THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

OT91: Opaean Thread

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

1. Some people arguing at length against my post on taxes and on harassment. But comment of the week is Cameron Mahoney on pharma scams.

2. New ad for for the AI Safety Reading Group, meets every Wednesday night on Skype.

3. Related: MIRI is holding their annual fundraiser.

4. Some very minor updates to the Mistakes, Comments, and Predictions pages on the top.

5. I know many people left Patreon because of their plan to levy big fees on small donations. Patreon has since said they’re not going to do that. If you left my Patreon because of that, you may want to un-leave. I was considering switching from a per-post to per-month donation system anyway , just because most people program their per-post donations so they only count for the first few posts per month anyway, but I’m not sure. I’ll probably include a question on the survey about what people prefer.

6. Speaking of which, I’ve been busy working on a new survey. Expect it out in a few days to weeks.

7. Merry holidays to everyone!

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854 Responses to OT91: Opaean Thread

  1. fion says:

    Was there a question in the last survey about how generally optimistic/pessimistic you consider yourself? I think it would be interesting to see how that correlates with other things.

    • albertborrow says:

      I like to call myself pessimistic, but that’s mostly because rationalists consider it pretty rational to be pessimistic. In reality, I’m probably more optimistic about social and economic problems than is healthy – except, if I compare the base pessimism of my assumptions to those of Scott, I’m definitely more pessimistic than him. And from my perspective, Eliezer Yudkowsky looks awfully optimistic about a lot of things that I’m not. I know that he’s definitely operating off of more knowledge than me in those fields, but is that really enough to change his predictions, or is it just a sign of natural optimism?

      I think it’s a very confusing and silly question – optimism and pessimism are vague concepts to begin with, and you’re asking how they correlate with certain fields. Sure, you could measure a mean-optimism by averaging out the optimism of several fields on a survey, but someone with mean-optimism (2.5) could have an optimism profile of {10,0,0,0} or {2.5,2.5,2.5,2.5} with no particular correlation between mean-optimism and the optimism of a certain part of their life.

      • Skeptical Wolf says:

        rationalists consider it pretty rational to be pessimistic

        Would you mind elaborating on this statement at bit? I’m still fairly new to the rationalist community, but that is not the impression I’ve personally gotten. I’m curious what definition of pessimism you’re using and why pessimism would be inherently more correct than optimism.

        • pansnarrans says:

          Have you heard of the planning fallacy? If not, it’s based on studies showing that if you ask people how long they’ll take to complete a certain task that they have prior experience of doing (a work project, say), they give you the same estimate if you ask for their best-case scenario or the typical scenario. In other words, people assume nothing at all will go wrong even with complex multi-step tasks. And they then generally take longer than they thought.

          As I understand it, the rationalist community tends to extrapolate this to say that people are pathologically optimistic in general. I think that there are some gaps there, although it’s also possible I’ve missed some of the data/rationale.

          • Skeptical Wolf says:

            Thank you for the response. I’m familiar with the planning fallacy, but even if ‘optimism’ was defined as a tendency to estimate low, that wouldn’t make pessimism (presumably the reverse tendency) rational. Applying that logic would be reacting to the possibility of a mistake by making another one and hoping they cancel out. This is not the approach I usually see advocated once a bias is recognized.

            Or did you mean that because most people are unrealistically optimistic, rationalists that successfully calibrate their estimates to reality are seen as pessimistic (and have accepted the label)?

          • limestone says:

            I believe that planning fallacy has lesser effect than you might infer by reading relevant studies and their conclusions.

            Consider that unforeseen events aren’t always negative. Time and time again, I faced a seemingly desperate situation, then something would happen and it went back to being manageable.

            Anecdotal evidence aside, but what about the studies? They show that people do underestimate time needed. But keep in mind there are often many hidden factors and incentives at play that can skew the results (studies try to account for this, but still). Reading the relevant research, it’s quite obvious that people are notoriously bad at predicting their own performance, especially with regard to willpower/procrastination. External events, I’m less convinced.

            Even if optimism isn’t epistemically rational, it is probably still instrumentally rational. Few people have the nerve to keep doing the best they can while simultaneously believing that the prospects are grim.

          • pansnarrans says:

            @ Skeptical Wolf

            If you are aware that the typical person estimates (say) 10% low, and you have no other information on which to calibrate your decisions, adjusting by 10% is rational enough, no? My concerns are more how this extrapolates to other forms of pessimism, like “it’s not worth asking her out because she’s out of my league”, or “I don’t want to go camping because I think I’ll get eaten by bears”.

            @ limestone

            That’s a really interesting point – that people might also have a negative version of the planning fallacy where they expect everything to go as badly as possible, even though it generally doesn’t. If so it suggests that people are biased towards simple narratives rather than optimism. The obvious test to me is finding out if prisoners given a maximum sentence, with the possibility of time off for good behaviour, assume they will serve the maximum sentence regardless.

          • limestone says:

            @ pansnarrans

            Actually I think the prisoners would predict sentence duration with parole (but not amnesty).

            To summarize my point, I believe that
            1) People usually don’t consider the effect unknown events while planning.
            2) People usually assume they will actually follow their plan.

            The first assumption probably doesn’t contribute much to the planning fallacy, because, as I said, these events can actually be good! So their presence should just increase estimate variance, not add bias.

            The second one is less straightforward. This assumption is often invalid, and does lead to performance overestimation. However, in order to correct such bias you would have to find out how much control do you actually exert over your own actions, which is quite an unnatural thing to question. Eliezer wrote a good article on this topic.

            So your brain has a planning algorithm – not a deliberate algorithm that you learned in school, but an instinctive planning algorithm. For all the obvious reasons, this algorithm keeps track of which states have known paths from the start point. I’ve termed this label “reachable”, but the way the algorithm feels from inside, is that it just feels like you can do it. Like you could go there any time you wanted.

            And what about actions? They’re primitively labeled as reachable; all other reachability is transitive from actions by consequences. You can throw a rock, and if you throw a rock it will break a window, therefore you can break a window. If you couldn’t throw the rock, you wouldn’t be able to break the window.

            So you have a plan every step of which is certainly doable, so it gets labeled as “reachable”, but in fact it isn’t going to be followed. Imagine someone planning to get fit by going to the gym 3 times every week, then proceeding to slack off most of the time. Was their plan doable? It consists of doable steps, at least.

            Now, a possible test for my hypothesis would be to ask people to predict outcome of something that is important for them, yet doesn’t depend on their own actions. Also, there shouldn’t be any noticeable incentives to over- or underestimate it (so e.g. asking a football fan to predict a match outcome won’t do because they have an incentive to signal loyalty to their team). Probably something like anonymously predicting a test score after one has already submitted the solution.

      • fion says:

        It’s true that optimism and pessimism are vague concepts, and I would expect to learn a huge amount, but “how optimistic/pessimistic you consider yourself” is less vague.

        Or as you say, you could measure optimism with several questions. I would be interested to see how well they correlated with each other. If they do correlate with each other then we can ask how they correlate with other things. If they don’t, we can’t. But to be honest, if they don’t then I think that’s surprising and interesting in itself.

    • Baeraad says:

      Well, you know that dude whatsisname who posts here a lot to talk about how everything is going to get worse forever and it’s scientifically impossible for anything to ever get better, because Entropy, or something? That guy?

      He’s starting to make sense to me. So… you could say I’m pretty pessimistic right now, I guess?

      Seriously, after this year, I’ve just about given up. It’s like every time I try thinking that maybe it’s not as bad as I think, the next day every newspaper has the headline, “THINGS DISCOVERED TO BE EXACTLY AS BAD AS BAERAAD THOUGHT.” I mean… what is there left to reasonably hope for, at this point?

      • baconbacon says:

        the next day every newspaper has the headline

        Stop reading newspapers maybe? How many of the actual headlines do you remember, and how accurate do they look a year+ later? They aren’t good repositories of valuable information.

        • Baeraad says:

          It’s not specific to the newspapers. That was just an example. It doesn’t matter where I got my information, it all seems to more or less agree that things are… really astonishingly bad, actually.

          • chrisjones530 says:

            It feels that way but would you really rather have lived
            10000 years ago facing a short uncomfortable life of hard labour?
            1000 years ago as a tenant farmer?
            100 years ago in the trenches of the Great War?
            60 years ago with the Jim Crow laws still in effect?
            40 years ago when the cancer survival rate was less than half what it is now, aids meant near certain death, etc?
            20 years ago without widespread Internet?
            Or now as the richest, healthiest, best educated and informed people who have ever lived?

            Based on extrapolation I see no case at all for pessimism and I don’t see any strong reason why progress shouldn’t continue. Entropy will be a problem but not on sub-billion year timescales so if that’s our worry, we can live with that.

            What’s the rationalist case for pessimism?

          • baconbacon says:

            It doesn’t matter where I got my information, it all seems to more or less agree that things are… really astonishingly bad, actually.

            Did you know that the worst level of poverty has been cut in half in the last 20-30 years? That is astounding news for hundreds of millions of people. That there has been about a 30% reduction in malaria mortality in the last decade?

            There are some truly unbelievable positive things occurring in the world.

          • Doesntliketocomment says:

            I think the question “Would you rather live now than some arbitrary time in the past” is not a measure of pessimism, the question you are looking for is “Would you rather be alive now or some arbitrary point in the future?“. The pessimistic zeitgeist right now is not denying that we live in an amazing time, but is suggesting that the time we live in is essentially the high water mark and it’s only going to be downhill from here.

          • eccdogg says:

            Might I suggest looking at this website or following them on twitter.

            http://humanprogress.org/

          • Null42 says:

            I agree that being a peasant or WW1 soldier would suck, but the closer you get to the present the harder the question becomes. A white guy with an IQ of 90 might have been better off in 1950 (or a white woman who doesn’t want a career). I’m not so nuts about the Internet–I was happy reading all day in the library back in the 1980s as a kid. And I’m not sure our kids (or the kids of people our age) wouldn’t rather have been born in our time when the USA was the strongest country around and they didn’t have to go to China to find jobs.

          • chrisjones530 says:

            @Doesntliketocomment
            Of course the point of pessimism is whether it would be better to live in the future.
            However, we don’t know the future but we do know the past. So we can say that most people in history would have been right to be optimistic. That doesn’t prove that it is right to be optimistic now but it does suggest it and it puts the onus on pessimists to show why now is a unique time.

            @Null42
            My idea of an optimistic future is improvements in absolute welfare for the majority of people. If you define it as the currently most powerful state improving its relative position and the most powerful ethnic group improving its relative position, then yes you should be pessimistic. I’m pretty happy with that though

          • Null42 says:

            @chrisjones530

            In an absolute, averaged-over-all-humans sense you are correct. I think my point is that the local environment most ssc readers are in (the USA) has probably peaked, and we are likely to see a decrease in our standard of living over time. I would not want to be born 20 years from now over here as global warming worsens and China becomes even more dominant.

            So, yeah, everyone else is getting better, but your life (and mine) is likely to get worse.

            And we still don’t know how much damage global warming is going to do.

          • fion says:

            @chrisjones530

            I don’t see a strong reason why progress shouldn’t continue

            Climate change making the planet much less amenable to life is one reasonably rational cause for pessimism.

            EDIT: oops. Null42 got there first

          • albatross11 says:

            Null42:

            Can you turn that into a falsifiable relatively near-term prediction? Like “the fraction of Americans below the poverty level will increase by 5% over the next decade?” This forces you to be clear about what kind of decline you mean, and also makes it easy to check to see if you were right.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m not any kind of expert on climate change, but as I understand it, the middle-of-the-road predictions of climate change (a couple degrees’ rise in average temperature over the next century) don’t look like some kind of unsurvivable catastrophe. They’ll screw up crops and rainfall patterns in some places, maybe require some moderately expensive civil engineering projects to deal with higher sea levels or bigger storms, but nothing remotely like making Earth much less amenable to life.

          • fion says:

            @albatross11

            One thing people are worried about is runaway heating processes. For example, higher temperatures make forest fires more likely, forest fires release very large amounts of CO2. Or higher temperatures reduce the fraction of the sea covered in ice, water reflects less heat than ice, so the heating increases. Or melting permafrost releasing methane deposits etc.

            I am also not a climate expert, but my understanding was that the middle-of-the-road predictions put one or two degrees as the limit before runaway processes become unstoppable.

          • Nobody seems to consider that climate change might produce net benefits. On average, cold kills a lot more people than heat and the greenhouse effect tends to be strongest in cold times and places (because there is less water vapor, which is also a greenhouse gas). CO2 fertilization substantially increases crop yield. Both of those are pretty certain positive effects.

            More mortality due to hot summers and loss of coastal land due to sea level rise are pretty certain negative effects but it isn’t clear that either is as large. The large negative effects, such as serious loss of ocean life due to a reduced pH of the ocean, are less certain.

            One reason to be skeptical of the runaway disaster scenarios is that current CO2 levels are not high by geological standards, nor are current temperatures.

            I’m not sure why people view the rise of China as making life worse for Americans–what matters is how well off I am, not whether there are other people in the world still better off. And there are positive effects of other countries developing. China might, for instance, be where aging gets solved. It’s already producing products we can and do buy.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            On average, cold kills a lot more people than heat

            David, is this true in developed countries? (Yes, there are plenty of undeveloped countries left, yes.) My impression–I haven’t sourced tons of data–that functionally no one in the US freezes to death, but plenty of people, especially the elderly, can die from heatstroke or from it exacerbating their health problems. (See: any of the thinkpieces about how air conditioning isn’t just millennial weakness or patriarchy.) ISTR an analysis that the largest class of deaths from Fukushima was due to the lost generating capacity limiting available climate control in warm weather, though I don’t have a reference handy.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            This CDC report (PDF) agrees that cold kills more people in the US, though it cautions that the true numbers are hard to determine. (It also doesn’t necessarily follow that an increase in average temperatures will prevent more cold-related deaths than the number of heat-related deaths it causes.)

          • dndnrsn says:

            Don’t homeless people in developed countries freeze to death?

          • Null42 says:

            albatross11:

            Civilizational decline can take a variety of forms, but I’m not averse to producing falsifiable statements, particularly as I don’t expect this blog to be around in 10 years or either of us to remember this conversation. 😉 Also I am not really trying to make money off my predictive ability, just arguing on someone’s blog.

            So:
            I expect poverty levels in the USA to increase by at least 5% over the next 2 decades. (Note that you can definitely blame domestic factors for that–look at the GOP tax bill. The initial argument was whether things keep getting better, and I was arguing not in all cases.)

            I expect several tens of millions of deaths from global warming over the next century. Hard to predict more than that or give a better time course without extensive research.

            I expect American GDP to continue to decline as a fraction of world GDP.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m willing to bet against all of that except for US GDP as fraction of global. High confidence.

          • Brad says:

            It would be a very bad sign if American GDP as a fraction of world GDP increased or stayed the same over the course of the next ten years.

          • @Andrew:
            The simplest measure is to look at U.S. mortality rates by month. On average it’s higher in the winter months, lower in the summer.

            Other than that, the data I know of is global, not national, an old Lancet article which found deaths from cold almost twenty times as common as from heat.

          • It also doesn’t necessarily follow that an increase in average temperatures will prevent more cold-related deaths than the number of heat-related deaths it causes.

            Correct–you need marginal effects not total effects.

            On the other hand, greenhouse warming tends to be greater in cold times and places than in hot because water vapor is a greenhouse gas, there is on average more of it the warmer it is, and the effect of adding one greenhouse gas is less the more there is of another.

            So we have two things suggesting that the temperature change saves more lives than it loses but nothing proving it.

          • I expect several tens of millions of deaths from global warming over the next century.

            Net or gross?

            I expect some people will die who would otherwise have lived, although your numbers strike me as high. But I also expect some will live who would otherwise die–aside from milder winters, doubling CO2 concentration increases the yield of most crops by about 30%, which is huge.

            I expect American GDP to continue to decline as a fraction of world GDP.

            You consider this a bad thing? Isn’t the relevant issue the absolute not the relative change?

          • A1987dM says:

            I expect American GDP to continue to decline as a fraction of world GDP.

            So do I — but I’m nearly shocked that anyone would consider that “pessimism.”

          • fion says:

            @David Friedman

            One reason to be skeptical of the runaway disaster scenarios is that current CO2 levels are not high by geological standards, nor are current temperatures.

            Thanks for this point. Surprisingly it’s not one I’ve heard before, but it’s an interesting point. I shall need to learn more on this.

            However, your comments about deaths from cold vs. heat seem to me to be too simplistic. For example, number of extreme storms increases as global temperatures rise. I’ve also heard arguments that climate change is liable to make extreme cold more common. I think the argument for this was related to the Gulf Stream. I’m not sure how relevant that is for the US, but it could badly affect the climate in Europe.

            As for the crop yield increase, I doubt that will have a bigger impact than expected increased variability of the Indian monsoon. One severely reduced monsoon could cause hundreds of thousands of people to starve.

          • Aapje says:

            @fion

            A relatively high percentage of vocal climate change skeptics in my country seem to be geologists who make exactly this argument. The biggest flaw in the argument is IMO that it seems to rebut a straw man: that the earth will become uninhabitable. A stronger argument to want to reduce climate change is that the changes can make it very hard and/or very costly* to sustain a population of 7-20 billion people.

            The ‘it was warmer/we had more CO2 in the past’ arguments point to a time in earth’s history with no humans, let alone 7-20 billion of them. Furthermore, they ignore the speed of change, which is a major factor.

            In contrast, David Friedman’s argument that climate change will improve the carrying capacity of the earth actually addresses the (steelmanned) anti-climate change argument, although I believe that he is waaaaaay too optimistic and sees climate too much as a static system, rather than a dynamic one where variance is significant as well. You seem to understand this better, with your Indian monsoon example.

            * In the sense that we can only achieve it with far lower quality of life.

          • David Friedman’s argument that climate change will improve the carrying capacity of the earth

            More precisely, that it might.

            Climate change will have a variety of effects positive and negative, we don’t know which will occur or how large they will be. Most of the discussion simply assumes that the net effect will be negative. So far as I can tell, there is no justification for that.

            Once you start with that assumption, it’s easy to justify it. You ignore or minimize all positive effects, take as facts conjectures about negative effects, treat high end estimates of negative effects as if they were average estimates. Add up the result and, sure enough, it’s negative.

            I’ve been posting about this on my blog for years, occasionally quoting bits from the IPCC report to show how wildly exaggerated the popular discussion is. How many people even know that the latest report retracted the claim that AGW was increasing droughts? For one of my favorites:

            Some low-lying developing countries and small island states are expected to face very high impacts that, in some cases, could have associated damage and adaptation costs of several percentage points of GDP.

            Note the last five words.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            More precisely, that it might.

            Fair enough.

            Climate change will have a variety of effects positive and negative, we don’t know which will occur or how large they will be. Most of the discussion simply assumes that the net effect will be negative.

            I think that change that is neutral for the overall carry capacity, but that changes the winners and losers (and/or place that have the most carry capacity), will destabilize the world to some extent, probably increasing the level of strife/war between people. So I assume that climate change has to increase the carry capacity of the earth substantially if it is to be positive for humans overall.

            Furthermore, I believe that a substantial decrease in food production is a much more negative event, than an increase in food production is a positive event. The absence of the latter automatically limits human reproduction and thereby limits suffering and the presence of the latter doesn’t automatically allow for many more humans to have a high quality of life (since food is not the only factor that is limiting). In contrast, a substantial decrease in food supplies will far more likely cause mass starvation.

            When the ‘neutral’ position (changes that increase and that decrease the carry capacity cancel each other out) is negative, I think that a good default standpoint is that we should seek to reduce change, unless we can make a strong argument that the change is good overall. Especially since we have only one earth and cannot insure against failure.

            We know that people are often willing to insure against catastrophic incidents and the only viable way to ‘insure’ is to reduce the extreme changes we cause that may cause severe climate change. If you think that it makes sense to insure against your house burning down, then why not against climate change?

            I’ve been posting about this on my blog for years, occasionally quoting bits from the IPCC report to show how wildly exaggerated the popular discussion is. How many people even know that the latest report retracted the claim that AGW was increasing droughts?

            Correct, although the report doesn’t so much claim that it isn’t happening, but rather that scientific research into droughts is shitty. The report does claim with medium confidence that droughts will increase in the future.

            Some low-lying developing countries and small island states are expected to face very high impacts that, in some cases, could have associated damage and adaptation costs of several percentage points of GDP.

            Note the last five words.

            You are only quoting part of the paragraph, in a way that is very deceptive. This paragraph (last one in chapter 2.3.1) is merely about the costs of dealing with sea level rise. I’ve explained to you in the past that this is not the only potential risk/cost.

            It’s perfectly possible that these nations will face these costs + other costs & that nations who are not at substantial risk to sea level rise will just face the other costs.

          • Controls Freak says:

            I believe that he is waaaaaay too optimistic and sees climate too much as a static system, rather than a dynamic one where variance is significant as well.

            Interestingly, this is the exact complaint I have… but in the other direction! All of the papers I’ve read that attempt to estimate damage functions basically do a static analysis (“If we take today’s society and perturb the climate by XdegC, we estimate it will cause Y damage.”). After all, what else could they do? They don’t have a model of political/economic dynamics that is valid ten years from now, much less fifty.

            People have come along to try to “fix” this, but they do it exactly the wrong way. One well-known example is DICE, Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy model. They “dynamitize” the static damage functions by just amortizing them. Calculate the per year percentage damage that results in the amortized total hitting the value of Y when the temperature hits X (values from above). This is, uh, very very wrong.

            will destabilize the world to some extent, probably increasing the level of strife/war between people.

            Uh, why? Why won’t it stabilize the world to some extent? Or decrease the level of strife/war between people? Political timescales are fast, and you’re running a pair of timescale-separated, coupled systems the wrong way round in your head. You’re holding politics static and assuming a big change in climate. It doesn’t work that way.

            If you think that it makes sense to insure against your house burning down, then why not against climate change?

            Because I have an extremely accurate model of the damage that my house burning down will cause, and the timescale on which those damages will be realized. Timescales are super deceiving (obligatory). An example I like is the Mosul dam. People were really concerned about it failing. Predictions of megadeaths. Until someone pointed out that the time it would take for the water to flow from the dam to the city was a couple days, and the time it would take to walk from any point in the city to safety was a couple hours. In this particular case, there would still be lots of property damage and stuff, but when we’re dealing with timescales wrong in our model of damage, we might be off by literal megadeaths.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Now that you mention it, global-warming activists remind me very much of insurance salesmen.

          • You are only quoting part of the paragraph, in a way that is very deceptive. This paragraph (last one in chapter 2.3.1) is merely about the costs of dealing with sea level rise.

            Correct. I am quoting it because the standard story, widely believed in, is that sea level rise is going to entirely eliminate small island states such as the Maldives and impose enormous costs on low lying countries, mostly Bangladesh.

            Do you disagree that that’s the standard popular account, and one part of why many people see AGW as a catastrophe?

            On your point about food supplies. I agree that if we had a .5 probability of increasing world food supplies by 30% and a .5 probability of decreasing them by 30% that would be a bad thing, but that isn’t the situation. What we have is a virtual certainty of one effect that increases yields by about 30% (less than that for sugar cane and maize, which are the two significant C4 crops, but CO2 fertilization also reduces water requirements, which is another plus). It’s a virtual certainty because all it requires is a doubling of CO2, and that’s the change that is supposed to drive all of the (less certain) climate changes.

            To get a negative, you need something that not only reduces world food yields but reduces them by more than 30%. To get that you have loss of crop land due to sea level rise–which, by 2100, at the high end of the high emissions scenario without diking, pushes coastlines in by an average of about a hundred meters–invisibly small on a geographical scale. You have droughts that have not yet been observed to follow from AGW although the IPCC thought they had in the fourth report and now thinks they might happen in the future, worsening of hurricanes which has not yet been observed and is on uncertain theoretical grounds (Chris Landsea’s best guess a while back was hurricanes a little stronger and a little less frequent), and changes in general climate over a century or so that make Minnesota as warm as Iowa–when we are already growing crops across a much wider range of climates.

            So the best guess is that the net effect is an increase in food supplies but one that will be smaller than CO2 fertilization alone would produce if it turns out that the other effects are negative, which they might be.

            And your idea of playing safe is to prevent that from happening.

          • Aapje says:

            @Controls Freak

            Uh, why? Why won’t it stabilize the world to some extent? Or decrease the level of strife/war between people?

            Because people mind losing what they have more than never having it in the first place.

            Political timescales are fast

            ‘Political timescale’ seems like an overly vague term that encapsulates too much. Decision making can be fast. Implementing those decisions can take anywhere from days to centuries to never being achievable. Furthermore, some decisions are not politically feasible. It’s quite feasible for Poland to take in a bunch of Syrian refugees. They really don’t want to, though.

            Now, I’m not saying that people won’t adapt to climate change, they obviously will. But it’s not a given that they can or want to adapt in a way that will prevent high amounts of unpleasantry. Theoretically, the US could let in millions of Syrian refugees, giving them some welfare and such, with a much lower quality of life cost per citizen than is currently born by the population of Lebanon. Yet the US only let in 18k Syrian refugees (presumably because of loss aversion, ‘somebody else’s problem’ and the convenience of not having them turn up on your door step).

            Timescales are super deceiving (obligatory). An example I like is the Mosul dam. People were really concerned about it failing. Predictions of megadeaths. Until someone pointed out that the time it would take for the water to flow from the dam to the city was a couple days, and the time it would take to walk from any point in the city to safety was a couple hours.

            This report shows that if 26% of the dam is destroyed and the lake has a decent water level, Mosul will be hit in less than 4 hours, Tikrit in less than a day and Baghdad in 2-3 days. Perhaps you mixed up Baghdad with Mosul?

            If the dam would break unexpectedly during the night, I don’t see very many people being evacuated. I would guesstimate 100k’s of immediate deaths. Secondary effects, like a lack of clean drinking water and disease could add a bunch more.

            Anyway, I don’t see how this example necessarily tells us very much about the risks of flooding events, aside from the fact that a possible breakage of a Mosul dam has fairly little to do with excess rainfall, but more with the dam being built in the wrong place. I’m not convinced that Mosul is the median or average example of a region in danger, especially when regions in danger are weighed by the risk per person per year (which would weigh heavily populated regions more heavily). Note that the current trend is to more urbanization and thus larger densely populated regions, which are much harder to evacuate than relatively low density areas like greater Mosul.

          • Controls Freak says:

            Uh, why? Why won’t it stabilize the world to some extent? Or decrease the level of strife/war between people?

            Because people mind losing what they have more than never having it in the first place.

            What is your model for the dynamics that has them “losing” things? It sounds like you’re holding the political system constant (they have stuff, and would continue to have stuff), changing the climate (with a static estimate of loss), and then saying, “Look! They’ll lose things! They won’t like that!” This is the wrong way to do it.

            ‘Political timescale’ seems like an overly vague term that encapsulates too much.

            I agree that it’s a broad category, potentially encapsulating both fast and slow dynamics. This doesn’t help your position at all. Instead, it means that the systems might not be timescale-separated at all! That means, we need to simulate them simultaneously! …we still need a valid model of these political dynamics, or else our results are pure garbage.

            I’m not saying that people won’t adapt to climate change, they obviously will. But it’s not a given that they can or want to adapt in a way that will prevent high amounts of unpleasantry.

            It’s not a given that they’ll do it in a way that prevents high amounts of pleasantry, either. I’m saying your model sucks and thus, your results are invalid. I’m not saying, “Everything will be great!” I’m not even saying, “Everything will be neutral.” I’m saying, “We need to completely discount results that are based on bad methodology.” That’s hard when bad methodology is basically the only thing anyone has in this space.

            The analogy I usually give is aircraft flight (my degrees focus in dynamics/control, but they’re from aero departments). Orientation/velocity is timescale-separated from fuel usage (sometimes; like your concern about political systems, sometimes our model doesn’t allow this timescale separation, and the simulation is more difficult). If people look at this problem like they look at climate change, they’d predict all that fuel usage over the course of the flight and be really worried. I mean, how do you know it will be okay? Sudden losses of fuel can be really problematic! You won’t be at the most efficient altitude! That can throw your weight distribution all off! You can even show such a thing making planes go unstable in flight simulators! “I’m not saying that pilots won’t adapt to fuel usage, they obviously will. But it’s not a given that they can or want to adapt in a way that will prevent high amounts of unpleasantry.” In this case, it’s pretty bloody obvious how the reasoning fails (the fast system is designed to be plenty stable and pilots choose to increase their altitude over the course of the flight in order to always remain near the most efficient altitude).

            Perhaps you mixed up Baghdad with Mosul?

            I’ll admit, I didn’t dive into the details of this particular example, and I may even be wrong on the particulars here. I don’t really care (though, when I have time, I’ll try to read this so I can fix my examples for the future).

            I don’t see how this example necessarily tells us very much about the risks of flooding events

            You’re totally missing the point. First, you gave some reasons why, “Hey, we actually can the timescale effects of this particular example in a way that makes sense.” That’s great! I’m not making a point about flooding events. I’m making a point about modeling timescale effects for damage estimates. That you can do this correctly in another domain doesn’t mean that it’s not still a problem in this domain (again, we can do this correctly for aircraft; I give an example of the bad form of reasoning in order to say that the reasoning is bad, not to claim that aircraft are about to all be going unstable due to fuel usage). Unlike the dam, I have dug into climate damage papers, and I know that every one I’ve seen (barring one, which has a different assumption that I’m still not sure how I feel about) has this massive and glaring flaw.

            Note: I’ve seen pro-mitigation folk admit this point when they have a brief moment of clarity (and an academic paper pointing out the problem). They haven’t quite come to terms with what it means to accept that we don’t know what the sign of SCC is, but I think it’s good to at least accept truth when truth is apparent.

            EDIT: Also, there was one figure in the IPCC reports that I remember being interesting in capturing timescale effects. I think it would be good if people fleshed these parts of the problem out, and if you can point me to any work that you think does the timescales right in this domain, I’m definitely interested in seeing it.

          • Aapje says:

            @Controls Freak

            What is your model for the dynamics that has them “losing” things?

            I can come up with very plausible changes that can cause some people to lose things and other people to win things, some of which are already happening. Certain very profitable agriculture may shift to different regions, making some regions much poorer and others much richer. Another example is that tourists may go to different places (less skiing for example, some places may get too hot, other places may go from too cold to pleasant).

            I’m saying your model sucks and thus, your results are invalid. I’m not saying, “Everything will be great!” I’m not even saying, “Everything will be neutral.” I’m saying, “We need to completely discount results that are based on bad methodology.

            My argument is mainly that we are observing fairly rapid change, that we can make plausible arguments for serious problems, that we cannot be confident that the changes will stay within reasonable limits and thus that it makes huge sense to make relatively cheap investments to slow down the change and perhaps also somewhat more expensive investments. Many of these investments have other benefits, so it’s certainly not a completely useless investment if it turns out that we overestimated climate change and/or the negative consequences of climate change.

            Instead, it means that the systems might not be timescale-separated at all!

            No, it probably means that the systems are partially timescale separated, with all permutations. So some politics is faster, allowing for beneficial effects, like trying out several solutions before settling on the best. But it can also lead politicians to ignore issues because the time scale is longer than the election cycle. Some politics has the same timescale, which has benefits and downsides. Some politics is slower, which has benefits and downsides. It’s not a simplistic interaction where the controller being faster is always good.

            Also, politics can fail to react sufficiently or appropriately for reasons that have nothing to do with timescale issues or where the timescale is merely a contributing factor.

            That means, we need to simulate them simultaneously! …we still need a valid model of these political dynamics, or else our results are pure garbage.

            I agree, but not having a good model is a reason to advocate limiting the rate of change, to a risk averse person like me. So this helps my position after all.

            Note: I’ve seen pro-mitigation folk admit this point when they have a brief moment of clarity (and an academic paper pointing out the problem).

            Most future events are not predictable with perfect accuracy. That’s why we have such things as confidence intervals. Ultimately, we still have to make decisions, based on our imperfect ability to predict. We don’t get to avoid the consequences of our actions by complaining that our models are not good enough. Reality doesn’t care.

            You may disagree with how risk averse the people who want to spend (more) on mitigation. Ultimately, where the models reach their limits, personal values and faith take over. I agree with you that it would be nicer if we had better models and personal values & faith would thus have less impact, but you don’t always get what you want.

            PS. Your username suggests that you ought to be more risk averse 🙂

          • My argument is mainly that we are observing fairly rapid change,

            I just wanted to pick up on this, because I don’t think it is true. Current warming started about 1911. Over that period, sea level rise has averaged less than a tenth of an inch/year, warming has averaged .015°C/year. Arguably both rates are somewhat higher now, although it’s hard to be sure since both have varied a good deal–warming was negative for a period of several decades in the mid 20th century.

            That isn’t rapid change in human terms, although it’s pretty fast in geological terms (“A geologist is someone who views the everlasting hills as a temporary surface phenomenon,” as my geologist wife tells me).

            There has been a lot of scare talk about horrible things about to happen, but so far they haven’t.

          • Controls Freak says:

            I can come up with very plausible changes that can cause some people to lose things and other people to win things, some of which are already happening.

            How does that interact with the baseline system, in which some people are losing things and other people are winning things, often on timescales massively faster than climate change?

            My argument is mainly that we are observing fairly rapid change

            Climatologists’ scale is generally 50-100 years; I don’t know many economists that trust the CBO to do dynamic scoring well over ten. If we’re talking about trying to model these as timescale-separated systems, it’s pretty clear which one is the fast system.

            we cannot be confident that the changes will stay within reasonable limits

            What are “reasonable limits”, and what model did you use to determine them?

            Instead, it means that the systems might not be timescale-separated at all!

            No, it probably means that the systems are partially timescale separated, with all permutations. So some politics is faster, allowing for beneficial effects, like trying out several solutions before settling on the best. But it can also lead politicians to ignore issues because the time scale is longer than the election cycle. Some politics has the same timescale, which has benefits and downsides. Some politics is slower, which has benefits and downsides. It’s not a simplistic interaction where the controller being faster is always good.

            I never claimed that the controller being faster is always good. In any event, let’s think about what you’ve done here. You’ve claimed that we can split the political dynamics into two subsystems, let’s call them P1 and P2. We’ll call the climate dynamics C. P1 is a fast subsystem, much faster than C. P2 is on approximately the same timescale as C. Now, we still actually need valid models for P1 and P2. We’ll have to model the coupled P2-C system simultaneously, but we can take a timestep from that, feed it into P1, and let it converge before stepping forward in P2-C. Needless to say, you haven’t solved the problem. (Reference: Chapter 10 of Khalil’s book, which is a standard text for a first graduate course in nonlinear systems.)

            but not having a good model is a reason to advocate limiting the rate of change, to a risk averse person like me

            I think this is what you have to rest on. What I want to make sure is that the, “Not having a good model,” part of that statement is in big bright neon lights, so that we’re not sneakily imagining that we can model it when we make decisions. I don’t think that’s the case right now, and infects a lot of people’s judgment.

            Most future events are not predictable with perfect accuracy. That’s why we have such things as confidence intervals.

            I’m extremely aware of this, and it simply completely misses the point of my concern (I’m on the math side of the shop, and I’m literally in the middle of a project with an experimentalist colleague to help bring rigor to their process of data fitting and uncertainty estimation (and frankly, what he’s doing already is better than almost everyone else in his subfield)). I’m not at all expressing an issue with confidence intervals or asking for perfect accuracy. I’m saying that the models are so fundamentally broken that they say nothing useful about the topic. If someone did this type of analysis on the aircraft case and I pointed out that it was just theoretically wrong, it wouldn’t matter if they came back and said, “But here are confidence intervals we calculated using the same basic methodology.” NO, YOUR ENTIRE PROJECT IS WRONG AND STOP BEING COMPLETELY WRONG!

            Ultimately, we still have to make decisions, based on our imperfect ability to predict. We don’t get to avoid the consequences of our actions by complaining that our models are not good enough.

            I agree, but again, I think people aren’t actually believing that all the models are garbage, even when they say the words. They’re harboring a naive static damage assumption in the back of their minds (you’ve done it several times in this comment). Not only is the naive static model extremely persuasive if you’re not educated in dynamical systems theory, but you’ve had blasted all over the news for decades that the damage is totally going to be positive, because all the smart people said it was. It’s probably going to be hard for you to actually remove that from your mind completely.

            You may disagree with how risk averse the people who want to spend (more) on mitigation

            Not at all. I don’t really have much of an opinion on that. I don’t really have a great general model for how to choose a level of risk on big issues like this. (I mean, computers or the internet (or *gasp* AI) could totally change society! There will be winners and losers! People might fight wars!) I haven’t really been convinced by any stance I’ve seen here in any direction. I really really really just want people to realize how atrociously flawed the existing models are and really internalize this fact.

      • Nornagest says:

        Bad news sells better than good news. Doesn’t mean the good news doesn’t exist. When’s the last time you saw a newspaper headline that said “MALARIA DEATHS DOWN 48% SINCE 2000”?

        (Actually, that’s old news — 2015 vintage, which is what the WHO has numbers for. It’s probably lower now.)

    • Skeptical Wolf says:

      This is a good idea and would be great information to have, but might be difficult to capture in a single question (people seem to use several different definitions of optimism). I’d recommend something like the following list:

      How confident are you that median human quality of life will be higher in 2 years?
      How confident are you that median human quality of life will be higher in 20 years?
      How confident are you that median human quality of life will be higher in 200 years?

      What portion of people do you think consistently act in good faith?
      To what degree do you believe acting in good faith is correlated with social advancement?
      To what degree do you believe acting in good faith is correlated with economic advancement?
      To what degree do you believe acting in good faith is correlated with personal happiness?

      How optimistic/pessimistic do you consider yourself?

      • sty_silver says:

        I’m not sure if this is unintended, but for me, and I suspect to a fair amount of rationalists, the answer to the second and third question would be almost identical to asking “how confident are you that humanity still exists in 20 / 200 years”. You might want to control for that.

  2. outis says:

    I believe that the life I have lived until now makes it impossible for me to be happy. On the other hand, I also believe that that belief itself is making things more difficult for me. How should I deal with that? Should I try to force myself to believe what I think is false?

    Also, even when I reminisce about positive memories, the strongest emotion I feel is an overwhelming sadness. A sense of loss for friends who have left, for opportunities that will not come back, for youth that is gone. Is that normal? On one hand, nostalgia has pain right in the name. On the other hand, if that’s how it works for everyone, I don’t understand how people manage to live in their old age.

    • Alethenous says:

      Unless the life you’ve lived involves exotic forms of brain damage (tardive dysphoria?), that is a false belief, and you should probably seek counselling.

    • OptimalSolver says:

      If you woke up to find you were still 14 years old, and you had just been dreaming of what adult life might be like, how would you react?

      Would you be sad that all your experiences after 14 had been merely an illusion?

      • jeqofire says:

        At what period during year 14, exactly? December 17? Fourteenth birthday? It changes a couple things.
        I would be very frustrated at losing everything I’ve made since then. Would sure be nice if nearby computers with sufficient disk space could have had the same hallucinations.
        Otherwise… it’s been all downhill since then. Or rather, there have been ups and downs, but on the whole, post-14 life suuucks. I’d be sad about certain things being undone (by which I mean like one podcast and friendships), but mostly I’d be torn between overwhelming despair at the likelyhood of things turning out exactly as awfully, and hope that a second chance would be something I could take advantage of. Bonus to the hope side if the hyperdream accurately predicts reality had I not experienced it.

      • Berna says:

        I would be sad. I’m still in school? My husband lives far away? No Internet, no ereaders even in science fiction? I would be very sad indeed!

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I would be overjoyed and immediately begin writing a series of novels about an orphan boy who learns he’s a wizard and goes off to wizard school for magical adventures with his new friends. Then I would pile the billions of dollars I’d make from this schlock in my mansion and roll around in it naked.

        • You don’t have the text of the original to copy. Unless you are as good a writer as its author I don’t think the idea alone will make you a fortune, or even get you a publisher.

          The approach would work somewhat better in my field, or any academic field where one clever idea plus ordinary competence can make an important paper.

          • bbartlog says:

            Even being able to reproduce the story word for word would be no guarantee of anything. Rowling’s book was rejected a dozen times and ultimately accepted by a small publisher in part due to happenstance.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Eh, I could do a passable job. Or failing that at least I have the stories written down so when J.K. makes her billions I can accuse her of copying my stories I was trying to get published a decade before she got started and get a sweet settlement.

          • cassander says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            That’s probably a better bet in the long run. Sure, you don’t get billions, but you can get millions or tens of millions without taking the risk of disrupting the timeline enough so that you derail the gravy train.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I would also have plenty of time to buy cheap Apple and Google stock, and murder George Lucas before he made the prequels.

          • OptimalSolver says:

            Guys, dreaming that Harry Potter, Google and Apple all became famous brands is no guarantee they actually will in the real world.

          • Nearly Takuan says:

            (tl;dr: bolstering DavidFriedman’s points.)

            My 14-year-old self didn’t have any access to raw monetary capital (even the checking account my minimum-wage job direct-deposited into was practically out of my control), but had sufficient access to computing resources. So I do my due diligence and research. If it turns out that the thing I dreamed was possible is in fact not logically possible, then never mind. On the other hand, if the thing I dreamed about someone else inventing and me never investing in is in fact a thing that computers can do, then I invent BitCoin five years early. I don’t know that it turns out to be a successful enterprise, but it still seems like a better bet than investing money I don’t have into some random search engine on the basis of “I dreamed they got bigger than AltaVista!”.

          • Deiseach says:

            when J.K. makes her billions I can accuse her of copying my stories

            It’s been tried already, didn’t work 🙂

          • Neil Gaiman had a similar idea earlier in the form or Timothy Hunter. Including the glasses and the owl.

      • Anonymous says:

        I would be over the moon. All the mistakes that I have made wiped clean. A new shot at a better life and a highly realistic simulation of the next 10 years and what could go wrong? Yes, please.

      • Ozy Frantz says:

        I dunno, I’m very happy with my life, but I’d jump at the opportunity to restart my life with twelve years of practice and perspective under my belt.

        The worst part would be waiting for my friends to grow up enough that I wouldn’t be disrupting their development by being friends with them.

      • cassander says:

        After buying apple stock and waiting for the pain of having “date liz, not katie” tattooed behind my eyelids to fade, I’d be pretty excited. How could you not be? Who doesn’t have regrets, and yearn, at least on occasion, for a chance to right some of them?

      • RKN says:

        This actually happened to me today.

        My first waking thought was, “I will never drink that much Peach Schnapps again.”

      • johan_larson says:

        No, I’d be frustrated that I have thirty-some years of vividly remember experience that I want to rely on to make decisions, but really shouldn’t, because it was all pure make-believe.

      • Nearly Takuan says:

        Well, when I was 14, I owned a GameCube and a copy of Sonic Heroes. I thought it was cheesy and horrible, and I secretly pulled all-nighters on some weekends in order to achieve 100% completion on it. This life is like Sonic Heroes or a DVD syndication of Lost: there have been fun parts, grindy boring parts, parts that were frustrating-but-not-in-a-good-way, and of course random graphical glitches and questionable camera angles. I worked a lot harder than I should have (and certainly harder than I think I should rightly have had to) to make incremental progress toward a fairly unimpressive payoff.

        So… yes, I would be sad about all that progress getting erased. The boulder returns to the bottom (or near-bottom) of the mountain. But even at 14, I knew that Sonic Heroes was a pretty crappy game, especially for a AAA title; I’m pretty sure I even knew, on some level, that there were lots of things I enjoyed as much as or more than video games. There’s…wow, so much self-knowledge I am convinced I would have benefited from having way earlier, even if I couldn’t transmit any other facts back to my past self.

        Dream-Me is pretty smart, but the 14-year-old Real-Me has no evidence that this is anything other than wish-fulfillment and/or hubris; 14-year-old Real Me never really fantasized about literally being Harrison Bergeron, but only because that’s such an obviously exaggerated, unattainable state. So Real-Me is probably disappointed that he’s not as cool as Dream-Me (not because Dream-Me is actually cool but because Real-Me is such a dweeb), but if he has any wisdom he’ll at least make use of the experience to stop wasting energy on things he didn’t imagine would end well, even in his dream, and maybe at least try some of the things he dreamed about enjoying.

        • The only reason I would seriously consider going back to my fourteen year old self is the knowledge that, assuming aging is not solved, I can expect to die sometime in the next thirty years. That aside, I am on net happy with how my life has turned out.

      • outis says:

        That’s an interesting question. I have often thought that I would like to go back in time to when I was 14 and redo all my life since then, but the way I usually imagine it is to send my current consciousness back in time.

        When I read your question, I was more hesitant than usual. I have recently been thinking about some friends I miss, and I would regret having them disappear from existence. But on the other hand, shouldn’t the dream scenario be better than the time travel scenario in that respect? I may never meet those people again if our lives (especially mine!) take a different path; but if they were never real, I can forget them and focus on making new friends.

        Of course, I could forget them and make new friends even if they’re real, and even if I stay in the present, but I have already tried that and found that I can’t really make new friends now, so meh.

        And it’s not like I haven’t thought about this before. Sometimes I thought of posting this on Facebook (“I wish I could just go back to when I was 14 and start over”), and I thought that people may be hurt by hearing that I’d give up our entire friendship. But yes, I would.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      outis, what if you substituted “difficult to be happy” for “impossible to be happy”?

    • JulieK says:

      Somewhat related: how do you tell if you’re depressed, versus being unhappy because your life is objectively bad?

      • Baeraad says:

        One way is to try to imagine life being better. Be as unrealistic and self-indulgent as you want. If you immediately start going, “well, that could never happen” or “well, even if that happened, it would still be bad because X, Y, and Z,” then you’re probably depressed.

        • JulieK says:

          But if you’re being unrealistic, it’s true that it could never happen.

        • Anonymous says:

          What can I do in the case where I’m pretty sure I have been depressed for at least 1-2 years because of the thought patterns like that, failing school because of that (deep social phobias) but still won’t seek therapy because I don’t want the stigma and the risk of anyone finding out ever after, the small likelihood of it actually working and the actual cost, which seems really expensive?

          I would like a clean slate, preferably in a totally different country. Does anyone know of an easiest way to make it happen for a person like me, with my low energy and no completed college education? I am talking Europe.

          • Witness says:

            I’m in the US and have no experience moving out of country. I did manage to mostly pull myself out of some deep-seated (around two decades, I think) untreated social anxiety and possibly depression in the past several years.

            Some things that helped me:

            – I stopped consuming caffiene. It was a difficult road, and I still occasionally slip, but this has been a major positive for me. I’m less irritable, less frantic, and I sleep better.

            – I took on some additional responsibilities at work. I didn’t always do a great job at them at first, but instead of the disapproval I’d feared, I got supported for trying and was eventually able to handle them. (This one may be the most difficult to replicate, but any opportunity you have to hang out more with people who support these things and less with people who don’t may be worth taking).

            – I pursued a more prestigious/better paid position with another company. I ended up not getting an offer, but the attempt as a whole was very positive for me.

            I’ll admit a lot of other things had to line up for this to work out as well as it has for me. So, my first piece of advice to my past self would be “Sure, you could wait 20 years and come out of this, but how about you talk to a doctor and see if there’s a better way?”

          • The original Mr. X says:

            What can I do in the case where I’m pretty sure I have been depressed for at least 1-2 years because of the thought patterns like that, failing school because of that (deep social phobias) but still won’t seek therapy because I don’t want the stigma and the risk of anyone finding out ever after, the small likelihood of it actually working and the actual cost, which seems really expensive?

            I don’t know about the cost, but even if people find out that you’ve seen a therapist, I don’t think they’d give you any grief over it.

            I would like a clean slate, preferably in a totally different country. Does anyone know of an easiest way to make it happen for a person like me, with my low energy and no completed college education? I am talking Europe.

            Get a TEFL qualification, and look for teaching positions abroad. Lots of places require degrees, which will limit your options a bit, but enough don’t that you shouldn’t find it too difficult to get work.

          • Anonymous says:

            Have you considered joining the French Foreign Legion?

          • outis says:

            You could also just move to a different city. A blank slate can be a great boon, and you sound young enough that you could make new acquaintances.

            Find something that you are good at and do it. Get a job and make money. As long as you can get something done and feel that you’re making progress, it’s going to get better. It’s not going to get good, mind you, at least in my experience. But it’s still much better than to give in to depression.

        • Wrong Species says:

          If you were a heavily mistreated slave in the 18th century, you would probably be very pessimistic about life but that’s because of objectively bad circumstances, not because you have a bad mindset.

      • Ozy Frantz says:

        Objectively terrible lives can cause depression. As far as I know, antidepressants work as well on situational depression as they do on non-situational depression. (You don’t have to be on them forever; it can be a useful tool to intervene in the life sucks –> depression –> no ability to fix anything –> life sucks worse cycle.)

      • blah says:

        @JulieK
        This is a good question. I don’t have a good answer, but maybe telling you my experience with depressed mood could help.

        I have felt very down at different points in my life for months on end (not sure if I would meet the criteria for clinical depression since I was still quite functional day to day). I thought it likely, that my negative feelings were due to negative life circumstances that I was dealing with.

        I ended up going to a therapist who I feel didn’t really help me (never took antidepressants). The therapist suggested looking for self-help books that addressed my negative life circumstances.

        I eventually found some ways to address my negative life circumstances. My life improved and my feelings improved as well.

    • Irein says:

      ‘Ostis, perhaps it would help to think of different kinds of happiness. You say you’re bothered my memories that ought to be happy, but only bring pain. The Pyrrhonian/Epicurean concept of ataraxia defines happiness negatively, as the absence of pain, essentially “not-being-tossed-around”. Perhaps an attempt to reorient yourself toward an idea like this would keep you from feeling like you have to ‘believe what you think is false’.

    • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

      Have you heard about the concept of the ‘dark night of the soul’? Some spiritual traditions explain something similar to your description as (possibly long-lasting) growth pains of consciousness. It’s possible you would prefer other wordings and theoretical/practical frameworks, but simply learning about these may be helpful also.

    • baconbacon says:

      I believe that the life I have lived until now makes it impossible for me to be happy. On the other hand, I also believe that that belief itself is making things more difficult for me. How should I deal with that?

      I have been listening to a lot of Jordan Peterson recently and his philosophy makes a ton of sense to me. Trying to distill it for this specific question, would lead me to say it is something like “Try to live your life in the best way that you can. This is the only way to functionally figure out what you can be and how good* your life can be, and what is actually outside of your control and what is within your control.” This message has resonated with me more than any other I have ever heard.

      *He stresses that what your definition of a good outcome is will probably change if you actually attempt to do this.

    • Vanessa Kowalski says:

      outis, your feeling resonates with me on some level, but (although I can’t tell for sure since I don’t know any of details), it’s almost certainly false. You can be happy (or at least content) if you find some sense of purpose, and as long as your physical health is tolerable, you can find some sense of purpose.

    • phil says:

      I think from ages 25-30 or so, I often felt something similar.

      Its hard to tell from what you wrote, I suspect its statistical likely that the underlining causes of your feelings are different from mine.

      But maybe it would be useful if I reflected a bit on my prospective on those feeling now that I’m 37, maybe you’ll glean something useful from them (if not, I apologize for wasting your time).

      ————–

      I think its hard to know who you are or who you’re supposed to be as a young adult, I know I had a lot of problems figuring that out.

      Principally, I had a lot of difficulty trying to create a meaningful career and a meaningful long term relationship as a young adult, and learning how to process that was difficult for me.

      At the time, I felt that choices I made left me trapped going forward, I felt that I had made poor choices in terms of what to study, poor choices in terms of early career opportunities to pursue, and a felt like career-wise I had missed the boat.

      Relationship-wise, I spent about a year in a relationship that wound up not working out. My skillset at finding new relationships wasn’t that great, and I took the breakup pretty hard.

      Again, I suspect your issues are different than mine, buts that’s what was upsetting me at the time.

      ————-

      I think I have two branches of thought about all this.

      First, some years later, I’m of the opinion, that your circumstances don’t determine your happiness in life, its how you react to them, and what meaning you decide to give them.

      A useful thought exercise is to realize that there are happy and unhappy people across the circumstances spectrum.

      Whatever you think your life is missing, realize there are people who have everything you desire, and yet, are still suicidally miserable.

      Before you reflect too long on that, conversely realize, that no matter how meager your resources, realize there are still people out there who would love to have everything you have, don’t, yet still figure out how to be satisfied with life.

      Its not your circumstances, it the meaning you give your circumstances.

      People talk a lot about the hedonic treadmill, when after you get something new, you get used to it, and it no longer seems exciting or a big deal anymore.

      I’ve personally found that it goes both ways. Life goes on, when you miss out on something you think you desperately need, that you’ll be miserable forever without, eventually, you emotionally adjust.

      (if you think my issues are just silly [and that’s fair] supposedly, when they’ve talked to people who’ve had amputations, they find the same thing, that it doesn’t effect their minute to minute, day to day, happiness as much as they would have predicted)

      Second, life is long, you likely have more freedom of operation than you realize.

      Looking back, I realize a set lot of arbitrary deadline and mile markers for myself that weren’t especially helpful.

      I thought a lot of “if I haven’t accomplished X by Y, it means this is unlikely to work out, I should try something else”

      That was a mistake, ultimately, its difficult to predict the path you’ll take in life, the best way to go somewhere, is to be openminded on how long you expect it to take you.

      —————

      hopefully that wasn’t too abstract,

      I’m going to list a few resources that I think helped me, maybe it’ll help you to

      I found that Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi https://www.amazon.com/Flow-Psychology-Experience-Perennial-Classics/dp/0061339202 helped me really think about how flexible the meaning you attach to your circumstances really is

      We all have to wirehead our experiences to make existence tolerable http://lesswrong.com/lw/4su/how_to_be_happy/ I found this less wrong article helpful in brainstorming avenues to accomplish this

      To make progress, the big thing is to everyday, keep putting 1 foot in front of the next, I think this article from James Altucher give excellent advice in thinking about the best way to do that https://jamesaltucher.com/2011/02/how-to-be-the-luckiest-guy-on-the-planet-in-4-easy-steps/

      ————–

      Anyway, I’m sorry you’re going through a tough time right now, hopefully something in there has been at least a little helpful.

      Good luck.

    • Deiseach says:

      On the other hand, if that’s how it works for everyone, I don’t understand how people manage to live in their old age.

      I think that depends on how old you are now have you just hit your thirties and woken up to “ahhh, I’m now old, I’m not twenty-something anymore!”). There is a particular time when you are not old, but no longer young; the time behind you of infinite possibility, of “I can do and be whatever I want!”, of the future stretching out before you in years and years of time like a vault full of treasure you can never imagine spending – that gets chopped off bit by bit as time goes by.

      And then you get to the stage where you realise that you don’t have the same infinite array before you because you’ve made choices and circumstances have brought you to places where you are here and it is not going to be possible to get to there, and now time has a value that you did not perceive before; it’s not a vault full of treasure, there is a limited amount and you’ve spent a good chunk of it already.

      And yes, the sense of loss: change, falling away, people leaving, even death perhaps as older family members die. There’s a reason for all this talk of the mid-life crisis, because this can induce a panic about being trapped, about “this is my last chance to do something, to show I’m still young!”

      And if you get past that, then things calm down. Yes, life is probably not what you expected and planned, but now you’ve had enough experience to know that few things do turn out as expected and planned. You have made choices, and if they’re good, you have no reason to regret, and if they’re bad, then you have learned not to make such choices again. Autumn is the season now, but autumn is not yet winter (and even the bare branches of winter have their own beauty).

      Yeah, you can work yourself up into a panic over all that you can now never have, do, get, be, attain – but that’s not going to change anything and will only make you unhappier and even more miserable. Learning to accept graciously is the lesson now.

      • raj says:

        Well said. I just wish I could accept it, because honestly it’s all way too heavy. Which feels like its own sort of self-betrayal – I’m given a finite time and I should at least experience it with lightness and joy. But instead it feels like I’m slowly drowning in lost possibilities.

        • Hyzenthlay says:

          I’m in my mid-thirties now and I identify with this a lot. More and more I find myself dwelling on the past and mourning my lost youth (even though I’m not even that old) and feeling frustrated with having a limited amount of time left. And also feeling frustrated with myself for wasting my precious finite moments being a mopey schmuck about my own mortality.

          I don’t know if there’s an easy way out of that labyrinth. There are some people who find it helpful to continually remind themselves of their own mortality, because it keeps their priorities in line and stops them from worrying about trivial stuff, and others who find thoughts of “I’m going to die someday” to be an intrusive, depressing distraction that prevents them from enjoying life. I kind of swing back and forth between those two mentalities.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Detailed account of raising one’s happiness setpoint

      The comments have some good material, and are also a chance to see what LW 1.0 was like when it had a lively community.

      • Aapje says:

        That thread goes to weird places:

        Although maybe if MBlume combined the Nazi uniform with facial hair in the form of a Hitler mustache, he would appear threatening.

  3. Douglas Knight says:

    1,4,6 are general internet memes, as you can verify by looking them up on urban dictionary. They might be more specific, like tumblr millennials, but I don’t know.
    2 is rationalist specific, I think.
    3. never noticed.
    5. Urban dictionary doesn’t have it, instead a different meaning, but google finds an example that’s pretty close. I read it differently because of its similarity to a quite old and widespread usage, fairly common IRL. I don’t know how widely I’ve seen it.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I suspect this was supposed to be posted elsewhere?

      • toastengineer says:

        No, I think it’s just that internet memes are so obscure and obfuscated nowadays that the integers 1-6 can be Internet memes.

        Maybe he’s running that version of Peano arithmetic Yudkowsky was talking about on Twitter, with the “social integration features, to share your favorite integers with friends.”

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          But isn’t 3 the most meme number? 3 wishes, 3 little pigs, 3 blind mice, 3 christmas ghosts, 3 wise guys, etc?

          • The Nybbler says:

            But one is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do, and has an entire class of memes (forever alone) named after it.

      • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

        Hey, this is my bad. I posted a comment last night and then deleted it (before I saw any responses) because I didn’t think it was very good or helpful. Sorry for the confusion, and for the needless effort by Douglas!

  4. ManyCookies says:

    Besides the subreddit, where else do you discuss politics/controversial topics? And where have you discussed politics in the past?

    • Anonymous says:

      #Politics on IRC.

    • blacktrance says:

      These days, rationalist Tumblr. I also used to post on the GameFAQs politics board.

    • I used to argue climate issues on a FB group. I gave it up for Lent this year and have not gone back.

      I used to argue politics on Usenet, mostly in the group Humanities.Philosophy.Objectivism. But that was a long time ago.

    • Nornagest says:

      Aside from occasionally talking face-to-face with people I trust, I don’t. I read politics threads on Reddit sometimes, but very rarely post; I usually read about ten comments in, decide that OP was misleading clickbait and everyone in the thread is an idiot, and downvote everything in sight until I get bored. It’s a bad habit and I shouldn’t do it.

      Less Wrong might have counted as “controversial topics”, but I was always pretty much on board with the politics-is-the-mindkiller meme during my time there. (I’ve moderated my view a bit since, but I still think the rationalist diaspora’s approach to politics is dominated by rationalization, not rationality. Our gracious host is thankfully an exception.) The previous places I’ve hung out are not worth talking about.

    • Nick says:

      I discuss politics/controversial topics in person with my friends sometimes or over Discord*. I don’t generally touch controversial stuff at work. Outside of SSC and Discord, I don’t talk politics online.

      *The exception being a very SJW channel I belong to. Would rather not be literally eviscerated.

    • John Schilling says:

      Occasional conversations with family and close friends, rarely with the sort of depth as here. In the past, certain parts of usenet were conducive to political discussion. Likewise certain conventions and conferences. Never social media, except for brief statements of uncontroversial fact where they seem likely to be appreciated as a useful contribution to a political discussion I will not generally be participating in.

  5. luxsola says:

    I do not think you did Emma Pierson any favors by linking her blog. For one, I don’t think her criticisms are valid. The statement that male-on-female harassment/assault has unique characteristics and is worthy of discussion is true, but it doesn’t prove the stronger claim that it is the only kind worthy of discussion, nor does it disprove the claim you made, that the media is focusing on it too much. In fact I don’t think she even directly addresses the claim that the media is focused on male-on-female harassment excessively. She just uses the same canned feminist replies that are brought up literally every time someone points at that the narrative of “men as perpetrators, never as victims” is disconnected from reality.

    For two: You have a much much larger readership than she does. I feel like linking to her post will cause the comments on it to shift in favor of defending you and attacking her, and I don’t think that was your intention, even if you don’t think her criticisms were valid.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Agree that the Pierson piece is not actually good.

      I think sometime soon I need to write up a think explaining what I see a a basic error in how SJers think about such things, because while people point out individual errors I’m not sure I’ve really seen anything explaining the basic underlying error, and I’m beginning to wonder if people maybe actually don’t explicitly realize it. (Scott kind of touches on it here, I’d say, and others have said similar things, but I think a more explicit treatment is needed…)

      Unfortunately not going to do that right now because really what needs to be written is not “here is the basic underlying error they’re making” (I don’t really think I could identify such a thing) but rather “here is the right way to think about such things, observe how the things SJers say don’t obey these” and describing the right way to do things. Like, the right thing to do is explain logic, not write lists of fallacies; once you have logic, the fallacies are useful as an example, but fundamentally describing errors isn’t enough, you need to describe the right way to do things, after which the errors are just helpful illustration.

      • baconbacon says:

        The basic error is “I know what society should look like”. All other errors flow from this.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          That’s really not the type of error I’m talking about here.

          Rather what I’m talking about is a sort of disregard of causality. Explaining just what I mean by that though would take longer than I’m willing to put in right now.

          Like, Ozy has pointed out that one of the good things about SJ is that it’s consequentialist. This is true. But it’s a type of consequentalism that ignores the actual causal structure of things, and that just doesn’t work.

          • baconbacon says:

            It’s the same error (for many of them). If you don’t know what you want, which most people don’t, how could you plausibly plan society? There is a well circulated claim where US citizens are polled about the preferred wealth distribution and their impression of the actual distribution and then it shows how the actual distribution is as far away from their impression as their impression is from their preferred. This is used to support arguments for redistribution all the time, but it is more valid to interpret the results as “wildly inequitable distribution isn’t nearly as harmful as the average person thinks”.

            Likewise SJW never discuss what the middle and lower classes would be expected to give up to hit some preferred “fair” distribution of wealth. Depending on what source you use the average US resident has 1.2 to 2x the floor space that the average Nordic country resident has, 1.2 to 1.5 more cars, and 1.2 to 1.5 more TVs. How many people would actually sacrifice many of their own personal belongings to fit into a different “more fair” system?

            In the long run people have a fairly poor understanding of what they want, and what others want. Starting from the assumption that you can figure out what people want and aiming at that target is just as bad (if not worse) than misunderstanding the casual factors required to get you there. “Nordic people are happy, lets structure our country to look like theirs” is a very, very poor way to start your philosophy.

          • albatross11 says:

            In general, Pareto improvements (at least one person is made better off; nobody is made worse off) are going to be a lot easier to get public acceptance for than improvements that make some people worse off. The usual pattern in politics is that when you want to do something that makes some group worse off to make the whole world better off, you spend a lot of time demonizing the people you plan to make worse off, whether that’s rich people not paying their fair share of taxes, welfare moms sponging off the public, specialist doctors charging Medicare high rates, etc.

          • Aapje says:

            @baconbacon

            Does extra floor space show evidence of wealth or a preference for sprawl? Does it make people happier?

            Does the higher number of cars show higher prosperity or a more car-oriented society? See the possible preference for sprawl.

            As for TVs, those are so cheap that 1.5x as many TVs can hardly be called evidence of greater wealth. The real reason for the difference is probably cultural.

          • Controls Freak says:

            There is a well circulated claim where US citizens are polled about the preferred wealth distribution and their impression of the actual distribution and then it shows how the actual distribution is as far away from their impression as their impression is from their preferred.

            FYI, they also cheated to get the result they got. They showed three options for wealth distribution: 1) Totally equal, 2) “Sweden”, and 3) US. Notice that “Sweden” is in quotes, because they didn’t actually show Sweden’s wealth distribution; they showed Sweden’s income distribution. The reason they did this is two-fold. First, almost everyone is smart enough to not want a totally equal wealth distribution – there probably should be a difference in wealth between a fresh-out-of-med-school doctor with debt but high earning potential and a person who has been working his whole life and is just about to retire and live the rest of his life using his accumulated wealth. Second, it gives a “middle option”, and as a bonus, that option is totally achievable! In fact, “Sweden” has already done it! Basically, they designed the experiment specifically for the purposes of getting the result they got.

            Anyway, rather than your conclusion that

            it is more valid to interpret the results as “wildly inequitable distribution isn’t nearly as harmful as the average person thinks”.

            I think the most reasonable conclusion is just that most people have no bloody clue how to do math or how to interpret what three pie charts with just quintiles on them means (that isn’t to blame people that much; they really didn’t get much information and were intentionally misled to boot). They’ve made apparent the bonus conclusion that the different dynamics between income/wealth make this problem even worse. I don’t mean this arrogantly, but I’m in the top 1% of mathematical ability, and I’m still surprised sometimes by how different definitions of income/wealth look in various distributions (and either empirically or from simplified dynamic models). My top conclusion from studies like this is, “Stop trusting short surveys to show anything but rampant innumeracy and misunderstanding.”

          • Sniffnoy says:

            baconbacon: But, see, that just really isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about getting causation wrong, I’m talking about disregarding it almost entirely. Examples to come when I write this up properly later.

          • baconbacon says:

            Does extra floor space show evidence of wealth or a preference for sprawl? Does it make people happier?

            @ Aapje

            It doesn’t matter for this discussion. What matters is the approach taken. The assumption that the US could be like the Nordics needs to be more rigorously approached, and the assumption that you could get a majority to go along with it once the costs are starting to become realized need to be addressed, and the transition costs need to be mentioned in more than an off hand way.

          • baconbacon says:

            I think the most reasonable conclusion is just that most people have no bloody clue how to do math or how to interpret what three pie charts with just quintiles on them means (that isn’t to blame people that much; they really didn’t get much information and were intentionally misled to boot)

            Right, this is basically the point, the argument is basically saying “these people have no idea what is going on right now, lets use their intuition to form a baseline for what should go on in the future”. How could you possibly have a decent idea of how society should be organized if you don’t have any clue as to how society is currently organized?

          • baconbacon says:

            But, see, that just really isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about getting causation wrong, I’m talking about disregarding it almost entirely

            Ozy has pointed out that one of the good things about SJ is that it’s consequentialist

            Consequentialism is bad, because almost all life is lived in the intermediary, not in the end result, and you can always justify any action, no matter how heinous, as long as it “leads to” your ideal. We want a beautiful communist utopia, first thing to do is liquidate all of the dissidents, clearly they are holding back communism, right? It is fairly logically sound that dissidents would resist, practically tautological, and so they are liquidated.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            We want a beautiful communist utopia, first thing to do is liquidate all of the dissidents, clearly they are holding back communism, right? It is fairly logically sound that dissidents would resist, practically tautological, and so they are liquidated.

            Sounds like you’re saying that the liquidation of the dissidents would be a bad thing; worse on balance than not liquidating the dissidents. So the reason we should not be willing to liquidate dissidents in pursuit of a communist utopia is because doing so would have bad consequences 😛

          • baconbacon says:

            Sounds like you’re saying that the liquidation of the dissidents would be a bad thing; worse on balance than not liquidating the dissidents. So the reason we should not be willing to liquidate dissidents in pursuit of a communist utopia is because doing so would have bad consequences 😛

            Nope. I’m saying that once you have an ideal a consequentialist can justify any action to get to that ideal. The intermediary steps are by definition not consequences.

    • gemmaem says:

      Scott also made the claim that he could see no other reason besides demonising the outgroup that could explain the current level of focus on men harassing women, rather than other configurations. I think Pierson was right to zero in on that claim as the weakest part of Scott’s post, and I appreciate Scott being willing to link to her critique.

      I don’t think Emma Pierson would agree that Scott “did her no favours” by acknowledging her writing, and I think it’s a bit patronizing to pretend to concern for her when you really just disagree with what she’s saying.

      • Montfort says:

        And I think it rather rude to assume luxsola’s concern is pretend; people have complained about being officially noticed by Scott before (on tumblr, at least), and it’s a common pattern on the internet that disagreeing with someone with many readers gets you flooded with (potentially hostile) people who don’t understand your local commenting norms.

        I do think a reasonable person is more likely to appreciate the link than not, though.

  6. LTK says:

    Hi everyone! New reader here, started from the Toxoplasma of Rage and currently busy reading the rest from newest to oldest.

    Since Scott is a psychiatrist I would like to ask him (or anyone else) whether there are any resources that would help me learn about, and possibly manage, adult-onset Tourette’s syndrome. Local mental health services have been spectacularly unhelpful, academic papers only mildly so, and this seems like the next best place to check.

  7. gloster80256 says:

    It seems virtually certain to me that once Trump is cornered by (whatever major challenge besets him first – indictment/firing Mueller/sexual assault charges), he will go to war with North Korea to wag the dog and deflect attention.

    There are some fairly plausible arguments to be made for the intervention in the first place, some key players in the administration seem to be arguing for it already (McMaster?) and Americans have historically had a tendency to stick to anyone at the helm during a time of war. Given Trump’s personality and hitherto track record, once he is faced with an existential threat to his presidency, why wouldn’t he take this option? There is no chance he will get impeached when missiles are flying.

    This strikes me as a potentially nuclear scenario and something to be avoided, if at all possible…

    • sty_silver says:

      My best arguments for why he wouldn’t do it:

      1) He’s not smart enough to realize this is his best out
      2) Others talk him out of it
      3) He doesn’t really want to be president anyway

      Not saying any of these is likely. I personally wouldn’t bet on such a scenario (as you describe) happening, but it certainly seems like an enormously real possibility.

      • gloster80256 says:

        The thing is, the buildup is already in motion. Last info I have is that US currently has three carrier groups with their assorted air wings in the area and has just now bumped the number of ground-based fighters. It’s been floated that family members of the servicemen and women located in the South-Korean bases should start getting shipped back home but I’m not sure whether that’s been put into action or not. So it’s definitely well on the table and there is a clique cheering for it.

        I’m willing to believe Trump regrets assuming the office – but being deposed as a loser would bother him much more.

        • Ketil says:

          And in any case….would it really be such a bad thing?

          Although evidence is scarce, everything point to NK being the equivalent of a nation-sized concentration camp, with a regime more cruel than almost anything you can compare it to, and the people suffering starvation, diseases, and all kinds of suffering.

          As long as China could keep their hands off without losing face, the war would be swift and decisive. Casualties would of course be uncertain, but probability of a successful nuclear strike would be low. One can imagine fanatical leaders pushing the button in the face of certain defeat, but I don’t think it is likely – and e.g. the nazis did not use their stockpiles of nerve gas in 1945. And even if used, chances are a rocket will fail or be shot down by ABM systems.

          In contrast to our other wars, a long term insurgency of ideological or religious groups is unlikely, and with sufficient funding (which I think could easily be provided), NK could merge with SK, similar to the Germanies. Even if the NK army turns out to be less demoralized that the Iraqi or Afghans were, it is hard to imagine casualties on the same scale as in and after those wars. Post-war, Korea could become demilitarized, with borders and independence guaranteed by China and USA, to the relief of everybody and their budgets.

          The alternative is the continued hardships of the NK populace, and SK and Japan as hostages, as Kim continues to build his nuclear arsenal and missiles until it is too late to do anything. The west continues “sanctions”, while everybody knows Kim will certainly be the last person in the country to starve, and China can continue to live down the embarrassment of being Kim’s friend and protector.

          • gloster80256 says:

            I completely agree with the analysis of NK as a terrible gulag state. It would be nice to get rid of it. The same however goes for Saddam’s regime in 2003. The cure has serious side effects. And the fallout would be much worse than what happened in the Middle East.

            For starters, Seoul (pop. 25 million) is about 35 miles from the DMZ, mostly within reach of NK’s conventional artillery (around 12.000 pieces in total, not counting rocket launchers, in camouflaged concrete emplacements – there aren’t nearly enough bombs in the US arsenals in the area to even theoretically hit them once). Estimated civilian casualties are in the hundreds of thousands in the first 24 hours. Any attempt to evacuate Seoul beforehand is a war signal.

            NK army numbers about 1.2 million active personnel, with about 6 million reserves. The terrain is mostly mountains and jungle. It’s Afghanistan x100. Only a fairly small percentage of the forces need to maintain their will to resist to turn the North into a quasi-permanent guerilla war zone.

            If the regime falls, millions of starving refugees with nothing to lose will begin pouring into China and SK, creating a massive humanitarian and security crisis.

            And that’s the scenario in which China is cool with a removal of a buffer state separating it from a close American ally, South Korea sucks it up and Tokyo doesn’t end up being nuked.

          • James C says:

            Okay, I have a couple of points I really disagree with.

            the war would be swift and decisive.

            Citation very much needed! North Korea has been preparing for war with the United States for its entire history. They have more than a million soldiers under arms, a terrifying amount of (admittedly aging) artillery and a mountainous nation riddled with underground fortresses. Oh, and nukes. Let’s not forget the nukes. Swift and decisive are not the words I’d use to describe that potential conflict. I’d prefer words like, brutal, attritional or annihilation. Now that’s not saying the US couldn’t win, but I have no trouble believing that hundreds of thousands will die on both sides before the end of the war.

            And even if used, chances are a rocket will fail or be shot down by ABM systems.

            Last thing I read estimated the US is capable of shooting down 1/3 of incoming missiles. As long as there aren’t more than ten. Now I’ll grant you North Korea isn’t likely to hit anything more than the right continent, and even then its dicey. However, a lucky shot kills a six figure number of people.

            a long term insurgency of ideological or religious groups is unlikely

            So the decades of living under a cult of personality and complete cultural isolation from the world will just wash away? If anything North Korea could become an insurgency the likes of which make Afghanistan look like tame. Again, they’ve had decades to prepare against a US invasion. Do you really believe that there’s no plans for a post invasion insurgency?

            And in any case….would it really be such a bad thing?

            Yes. For all the reasons above. Best case North Korea is a paper tiger and folds in a weeks. Worst case, South Korea is wiped from the map, Japan loses cities and the US is bombed by another major power for the first time in its history. Millions die, hundreds of thousands of soldiers are needed to secure the peninsula and the insurgency drags on decades.

            North Korea is an ongoing disaster of a country. The trick, is to somehow fix that without making everything much, much worse.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            “Although evidence is scarce, everything point to NK being the equivalent of a nation-sized concentration camp, with a regime more cruel than almost anything you can compare it to, and the people suffering starvation, diseases, and all kinds of suffering.”

            And here we have the problem with doing utilitarianism for other people. As bad as NK is, people generally aren’t killing themselves, which presumably means they would rather be alive than dead.

          • Wency says:

            Agree that invading NK would be a terrible idea, just as pre-emptive strikes are almost always a terrible idea. I thought we had learned this by now.

            I do think the probability of a long-term NK insurgency are low though. It would be a SK occupation, and Northerners would quickly figure out that the SK model works in ways theirs doesn’t. A lot of them have probably already figured this out. I’d expect less opposition than the North encountered in occupying the Confederacy.

            It’s more the risks of Chinese intervention and nuclear retaliation that need to be considered.

            Lumping nerve gas in with nuclear weapons under the label “WMDs” is a historical curiosity and a non-sequitur. NK’s nukes exist for no reason but to to deter this kind of attack. It’s quite a gamble to say they won’t be used.

            There’s also the possibility that the U.S. (or even China) ends up retaliating with nukes if NK uses nukes, in which case all the ideas about doing this for the Koreans’ own good go out the window. Even a more level-headed President than Trump could end up using nukes, for game theory reasons.

            U.S.: Do not use nukes or we will use nukes.
            NK: *Uses Nukes*
            U.S.: If we don’t use nukes, then no one will respect our deterrent, and others will be more inclined to use nukes in the future. Therefore, we must use nukes for the sake of future generations.

            *Uses nukes*

          • gloster80256 says:

            Re: Wency
            Do jungles necessarily need to be tropical? (Asking honestly.) Wiki tells me the forest cover is around 70% of the country’s area. The data seems to be about a decade old, so some deforestation may have occurred since but it’s still a lot of dense vegetation cover. In any case, the critical 80% mountains figure certainly holds.

            I am skeptical about the quick integration – the dug-in partisans in the mountains, under the command of political officers, will not get exposed to the superior southern way of life at all. And the continuing action in the area will make life totally miserable for anyone who stays. And those who leave (total pop.: ~20 million) will be stuck in refugee camps for who knows how long. Re-integrating the population would be an absolutely herculean task.

            But these are both, I think, rather minor rotten olives on the whole giant shit sandwich.

            EDIT: Chinese intervention is also the scariest aspect for me. Also, resulting serious internal political tensions in the US (to put it mildly).

          • DeWitt says:

            I’m just here to second everyone who noted that you’re probably way too optimistic. Your scenario for an invasion of NK sounds like a much more modern version of the Schlieffen plan, and examples of more recent examples are many.

          • Sfoil says:

            One way of looking at North Korea’s defenses is that they are intended to make anything but an all-out attack ineffective or impossible. Their critical facilities are sufficiently hardened and/or hidden (to include tons of dummy sites) to make airstrikes ineffective even if their air defenses are marginal. And it’s worth noting that even marginal air defenses can impose a quite high cost in terms of resources allocated to SEAD (here is a reasonable-sounding analysis of this problem in another context, although air warfare isn’t my area of expertise).

            Covert insertion of commando elements is probably effectively impossible. The DPRK has historically been incredibly difficult to attack in this manner, basically because they have a very effective internal security apparatus. The types of environments special forces have been operating in recently are astoundingly permissive in comparison; the closest analogy would be the Bin Laden raid. Which was a) a one-off event by b) the absolute best men available against an enemy who was c) completely unaware at any level d) using novel equipment. But in order to accomplish anything worthwhile many targets would probably have to be hit.

            Conventional forces would either have to breach the DMZ, (at which point why bother stopping?) or make an amphibious landing that would rapidly develop into a huge battle.

            I suppose something could be done completely at standoff, probably using cruise missiles. But these attacks would probably be ineffective, and the North would likely retaliate by e.g. sinking a patrol boat or shelling across the DMZ. We won’t get a good assessment of the damage done by missile strikes, but we will get a great assessment of the damage done by Northern retaliation. Which might also escalate out of control.

            So to effectively deal with the North you either go big or forget it. And there is zero indication that the South Korean (ROK) government is on board with this. Quite the contrary, in fact. (I think the ROK military would make the attack if ordered, though.) The ROK will absorb most of the “American” costs of a Second Korean War in terms of military and civilian dead and wounded, infrastructure damage, etc. That’s true even if the North Korean nuclear weapons work as intended, by the way. They will also be almost entirely responsible for the ensuing occupation. And again, there’s no evidence that they would cooperate in such an operation at all barring an absolutely outrageous casus belli.

            In my opinion China would almost certainly intervene, by the way. Many interesting things are located somewhat near the Chinese border, e.g the Punggye-ri test site. These sites must be secured by someone if the DPRK government falls, and I don’t think it’s likely the Chinese would sit on their hands.

          • Sfoil says:

            Northern-aligned partisans and their fellow travelers had a huge effect on the South Korean government for decades after the Korean War without ever firing a shot. The various military dictators in charge of South Korea could quite plausibly accuse their opponents of having supported Northern occupation forces in one way or another into the 1990s. Now that the South has a more-or-less functional democratic government it’s not obvious that they should test what effect making a drastic change to the demos has on the kratos.

          • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

            The comparison to the Germanies is naive, sorry.

            The WWII allies had a long history of shared cultural, scientific, educational, economic exchange.

            The languages of occupiers and occupied had long been tought in the other’s schools and were common among the elites.

            The allies held a very fine-grained control over Germany in the first years and every suspicious individual was (albeit often cursorily) looked into (‘denazification’).

            The Germans had no commonly held notion of kamikaze strategies (some fanatics and despaired did, but that faded fast), which are not completely unheard of in the Asian regions.

            There were (Stalin aside) rather sane leaders in place with the allies, who also had already seen one world war in leading positions and another at least as witnesses.

            There was a strong motivation on either side of what was to become later the iron curtain (system competititon) to nourish their former enemy and build up a functioning country asap.

            And still there were years of famine right *after* the war (‘hunger winters’ in ’46/7 and ’47/8).

            That compares to today’s situation — how? Textbook generals, meet reality.

            The current pack of scoundrels struggling to hide the shenanigans they did to access power dubiously elected president will achieve something akin to (Iraq x vietnam)^2. But nobody will look into Trump dealing Russia sanctions for election fraud, Russia sanctions for nuclear tech for VEA, the True Pundit hoax with leaks from FBI, FBI & NYPD sabotaging Comey, etc.. It will work as expected for them, while they will not have to suffer the consequences.

            Trump will try to show off his guts. And many others will have to lose theirs in order to prove it. (paraphrasing Kinnock).

            EDIT: I wonder if there are Asian disgruntled losers that would flock to a glory promising resistance akin to ISIS. A suitable ideology should be not too difficult to cook up.

          • Ketil says:

            Thanks for the comments! Let me try to argue my case a little. Let us just agree that it is a requirement that the Chinese agree to at least stay out of it – nobody is willing to risk full scale nuclear war. And also that the international community will foot the bill for post-war repairs and repatriation.

            * War will be swift
            I think recent wars show that a technologically advanced side (meaning the US and allies) quickly eliminates any organized resistance. Air fields will be gone, radar and communication destroyed or jammed, anything remotely resembling a link in any chain of command will be bombed to gravel. Iraqi forces were in much better shape, and they collapsed almost immediately. Hundreds of thousands may die, but NK has practically nothing to touch the allied (for lack of a better word) military forces.

            * Long time insurgency
            I don’t think this is really likely. Perhaps people do feel loyal to their glorious leader, but neither nazis nor Japanese seemed eager to stick to the person cults that used to be so important, and ditto for Saddam. Will underfed and underequipped NK soldiers hide in caves to avoid food and welfare in a fight for the good old days? I doubt it. Who will supply them? Using what money? The army is large, but Saddam had 650 000 troops – better equipped and better fed than the NKs, for all the good it did him.

            * Retaliation against civilian targets
            The artillery (and possible civilian bombardment) is a potential pain in the neck, and so are the nukes. I couldn’t find any good numbers on NK artillery capacity – nor US capacity to knock them out. But although NK personnel may be drilled in bombarding Seoul in case of war, the civilian population should get at least some minutes to reach the nearest shelter. So we could hope for being at the low end of the estimated (the one cited on Wikipedia) of 3-30k casualties (what’s the citation of hundreds of thousands?). And I don’t think any barrage would be remotely effective, there will probably be a lot of confusion and no communications or orders, and at least a lot of the heavy/long range equipment taken out. And I doubt NK has ten nukes (and really, intercepting only one in three? In 1993, Patriots took down between 40 and 90% of SCUDs, depending on whom you trust. And Iron Dome claims 90% intercept rate. Must be that ashkenazi advantage :-), but there is admittedly always a chance of a missile getting through, and that it happens to be the one carrying a nuke. But at least with an ICBM you would have time to get any targeted population into shelters.

            * Nukes and other WMDs
            I only raised this point because people in a situation where they would obviously lose the war had the option to do substantial damage, and refrained. Perhaps a fanatic would push the button in the face of certain defeat – but I think history shows that many wouldn’t.

          • A1987dM says:

            @Nancy Lebovitz

            As bad as NK is, people generally aren’t killing themselves, which presumably means they would rather be alive than dead.

            Dunno about NK specifically, but that’s not always a valid argument, e.g. certain people don’t suicide just because they think that if they do they’ll go to hell and if they don’t they might eventually go to heaven (i.e. their preference ordering is heaven > oblivion > life > hell but they don’t believe oblivion is possible).

          • John Schilling says:

            And in any case….would it really be such a bad thing?

            Millions of violent deaths are usually considered a bad thing, yes.

            Although evidence is scarce, everything point to NK being the equivalent of a nation-sized concentration camp, with a regime more cruel than almost anything you can compare it to,

            Yes, yes – we’ve heard all this before.

            The actual evidence is that “concentration camp” is applicable to roughly 1% of the population of North Korea, with the remaining 99% living in conditions roughly equivalent to Haiti, Ethiopia, or Afghanistan. Impoverished, with some danger of starvation in the case of drought and near-certainty of violent reprisals if anyone in your family goes out of their way to piss off the local warlord, but most people get by. Including most of the millions who are going to die in your glorious crusade.

            As long as China could keep their hands off without losing face

            ,

            Which you’re going to mention in passing and then never again, because you don’t have a clue how you’re going to keep this from turning into a literal game of Global Thermonuclear War. Instead, you’re trusting that to the keen diplomatic aptitude of the Trump Administration.

            the war would be swift and decisive.

            The decisive part would be swift. After the first few weeks at most, the North Korean regime’s ability to project power would be shattered. Unfortunately, it only takes North Korea a few hours to kill millions of South Koreans, millions of Japanese, and perhaps half a million Americans. And the kind of “swift decisive” war you are proposing will leave the Kim regime with no uncertainty about their need to go all in with swift and decisive retaliation.

            Then we get to the part where we have to deal with a million or more die-hard loyalists who are dug in deeper than ever were the Dwarves of Moria, which probably isn’t going to be fast. Probably most of the millions of North Korean dead are going to come in this phase, though you’ll probably break seven figures just in the quick, decisive part.

            Casualties would of course be uncertain, but probability of a successful nuclear strike would be low. One can imagine fanatical leaders pushing the button in the face of certain defeat, but I don’t think it is likely

            You are expecting them to, what, march off politely to their cells under the Hague? Commit suicide?

            If North Korea’s leaders believe that they are certainly going to go the way of Gaddafi, then it is they are going to kill Donald Trump and Moon Jae-In and that idiot Ketil and the population of San Diego and as many Japanese as they can manage just on general principles.

            But the nukes are going to start flying before then, when they believe that death isn’t certain. They are, rightfully and plausibly, uncertain that that we are really willing to tolerate millions of deaths just to say “we defeated the Evil Kim Dynasty!”, and they are going to ramp up the cost of that war in stages while preserving the option of dialing it back down if we decide not to go all the way through with the megadeath version.

            The North Koreans are actually pretty good at that; it’s something they’ve had a great deal of practice at, and any sensible US or RoK administration should be able to deescalate any confrontation before it goes nuclear. The Trump administration, maybe not. The Ketil administration, almost certainly not.

            And even if used, chances are a rocket will fail or be shot down by ABM systems.

            North Korea’s short- and medium-range missiles have demonstrated 80% reliability in combat use, and American-made missile defenses are about 75% reliable against short-ranged missiles in low-intensity combat. North Korea’s long-ranged missiles are probably only about 50% reliable in combat, but the only US defense system capable of engaging them has demonstrated only ~50% reliability in idealized testing and has never seen any sort of combat use.

            North Korea has an estimated 30-60 nuclear missiles, of which maybe half a dozen are the long-range sort capable of reaching cities on the US mainland. Do the math. Then factor in the hundreds of missiles loaded with nerve and mustard gas, the thousand or so conventional-warhead versions for harassment and defense saturation, the twelve thousand tubes of artillery (also equipped with nerve and mustard gas), the two hundred thousand light infantry trained in infiltrating South Korea by land, sea, air, and tunnel, the several million regular army and militia playing defense, the twenty thousand or so hardened underground sites to conceal all of this and the unknown tunnel network connecting them.

            Bad as the North Korean Regime is, your naive fantasies of Operation Korean Storm: This Time We Won’t Wimp Out would lead to something far worse. And that’s even granting your cavalier assumption that China stays out of it. The Kim Dynasty, unlike Saddam Hussein, has been preparing for exactly this war for sixty years, and unlike Saddam Hussein they do have actual nuclear missiles to fight it with.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            John: Suppose you’re President, and, for whatever reason, have decided that North Korean regime change is among your highest goals. (I hope you’ll agree that while the propaganda is worse than the reality, the reality ain’t good.)

            Do you have any idea of how to do it without millions of deaths? Ideally without waiting centuries either, or assuming post-singularity tech advances? What avenues seem the most promising?

          • baconbacon says:

            Do you have any idea of how to do it without millions of deaths? Ideally without waiting centuries either, or assuming post-singularity tech advances? What avenues seem the most promising?

            Declare NK a free trade zone. Any goods shipped out of Korea will be free of any tariffs or taxes, and all non military goods shipped in likewise.

          • bean says:

            Suppose you’re President, and, for whatever reason, have decided that North Korean regime change is among your highest goals. (I hope you’ll agree that while the propaganda is worse than the reality, the reality ain’t good.)

            I suspect this is one of the cases where the answer is simply that North Korean regime change is a bad goal, and one we need to abandon. Getting rid of Kim isn’t worth the cost, to us or to the North Korean people.

          • John Schilling says:

            Do you have any idea of how to do it without millions of deaths?

            This is roughly equivalent to asking Winston Churchill in 1940 if he has any idea how to get the Nazis out of Poland without millions of deaths. So we’re dealing with extreme long shots.

            I’d at least look at trying to subsidize and “corrupt” the NK black market, which is already a huge part of the real North Korean economy. Even small amounts of prosperity could give the North Korean people much more freedom of action, we could bundle tools for effective social and political action, and we could perhaps use it to establish ties and an alternative path for North Korean elites who could take over for the Kim Dynasty after the revolution. But that revolution would probably be megadeath bloody no matter how much we try to finesse it into a peaceful “color revolution”.

            Also, I’d have the State Department buy me five years by any means necessary, and use those five years to completely rebuild the US theatre and national missile defense architectures from scratch. We’ve learned enough to maybe build highly reliable systems, but that’s an expensive proposition with no payoff next year or the year after that, and for as long as North Korea has been seen as a nuclear threat there has been an almost panicked belief that North Korea might nuke us this year or the next and so there’s nothing for it but to buy more of the crappy defective GBIs we’ve been using all along and hope the latest software patch will fix everything.

            If we’re going to do this, I want five years to prepare to do it right.

        • bean says:

          Last info I have is that US currently has three carrier groups with their assorted air wings in the area and has just now bumped the number of ground-based fighters.

          That was an exercise in runningoperating carriers together. Roosevelt is in the Persian Gulf now, and Nimitz is back home. Reagan’s based in Japan, and she’s back in port now too.

          • gloster80256 says:

            Oh, good. That’s a modicum of relief. Do you have any info on the plan to repatriate the family members of the soldiers stationed in the South?

          • bean says:

            Sorry, no. That’s not something I’d expect to cross my radar, while I had seen an article on the three carriers, which described it as an exercise. That, and the number, meant it was probably achieved by overlapping deployments. That turned out to be the case.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            an exercise in running carriers together

            Considering the navy’s recent history, you might want to rephrase that.

          • bean says:

            Good point, and just inside the edit window, too.

          • The Nybbler says:

            By “exercise” do you mean a training exercise, a sword-rattling exercise, or both?

          • bean says:

            Definitely training, possibly sword-rattling. At the same time, getting three carriers in the same place at the same time isn’t easy, so this might well have been planned a couple years in advance. As it stands, the sword-rattling part is over. I’m not sure we even have a carrier at sea in Westpac right now.

        • mupetblast says:

          I’m either incredibly naive or about to offer a useful POV (or both!), but from my perch at South Korean-owned Samsung Research America in Mountain View there’s not a scintilla of fear about what’s happening over there. There’s no concern “in the air” around the office.

      • shakeddown says:

        I wouldn’t trust (1). Trump is dumb in some ways, but mostly in him not wanting to see things that would be uncomfortable. And while he’s not exactly brilliant at the best of times, declaring war for popularity isn’t that complicated a plan.

      • WashedOut says:

        Consider the following:
        1. US war with NK would very quickly result in the biggest humanitarian disaster in recent memory.
        2. US can’t engage in NK hostilities without some level of support from China (however implicit).
        3. China doesn’t benefit from a post-Kim Jong Un NK. They are probably the 2nd biggest loser if that scenario eventuates.
        4. Trump doesn’t need a war to take the edge off his chaos at home – he already has control of the levers of misinformation and well-poisoning.

        For my 2c the only way to war is if NK strikes first and strikes hard. KJU’s currency is in the narrative of near-godlike power, not the actual demonstrations of military victory. Therefore it is in KJUs interest to maintain the existing charade for as long as he can, rather than get annihilated in the drop of a hat in front of his grovelling populace.

        • Is there any possible scenario in which China fights North Korea–perhaps in which the U.S. and China jointly fight North Korea and if they win China gets to annex it?

          • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

            China is trying to keep down the number of NK refugees already. It won’t want to feed the whole nation. And US won’t allow it to get NK minerals so easily.

            Other scenario: after the NK rulers have fallen and miraculously the country is not completely devastated, there will be a failed state with big businesses from US and China trying to the most of the mineral rights, supported by clandestine operations from government and civilian troops from both nations. A proxy war of secret services (with Eric Prince finally getting official licence for a black-ops ’60es style private spy/sabotage/assassinate organisation). An ongoing war to make big deals — ‘Trump & Blackwater unlimited’.

          • Sfoil says:

            Comedy option: Go-Guryeo irredentism

            “Korea” used to extend substantially north of the Yalu river, and the area is still heavily populated by ethnic Koreans (Joseon-jeok). Lately China’s attitude towards them has taken a rather assimilationist (albeit non-hostile) tone. As the rightful representative of the pure and pious 민적 on this earth and the spiritual successor of both Go-Guryeo the old kingdom of the mountains and rivers and Balhae, its flourishing descendant in the wake of foreign betrayal. the DPRK does what it must to preserve the Korean race and reclaim the lands seized by the teeming Han hordes in olden times.

            The DPRK plays a dangerous game of subversion and then incursion. They rely on a combination of Chinese strategic inundation (maybe they’ve decided it’s time to invade Taiwan? In the wake of a failed intervention in Africa? Then there’s a serious revolt in the west? While Russia kicks all of the Chinese out of its Far East?) and lack of coordination (how quickly can the Chinese reinforce that border anyway?) and the threat of asymmetric damage (nice cyberpunk metropolises you got there, fancy trading them for a third-rate dump like Pyongyang?) to secure territorial concessions, all the rage in the wake of Crimea. After getting a double-pinkie-swear-cross-my-heart from the Yankee-“Hangook” axis that they won’t get stabbed in the back after shifting everything away from the DMZ, of course.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Only way I can think it could happen is if Kim sends off a nuke in the wrong direction. And I can’t see why he would.

    • baconbacon says:

      , some key players in the administration seem to be arguing for it already (McMaster?) and Americans have historically had a tendency to stick to anyone at the helm during a time of war.

      Evidence for this? LBJ couldn’t even win the democratic primary while involved in the Vietnam war, the presidency shifted from Democrat to Republican in the first election after WW1 and the Korean war, Bush 1 was ousted after 1 term shortly after the gulf war was over. There really don’t seem to be a lot of elections during a war to build this list from, there is FDR and Bush 2, and I guess LBJ’s first election.

      • gloster80256 says:

        I’ll flip this – besides LBJ, which president was ever ousted or failed to secure a second term during an ongoing hot war?

        The Korean flip occurred after four terms of FDR/Truman + Truman’s second term and the war was going very poorly at the time. FDR got four terms out of it, Bush 43 won his second term effectively on the back of Iraq and Afghanistan.

        If nothing else, a war is very good excuse for the Congress to “postpone” an impeachment, no matter how strong the case. If there is a case to be made for the strike on it’s own terms, why not roll the dice?

        Anyway, there is a certain argumentative benefit to falsifiable predictions…

        • baconbacon says:

          The null hypothesis would be something like, there is no benefit to being in a war to re election. You stated a positive assertion, you aren’t “flipping” the question but are acting as if I must be arguing the opposite, rather than the null.

          To address the question FDR didn’t get 4 terms during a war, he got his 4th term during a war, and the previous 3 elections that he won occurred before the US entered war. So you have a guy that was popular/skilled enough to get elected 3 times when not at war, attributing the war to his final victory seems like an unnecessary explanation.

          Bush 43 won his second term effectively on the back of Iraq and Afghanistan.

          He did? Do you mean he won his 2nd term on the fact that they were ongoing, or on the perception that things were going well? What is your evidence for this being the driving factor over other factors (like the economy)?

          • gloster80256 says:

            I don’t really feel like putting up a rigorous argument here. It’s a prediction. In due time, it will either come true or not and that will clearly settle matters (though my greatly preferred outcome would be to prevent it by shouting about it loudly…)

            I’ll just note that FDR got his third term in 1940, when the conflict in Europe was in full swing, with France defeated, Britain under siege and US already effectively at war with Germany in the Atlantic.

            I don’t have quantification for Bush II, but I do seem to remember non-negligible talk of “not rocking the boat” post-invasion.

          • baconbacon says:

            I’ll just note that FDR got his third term in 1940, when the conflict in Europe was in full swing, with France defeated, Britain under siege and US already effectively at war with Germany in the Atlantic.

            And I will note that FDR won in 1940 with part of his campaign being built on promises to keep the US out of that war. including statements like

            “I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.”

            “I am fighting to keep our people out of foreign wars. And I will keep on fighting.”

            “The first purpose of our foreign policy is to keep our country out of war.”

            quickly
            googled source

          • gloster80256 says:

            Fair enough. But the mechanism I’m arguing for isn’t jingoistic – it’s not about Huzzah! Let’s go kill some (insert here)! It’s rather “don’t switch horses mid-race”/don’t disrupt the leadership in an emergency situation. So FDR posturing for peace doesn’t negate this effect.

          • Iain says:

            The sample size is not large enough to conclusively demonstrate that war-time presidents get reelected. There is, however, plenty of evidence to show that presidential popularity increases during wars. (George W. Bush got a big bump at the beginning of the Iraq war. Wikipedia has a few more examples.) It would be quite surprising if higher popularity did not correspond to a better chance of winning reelection.

            Hopefully this all remains theoretical.

          • baconbacon says:

            Fair enough. But the mechanism I’m arguing for isn’t jingoistic – it’s not about Huzzah! Let’s go kill some (insert here)! It’s rather “don’t switch horses mid-race”/don’t disrupt the leadership in an emergency situation.

            If its just that then you have Hoover and Carter ousted during a crisis. Eventually you have either broadened the definition enough to provide counter examples, or narrowed it so much that it provides no real footing for analysis as far as my historical knowledge goes (so a 50 lb bag of rock salt with that one).

          • baconbacon says:

            @ Iain

            If you look at the Bush graph you link the only lasting bump he got was from the 9/11 attacks. Launching the war in Iraq got him about 6 months of breathing room, capturing Saddam half that at best.

          • gloster80256 says:

            Neither Carter or Hoover are really comparable scenarios. I’m also not saying that it’s a surefire method – merely that it improves one’s odds.

            I will concede that your are out-arguing me here – but going to war in a tight spot, given the political configuration of the moment, still seems like an eminently attractive option for the Trump administration.

          • Iain says:

            @baconbacon:

            It’s hard to argue about Bush’s counterfactual approval ratings, so let’s assume what you say is true. Six months of breathing room at the right time can easily be the difference between winning or losing reelection.

            Put it this way: there is enough evidence for the proposition that starting wars is good for US presidential popularity to make it reasonable for Trump or his advisers to believe it. That seems like all that is required to justify gloster80256’s argument. Discovering after the fact that you are right, and wars don’t really guarantee reelection, would be cold comfort.

          • baconbacon says:

            Six months of breathing room might be enough at times, if you assume no long term costs of starting the war. Less than 9 months after Bush’s Iraq bump his approval ratings were the worse of his presidency to that point. Its hard to disentangle the trend, because he ratings were 90%+ after 9/11, and so were bound to fall, but they fell low enough (and crashed again to new lows after Saddam was captured) to at least surmise that the war cost him in the long run.

            This might leave a window for Trump to push for war near the election in 2020 to try to capture this wave, but he would probably need > 37% approval ratings to make that worthwhile or would have to believe he would get a much larger bump than the ~ 12 pt bump that Bush got. He would also have to time it really well, as Bush’s ratings were falling quickly by June after an April invasion. That would basically put Trump in the position to be announcing war in August or September 2019, when (with current ratings) he might not be getting out of the Republican primaries.

          • Iain says:

            There are other timeframes in which Trump might want a boost to his popularity. Consider the (unlikely) hypothetical in which the Democrats win the House and Senate in 2018 and start making serious moves towards impeachment. At that point, a short-term popularity spike might start to look pretty good as a self-defense mechanism.

            To be clear, I am not predicting that Trump will do this. I hope that he (or, maybe more realistically, the people around him — looking at you, Mattis) would have enough sense and decency not to send America to war for short-term political gain. All I’m saying is that, of all the reasons to think Trump won’t start a war as a shiny diversion, “it wouldn’t work” is one of the less reassuring.

          • gloster80256 says:

            Also, he doesn’t need to win an election, necessarily. He may just need to stave off impeachment. For which purpose this is ideal.

          • Nornagest says:

            I trust Mattis more than anyone else in Trump’s cabinet and more than most previous SecDefs, but short of crossing the Potomac with an armored division, he does not have the authority to say “no” to Trump if he wants to initiate military action.

          • Iain says:

            Mattis doesn’t have the legal authority, of course, but he’s in the best position to talk Trump out of an ill-advised war.

          • hlynkacg says:

            …and while he may not have the legal authority he does have the de facto authority.

          • Protagoras says:

            Technically, the President doesn’t have the constitutional authority to declare war; Congress does. Could the SecDef not in principle resist an order from the President to initiate military action on the basis that the President is exceeding his authority?

          • John Schilling says:

            Congress doesn’t have to declare war for the President to wage war; it is sufficient for e.g. someone else to declare war on us. And the War Powers Act clearly gives the president to order whatever military action he believes is necessary for the immediate defense of the United States against any enemy that was rude enough to attack us without first declaring war.

            Military officers can disobey orders they know or reasonably believe to be illegal, but an order to launch a nuclear attack on North Korea isn’t inherently illegal even if it comes in advance of a declaration of war. It may be illegal for other reasons, so if Trump calls the JCS and says “I need a boost in the polls; go nuke Pyongyang”, the missiles probably won’t fly. If he’s suitably thoughtful and ept in first setting the stage and then phrasing the order, then maybe they will. This is Donald Trump, so I’m not betting either way on that one.

            Also, the order to launch a nuclear strike doesn’t go through SecDef Mattis, but does go through the JCS, so that’s where you’ll have to look for someone with the stones to say “No”.

          • CatCube says:

            I don’t think that Secretary Mattis (or the JCS) has to play games about “What can I legally do?” to stop a truly ill-advised war. The President is the Commander-in-Chief, but he still needs funding from Congress for military action.

            If Mattis and/or some members of the Joint Chiefs resign rather than initiate a war, that’s likely to result in a collapse of Congressional support. Recall that in the early ’90s, Bill Clinton was forced to back off from complete integration of homosexuals into the compromise of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” because the Joint Chiefs threatened to resign and he didn’t want to deal with the political fallout.

            Note that I’m talking a conventional conflict here, which is what the original post was fretting about. If Trump ordered a nuclear strike out of the clear blue sky, obviously there’s not enough time for resignations to affect the political landscape. However, I think that if he did something that bonkers, the JCS is likely to refuse on the grounds that the order is illegal, and demand a court martial to determine the legality. OTOH, if Trump is ordering a strike because NORAD is tracking inbound missiles, that’s another matter.

          • John Schilling says:

            The President is the Commander-in-Chief, but he still needs funding from Congress for military action.

            The missiles are already bought and paid for, as are their command and control systems, and the military personnel who would be ordered to fire them do not generally respond to direct orders by rationalizing, “the congressional budget authorization which led to the procurement of this missile didn’t say ‘for the purpose of nuking North Korea’, so I will refuse the order to nuke North Korea”. If Trump orders the launch, and budgetary arguments are all you’ve got, the missiles will fly.

            Three months later, when the Army is busy digging Nork partisans out of caves and tunnels and the ready stockpiles of food and ammunition have been consumed, Congress could refuse to pay for more and leave the soldiers in the field to die. Or it could simply cut off their pay. These are not realistic prospects.

            It is possible that Congress might vote to impeach Trump for nuking North Korea with missiles procured under a ‘not for the purposes of nuking North Korea’ budgetary authorization, but that only comes into play after he’s gone and done it.

          • CatCube says:

            @John Schilling

            You’re conflating two different scenarios. Recall that the original post didn’t posit that Trump hears voices and fires Minutemen at North Korea, it was “start a war”. I don’t like the guy, but I’ve not seen evidence he’s Literally Hitler, either (note that I’m using the word “Literally” literally, as that’s the level it would take to launch an unprovoked nuclear attack). Given that, I’m going on the assumption that the war would start conventional. I agree that it could plausibly become nuclear once a conventional war has started.

            Under the assumption that Trump seeks to start a conventional war, I don’t think he’s going to get very far if Mattis resigns rather than go along. Like I said, I believe the political backing for funding it would evaporate with a high-profile resignation.

            I’m still not totally convinced that he could order a nuclear attack without pushback unless North Korea fired a missile, but I’m going more on a personal observation that People Who Think That North Koreans Are Sapping Their Precious Bodily Fluids are pretty thin on the ground at the upper reaches of the military. As I said before, if the military called President Trump to tell him that a missile is inbound and Trump ordered a retaliatory strike, I expect that would sail through unopposed. OTOH, if Trump himself started ordering a nuclear strike for no rational reason to start a war, I expect pushback and resignations to delay it long enough for the Cabinet to get involved.

            However, given that you’re more plugged in to the actual rocket people side of things, if you really continue to insist that’s how it would go down, I guess I’ll defer to you on that scenario.

          • John Schilling says:

            Under the assumption that Trump seeks to start a conventional war, I don’t think he’s going to get very far if Mattis resigns rather than go along.

            I agree that Mattis can possibly derail a “preemptive” war by resigning or threatening to resign, but you were arguing that lack of budgetary authority would stop Trump from starting such a war.

            Conventional or nuclear, there are enough bought-and-paid-for weapons for Trump to start a war that Congress isn’t going to defund in mid-conflict, and no budgetary restrictions on his using them to blow up anyone he says he thinks is about to blow us up.

    • The Nybbler says:

      I don’t think Trump is going to get into a nuclear war to distract attention from domestic issues that so far he’s had basically no trouble with. While he might not get impeached “when missiles are flying”, if he gets a US or major allied target nuked in a war he started, he would certainly be impeached shortly thereafter. Anyway, Trump wants to leave a legacy; going scorched earth and destroying his name forever doesn’t fit the profile.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I think you’re reading too much /r/politics fan fiction. Trump will not be impeached because:

      1) He probably hasn’t committed any high crimes and misdemeanors.

      2) The Republican house is not going to vote to impeach him. Even if they hate him (which not all do), they’re still not giving his golden scalp to the Democrats.

      3) Mueller’s investigation appears to be rife with partisan bias, so House Republicans have a very convenient excuse for rejecting whatever happens.

      4) Sex allegations lolololololololol he doesn’t care.

      As for NK, Trump’s foreign policy is based on economic incentives. He thinks in terms of money, not bombs. One of Trump’s (and Tillerson’s) truly impressive accomplishments that the media ignores but would be shouting from the rooftops if Hillary or Obama had done it is getting China and Russia to actually agree to and implement UN sanctions on NK. Soon, China will threaten to cut off oil to NK unless they come to the table. There will be no war on the Korean peninsula because no one wants it. North Korea doesn’t want it, South Korea doesn’t want it, China doesn’t want it, Russia doesn’t want it, Japan doesn’t want it, the US doesn’t want it. Nobody wants it.

      You might be interested in Tillerson’s recent remarks on the “state of the world.” North Korea talk starts 2/3 of the way down.

      • Brad says:

        4) Sex allegations lolololololololol he doesn’t care.

        Nor apparently do his supporters.

        Remember when character mattered?

        Ah well. At least we don’t have to take these people at face value ever again. That alone may make this whole debacle worth it.

        • Jiro says:

          Character only matters once you’ve established that there’s some evidence of bad character. The left likes to act as though it’s all definitive and that the only remaining question is whether he can get away with it, which is counting their chickens before they’re even sure there are any chickens.

          • Brad says:

            Trump: I moved on her, actually. You know, she was down on Palm Beach. I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it.

            Unknown: Whoa.

            Trump: I did try and fuck her. She was married.

            Unknown: That’s huge news.

            Trump: No, no, Nancy. No, this was [unintelligible] — and I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping.

            She wanted to get some furniture. I said, “I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture.” I took her out furniture —

            I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.

            Billy Bush: Sheesh, your girl’s hot as shit. In the purple.

            Trump: Whoa! Whoa!

            Bush: Yes! The Donald has scored. Whoa, my man!

            [Crosstalk]

            Trump: Look at you, you are a pussy.

            [Crosstalk]

            Trump: All right, you and I will walk out.

            [Silence]

            Trump: Maybe it’s a different one.

            Bush: It better not be the publicist. No, it’s, it’s her, it’s —

            Trump: Yeah, that’s her. With the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

            Bush: Whatever you want.

            Trump: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.

            Would you just look at all that prudence, temperance, chastity, and humility.

          • Anonymous says:

            I find it extremely hilarious that the left is complaining about lack of sexual continence. Who was it that got rid of all the pesky laws that prohibited this sort of behaviour on pain of criminal punishment?

          • Brad says:

            I’ve got to meet this Mr. The Left. Based on the number of people around here that him it sounds like he really gets around, but somehow I’ve never had the pleasure.

          • Nornagest says:

            This schtick of yours is getting a little tiresome, Brad. I like your policy analysis, but do you have to trot out the same lines every time someone generalizes across a left-leaning group?

          • Brad says:

            @Nornagest
            Do you find Anonymous’ comment above mine to be interesting, informative, contributory in any sense whatsoever?

          • gbdub says:

            I don’t, then again Brad you’ve been plenty snarky in this thread too.

            I agree with Nornagest, the “you can’t generalize the Left/feminists/social justice advocates at all” schtick is pretty tiresome, and below the level of your other commenting. Especially coming from the guy who is quite comfortable, and strongly defends, labeling this entire blog “right wing” despite its diverse and frankly weird for the mainstream right opinions.

            Either be super strict about applying labels or don’t, but please play by your own rules.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Mr. The Left is just like Mr. These People– you know, the ones for whom James Dobson speaks on all matters. Only left-wing instead of right-wing.

          • Chalid says:

            If one is going to criticize hypocrisy, the least one can do is find an actual person who is being hypocritical.

          • Brad says:

            @gbdub

            I don’t

            Then maybe you and Nornagest can say so from time to time. That in turn will make it less likely that I will, which will save you guys time having to critique how I go about doing so. It’s a win-win.

          • albatross11 says:

            Tribalism is a natural failure mode of the human brain–it tends to short-circuit clear thinking in favor of deciding (or stretching for a way to decide) whose team is in the wrong. I’m definitely susceptible to this myself, FWIW.

            So I’d like to propose an approach for avoiding having tribalism hijack our brains.

            a. Let’s keep tribal stuff (you damned leftists/you damned right wingers/ you damned altrighters, you damned Peoples Front for the Liberation of Judeans, etc.) separate from questions of fact, as much as possible.

            b. If we’re talking about bad actions of some tribal group (you damned SJWers), lets link it to an actual person or people, and not automatically extend it to everyone in the group. This is especially important because both traditional and social media are working as outrage amplifiers right now–so the most outrageous SJW or altrighter will be the easiest example for many non-SJWs or non-altrighters to think about.

          • Nornagest says:

            Do you find Anonymous’ comment above mine to be interesting, informative, contributory in any sense whatsoever?

            I find the entire thread under Conrad Honcho’s post uninteresting, uninformative, and noncontributory. But it only reached the point where I wanted to say something about it when you started using a routine that’s made previous threads worse ten times out of ten.

            You know better, and I know you know better. Your analysis is some of the best on this board — but only when you’re not operating in partisan slapfight mode. I’m not going to fight your battles for you, and I’d strongly encourage you not to fight them at all.

        • phil says:

          Was there a time when you did take James Dobson at face value?

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Ah well. At least we don’t have to take these people at face value ever again. That alone may make this whole debacle worth it.

          I do love when my outgroup incontrovertibly proves they are not actually people unworthy of engaging with.

        • The original Mr. X says:

          Remember when character mattered?

          Yes; it was back in the days before the left decided that having an abuser in the White House was a small price to pay for keeping abortion legal.

          • Brad says:

            And then what? Were you convinced that you had been wrong and character should never have mattered after all?

          • Doctor Mist says:

            And then what? Were you convinced that you had been wrong and character should never have mattered after all?

            No. But we might have become convinced that asserting that character matters is not the best strategy for electing someone of good character.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            And then what? Were you convinced that you had been wrong and character should never have mattered after all?

            No, I just learnt that, when the other side keeps defecting by carrying water for sex pests, choosing co-operate is a losing move.

          • Brad says:

            I don’t see how this fits into the prisoners dilemma framework. How is betraying your own values helping you or hurting anyone else?

          • The original Mr. X says:

            “I don’t see how this fits into the prisoners dilemma framework. How is [not letting the other side impose standards they’ve no interest of keeping themselves and use only in an entirely partisan and self-interested manner] helping you or hurting anyone else?”

          • Brad says:

            That’s not even coherent.

            No one on the “other side” is trying to impose any standard of sexual chastity. That’s your bag. Or at least it was until it was unceremoniously dumped for no apparent reason.

            It would be as if the Democrats nominated an open racist under the reasoning that if the Republicans were going to be racist than the Democrats should be too. It makes no sense.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            No one on the “other side” is trying to impose any standard of sexual chastity.

            #MeToo, #BelieveWomen… the left has been pretty big on calling out sexual immorality, when there’s political capital to be made by doing so. But a norm which only ever gets trotted out when it’s political advantageous to do so rapidly ceases to become a norm, and instead becomes a partisan bludgeon. In such circumstances, trying to follow the norm only gives the other side opportunity to bludgeon you. I don’t believe you’re too obtuse to see this, so I shan’t be replying to your concern trolling any more.

          • Brad says:

            Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          There’s no sense taking anyone whining about the sexual proclivities of politicians at face value. We learned this from your friends Mr. and Mrs. The Left long ago. JFK, Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton using his intern as a humidor, etc etc. MoveOn.org derived its name from Democrats wanting to “move on” from caring about Clinton’s sex and lies because it’s only sex and everyone lies about sex.

          Americans no longer share any sort of common idea of sexual morality, or even that sexual activity should be morally examined at all. The rainbow flag waving is at “clapping for Stalin” levels of lunacy, men are women and women are men and if you don’t want to have sex with a “woman” with a penis you’re evil and don’tcha think age of consent laws are kind of outdated? Kiddie favorite Bill Nye The Science Guy’s got songs about butt stuff for kids. And it’s totally fine to bully a porn star who doesn’t want to have sex with a gay man into suicide. You’d think “a woman may refuse to engage in unprotected penetrative sex until completion with anyone for any or no reason” would be one of those really top-tier, universal things we’d all agree on, but apparently not when it conflicts with any sort of potential insult to homosexuals. I find it really, really, really hard to take “but there are heterosexual men! Who want to have sex with sexually mature women! This is shameful and horrible and they should be run out of office!” stuff at face value. I think the only reason anyone is turning on Bill Clinton now is because he’s no longer useful and his “wife” is an albatross. If it weren’t for the #MeToo pervnado Al Franken would never have been pressured to resign, and even now I’ll bet even money he doesn’t.

          If we’d all like to go back to traditional Christian morality I’m all for that. No sex outside of marriage. Men who do that are cads and women who do it are sluts. No gay stuff ever. There are only two genders. Those are workable and easily applicable standards. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. What Mr. and Mrs. The Left have been pushing since the sexual revolution (this sure didn’t come from the right wing) is “anything goes,” and now it does. Or rather, anything goes for them and their allies, and nothing goes for their enemies.

          Respectfully, I choose not to play.

          • Brad says:

            Don’t kid yourself, there’s nothing at all respectful about your comment. You can’t even manage basic accuracy.

            In any event, it seems you’ve abandoned your values because other people didn’t share them. They must not have been very important values to you after all. That’s good to know. It something to update on.

            I did notice the one politician swiftly forced out on the Republican side during the last six months was Wes Goodman. Hmm.

          • albatross11 says:

            Conrad:

            We live in a world where we don’t all agree on proper sexual behavior, and also in a world where partisans sometimes find it convenient to ignore violation of their own stated principles w.r.t. sexual behavior among powerful politicians on their side. (Bill Clinton and Donald Trump are both examples.)

            One of the sources of conflict here is that there’s not a shared internally-consistent set of rules for sexual conduct to fall back on. Another is that the commonly-held views of most people are not so visible as the ones of the members of the media/showbiz/politics classes, who are often in the public eye.

            For example, this 2009 Pew Center poll showed that about half the population thinks homosexual behavior is morally wrong, but that sure isn’t reflected in popular media culture!

          • albatross11 says:

            Brad:

            The tendency for people with very traditional views of sexual morality to make excuses for Trump is depressing. But I think it’s worth remembering that partisan politics gives us this kind of behavior *all the time*. Every election, I read about how I simply *must* ignore my personal disagreements with the candidate on my side, hold my nose, and vote for her because of the all-important Supreme Court nominations she’ll have.

            We have elections where we get, in practice, two choices. Almost everyone who has any principles is compromising them to vote for one of those two choices. I think it’s a little too easy to see the hypocrisy of social conservatives voting for Trump as proof they never really believed that stuff anyway, but to think very differently of Sanders’ supporters holding their noses to vote for the lady whose liberalism involved keeping the big banks/financial companies happy and waging aggressive wars in the Middle East.

            Certainly there are partisans and politicians and political mouthpieces whose beliefs are subject to revision via political necessity, and it’s reasonable to recognize that those people don’t have beliefs so much as they have interests. But there are also many, many people who have strongly-held beliefs and have no choice but to compromise on some of them or to never vote for a major-party candidate.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I haven’t abandoned my values. I hold them for myself. But I’m also not going to go along with sexual moral policing in a society with no shared sexual morality in service of people who would find me abhorrent for attempting to police the rest of my sexual morality.

            You want me to judge the overly aggressive heterosexual man, but if I judge the promiscuous woman I’m an evil misogynist slut-shamer, and if I judge the homosexual I’m an evil homophobe. Does not compute.

          • Jaskologist says:

            How about we all make a pact to tally up the number of elected politicians in each party who have sexually assaulted someone and then vote for whichever party has the lowest score?

          • Brad says:

            @Conrad Honcho
            No one is asking you to judge anyone or do anything in their “service”. Based on things people like Dobson and other members of the Christian right have said in the past it was reasonable for those of us observing from the outside to think that those voters would be reluctant to vigorously support a wanton adulterer. Based on polls, voting patterns, media outlets, and further statements from people like Dobson, it turns out most don’t really care about the sexual morality of the leaders of the country. Including you apparently.

            That’s just fine. It’s not up to me to tell you or any of the members of the Christian right what they need to care about. But now those revealed preferences are public knowledge.

            And if Dobson comes along and says that he has a deep fundamental belief in the immorality of contraception, and can’t we out of a respect for pluralism exempt him from the requirement to provide conception coverage for his employees, I’m going to be skeptical that he really does have such a deep fundamental belief. Because he also claimed to have a deep fundamental belief in the importance of sexual morality of politicians, until he didn’t.

            @albatross11
            There’s a difference between holding ones nose to vote and vigorous support and extensive apologetics.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            There’s a difference between holding ones nose to vote and vigorous support and extensive apologetics.

            See Hillary Clinton, champion of women. Unless they’re her husband’s rape victims of course.

          • Brad says:

            If you want to hold Hillary Clinton as your target for consistency and integrity, that’s your choice.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Not Hillary, her enthusiastic champions in the media. The evangelicals held their nose for Trump, but the feminists were screaming “#ImWithHer!” loud and proud.

          • Anonymous says:

            Based on things people like Dobson and other members of the Christian right have said in the past it was reasonable for those of us observing from the outside to think that those voters would be reluctant to vigorously support a wanton adulterer. Based on polls, voting patterns, media outlets, and further statements from people like Dobson, it turns out most don’t really care about the sexual morality of the leaders of the country.

            Welcome to anomie.

          • albatross11 says:

            Brad:

            Okay, so if we can infer that Dobson doesn’t really believe all that sexual morality stuff because he comes up with apologetics for Trump, can we also infer similar things about Hillary Clinton’s supporters? Perhaps they don’t *really* believe all that stuff they say about ending the extremely deferential regulation of banks, or putting a stop to the impunity of bankers when they do arguably-illegal stuff that melts down the economy? Hell, maybe they don’t really believe that stuff they say about supporting women when they accuse powerful men of sexual harassment?

            I’m not remotely a fan of James Dobson, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he were every bit as much of a hypocrite as you think. But I think you should use the same standard for deciding whether support for your party’s choice who violates your principles = having no principles, regardless of whether it’s being done by Democrats or Republicans.

          • Brad says:

            The evangelicals held their nose for Trump,

            Funny, I don’t get “nose holding” from your comments on here. Nor from this:

            Jerry Fallwell Jr. said:

            In my opinion, Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment

          • Brad says:

            albatross11

            can we also infer similar things about Hillary Clinton’s supporters? Perhaps they don’t *really* believe all that stuff they say about ending the extremely deferential regulation of banks, or putting a stop to the impunity of bankers when they do arguably-illegal stuff that melts down the economy?

            Did Hillary Clinton deregulate banks? Was she the head of the DOJ when they didn’t do anything to prosecute bankers? I fail to see how this analogy is supposed to work.

            Hell, maybe they don’t really believe that stuff they say about supporting women when they accuse powerful men of sexual harassment?

            On the other hand maybe there is something to this. Franken is a little bit to the contrary, but I am certainly not claiming either the Democratic Party establishment or the base is some model of consistency.

            But there aren’t very many Democrats going around asking for special privileges on the basis of their deeply held beliefs (the vaccine causes autism nuts aside). We as a society have a certain amount of respect for religious beliefs per se. You might not believe it on the basis of my posts here (and that’d be fair) but I’m actually moderately sympathetic to those claims. I didn’t think Zubik v. Burwell (re: Little Sisters of the Poor) was the worst decision in the world. I’m okay with the Amish not paying social security. But on the other hand I don’t want to be taken for a fool by things like the Church of Body Modification. Where does Dobson fall? Fallwell Jr.? Conrad Honcho?

          • Randy M says:

            But on the other hand I don’t want to be taken for a fool by things like the Church of Body Modification.

            I don’t know what you mean by this example specifically; what body modification is illegal that might get an exception due to religious appeals?
            And say what you will about circus freak level body modifiers, but they at the least seem demonstrably committed to their, erm, hobby.

          • Brad says:

            From wiki:

            In 2001, a member of the Church of Body Modification was fired from a Costco because of an eyebrow ring. The employee sued Costco claiming that wearing the eyebrow ring was a religious practice and thus protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The court ruled in favor of Costco, holding that Costco had reasonably accommodated her when they offered to reinstate her if she covered or removed the piercing. On appeal, the 1st Circuit affirmed the ruling, adding that Costco had no duty to accommodate the employee as exempting her from the dress code would result in an undue hardship for Costco.[8][9][10]

            A 14-year-old member of the Church was suspended from Clayton High School in North Carolina, United States because a nose stud was against the dress code. Her school principal said that she could find any reason as to why the religion required her to wear the nose ring.[11] The ACLU took the matter to federal court on free speech grounds, and a federal judge ruled in her favor October 8, 2010.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            But Brad, the things you’re talking about are objections to the government forcing someone to violate their religious beliefs. Not insisting others live up to my religious beliefs (I can’t even manage to live up to my religious beliefs) is in a different category.

            One can both not run Trump out of office for his gleeful serial adultery and also not want the government to force one to bake gay cakes or pay for contraception and abortions.

            The hypocrisy I found particularly galling during the 2016 election was the Democrats’ demands that Trump was unfit for service because of his disrespect for women, while propping Hillary up as a champion of women. At least Trump never pretended to be a feminist, wrung his hands over his male privilege and insisted everyone #ListenAndBelieve. “Respect for women” is definitely one of my values, but nowhere near a terminal one. I was under the impression “respect for women” was pretty much a terminal value for feminists, but not when it came to Hillary. The message I got was “you must dump your policy preferences because of my terminal value while I ignore my terminal value over policy preferences.”

          • Randy M says:

            edit:

            From wiki:

            Ah, I see. On that, I agree with Conrad’s first paragraph, but I take a more libertarian view of employment.
            (end edit; following posted before seeing Conrad’s)

            I don’t know when Falwell said that (don’t really even follow religious sub-culture celebrities); it might be some sunk cost-fallacy. To that quote I’d say that if Trump loves his neighbor as himself, boy howdy I’d like to be his neighbor, and that’s still only the second greatest commandment.

            Regarding religious right not holding their own political champions to their professed standards (emphasis on political), it may be partially in reaction to the idea–truth or myth–that leftists seek to take advantage of an asymmetry in standards. I.e., Alinsky’s “Make the enemy live up to their own set of rules.” Some conservative commenters reaction to the stream of sexual harassment allegations against prominent members of a left cultural power bastion that I’ve seen has been some enjoyment at seeing the tactic used in an internecine manner, even if they might otherwise not find all the reactions proportional (as we’ve discussed here, there’s differences between, say, Louis CK & Weinstein)

            While I don’t personally think the “pussy grabber” talk is indicative of rape, Trump has at the least talked about attempting to seduce married women in ways that are corrosive, even if reflective, of broader culture. People who were genuinely outraged by Clinton are probably hypocrites to the extent that they support Trump, though I don’t expect there was as much outrage as simply political maneuvering in those investigations etc.

          • Jaskologist says:

            But there aren’t very many Democrats going around asking for special privileges on the basis of their deeply held beliefs

            They prefer the term “orientation” to “beliefs.”

          • Brad says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            The message I got was “you must dump your policy preferences because of my terminal value while I ignore my terminal value over policy preferences.”

            From whom did you get this message? I’m not telling you to you must do anything. All I’m saying is that I won’t ever believe you again if you tell me that the Christian faith or sexual probity of a politician matters deeply to you.

            If in return you want to say that you won’t ever believe that people that supported Hillary Clinton and also tweeted #ListenAndBelive, which I should note does not include me, really deeply believe in #ListenAndBelive that’s fine with me.

            If it weren’t for the #MeToo pervnado Al Franken would never have been pressured to resign, and even now I’ll bet even money he doesn’t.

            Look at all those dollar bills on the sidewalk: https://www.predictit.org/Contract/8614/Will-Al-Franken-be-a-US-senator-on-March-31#data

            You can be rich.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            All I’m saying is that I won’t ever believe you again if you tell me that the Christian faith or sexual probity of a politician matters deeply to you.

            Then I think we’re all good. I have never considered myself part of the “religious right,” I’m a Catholic not an evangelical, did not think Bill Clinton should be removed from office for his sexcapades, and have never required a candidate I support be a Christian (just not an atheist. I’d even vote for a Muslim before an atheist).

            ETA: Essentially, I strongly disagree with the idea that politicians should be evaluated on whether or not they’d make good role models in their personal lives. Politicians have always been considered liars, thieves, swindlers and philanderers. When I’m voting for President, I’m not voting for Pope. I’ve already got two of those.

          • Brad says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            (just not an atheist. I’d even vote for a Muslim before an atheist).

            I know there’s no way to know for sure, but how confident are you that Trump isn’t an atheist? Or did you just mean not openly atheist?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            The best I can do is “not openly.” Giving power to someone who has openly declared the only thing constraining their behavior is their own reason seems like a terrible idea.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            [I] have never required a candidate I support be a Christian (just not an atheist. I’d even vote for a Muslim before an atheist).

            Out of curiosity, why is that your dealbreaker? I’d have thought that, even if I were a Christian, I’d vote for a mainstream centrist non-believer long before I’d vote for, say, someone whose values were aligned with the Taliban, or indeed the Church of Scientology.

            Belief in the existence or non-existence of gods is just another thing that reasonable people can and do disagree on, after all.

            [Edit – you replied to Brad while I was typing – but even still, one’s own reason is the only thing that can possibly lead one to have a considered opinion on whether or not a god exists and if so, what demands that god places on us, so I don’t see why it should be a hard-and-fast distinction]

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I would probably not vote for a member of the Taliban, no, and I would think such a person would probably have plenty of policy differences which would render him ineligible for my vote long before the religious question came up.

            Belief in the existence or non-existence of gods is just another thing that reasonable people can and do disagree on, after all.

            Absolutely. But I’m not going to give power over me to someone who thinks absolutely nothing has power over him.

          • Giving power to someone who has openly declared the only thing constraining their behavior is their own reason seems like a terrible idea.

            (Conrad on not voting for a declared atheist)

            You don’t think most religious people believe that their religion is supported by their own reason? I’m pretty sure Aquinas believes that–presumably you wouldn’t vote for him.

            Either humans have some ability to distinguish good from evil on their own or they don’t. If they do, then one can feel obliged to act morally without believing in a god. If they don’t, how do you know whether the powerful being you call God is good, in which case you should follow his instructions, or evil?

            But I’m not going to give power over me to someone who thinks absolutely nothing has power over him.

            I suppose I agree, since such a person would be insane. But most atheists recognize that all sorts of things have power over them. Not believing in God doesn’t mean you don’t believe in bullets hurting you, or the possibility of losing an election, or getting cancer, or … .

          • Randy M says:

            I think Conrad would emphasize the “only” in the first part David quoted.

          • albatross11 says:

            Brad (re the church of body modification):

            I’m reassured by the existence of proof that the universe is much bigger than my imagination, because I would never have expected that such a thing would exist in reality instead of merely in some hypothetical someone made up for an argument.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Not believing in God doesn’t mean you don’t believe in bullets hurting you, or the possibility of losing an election, or getting cancer, or … .

            Meaning the only thing constraining their behavior is “can I get away with it.” And power helps one get away with more things.

            I’m suggesting that without belief in a higher power, there is no backstop on depravity. So you’ve got a power-seeking person, and power corrupts, and no internal limit to possible corruption. If it’s all the same I’d rather just vote for someone else who has ideas I like and doesn’t have that risk factor.

          • I’m suggesting that without belief in a higher power, there is no backstop on depravity.

            With that belief also.

            Consider the (probably apocryphal) story about the Albigensian crusade. The commander of the army that has just taken a city asks the Papal legate how he is to distinguish between the heretics in the city and the good Catholics who just happen to live there.

            Answer: Kill them all. God will know his own.

            It probably isn’t historically true, but it makes logical sense given that set of beliefs.

            More generally, a religious believer can find arguments to justify things he wants to do just as an unbeliever can.

            Further, it is unclear how seriously most past religious believers believed. Consider how many medieval clergy committed what they believed to be mortal sins, most obviously fornication.

          • Randy M says:

            How many?

          • rlms says:

            @Randy M
            Pick a pope, (it seems like almost) any pope.

      • shakeddown says:

        I’m not at all convinced about (1). Republicans seem to be seriously freaking out about the Meuller investigation (see Fox News’ onslaught of attempts to discredit it lately, as per your point 3), which suggests they think it’s going to find something pretty damn uncomfortable (enough for them to lay the groundwork). In particular, I’d expect “pretty damn uncomfortable” to be something new, beyond just Trump aides talking to Russians, since everyone already knows that one.

    • cassander says:

      For now, we’ll ignore the difficulties of actually defining what “go to war” entails in this case, and let’s assume that in X amount of time, trump does “go to war” with north korea for legitimate reasons of state. Do you have a way of discerning that war from a similar military action done for domestic political reasons? In other words, is your view falsifiable?

      • gloster80256 says:

        No, it isn’t strictly falsifiable in terms of distinguishing a ~legitimate war from a wag-the-dog scenario. Rephrasing it more rigorously, my claim is: IF Trump in acute danger of being deposed, THEN war. With all that logically implies.

        A step further, since I’m fairly certain the investigation ends with either an indictment or Mueller’s removal and subsequent massive pressure for Trump’s resignation/impeachment, I effectively put the odds of the conflict in 2018 much higher than what is generally assumed. Certainly in the category of “more likely than not,” while PredictIt has a contract at about 20% (for Kim remaining the head of state in 2018).

        In any case, this isn’t about my glorious predictive abilities. I would ideally like to shut this avenue by drawing public attention to the possibility and thus preemptively blocking it to some degree on the political level.

        Appropriate username, btw.

        • cassander says:

          A step further, since I’m fairly certain the investigation ends with either an indictment or Mueller’s removal and subsequent massive pressure for Trump’s

          Right, but say it doesn’t. Say in 6 months, we’re sort of where we are now, there are some indictments of people associated with trump or the campaign but nothing about current administration members, and then there is some military activity on the peninsula. I guarantee that I will see (not from you, perhaps) people making the claim that trump is doing it as a distraction from whatever the latest bad news is. I’ve seem the claim made before (and not just for trump) and it seems to me to be almost perpetually makeable, and thus, not at all useful. he might be doing it, or he might not, but since it can be said of almost anything trump does at any point besides resign the presidency, it’s never a meaningful statement to make. I think, if anything, you’re working towards the opposite of your goal, an accusation will have more impact if it’s not thrown out there willy nilly, but reserved for when there’s an actual plausible case to be made that it’s happening.

          >Appropriate username, btw.

          Because of my keen insight into the future or my lack of persuasiveness? 😛

          • gloster80256 says:

            The relevant categories and measures are all quite soft and rubbery, that’s true. The judgment will need to be made based on the actual unfolding of the events. But: If there is a case to be made for the intervention, it can be made now. All the facts are in – barring a regime change, NK will obtain a nuclear deterrent. That’s what’s shifted the game. Given the nature of the country and the hazards involved, should US strike or not? If an action isn’t warranted at the moment, why should it be in 6 months? When the risk of NK having an operational retaliatory nuclear arsenal will be higher? (I am, of course, assuming NK will not start a war on its own – something that is exceedingly unlikely once they’ve successfully dug in and secured their status quo.)

            In other words, unless the whole intervention is already in motion logistically, there is a good chance any subsequent action will be taken out of political opportunism rather than practical necessity.

            Because of my keen insight into the future or my lack of persuasiveness?

            Actually, I feel like the Cassandra here… 🙂

          • cassander says:

            Given the nature of the country and the hazards involved, should US strike or not? If an action isn’t warranted at the moment, why should it be in 6 months? When the risk of NK having an operational retaliatory nuclear arsenal will be higher? (I am, of course, assuming NK will not start a war on its own – something that is exceedingly unlikely once they’ve successfully dug in and secured their status quo.)

            the ideal situation is to have the chinese place enough pressure on them that they step back from the brink, and the best way to get them is to make it clear, without ever even hinting at a threat to china, that the US will take actions that the chinese very much dislike if NK takes certain steps. That is something that takes time, and buildup, as does getting allied buy in for a “strike” because any meaningful action won’t be just a single strike, it will take sustained US presence over korea enforcing something like a fly zone.

            And that’s before we even get into many problems with the notion that there should be war today, but unhinged, irresponsible, warmonger trump is “saving” it for some sort of domestic political cover in 6 months.

          • Incurian says:

            The relevant categories and measures are all quite soft and rubbery

            Maybe a bit sticky?

          • gloster80256 says:

            Please allow me to approach this from a different angle: Where do you currently place the odds of a near-term American-led military intervention aimed at regime change in North Korea?

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Please allow me to approach this from a different angle: Where do you currently place the odds of a near-term American-led military intervention aimed at regime change in North Korea?

            With “near-term”=”before 2020 elections” and conditional on fudging “American-led” to “China, at a minimum, doesn’t object”: ~2%. And I feel like it ought to be lower.

          • gloster80256 says:

            Re Gobbobobble: My question was aimed at cassander, but given these priors, your estimates would make a war within the next year… highly statistically significant. Which I would then use to argue that it was probably a wag-the-dog operation.

            (Btw, prediction markets put the chance somewhere around 20% for the next year, but the volume seems pretty low.)

          • cassander says:

            @gloster80256 says:

            Please allow me to approach this from a different angle: Where do you currently place the odds of a near-term American-led military intervention aimed at regime change in North Korea?

            Aimed at regime change? Very low. I expect lots of threats, posturing, and possibly lesser military action, but an american march on pyongyang? almost certainly not. And if trump tried to instigate such a conflict for personal reasons, half his cabinet would resign, at least.

            Your analysis seems based on the assumption that trump is provably guilty of something not just impeachable, but downright treasonable. I think you might want to reconsider that premise.

          • gloster80256 says:

            That, to me, also seems to statistically imply that if a war of such magnitude does take place, it should be, by your expectations, more likely than not motivated by something outside of strictly military considerations.

          • John Schilling says:

            the ideal situation is to have the chinese place enough pressure on them that they step back from the brink, and the best way to get them is to make it clear, without ever even hinting at a threat to china, that the US will take actions that the chinese very much dislike if NK takes certain steps.

            Isn’t that very much the definition of explicitly and without hiding behind hints threatening China?

            And it won’t work, any more than all the Arab threats ever to “take actions the US will very much dislike” if Israel builds settlements on the West Bank ever worked. First, because as with the US w/re Israel, China doesn’t actually have that level of control. Second, because it’s not in China’s interests to do so. And the bit where foreign powers subordinate their interests to our own and act to implement our foreign policy goals, because a Strong And Wise Leader Says The Magic Words, pretty much never works.

            China is not going to solve the North Korea problem for us.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            But NK is almost entirely dependent on the Chinese economically. Without Chinese support the NK regime would collapse. The only way the NK problem gets solved is through China.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            I effectively put the odds of the conflict in 2018 much higher than what is generally assumed. Certainly in the category of “more likely than not,”

            your estimates [2% or lower] would make a war within the next year… highly statistically significant.

            ??

          • John Schilling says:

            The only way the NK problem gets solved is through China.

            If true, then the NK problem doesn’t get solved.

            China might want the NK problem “solved”, but it does not want the North Korean regime collapsed. And it absolutely does not want China to be the means by which the regime is collapsed, because whoever collapses the regime is probably going to get a nuking on general principles.

            But even if it were perfectly safe for them, they’d much rather we be the ones to take the blame and the blowback for that nightmare. There’s nothing we can plausibly offer them except maybe Taiwan or the South China Sea that would make it worth their while to perform this favor for us, and there’s nothing we can threaten them with that wouldn’t be an obvious bluff and/or inconsequential given the stakes.

          • hlynkacg says:

            So here’s a thought. Seeing as nonproliferation in the regions is already a dead letter why shouldn’t we formally recognize Taiwan and gift them 30 – 60 nuclear warheads as a sort a welcome basket/anti-invasion insurance?

          • The Nybbler says:

            So, because the region is already unstable, you want to destabilize relations between two powers who seem to be in at least a quasi-stable peaceful state, in a way that includes nuclear weapons? You wouldn’t happen to be a God of Chaos, would you?

            (Also Taiwan isn’t all that near Korea)

          • hlynkacg says:

            Not a god, or even a saint, merely a humble servant.

            The way I see it recognizing Taiwan and ensuring thier independence is something that we ought to do anyway. If we can turn it into an object lesson for China on why non-proliferation was a good thing all the better.

          • Aapje says:

            It seems wiser to then promise to defend Taiwan with nukes, if they are invaded by China. This keeps control in the hands of the US, rather than empower an actor that may not be aligned with US interests in the future.

          • Incurian says:

            You wouldn’t happen to be a God of Chaos, would you?

            Not a god, or even a saint, merely a humble servant.

            Heh.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            It seems wiser to then promise to defend Taiwan with nukes, if they are invaded by China. This keeps control in the hands of the US

            1) What are the US’s interests in Taiwan?

            2) Are those interests important enough for the American people to start a nuclear war with China over them?

          • Aapje says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            The same interests that the US had in Western Europe during the cold war. It weakens a superpower and causes it to get its way much less if a competing superpower with a culture that conflicts in some ways becomes very strong and makes other countries behave how it wants.

            I live in a country that makes various choices to finagle favors from the US and other big Western nations. For example, we buy American weapon systems. We sent some soldiers to assist you guys in your wars. Our intelligence service sends you lots of data. The entire EU makes all kinds of extensive deals with the US where your interests are taken very seriously. Etc.

            Just look at where Russia is now to see where you can end up. All kinds of stuff happened in the world that offended them (like their dictator friends being ousted and the NATO & EU getting near their border). Ultimately, they had to resort to poor man’s diplomacy to get their way: war.

            Now, I’m not sure if Taiwan is that important. Certainly it’s not as crucial as having Japan in US’s sphere of influence, because it seems very advantageous to the US to not let China dominate Asia.

          • albatross11 says:

            …and the name is Justin….

    • Nornagest says:

      What’s your roadmap for avoiding it?

      • gloster80256 says:

        Screaming loudly about the possibility of the scenario, making it politically more difficult.

        • Nornagest says:

          I’m not going to say that has never worked, but the baseline volume of screaming around this administration is so high that I’m very skeptical about the marginal value of a few more decibels.

          • gloster80256 says:

            Yes. But getting it out there conceptually decreases the payoff of this course of action in and of itself.

        • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

          I pointed to it before, but this man has put a heap of public evidence plus an expert opinion together. Go back to the individual threads for each offence.
          If you want to prevent, you got to get to the roots: spread the info and the debunking, and tell people to write to their representatives that they’d be blacklisted for any election in the next decade if they continue to support the dismantling of the rule of law in the US.

          • Iain says:

            Seth Abramson has a tendency to get a bit far out over his skis. Take anything he says with a few grains of salt, and make sure to verify his sources: he has a bad habit of exaggerating what they say.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Twitter is not exactly a good medium for disseminating information larger than an advertisement. Is there a big-boy writeup somewhere? If a journalist can’t be arsed to use paragraphs like a goddamn adult, I don’t see why I should take the scoop seriously.

          • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

            @Iain:
            I take what you see as overinterpreting of his sources to Abramson’s trained capacity of seeing the implications of what to the layman are somewhat unimportant facts. Making the data hard enough for a (possibly hostile) court or investigation committee needs the resources Mueller has, it is beyond a one-man spare time investigation. That does not make Abramson wrong.

            @Gobbobobble:
            You will find Abramson’s reasons why he prefers twitter over newspaper stories among his tweets of the two weeks or so.

            As for ‘journalist’, you (like many media) conveniently omit the much more relevant background in law. From his CV:
            A 2001 graduate of Harvard Law School, Seth worked for nearly a decade as a criminal defense attorney and criminal investigator, and is now a professor of Communication Arts & Sciences at University of New Hampshire. His several teaching areas include digital journalism, legal writing, and legal advocacy. Trained as a criminal investigator at Georgetown University (1996) and then the Harvard Criminal Justice Institute (2000-2001), Seth is a current member in good standing of the New Hampshire Bar and the Federal Bar for the District of New Hampshire. He has worked for three public defenders—two state, one federal—representing over 2,000 criminal defendants over that time in cases ranging from juvenile delinquency to first-degree murder. He first testified in federal court as a defense investigator at the age of 19, and represented his first homicide client at the age of 22 as a Rule 33 attorney for the Boston Trial Unit of the Committee for Public Counsel Services. Between 2001 and 2007, he was a staff attorney for the Nashua Trial Unit of the New Hampshire Public Defender. (source)

            The best approximation to spoon-feeding the tweets may be here, but beware: You lose the links to the original sources, and “I’m sure Twitter’s algorithm has degraded a few—sometimes tweets or parts of threads disappear—but this was a big project and I’m very grateful” (Abramson)
            EDIT: The PDF’s methodology leaves out much interesting material. /EDIT
            It’s MUCH better to start reading around Dec. 1 — a well spent afternoon, because you also get explanations of the Logan Act and its significance (and the Republican attempts to misrepresent it in the media) and other legal stuff of importance. EDIT: Read also the re-tweeted summarizing tweets. /EDIT
            Recommended. Srsly.

            Of course you can try some more acknowledged sources and search the sites of the media below:
            “Since the election of Donald Trump, Seth has become a regular commentator on U.S. politics on CNN and the BBC, with recent additional interviews by CBS, CBS Radio, MSNBC, NBC Radio, ABC News, ABC Radio, NPR, PBS, the CBC, Bloomberg, Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, New York Magazine, Politico, Congressional Quarterly, The New York Daily News, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and others. His writing on politics is now widely cited in television, radio, print, and online, with discussions on CNBC, PBS, Fox News, BET, and NPR, as well as in Politico, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Chicago Tribune, The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, People Magazine, and The Philadelphia Inquirer.​” (also from his CV)

            After their tools have helped to steal an election, Russia would be not Russia to not use the same tools again to protect their assets. Bet you’ll see soon a flood of tweets and media pieces depicting Abramson as ‘poet’, ‘mere journalist’, ‘conspiracy theorist’, together with warnings to not re-tweet his stuff.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            You will find Abramson’s reasons why he prefers twitter over newspaper stories among his tweets of the two weeks or so.

            On Twitter;Didn’t Read. If you have a cliffs notes I’ll read a comment, but I’m not going to go digging through twitter threads.

            As for ‘journalist’, you (like many media) conveniently omit the much more relevant background in law. From his CV:

            Your link to his Twitter profile says

            Attorney. Professor @UofNH (journalism, law). [bunch of @s I don’t give a fuck about]

            If you want me to read his CV, link his CV next time. And yes it says he’s an attorney but he’s acting in a journo capacity with these supposed-truthbombs.

            An index of tweets is no better for readability. If a frigging journalism professor can’t write an informative article, that weights the priors heavily toward being a crank.

            By all means, tweet a link to the grown-up piece. But exclusively twitting about and then complaining about sheeple not taking you super cereal falls under “Communicating badly and then acting smug when you’re misunderstood is not cleverness”.

          • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

            Sorry, big boy, didn’t know you were so delicate. Stay away from things that need chewing.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            I’d rather chew something properly cooked than a raw cactus

          • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

            🙂
            In a desert they can be the most nourishing thing to get. And not all contain psychedelics.

          • CatCube says:

            I admit to being baffled that anybody over the age of 14 would refer another adult to a Twitter thread with the expectation it would be the best way to get informed.

            Also somewhat horrified, in addition to being baffled.

          • Jaskologist says:

            He seems like the left-wing Thomas Wictor.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            I think the charitable interpretation is that Abramson is engaging in some sort of journalism-world-equivalent for avant-garde performance art: might be making a clever point to those inducted into the sacred mysteries, but indistinguishable from crackpottery for those of us outside.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      It’s unlikely there will be an existential threat to his Presidency. The GOP, if anything, is signaling that’s it moving to terminate the Russia investigation and let Trump fire Mueller.

      NK needs a deployable warhead before it’s a two-sided nuclear war. Besides a uranium gun-bomb, nuclear weapons are pretty complicated things. There’s not really evidence they have a deployable nuclear warhead, IMO. Their missile program looks like it is moving along swimmingly, their nuclear bomb program had a number of duds before they had an explosion of reasonable size.

      I’d be nervous if I were a South Korean and would start making contingency plans, particularly those north of Seoul.

      • Nornagest says:

        North Korea has been releasing images of the physics packages, or at least the exterior of what they claim to be the physics packages, with the last few nuclear tests. They look small enough to be deployable, and while initiating a nuke in place under a mountain is obviously not the same thing as strapping it to a six-story Roman candle, flinging it nine thousand kilometers, and hoping it still works after reentry, “they’re lying about deployability” strikes me as a pretty thin reed. Everything about their program so far points to a desire to build credibility.

        Now, reliable deployability is another story, but it’s not much consolation if half the nukes they’ve got don’t work when the other half are still heading towards San Diego, Toyko, or Seoul. Particularly since every dud missile that gets launched still looks like a target to GMD or THAAD.

      • gloster80256 says:

        Firing Mueller will, in my estimate, trigger a crisis in itself. The gathered evidence will leak, state-level prosecutors will continue their work outside the pardon powers and massive demonstrations will ensue.

        I agree that there isn’t yet conclusive evidence of a deployable nuclear ICBM in NK’s hands, but I’m not primarily worried about their nukes (the most likely target is probably Japan, in any case…) I’m mostly concerned with the Chinese reaction. And domestic US response as well.

        • gbdub says:

          The gathered evidence will leak,

          Don’t you think if they had anything solid, it would have leaked already? At a minimum, you’d think they wouldn’t have had to fall back on the lame “lying to the Feds about your non-crimes” charge against Flynn.

          • gloster80256 says:

            From my perspective, the so-far leaked story is very clear:

            Kremlin used Manafort (previously working for Yanukovich) to contact the Trump campaign with the following offer: We give you compromat on Clinton and you change your platform to remove sanctions placed upon Russia after the annexation of Crimea.

            Trump said great, changed the platform and Kremlin then orchestrated the DNC hacks.

            So that’s a knowing cooperation with a hostile foreign power in an illegal attempt to influence elections. I don’t know what formal criminal rubric this falls under exactly (conspiracy against the United States almost certainly + several other more specific) but yeah, that’s a federal crime.

            Now what hard evidence to back this up has Mueller managed to gather so far and who is on the hook exactly is another question, but we shall find out soon, I’m sure.

            The minimalist charges against Flynn are the result of his willingness to strike a deal and cooperate.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            I don’t think the leaked story makes that clear. What makes this story clear based on what has been leaked?

          • gloster80256 says:

            “Leaked” is perhaps not the right word here. It’s what has been pieced together from the information and timelines made available after the indictment of Papadopoulos, Manafort and Gates.

          • gbdub says:

            Didn’t the Flynn meetings happen after the election? Hard to conspire to rig the election that’s over.

            The “compromising info on Hillary” that I was aware of was offered to Trump Jr., and turned out to be a false ploy by a non government agent to get a meeting with him on an unrelated issue.

            The reason the Flynn plea doesn’t make sense is that it fails to establish a crime occurred (other than the lying to Feds). If you want to prove a conspiracy, what you do is offer him a wrist slap but you absolutely must have him plead to conspiracy, because that way his statement of guilt establishes that a conspiracy occurred, and you can use that to nab the other conspirators.

            That they didn’t do this, combined with Monafort getting similar indictments for crimes that have nothing to do with election conspiracy, suggests to me that they really don’t have much and are just nailing Trump associates out of frustration with whatever will stick (note that e.g. Huma Abedin could easily be charged and convicted for what Flynn plead to, but prosecutorial discretion…)

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            When do you figure this happened? The agreement that is? The hack occurred sometime around May, with the release to WikiLeaks in July.

            Also, my model of Trump is that he’s definitely a guy who understands leverage. He understands how to apply pressure to people, offer them carrots or sticks, to get them to do what he wants, and that’s how he makes his business deals. Would you agree with that? So why would he give Putin, who he doesn’t know and certainly has no reason to trust, infinite leverage over him for such a paltry return as the DNC’s emails? They were really only mildly embarrassing, and mostly confirmed what everyone already knew, that the media’s in bed with the DNC. By making such a deal with Putin, Trump would have been handing him the ability to ruin him and send him to jail, win or lose the election. Putin could drop a diplomatic nuke on Trump and the rest of us at any time by just announcing “Haha, is all true, imperialist swine! I, Vladimir Putin, ‘Master Hacker,’ control your puny puppet president Trump!”

            Is Trump a ruthless, manipulative, psychopathic businessman, or an incredibly trusting and naive simpleton with no concept of power or leverage? He can’t be both.

          • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

            @Conrad Honcho
            So why would he give Putin, who he doesn’t know and certainly has no reason to trust, infinite leverage over him for such a paltry return as the DNC’s emails?

            Getting elected himself.
            The business and tax opportunities the presidency and his legislation for himself, his family and his gang from that.
            Access for his business to the real estate market of a country spanning seven time zones.
            Give US nuclear tech to VAE to build reactors (from Russia).
            Oil and gas access.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Getting elected himself.

            Did the DNC emails accomplish that? To an extent worth handing a foreign, ruthless gangster-autocrat a loaded gun pointed at your head for the rest of your life, and your legacy for eternity?

            I totally understand why Trump would want to be elected, but why essentially enslave yourself to Putin in order to do it? And also for such paltry assistance as some embarrassing emails.

            I’m not asking why Trump would want to be elected. I want to know why he would deal with Putin in the manner suggested given the incredibly obvious downsides to doing so.

      • John Schilling says:

        Besides a uranium gun-bomb, nuclear weapons are pretty complicated things. There’s not really evidence they have a deployable nuclear warhead, IMO.

        Not really any evidence except for the defector interviews, the plutonium breeder reactors that are useless for gun-assembly bombs, the credible mock-ups of implosion fission and fusion bombs, the several types of very expensive and flight-proven missiles whose payload sections are conspicuously sized for those bombs, the known collaboration with the A.Q. Khan network, the historical development path and progress of everyone else who ever developed nuclear weapons (even when starting from a weaker position than North Korea), the series of nuclear tests consistent with aggressive development of lightweight implosion fission and fusion bombs but not with gun-assembly bombs or Trinity gadgets, and the explicit assessment of the US intelligence community. But yeah, other than that, there’s nothing.

        Your uneducated O needs a great deal more H. And if you’re going to move the goalposts to “…but these things aren’t proof; it could all be a giant hoax”, don’t worry. Kim Jong-Un has almost openly stated that, because he is sick and tired of being disrespected by people like you in spite of his demonstrated accomplishments, he’s going to finish off his current test series by putting a live thermonuclear warhead onto an ICBM and launching it ten thousand or so kilometers over the Pacific.

        At which point Trump can have his nuclear war, if he wants it, in spite of anything Mattis and the JCS can do. The bit where people say, “Ha ha! You ignorant commie peons can’t build real nuclear missiles, and there’s nothing you can do to stop us from taking down your regime!”, is NOT HELPING. I don’t think terribly many people care what you have to say, but you’re not alone and I’d prefer you knock it off.

        • A Definite Beta Guy says:

          I think you’re over-reading my post. It’s clear NK can build ICBMs and it’s clear that they can build a weapon in the 100-300 kiloton range that’s consistent with some of the techniques used to build a nuclear warhead. They’ve had success with both, and nuclear-tipped ICBMs are 1960s technology, so they can definitely build them if they want to.

          This is not evidence that they CURRENTLY have deployable warheads on top of ICBMs.

          The DIA estimate was before the recent nuclear testing and I think over-ambitious in its estimates. Maybe I should assign a higher amount of confidence to their assessment, but I don’t. Kim posing in front a mock-up core is reasoning from a North Korean propaganda photo.

          I don’t see how its at all helpful to give people the impression to people that NK can hurl megatons of death on heavy throw missiles.

        • John Schilling says:

          I think you are confusing evidence and proof in this matter, and even there your case is weak. Because “Kim posing in front a mock-up core” is only one of eight separate lines of evidence that I cited offhand; I could probably bring it up to an even dozen with a bit of work. Meanwhile, you are dismissing the assessment of actual professionals who have extensively studied the matter, in both the open and dark worlds, with “I think over-ambitious”.

          I’m not over-reading your post. I understood then and I understand now that you believe North Korea cannot presently mount nuclear warheads on its missiles. I assert that you are almost certainly wrong, and dispute your competence to offer an informed opinion in this matter.

          I also ask what you think would constitute “evidence” that North Korea CURRENTLY has deployable warheads on top of ICBMs. Do they, in fact, have to live-fire one over the Pacific to satisfy you?

          • Controls Freak says:

            Do they, in fact, have to live-fire one over the Pacific to satisfy you?

            At this point, am I just really jaded, or is life really just a slow grind leading to the inevitable day when they do this? Or am I misestimating KJU’s estimation of the geopolitical ramifications of eliminating an uninhabited Pacific island?

          • John Schilling says:

            I suspect KJU does underestimate how provocative an atmospheric nuclear “test” would be in the modern era. And I suspect he overestimates the influence of the Buck Turgidson school of threat assessment in US strategic thinking. But he is walking a fine line between two failure modes which both lead to total war, the one because he goes too far in the name of deterrence and the other because he doesn’t go far enough to establish deterrence in the first place. And we are making that path narrower than we need to.

  8. fahertym says:

    Curious to see what people think about this: https://deep-throat-ipo.blogspot.tw/2017/12/a-helping-hand.html

    TLDR –
    This is a long analysis by an anonymous financial adviser claiming that Alibaba, China’s version of Amazon and one of the country’s biggest companies, is basically a massive government-financed ponzi scheme. The breakdown is very long, but in short, Alibaba’s Chinese shareholders have been selling off the company piecemeal to Westerners over the last couple of years despite the stock’s price skyrocketing. Meanwhile, the company continues to post impossibly amazing profits. If Alibaba was really as good as its numbers suggest, the Chinese government would never let it fall into foreign hands.

    • baconbacon says:

      I will read the piece, but

      Alibaba’s Chinese shareholders have been selling off the company piecemeal to Westerners over the last couple of years despite the stock’s price skyrocketing.

      Isn’t this what you would expect of a healthy company? The original shareholders have to be convinced to sell by high prices, selling off at low valuations would be more indicative of shenanigans.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Selling off by insiders is

        a) extremely logical and something every financial advisor will tell you to do for diversification reasons, and

        b) screamed about by know-nothings as proof that the end is nigh.

    • cassander says:

      ponzi scheme isn’t quite right, but large segments of chinese state owned industry is little more than jobs programs. It’s important to remember with china that the old maoist economy never got abolished, just sidelined. It’s all still there, as inefficient as ever, employing huge numbers of people out in the provinces, kept alive with infusions of money taxed from the more or less capitalist economy that runs in parallel.

  9. Creative Username 1138 says:

    From the predictions page:

    2. No real war (500+ deaths including armed combatants on both sides) in Catalonia in the next year: 2%

    It this a mistake or are you extremely pessimistic about Catalonia?

  10. Murphy says:

    re: Obsession with Regression

    Pros: kudos on making sure to refer to “Powerful men” rather than just “men”, “white men” or “cis-het-white-males”, putting this head and shoulders above the majority of such commentary.

    Reading this SA… it makes me think of most times I see prolifers and prochoicers arguing at each other.

    The author seems to have a fairly fundamentally different set of precepts to many they’re trying to aim the argument at. When I’ve seen similar before trying to talk to the person about it is like trying to tell them that baby-eating is not baby-eating because it seems to be very much a fundamental values thing.

    I’ll not get this completely correct since I don’t really subscribe to the precept or have a gut feeling for it but: One set of precepts seems to go something like “there is the totem pole of privilege and reducing the inequality on that pole is an absolute fundamental good while things that increase it are fundamentally bad no matter what”

    Hypothetical:

    So in a hypothetical world where some legal anomaly meant that the law didn’t consider it murder if a trans, black woman killed a white male millionaire in his sleep the people who subscribe to that worldview would side against anyone arguing that the exception shouldn’t be there in law. Because removing it would slightly slightly move trans black women even further down the totem pole of privilege and move white male millionaires slightly further up.

    They wouldn’t see any point and would be actively hostile to it. It isn’t like such murders of powerful men are common while lots of trans WOC die every year so any move to change the hypothetical law is just a hostile move against WOC.

    Someone with precepts more common in the lesswrong style communities is more likely to value consistency in the law in it’s own right. The victim and offenders status on the totem pole of privilege doesn’t get considered a major issue. That murder should be murder no matter the skin color of the offender and victim.

    So you get lots of baby-eater style moments when members of the different groups interact.

    Non hypothetical:

    In the US if a female acquaintance drugs and rapes me it isn’t even legally rape. I can legally be the victim of rape but only if the perpetrator is another male. That kind of thinking seems to trickle down to all the lower-tier offenses. I can be a victim but if the offender isn’t another male, good luck.

    The author makes sure to make it clear that they’re 100% on board with taking male on male rape and male on male sexual assault more seriously…. but sort of goes silent on the other bits. I suspect because legal/social changes that would allow a female to be considered a rapist or social views that take assault by women seriously would push women slightly down the totem pole and men slightly up making it very not-babyeating.

    And such not-rapes and assaults are not even terribly common compared to the reverse anyway so anyone making that argument is just making a hostile move against women.

    So there’s almost an automatic conflict between the people who value universality and consistency for it’s own merits and the people who have a totem-pole view.

    The author even seems to not quite get that many of their audience may not share the totem-pole morality because it’s baked right into their arguments. Things are only a problem if aimed at non-dominant groups etc.

    • MrApophenia says:

      I actually think you’re misreading a much more pragmatic, practical concern as an abstract, precept-based one.

      The problem isn’t (at least primarily) one of status or totem pole position, it’s one of not trusting that the other side is arguing in good faith with their objections, and responding accordingly. I suspect that the thinking is more along the following lines:

      When a privileged class is seeing one of their privileges threatened, one common tactic is to respond, “But what about this incredibly rare edge case that also needs to be protected against? And, sure, in order to protect against that, we would also need to make it much, much more difficult to actually enforce negative consequences for this much more common problem that members of our group are currently getting punished for, but shucks, universality, right?”

      Another big example of this in the current sexual harassment/assault explosion is the concern about due process and protection of the accused against false accusations. From a universal-rules POV, of course you want due process and the avoidance of witch hunts.

      But from the POV above, you might also point out that sexual harassment and assault by men in positions of authority seems to be distressingly common, while false accusations are comparatively rare; trying to protect against the latter is not merely focusing on a less severe problem, but taking most actions suggested to deal with that problem actively hinder your ability to deal with the former, much more severe, problem.

      Where the totem pole comes in is that it is not generally seen as mere coincidence that whenever things start getting uncomfortable for the people at the top of that totem pole, it suddenly becomes really important to focus on points of universal law that, just by happy accident, also lessen the pressure on them in the current situation.

      Or to flip back to your example: Imagine we were in the midst of a nation-wide fad of rich, white men hunting black trans women for sport, The Most Dangerous Game style. This has just been revealed by a series of explosive news stories, and everyone is still reeling in shock and surprise.

      Except for a number of rich, white men, who are arguing for greater legal protections against being murdered by black trans women. And it’s like, sure, ok, in principle that is probably good… but is now actually the time to be hashing out that particular problem? Could there possibly be a more pressing one to solve first?

      • Aapje says:

        When the suggested solution to help black trans women is to exempt (rich white) men from basic human rights, like the right to a fair trial, then of course it is important to discuss the rights of (rich white) men at that time, because they are being removed.

        Human rights pretty much never get reduced by directly arguing that they are unnecessary. The way it almost always goes is that people:
        – present an issue that is supposedly more important than those human rights (usually they frame the former in a way that makes it look worse than it is and frame the latter in a way that downplays its importance*)
        – argue that the only way that the issue can successfully be addressed is to reduce the human rights and that believing that other solutions work better means you don’t want the issue to be solved
        – argue that only the outgroup will be effected by the reduction in human rights

        I think that you are extremely mistaken in thinking that these legal protections are mainly protecting rich white men. When people reduce legal protections to help women, this somehow seems to end up hurting black men disproportionately often. Of course, these outcomes are not being discussed very much, because it would undermine ‘the narrative’ that is used to legitimize these politics.

        You seem to believe the rhetoric that the legal protections mainly protect rich white men, so reducing them will mainly hurt this group. I don’t believe that the facts show this and I think that the people you are allying yourselves with have ‘horseshoed’ so far that they are working to undo centuries of progressive policies in favor of policies that are racist and sexist & that remove the legal protections that protect the commoners more than the elite.

        * For example, by arguing that only rich white men benefit from them; as well as ignoring the many indirect effects, including people getting upset at being discriminated against and fighting back.

        PS. I am not aware of any solid evidence showing that false accusations are comparatively rare. I believe that one can only argue with confidence that it is somewhere between 2% and 90%. Note that most people seem to misunderstand what ‘false accusations’ actually refers to and seem to believe that it only refers to intentionally lying accusers. It actually also includes accusers who are wrong, which is probably the far greater group of false accusers (and also means that there is a large grey area, where the accuser is partially correct/wrong). Research suggests that very high percentages of people are not able to testify accurately (in general), that prosecutors can easily fall victim to tunnel vision, etc; which means that legal protections of the accused are crucial. Without them, we just trade one kind of injustice for the other, even if people act with good intent (which is not a given, because a system with few legal protections allows bad actors to take advantage of that). I believe that centuries of experience have shown that legal protections mainly protect the commoners from being oppressed, not that they protect the powerful from being held to account. It just seems that way, but societies with fewer legal protections actually are much worse at allowing an elite to oppress people.

        • MrApophenia says:

          I wasn’t actually saying I agree with the line of argument presented. I wouldn’t be pro-making it legal to murder the rich, just for the record.

          I do think you can probably find less extreme examples where I’d be more sympathetic to the view, but that’s sort of beside the point.

          What I’m saying is that I don’t think OP is correct that this arises out of some Babyeater/Superhappy impossible divide of foundational values.

          It’s a much simpler cooperate/defect scenario where they don’t want to cooperate because they are pretty sure the other side is engaging in a sneaky defection. It’s not that they disageee with the value their opponents are arguing for, it’s that they don’t even believe that value is what is really motivating their opponents.

          • Aapje says:

            Yes, that assumption of bad faith is common. I’ve seen and experienced it many times.

            However, I think that it is too easy to just claim that the foundational values are entirely the same, but that people are prevented from realizing this and/or accepting the truth because of fallacies in their thinking.

            For example, it seems very common among SJ people to demand radical interventions to achieve equality of outcome, based on beliefs that are anything but proven scientifically. This goes against my foundational value of acting with prudence.

            In general, SJ people tend to consider it reasonable to treat people differently based on their race, gender, etc. For example by supporting affirmative action that advantages all people of a certain race/gender/etc over people with another race/gender/etc. This goes very strongly against my foundational value of not discriminating by race/gender/etc.

  11. a reader says:

    @Scott Alexander:

    Because you mentioned “minor updates to the Mistakes”: I observed a possible minor mistake in one of your comments (the response to Grant’s reply) to your post about Damore and women in STEM and differences between sexes, “Contra Grant on Exaggerated Differences”. Imo the post is one of your best, I think you should include it in your “Top Posts”, but in your comment I think you were wrong thinking that before the 80’s, there were more percents of women programmers because women were “banned” from other prestigious professions like medicine:

    Women are less likely to be interested in programming than men. But if you ban the smart women from every other occupation – well, they’ll take it. Once you unban them, they’ll go to other things they like more, like being veterinarians (80% women) and forensic scientists (74% women). My guess is in 1980, neither of those careers had many women in them. Where did all those super-smart women who now dominate the fields come from? Probably places like schoolteaching and programming!

    I was a child in the 1980s, but I remember that both my pediatrician and my ophthalmologist were women. Not in the US – but I expect the US to be more advanced than Eastern Europe.

    I think the real explanation is that before the 80’s kids of both sexes became programmers like they became doctors, looking from outside, without previous practice, but after the PCs became more common, the direct contact with them let “people vs. things” difference (I would rather say “beings vs. things”) manifest itself: some young nerds (most of them boys) fell in love with them, started to code and chose programming like talented prodigies chose music or painting.

    (Sorry if I made any mistakes, English is not my native language.)

    • Ketil says:

      I was a child in the 1980s, but I remember that both my pediatrician and my ophthalmologist were women.

      Sure, they existed. Sorry for the language (and obviously, these are numbers for a single nation), but at the bottom, you have a graph of sex and age of today’s doctors. Someone working as a doctor in 1980 would probably be older than 60, and if the proportions have remained constant, there would be about 20% women among the youngest doctors back then – and slightly lower fractions in higher age groups. (The larger number of women retirees is probably due to longer life spans for women)

      Currently, 60-70% of medical students are women, and most of the male doctors are above 50 – so in a few years, the situation will be the opposite of what it was.

      http://legeforeningen.no/yf/Allmennlegeforeningen/Publikasjoner/Festskrift-til-Almmenlegeforeningens-75-ars-jubileum/Festskrift-til-Allmennlegeforeningens-75-arsjubileum/Okonomi-og-arbeidsforhold/Kvinner-og-menn-i-norsk-allmennmedisin–fordeling-og-rekruttering/

    • 1soru1 says:

      > Not in the US – but I expect the US to be more advanced than Eastern Europe.

      I think this is a fairly common misconception amongst people from Eastern Europe. There is not really a simpler linear axis of progress – the USA is simply more _american_ than anywhere else.

    • a reader says:

      @Ketil:

      You are right. I’ve found a stat about women in medical schools in the US:

      https://www.amnhealthcare.com/uploadedFiles/MainSite/Content/Staffing_Recruitment/Staffcare-WP-Women%20in%20Med.pdf

      Women were 22.4% in ’75 and 45.6% in 2000 (see graph at page 4).

      I suppose the main reason that kept out women back then is that in US they study in medical schools only after college, not, like in Europe, immediately after high school. If an European doctor usually finishes medical school at 24, an US doctor just starts it at same age and finishes it close to 30, isn’t it? Women in the 70’s probably wanted to marry and have their children before 30 (afaik the marriage age raised in the last decades, especially for smart women).

      @1soru1:

      I wouldn’t be surprised, for example, if more percents of women had jobs in my country than in the US in the 80’s – because back then, during communist era, there was a law that everybody must have a job.

      But I would be very surprised if in the 70’s, after civil rights era, the women were (officially or unofficially) banned from becoming doctors. Such a scandal, if real, should have been surely remembered.

      • Women were not banned from being doctors or lawyers, but they were a much smaller fraction of medical students or law students in the seventies than they are now. My guess is that the reasons were less discrimination in admissions than fewer women choosing to pursue those careers.

    • Deiseach says:

      Once you unban them, they’ll go to other things they like more, like being veterinarians (80% women) and forensic scientists (74% women).

      I don’t know, I find it hard to believe that up to 1980 a young woman would have sighed wistfully “Oh I’d really love to be a vet but everyone knows that’s a Man’s Job, but I’ll just have to become a computer programmer instead, since everyone knows that’s a Girl’s Job”.

      I think in part it’s the same transition as women going from being nurses to being doctors; it becomes more acceptable for women to move from the ‘assistant’ role and so women who might previously have considered their options limited to nursing are now studying medicine to become doctors instead. Same with vets. Women would have considered their options limited to being veterinary nurses or vet’s assistants in a small animal practice, but now they can be vets themselves in such.

      Bad Old Sexist Attitudes up to the 80s probably would have preferred a male vet to slog through the muck and deal with large, angry beasts (and that’s just the farmers) – presumably that’s what Scott means by “banning” women from being vets* – and this kind of figure would seem to back that up:

      In 1960, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 98 percent of veterinarians were men. In 2013, of the nation’s 99,720 practicing veterinarians, 55 percent were women, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

      *EDIT: No, this article references “the 1964 anti-discrimination legislation” so yes, there were legal bars to women entering certain careers as well as attitudes of “this is not a job for a woman”. But it still isn’t enough to explain why women decided they wanted to be vets (rather than remain as computer programmers) once the ban was lifted.

      I do think the big difference in getting more women into veterinary medicine was the proliferation of small animal clinics and the move towards those kinds of practices (mainly urban) than the ‘traditional’ large animal practices, as Americans began spending the same kind of money for medical treatment (and looking for the same kind of medical treatment) on their pets as would formerly have been reserved for humans. Small animal practices look like they started taking off in the 90s going by this article from 2010, and I wonder if it’s a coincidence that along with that, the numbers of women entering the profession started to rise?

      This 2003 study claims that:

      In an Australian study of veterinary students and recent graduates, the factors that influenced selection of veterinary medicine as a career were generally the same for both genders, but some differences did come to light. Factors that were of more importance in influencing males to study veterinary medicine were a desire to be independent of supervision and the financial attractiveness of veterinary practice. Factors that were of more importance to females in choosing a career in veterinary medicine included a love of animals, the image of veterinarians portrayed on television, an interest as a child in living things, and the scientific study of disease.

      The problem still remains that women – for whatever reason(s) – are not going into large animal veterinary practices, and that these are suffering a decline that could become serious:

      Only 4% of female veterinary graduates of the class of 2001 in the United States entered “large animal exclusive” or “large animal predominant” practice compared with 13% of male graduates. In contrast, 56% of 2001 female veterinary graduates entered “companion animal exclusive” or “companion animal predominant” practice versus only 40% of male graduates.

      • No, this article references “the 1964 anti-discrimination legislation” so yes, there were legal bars to women entering certain careers

        That doesn’t follow, and I do not believe it was true. The lack of anti-discrimination legislation doesn’t mean that it was illegal for a woman to enter medical school, it only means that it wasn’t illegal for a medical school to discriminate in admissions against (or for) women.

        I believe there were bars to a woman becoming a lawyer in the 19th century, at least in some states, but that’s a long time ago.

      • JulieK says:

        (Tangent) I think the shift to veterinarians mainly treating small animals is much older than that – it’s described in the “All creatures great and small” books, whose author started practicing in the 1930s.

        • Deiseach says:

          Yes, but I do think that it’s only relatively recently that expensive interventions and treatments for animals like pets (and not something like a valuable stallion) became commonplace; people taking out pet insurance for medical insurance for their pets, people willing to spend money on operations instead of having a pet put down, and the rest of it.

          I’m frankly amazed when I read some of the begging letters people put up on social media about medical treatment for their cat or dog – people who don’t have spare money are sinking thousands into a pet and asking for donations for this/to enable them to literally pay rent while they’re paying the vet, instead of “Fluffy has cancer, best thing is to have them humanely put down”.

          Large animal practice would probably have been more profitable, or at least seen as “well, farmers will need you to treat their stock, but how many clinics for cats and dogs can a small town support?”. Small animal practices seem to be the way the profession is going today, and that goes hand-in-hand with more women vets (though again, some of the articles were pointing out that as in many professions, as you get nearer the top of the tree it gets more male: lots of women working in practices, not as many owning their own, and very few on the governing bodies/established big names of the profession).

        • quanta413 says:

          Would this have any relationship to changes in animal ownership among Americans? With horses ceasing to be an important mode of transportation and more people owning pet dogs and cats, it seems like this would lead to a change in veterinarians.

  12. OptimalSolver says:

    If you run all possible computer programs in a given language starting with the smallest, and you set an upper time limit on each program to avoid the underlying halting problem, what are the chances of finding a program that does something “interesting”?

    And what would be a good way to make the interesting/not-interesting decision?

    Assume we’re doing this on a current top-10 supercomputer.

    • Ketil says:

      finding a program that does something “interesting”?

      How would you tell? I.e., what counts as “interesting” to you? If you don’t provide any input, this just amounts to producing a sequence of outputs, you might as well just draw random numbers. What numbers are interesting?

    • johnjohn says:

      Using 1’s and 0’s you could get to hello world in 2^160 iterations

    • TeMPOraL says:

      I believe it’s fundamentally equivalent to asking: given a language (e.g. English), what are the chances of finding an interesting story in a string made from random Unicode characters. You can observe that almost all character combinations are meaningless, and even if you happen to get one made entirely of existing words, you’ll notice that almost all word combinations are meaningless too. And we haven’t even got to the meaningful-but-boring part.

      The same thing holds for programs.

      • OptimalSolver says:

        Short English text strings don’t (usually) produce interesting stories, no, but according to Stephen Wolfram, extremely simple programs can have extremely complex behavior. So I’m not sure if it’s exactly equivalent.

      • James C says:

        One of the shortest famous stories: “baby shoes for sale, never worn.” is 32 characters long, including punctuation. If we ignore capitalisation and include ‘,’ ‘.’ and ‘ ‘ in our character set that means that it represents 1 of (32^29) 4.46×10^43 possible 32 character arrangements.

        It takes a very long time to generate anything interesting at random 🙂

      • kominek says:

        if you can write down a context-free grammar for your programming language, it’s trivial to generate (or enumerate) syntactically valid programs.

        it’d be a bit harder to enumerate ones that were semantically valid-enough to execute, but we can hand wave away all the “random characters” stuff.

    • Scott says:

      This question has been studied pretty extensively—see, e.g., the Busy Beaver competition, or Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science (just scale down Wolfram’s claims of originality and earth-shakingness by a few orders of magnitude 🙂 ).

      Short answer: if by “interesting,” you mean complicated and nearly impossible to predict, then you’ll encounter that almost immediately. E.g. there are 5-state, 1-tape, 2-symbol Turing machines for which already no one has yet understood what they’re doing, and whether they halt or run forever. If by “interesting,” you mean “useful or semantically meaningful to humans,” then you’ll need to go further out in the space of programs, although not impossibly further—e.g. I believe there’s already a 23-state Turing machine that halts iff there’s a counterexample to Goldbach’s Conjecture. If you consider that interesting, then you can derive a lower bound from it on the “probability of interesting behavior.”

      Of course, how far out you have to go will depend a lot on the choice of programming language. A typical higher-level language will make things “better,” in that many functionalities are built in that would be very expensive to express in (say) assembly or Turing machine, but also “worse,” in that the overwhelming majority of strings won’t even compile, let alone produce interesting behavior.

      Scott Aaronson

      • OptimalSolver says:

        It was actually reading an article by Wolfram that lead me to ask this.

        The problem is that he’s seems exclusively fixated on cellular automata, and I’m curious as to how his idea would fair if allowed to stretch its legs in general program space.

        • Scott says:

          As I said, it depends on the programming language. You see the same phenomena with (say) Turing machines, or programs written in a suitable assembly language, that you see with cellular automata—namely, extremely short programs that give rise to complex behaviors that you no longer understand. With (say) Java programs, by contrast, it would take miraculous coincidences to get a program that imported classes, etc. etc. in the right way to compile and do anything interesting at all.

      • vV_Vv says:

        A typical higher-level language will make things “better,” in that many functionalities are built in that would be very expensive to express in (say) assembly or Turing machine, but also “worse,” in that the overwhelming majority of strings won’t even compile, let alone produce interesting behavior.

        But high-level languages typically have a decidable grammar, so you could restrict the generation process to only output valid programs (in some languages the type system has features, such as template metaprogramming, that make compilation undecidable, but you can avoid them and restrict yourself to a decidable sub-language or just add some kind of compilation recursion limit, like compilers do in practice).

        • scottaar2 says:

          Fair point. Do you know of any experiments about what happens when you try that? My intuition is that, even if we restrict to programs that compile, the probability of getting a program that “does something interesting” will still be smaller than with Turing machines, because high-level languages effectively “waste” so many bits of entropy on bizarre goals like human comprehensibility, or interfacing with I/O, libraries, etc. etc. But I might be wrong, or right for some languages and wrong for others.

          • vV_Vv says:

            I don’t know of any experiments.

            I guess that if you just try to enumerate programs in some simple way, you would indeed waste your computation budget on library imports or other boilerplate. If you sample programs, however, you might get something interesting, depending on the sampling distribution.

            With high level languages there is more room to play with the probabilities of the PCFG or whatever sampling process you use, and arguably at some point it becomes cheating. Turing machines or other “Turing tarpit” languages leave less room to include a bias in the language itself or in the sampling process.

    • vV_Vv says:

      If you run all possible computer programs in a given language starting with the smallest, and you set an upper time limit on each program to avoid the underlying halting problem, what are the chances of finding a program that does something “interesting”?

      It depends on the language, but in practice it doesn’t take long, at least for Brainfuck-like languages. If I recall correctly, Shane Legg, one of the founders of DeepMind, did some experiments on that during his PhD while he was working on practical approximations of AIXI, but my favorite example is Nanopond by Adam Ierymenko, and artificial life simulator where you can start with a random population of programs and some of them will happen to be self-replicators.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      Interestingly, doing basically this is the key to a very cool complexity theorem.

      THEOREM: There exists a turing machine T (explicitly specified) that, if P = NP, solves 3SAT in polynomial time. (That is: I can write down exactly what program to run, and if and only if it’s possible to do so, that program solves 3SAT efficiently. (Ish.))

      PROOF: Pick some enumeration of TMs M_i. Given some 3SAT problem P

      For i = 1...infty:
      For j = 1...i:
      Run M_j for i steps. If it halts, check if the answer is a correct solution of P. If so, print it and halt.

      That’s it. If P=NP we know that some M_n solves 3SAT instances of size S in p(S) steps for some polynomial P. T above solves 3SAT instances in about p(S)^2 steps.

  13. bean says:

    To wrap up South American week at Naval Gazing, we have the second part of Huascar’s tale.
    Starting Wednesday, I talk about armor.

  14. Well... says:

    Some retiring FBI guy is claiming to be releasing UFO footage and that there was a UFO-spotting division. Those facts by themselves are plausible but beyond that I’m pretty sure this is a grand hoax. Thoughts?

    • Well... says:

      I have to say, I ‘m surprised this UFO story isn’t being talked about more here.

    • CatCube says:

      When I was in the Army, we periodically had training on what to do if you suspected spying. The briefing was given by US Army Counterintelligence agents. They gave us a phone number to call (accessible to the public, as well) and told us that no matter what you reported at that number, it would be investigated. He then said, “If you call them and tell them you saw a UFO, they will believe you. I know this, because I have been sent out to cornfields in the middle of nowhere at 4 in the morning many times in my career.”

      I suspect that if this retiring FBI guy is not completely making something up, he’s just procured files from the FBI equivalent of this. So his “revelations” will be the same stories and videos we’ve always seen and discarded, it’s just that he believes they’re real and is hoping that his position will get them taken seriously.

    • MrApophenia says:

      I mean, the New York Times already ran one of the videos with sourcing as from the DOD. And it’s pretty wild.

      https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/16/us/politics/pentagon-program-ufo-harry-reid.html

      And here is an interview with the pilots sent to chase the UFO in the video:

      https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/16/us/politics/unidentified-flying-object-navy.html?action=click&contentCollection=Politics&module=RelatedCoverage&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article

      Articles contain gems such as:

      For two weeks, the operator said, the Princeton had been tracking mysterious aircraft. The objects appeared suddenly at 80,000 feet, and then hurtled toward the sea, eventually stopping at 20,000 feet and hovering. Then they either dropped out of radar range or shot straight back up.

      Under Mr. Bigelow’s direction, the company modified buildings in Las Vegas for the storage of metal alloys and other materials that Mr. Elizondo and program contractors said had been recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena.

      A 2009 Pentagon briefing summary of the program prepared by its director at the time asserted that “what was considered science fiction is now science fact,” and that the United States was incapable of defending itself against some of the technologies discovered.

      I know it has become a joke at this point that the news is so crazy that things which would have blown the world wide open a few years ago pass unremarked now, but seriously, how is this not a bigger deal? The DOD is giving the New York times video of UFOs that are casually outrunning fighter jets, and Senators with oversight over the program are talking about how it appears to be a real thing.

      • dndnrsn says:

        Obviously, the chaos in American domestic politics is all part of a vast conspiracy intended to blunt the impact of releasing the truth about UFOs.

      • Well... says:

        If it’s a hoax, I surmise its origins are higher up than the people discussing it with the press, who seem to believe it’s legitimate.

        • MrApophenia says:

          Yep. From the Post article, the DOD apparently also apparently declassified two other videos shot during military encounters with “unexplained aerial phenomena” but I haven’t seen them posted anywhere yet.

      • engleberg says:

        I can shine a searchlight on a cloud in front of a fighter jet and casually outrun the jet. There was a whole 19th century artform for phantasmagoria- shining slide shows on fog banks. The Germans ran films across searchlights at the start of WWII to showy scary propaganda on clouds.

        Does this crap have any serious military use? Beats me. Maybe someone’s figured something out.

        • MrApophenia says:

          Do those searchlights shined on clouds show up on radar, and have the radar signature match what the pilots claim to have seen, and what the plane’s video shows?

          Part of what makes this story so interesting is that it doesn’t follow the usual UFO conspiracy playbook. There’s visually clear video evidence whose source we actually have verified as the Air Force, and on the record interviews in public with the people flying the planes. The folks running the (relatively low-key, not particularly X-Files-ish) government program are also going on record saying they got a bunch of strong evidence that UFOs are actual physical objects flying around in ways we can’t replicate ourselves. Not “they’re aliens,” but “they’re something other than trickery or swamp gas.”

          That’s… pretty nuts actually.

          • beleester says:

            If I’m reading the article right, it doesn’t match up quite as neatly as you make it sound. Here’s the sequence of events in the 2004 encounter:

            USS Princeton picks up something on radar moving in an impossible way for an aircraft.
            Jets get there, nothing on their radar.
            Princeton says it’s on top of them, so pilots look around and see the UFO hovering above the water.
            Pilots see UFO zip away.
            Princeton detects it again, 60 miles away.
            By the time jets arrive, UFO has vanished.

            So only the first location has the radar and visual contact matching up, and only one of the three radars on the scene detected it. Which makes me suspect that it was a glitch in the Princeton’s radar rather than a real object.

            I think “Princeton had glitchy radar, and one time the glitch happened to line up with [swamp gas/chemtrails/random light source]” is consistent with the story.

          • bean says:

            So only the first location has the radar and visual contact matching up, and only one of the three radars on the scene detected it. Which makes me suspect that it was a glitch in the Princeton’s radar rather than a real object.

            What I really want to know is which radar on Princeton was tracking the thing, and how hard they were trying to follow it. Because if it’s the SPS-49, I’m a lot less impressed than I would be if it was the SPY-1. Of course, if only one of Princeton’s two radars was tracking, then it’s pretty obviously a phantom. Although the lack of radar contact from the Hornets is a good sign of that, too.

          • MrApophenia says:

            Except there’s also the video footage. It’s hard to tell exactly what is in that video, but it’s probably not swamp gas.

            Play out @beeleester’s scenario exactly as written, except at the end when they look at the camera footage, the thing from the radar and the pilot eyewitness claims is also on the tape. Change the scenario result at all?

          • John Schilling says:

            The “video” is actually FLIR, which is deliberately contrast-enhanced to exaggerate small temperature differences. If you think you know what e.g. moonlight reflecting from the sea surface under particular viewing angles and sea conditions looks like and this obviously isn’t it, you’re probably wrong. This sort of imagery requires expert interpretation, not “It can’t be that…”

            Also, the object on radar was at 25,000 to 80,000 feet altitude, the visual/FLIR sighting was at or near sea level.

            So we’re back to one radar saying “something spectacular here”, every other radar saying “nothing here”, and primed eyewitnesses backed by a contrast-enhanced false-color image seeing something spectacular in the general vicinity. I think I’m going to want the expert analysis on that FLIR imagery.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      As CatCube said, it’s not a hoax if he’s sincere. Some people in the federal gov’t have been convinced that UFOs are alien spaceships by the weak evidence we are all aware of.

      • hyperboloid says:

        If you look at MK ultra, or project Stargate it’s obvious
        At least some people in the federal government have been convinced of some truly ridiculous pseudo scientific ideas.

        Relative to the decades of research done by multiple federal agencies on psychic phenomena, the government’s interest in UFO’s seems relatively limited.

        • albatross11 says:

          The thing is, it’s reasonable to spend some resources chasing down very unlikely stuff that could conceivably be real, because you might get a big payoff.

    • Deiseach says:

      Someone over on the sub-reddit suggested the UFO hunting was a cover for funneling money to research on experimental aircraft, which makes sense: do you, at the height of the Cold War, want to tell the world (or the spies whose job it is to find out these things) “Why yes, our base at Bottom Top Sideways Lake is for TOP SECRET HUSH-HUSH WAR PLANES DEVELOPMENT so we can beat those pesky Russkies” or do you prefer to have everyone treating it as a slightly ridiculous, therefore not to be taken seriously, therefore ignored and not investigated by snooping journalists writing stories for those spies to read in their morning papers, endeavour by saying “I can’t say anything official about this (psst, we’re investigating flying saucers, don’t tell anyone)”?

      • bean says:

        The particular program under discussion ran 2007-2012, and appears to have been supported by several elderly Senators who were interested in UFOs. It’s pretty obvious that Groom Lake is an experimental aircraft facility that the UFO people latched on to for obvious reasons. Pretty sure it was to the Russians back then, too. We had more plausible ways of trolling them. Set up a black program, make absurd claims, watch as they flushed money trying to duplicate it.

        • Deiseach says:

          It’s pretty obvious that Groom Lake is an experimental aircraft facility that the UFO people latched on to for obvious reasons.

          Ah, but what if it’s a double-triple-quadruple bluff? The ostensible UFO hunting is to cover up the ostensible experimental aircraft which is actually covering up real UFOs! 🙂

    • Null42 says:

      The truth is out there.

  15. OptimalSolver says:

    Based on this tweet, how common is it for humans, pet-owners especially, to project stereotypes of human racial groups onto animals?

    Eg, is a black lab more likely to be assigned personality traits usually associated with black humans than a yellow lab would be?

    • johan_larson says:

      Well, to start with black people, they are stereotyped as violent, thuggish, and irresponsible (on the negative side,) but athletic, musical, and pious (on the positive side.) None of these are qualities ascribed to black labs, those gentle, friendly, water-loving doggos.

      • JulieK says:

        I think I read a post by Steve Sailer claiming black dogs are more violent.

      • Winter Shaker says:

        athletic, musical, and pious (on the positive side.)

        Isn’t ‘pious’ more usually used to mean ‘takes their religion way too seriously’, rather than ‘takes their religion about the right level of seriousness’?

        • albertborrow says:

          Only in the post-agnostic boom. “The right level of seriousness” used to be much higher than you’re used to in a place like SCC.

        • Randy M says:

          No, that’s zealous.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Only in modern atheist circles where the “right level of seriousness” is basically “not at all”.

        • Deiseach says:

          “Pious” is nowadays confined to religion, but was not always so; Aeneas in the titular “Aeneid” is referred to as “pious” for his filial reverence and sense of duty to both family and greater destiny as founder of Rome. It has connotations of duty and loyalty, as well as reverence for the gods.

          • dndnrsn says:

            However, familial duty, loyalty, etc would be tied into reverence for the gods in Greco-Roman religion. Dividing religious and secular strongly is a pretty Christian (pretty Protestant, really) thing.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          Must just be the slice of reality I am exposed to. Normally I’d expect to hear someone described as ‘devout’ if they take their religion seriously but the speaker doesn’t intend any disparagement, and ‘pious’ if they do intend disparagement.

          • Nick says:

            I’d agree that devout has a more positive connotation. I don’t know, though, how much more recent, if at all, the negative connotation of pious is.

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        The classic “black people of dogs” breed in racist cirlces is pitbulls.

        I don’t actually know if they are more aggressive than average (heard lots of contradictory accounts), but they’re very strong for their size, and therefore pretty dangerous.

        Now, bull-terriers, that is a true hellspawn breed.

        • Jaskologist says:

          But pit bulls aren’t necessarily or even typically black.

          Further wrinkle: most “black” people are actually brown. Dogs, however, come in legit and distinct black and brown colors (and white and yellow, for that matter).

        • albatross11 says:

          This makes me wonder whether there are good statistics somewhere about distribution of breeds of dog by race of owner….

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Not in my experience!
      It’s obvious that dog personalities differ by breed as well as individual, but I’ve never observed people ascribing them traits based.on color.

    • Nornagest says:

      I don’t know about dogs, but there are some fairly persistent personality stereotypes for coat colors (as opposed to breeds) in cats. They don’t seem to map very well to human racial stereotypes, though: black cats (aloof, mysterious) might be an exception because of their occult connotations, but I can’t draw a line from any other coat color to a human ethnic stereotype, either.

      Well, except maybe for orange cats, who have some of the same stereotypes that human redheads do.

    • ilikekittycat says:

      Just generally based on color? Not that frequent in my experience.

      For certain specific animals? You bet. Own a chihuahua around white people and the probability he will be asked if he “yo queiros an EN CHEE LAH DAH” in a Speedy Gonzales voice approaches 1

  16. Well... says:

    Watched the first 2 episodes of the Unabomber show on Netflix. Mixed feelings, mostly negative.

    – Level of realism in everything from the dialog to the lighting to the sound design is much closer to CSI or Law & Order than The Wire.
    – I don’t care about any of the characters except Kaczynski and then only because I’m already interested in him in real life. But I don’t like that they’re treating him as this Hannibal Lecter/Hitler hybrid whose ideas are supposed to be spooky and dangerous, like some kind of Red Pill.*
    – I know they said they tried to stick just to the facts as much as possible and add only minimal dramatic filler, but there is a lot of implausible brow-raising stuff in basically every scene.
    – When the main character goes to the crime scene or spreads a sea of photographs around him and closes his eyes and then divines the Unabomber’s intentions or mentality, that is just too damn much.

    Also, it’s hard to stomach British actors playing American characters when they can’t quite perfectly do American accents.

    *I’ll keep watching because I’m interested in how they handle Kaczynski’s philosophy of technology as further episodes provide more opportunities to develop the representation of it. So far I think they’ve handled it in an artistically interesting but conceptually fluffy way.

    • OptimalSolver says:

      I’ll keep watching because I’m interested in how they handle Kaczynski’s philosophy of technology

      How interested is the average Netflix writer in tech philosophy? I think you’re in for disappointment.

      Quoting an earlier comment of mine:

      Well writers, especially non-science fiction writers, tend to be highly neurotypical and people-oriented. Even the writers on Star Trek famously had to leave the technobabble to actual sperges.

      It stands to reason that the chrome-and-circuits fanboys would be completely alien to the average writer. An exception would be hard sci-fi, where the characters inadvertently come off as robotic due to the aspergic writer being more interested in ship schematics than people.

      This difference between mental architecture sets up an amusing situation best seen on the new Battlestar Galactica:

      TV and film writers are highly people-oriented, with the ones on sci-fi shows often coming from non sci-fi backgrounds and only begrudgingly taking the job. This leads to them using as the sci-fi setting as only a background to what they really care about, character-focus and relationship drama. This in turn, drives away sci-fi fans (or the male ones, at least) who tuned in for advanced technology and exploration of the unknown, not extreme emotional angst.

      These two cognitive types, empathizers (average writer), and systemizers (average sci-fi fan) can’t really reconcile their interests.

      Again, best place to see this play out is in the new Battlestar Galactica, but also the Abrams Star Trek reboots.

      • OptimalSolver says:

        For an example of the media treating a tech-sperg’s philosophy fairly and in depth, see this BBC documentary on Silk Road:

        https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=H5eT8eA1Ra0

      • The Nybbler says:

        It always comes back to H.G. Wells vs. Henry James. And James always wins.

      • Well... says:

        @OptimalSolver:

        Quoting myself:

        So far I think they’ve handled [Kaczynski’s philosophy] in an artistically interesting but conceptually fluffy way.

        And that’s actually a tad un-generous: I probably should have said they’ve handled it in a way that is accurate but not precise. They might be putting too much emphasis on systems of control and not enough on the specific role technology plays in them (but that’s just what I’ve gotten from 2 episodes).

        Now quoting you:

        writers, especially non-science fiction writers, tend to be highly neurotypical and people-oriented.

        Having worked with writers in Hollywood, I can vouch for the validity of this statement. But that also shouldn’t matter on its face in this instance. Kaczynski’s concerns weren’t some kind of esoteric thing only autistic supernerds can understand or find absorbing. Don’t let the word “technology” throw you off. I actually think the show balances techy wire-and-circuits stuff with conceptual stuff pretty well. It’s just the particulars of how they handle the conceptual stuff, within that balance, that I’m not 100% impressed with.

      • j1000000 says:

        Male sci-fi fans didn’t like the BSG reboot? This is news to me.

    • Well... says:

      In conversation, I often can’t recall the name of the show so I refer to it as “The Ted Kaczynski Show” and then in my head I immediately imagine a 70s-style intro theme:

      dun da-dun dun da-dun dun dun dun! It’s the Ted Kaczynski Show!

    • SUT says:

      So did anyone actually skim the manifesto?

      I did and was surprised by one fact I’ve never heard discussed publicly or in the netflix miniseries: the manifesto is largely an anti-“leftist” [TK’s nomenclature] screed. There is probably as much mention about the dangers of “political correctness” [always scare quoted] as there is about technology. Now TK was clearly not at home in the GOP, and there are a few shots at conservatism in general. But overall, after updating some of the vocabulary, much of the manifesto could fit right into a gray tribe facebook political post or an SSC culture war thread. I’m quite pleased at how little the institutions at the time (law enforcement, media, etc) used this element as a jumping off point to start arguing politics.

      One other thing that stands out is how off-putting it is to discuss politics and philosophy in the style of a mathematics dissertation. There is one (former) SSC commenter, who is you switch his political orientation, would be a dead-wringer for TK’s writing. Does anyone else recognize it?

  17. johan_larson says:

    Over the weekend I ran into something interesting in the Amazon Kindle stacks. An outfit called Wildside Press is bundling collections of 20-30 short stories and selling them on Kindle for 77 cents. Most of the stories seem to be quite old, probably from the sixties and seventies, so they are surely cheap. But I’m still surprised that the economics of this venture work out. And it must, since they keep doing it. Here’s the 12th Science Fiction MEGAPACK:

    https://www.amazon.com/12th-Science-Fiction-MEGAPACK®-ebook/dp/B01EMDK2W6

    Even for old stories, I can’s see the authors or their estates asking for less than $100 per story. 28 stories at $100 each is $2800 just for the story rights. I have to believe the editorial effort in finding, negotiating for, and formatting the stories for publication is going to at least double that, bringing the cost to maybe $6000. And selling at $0.77 each, I’m guessing after Amazon fees and whatnot they might be pulling in $0.50 per copy, meaning they break even at 12,000 copies sold. Is there really that much of an audience for miscellaneous SF shorts?

    • Murphy says:

      I think you may need to factor in another element.

      it’s dozens of stories but it’s a grab bag. “with permission of the authors estate” only appears 6 times.

      Most of the stories are from the 1950’s

      the overhead for sorting out deals for every story might be close to what you think but how about the overhead of making 6 deals then bundling them together with another 20 out of copyright works.

      I see the price as 92 cent. Amazon takes something like 30% I believe. So assume 64 cent per copy.

      22 stories cost you nothing except the time to edit them together in a pdf.

      6 stories you need to negotiate.

      So call it $600 for the story rights.

      I think you may be overestimating the cost of formatting everything into a pdf. Negotiating use rights may be some kind of bulk deal where they can go through some third party agency and pick a handful of out-of-print stories from a catalog and pay a set fee.

      I’m thinking they probably break even far closer to 2000 copies sold once they’ve got a workflow going for locating out-of-copyright scifi books and buying a small number of stories to make sure you have a checklist of at least one newer, relatively unknown but up and coming author : (KKR), a few older popular and reliable authors to make sure your book comes up in searches Poul Anderson, Ray Bradbury, Philip K Dick and a bunch to pad it out.

      And they definitely have a workflow. Look inside the book and there’s page after page of MEGAPACK(R) titles with various themes and similar setups. I’m betting the editor has a set of scripts to build the ebooks automatically.

      It looks like they’ve been pumping them out at about 1 a week for years.

      • Jiro says:

        1950’s implies “from the era where you had to register a copyright for it to last more than 28 years”, so I would guess that most of their stories are out of copyright.

      • add_lhr says:

        Also, the Amazon page says that users have reported problems with typos and poor formatting, so the $3,000 estimate on set-up costs is probably too generous (couldn’t you find a graphic designer in a low-income country to do the work for, say, 5 days at $50/day?). In addition, they seem to be experimenting with serialization – i.e. that linked book includes the last chapter of a novel. So if they get customers hooked on the novel, their average revenue per buyer becomes a bit higher in expectation.

  18. Jeremiah says:

    I’ve been thinking about the sexual harassment problem lately. (The best umbrella term I’ve come across is the Pervnado). And while I don’t think I have many truly unique insights I do have one thought that I’d like people’s opinion on.

    It seems that if people get caught up in the Pervnado, that there’s only one penalty possible, professional obliteration. No one get’s suspended or fined, or sent to counseling. You’re either fine, or you’re out of a job (potentially for a long time). Considering this is it possible that the reason why people like Woody Allen have escaped so far, is that while people would be happy to see him punished, they don’t want to see him become a persona non grata, and given that they can only choose this or nothing they choose nothing? Perhaps the same thing is happening with Bill Clinton? Thoughts?

    • Murphy says:

      Sort of similar to the problem of making hanging the punishment for smaller crimes in the UK back in the 1800’s : the judge doesn’t really want to kill someone for it so they search for some excuse or just declare they’ve hanged the person while actually arranging for them to move elsewhere.

      The person actually wronged is also pissed if they find out because they’ve been robbed of a chance at justice/redress/vengeance.

      • Jeremiah says:

        Ah yes, I recall Thomas Moore going on about this at some length in Utopia. His argument was if you get hanged for stealing a loaf of bread and hanged for murder, then if you get caught in the act of stealing bread you have no incentive to not then murder the person who caught you, since the penalty is the same…

        • Murphy says:

          I think that’s a different issue. If the penalty for stealing a loaf of bread is death then even if you get caught stealing a loaf of bread and even if you don’t turn to murder… the people who then have to process you may not actually want to see you dead. Even the guy you stole the loaf of bread from may get sick to his stomach at the idea of your death over a loaf of bread.

          The judge and jury also may feel similarly uncomfortable.

          And if any one of them feels uncomfortable enough to derail the process, perhaps with a jury member nullifying or a judge finding some excuse to throw out the case or the jailer finding some excuse to look away while a door is open before you can be taken down death row….. you find yourself in the situation where lots of people receive zero punishment of any kind while some people get unlucky and die for a breadstick.

          Lots of people end up unhappy because unlucky people are dying for trivial things while no punishment at all is getting handed out for some things which should have some kind of penalty thanks to the headsman and various others in system being unhappy to carry out the sentences.

          Which leads to further social problems when pretty, charming, likable people get off scot free while unpopular minorities and ugly unpopular people get the headsmans axe.

          • If the penalty for stealing a loaf of bread is death

            In 18th century England it wasn’t. To be a non-clergyable felony theft had to be of something worth more than forty shillings (or meet various other special conditions).

            In Islamic law, the Hadd offense of theft, the one for which your hand gets cut off, doesn’t apply to stealing food.

      • Chalid says:

        So my understanding of the 1800s UK legal system is mainly from Patrick O’Brian, but didn’t they have transportation, flogging, and pillory?

        • Pillory and flogging were for non-capital felonies–but almost all serious offenses were capital. Transportation was mostly a result of being convicted of a capital felony and then agreeing to transportation in exchange for a pardon.

      • I’m not aware of any cases where the judge claimed to have hanged someone who actually just moved. For one thing, hanging was public.

        Of people charged with capital crimes, only a small minority ended up hanged, and of people convicted of capital crimes only a minority. The available outs, other than acquittal, were:

        1. The jury could find the defendant guilty of a non-capital included offense (“pious perjury”).
        2. The convicted defendant could be pardoned and sent home.
        3. The convicted defendant could be pardoned conditional on agreeing to transportation (17 years indentured servitude in the New World).
        4. The convicted defendant could be pardoned conditional on agreeing to enlist in the army or navy.

        Those interested in a more detailed account will find it in the chapter on 18th c. English law in my draft of Legal Systems Very Different.

    • Emily says:

      I think when someone is very high-profile, it’s difficult to punish them in small ways. If someone’s your star and making a lot of money for you, and you respond to media accusations that he did some really bad stuff by saying “we’re making him go to counseling”, it sounds insincere, like you’re not actually punishing that person and behind the scenes things will go on the same as they were before. Outsiders can’t evaluate whether things are actually changing. The best way to get across that you take the allegations seriously is to cut ties with that person completely. Also, if they’re very high-profile, they may not accept serious punishment; they may prefer to lose their job.

      When the case isn’t high-profile, though, people do get punished in smaller ways. But we don’t hear about that.

      • Jeremiah says:

        That’s a fair point, but I do get the sense that the “outsiders” may be the one’s driving this, and that in reference to being able to evaluate things, that money has traditionally worked as a way of measuring and a way of meting out punishment in the in between space.

        • Emily says:

          Definitely outsiders are driving much of this. If a company was already aware of what was going on and interested in doing something about it, they already would have done it.

          I think a lot of people are viscerally uncomfortable with the idea that you can pay to sexually harass your colleagues. And fining employees is rarely how employment issues are settled, so it’s not surprising that they’re not being settled like this. A normal range of negative employment outcomes (outside of the military) would be something like: you’re warned, you’re put on a performance improvement plan, you’re fired. Maybe you’re demoted or your responsibilities change, maybe. Fining would be quite odd.

    • DocKaon says:

      The perpetrators that have been penalized are in areas which are strongly dependent on public good will and generally intolerant of any missteps such as politics, media, and entertainment. Any number of things can result in the destruction of a career in these fields from one impolitic comment to weight gain to just one serious failure. These are fields where the vast majority of people who attempt to enter them fail to have any success what so ever. I don’t see a problem in being credibly accused of a pattern of sexual harassment resulting in at least the same punishment as starring in a major box office bomb or reporting a badly sourced story that turned out to be false.

    • shakeddown says:

      Seems like the opposite(ish) is happening with Bill Clinton: Now that the Clintons are done with politics, it’s suddenly become hip to talk about how he’s a Bad Abuser, despite no change in evidence on him. So (partial) evidence in your favour.

  19. Levantine says:

    I’d like to try describe the phenomenon consisting of three elements:
    1) people perceiving mental health problems in others, even close ones,
    2) people perceiving those mental problems as giving them hardship and even putting them in danger,
    3) the person with alleged mental health problems never gets diagnosed, for whatever reasons.

    Just a few examples:
    Since I was growing up I saw that my parents, quite conventional, university-graduated middle class types, have a number of hang-ups and quirks, that were shared by NO one else, as far as I could see. Those quirks and hang-ups caused me many problems, because I had to to cover up and cover for them as if I were the adult and they the children.
    And it takes just a brief glance to see that I’m far from the only one who was in such a position. Some of my cousins would say openly, our parents are – loony / lunatic / insane. In response, I’d show animation on my face, and they’d reaffirm what they said – and that would be pretty much the end for the topic.
    In my early twenties, a school peer with stellar academic results opened in front of me the subject of her parents being “insane,” colloquially speaking (or not). And, she herself had such a hard time as an overachiever, she had hit a kind of psychological wall and was obviously desperate.
    All of the above was without anyone of the above mentioned taking drugs or having problems with addiction. It was in Europe.

    Possibly related to the above, we have all encountered – or made – comments that that-and-that population must be mad to have such and such political attitudes. … and that certain – or all – politicians are truly mentally ill. But I would like to avoid politicization of the topic.

    That topic is wider than mental health only. Still, the latter are unavoidable. Adding to its complexity is the contentious character of psychiatric diagnosis done by professionals (viz., the Rosenhan experiment, madinamerica.com), and its complex historical background (see Roy Porter’s “Madness: A Brief History”).

    Now and then, I tend to look over it all, as just one more complicated subject with people speaking with more conviction than they should … Except for those perceptions of there truly being harmful mental problems that are under-addressed. and the feeling that it’s better to engage in hand-waving than just shut up in an attempt for stoicism.

  20. Kevin C. says:

    So, thoughts on a therapist recommending that an atheist patient consider “finding religion”? Or that a patient should be able and willing to completely and easily change their deeply-held moral beliefs (whether of religious origin or not), and up-end their entire sense of right and wrong, because “beliefs are just beliefs”?

    Or, relatedly, the therapist recommending that a patient belonging to an unpopular minority religion — like, say, Jehovah’s Witnesses — should first consider converting to a more “mainstream” religion? And if the patient doesn’t or won’t, if they are at all interested in marriage and family formation they should absolutely look to not only marry outside the faith, but agree to raise any children in their spouse’s more popular religion rather than their own, because raising children with unpopular “fringe” beliefs borders on abusive?

    • Murphy says:

      “because raising children with unpopular “fringe” beliefs borders on abusive?”

      This seems like a dangerous principle to adopt and an odd thing to hear from a therapist unless fringe is very problematic on other metrics.

      recommending that an atheist patient consider “finding religion”?

      I could imagine this since weak-sauce religion can be somewhat beneficial to some people. Gives you somewhere to meet and talk to people each week, easy way to give you some social structure etc. It’s not unusual for religious congregations to include lots of people who don’t really believe much who don’t shape their whole morality around the religion.

      I could also imagine a therapist gently maneuvering someone to try to get them to consider whether the UFO cult that’s asking them to donate their life savings an their firstborns virginity to the cult leader may not have their best interests at heart.

      “beliefs are just beliefs”?

      again, context here may be important. Some beliefs are super closely held, some are just idle fancies people aren’t terribly attached to.

    • Aapje says:

      @Kevin C

      I don’t see how one can just do that, so the advice seems to be non-actionable.

      However, LSD or other psychedelics can result in a ‘deep’ psychological change, which might benefit you greatly. I am very risk averse and loath to advise people to do things that may mess them up permanently. In your case, I think that the risk vs potential reward ration is so good (especially since your current situation is so unpleasant to you), that you should try it.

      • Kevin C. says:

        However, LSD or other psychedelics can result in a ‘deep’ psychological change, which might benefit you greatly.

        Look, I’m already taking one drug to prevent hallucinations, I don’t need another one that causes them. Besides, there’s evidence of adverse reactions between LSD and schizophrenia; from Wikipedia:

        Review studies suggest that LSD likely plays a role in precipitating the onset of acute psychosis in previously healthy individuals with an increased likelihood in individuals who have a family history of schizophrenia.[7][35] There is evidence that people with severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia have a higher likelihood of experiencing adverse effects from taking LSD.[35]

        • Aapje says:

          Fair enough. You just seem incapable of doing the things that could make your life considerably better, so I was thinking that a major mental change might improve that. Some people seem to get that from psychedelics.

        • Creutzer says:

          On the one hand, that is a very valid concern. On the other, at some point you’ve got to ask: what do you have left to loose?

          In a similar vein, though less radically: your value system allows people who are useless anyway to spend as much time as they can in meditation, doesn’t it? It’s a significant investment of effort for uncertain gain, sure, but your opportunity cost seems very low.

          • Kevin C. says:

            In a similar vein, though less radically: your value system allows people who are useless anyway to spend as much time as they can in meditation, doesn’t it?

            Um, where did you come up with that?

          • Creutzer says:

            It was just a guess. But if not even that is allowed, then I’m afraid you’re going to just have to do something that’s not allowed.

            I also suspect you may be conflating two questions: it’s one thing to think that society should be set up in such a way that you wouldn’t be able to continue to live. It’s quite another to infer from that that you, now, in the society you find yourself in, have to stop being alive.

          • Aapje says:

            Indeed. Kevin, what if you have to decide between two evils? Are you willing to choose the lesser evil?

    • Brad says:

      People get deprogrammed. I don’t see why that couldn’t apply to extremely far right beliefs.

      I don’t know about “easily” though.

    • baconbacon says:

      Or, relatedly, the therapist recommending that a patient belonging to an unpopular minority religion — like, say, Jehovah’s Witnesses — should first consider converting to a more “mainstream” religion? And if the patient doesn’t or won’t, if they are at all interested in marriage and family formation they should absolutely look to not only marry outside the faith, but agree to raise any children in their spouse’s more popular religion rather than their own, because raising children with unpopular “fringe” beliefs borders on abusive?

      IIRC the Jo Hos won’t recognize a marriage to a non Jo Ho. Functionally you are ostracized if you marry outside the religion, so you aren’t raising your kids in that community anyway.

      So, thoughts on a therapist recommending that an atheist patient consider “finding religion”? Or that a patient should be able and willing to completely and easily change their deeply-held moral beliefs (whether of religious origin or not), and up-end their entire sense of right and wrong, because “beliefs are just beliefs”?

      Depends on the severity of the problem I guess. If the patient is there for relatively minor issues then it would seem presumptuous to make such a suggestion. If the patient is struggling with many aspects of their life then suggesting a major life change sounds more appropriate. As far as the deeply held moral beliefs, if they are actually deeply held then what is the issue in challenging them? Unless the only church in your town is regularly participating in abhorrent practices in your view (say aggressively protesting abortion clinics and you are staunchly pro choice), you can probably explore the space without actually committing an immoral action, or supporting one.

      • Kevin C. says:

        IIRC the Jo Hos won’t recognize a marriage to a non Jo Ho. Functionally you are ostracized if you marry outside the religion, so you aren’t raising your kids in that community anyway.

        So pick another unpopular “fringe” religion; the “Jo Hos” were just a quick example.

        As far as the deeply held moral beliefs, if they are actually deeply held then what is the issue in challenging them?

        First, because as Ozy said below,

        The therapist needs to support the client’s values and goals, even if they personally disagree.

        Secondly, because if you don’t then change your beliefs as instructed, you’re “resisting therapy” and “don’t want to be helped.”

        Unless the only church in your town is regularly participating in abhorrent practices in your view (say aggressively protesting abortion clinics and you are staunchly pro choice), you can probably explore the space without actually committing an immoral action, or supporting one.

        It’s not that attending church would require committing or supporting an immoral action, it’s that it requires believing in God, and I just don’t, and can’t fake it well enough to look like I do, either.

        • baconbacon says:

          I am trying to keep things abstract as obviously you know far more about the situation than I do. I hope I don’t overstep or sound accusatory or as if I am trying to diagnose you over the net.

          The therapist needs to support the client’s values and goals, even if they personally disagree.

          Presumably if you are in therapy there is a goal of improving or handling some aspect of your life. That is the goal the therapist ought to be supporting, if you have some value that (they think) is preventing progress then it is the therapist’s obligation to broach it (eventually).

          Secondly, because if you don’t then change your beliefs as instructed, you’re “resisting therapy” and “don’t want to be helped.”

          It’s a catch 22 isn’t it? If your therapist has a legitimate point to make but you won’t consider it that would be the case. If your therapist is lazy/a quack/disrespectful to your beliefs then you shouldn’t feel obligated to follow their suggestions.

          The reality is probably in between. A therapist is a person who is trying to do their job well in general, but has many personal limitations as we all do, and is trying to tread that line while dealing with all their own bullshit which ranges from personal problems to handling all the paperwork and stress that comes with patients. If you actually want a relationship with them then it has to have some acknowledgement that they have some good qualities and bad.

          It’s not that attending church would require committing or supporting an immoral action, it’s that it requires believing in God, and I just don’t, and can’t fake it well enough to look like I do, either.

          There are very few churches that would actually require this. I would bet if you walked into a confessional booth and started with “father I am an atheist…” you aren’t getting kicked out of 1 in a 100.

          Religion isn’t simply worshiping a majestic, bearded man in the sky. This is actually a very late addition to ancient rituals, and it is possible that the literally millions of people, if not billions, who have attempted to find value in one system or another have actually been able to do so.

    • swarmofbeasts says:

      I would be uncomfortable with a therapist saying “You are making a bad life choice. You should make a different life choice,” for any choice outside of something that obviously poses a danger to oneself or others, or something that is almost certainly a symptom of mental illness rather than an ordinary stupid thing that people sometimes do. Especially when it comes to something as personal as religion. Good therapy in my experience lets you turn over an idea in your head to make sure it’s in line with your own values and priorities – it shouldn’t substitute the therapist’s values and priorities, whether those are “religion is good” or “religion is bad” or “fringe religions are bad.”

      That said, if someone were struggling with being gay, for example, because they were a Jehovah’s Witness, “How would you feel about leaving the religion?” is probably a conversation that would have to come up eventually. Not as the only right answer – but because if you have that discussion, you can weigh the importance of religion and sexuality in your own head and either figure out some way to reconcile them or decide that there isn’t one.

      • baconbacon says:

        Good therapy in my experience lets you turn over an idea in your head to make sure it’s in line with your own values and priorities

        What if your issues stem from bad values and priorities?

        • swarmofbeasts says:

          Then there’s a long-term conversation to be had about the effects that your values and priorities are having in your life, and if there’s a dream you need to let go of or a goal you’re chasing that’s ultimately counterproductive, but I don’t think “Your values are bad; get different values” has ever worked as therapy.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      Have you read This is Water?

      • Viliam says:

        I did now. PDF with 8 pages of text. I am still not sure what it tried to say.

        • Kevin C. says:

          It’s David Foster Wallace, what do you expect? (Plus, was he really someone one should take advice on mental health from, given his end?)

    • Ozy Frantz says:

      The therapist needs to support the client’s values and goals, even if they personally disagree. If your therapist isn’t doing that, fire them and get a new therapist.

      • Kevin C. says:

        And if you can’t fire them, because you’re on disability & medicaid, and you’re stuck with whoever the local Neighhborhood Health Center assigns you?

        • Ozy Frantz says:

          Ouch.

          I think the first step is probably to rule out the possibility that it’s a misunderstanding. Go to your therapist and say something like “I am an atheist and I do not feel comfortable attending a church, because it feels like lying about my beliefs. This is not an acceptable solution for me. Please do not bring it up again.”

          If that doesn’t work, you have a couple options.

          Depending on your exact circumstances, you might be able to make a stink about it with the bureaucracy. I’m a hardliner on “it is not the therapist’s job to determine what the client’s values are,” but even for people who are less hardline than I am religion is special. If there is someone you can complain to, you might want to complain that your therapist is disrespecting your religious beliefs and you would like either a new therapist or for them to cut it the fuck out. How well this will work probably depends on where you live; it’ll work better in San Francisco than in Alabama.

          If not, think about what you want from therapy. If you want, say, treatment for your insomnia, just say whatever the therapist wants to hear and move on to what you want therapy for (“yeah, I’ve been really enjoying going to church. No problems at all. Now, about that sleep hygiene–“). If you want treatment for (say) being really lonely all the time, and your therapist refuses to consider ways of helping you other than “church! if it doesn’t work, MORE church!”, then quit; you have better things to do with the time and energy you’re spending going to therapy. If you can’t quit because something important (medication, disability check, accommodations) is dependent on going to therapy, then say whatever gets you through the therapy session. Either way, seek real help somewhere else– maybe a CBT book, maybe lifestyle interventions, maybe a free mindfulness class, maybe a wise friend, whatever works for you.

          • Kevin C. says:

            Go to your therapist and say something like “I am an atheist and I do not feel comfortable attending a church, because it feels like lying about my beliefs. This is not an acceptable solution for me. Please do not bring it up again.”

            As I said in a reply lower down, I did in fact say pretty much this, and the response was ‘well, have you considered agnosticism? That’s something like atheism but more “mainstream,” isn’t it?’ Then she went on with ‘okay, if you can’t believe in God, what about something like the Force from “Star Wars”?’

            But, I feel I should say that, despite my complaints here, she is probably one of the best therapists I’ve ever had. Which is probably why issues like this stand out all the more.

            Either way, seek real help somewhere else– maybe a CBT book, maybe lifestyle interventions, maybe a free mindfulness class, maybe a wise friend, whatever works for you.

            And where would I find any of those — I should say, I’ve read some CBT stuff a while back, and had “mindfulness” as part of a therapy group based on Linehan’s DBT work.

          • Randy M says:

            Then she went on with ‘okay, if you can’t believe in God, what about something like the Force from “Star Wars”?’

            Say “I do believe in the Force, but it comes from the Devil!”

          • Nearly Takuan says:

            @Kevin C.

            It sounds to me like she recognizes that there’s nothing you can immediately do to “fix” everything about your situation, so the best bet is to just hope it gets better, somehow, and then maybe use positive feelings from that to begin making smaller changes. (Apologies if you already know this, and especially if she has already straightforwardly told you.) The tactic that’s worked best for her in the past is probably getting patients to engage with something “spiritual”. She may not know other ways of getting to that point. She may not know other ways of solving the core problem(s). It is a fairly human mistake to get stuck assuming an A -> B -> C relation always holds, and then get frustrated about A -> B not working when what we really wanted in the first place was C. (Sometimes this is for the best anyway, since when going directly after C is an option, many of us have a tendency to choose wireheading.)

            For my part, of course I don’t believe in The Force, but I’m pretty sure that sometimes people get lucky and other times people get unlucky (desert does not have a place in this setting either). Whatever situation you find yourself in at any given time is in part due to your own actions, but also in part due to sheer luck or lack thereof. Based on your comments here, I don’t think you’re at risk of blaming too much on luck and too little on yourself, so I might suggest just leaning up against that guard-rail for the time being. Assume as many bad things as possible in your life are due to bad luck, and that the amount of bad luck you’ve experienced in the past neither increases nor decreases the probability you experience a certain amount of good luck in the future.

            If this point of view seems more in line with your current concept of the world than the overtly religious stuff, and it’s not provoking more thoughts of misery and despair than anything else, then you might assign The Consolation of Philosophy as homework for your therapist. (I didn’t want to make assumptions about whether or not you’ve already read it, but she is fair game.)

        • vV_Vv says:

          If you are stuck with her, then she is stuck with you. Any time she mentions religion, make an argument for Atheism, and be sure to phrase it in the most confrontational (but formally polite) way you can think of: basically imply that theists are idiots. Chances are that she will eventually be so offended that she will never bring the topic up again.

          But, actually, you should probably not even bother: your therapist is clearly incompetent, either quit, or if you have to sit there for some other reason, say whatever you have to and do not care.

      • The therapist needs to support the client’s values and goals,

        On the whole, or unconditionally?

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      This suggestion goes back to William James and CG Jung, so it’s hardly fringe. I don’t think there are peer-reviewed studies on it because it’s hard and thus hard to get a credible sample size (and even then, the replication crisis). The aforesaid psychologists had anecdotal evidence that it works, though; e.g. Jung told a severe alcoholic “At this point only God can cure you” and he founded Alcoholics Anonymous after he managed to get born again.

    • Deiseach says:

      Sounds pushy, and I’d definitely be very wary if the therapist followed up with “and so why not come along to my church this Sunday, check it out?”

      On the other hand, some deeply-held beliefs may be holding someone back (if they need to be in therapy) and that requires chipping away (or blasting with dynamite) in order to make progress.

      It’s hard to say, since I know myself I cling to certain beliefs and attitudes and am highly resistant to change, even though change is exactly what needs to happen if I were ever to move on from where I’m stuck.

      But it does depend if it’s a suggestion along the lines of “have you considered religion as a social support, maybe going along to a local church in order to find a community, don’t bother about that whole ‘believing in God’ thing, that’s not the point here” rather than “you need to be converted and repent your sins” type of judgement.

      • Kevin C. says:

        There wasn’t really any of the “come check out my church” to it. Paraphrasing from memory, one bit was like “okay, so if you can’t ‘fake believing’ in God enough to join a church, have you considered at least becoming, um, what’s the word… is it ‘agnostic’? I think that’s it… what is an ‘agnostic,’ anyway?” Followed by me explaining to her what agnosticism was. See, all she knew or remembered was that is was somehow similar to atheism but “less extreme” — and therefore better.

        The overall impression I’ve been getting is someone who holds that actually believing in something, caring about capital-t Truth, is foolish, and that one should readily discard and take up “beliefs” like removing or putting on clothing — and that like clothing, one should “put on” whatever beliefs are fashionable at the moment, simply because they are fashionable. Shut off your brain and follow the herd.

        • Deiseach says:

          Hmmm. I’m hoping this was more along the lines of teasing out what agnosticism meant to you – feigning ignorance so you would explain to her “agnosticism is this, this and this” in order to get a handle on “okay, he can move to this” or “no, he’s really entrenched where he is”.

          I wonder if this stems from therapeutic experience – they must see a lot of people with firmly-held beliefs that are wrong or doing them harm, and very resistant to abandoning or changing those beliefs because they’ve invested so much time and energy into them, the beliefs work as an explanation, and if they give those up what are they going to do?

          The therapist then has to convince the client that they can loosen their grip on a belief, even give it up, and they can (a) find another one that is better/healthier/truer (b) the world will not come crashing down around their ears if they do this.

          But that’s steelmanning on my part, and your therapist may be as you are representing her. My one and only appointment to see a counsellor/therapist went so comically wrong in about every way that I am certainly in no position to have an opinion on therapy as she is spoke!

    • WashedOut says:

      If by “finding religion” you mean “get acquainted with the central ideas of the Bible” then i’d say that’s perfectly legitimate advice. Specifically,

      1. ‘Salvation’, or the voluntary acceptance and transcendence of suffering
      2. Sacrifice of the present self for the good of the hypothetical future self

      I don’t think either of those would be hard barriers for the intellectually honest atheist, since a lot of what perturbs atheists is about the conduct of major organised religions.

      • Kevin C. says:

        If by “finding religion” you mean “get acquainted with the central ideas of the Bible”

        Actually, it’s clear she was referring to the social participation in church part. Plus, I’ve read the Bible several times, and frankly, find a lot to agree with.

        since a lot of what perturbs atheists is about the conduct of major organised religions.

        I think you must be new here — or at least not have encountered my other postings. Yes, I’m an atheist — but not the standard lefty atheist who dislikes religion because “fundies” aren’t nice enough to gays. I’m one of those deplorable en-ar-ex types who believes Horrible Banned Discourse. I’m the guy who thinks that outside science and technology, the last 500 years were a mistake; I’m a fan of the Inquisitions and the Albigensian Crusade… and the Crusades, for that matter. I think Paul is wise on the issue of male headship and subordination of women. Heck, I’ve had good things to say about ISIS and Boko Haram. If I have any concern about “the conduct of major organised religions,” it’s that they’re not reactionary and traditional and “oppressive” and “intolerant” enough.

        No, the probem is I don’t believe that God exists. I have yet to find any persuasive evidence that there exists anything beyond the physical universe. There is no supernatural, only the natural.

        • Anonymous says:

          I have yet to find any persuasive evidence that there exists anything beyond the physical universe.

          What stops you from assuming it does, sans evidence?

          In any case, you don’t need to believe in God to attend Mass. Churches are open even to unbelievers (for the purpose of converting them into believers). You don’t get to receive sacraments, but otherwise, there’s nothing stopping from attaching yourself to your local Christian community anyway, explaining truthfully, if pressed, that you *wish* you could believe in God.

          • Nick says:

            That approach can work for some people, but I doubt it’s going to do much for Kevin. If he thinks there’s a fair chance God exists, and that he’d be happier in organized religion, I’d just recommend a study of apologetics. If he’s, say, grappling with a purported proof of God’s existence, he’s welcome to post questions or objections here; a bunch of us have cut our teeth over at Feser’s comboxes.

            ETA: And saying “I’m studying Christianity” would probably get his therapist off his back about this.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @Anonymous

            What stops you from assuming it does, sans evidence?

            Burden of proof. Russell’s teapot. Occam’s razor. And, since folk here like Harry Potter references, Hermione vs. Luna on the Ressurrection Stone. What stops you from assuming leprechauns exist, sans evidence? What stops you from assuming invisible dragons exist, sans evidence? What stops you from assuming aliens on a planet in the Zeta Reticulii system exist, sans evidence? And so on, and so on. If you do this, you either have to believe in everything not specifically disproven, or else you’re picking and choosing your beliefs — again, treating them like clothing — on something irrational.

            Look, I believe that if I hold out an object and let it go, it will fall, not hover; I believe that if I stick my bare hand into a flame, I will get burned. I suppose a person could somehow choose to believe otherwise — somehow convince themselves that objects levitate and that they’re fireproof — but doing so would be irrational and stupid. Beliefs are the map in one’s head of the shape of objective reality. If you are “filling in” any portion of that map for reasons other than it’s what the best evidence says the territory is shaped like, for any reason other than it’s what’s most likely to be True, then you’re doing it wrong.

            @Nick

            Again, I’m not one of those lefty atheist-types who recoils in horror from Christian (or other religious) texts. I’m a right-winger, remember, and most of my fellows are religious. I’ve read a fair bit of apologetics, and have found none of it convincing. In fact, I’ve developed a special hatred for the mix of word games and circular-reasoning-via-smuggled-assumptions that are “ontological” proofs. (You cannot simply make existence part of an entity’s definition! Definitions do not work that way![/Morbo])

          • Anonymous says:

            @Kevin C.

            What stops you from assuming leprechauns exist, sans evidence? What stops you from assuming invisible dragons exist, sans evidence? What stops you from assuming aliens on a planet in the Zeta Reticulii system exist, sans evidence?

            None of those beliefs have any particular influence on my well-being. OTOH, belief in God certainly does, and doubly certainly has influence on the well-being of people that would suffer if I were not to try to live up to God’s law.

            Overall, my impression is that your rationality is harming you more than it is helping you.

          • Nick says:

            Kevin,

            Again, I’m not one of those lefty atheist-types who recoils in horror from Christian (or other religious) texts. I’m a right-winger, remember, and most of my fellows are religious. I’ve read a fair bit of apologetics, and have found none of it convincing. In fact, I’ve developed a special hatred for the mix of word games and circular-reasoning-via-smuggled-assumptions that are “ontological” proofs. (You cannot simply make existence part of an entity’s definition! Definitions do not work that way![/Morbo])

            I’m not assuming you’re a lefty atheist-type, it’s just that your experience with apologetics is largely opaque to us. It’s why I suggested airing objections here—on the one hand I’ve known folks to give sophisticated and challenging objections to various arguments, and on the other hand I’ve known folks to misunderstand the arguments or not realize the (defensible) assumptions being made and so on. That’s not to say I think you’re reading them uncharitably or anything—it’s just, I don’t know whether it’s Aquinas you’re reading or a modern apologist like Feser or a terrible one like D’Souza or….

            Anonymous,

            None of those beliefs have any particular influence on my well-being. OTOH, belief in God certainly does, and doubly certainly has influence on the well-being of people that would suffer if I were not to try to live up to God’s law.

            You’re putting the cart before the horse. You ought live according to His law because you believe God exists, not believe God exists because you ought to live according to His law. You need some reason in the first place to live according to His law—and where is Kevin going to get that, other than “God exists”? Living according to His law certainly does good to those to whom one would want to do good, but it’s not like Kevin is a lawless barbarian without God (and I’m not sure that’s a strong case anyway); as he’s repeatedly said, his therapist thinks his moral code is too strict already.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Nick

            You’re putting the cart before the horse. You ought live according to His law because you believe God exists, not believe God exists because you ought to live according to His law.

            And why not? I am assensing that God’s law is the law that is consistent with reality and good outcomes for followers, therefore I suspect that God is who He claims He is. Whereas, I would be highly suspicious of the source of a law that was inconsistent with reality and harmful to adherents. A simple fruit test, nothing more.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Nick:

            You’re putting the cart before the horse. You ought live according to His law because you believe God exists, not believe God exists because you ought to live according to His law

            This sort of question came up on the latest Sam Harris podcast, in conversation with Bret Weinstein, who was talking about ‘metaphorical truths’ – claims which are not factually true, but which, if acted on as if they are true, give better outcomes than the alternative of acting as if they are false. This goes back to the old epistemic rationality vs. instrumental rationality debate, and his particular example was the belief that porcupines can throw their quills. Given how nasty a porcupine quill injury is, even though they can’t actually launch them as projectiles, someone who believes they can and therefore gives porcupines a wider berth is less likely to actually get quilled, thus the belief is false but adaptive. He surmises that the religious memes of long-established religions are not merely random by-products, as suggested by Richard Dawkins and others, but beneficial-to-their-believers adaptations that have outcompeted rival less beneficial memes (that’s how the religions manage to be long-established) … with the caveat that they only stay adaptive if the environment doesn’t change too fast, and that given the pace of change today, many religious memes which were once adaptive might have ceased to be so.

            I don’t see any reason to think it prima facie wrong to say that the specific supernatural claims of, say, traditional Catholicism, are not factually correct but that believing they are (and being part of a community that believes likewise) will get you certain advantages that you cannot otherwise get. Certainly I think that the specific claims of traditional religions are more likely to be false-but-adaptive than actually true.

            Of course, that’s not a very comforting proposition for either of us, for me because if I, like Kevin, can’t force myself to believe things I’m unpersuaded by, then I can’t have nice things (though I suspect that Kevin and I might have pretty different ideas of ‘nice things’ anyway), and even if I could, believing things which are vulnerable to the truth is unstable, and for you because it’s central to your preferred religion that the religion is true, and not merely useful, but I don’t think either of us can dismiss Anonymous’ reasoning so easily here.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Winter Shaker
            @Nick

            For the record, this isn’t my primary reason to believe in God’s existence, merely a helpful ancillary one. My belief in God in instinctive (or, if you prefer, a supernatural virtue granted by Him), as distinguished from my worship, which is by choice and largely due to the reasoning I gave above. Per Kevin’s own statement, he lacks instinctive faith, so I provided the other item I know of that could help.

          • baconbacon says:

            This sort of question came up on the latest Sam Harris podcast, in conversation with Bret Weinstein, who was talking about ‘metaphorical truths’ – claims which are not factually true, but which, if acted on as if they are true, give better outcomes than the alternative of acting as if they are false. This goes back to the old epistemic rationality vs. instrumental rationality debate, and his particular example was the belief that porcupines can throw their quills. Given how nasty a porcupine quill injury is, even though they can’t actually launch them as projectiles, someone who believes they can and therefore gives porcupines a wider berth is less likely to actually get quilled, thus the belief is false but adaptive

            This is probably not (quite) accurate. More likely is that lots of things that are “the truth” have little actual value, and further that ‘truth’ is just a functioning model of the world “Porcupine quills hurt like a bitch” is the “truth” that matters in the information exchange. Demonstrating that porcupines can’t throw their quills comes at a cost (or at least a risk) and confers no benefits. The two choices of “porcupine’s can/can’t throw quills” should, for reasons of robustness push toward ‘can’.

            The functioning model of the world falls apart faster the more precise your ‘truths’ are when confronted with contradictory data. Porcupines can’t throw quills falls apart if you happen upon a species or sub-population of porcupines that can. Porcupines can throw their quills doesn’t fall apart and provides basically the same protection if you never encounter such a population, thus the can is more robust across time and space*.

            I don’t see any reason to think it prima facie wrong to say that the specific supernatural claims of, say, traditional Catholicism, are not factually correct but that believing they are (and being part of a community that believes likewise) will get you certain advantages that you cannot otherwise get. Certainly I think that the specific claims of traditional religions are more likely to be false-but-adaptive than actually true.

            The importance of information is how it works in your known world and the unknown world. The idea that religion or Christianity is just some information dressed up in stories is overly simplistic. “God is watching you” can be seen both as a basic ‘make sure people do good when they are around other people’ rule of thumb, but can also be seen as a “you don’t know which of your bad actions is going to make your life worse” rule of thumb.

            * you can bet if you found a population that used porcupines as a significant nutritional source they would know the truth.

        • I have yet to find any persuasive evidence that there exists anything beyond the physical universe.

          My younger son, who has historical interests, has been arguing that the history of Joan of Arc is such evidence. It’s very well recorded from primary sources and it is hard to explain the established facts without assuming that she really was either a divinely inspired saint or something else equally outside our normal picture of the world.

          You might find it interesting to explore that. If you are curious I can ask him about his sources.

          • Evan Þ says:

            As someone who researched Joan several years ago (in the process of writing a historical dramatization of her story), I agree with you.

            Unfortunately, I didn’t write down most of the sources I used, but the transcript of her trial is available online. I’d recommend someone read a general biography first for important context, but then go on to that as essentially the closest we can get to Joan’s own words.

          • Kevin C. says:

            it is hard to explain the established facts without assuming that she really was either a divinely inspired saint or something else equally outside our normal picture of the world.

            No, it isn’t.

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m… not an r/atheism type, but let’s say habitually contrarian about these sorts of claims, and I’ve had that conversation with David’s son. He makes a surprisingly strong case; as far as I can tell the weakest link of the story is that a lot of the primary sources were compiled by the then-King of France, several years after the fact, as a way of proving that he hadn’t consorted with a witch. Since the simplest explanation of any story like this is that the primary sources are lying through their teeth, that’s the place to push if you’re going to. But enough of those primary sources include people who should have been enemies of France and of Joan that this line of argument’s weaker than it would otherwise be.

            Might also be interesting to investigate Islam and Buddhism and see if they have anyone as (a) stupendously badass, (b) “divinely inspired”, and (c) well-attested.

          • Zenit says:

            Joan of Arc

            Case of Joan of Arc is indeed extraordinary, but I do not see how it proves Christianity.

            Meaning of miracle is sign – sign of God’s will, God’s mercy or God’s wrath, and traditional miracles are like this. Pious person is miraculously saved or healed, blasphemer or infidel is miraculously smitten, saint receives vivid vision of Heaven, sinner sees frightening vision of Hell, etc.

            What was the meaning and sign of Joan’s mission – that Capets and not Plantagenets are the rightful kings of France?
            Why shall Christian God care about this, care enough to arrange major miracle to save Charles VII’s throne? When numerous Christian kings before and after were overthrown with no miraculous help incoming?

            This is a reason ( one of many) why the Church was skeptical about Joan of Arc and why she was cannonized as late as 1920.

            Might also be interesting to investigate Islam and Buddhism and see if they have anyone as (a) stupendously badass, (b) “divinely inspired”, and (c) well-attested.

            Well, story of Muhammad is as badass as is possible to be. 40 year old accountant hears the voice of angel and becomes a warlord and conqueror.

          • Nornagest says:

            I brought up Muhammad in the abovementioned conversation. The response was that Muhammad showed near-superhuman charisma (and really good poetry skills) but few other unusual qualities — Ali, for example, seems to have been the one leading most of the early Muslim armies. At forty, he’d have had time to develop a broad skillset, and his previous career as a merchant would have brought him into contact with lots of different people and ideas. And charisma would have been a useful trait for him as a merchant as well as a prophet.

            Joan of Arc, on the other hand, was an illiterate seventeen-year-old farmgirl who fought like an experienced general (showing a particular aptitude for artillery, apparently, which was the least intuitive aspect of the military science of the time) and stood up, during her trial, to some of the best lawyers and theologians Europe had to offer. It’s remotely possible that she was an Isaac Newton type — freakishly intelligent with a religious bent, and very very lucky — but pure intelligence only gets you so far, and those are all demanding, technical fields. And Newton was a lot weirder.

            If she wasn’t on a literal mission from God, she’s still more like an Eighties-era fantasy protagonist than any other real person I know of. All she’s missing is a talking wolf.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I’d be interested in hearing this elaborated on, as somebody who knows next to nothing about Joan of Arc.

            This sounds like it ties into some thoughts I’ve been meaning to write up related to historical accounts of the miraculous and Scott’s recent posts on surfing uncertainty.

          • wanderingimpromptu says:

            Evan, that transcript is really fascinating! Thank you for linking it.

          • Kevin C. says:

            @DavidFriedman

            I should also add that I have had, IRL, a friend make a pretty similar argument, complete with reference to “well recorded” primary sources, only for a different historical incident of slightly different, shall we say polarity: the Salem Witch Trials. That at least some of those executed were genuine witches is indisputible once you read the first-hand accounts, he held, because they make it “indisputable that something demonic was clearly happening there.”

          • @Kevin C.

            The fact that some arguments of type X are bad does not imply that all arguments of type X are bad.

            I can, for instance, offer arguments to prove that two equals one, that an angle slightly larger than a right angle is equal to a right angle, and that all horses are the same color.

            It does not follow that all algebraic, geometric or logical proofs are bogus.

            For what it’s worth, my son was reared by parents one of whom is an atheist (myself), has shown no particular interest in going to church, and is very interested in history (his major at U of C).

          • Evan Þ says:

            What was the meaning and sign of Joan’s mission – that Capets and not Plantagenets are the rightful kings of France?
            Why shall Christian God care about this, care enough to arrange major miracle to save Charles VII’s throne?

            Very cogent argument. I’m not saying her voices were from God. I’m saying they’re something supernatural.

            (My theory is that they were indeed demons, but Joan didn’t have the least idea of this.)

          • Randy M says:

            My theory is that they were indeed demons, but Joan didn’t have the least idea of this.

            I think you found a way to piss everybody at once!

            Okay, maybe not fundamentalist Protestants or, say, Hindus. I’m not sure what the Muslim position on JoA is, but you’d probably rile some faction up with your notions.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Holy cow. Joan of Arc as empirical evidence for the supernatural is significant to me, yet I almost missed this thread.

            @Nornagest: He makes a surprisingly strong case; as far as I can tell the weakest link of the story is that a lot of the primary sources were compiled by the then-King of France, several years after the fact, as a way of proving that he hadn’t consorted with a witch. Since the simplest explanation of any story like this is that the primary sources are lying through their teeth, that’s the place to push if you’re going to. But enough of those primary sources include people who should have been enemies of France and of Joan that this line of argument’s weaker than it would otherwise be.

            When you look into the facts, it appears that the whole reason she was on trial was because the Plantagenet forces had no naturalistic explanation for how they had lost battles to an illiterate teenage girl.
            You’ll get pushback on this along the lines of “medieval misogyny” and “medieval people were biased in favor of supernatural explanations”. But that’s modern bias: early 15th century Europeans knew that royal women could be competent military commanders (at minimum, the King of England would have remembered his ancestress Eleanor of Aquitaine). But an illiterate teenage girl was something else.
            As far as credulity towards the supernatural, this argument typically proposes the alternative that Joan was an extremely high-IQ girl whose genius was comorbid with a brain disorder like schizophrenia.
            Two problems with this: Joan was uneducated. Next, the Western upper classes had a fair understanding of mental illness. Charles VII’s father had a condition that made him believe he was made of glass, and this was treated as a mental illness, NOT demonic.

            Note also that the primary sources relate facts that don’t undermine the claim that Charles VII had allied with a witch. At Jargeau, she saved the Duke of Alencon’s life by foretelling where a cannonball would hit. During the same siege, a cannonball hit her torso while she was on a siege ladder. Such powers, their culture taught, could come from either God or demons.

            Might also be interesting to investigate Islam and Buddhism and see if they have anyone as (a) stupendously badass, (b) “divinely inspired”, and (c) well-attested.

            It would definitely be interesting.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            Our Fake History had a pretty good series on Joan of Arc, too, though IIRC not especially transparent on its sources.

    • johan_larson says:

      So, thoughts on a therapist recommending that an atheist patient consider “finding religion”?

      I think I would ask the therapist why he or she thinks finding religion would be useful? Perhaps the therapist is actually trying to prod me toward more social engagement, or a more strongly held moral code, both of which I could see being useful, and religion is just a proxy.

      If that was not the case, and the therapist is actually suggesting finding religion, I would have to wonder how one even does such a thing. How does someone who is convinced Jesus never rose from the dead suddenly come to believe otherwise? Dive head-first into the apologetics literature? That’s at best a lot of hard (dare I say, soul-searching) work, and might not succeed.

      • Kevin C. says:

        I think I would ask the therapist why he or she thinks finding religion would be useful? Perhaps the therapist is actually trying to prod me toward more social engagement, or a more strongly held moral code, both of which I could see being useful, and religion is just a proxy.

        Actually, my therapist has been actively prodding me to have a less strongly held moral code, at least partially, reading between the lines, because she finds my moral values unconscionable and anathema — for one, she’s implied that any attempt to pass them on to a future generation would at least border upon abuse. But also, because it’s “fringe,” and she repeatedly seems to be taking a vox populi vox dei attitude that one should hold beliefs first and foremost because of their popularity. And because she does seem to genuinely believe in “ask the Universe for what you want; the Universe will provide” hippy woo-woo “The Secret” bullshit, wherein your mood actually directly affects the world, everything bad that happens to you is ultimately your own fault since it happened because you weren’t thinking positive enough.

        And we’ve been directly discussing increasing my social engagement, as I’ve been very much trying to do so. And I suppose part of the reason religious communities were brought up is because religious traditionalists are, outside of matters of God and the supernatural, much closer to me in morals and worldview than other groups — and maybe by socializing with them, they’ll make me more “mainstream” and less of an Evil Nazi.

        Dive head-first into the apologetics literature? That’s at best a lot of hard (dare I say, soul-searching) work, and might not succeed.

        It didn’t for me.

        • baconbacon says:

          It is very difficult to respond to someone who uses crappy caricatures of things they don’t like.

          And because she does seem to genuinely believe in “ask the Universe for what you want; the Universe will provide” hippy woo-woo “The Secret” bullshit, wherein your mood actually directly affects the world, everything bad that happens to you is ultimately your own fault since it happened because you weren’t thinking positive enough.

          I won’t call this a straw man because you can probably find some instances of people who believe something like this, but using the least informed fringe position isn’t a positive one. If you were to seek out the dumbest atheist bloggers you could build a terrible representation of atheism, or the worst followers of X, Y or Z.

      • Case of Joan of Arc is indeed extraordinary, but I do not see how it proves Christianity.

        I didn’t say it did. What I wrote was:

        it is hard to explain the established facts without assuming that she really was either a divinely inspired saint or something else equally outside our normal picture of the world.

        And that was in response to:

        I have yet to find any persuasive evidence that there exists anything beyond the physical universe.

  21. Lillian says:

    Random thought: The correct answer to the Prisoner’s Dilemma is to ask for a lawyer.

    • baconbacon says:

      Only works if you both ask for a lawyer.

      • Lillian says:

        If you ask for a lawyer and the other guy doesn’t, your position is not harmed, but your lawyer may still be able to negotiate a better deal. The only scenario in which you are worse off with a lawyer if you get one who is more incompetent than you would be without him, which is possible but highly unlikely.

    • actinide meta says:

      Just make sure you don’t accidentally ask for a lawyer dog instead.

    • OneAngryLizard says:

      And have your lawyer sign one of those nifty joint-defense agreements with the other guy’s lawyer – that way you know if he plans to defect.

  22. Universal Set says:

    A couple of months ago (in OT 86.5) I posted asking for career advice. It was requested that I post a follow-up, so here it is.

    After thinking through my options and current situation, I decided that the best course of action for me was to make a career change sooner rather than later. I’ve resigned my current position (tenure-track math professor) effective the end of May (when my contract ends) and I’m preparing for a career change, most likely into software engineering. I’m looking for positions with a significant problem-solving component — I want to do something that uses my talents, not just write obvious code that any CS grad could write — but the work doesn’t need to be explicitly mathematical, and I’m under no illusions that I would somehow never end up doing something “boring”.

    I’ll be doing a mostly-nationwide job search (just don’t want to be in NYC) beginning very soon, and looking to start work sometime in the summer. (Actually I ended up getting myself into the application process at one company already, but I was originally not intending to apply until January or later when I’d had more time to prepare.) In the meantime, I’ve been working on filling in some skills/knowledge gaps (specifically re: software development tools and best practices, since I never took those sorts of CS classes as a student), and doing coding problems for fun and practice.

    Feel free to ask questions, give advice, etc.

    PS: I think I’ve gotten myself addicted to Project Euler again — my name there is also universalset. If any of you are fellow Project Euler enthusiasts, let me know and I’ll share my friend code.

    • Vanessa Kowalski says:

      I’m curious what made you decide on such a career change? Personally, I’m trying to do more or less the opposite change.

      • baconbacon says:

        You guys could switch places and make a movie!

      • Universal Set says:

        There were a number of reasons.

        First, I’ll point out that academic jobs are not all of a piece. There’s a huge variety of dysfunction in academia, and my experience is not representative of every position. I was teaching at a small, nonselective school (used to be considered a liberal arts college, but I don’t really think it is anymore). I made the decision coming out of grad school to *not* target primarily research-oriented institutions because, while I enjoy working on hard problems, my grad school experience taught me that publish-or-perish pressure was going to be really bad for my mental health. The selective SLACs didn’t want me (I actually got only one job offer, for my current position; if you are not a superstar, good luck getting a job at the selective SLACs, as everyone seems to want them).

        That said, here’s a few of the reasons I made the decision to leave.

        1. I wasn’t using my talents. The most advanced class offered at my school is a first-semester course in abstract algebra, which is watered down compared to the similar course I took my very first semester of college. There wasn’t much time for research, and I found that even when I had the opportunity, my heart really wasn’t in it anyway (despite my love of problem-solving).
        2. The students weren’t interested in math. Even the math majors (of which there have been very, very few). In my 3.5 years here, I’ve had all of one student who showed actual interest in mathematics beyond getting their homework done. Most math majors report disliking the math classes which consist primarily of proofs rather than calculations. Considering that the whole reason I decided to go this direction was to share my love of math…well…
        3. Skills and interest mismatch. I liked teaching/coaching/mentoring more advanced students (e.g. students doing the Putnam exam or the ACM-ICPC when I was in grad school), but engaging a class of students who fundamentally don’t care about math is not something I’m particularly good at (I mean, I’m not bad at it; just not great), and not something I enjoy. Grading and lecture prep is also not my idea of fun. These take up most of my working time.
        4. Not nearly enough pay for the work. My salary is about 45k, and I’ve taught an average of 13-14 credit hours per semester, sometimes with four or more different preps. Flexible summers and winter breaks are nice, but I’d much rather work a job I enjoy and get paid for it.

        I’m looking at software in particular because I’ve always enjoyed algorithmic thinking and coding in addition to math, and if my experience doing e.g. ICPC in undergrad and similar problems is anything to go by, I’m pretty good at it. And at any rate, nobody is going to pay me to sit around solving fun math problems at my leisure, so looking for the intersection of my talents/interests and where the demand is makes sense.

    • temujin9 says:

      Since you’re strongly mathematically inclined already, I would highly recommend going into Machine Learning. I’m a 20 year industry veteran, and I am regretting that I let my math chops slide, now that I’m starting to investigate ML myself.

      I don’t tend to follow subthreads here (the notification system sucks for it), but you can email me at temujin9@greenfieldguild.com if you want some additional pointers on getting into the field.

    • raj says:

      With a math PHD, and assuming you have passable coding skill, you should be able to get a good job. By which I mean, 6 figures and interesting.

      You could probably make a lot of money in finance, or do some interesting R&D. I think you want something that uses your math background rather than traditional software engineering (which is typically boring anyways); have you considered machine learning?

      You should probably be learning R or python if you aren’t already.

    • Erusian says:

      I’m looking for positions with a significant problem-solving component — I want to do something that uses my talents, not just write obvious code that any CS grad could write

      This mentally translates to me as “I want to be given more responsibility than I have proven I can handle and think I’m better at programming than people who spent years specifically studying that.” Fun jobs are, well, fun, and people will fight for them. Also, I’d be worried about your ability/willingness to do non-challenging code. For example, I recently had to solve a really interesting problem about optimizing paths through geo-located data. I then had to write a basic API and play around with some basic web code and data viz libraries to present it. All that was ‘stuff any CS grad could do’. But it’d be unreasonable and a little arrogant to expect to do the fun part and hand off the monkey work to someone else.

      I know you said that you understand there will be some boring parts. But people don’t just hear what you say, they hear how much you say and in what order. Saying, “I really don’t want to do this, really really, but I can if I have to I guess.” is… not a ringing endorsement. And this is especially important for positioning because that’s your weakest point. If you combine what you can’t do well with what you don’t want to do, it can hurt your career. Your boss’s perception you don’t want to do something could blur with the fact you don’t do it well yet and hurt his opinion of you.

      I don’t mean this as an attack. Just some advice. Here’s how I would put it: I have a strong mathematical and problem solving background and would like to apply those skills. I’m very eager to learn new skills, or strengthen my weaker skills. But I really want to focus on apply and improving that core math skill set.

      With this, I hear “He’s a math guy who wants to stay a math guy while learning what he needs to support that path.” I then think, “Do I need a really mathy guy who is weak as a programmer?” For me personally, I’d think a path into web/mobile optimization, big data, or conventional analysis sections. But different companies have different needs.

      • Brad says:

        It’s comments like this that bring to the forefront how far away San Francisco is from New York.

        The answer to “Do I need a really mathy guy who is weak as a programmer?” is hedge funds do and will gladly hire monkeys to the boring parts.

        Finance is the obvious answer here. Machine learning is the only thing that competes compensation-wise, but: 1) that ultra high level of compensation has to do with temporary shortages rather than shortages due to a limited number of people that could do it no matter what and 2) machine learning has a much higher barrier to entry in terms of what he’d need to do from here. There are quant shops that do on the job training as long as you come in with really strong math skills and some programming skills, AFAIK that doesn’t exist in ML.

        • skef says:

          Along the lines of my comment below, am I right in thinking that 1) having a lot of documented experience with difficult programming problems, 2) a fancy, documented science education, and 3) actually being someone who could do ML stuff (let’s just stipulate) is basically irrelevant to working in ML right now? Given the baseline skepticism and lots of people trying to pass themselves off as ML types, it’s not even worth raising the issue? The only route there would be to go off and do it unilaterally for a couple years and then maybe that might be helpful?

          [I assume it’s obvious that this person also being a world expert on the subject of intentional action would also be entirely irrelevant?]

          • Brad says:

            I’m not as familiar with the ML side of things as I’m sure others on here are. (See NYC vs SF.) That said my impression is that:

            There are people being hired right now to do ML work that don’t have a proven track record, just because there is such a shortage that there have to be. But the kind of people sparking bidding wars are those that either: (better) have a proven track record of cutting edge ML work or are coming out of top Phd programs.

          • skef says:

            My sense is that I would complement any project that is trying to make the various ML strategies as parts of some better functioning whole. But I don’t know if anyone is or how I would find out, let alone how I would get in a room with them.

        • Chalid says:

          This. However, the OP doesn’t want to be in NYC. I’m not sure how many quant shops or banks exist outside the NYC area that will train you if you come in with strong math skills and not much else. (Lots of banks outside NYC, but they’re usually not the kind that puts such a high premium on raw intelligence in their entry-level quants, or that even hire quants at all.)

          For the level of programming competence required – my first job was at a big NYC investment bank, and I think someone who got a good grade in CS 101 from a high-quality school would be just fine in the interviews we gave, assuming they remembered everything. Ditto my second job.

          • Brad says:

            “However, the OP doesn’t want to be in NYC.”

            Oops. Somehow missed that. Assuming that includes Greenwich etc. it is a lot of tougher to get into that industry. I know of a few quants in far flung corners of the country, but they didn’t start there.

          • Chalid says:

            Now that I think about it, I think Boston is the best bet for starting in quant finance outside of NYC – there are lots of asset management jobs there in particular. State Street and Fidelity and such are willing to hire math PhDs. But the pay is significantly worse than in NYC and my impression is that the jobs are less interesting on average (perhaps less demanding, too).

      • Universal Set says:

        I can see how that line might come off as arrogant, and so I obviously wouldn’t say it that way when interviewing. But mostly this comment confuses me, and the only thing I can think of is that we have really, really different reference classes for “any CS grad” and what they can do.

        Obviously I wouldn’t presume to be a better programmer than any of my peers who graduated with CS degrees from my Alma Mater or a similar institution. (They obviously have a major head start and I suspect it will take me years to catch up.) But there are something like 50,000 new CS grads every year in the US. My current institution graduates students who could barely pass an elementary data structures and algorithms course (and that “pass” is… sometimes generous).

        Let me express my confusion in this way: Google (to take one example among many) is famously selective about who they hire. They pay large amounts of money to find and keep the most talented people — and this doesn’t mean just the most experienced people; they hire people straight from undergrad, too. Unless they are behaving extremely irrationally, this means that they expect that most people with CS degrees can’t do most of the work. Otherwise, they’d just hire the really good people for the hard stuff, and pay half as much or less to hire generic-CS-grad to do the easy stuff.

        On the other hand, there are companies who will hire generic-CS-grads who can only write code that’s exactly the same as code they’ve seen before. This is the kind of job I want to avoid.

        I don’t have any objections to writing code that’s not solving a novel problem. I don’t even have objections to writing obvious code. Even when solving a novel problem, some of the code is going to be the obvious stuff, after all! (I mean, that’s pretty much exactly your example.) I just don’t want to only write obvious code.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          Companies like Google take a longer view, preferring newbies who have the potential to grow into more senior positions. The idea is to grow an intellectual ecosystem, rather than just focus on “getting the work done”. This may be more expensive in the short term but is arguably cheaper in the long term, and Google has enough boatloads of money that they can afford to take the long view.

          (At a company all-hands many years ago, an engineer asked Eric Schmidt, then the CEO, what was the next big opportunity Google would explore. Schmidt replied, “I don’t know — you’re supposed to tell me that!”)

          The point is that the actual coding work done by new grads at Google is not necessarily so profoundly challenging — but they want to hire people who (a) can, or soon will be able to, do much more, and (b) are motivated enough by big challenges that they take pleasure and pride in all the grunge work that goes along with such challenges, and whose solutions to the big challenges are informed by their knowledge of what the grunge work looks like.

          Maybe what’s missing from your story is: What makes you think you can write even generic-CS-grad-quality code? Note that I’m not saying you can’t, just that you didn’t say much to address that question. A PhD and academic experience in math isn’t a convincing answer — but if you have an answer, and add the math background to it, the result might well convince a place like Google to see you as the right kind of newbie. But you’re not going to get a job as a high-level system architect right out of the box, and if you expect your math credentials to give you that, then you’re the wrong kind of newbie.

          That said, I expect Erusian and I are unfairly hammering you for a tone that you’re projecting here among friends but that you would be savvy enough to modulate at an interview.

          • Universal Set says:

            a tone that you’re projecting here among friends but that you would be savvy enough to modulate at an interview

            This is certainly part of it. But apparently I’m communicating poorly if I’m generating the impression that I think

            a job as a high-level system architect right out of the box

            is at all a reasonable outcome. Not only would I not expect this to happen, I don’t think it would be appropriate! I know darned well that I’m not, currently, an expert software developer — indeed, I’m not, currently, anything other than a rank beginner at software development. I expect to have to “put in the time” for that to change. (I’m currently working through some MIT OpenCourseWare to get started on that.)

            What I’m saying I have that the average CS grad doesn’t is problem-solving ability. (And yes, I don’t just mean being able to solve math problems; I was on a high-performing ICPC team in college and have done a bunch of programming problems in a similar vein.) Clearly it’s rather gauche to say something like this at an interview, but most people are pretty hopeless at thinking through problems and doing anything more complex than following a recipe, and this unfortunately seems to go for many people with CS degrees and programming jobs too. My point about wanting to use my talents is that I don’t want the kind of job where this is entirely sufficient.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Though it’s probably obvious to you, I think the way to say what you mean is to talk about your background as the basis of your ambitions rather than as the basis for your qualifications. (Not that you put it either way exclusively before, but the distinction might have been a little muddy.) Focus on the kinds of things that your background prepares you to learn quickly rather than to do immediately.

            And of course the most important filter happens even earlier, when you figure out where to apply. You’ll aim for places with hard problems and an engineering focus rather than places for which programming is just a support function for the folks doing the real work.

        • Andrew Hunter says:

          Obviously I wouldn’t presume to be a better programmer than any of my peers who graduated with CS degrees from my Alma Mater or a similar institution

          Do I know you?

          • Universal Set says:

            Yes. (This nym is already connected to my real-life identity, so just as a fig leaf to keep it from showing up in searches: Oevna Evpr.)

    • skef says:

      One issue that has been discussed here before but that you may not yet have encountered is that there is a striking baseline skepticism about programming skills in hiring. The people who interview you will act as if they are screening for uselessness, with a presumption that you may well be useless. Your resume will help to establish your supposed skills match, but won’t help much otherwise.

      What works most effectively against this is “networking”. But much of the networking will occur in an epistemic vacuum. People you have met but have never worked with you will attest to this or that skill.

      • Nornagest says:

        You would be astonished how many people I interview for supposedly senior positions can’t code.

        Or maybe you wouldn’t. Point is there’s a lot of useless people.

        • skef says:

          Sure. But the result for the programmer is nevertheless either constant skepticism or ascending a networking ladder that has little to do with one’s skills.

          In other fields you can have done things in the past such that even people who weren’t there will assume you are skilled absent further evidence. So the attitude can be both warranted and very depressing to those subject to it.

        • Universal Set says:

          Can I ask you to clarify what you mean by “can’t code”? I’ve read about the FizzBuzz thing, but honestly I still have a hard time believing it, so every time I read this I wonder what the implicit bar for being able to code is. (And do you have a sense for how many of these people are just lying about their experience vs. have done actual jobs while not being able to code?)

          • Nornagest says:

            I’ve seen people fail FizzBuzz, but not often. But much more often I see people who lack fundamental knowledge of data structures, can’t do basic pointer math (I work in a C++ shop), struggle with fencepost errors, et cetera. 101-level stuff.

            Don’t know how many are lying.

          • johan_larson says:

            I’ve been given the FizzBuzz question. PhD in Computer Science, a decade of industrial experience, Google on my resume, and still, FizzBuzz.

            Jesus wept.

            On good days I can persuade myself it wasn’t a test of programming skill, but of humility and obedience.

          • Universal Set says:

            Ok, that’s much less surprising than tons of people failing FizzBuzz. (I would have been astonished at this before my current job, but see above about the skills of some of the CS grads from my institution.)

          • Dog says:

            I’ve interviewed various people, but only one with a CS degree. He was a recent graduate, and listed Python on his resume as his preferred language. I gave him a FizzBuzz style problem in Python and he failed it.

  23. Markus Ramikin says:

    Thanks for the heads-up, Scott. Somehow I missed the newsletter in my mailbox.

    Time to spend some Units of Caring.

  24. Vermillion says:

    Dan Carlin has a new podcast! Hardcore History Addendum only two episodes so far but I quite enjoyed both. He promises this’ll be for shorter, more frequent releases as opposed to the audiobook sized regular show but I remember he said the same for Blitz episodes so I’m taking that with several grains of salt.

    • bean says:

      He promises this’ll be for shorter, more frequent releases as opposed to the audiobook sized regular show but I remember he said the same for Blitz episodes so I’m taking that with several grains of salt.

      I’ve found I have the same problem. Writing a cut-down version of your regular output is really, really hard. If you’re forced to be dramatically shorter, it can work, but I can totally understand why “twice the frequency, half the length” is usually an abysmal failure.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      Thanks for the tip! Hadn’t heard about this project and I can’t seem to find it linked anywhere on his website…

      • Vermillion says:

        Yeah I just happened to see it on twitter the other day. He said he’d announce it’s existence on the main feed after the next giant show drops ‘real soon’.

  25. Alex Zavoluk says:

    I seem to recall a SSC reader or SSC-adjacent individual who was running a blog which was providing a Google Maps tour of the Pan-American highway, starting in Barrow. Does anyone else recall this blog or have a link? I can’t seem to find it on Google.

    • Kevin C. says:

      Just as a reminder, the former Barrow, Alaska has been officially renamed Utqiaġvik.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Just as a reminder, the former Barrow, Alaska has been officially renamed Utqiaġvik.

        Calling the big mountain “Denali” is fine, but calling “Barrow” something I can neither pronounce nor spell nor even type isn’t going to cut it. I will reach back into my Philadelphia roots (Philadelphians never respect the new name for things, except “Kelly Drive”) and continue to call it “Barrow”.

        • Winter Shaker says:

          To be fair, for all I know, ‘Denali’ might be just as hard for an English speaker to pronounce as ‘Utqiaġvik’ in the respective indigenous languages.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            Luckily, the actual start of the Pan-American Highway is in Deadhorse, Prudhoe Bay, which is hell and gone from Barrow.

            Did you hear about the Alaskan who won’t admit he’s dyslexic? He’s still in denali about it.

          • Alex Zavoluk says:

            Well, I can’t even remember the thing I’m talking about!

        • quaelegit says:

          It’s only nine letters and far less confusing than lots of East Coast place names (at least coming from the West Coast — place names should be in English or Spanish, please, none of this Dutch/Algonqin/whatever weirdness 😛 ). For example, I couldn’t even find “Chincoteague” on Wikipedia because I had confused the spelling so badly, I had to google Chesapeake ponies 😛

          A rough stab at pronouncing it (yes I know this is incorrect but I find having a pronunciation in mind really helps me remember spelling): “Ut-key-og-vick”

          And if you’re up for a challenge (and/or have practice with Inupiaq phonemes), NPR has pronunciation guide in this article: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/12/01/503979353/barrow-alaska-changes-its-name-back-to-its-original-utqiagvik

      • Alex Zavoluk says:

        I didn’t actually know that, so it’s hardly a reminder.

        If you’d left off the first 4 words, this would have come across as far less condescending.

  26. Folamh3 says:

    I had a bit of free time in work this morning, so I made a silly comic inspired by the last section of “Contra Grant on Exaggerated Differences”. Hope it’s good for a giggle.

    Silly comic

  27. OneAngryLizard says:

    Anyone familiar with the Mozilla “looking glass” add-on debacle and wants to argue for why this is not the final straw and a reason to want to see Mozilla razed to the ground or at the very least have its front entrance decorated with the (figuratively people, figuratively) spiked heads of its current C-team and board ?

    Alternatively: how likely is it that whoever made/approved this decision within Mozilla was [un]wittingly bent on sabotaging the organization ?

    Some preemptive points to avoid rehashes from everywhere else:

    Yes all other major browsers are arguably worse in terms of ongoing privacy threat (though afaik none has gone so egregiously full-retard so as to push unrelated partnerships tie-ins – hence the suspicion of management-level sabotage). But this is the one that got its traction by convincing the users that this is basically a textbook example of the kind of thing users would need not worry about it doing.

    Yes the engineers working on the browser itself are not primarily at fault here*, the whole project can and should be de-mozified and move to a a vehicle ideally not controlled by self-serving money-and-status-poisoned sociopaths.
    It also appears they are a not-too-influential minority in an organization that owes its existence almost single-handedly to the product they produce for bellow-market compensation (some are volunteers ffs !).

    * The existence of a mechanism to silently push add-ons is still on them.

    • fawz says:

      Anyone familiar with the Mozilla “looking glass” add-on debacle and wants to argue for why this is not the final straw and a reason to want to see Mozilla razed to the ground or at the very least have its front entrance decorated with the (figuratively people, figuratively) spiked heads of its current C-team and board ?

      Razed to the ground? Let’s assume the worst: even if you accept that the debacle was caused by sabotage, that still leaves a decent chunk of Mozilla’s activity that arguable has positive effects on the world in terms of privacy and open source development.

      The question is this: what action is more likely to lead to a world where we have more browser diversity and more browser(s) that respect and encourage “privacy etc”. I don’t think a unilaterally “razing Mozilla to the ground” does anything but harden fronts and weaken the sphere in general. However that’s not the same as not adjusting the trust you extend them and doesn’t mean not criticizing them. I do think it is very much necessary to support alternatives and encourage alternative thinking/solutions to the problem, as well as do some deep and non-trivial thinking on the problem of browser’s having to be huge projects nowadays, and the resulting problems that brings.

      • OneAngryLizard says:

        Razed to the ground as in having the board and management fired, the key asset and source of revenue (Firefox) removed and reformed under its own organization with the narrow mandate and focus of producing a user-aligned browser and a contributor-dominated control structure more akin to existing open source governance models (which are not perfect by any means but would probably be strictly better than the current situation).
        Also such organization could be forced into actual transparency unlike the current foundation-corporation hack.

        • fawz says:

          That I would agree with, given my perspective of things, as it wouldn’t simply “destroy” the effort that is behind Firefox as a whole, which I thought “raze” might imply. The problem of Firefox ignoring user input wrt. design decisions has come up enough to warrant concern before.

          • OneAngryLizard says:

            The raze was for Mozilla (org, corp), not Firefox (contributors, code). I know it’s a very non-trivial distinction but I believe it can be made non the less.

            Basically the “raze” scenario sees Firefox leaving Mozilla (or more likely getting forked because trademark or whatever) and the “spikes” scenario sees Mozilla getting taken over by people committed to its stated purpose, ridding itself of fundamental conflicts of interests, aligning its interest with those of its users and keeping Firefox while maintaining its “philanthropic” image fwiw – frankly I don’t see it happening but would be happy to be proven wrong.

    • Anatoly says:

      I read the discussion on Hacker News up to a point where it was mentioned that enabling the alarming behavior required manually flipping a particular about:config flag. After that I dismissed the whole thing, figuring that most of it is histrionics of people addicted to outrage culture. Do you think that was uncharitable of me?

      I mean, I can certainly see how this shouldn’t have been pushed to all users even in a default-disabled state, how it’s tacky, how some people turn such flags on as a matter of principled desire to beta-test stuff or whatever, and shouldn’t have been surprised by the behavior… but all of that taken together shouldn’t amount to *that* much outrage. And the fact that the discussion-starting items didn’t mention this, most important, fact about the extension, and I needed to go 2-3 levels deep into the discussion to see this patiently explained several times by the Mozilla engineer, told me that this was about the social media outrage circus much more than the underlying bad decision by Mozilla. Razed to the ground? Spiked heads? Ew.

      • OneAngryLizard says:

        There are two issues here – the first is that Mozilla finds it ethically acceptable to even have a way to silently push add-ons to users and the other is how they chose to make use of this ability.

        I don’t think most people who are outraged by it missed the fact that the extension was inert by default but that’s a very small mitigating factor here, any more than a ransomware that only triggers if it determines the computer on which it runs to belong to a sufficiently high-value target would be mitigated by it – the same mindset that saw no problem with creating and pushing this extension in the first place could have reasonably decided to automatically activate it for machines satisfying a certain demographic criteria – this isn’t an outlandish concern, this is the modus operandi of entire industries on the internet concerned with “monetization” of downloaded software and is the opposite of the side Mozilla spent their efforts positioning itself in public’s perception – So yeah, outrage.

        Razed to the ground? Spiked heads? Ew.

        Figuratively, do not raze or spike anything or anyone.

      • fawz says:

        It’s good that the addon was inert by default.

        The problem is that the addon was installed without consent using an opt-out mechanism meant for testing new features (SHIELD studies) while the addon is basically an ad. This creates a situation where you cannot trust that the service that was used won’t be abused in the future for other similar purposes. It also raises the question of why there is an opt-out service allowing remote installs of addons in the first place in a browser that labels itself as promoting the opposite in terms of this kind of behavior.

        Using the SHIELD studies service for pushing a commercial/ad addon is reminiscent of HP using their security updates channel to push DRM to their printers. If they do that once, you’re not going to trust that mechanism anymore.

        I guess the negative reactions to this were amplified by the cliqz drama that recently caused them a bit of bad press in germany specifically and the community in general.

      • Iain says:

        I’m with Anatoly.

        It is a bad idea to ship a tacky advertising tie-in? I suppose so. But the level of outrage here seems completely disproportionate.

        All the outrage seems to be speculative: sure, a completely inert extension might not be so bad, but what if Mozilla decided to push something malevolent? That’s silly. If you are afraid that Mozilla can push updates to Firefox, you haven’t been paying attention. Firefox pushes bug fixes and new features in auto-updates all the time, and nobody finds that concerning. You can turn it off, if you like.

        Firefox has a bunch of Easter eggs. Would people be calling for heads on spikes if a Firefox auto-update included new Easter eggs? How is that any different from this case, except for the fact that this Easter egg is a TV tie-in?

        • OneAngryLizard says:

          Firefox pushes bug fixes and new features in auto-updates all the time, and nobody finds that concerning. You can turn it off, if you like.

          There is a difference between automatically updating existing functionality, adding new but related features and clandestinely installing a new unrelated component because your CMO buddied up with some studio exec, in particular updates can be configured to “ask first” can be reviewed for contents and audited retroactively.
          There is already a highly inadequate norm of what a vendor can change via an update without warning – non-optional functionality changes bundled with security patches etc. and once again if there is someone I could expect not to pull this kind of shit its the vendor whose existence is largely justified by being the one that can be expected not to pull this kind of shit.

          There was a brief discussion about how CISOs and other organizational security professionals should react to this and I really don’t have a good case against them blanket-blocking everything Mozilla related if Mozilla maintains the “it was just a joke that got out of hand” attitude without owning up to the level of trust breached here.

          Firefox has a bunch of Easter eggs. Would people be calling for heads on spikes if a Firefox auto-update included new Easter eggs? How is that any different from this case, except for the fact that this Easter egg is a TV tie-in?

          If you really don’t see the qualitative difference between those easter eggs and the looking glass addon I guess I will not be able to convince you there is one.

          • Iain says:

            If you really don’t see the qualitative difference between those easter eggs and the looking glass addon I guess I will not be able to convince you there is one.

            No, seriously, explain it to me. If you have to puff out your chest and posture about the obvious qualitative difference, it is not a good sign for the quality of your argument.

            Is it because they shipped it as an extension? Logically, you should be much more concerned about code that is invisibly included in the browser itself than about a plugin that shows up in your list of extensions: extensions are less powerful and easier to find.

            Is it because Mozilla was paid for it? Because that’s not actually true.

            I like this take, from a Mozilla employee:

            My impression (without any internal knowledge on the subject) is that this was intended as a way to promote Firefox to Mr Robot viewers. A lot of people in this thread seem to have this backwards, IIUC – it’s not an ad for Mr Robot, it’s the onboarding experience of an ad for Firefox that ran in Mr Robot.

            The folks behind this presumably wanted this experience to be seamless, and were also trying to keep it under wraps to preserve the surprise factor. This meant that they bypassed the usual processes by which Firefox engineers would have had the opportunity to (a) raise concerns about the deployment approach, and (b) suggest other mechanisms that would have achieved the desired experience while keeping deployment appropriately scoped.

            It’s really heartbreaking that it ended up this way. The marketing team was trying to think outside the box to bring new users to Firefox, which is crucial if Quantum is to succeed. Surprises and stealth are the bread and butter of marketing, but they didn’t think through the dangers of applying those things to engineering. Moreover, the very nature of surprise and stealth meant that they missed the chance for internal feedback before it went live.

            A lot of us inside Mozilla are hurting right now. We poured our lives into Quantum for two years for the long-shot dream of giving Firefox a fresh start and saving the web from monopoly. It’s frustrating to feel that all our hard-earned goodwill might be squandered by a few people and a botched marketing stunt. But the people behind that stunt were only trying to help, and I’m sure they feel especially terrible right now too.

            Mozilla will learn from this. But the mistakes here are probably less sinister than they may appear, and it would be sad if they caused our most closely-aligned users to switch to Chrome.

          • OneAngryLizard says:

            No, seriously, explain it to me. If you have to puff out your chest and posture about the obvious qualitative difference, it is not a good sign for the quality of your argument.

            Fine, it’s about understanding and preserving trust boundaries and expectations – afaik none of those easter eggs are doing anything that could reasonably increase the security risk to my system, data and myself (If for example one these phones home to Mozilla registering that it was activated while telemetry is turned off that is already totally not ok).
            In this case my trust and expectation in Mozilla was to not have any extensions I did not expressly install as well as not to have my computer and attention utilized for the benefit of any third party (or even Mozilla itself for that matter)

            My impression (without any internal knowledge on the subject) is that this was intended as a way to promote Firefox to Mr Robot viewers.
            A lot of people in this thread seem to have this backwards, IIUC – it’s not an ad for Mr Robot, it’s the onboarding experience of an ad for Firefox that ran in Mr Robot.

            Uh… wat ? How is something that runs inside firefox can promote firefox to people who are not running firefox ?
            Or did they think that hearing about firefox on the show would cause people to go download and install firefox but the extra hassle of then opting into this extension will be what turns them off it ?

            And why is someone without any knowledge of the matter has to speculatively defend and justify it rather than having the most senior exec behind this explaining what the hell they were thinking as if the trust of their user base depended on it ?

            The folks behind this presumably wanted this experience to be seamless, and were also trying to keep it under wraps to preserve the surprise factor. This meant that they bypassed the usual processes by which Firefox engineers would have had the opportunity to (a) raise concerns about the deployment approach, and (b) suggest other mechanisms that would have achieved the desired experience while keeping deployment appropriately scoped.

            CISO hat on again, vein pulsating – what else is there in Firefox that was snuck past the engineers and kept under wraps more successfully ?

            But the mistakes here are probably less sinister than they may appear

            I could readily grant that most if not all people involved in this didn’t think of themselves as doing something sinister, this in a nutshell is the problem. (though the fact that they apparently took care to bypass the ones who would recognize it as sinister kinda puts a dent in that argument)

          • Iain says:

            afaik none of those easter eggs are doing anything that could reasonably increase the security risk to my system, data and myself

            Okay, but neither was this extension.

            Is it possible that Mozilla could push an extension that does those things? Sure. But they haven’t done that — neither as an extension nor as part of the browser proper — so maybe we can all hold our horses until we have an actual sign of wrongdoing. Right now, you should be about as concerned about this as you were when Chrome added code to make the screen rotate when you search for “do a barrel roll”.

            Uh… wat ? How is something that runs inside firefox can promote firefox to people who are not running firefox ?

            The idea, as I understand it, was that the show would drop clues about using Firefox to play an ARG, and the ARG would be extra-immersive because you wouldn’t have to go download a special extension. Are there better ways to do this? Absolutely. Is this a sinister sign of the end of the world? Nope.

          • OneAngryLizard says:

            Okay, but neither was this extension.

            This is becoming circular which is why I said that unless you recognize the difference in conformance to expectations and trust between those easter eggs and the looking glass addon you are unlikely to be convinced – If these were not expectations or trust that you had in place they weren’t violated for you.

            Right now, you should be about as concerned about this as you were when Chrome added code to make the screen rotate when you search for “do a barrel roll”.

            If it does that when I search for it on http://www.google.com (as opposed to the address/search bar) then
            this is not as rhetorical an analogy as you probably meant it to be, but the thing is I know that
            google is using chrome as part of a strategy to blur the line between the “web” and the “computer” and is taking liberties with the systems it is installed on that I prefer for it not to have – this is why I was using Firefox in the first place, this is the premise underlying user’s good will towards Firefox and a key reason their chairman gets to take home over 1M USD a year from the half a billion or so Mozilla gets paid for… just setting the default search provider… right ?

            The idea, as I understand it, was that the show would drop clues about using Firefox to play an ARG, and the ARG would be extra-immersive because you wouldn’t have to go download a special extension. Are there better ways to do this? Absolutely. Is this a sinister sign of the end of the world? Nope.

            Except that for the people downloading and installing ff just for this the marginal immersiveness is near zero and for the people already using ff… well you see.

            The point is that while the incompetence/malice balance here can be debated the end result as far as trust in the organization is pretty bleak and is compounded by them trying to downplay the severity of this incident.

        • Iain says:

          For the record, Mozilla has released an official statement.

          • OneAngryLizard says:

            So it did. This HN thread pretty much covers all the angles so not much to add.
            Hope the review and post-mortem will address some of the underlying issues but the fact that this is not coming from either the chairman or the ceo indicates that this is still not being taken at the expected level of concern.

  28. anon472732 says:

    When people propose that men and women have brains that are just different, and maybe that’s why there aren’t more females in tech, I have a hard time deciding if I really am an atypical female, or if they’re making bad or biased assumptions.

    I’m 30 years old. I’m a cisgender, mostly heterosexual female. I’m attracted to guys (less often girls) that are intelligent. Confidence, maybe erring a bit into arrogance, multiplies the effect. I’m sexually submissive, not very vanilla, and have trouble maintaining attraction to someone who isn’t sexually dominant. I share that to make a point that when it comes to sexuality, I’m not a particularly atypical female.

    I also don’t have any signs that I have a larger than normal amount of testosterone for a female. My parents were very opened minded and my socialization with peers was largely stunted by moving so often that I was the new kid in school nearly every year, in the middle of the school year at that. I was usually a loner. I share that to make a point that I was uniquely outside of a lot of the typical cultural experience. I watched YouTube videos in my 20s to figure out how to put on makeup for the first time.

    I also have a computer engineering degree.
    I work as a programmer.
    I’m an atheist.
    On the things-vs-people spectrum, I am firmly on the things side.
    I don’t have kids, and I never want kids.

    If discrimination has held me back as a female in tech, it has been subtle enough to where I second guess if it happened, or it’s gone on behind closed doors where I can’t see.

    But I have been aware of a…general pressure.

    Anecdotes:

    All the girls in the intro programming class besides me are gone when the next semester starts. I don’t know why? I was usually a loner anyway.

    Classmates who ask me to work on group projects with them inevitably ask me on dates. Classmates who get girlfriends stop speaking to me.

    I am told at lunch with coworkers that, “We were nervous adding a girl to the team. It could have totally killed the group dynamic. But you’re cool.” I say nothing because I have no idea what response doesn’t hurt my place in the ‘bro group dynamic’.

    Male coworkers who, once relaxed, joke about women, and then seem to remember I’m female and say things like “You’re not a real girl though.” They mean it as a compliment. I say nothing. I look at them like they’re morons, and they laugh.

    A nagging wonder if the reason my ideas are sometimes argued against until a male coworker backs them is because of gender or something else? Best not to be overly sensitive and bring it up?

    Why is this guy I am interviewing for a position not looking at me when he answers a series of questions I ask him? He’s only looking at my male coworker. It’s so blatant that I’m kind of shocked. I am the one who convinces everyone not to hire him. Everyone else thought he knew his shit and would be a good hire. Time goes by, other candidates turn down offers, and we’re dying for talent, so they hire him anyway.

    There is a pressure. I carry on by just…carrying on with what I wanted anyway. I am not a champion. I don’t rock the boat. But I’m not blind.

    • temujin9 says:

      Outside (male programmer) perspective, epistemic status vague:

      I would guess you are an atypical female, in the thing-brain thing. Thing-brain seems essential for skilled programming, in a way that it doesn’t for many other jobs. (I suspect this has to do with the relative novelty and massive breadth of the field: it’s more valuable to explore than to ask for existing maps.)

      Men in the industry are roughly the same range of shitty-to-okay that they are outside the industry. They also don’t have a lot of counter-signal to learn from, because their industry is dominated by thing-brain people (typically male, and also typically bad at social steering conversations).

      If you’re not thing-brained, you’re probably going to wash out, and thus women (less often thing-brained) wash out more frequently. If you can’t (or don’t want to) fit in to the nerd-frat culture that is the default, you will have a much harder time advancing in an industry hyped about “culture fit” in hiring. The combination of those two seems to explain the bad behavior you observe (which I’ve seen, in group conversations with female colleagues) and the gender imbalance shown in statistics, without resorting to claims of exceptionally high sexism in nerds.

      • anon says:

        On an initial gut level, your reply makes a lot of sense and gives me a nice feeling of closure/understanding.

    • maintain says:

      >He’s only looking at my male coworker. It’s so blatant that I’m kind of shocked. I am the one who convinces everyone not to hire him.

      Good job. Real programmers actually avoid eye contact and just mumble stuff.

      • anon says:

        He did not avoid eye contact, he just avoided looking at me, or even in my direction, over my head, or at the table in front of me. He made eye contact with my male coworker while answering my questions. He also did not display any signs of general nervousness and was very laid back.

        • maintain says:

          >He also did not display any signs of general nervousness and was very laid back.

          totally not a legit coder

        • quanta413 says:

          I think maintain might jokingly be saying that you were correct to argue to not hire the candidate because he was looking at your colleague when he should have been looking at his shoes.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Hi, 30 year-old female, not vanilla. I am more people-oriented than you (not a programmer, math was my hardest subject in school), but have an Aspergers diagnosis from the DSM-IV era.
      I do not believe your first anecdote is sexism. You probably need a certain brain structure to maintain the programmer worldview. The rest of your anecdotes are quite sexist. Those behaviors sound pretty hurtful; is that correct? It’s hard to say how much this pressure/structure has held back your career, but a woman is more than a career.

      • anon says:

        I actually wonder if something is off because I’m not hurt by these things. I don’t even know if I should call them sexism or not. I’m just waving at these anecdotes as me noticing something gender related is going on.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Well if you’re not hurt by these things, they’re less of a big deal. But for sure something gender-related is going on in your field.

        • Ketil says:

          Not sure what you’re really asking. But sure, something gender is going on, always, everywhere, because that is how nature and evolution work. I think you are right not to overinterpret these things as sexism or hostility, because men can often be thoughtless and tactless, but rarely misogynist. IM(middle aged, straight, male)O.

          If things don’t bother you, I wouldn’t make a fuss. If they do, you can (and probably should) respond in some way. I would try to do so in a non-threatening way (accusations of sexism or harassment tend to be social WMDs these days, so things can probably escalate quickly). Just ask the guy who says you’re not a “real girl” what he means by that, or if you’re prefer, remind him jokingly a couple of times that he’s not a real man, and I think he will take the hint eventually. Explain the thing about the guy not looking at you to your colleague/boss, and if necessary, remind him that your current inclusive and pleasant environment would be at risk if they hire someone who is uncomfortable working with women. You could also have asked him directly in the interview: are you uncomfortable working with women? Why do you look at him when you are talking to me?

          It is pretty clear that women have very different ways of dealing with these things (meaning anything from gender jokes, sexualized or romantic attention, adversity), I wouldn’t worry about your reaction being “off”. When something does bother you, make it clear to the person who is responsible.

      • Skivverus says:

        I mostly agree with your appraisal on which anecdotes are sexism; a couple may have alternative explanations, though.
        (translation: blatant speculation follows)

        Classmates who ask me to work on group projects with them inevitably ask me on dates. Classmates who get girlfriends stop speaking to me.

        Second half more sexist than the first; the first is likely a consequence of “spending hours in proximity to person of a gender I am attracted to, who has a demonstrated common interest” times “guys have social expectations to ask potential partners out”.
        So, sexism-as-societal-force, more than sexism-as-personal-fault, at least in the first case. Second case, if I’m being charitable, is overcompensation for the first case, possibly to avoid jealousy issues.

        I am told at lunch with coworkers that, “We were nervous adding a girl to the team. It could have totally killed the group dynamic. But you’re cool.” I say nothing because I have no idea what response doesn’t hurt my place in the ‘bro group dynamic’.

        Charitable interpretation: replace ‘bro’ with ‘romance-free, and therefore hopefully distraction- and drama- free’.

        Male coworkers who, once relaxed, joke about women, and then seem to remember I’m female and say things like “You’re not a real girl though.” They mean it as a compliment. I say nothing. I look at them like they’re morons, and they laugh.

        Possible alternative meaning/subtext: it’s not intended as a compliment/insult, but a reassurance: “I’m not going to date you/lump you in with these other women”. Still blatantly sexist, though.

        A nagging wonder if the reason my ideas are sometimes argued against until a male coworker backs them is because of gender or something else? Best not to be overly sensitive and bring it up?

        Related to your first anecdote: how many female vs. male coworkers do you have that could do the backing? Having one’s ideas argued against may well be par for the course (depending on the company).
        For instance, Joel Spolsky mentions “One of the best things a program manager can add to the software design process is a second opinion as to how things should be designed, hopefully one that is more empathetic to those DOUBLE SUPER UNSMART USERS with their pesky mental feebleness requiring that an application be usable without reading the man page, writing a custom emacs-lisp function, or translating numbers into octal in your head.”
        Substitute “argue against” for “second opinion”.

        Why is this guy I am interviewing for a position not looking at me when he answers a series of questions I ask him? He’s only looking at my male coworker. It’s so blatant that I’m kind of shocked.

        Possibly overcompensation for introspected or socially-warned-against ‘ogling’ tendencies, but yeah, also possibly just dismissive.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Possibly overcompensation for introspected or socially-warned-against ‘ogling’ tendencies…

          Not just “socially” warned against, but explicitly directed in a mandatory company-wide meeting — where the humorless bureaucrat explains that looking at any woman, for any reason, may be construed as harassment. I’ve been through at least one of those meetings at every single company I’ve worked at. The wording varies, but the message is always the same.

          Of course, most people take that stuff in stride, recognizing the intimidating language for what it is — simple legalistic ass-covering by the corporate overlords. However, some people are more trusting, and take it seriously. I’ve known at least one person who switched teams when the manager of his team hired a woman, because he was deathly afraid of getting fired for some perceived offence.

          • Nornagest says:

            Really? I’ve been through a number of mandatory company-wide harassment trainings, and I don’t think any of them went quite that far — though the scope of harassment was always broad and subjective.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            HR is an evil institution that favors women. This doesn’t mean anon hasn’t experienced sexism. It would mean she’s experienced male sexism that was rational for the men in question.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Nornagest:
            In my experience, the phrasing was the same in most of those meetings, and it went something like this: “looking at a woman in a way she finds objectionable constitutes harassment”.

            @Le Maistre Chat:
            I guess that depends on your definition of “sexism”. The word is mutliply-overloaded; it could mean “a prejudice against a specific sex”, “an unwarranted prejudice against a specific sex”, or “prejudice against a gender whose members do not enjoy social privilege”. I’m sure there are many other definitions, too. Anyway, I don’t really care about the word; I was just trying to provide some possible explanations for some of the male behaviors that the OP experienced.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            However, some people are more trusting, and take it seriously.

            That doesn’t quite gel with “He also did not display any signs of general nervousness and was very laid back.”

          • Bugmaster says:

            @Gobbobobble:
            Right, I missed that part earlier, since it was in a separate comment. Still, in this case I’d still lean toward a more charitable explanation. For example, seeming “laid back” at an interview is a skill that job applicants are practically required to cultivate, so maybe this guy hadn’t quite mastered it. Of course, it’s also possible that he was a bona-fide sexist.

            FWIW, I’ve only ever met one blatantly sexist job applicant. He performed pretty poorly at the technical portion of the interview, and he must have known it, because he tried to bluster his way through the interview with our female business analyst. Instead, she made him cry.

    • Deiseach says:

      I’m sexually submissive, not very vanilla, and have trouble maintaining attraction to someone who isn’t sexually dominant. I share that to make a point that when it comes to sexuality, I’m not a particularly atypical female.

      ?

      I mean, I am completely turned off by sexually dominant persons (or those who try to be) and am not at all sexually submissive – that is, were I to be sexually active. I generally react very badly to attempts to dominate me, whether it be by greater authority or whatever even in a non-sexual way (I will respect proper authority and have no problem with hierarchy but do have a big problem with someone just throwing their weight around), so either I am an atypical female – which probably, yes – or I’m not quite understanding what you are saying? Maybe in your particular circumstances being “sexually submissive, non-vanilla, very attracted to a dom/domme personality” is “typical female sexual behaviour” but um – perhaps not everywhere, everyone?

      Apart from that – no formal diagnosis but given family background, I have a suspicion I am floating around somewhere on the (old) Asperger’s side of things. Can’t say that I’m necessarily thing-oriented but definitely not people-oriented. From an early age, more interested in “boys'” things than “girls'” things (e.g. aged seven, more or less verbally bullied a male classmate into sharing his comics with me; always preferred reading boys’ comics than girls’ as British girls’ comics were boring – no I’m not interested in stories about orphans, ponies, ballet or boarding schools; this carried over into reading American comics when I could get them; have been a life-long SF fan).

      As for the rest of it – that is not necessarily “hey I don’t think I’m not like the other girls but this happened” – that’s the kind of thing that does happen even to “typical” females. You’re probably in a tougher situation since fewer women do go into programming for whatever reasons, and since you have the talent and interest to stick with it, you’ve ended up in a majority male profession.

      It’s not just programmers. It’s all majority-male professions (in my admittedly limited experience of such). Yes, guys looking at the male in the room/on the interview panel for the ‘real’ boss/important person to impress. That happens. Yes to all the rest of it, including the “you’re different, you’re not like other girls” and “I don’t want to rock the boat, am I just being over-sensitive here?”

      • anon says:

        I have read that more females than males are sexually submissive. I think it is interesting that your reaction to that being roughly, “I don’t know about that being typical because that’s not how I am, but maybe” is roughly how I’m struggling to understand the proposition that girl brains just don’t think in ways that lead boys into tech.

        • that girl brains just don’t think in ways that lead boys into tech

          Isn’t it much more plausible that males and females have a different distribution of characteristics, including the ones being lumped into girl/boy brains?

          Males and females have a different distribution of heights as well, but I am not surprised to observe that there are many women who are taller than I am.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I’m >6 feet tall, and was shocked to recently learn that the WNBA refruits women shorter than that. I thought they’d only recruit from the 99.99th percentile.

          • Mark says:

            That is 99.9th percentile.

          • Incurian says:

            They have good fundamentals.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Mark: Wow, I thought ~1% of women of Northern European descent were at least my height.
            I just can’t help being a total outlier.

          • anon says:

            I’m not being very precise with my wording, but I don’t mean to imply I think there’s no distribution. I originally posted because I was having trouble reconciling views that would mean I am an outlier with views that I’m not and there really is something systemic going on. Pinpointing myself in the distribution helps me know whether to count myself as (weak, but first-hand) evidence one way or the other.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Maybe in your particular circumstances being “sexually submissive, non-vanilla, very attracted to a dom/domme personality” is “typical female sexual behaviour” but um – perhaps not everywhere, everyone?

        Sure, not everywhere, everyone, but I grok what she’s saying. It is common for human females to have sexual submission tendencies. Go to a BDSM party in a Blue city and you’ll find that a supermajority of the activity is straight/bi females getting bound and beaten, regardless of the hegemonic feminist and LGBT ideology.
        In the modern West, it’s also common for women to socially exert power over men, but I’ve never perceived an erotic subtext to it. Dicking other humans over because you can is not a sin of lust. 😉

        From an early age, more interested in “boys’” things than “girls’” things (e.g. aged seven, more or less verbally bullied a male classmate into sharing his comics with me; always preferred reading boys’ comics than girls’ as British girls’ comics were boring – no I’m not interested in stories about orphans, ponies, ballet or boarding schools; this carried over into reading American comics when I could get them; have been a life-long SF fan).

        Well-replicated monkey studies have shown that this is normal for females, while the reverse isn’t!
        I could go into childhood anecdotes if anyone cares.

        • rlms says:

          I believe most people who are into BDSM are subs, regardless of gender.

          • fion says:

            Beware! Second-hand anecdotal evidence follows:

            In my friend’s experience, males in the BDSM community are reasonably balanced between subs and doms but females are overwhelmingly subs. This is consistent with both your comment and the one you are responding to.

        • Deiseach says:

          It is common for human females to have sexual submission tendencies.

          Depending on what definition and degree of value you ascribe to “submission” then yes, female sexuality involves that. And women have been socially pushed in the direction of submissiveness (a slightly different thing) in sexual and romantic, as well as domestic and public, matters.

          Go to a BDSM party in a Blue city and you’ll find that a supermajority of the activity is straight/bi females getting bound and beaten, regardless of the hegemonic feminist and LGBT ideology.

          But the “getting bound and beaten” – I would dispute that. Some women? Yes. As well as some men. And naturally, if you’re in a large urban centre then it is going to be relatively more easy to find others who share your interests, and then when you find a group of people who like the same things you do, you are going to spend more time with them, and other like-minded people they in turn introduce you to, and then it becomes “well, practically every person I meet likes kippling, so I’m not atypical in that” and no, you’re not – for that activity in that grouping in that city.

          I have never gotten the sexual appeal of beating – from the vanilla “ooh I’ve been naughty, spank me!” to the serious “welts, bruises and even bleeding”. For me “getting hit as a punishment” is, well, “getting hit as a punishment” – it hurts, it’s meant to hurt, and it’s not meant to be fun. So I am not on that wavelength at all. It has little to do with feminism or ideology in my case, merely “No, I do not get this at all, it’s completely unappealing to me, and if anyone tried smacking me about they’d regret it”.

          • Nornagest says:

            But the “getting bound and beaten” – I would dispute that. Some women? Yes. As well as some men.

            LMC is right on the empirics. Go to that sort of party, and you’ll see a lot more women than men on the receiving end; I’m quite confident of this. Most often identifying as bi in my experience, but this might be the OKCupid style of “bi” that’s more about signaling adventurousness than actual preference. Occasionally straight guys or lesbian women, but less often. Gay guys have their own events and I don’t know how common it is for them.

            That doesn’t mean that all women, or even the same ratio, are more on the submissive side in the vanilla world, but I think it is evidence that they’re more likely to be, since kink in this sense is less about true paraphilia and more about finding ritualized ways to tickle the dark and squishy parts of your brain. Though, since we’re talking about the vanilla world now, “on the submissive side” here should not be read in a whips-and-chains sense, but more in the sense that there tend to be active and passive roles in a relationship and you might prefer one to the other.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I wouldn’t dispute that you’re in the majority on not getting kink. But if a woman isn’t vanilla, she’ll probably be a heterosexual or bi sub.
            I get that this has nothing to do with feminism or ideology for you; you’re asexual and if you weren’t you’d want to marry a vanilla gentleman. We’re totally on the same wavelength about Christian stuff, even if I can’t pull off being a prude. 🙂

            I also want to echo what Nornagest said about dominance/submission not being a paraphilia, but about tickling the parts of our primate brains that are too dark for mainstream society. Most women may be glad that we don’t live in a traditional patriarchal society and not want their husband/guy to dominate them, but I believe it’s part of the human bell curve and so can’t be eradicated by socialization.

        • Null42 says:

          For what it’s worth, my limited experience suggests that nerds are more likely to be kinky and women are more likely to be submissive (I said ‘more likely’ not ‘always’), to the point where dominant women can make a living being dominant. So I suspect the OP’s comment is statistically likely as a result of being a nerd and a woman.

          As for the kink thing–I suspect that, as you say later, it’s a matter of the primate pathways of dominance and submission (which carry an erotic charge) being exciting but politically incorrect–which adds in the lure of the forbidden. I also suspect a lot of lefty women and men may be able to use the ‘transgressive’ nature as an excuse for playing the old stereotypical roles–being told what to do by your boyfriend is patriarchal, but being into kinky sex is transgressive and hence OK. (I have had feminists confirm this for me in unguarded moments, but that is an n of 5 or so and should not be taken any further than that.)

          OK, how about nerds and kink? I suspect that

          1. Our literal minds tend to prefer making the role explicit rather than implicit
          2. Having explicit rules is nice if you’re not good at reading facial expressions and body language. And negotiating out ahead of time what you are and aren’t allowed to do to each other is easier than having to guess by body language.
          3. A lot of the engineering types like to fiddle with the cuffs and ropes, etc.

          • Bugmaster says:

            FWIW, I’m a software engineer, but the kinky mindset is totally alien to me. Logically, I understand that some people enjoy it, but I can’t ever imagine finding it enjoyable myself. I could be an outlier, however.

          • fion says:

            I’m in the same boat as Bugmaster on this: very nerdy, very un-kinky.

        • It is common for human females to have sexual submission tendencies.

          It occurs to me that this thread may link into the discussion of the sexual misdeeds of Moore, Trump, et. al.

          Suppose many women are turned on by sexually aggressive men. A sexually aggressive man observes this and over generalizes, concludes that women who react negatively to his behavior are pretending, or playing hard to get, or something similar but if he only pushes a little harder … .

          • Aapje says:

            I’ve seen many a woman argue that they do not send strong signals of disapproval, out of fear, which would logically feed into this as well.

            If many women who feel ‘AAAAAAAAAAARGH,’ actually communicate ‘meh,’ then a sexually aggressive man may clearly see the benefits to himself (lots of sex), but misinterpret most of the fear and loathing that he causes in women as mere disinterest.

      • so either I am an atypical female – which probably, yes –

        You just noticed?

        You are an atypical human being, and a good thing too. Would there were more.

        • Iain says:

          To a first approximation, everybody is atypical.

          • Bugmaster says:

            This article seems to be wasting several pages on simply saying, “When assessing a distribution, make sure to look at the standard deviation as well as the mean”. Am I missing something ?

          • quanta413 says:

            I would say that the important insight (which I don’t think the person who wrote the article realized) has nothing to do with means vs means + standard deviations. It’s that as you select on more and more traits, the odds a particular individual satisfies your criteria decrease geometrically with the number of traits. This may or may not be an intuitive result, but it’s mathematically simple. If you wish to select x fraction of some distribution for N uncorrelated traits, then the odds someone is in that fraction for all N traits goes as x^N. So the percent of people within 1 SD of the mean for ten traits is about 2%.

            You’ll notice in the article, the criteria was much stricter. You can quickly work out by hand without taking any measurements that you’d expect roughly the results Daniels got if the various body measurements are only weakly correlated within humans. He wanted people within the middle 30% of ten measurements. That would imply roughly a fraction .3^10 ~= 6/1,000,000 people would fit this criteria. Unsurprisingly in a sample of only a few thousand people he found no one who fit the criteria. And if you select on three traits, you’d expect about .3^3 ~= .027 i.e. 2.7% of the population to fit this criteria. Daniels found <3.5% so we're doing pretty well there.

            So the interesting thing you learn from these measurements perhaps is that human appendage sizes and such aren't super strongly correlated.

    • Murphy says:

      I’m honestly not sure how atypical you are, it probably depends on what fraction of the population of women you’re sampling from. You don’t sound unusual for women in tech but that’s a fairly trimmed down sample already.

      How out of place would you feel if dropped into the social group of a nursing or public health class?

      There’s definitely an IT type. Male or female the people who stay all have a certain feel to them.

      Though I also have a fairly restricted sample: I could have favored courses and workplaces that have such a personality type.

      I remember one of my male classmates after graduation complaining about where he started working because they were all “match heads”, non-geeky guys who were obsessed with “the match”, whatever match had been on the night before. Despite it being a software house. So I may be inside a cultural bubble even within IT.

      • anon says:

        How out of place would you feel if dropped into the social group of a nursing or public health class?

        I’d probably feel like an alien, but be able to converse fine while internally being bored by the conversation and sort of terrified of letting them realize I was bored.

        I agree there seems to be an IT type. I just wonder if predisposition vs circumstance made me that type.

        [Edit/Update]

        I actually wonder if more females would go into tech if they didn’t go through some enculturation I missed, and if all this ‘man/woman brains are different’ isn’t people really missing how much our culture is causing woman to have non IT preferences.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I actually wonder if more females would go into tech if they didn’t go through some enculturation I missed, and if all this ‘man/woman brains are different’ isn’t people really missing how much our culture is causing woman to have non IT preferences.

          Well, these aren’t mutually exclusive. Brain structure is shaped by enculturation, not just gene expression. Women might go into tech at a 50/50 ratio if we all missed the same enculturation you did. Some anti-feminists will argue that this is stymied by math ability being gendered, but I strongly disagree.

        • Murphy says:

          My sister went into nursing but is sort of an IT type. (read, extremely high functioning slightly autistic type) Takes a much harsher view than me and apparently mentally separates her coworkers into “wishy-washy people-types” and “the problem oriented people”.

          And is of the belief that almost anyone with the latter mindset is so rare in nursing that they almost automatically end up promoted fairly quickly but are so common in IT that it’s not worth mentioning. She took a look at IT, took a look at nursing and decided she had a competitive advantage in nursing.

          It worked out really quite well for her and she now makes a lot more money than I do and shot up the ranks and pay scale at a rate most only dream of.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Regarding the group dynamics, part of it could be due to HR concerns. I (a man) have been a member of a couple of small all-male teams, and in both cases the upper-level management was under a lot of pressure from HR to hire a woman. The immediate managers (as well as regular programmers) were somewhat reluctant do that, however — partially because experienced female programmers are very hard to find, and partially because having a woman on the team was perceived to be somewhat dangerous.

      If a programmer gets into a heated argument with a male colleague, they might shake hands the next morning after tempers have cooled off; if a senior programmer corrects a junior male colleague on something, he can be reasonably sure the mistake will be fixed the next day. But if his colleague is female, she could simply go to HR and get him fired for harassment or discrimination, and there’s nothing he can do to stop it. You may argue that this perception is inaccurate, but it does exist; most people have heard or experienced at least one story along these lines.

      The problem is exacerbated by the fact that competent female programmers are quite rare (competent programmers are rare already, and female ones multiplicatively so). Unfortunately, this makes female programmers incredibly attractive to their male colleagues. From what I’ve seen, most (though obviously not all) male programmers would never act on this attraction, but it’s difficult to eliminate the underlying feeling. Given that merely looking at a woman could be considered sexual harassment under some HR regimes, this can make people incredibly self-conscious — hence the avoidance of eye contact, etc.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        It’s true that men at work being afraid of her because of the power of HR is a plausible model for the sexism she’s experiencing.
        “You’re not a real girl” seems beyond the pale, nonetheless.

        • Bugmaster says:

          “You’re not a real girl” seems beyond the pale, nonetheless.

          Well, yes, that is highly offensive… But I’ve known people who would totally say that, and mean it as a compliment. Programmers are not always good at expressing what they mean in socially acceptable human language; if they were, they’d go into management :-/

        • ze2 says:

          I have a hard time thinking of “You’re not a real girl” as an anything but a compliment and honestly I can imagine saying it myself, though more likely I would say “not a regular girl”.

    • Anonymous says:

      If you look at the statistics of computing employment in the world, you will see a very interesting trend (not very strong, but you can see it) – the more backwards/poor/third-world/patriarchal a country is, the more women are employed in the field. The more that has been done to further women’s freedom and equality with men, the more stark the differences between men and women are as far as choice of career is involved.

      The simplest explanation is that in countries where women are free and rich, they are free to pursue whatever they want to pursue, whereas in poor and backward places, they just pursue what brings in the money, and personal interest is a non-issue. This suggests that male and female interests as far as vocation is concerned are quite a bit different – and that heavily lopsided professions are a sign of progress, not oppression.

      • Ketil says:

        I wonder about this. Women have more or less taken over fields like veterinary studies and psychology, which used to be high status, male dominated fields. I think that in addition to high popularity among girls, the popularity of these fields among boys must have declined. Why and how did this happen? What made these fields less attractive to boys all of a sudden? The increased number of women? A perception that a high proportion of women makes the fields less manly? Something else entirely?

        • Anonymous says:

          I think it’s the same effect. I don’t think either of the examples is particularly “manly”. Sure, some men like those, but given the freedom of choice and sufficient affluence not to care overmuch about how much one earns, most will choose something more interesting.

        • Aapje says:

          @Ketil

          Those fields seem very people-oriented, which is perfectly consistent with the theory that women were kept out of them in the past by gender discrimination; while that is no longer true now.

        • Molly says:

          Regarding veterinary work, I wonder if there was a marked shift from farm animal rural care toward city cat and dog care, which came with the abandonment of small family farming? The impression I get from James Herriot at mid century, which includes a high percentage of working animals, is quite different from most modern animal care. Meanwhile, are the people prescribing antibiotics for cows and pigs mostly female? I would guess not, but don’t have any data on it.

          On the people/things front, it seems likely that dealing with a dog that’s considered a family member and its owners/family is more people, while dealing with a steer that might infect the whole herd and needs to be treated or killed so a farmer’s livelihood isn’t lost is more thing (and is also larger, stronger, and more likely to injure you).

    • Viliam says:

      Classmates who ask me to work on group projects with them inevitably ask me on dates. Classmates who get girlfriends stop speaking to me.

      Too bad we can’t make an experiment and see what exactly happens in a parallel universe where you are male but otherwise have the same traits. Because there are multiple options.

      I don’t know you personally, so I am just talking completely generally here: Some guys really are sexist, and they simply won’t accept a girl as “one of them”. But also some girls are boring, and the only reason a guy would talk to them is trying to get sex. These are two different situations, but what you described is possible in each of them.

    • Aapje says:

      @anon472732

      When people propose that men and women have brains that are just different, and maybe that’s why there aren’t more females in tech, I have a hard time deciding if I really am an atypical female, or if they’re making bad or biased assumptions.

      You need to keep in mind that a brain difference between the average man and woman doesn’t mean that every man has a trait more than every woman. Studies show a very large gender differences on the people–things dimension of interests, but that is still perfectly consistent with a substantial minority of women who are quite thing-oriented and men who are quite people-oriented.

      I suspect you are atypical, by being in this minority, but it is not a 1% or .1% minority, but substantially larger.

      Furthermore, I suspect that people can nurture their thing-oriented or people-oriented side. So most likely, women train themselves to be more people-oriented than they biologically are and vice versa for men, because of peer effects and gender norms. You describe yourself as a loner, including not socializing with fellow girls in the intro programming class, which suggests that you either avoided part of this socialization or even socialized towards being more thing-oriented.

      As for your anecdotes, as far as I can observe this, I have not seen any of that, except for a relatively high percentage of the women quickly flunking out (but I talked to one of the women and she never programmed before going to study Computer Science, so she seemed ill-prepared). Of course, I am from a different culture, so perhaps things are a bit different than in America. Also/alternatively, I can see how relatively rare events may be very meaningful to you, yet not very visible to male colleagues.

      Also, I want to point out that being in a small minority automatically means that you get a high percentage of shit, simply because the shitty people who target the other gender have only a small group to target, so the nastiness doesn’t dilute in a way it would if the gender ratios were more equal. I have heard a single anecdote of a male nurse who experienced a lot of gendered unpleasantness coming his way, which might be (partially) explained by the same mechanism.

    • Hyzenthlay says:

      Why is this guy I am interviewing for a position not looking at me when he answers a series of questions I ask him? He’s only looking at my male coworker. It’s so blatant that I’m kind of shocked.

      I’m not in programming or a tech field, but I’ve noticed the “if I’m talking to a man and there’s another male in the room the man will look at them and talk at them, not me” thing. If there’s no other male in the room they’ll typically make eye contact with me and talk to me the same way they would a man.

      I don’t think it’s a “holding women in lower regard” thing so much as a “men being more comfortable talking to/relating to other men” thing, and it never bothered me that much, but it is definitely a thing I’ve noticed. And if I were actually interviewing someone and they were looking at someone else the whole time, that would definitely seem strange.

      It also seems to be a much more common behavior (in my limited experience) among older men.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Male coworkers who, once relaxed, joke about women, and then seem to remember I’m female and say things like “You’re not a real girl though.” They mean it as a compliment. I say nothing. I look at them like they’re morons, and they laugh.

      They know they’ve put their foot in their mouth, and don’t know how to recover. Men, even geeky men, make jokes about women, and we _know_ we’re not supposed to make them around women.

      Why is this guy I am interviewing for a position not looking at me when he answers a series of questions I ask him? He’s only looking at my male coworker. It’s so blatant that I’m kind of shocked. I am the one who convinces everyone not to hire him.

      I’ve heard of this, though I’ve never had the misfortune to see it. I’d like to say, sexist or not, that it’d be unlikely he’d be dumb enough to deliberately insult you during a job interview, but unfortunately I’ve run into a few candidates who are that dumb (with respect to non-gender-related things). So I don’t know what’s going through that guy’s head, whether it was insult or over-reaction to sexual harassment training or some sort of actual fear of women, but I think you were right to recommend against hiring him.

      • Bugmaster says:

        I think there’s room for some charity regarding the “you’re not a real girl” comment. I’ve heard other male programmers say something to that extent (back in my youth, that is), and what they usually mean is something like the following:

        “Most women treat nerdy men, and especially programmers, as leprous pariahs; in fact, in our society, it is considered taboo for a woman to show interest in programming or to voluntarily converse with a programmer. You, however, have chosen to break this taboo — as evidenced by the fact that I am able to converse with you on even terms, as I would with any other nerdy man. And, as if merely refusing to shun me wasn’t amazing enough, you at least as capable of a programmer as I am, which means that I’m able to talk to you about my life’s passion without having to resort to lengthy introductory explanations ! Truly, you are a wonder and I am glad to have you on my team”.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Well, yeah, it’s possible to hurt a woman’s feelings when what you’re trying to say is “You’re a wonder and I’m glad to have you on my team and also you’re atttactive.”
          Sometimes though, this “you’re just one of the guys” attitude nerd girls get can give you a complex, considering nerds skew more literal-minded than neurotypical…

        • ze2 says:

          I work in CS and that’s almost exactly how I would interpret it.

    • wanderingimpromptu says:

      If discrimination has held me back as a female in tech, it has been subtle enough to where I second guess if it happened, or it’s gone on behind closed doors where I can’t see.

      I don’t think any of your examples are particularly subtle.

      Classmates who get girlfriends stop speaking to me.

      Lost networking opportunities, lost opportunities to make friends who share your interests and learn from them.

      It’s their right to decline to befriend anyone they want, but it absolutely does make it harder for you to succeed.

      I am told at lunch with coworkers that, “We were nervous adding a girl to the team. It could have totally killed the group dynamic. But you’re cool.”

      There probably have been teams who were nervous about adding a girl to their dynamic who then didn’t overcome it and add you.

      Moreover, being impactful and taking leadership depend in large part on the rapport you have with your colleagues. If you’re working with people who don’t have a reference frame for a platonic, friendly relationship between people of different sexes, that’ll absolutely hinder you in the workplace. (This point applies to the friendship anecdote above too.)

      Why is this guy I am interviewing for a position not looking at me when he answers a series of questions I ask him? He’s only looking at my male coworker. It’s so blatant that I’m kind of shocked. I am the one who convinces everyone not to hire him. Everyone else thought he knew his shit and would be a good hire. Time goes by, other candidates turn down offers, and we’re dying for talent, so they hire him anyway.

      And now there’s a guy who won’t even look at you on the team. How are you supposed to collaborate with him? Is he going to ignore any ideas you bring up during team discussions? And how does that affect the social dynamic with the rest of the team? The more influence he gains, the more you’ll be sidelined, and the more it’ll normalize the practice of treating you like a social leper. Even if you somehow manage to work past/around this, there’s no way you’re starting on an equal playing field with coworkers who don’t have to deal with these kinds of problems.

      I’m actually kind of shocked that you’ve had such blatant experiences of sexism in the industry. Fwiw, I’m a female programmer at a large tech company and I’ve never had experiences like this. Maybe try for a change of scenery… but if that’s not a realistic option, well, keep on keeping on, I guess! I’m impressed with you for dealing with shit I couldn’t deal with.

      • 10240 says:

        Classmates who get girlfriends stop speaking to me.

        Lost networking opportunities, lost opportunities to make friends who share your interests and learn from them.

        It’s unclear, though, if they were actually less friendly to her than to their male classmates after they got girlfriends, or they were more friendly to her than to their male classmates when they wanted to get laid.

        • wanderingimpromptu says:

          “stop speaking to me” implies the former. Of course, it’s possible she attended a CS program where the default behavior was to not speak with classmates much (or at all? But that seems unlikely). At my university, friendships and study groups were pretty central to the CS learning experience, and they were mixed gender. If the culture was instead such that you’d only befriend opposite gender classmates when trying to get laid, that would severely disadvantage members of the minority gender.

          • I think you are missing the argument. We are not talking about a random person but a particular person.

            One possibility is that she is someone who, male or female, classmates would be disinclined to talk with, and that some do because she is female and they are interested. I