’t know, but often it’s about what they know that isn’t so. Or that they can’t distinguish between arguments and political applause lights, so any counter-argument gets pattern-matched to an opposing political faction.)

        Also, it is difficult for me to distinguish whether people who say “Sequences is the elementary school, our wisdom is over 9000 levels higher” are right, bluffing, or delusional. But the prior probabilities probably depend a lot on the environment one grew up in, and perhaps my environment was especially insane, so I assign too much probability to the “bluffing or delusional” parts. My current best guess is that the “meta–rationalists” partially fail at distinguishing between map and territory, and partially just pose for higher status. I generally dismiss people with mysterious supernatural explanations. Then there are also people of the scientific kind, who criticize Sequences, whom I give much more credence; but even there I suspect the narcissism of small differences to play a visible role. (Evidence: After so many highly educated people complaining how Eliezer’s explanation of quantum physics is completely wrong, asking the question on Stack Exchange resulted in “minor technical errors and some overconfidence, but generally right”. I mean, sure, I would definitely prefer to read the version without technical errors, but my choice seems to be between people who get it 90% correct, and people who just tell me that the truth cannot be explained to such as me, even as a simplification, which is useless and wrong.) Note that there are also highly educated scientists that like Eliezer’s writings.

        So I guess my conclusion is that I see Eliezer as talking about interesting (to me) topics, being generally 90% right, and playing much less status games than a typical human with the same or greater knowledge. It is also not a coincidence that the rationalist community grew to a large part around him. (Sure, cranks sometimes attract a lot of attention, too, but if that is your hypothesis, please show me a community with similar degree of quality formed around Time Cube or whatever.)

  20. Deiseach says:

    Email scandal ends political career of elderly blonde female politician!

    An Irish one this time round, and at least it means we won’t have a snap General Election before Christmas and in the middle of trying to deal with the British over Brexit and the border with Northern Ireland.

    It’s a long, grubby, complicated story but the very basic version is that there is a whistleblower who is a former member of our police force, and his attempts to blow the whistle on corruption and incompetence met not alone with lack of support from within the force but with smear campaigns against him.

    The most recent fallout of all this is that the woman who resigned, Frances Fitzgerald, was Minister for Justice at the time (having replaced the former Minister who was forced to resign over a different but connected Garda scandal – our police force is really not having a good time in recent years as there is a constant drip of yet more scandals) and was allegedly informed via email of the strategy by the Garda to make allegations in court* against the whistleblower which would have the effect of undermining his credibility as a witness when giving testimony about the corruption etc. scandals; when all this came out now, the opposition party moved a vote of no confidence in her (which had the potential to collapse our minority government which has struck a “confidence and supply” deal with the opposition to remain in power); she claimed she hadn’t even read the email as she had no legal power to intervene in the case; the Taoiseach (our Prime Minister) said she had his full confidence and he wouldn’t accept her resignation even if she offered it; long talks into the night were held between him and the opposition party leader to strike a deal; now it turns out that more than one email was sent/received and she did indeed read and respond to at least one, and she has resigned. The government has been saved (barely) and it’s all a mess, as it leaves the Taoiseach looking like an idiot or a scoundrel (depending on whether or not he knew what really went on), instead of taking her resignation when the first allegations were made and spinning it as “for the sake of the country she has selflessly offered to step down” etc.

    Most people are reacting cynically with “oh the poor martyred woman, she’s no longer a minister but retains her seat as a public representative, worst comes to worst she will have to retire on her pensions” (yes, double – one for being a public representative and one for being a minister).

    The Whistleblowers’ Affair has now accounted for two Ministers for Justice, two Garda Commissioners, and one Taoiseach (amongst other things) and very nearly for a second one, EDIT: the Secretary General of the Department of Justice (top civil servant) has just resigned as well instead of waiting until his official retirement in February of next year, and it is still ongoing. r/ireland has commentary on the current situation, for anyone interested.

    We’re a great little country altogether!

    *False allegations based on fabricated testimony from police colleagues and the question is did the higher-ups know it was fake or did they think it was real? Most people are going for Option A on this one.

    • Incurian says:

      We’re a great little country!

    • I love it when you talk about Ireland. A country with so many myths and stereotypes that it’s great to hear true life. Especially with the famous D-spin makes it all the more fascinating.

      • ManyCookies says:

        I find politics/scandals a lot more fun to read about when I don’t have any particular stake in them.

      • Deiseach says:

        Thank you! Our next big outrage will probably be over the whole Brexit mess, since a selection of English commentators and opinion havers and newspaper columnists have given great advice to us as to how we should conduct our business, leading to at least one grateful Paddy tendering his thanks on behalf of the nation.

        (Yes, Lord Kilclooney did refer to our Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, as “the Indian” in some tweets.)

        A current of opinion is forming that the Brits are still all at sea, have no useful idea how to deal with the whole border question, the EU is not backing down, so they’re laying the groundwork in England for a “blame the Irish for this” to avert public anger when the public find out their representatives couldn’t find their own arses with a map and full directions. The “Stroppy Paddies kicked up all the trouble and were belligerent otherwise the job would be oxo” conspiracy theory may be a conspiracy theory, but when you’ve got politicians on TV news saying we are having a presidential election(!) and that’s why we’re so anxious over the border*, plus the constant drip of Tories and Tory types being nonplussed to be reminded – or one suspects, in some cases, to find out – “What, we don’t still own the Paddies?” makes it hard to think it’s merely paranoia.

        *Reaction of Fintan O’Toole, an Irish Times reporter, and probably the first time in my life I’ve ever agreed with anything he’s said:

        Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Just heard Iain Duncan Smith on @Channel4News saying Ireland is taking a hard line on the border because “there’s a presidential election coming up”.

        (Iain Duncan Smith was formerly a leader of the Conservative Party and up to last year was Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, so not some backbench nutter – possibly a nutter, but not a mere backbencher or rural Tory venturing up from the depths of the shires to the Big City with its strange ways).

        Honestly, some of the attitudes being paraded not just by random confused people doorstepped by a canvasser in the street, but allegedly educated and professional journalists and others, really does make this seem like a good idea:

        SEEKING a long term solution to the never ending parade of ignorance a portion of the British public seem perfectly happy to show off when it comes to Ireland, Irish history, and the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, the people of Ireland have hit upon a clever idea.

        In recent weeks, a number of pro-Brexit politicians, journalists, members of the public and incomprehensible cat ladies from Britain have publicly and proudly declared their complete lack of knowledge of its nearest neighbours, Ireland, forcing those living in the country not actually known as ‘Southern Ireland’ to hire a bus.

        “Recent history has shown us that the majority of Britons will believe anything that’s written on the side of a bus, which will come in handy when we simply lay out the factual aspects of Ireland’s history,” explained an Irish person heading up the initiative, who incidentally is not called ‘Paddy’.

        “Unfortunately, given the detailed nature of a country’s history, as many as 7,000 buses will be used as part of the education effort, but given time we hope Britain can learn its own role in Irish history, and fingers crossed it could even become aware of Northern Ireland, its border and how that whole thing came to pass,” the Irish person added.

        Some buses will prove hard for many Britons to understand such as those featuring details about the Famine, the Black and Tans, and British State collusion in aiding and abetting Loyalist terrorist activity and murder in Northern Ireland, meaning a need for the font to be enlarged slightly.

        While some Britons may protest being tarnished with the same relentlessly ignorant brush due to the fact they are from Scotland and Wales or are just not thick, it has been observed that Ireland has patiently waited over 800 years for Britain to study for its Irish history test.

        “You know the way London is in Scotland, and how we saved Hull from the Vampire invasion of 1764, and when Ireland’s very own Adele won loads of Grammys… see? It’s fucking annoying when people talk about something they’ve no fucking clue about,” concluded the Irish person.

  21. Incurian says:

    @John Schilling
    Can you tell us what to think about the latest missile?

    • John Schilling says:

      Still trying to work it out; we’ll probably know a lot more tomorrow when North Korea puts up video of the launch. Man, it’s been months since I heard Pink Hanbok Lady do her thing; it was getting quiet around here.

      Until then, David Wright has a good estimate of the performance, with an important caveat. The missile was probably an improved variant of the Hwasong-14 aka KN-20 ICBM that they’ve tested twice before; I’m going to spend the evening running models to see how much improvement it would take to get this level of performance with a credible warhead / RV combination. But, while there is still uncertainty on the payload, the North Koreans are now three for three in tests of a road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile.

  22. sandoratthezoo says:

    I wrote a stupid little Diablo III fanfic (kind of unconventional) in response to a random discussion at work, and I thought that people here might enjoy it.

    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BFAUvimix-r9RG8LX9ezHiDJaVr93YQl97dxZ4NNA2M/edit?usp=sharing

    It’s 2.5 pages if you’re contemplating cost/benefit. The core Diablo knowledge that it assumes is that Diablo characters drink a lot of healing potions and fight improbable number of monsters.

  23. Deiseach says:

    Well, I’m feeling vindicated! 🙂

    I have served my term of banishment from the sub-reddit and have now regained commenting privileges (how long that will last until I trip another trigger remains to be seen) but today what did I find in my email inbox but this post, by the excellent History for Atheists blog, on the very volume that was the cause of my downfall and bannitude for being rough-tongued and vicious over on the sub-reddit?

    Some lingering shreds of discretion prevent me from posting this over there while sticking my tongue out at the mods and going “nyah-nyah-nyah”, but vindictiveness urges me on to share this with you, my dear fellows:

    On the other hand, no less an authority than the esteemed historian of Late Antiquity, Dame Averil Cameron, calls Nixey’s book “a travesty”, roundly condemning it as “overstated and unbalanced”. And Dame Cameron is correct – this is a book of biased polemic masquerading as historical analysis and easily the worst book I have read in years.

    Dame Averil and I are in agreement on this – this book is tripe. O’Neill gives it a good dissection but is still rather nicer to the authoress herself than I was (the reason I got myself banned – she simply does not have the credentials to present herself as any kind of historian, academic researcher or scholar – she has a BA in Classics, works as a jobbing journalist, is currently as I understand it doing a gig as a TV critic for a newspaper, and essentially churned out a pop history book for a non-academic publisher that relied on the hoary old tales of Bad Christians and It Were All The Fault Of That Constantine and did remarkably well for some unknown reason on it – it won a prize. I expressed this much more sourly and got hit with the ban for being too mean).

    I would recommend reading this post, and not just because I am smirking and sticking my tongue out in the background. It explains why this is a shoddy piece of work dressed up in borrowed robes, and may perhaps lead to understanding why somebody reading the umpteenth iteration of the same old same old reacted not wisely but too vitriolically.

    • LewisT says:

      I frankly laughed at this excerpt from Nixey’s book:

      “Intellectuals looked on in despair as volumes of supposedly unchristian books – often in reality texts on the liberal arts – went up in flames. Art lovers watched in horror as some of the greatest sculptures in the ancient world were smashed by people too stupid to appreciate them – and certainly too stupid to recreate them. The Christians could not even destroy effectively: many statues on many temples were saved simply by virtue of being too high for them, with their primitive ladders and hammers, to reach.” (p. xxxiv)

      We’re in Poe’s Law territory here. If I came across this quote without any further context, I might have assumed that it was parody.

      • Deiseach says:

        The bit about the hammers and ladders is excellently skewered by O’Neill:

        Exactly where Nixey got this idea about Christians and “their primitive ladders and hammers” from is hard to tell – her imagination, most likely. I suppose that when these “stupid” people came to construct the great dome of the magnificent Hagia Sophia in Constantinople – 31 metres wide and 55 metres high- they must have found some old “pagan” hammers and ladders to use.

        But that’s the big quibble I had with the book and Ms Nixey – it’s great pop culture red meat, and she’s writing in a lively journalistic style, and Pan Macmillan plainly hoped they had a hot cakes sales situation on their hands, but it’s not history and it’s not an academic work and yet she is being lauded and quoted by them what should know better as a real historian and expert.

    • bean says:

      Wow. That’s an impressive failure on the part of the author, and whoever gave her a prize.
      In slight fairness to Nixey, writing popular history can be really, really hard. You have a huge pile of source material, and you’re trying to turn it into something readable in a manner that doesn’t leave (other) experts shaking their heads at you. But simply abandoning that balancing act in favor of pushing your preferred narrative removes any pretensions of scholarship, particularly when your subject has the political overtones of the one in question.

    • Nick says:

      Really long quote here, but I loved this bit:

      Nixey’s Roman persecutors are, by contrast, eminently reasonable, restrained and actually concerned for the welfare of the people brought before them. She describes Pliny, as governor of Bithynia, writing to Trajan to ask advice on how to deal with the Christians he had found in his province. He is not writing to ask if he should kill them, but rather how many of them exactly he should kill – all of them or just some? To Nixey, this represents a restrained man who “would really rather not execute large numbers of people” and who simply “sees them as ‘perclitantium’, ‘in danger’” (p. 74), though this depiction is undercut somewhat by her admission “he of course is the agent of that peril and if pushed will put them to death”. Quite. But the strong implication here and elsewhere is that he and others like him are “pushed” by those pesky Christians who, inconveniently, had the temerity to actually take their beliefs seriously. One passage of Nixey’s narrative here is indicative of her general tone:

      “The prefect Maximus, who had alternately attempted to bribe and then reason the veteran Julius into [avoiding execution] was told the money he was offering was ‘the money of Satan’ and that ‘neither it nor your crafty talk can deprive me of the eternal light’. It is not without some sympathy that one reads the prefect’s terse response. ‘If you do not respect the imperial decrees and offer sacrifice, I am going to cut your head off’. Julius replies boldly but somewhat ungraciously that ‘to live with you would be death for me’. He is beheaded.” (pp.76-77)

      There is absolutely nothing wrong with presenting the perspectives of both sides of a clash of ideas so that the reader can understand the past better; in fact, a good, objective historian should strive to do just that. But when the writer assumes a threat to behead someone will be read with “some sympathy” and vehement defiance of this threat is presented as “ungracious”, we seem to be quite far from anything that could be called objective.

      And this gem, from the section later on about Hypatia:

      Because she skips virtually all of the events that led to the confrontation at the Serapeum, Nixey’s account of the destruction of the temple begins as though the whole thing was spontaneous: “One day, early in 392, a large crowd of Christians started to mass outside the temple …” (p. 86). By Nixey’s telling, this “crowd of Christians” just assembled for no reason, with no mention of the band of pagan terrorists who were holed up in the temple, torturing and crucifying people.

      • Deiseach says:

        Yes, there are plenty of plums there, are there not? Somebody writing a book even so far back as 2015 going “Plainly we (enlightened liberal secular Western cosmopolites) all find sympathetic the guy THREATENING TO BEHEAD SOMEONE ON RELIGIOUS GROUNDS” is a teeny bit tone-deaf, to say the least, even if she did get a prize for it.

        Mainly I’m rocking back going I was right, I was right, la la la la la, I was right about this – never let it be said that I can avoid being childish about petty spats 🙂

        Though I must apologise for saying she was a mere TV critic; she has a proper job: “Catherine Nixey is a critic and commissioning editor on the arts desk at The Times of London”.

        The Hypatia thing is particularly aggravating because that’s one of the big myths that has regularly been trotted out and as regularly debunked and again as regularly blossomed like a weed; it’s a great story particularly when the versions of it, such as the 2009 movie Agora, depict Hypatia as Yung and Bootiful at the time (she wasn’t) but it’s about as accurate as the later tales of Hypatia the Witch and Sorceress. Alexandrian politics were particularly nasty and the mob was constantly boiling over, that someone got caught in the crossfire in one of the regular riots isn’t that surprising.

      • The original Mr. X says:

        Because she skips virtually all of the events that led to the confrontation at the Serapeum, Nixey’s account of the destruction of the temple begins as though the whole thing was spontaneous: “One day, early in 392, a large crowd of Christians started to mass outside the temple …” (p. 86). By Nixey’s telling, this “crowd of Christians” just assembled for no reason, with no mention of the band of pagan terrorists who were holed up in the temple, torturing and crucifying people.

        Personally I was amazed to hear that the Emperor spared the terrorists’ lives. I’m guessing Nixey didn’t bother to mention this particular act of Imperial clemency.

        • timoneill007 says:

          I’m guessing Nixey didn’t bother to mention this particular act of Imperial clemency.

          She somehow managed to neglect mentioning the whole pagan terrorism thing, the torture and crucifxion and the siege and stand off, so yes, she doesn’t mention that the crucifixion gang was spared. Though she does manage to allude to them leaving Alexandria by saying “Alexandria’s intellectuals had gone too, fleeing to Rome or elsewhere in Italy, or anywhere they could to get away from this frightening city” (p. 131) The reference she gives for this is to a mention of Olympius, Ammonius, Helladius and Palladas leavnig the city after Theodosius spared them. As ever, she tells half the story and gives completely the wrong impression as a result.

        • Deiseach says:

          Personally I was amazed to hear that the Emperor spared the terrorists’ lives.

          I’m assuming this was because (a) the situation was already over-heated, executing these guys would only have resulted in further riots and unrest (b) the leaders were all prominent citizens and even scholars so they had a lot of influence, which leads me to conclude that the “fleeing to Rome” was more “okay, I’ll give you a pardon and then you leave town and stop inciting local mobs to riot and murder, okay?”

          ‘You’re free, now get of town and don’t show your face round here again’ sounds more in accordance with the kind of deal that would be struck to achieve a peaceful resolution and makes more sense than “the terror-stricken intellectuals all fled Alexandria in fear of their lives” (since they don’t seem to have been particularly terror-stricken and seem to have ended up in good jobs in urban centres, not in the back-end of nowhere) but that isn’t half as clickbait a story as Ms Nixey is writing. You can’t have a good “Christians take over power and start persecuting innocent free-thinkers” potboiler if a Christian emperor is letting criminals go, dagnabbit!

          • The original Mr. X says:

            I’m half-surprised Nixey didn’t berate the Emperors for that as well. “Not only did these Christian rulers force prominent scholars into exile, they let obvious terrorists walk free as well!”

  24. Deiseach says:

    If there’s anyone interested in matter related to the recent purges on anti-corruption grounds in Saudi Arabia, here’s a report by Private Eye on the SANGCOM affair, a contract beginning in 1978 by the British Ministry of Defence to provide communications technology to the Saudi National Guard; one of the companies involved was the subject of an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office in 2012, and the British government as represented by the MOD refused to release information on security grounds.

    Basically, there was a lot of cash sloshing around as bribes and inducements, this was all baked into the contract under the headings of “administrative fees” and the like, and the money invoiced was then passed on to various Saudi ministers/princes. Some of the guys purged recently were related to or were some of these princes, or succeeded them in jobs such as Head of the National Guard. So while the purge certainly had to do with the Crown Prince consolidating power and removing rivals, there equally are legitimate corruption charges to be answered. This was all assumed to simply be part of doing business in Saudi; if you wanted to sell your gear to the army/whomever, you had to grease a few palms so the Minister for Whatever would sign a contract with your firm and not an American or European one. That this was government money disbursed by the British government is part of why they tried to sit on any investigation (fairly successfully, I don’t think the SFO investigation has as yet resulted in any convictions or court cases).

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